Jan 292018
 

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According to Human Ear Music‘s info on “Demonstration Disc” (2017,  CD/DL, HEM), the recent release by Jason Grier, “issues of labor theory, social practice, and sonic activism underly an abstract surface worked and re-worked toward a hallucinatory depth of field. Loud, decadent, irreverent, and cinematic, Demonstration Disc sounds like mashing down all the preset buttons on your sparkling-new, cosmic-avant-garde monster synth, with delectable aplomb.” Let’s get deeper into it, guided by the author himself.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Jason! How are you?

Jason Grier: Fine, thanks!

 

Chain D.L.K.: Can you introduce yourself to our readers in your own words?

Jason Grier: I’m Jason. I do sound, art, programming and other stuff. I run this label/collective thing called Human Ear Music, with artists like Ariel Pink, Julia Holter, and Michael Pisaro having been involved in it. Now it’s all about these different porous activities –not strictly music-related– that I do by myself and sometimes with others, like collaborations and mixing and production and mentorships and press campaigns that are pretty informal and more or less invisible, and artistic research and other ongoing projects like this Sound Library thing.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Demonstration Disc…first of all, what is it going to demonstrate?

Jason Grier: It’s packaged with my Sound Library, and if you download any collection of sounds that you want to use in your own music, then you should expect to have a demonstration of its capabilities; same deal here. And there are such things already, if I’m not mistaken, or more so in pre-internet times, this kind of “Stereo Test Disc.” I actually found a few of these in thrift stores and considered including rips of these test vinyls in the Library, and in the end, I did include one of them: a sampler vinyl of highlights of some nature sound library from the 1970’s. So there are layers of demonstration discs within demonstration discs, demonstrating libraries within libraries. Lastly, another difference is obviously that the Demonstration Disc also has abstract themes and concerns and a story arc. For example, it begins with this new year’s fireworks in Berlin and ends with anti-Trump demonstrations in NYC at the end of the same year; another sense of the word “demonstration.”

 

Jason Grier - courtesy of Tonje Thilesen

Jason Grier – courtesy of Tonje Thilesen

Chain D.L.K.: Can you explain the generative and aggregative process behind this disc?

Jason Grier: This Sound Library work was like a labor-performance in which my artistic labor was to collect and edit raw materials and avoid thinking about making an artwork in favor of meditating on aggregation and manual labor and labor-byproducts. And the generative aspect is first of all practical, because as the library got bigger, I could not keep mental track of all the sounds in it. I felt disoriented, like I didn’t know the library’s landscape anymore, and like there were some sounds which I knew were in there but never got the chance to hear for months. So I decided to build some kind of automated tool to help me skim through the library and find sounds. But this tool eventually became “Seurat,” and became more of an artistic collaborator. I’d let Seurat run all day, generating results from the library, and I would make small adjustments from time to time and choose various patterns that worked well together, and the “best” of those combinations became the album.

 

Chain D.L.K.: I saw that someone didn’t really understand the meaning of this record…and someone wrote that its main defect is that it lacks feeling…do you agree?

Jason Grier: Lol, what could be lacking in feeling in the gesture of offering a whole library of sounds to the people? Seriously, though, I did challenge myself to get the most cinematic and emotional feeling from this collection of sounds not intended specifically for me and from this robot (Seurat) that did not really share my thematic concerns. And I’ve played the Demonstration Disc for some people in private sessions and had some of them burst into tears ’cause they found it so emotional, and others kind of go, “Meh, this doesn’t make sense to me.” And the music even scared off a very very cute little dog one time, so I really can’t claim a decisive victory, more like a big range of responses that I learned a lot from. So, do I agree? Overall, no. I think it’s not that the Demonstration Disc lacks feeling, but that it lacks engagement, ’cause I put a lot of ideas forward in a short time, which is partly the product of it being a “Demonstration Disc,” and partly because I felt obligated to be able to press it on vinyl one day. In the future, I’d like to get rid of the obligation of this 40 minute time constraint and release additions to the library with just one or two sounds and an accompanying piece that goes deep into just a few sounds. And if you don’t understand the “meaning” of it, then that’s fine, you just don’t, but then that’s also on me to do more writing and teaching and interviews, I think, to get better at explaining what it is I’m doing.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Some experiments are not totally new, but I’d like to ask why you broke that R’n’B/soul song on track number 4?

Jason Grier: That’s my favorite 7-inch single of all time. A private-press gem from the 80’s sometime, a forgotten artifact which I had heard rips of on a blog a long time ago and sought after for a long time, and finally stumbled upon last year. I just needed to pay homage to it. And as the Seurat device was originally intended to make uniform textures out of drone-like sounds, I wanted to work in opposition to the drone and use recognizable source material as a basis, and see if I could still get a drone-like instance of this song by multiplying tiny bits of it.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Two minutes of fireworks in track number 2…why?

Jason Grier: Berlin’s new years are really intense and hard to describe to people who’ve never been through it before, so there’s a documentary aspect to this choice, and as a sound clip, it’s pretty useful I’d hope, in other people’s music. On a personal level, I’m attracted to it as a sonic photograph, and the flat sound for a short duration mimics the surface of a snapshot, in my mind. (In which case, it’s a double-exposure, because it’s Berlin’s New Year’s Eve in 2017 superimposed onto Berlin’s New Year’s Eve in 2016.) I should say… I’m not sure where I stand on field recording experiences and the idea of audio photographs and audio documentaries and such –that is something I’m trying to deal with in Sound Library 2, which I’m working on now– but there’s this Roland Barthes quote that gives me direction: “[A photograph] is a prophecy in reverse: like Cassandra, but eyes fixed on the past.” Anyways, I digress…

 

Demonstration Disc - cover artwork by Gerhard Richter

Demonstration Disc – cover artwork by Gerhard Richter

Chain D.L.K.: What’s the source of that vocal puzzle in number 5? …And why that epilogue?

Jason Grier: This is “sonic detritus,” which is just a collection of stuff that gets edited out when you make a sample library or an album. I saved these trimmed-off bits as separate audio files: People commenting on their performances, apologizing for mistakes, saying “ok go” or “fuck I messed up” or laughing at themselves and the situation, or whatever. Mixed in are sounds of the actual studio architecture in decay: A squeaking door, dirty switches and fraying cables, humming amps and a turntable with the ground wires torn out, and some crumbling insulation materials flapping in the wind. The epilogue is a hissing EMI-type compressor, which I asked to be recorded and amplified with no input.

 

Chain D.L.K.: I saw many amazing comments in the code you deployed in GitHub… if I remember well, one of them referred to vomiting pets…am I wrong? A source of inspiration for some part of your sound library?

Jason Grier: I think you were seeing my scribbles! Or? I decided at some point that it would be interesting to put all my embarrassing half-finished lyrics and bad poems and whatnot all into version control. At least then I could see how things change over time. But then I felt embarrassed and took them down. But now I feel happy that you found them! Maybe I’ll post them again. (By the way, actually, the library has moved off GitHub to http://hem.rocks, ’cause the storage fees were so high.)

 

Chain D.L.K.: Track number 6…a sort of tribute to Cage?

Jason Grier: Yes, I guess so, but Cage made various manipulations to make pianos sound this way, while this piano, I just found it in this state, while I was a guest at a lavish wedding and not thinking about music much at all at that moment. But maybe that’s still a Cagean situation, though I’d like to think that certain familial/cultural/political situations exceed and tuck themselves away from this perspective. Anyways, the piano sounded like it did because nobody had repaired it in decades. It was literally rotting inside, like not “prepared” inside, but all going to dust inside. So there’s, at once, a tribute to Cage in this recording, but also like a Marxist critique of Cage, kinda, ;). Like, nature was really taking its course on this piano, though it still could make a few sounds, and the fact that it made sounds at all was a contingency of materiality and human service labor and nature’s unhindered influences over history, rather than a contingency of perception and belief and effect, though these two contingencies are never properly separable.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Track number 7…a patchwork of…what?

Jason Grier: First, it’s me practicing overtone singing sweeps, which, when chopped, simply sound like enunciated vowels. Then there’s a Sound Library pack called “Record Endings” in which I recorded the needle bouncing against the center-label of a variety of records. There are some other random cameos of sounds that appear in other tracks, but maybe get lost in the density of the other tracks; for example, the sax player chanting some mantras into the instrument while also playing notes on it. Just cameo appearances from the whole album in a more sparse mix compared to the other tracks.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Any really odd source in any of the 10 tracks?

Jason Grier: There was a drunken street-fight during one of the recordings of fireworks. I can’t tell what he’s saying, but with the Seurat treatment, it comes out as “AH – ÜH, AH – ÜH”.

 

Jason Grier - courtesy of Tonje Thilesen

Jason Grier – courtesy of Tonje Thilesen

Chain D.L.K.: How do you relate Demonstration Disc to your past releases?

Jason Grier: The Sound Library and Demonstration Disc are basically doing what my previous album “Unbekannte” was trying to do, which is to be this undetermined (or under-determined) aggregation of sounds and documents of experimental situations, and to kind of shed the whole album-making protocol, or at least, to see the album as a fragment of a documentation of some experimental situation or research activity and not the main thing. This is not a revolution, historically speaking, I think but it was revolutionary to me and an artistic awakening for me. “Unbekannte” itself was like a break with the past, and there’s no relation to anything I did before in past releases, which were trying to be albums without the labor/economic/process-oriented frame. But there was, in Unbekannte, more harmony with many other things I’ve been into in the past, like art, research, engineering, economics, and critical theory, and in Demonstration Disc, this is really starting to come together a lot better for me.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Is there any analogy of Demonstration Disc with the writings of some situationists? Any link to other fields of human knowledge beyond computer sciences?

Jason Grier: Situationists, no, at least I don’t think so, but maybe they left a mark on me. Beyond this open source and software culture aspect –which is mainly a feature of the deployment of the work– the overall motivation was to ask and to think about Artistic Labor and Artistic Research, two fields of knowledge that were getting attention, or at least that I was getting exposed to in the time when I was making the Sound Library and the Demonstration Disc. Harun Farocki (particularly the “Labor in a Single Shot” finale at HKW), Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s “Intellectual and Manual Labor” and Roland Barthes’ “Camera Lucida” were in my mind a lot.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Are there any ways of labeling contemporary music that you really reject for your own stuff?

Jason Grier: This question makes me think of Christian Wolff’s works called “Peace March,” and I ask myself why not just call this work “experimental sociology,” or “affective activism,” or something like that. One label which I find at least relatively/partially fitting to what I do at the moment is “Research,” because of the real effect that doing research has on the researcher and the reader in terms of heightened awareness and coming to terms with the context (sociopolitical, economic, etc.) of the activity of making the music. And my label for –though not disparagingly– a lot of work that identifies strongly as music is: “music as such.” Like work in which hearing and listening and somatic effect and the logistics of composing and producing these effects are pretty much what the work mainly does and is concerned with. And I think “music as such” is a part of what I’m doing, but not all of it. So, in general, I just reject the label “music.” At the same time, I don’t have anything against any particular labeling of my work on a practical level. I mean, even though labels like “experimental” and “avant-garde” are clumsy and potentially sociopolitically problematic, they do get you somewhere, at least, if you’re just initially trying to choose what work(s) of art to spend your time with.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to try to bring DDisc on a live stage? If yes, how?

Jason Grier: The Sound Library has already been a part of my live sets from like 2012 onwards. I prefer to play long, say 2 hours at least, or even 8 hours sometimes, and in this time I can really get warmed up and explore the Library more fully. Demonstration Disc in this form is more like installation art than theater. Unfortunately, this means I don’t find gigs so often where they let me play for that long, and the 20- 40-minute stage gigs are more difficult to do what I really want to do; to really dig into all these raw materials.

 

visit Human Ear Music on the web at: hem.rocks

Jan 292018
 

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“Every angle is literally a view I have from my current window; I’m looking down into a pit filled with mostly deunionised 6-day per week workers who have travelled much, much further than I would have to if that were my workplace, building their way out of the city. So what’s my role here?” By these words, Andrew McLellan described the video work related to his amazing mini-album “Tape 1” (coming on tape and files by Room40’s sister label A Guide To Saints) as Enderie. Let’s check out his role in music at least!

 

Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Andrew! How are you?

Enderie: I believe I’m good. Yes. Good, thank you. Thanks for asking.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Before focusing on Tape 1, can you trace back your musical history as Andrew?

Enderie: Yes, I’ll try from the start. I grew up in Far North Queensland. I somewhat worshipped the first three albums by The Prodigy. I thought DJing would be my method.

I began High School masturbating with Sonic Foundry’s Acid 2.0 on my parents’ PCs. I was on the computer a lot. It’s weird having one tool to do everything with and working with its limitations, emulating sounds that were achieved entirely differently.

I remember once I wanted a reverse cymbal sound, but I couldn’t reverse the waveform. So I cut up the regular cymbal crash into as many fine pieces as I could and arranged them backward. I think it sounded better…

I like Acid 2.0, as it was a blank kind of tool based on samples and processing rather than synthesis. I used Propellerhead’s Reason; a lot of friends were making psy-trance with Fruity Loops, but they all seemed locked in some kind of genre to me.

Later on, I became more sociable in bands with guitars with a few others who fed me interesting punk, some free jazz and things in a register I couldn’t name.

Sometime around here, I began making stuff solo as Cured Pink. In Cairns, there were very few options for live music under drinking age. so I was still very much a bedroom musician only recording, not performing. I moved to Brisbane after high school and found many experimental music events of interest, ostensibly in conversation with the records I had been listening to for a couple years prior. Even though I continued the masturbation, I found others to do it with to slightly more critical acclaim. Musically, I was mostly off the computer. There were self-built instruments and improvisation.

I was involved in a variety of things, including Soft Power, Kitchen’s Floor, Greg Boring, and Stiiifs, although Cured Pink continued to be the primary item for myself and it became a band (with Glen Schenau, Mitchell Perkins and Stuart Busby) around 2011.

We’re still an item, but living in different cities never makes a band more productive. I miss the regularity of its dialog. Album 2 is coming eventually.

 

Enderie - courtesy of Carmen Juarez

courtesy of Carmen Juarez

Chain D.L.K.: How did the solo-alter ego Enderie come out?

Enderie: It was a facebook name – I can’t recall how it became a name to perform as, but I have a feeling I was booked as Enderie for one of the parties at the late Real Bad Music in Moorooka, Brisbane, after I’d started making my idea of dance music again. But with hardware this time. Around 2012?

There was a final ‘solo’ Cured Pink record kinda introducing it all, ‘As Enderie Nuatal’: https://curedpink.bandcamp.com/album/11-put-aside

I suppose it’s full circle, as I’ve come back to playing with myself at home, emulating The Prodigy. Though, the hardware gives me a break; it’s nice doing something that doesn’t involve looking at a screen.

 

Chain D.L.K.: With a title like Title 1, I guess there will be a sequel…

Enderie: Enderie II was actually released a week later, on Paradise Daily. Check it out here: https://paradisedaily.bandcamp.com/album/enderie-ii-cs

 

Chain D.L.K.: The ‘dirty’ technoid sound of Tape 1 activated some old musical memories, in particular, some stylistic sparks in Melbourne (I remember the Organarchy collective, for instance)… Any link to that scene, even if I read you come from Brisbane and were active in Sidney…?

Enderie: Oh, great! No, no direct connection, that was all very much before my time. What I love of what little I’ve found of Organarchy is the direct button pushing and quite saturated sounds, and of course some of the modes of protest and resistance they were involved with at the time.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Does your choice of a lo-fi-based sound hide a functional refusal of technocracy instead of a passion for lo-fi samplers and devices?

Enderie: You know, I don’t really consciously think of it as a lo-fi sound; often, I’m aiming relatively full-frequency. But I generally play on smaller, distorting PAs in band venues and find myself trying to emulate the idiosyncrasies of their distortions when recording. Otherwise, I find something is missing. Hearing back Instagram excerpts of my sets gives me pointers. Mostly I like materials that are thin, you know – take up a limited amount of space so they don’t push each other too much.

I try to avoid using really familiar electronic sounds like 808 kicks – they’re such a convention, the ear demands some kind of conventional deployment of them all too often. Which can be fun sometimes, learning a convention so it can be debased. But better to start elsewhere.

Compared to software like Ableton Live, which gives relative access to high-production values inside the conventions of much electronic music, hardware (even cheap stuff) I think is more out of reach for a greater number of people, since it requires some degree of investment or trade. Even if it’s lower-fi in sound, I don’t think the sounds something produces can act out a meaningful critique of production values anymore. All ranges of signifying sounds are horizontally available, thanks to software piracy and re-retro’d hardware, etc. Once sounds were produced independent of genre-associations; now the tools act as routers for any existing aesthetic content.

The material difference between higher-fi and lower-fi is becoming mute, and aesthetics is a weird game.

 

Chain D.L.K.: What’s the connection between the repeated motto of the first track (the system decide and laser beam)?

Enderie: It’s two sentences from a single interview – an engineer describing their excitement around an automated system. The repeated refrain seemed to create new meanings. People who ask me always seem to have their own narrative concocted about the connection.

 

Snapshot of 'Let's System Decide (A Laser Beam)' - courtesy of Jamie Gray

Snapshot of ‘Let’s System Decide (A Laser Beam)’ – courtesy of Jamie Gray

Chain D.L.K.: The source of that chattering opening on the following track, “Meal”?

Enderie: Crowds at a music festival and a reporter struggling to find their objectivity. The context seemed archival to me; perfect.

 

Chain D.L.K.: No video got attached to the audio tracks that reached my desk, but I read there’s also a video part of Tape 1…or is there an expanded edition titled Videotape 1? 🙂

Enderie: No videotape, just a short video for System Decides: https://vimeo.com/220239465

 

Chain D.L.K.: Besides some jokes on a seemingly obsolete format, can you explain how the understanding of audio tracks could be enhanced by the attached video clips?

Enderie: They’re promotional and give a ready contextualizing narrative to otherwise ambiguous and anonymous vehicular audio. That’s why I felt I’d do it with a radio edit – I can’t expect people to watch for more than 2 minutes. So I see it as an efficient means of helping a new listener chunk new information.

 

Chain D.L.K.: According to many contemporary thinkers, the so-called system likes to attack mnemonic memes of masses in order to enslave them…do you agree? Were you referring to this cultural aspect in “Stopped Memory”?

Enderie: Not consciously. But, generally speaking, I can’t disagree with that critique – without knowing the specific thinkers you’re referencing, I suppose we’re talking about attention spans being run to their limits. The effect is a general miasma that only knows to prioritize self-care in the face of uncertainty.

A couple of years ago, I worked on a performance piece based on speed-reading and the elimination of subvocalisation – the internal voice that reads each word and slows down reading rates. The trade-off for acceleration of information consumption is, of course, personal analysis and memorization. Many media outlets are accelerating, if not in their delivery, then in our consumption patterns. Similar effects have been shown lately with the binge-watching of television shows.

The spaces between stimuli and data sets are needing to be more deliberately created and maintained by us, it seems. Against these spaces, most media want/need constant engagement and scrolling to maintain their market share.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Do you include some mainstream “artists” in the hordes to be attacked (ref. the last track of the ones you forged in 2016)?

Enderie: Not really! There are many mainstream artists I really get a lot out of hearing. I used to have a more negative disposition to my impression of the commercial industry, instead wanting to champion independent avenues – but in terms of music, at least, I don’t think either are divisible from the other. They need each other.

The title comes from a split record by Brazil’s Stuhlzapfchen Von “N” & BSB. H. The phrase still seems to carry a lot of weight.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Two tracks in Tape 1 (“Sore” and “It’s a feasible feat”) were forged in different moments…what’s the relation between them and the rest of the tape?

Enderie: Only that I wrote them and I judged them to be of sufficient quality to still be included, though I’ve lost the means to perform them live with different equipment, lost files, etc. I can’t really recall making ‘It’s a feasible feat’ – that’s the only one that came from a jam session I was never able to replicate. A real fluke, I think.

 

Enderie " Tape 1" (2017, A Guide To Saints) - cover artwork

Enderie ” Tape 1″ (2017, A Guide To Saints) – cover artwork

Chain D.L.K.: The ones you made in 2016 have been recorded on the unceded lands of Gadigal of the Eora… are they Aboriginal territories? Do you have a connection with them?

Enderie: Yes, but the only connection I have is as a settler-beneficiary of the ongoing colonization of an entire continent that includes hundreds of nations that never ceded their territory to the British Commonwealth or another foreign party.

I know it happens in other parts of the world, though specifically to this continent, there is an increasingly practiced due process to acknowledge the Country proceedings or an event is taking place upon; that is, if you’re unable to be officially welcomed by someone able to do so. This isn’t without issue, as politicians can save face by acknowledging a Country on one hand, though meter out a condescending and paternalistic policy with the other, sometimes in the same statement.

But for many people, every opportunity to acknowledge the Country is being taken up, on event posters, listings, and liner notes. I’m new to it. It changes the language of a place, which affronts the narrative imposed by colonization. Brisbane becomes Meanjin again, and necessary questions are asked.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Did you ever tour out of Australia? Can you tell us something about your forthcoming live acts?

Enderie: Yes, Enderie toured Taiwan in late 2017, with Liquid Architecture (an organization for artists working with sound), playing with many friends in Taipei, Taichung, and Tainan. It felt very politically and musically relative to what I engage within Australia.

Cured Pink toured Europe in late 2015! We visited Cafe Oto in London, NK Projekt and Scherer 8 in Berlin, Poland, Mayhem in Copenhagen, Het Bos in Antwerp, through France down to Lisbon. I spent a fair bit of time in Jogjakarta in 2011, making music and instruments and playing the odd show.

I haven’t got further plans just yet, but am always interested.

 

visit Enderie on the web at: www.curedpink.com

Jan 292018
 

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Montreal-based sound-artist, performer and composer Nicolas Bernier recently dropped a new release on the label of Acte community (grouping some experimental sound artists on an edge of innovation, who are active in Montreal area). According to the introduction by the label, Transfert/Futur, the title of this release “marks a shift from Nicolas Bernier’s rather reductionist approach of the previous series to a more expressive and colorful aesthetic.” We tried to find out the reason by talking to its author.

 

Nicolas Bernier - courtesy of Isabelle Gardner

courtesy of Isabelle Gardner

Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Nicolas! How are you?

Nicolas Bernier: Fine! In the middle of the electronic music students concerts at Université de Montréal, so my head is (even more) overloaded with sounds this week!

 

Chain D.L.K.: Before focusing on Transfert/Futur, some introductory words for the readers who don’t know you… first of all, how did the spark for experimental music (if you agree with such a way of labeling it) become a fire?

Nicolas Bernier: I think the desire for experimentation, to get out of the common musical formulas, has always been there. For instance, even when I was doing folk music (among other punk, post-metal, and every conceivable rock variation) when I was a teenager, I was the one plugging effects, pedal and distortion and playing progressive patterns on my, well, mandolin! Just the fact of playing the mandolin was experimental in the era of power trios.

I am totally fine with the term “experimental.” I actually quite like it, as it puts forward the ideas of trying things to get to a result, on the experience, on the sensitivity, which is one of the main reasons to make music or art. There is no experimental aesthetic, per se; it’s more a state of mind before anything else.

 

Chain D.L.K.: You said Transfert/Futur is the beginning of a new stage in your artistic and creative path…could you tell us something about the previous stages and the way they interrelate with the present time?

Nicolas Bernier: …And maybe not a long stage, to be honest. I don’t know yet, but I don’t think it will live 7 or 8 years like the previous “frequencies” cycle of works. All my creative cycles are reacting to the previous one. The frequencies were following cycles based on machine and field recordings, so I wanted to avoid this noisy universe to get back towards more basic sounds. The starting point was the sine wave of the acoustic tuning forks, but also the electronic sine wave and micro-sounds.

The funny thing is, while my projects are reactions to the previous ones, the previous will always be included in one way or another in the current ones. The title Transfert/Futur is, in the first place, a way to talk about science fiction, which is the main topic of this new series. But, on a more technical and personal level, it is also a transfer of the previous series within a totally new context. The piece Transfert (299 792 458 m/s) started out by transferring to synthesizers the midi sequences I used in the very first piece performance of the frequencies series. The second piece, Futur (299 792 458 m/s), also started from an old, unused and unfinished synth-based composition that was actually my very first midi sequence I made around 2013, I think (before that date, I was refusing to work with midi and synth, working only with field recording in a musique concrète perspective).

 

Nicolas Bernier - courtesy of Francois Laflamme

courtesy of Francois Laflamme

Chain D.L.K.: How many diapasons do you own? What’s the oddest one, and why?

Nicolas Bernier: That’s a good question. I’ve got a couple of drawers full of them, old to new, metal to aluminum, brown to silver. But I’d say around a hundred.

Most of them are just boring tuning forks, but there are a couple that are more interesting: a huge 30 Hz tuning fork, for instance, or the stroboscopic ones, or an old one from the Max Kohl Chemnitz company that was one of the main scientific apparatus suppliers in the late 19th century. But there is one I have a really special relationship with: the Secretan one. Secretan was the company who was commissioned for the official international pitch A=435 hertz tuning fork in 1859 (before the norm was set to 440 Hz), the “diapason normal.” The tuning fork was once a really serious scientific and musical topic, and the official one was kept in a controlled environment so it’s frequency wouldn’t change over time; it was the Mother of all tuning forks. I don’ t remember how a Secretan tuning fork ended up in my collection one day, and since then, each time I open that drawer, I fantasize about having one of the most important artifacts of music history. But, I mean, it’s really just me inventing stories, as it is probably just another anonymous tuning fork.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Most of the artists dealing with pure sounds or frequencies I spoke with told me they developed a sort of idiosyncrasy for “dirty” noises… What’s your relation to sound and noise?

Nicolas Bernier: With the frequencies series, I wanted to look towards some kind of purity…while staying well aware that I would never find it. And, frankly, I am not that interested in purity; I am usually more looking for equilibrium between elements. This search towards purer sounds led to a certain clarity in my artistic proposals, I think. I am not a sound racist: all sounds, whether purer or noisier or everything in between, can be of interest. It’s more a matter of how you organize your ideas and elements together.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Did you use any of the machines you previously built on Transfert/Futur?

Nicolas Bernier: Nope. This album is 100% digital virtual synthesizers. So, pure in a way, but dirty at the same time in the way the elements are organized.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Well…why did you quote the speed of light in the titles of Transfert/Futur? Any sci-fi-like reverie?

Nicolas Bernier: Basically, all my projects reflect my obsessions (my life is made of obsessions that usually stay for a couple of years, and then leave space for a new obsession and therefore a new series of projects). For the last couple of years, I’ve been obsessed with science fiction. Before 2014, Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Kubrick’s 2001 were basically 100% of my relationship with sci-fi, nothing else. But then I got hooked and I’ve been watching, reading and dreaming about parallel worlds, lasers, and humanoïds since then.

With the first project of the series was an installation where I wanted to recreate the feeling of the space travel scene at the end of 2001. So this is why I chose the speed of light as the main thread in the project, because my aim is to reflect those travels at light speed, those transfers to parallel zones, those spaceships full of neons and blinking control panels. And, well, the speed of light is saying that, as in my previous projects, I am still working with light, but with a different angle, a different sub-topic.

 

Transfert/Futur cover artwork

Transfert/Futur cover artwork

Chain D.L.K.: The idea of attaching an interview (in French and English) in the booklet is pretty good…

Nicolas Bernier: I think so, too! It is something the label, ACTE, really wants to keep in all their releases. It gives some content, some sense in releasing music in this era of unlimited downloads. A pretty exciting new label from Montreal, by the way, with a quite open-minded vision of what music should be in this 21st century.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Most of the sounds in the second track “synthèse (299 792 458 m/s)” reminds me of something I did ages ago by short-outing circuits of some old drum machines…how did you create the sounds you included in this track?

Nicolas Bernier: This is quite interesting, as it is one more proof that the nature of the tools doesn’t really matter, whether they are analog or digital, old or new. Because, like I said earlier, this piece is 100% virtual synthesizers. No short circuits. All “clean” and planned, but composed in some kind of dirty ways that make it feel a bit improvised or out of control, even though it’s the complete opposite.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Any word about the first half of Transfert/Futur?

Nicolas Bernier: In reaction to my previous series, one of the intentions of this new one is to NOT be conceptual, and Transfert (299 792 458 m/s) is a good case in point. While I flirted with pop elements in my first releases a decade ago, I have always been away from the four on the floor type of music. This piece is a long ascension aiming to place a kick drum on every beat. In the end, the 4/4 stays a bit disarticulated, but we are pretty much as close as I get to more conventional rhythmic electronic music (aside from the scores I made for modern dance pieces, maybe). So it’s kind of a return to more intuitive and more physical music.

On the other hand, the visual, scenographic, installative or performative aspect is often an important component in my work these days. The music was composed beforehand and should then be able to live by itself as music, but in the end, it is also an audiovisual performance that pursues those science-fictional ideas. There is a glimpse of the performance here: https://vimeo.com/242128789.

 

Chain D.L.K.: How are you going to move this new series of releases forward? Any installation in progress or in your forthcoming plans?

Nicolas Bernier: I worked for years on a quite important installation project, but for some reason (mainly financial) I had to abandon it. I’ve got tons of other ideas, but as soon as your projects rely on the fabrication of tangible devices, it gets complicated technically and financially. So the future will tell.

 

visit Nicolas Bernier on the web at www.nicolasbernier.com

Jan 292018
 

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The brilliant Finnish-American guitar explorer Raoul Björkenheim recently released “Doors of Perception”, his third album on Cuneiform together with eCsTaSy, his brilliant band consisting of the brilliant drummer Markku Ounaskari – Raoul’s long-lasting partner in art -, the young hyperactive saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen, and the bassist Jori Huhtala. “In a way, it is countercultural,” Björkenheim sais to describe this output “It’s an invitation to enter a world that might be disorienting. I don’t hear a walking bass, is this jazz? It might be a little bit of a challenge, but it’s also an invitation.” We joined his invitation and we invite you too. In the meanwhile, we had a chat with his mastermind.

 

Raoul Björkenheim and eCsTaSy - courtesy of Raoul Björkenheim

Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Raoul! How are you?

Raoul Björkenheim: Hi, thanks, almost fine except for a persistent cold which has bothered me for the past two weeks.

 

Chain D.L.K.: As we’re close to the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, what would you say about the passing year? Best and worst moments of it (particularly from a musical viewpoint)?

Raoul Björkenheim: The best moments were two CD release tours, one with eCsTaSy and the other with my band Triad, a more guitar-oriented trio, featuring two young Finnish talents, Ilmari Heikinheimo on drums and Ville Rauhala on double bass. What can I say? I live for those moments when we play for audiences, and most of the time we had great ones. More best moments were a gig at the Stone NYC in the company of Bill Laswell, Hideo Yamaki, Dominic James and Mike Sopko on the infamous day when Trump was inaugurated…we went to our favorite bar afterward and were shocked to see that we were the only ones there. I was back in NYC in June and played two gigs with one of my favorite drummers, Gerald Cleaver, one of them with my Swedish pal Anders Nilsson on guitar, and the other with Joe Fonda on upright bass. By far the worst moment was the death of a dear friend in May.

 

Chain D.L.K.: …and what are the most vivid memories of 2017?

Raoul Björkenheim: One of them was seeing the Shakespeare in the Park performance of “Julius Caesar” in June, which led to a lot of heated debate in the press due to its Caesar wearing a red tie and having a terrible hairdo, which made him resemble you-know-who. Another vivid memory was swimming in the Adriatic during a trip to Montenegro…The water is so crystal-clear there that it’s the closest one can get to flying.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Before focusing on your awesome last release on Cuneiform (“Doors of Perception”), would you tell us something about eCsTaSy and its evolution?

Raoul Björkenheim: I met Pauli and Jori, our sax and bass players, during a fall semester at the Sibelius Academy, where I teach improvisation and ear training. They impressed me so much that I invited them to a jam, which impressed me some more and led to my forming eCsTaSy, so the band’s genesis was eminently natural. Markku was the clear choice for this band, and it was one of those things where everyone was playing great together right from the very first moment.

 

Chain D.L.K.: What was the creative spark that fired Doors of Perception? Any reference to Huxley’s essay? There’s an Italian edition of it that has a “psychedelic” multicolored cover that came to my mind when I read that your release has been labeled as “kaleidoscopically inventive”…

Raoul Björkenheim: Music reminds us that invisible waveforms can affect our lives and that much that is unseen indeed exists. Huxley’s essay didn’t directly influence our recording, but the desire to create imaginary soundscapes which have nearly visual aspects did. The cover photo also inspired the title in this age of deceitful manipulation of the media by individuals with less than our best interests in mind, when people choose their points of view according to their perception, so one must evaluate the news even more carefully than before. The music is less for curling up on the sofa with and more for marching to the barricades with.

 

Chain D.L.K.: So what are the main inventions in this kaleidoscope, in your own words?

Raoul Björkenheim: Well, that’s really more for the listener to decide, no? I like to think that instead of the very harmonically influenced thinking dominating most jazz, we subscribe to a more contrapuntal concept. The pieces have quite a broad stylistic range, which contributes to a feeling of many-faceted color, and I like the disorienting effect of the next piece doing something that takes you by surprise.

 

Raoul Björkenheim and eCsTaSy 'Doors of Perception' cover artwork

Chain D.L.K.: I really enjoyed listening to it…it could be interesting to know something about its making… Did you make it in one take?

Raoul Björkenheim: We’re definitely a live band in the studio, but we did take breaks between the tunes, so we didn’t just record the whole album in 43 minutes if that’s what you’re asking. We’d often start with a verbal description of what we wanted to do, and sometimes it would take us a few takes to get the right one; afterward, we created the sequencing. We’ve always included totally improvised material in our live sets, as it often leads to the freshest ideas, and so doing the same thing in the studio feels quite natural.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Any funny or troublesome moments that occurred during the recording that you’d like to share with us?

Raoul Björkenheim: All the pieces had their share of funny and troublesome moments, but none, in particular, come to mind…

 

Chain D.L.K.: There are many amazing moments…”Buzz” is one of my favorites, even if it’s the shortest track…what did you have in mind while performing?

Raoul Björkenheim: When we’re playing, the music obviously takes over, so we’re not really involved in intellectual deliberation about what to do next, but in the case of “Buzz,” we came upon the bass and guitar chromatic texture during an improvisation, and we built the tune around that. It was another example of textures that don’t limit the soloist’s choice of expression, and with a soloist like Pauli, incredible things can happen.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Let’s jump to the longest track, “Elemental,” another highlight of this recording… How did you and Pauli understand each other so perfectly?

Raoul Björkenheim: We spend a lot of time improvising together during our rehearsals, and I think we often reach that level where we’re totally in tune with each other. Elemental started out as a rhythmic/harmonic groove set up by my re-tuned 12 string guitar, and on the way, Pauli composed a melody for it, but after several takes trying to use it we decided on just tapping into the flow and creating the form by improvising. That song has really taken off during our live sets and is one of the highlights of our shows.

 

Chain D.L.K.: There’s a remarkable contamination by somehow exotic elements in your musical stream… there are many moments where you deploy images of distant worlds and reveries from your music into listener’s mind…is it intentional?

Raoul Björkenheim: As I implied earlier, we want to create music that takes the listener on trips, and we all listen to a huge variety of music, so yes, we intentionally put little exotic signals into the music. My influences range from Messiaen’s colorful worlds to Dudu N’Daye Rose’s drumming, from Gagaku court music to Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner, from Melanesian pan pipes to Debussy, and at the moment, I’m infatuated with Charles Ives, whose music can really surprise.

 

 

Raoul Björkenheim and eCsTaSy - courtesy of Raoul Björkenheim

Chain D.L.K.: What’s the oddest feedback you’ve received after a performance by the audience?

Raoul Björkenheim: The oddest feedback was playing at a club in Ljubljana and seeing the young women in the front row never taking their eyes off their iPhones, seemingly more focused on updating their Facebook status.

 

Chain D.L.K.: …and what’s the best critique?

Raoul Björkenheim: During a gig that was far off our route and caused us to have to drive an extra 800 km, we were disappointed to see that only a handful of people came by to see the show, but while we were packing up, a young man stepped up and said that he was a drummer and that our show was the most inspiring thing he had ever seen!

 

Chain D.L.K.: You’re Finnish-American, leading a group of mainly Finnish musicians… A grotesque invention by Aki Kaurismaki, Leningrad Cowboys, came to my mind… Have you ever intersected with other interesting releases of Finnish culture in your career?

Raoul Björkenheim: I have played with one of the greatest Finnish rock bands, Sielun Veljet (Brothers of Soul), and I was once commissioned to compose a piece for 30 guitars, 8 basses, and 4 percussionists, so I shared solo duties with that band’s lead guitarist, Jukka Orma. The piece was performed in 1995 and is titled “Apocalypso”; you can find it on YouTube under the title “Absolute Guitar.” In the 90’s, I led a band called Krakatau, and that band rocked. I called the music Psyche-tranceic-heavy-metal-ethno-free, and some of that’s on YouTube as well. On top of that, I just completed the film music for a comedy which opens on February 16th; it’s my 10th film!

 

Chain D.L.K.: I read you’re planning an international tour in 2018…any anticipation?

Raoul Björkenheim: We’re working on it, but it’ll happen more in the fall.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress?

Raoul Björkenheim: At the moment, I’m working on a commission for music to accompany an exhibition of Surrealist Art at the Emma Modern Art Museum in Espoo, Finland, to be premiered in April. I also got a grant to write a book on improvisation for all guitarists, using material found in my twenty-or-so notebooks of sketches and brainstorms. It’ll be ready in 2019.

 

visit Raoul Björkenheim & eCsTaSy on the web at: raoulbjorkenheimecstasy.net

 

 

Jan 292018
 

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The inventive Australian experimental producer Ross Manning recently dropped “Reflex In Waves”, which is more a co-production between Lawrence English’s imprint Room40 and Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art, related to Manning’s first survey exhibition, titled Dissonant Rhythms. Before Ross starts an already-announced tour to bring this exhibition to many places throughout Australia (in ten venues between 2018 and 2020), we had a chat about it.

 

Ross Manning - courtesy of Bryan Spencer

courtesy of Bryan Spencer

Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Ross! Can you introduce yourself in your own words to our readers?

Ross Manning: I’m a visual and sound artist living and working in Brisbane, Australia. I work across live performance, instrument building, recorded music and visual art.

 

Chain D.L.K.: How did you develop a passion for sound machines and artifacts?

Ross Manning: I’ve always been obsessed with sound and music and really have always been interested in how its made from a young age. I made my first instruments and recordings when I was about 10, so it’s something that I’ve always been thinking about.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Do you remember your very first installation?

Ross Manning: Well, yes. It was about 10 years ago, in Melbourne, for the next wave festival; the group show was titled “lost garden found”… It was the first time I tried to move the sounds I used in live settings into the gallery. It turned out to be a duo of sound works that interacted with each other sonically, like a two-part composition. One used light-sensitive electronics activated with playback from a CRT TV, and the other had a pulley system that turns small plastic records found in pull-string kids toys with short loops of Donald Duck and Goofy, interlocking cartoon jabber. These little records were fun to find and collect, and I still have them.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Are there any sound machines you have preferred to enhance over the years?

Ross Manning: The directions can be endless. I always have new things I want to try, but I hold onto an idea of the type of sound I need for a piece or to complement an instrument/sound that I’m already working with. The intention is to make organized pieces.

I’ve been mainly using a physical waveform as a percussion activator for some years now and have developed new instruments (for want of a better word, maybe sound objects would be better) for this way of making music and performing. I should explain a little about how this system works. I use a spinning rope attached at either end to motors that I can control the speed of. As the motors turn the centrifugal forces within, the rope creates a waveform shape. Centrifugal force. I then place various tuned percussion instruments of my own design in its path. The waveform interacts with the different objects, tapping out rhythms. The parameters of the system are only a few: the speed of motors (changing the harmonics of the waveform), space/distance from the waveform to the instrument (how often and intensely it strikes), and the length of the string. The material the string is made from, just as with traditional percussion mallets, can be hardwired for a sharp attack or a softer string that has a more muted attack. Instruments usually are made up of soundboards with metal tines protruding, but there are many other materials I use (glass, ceramic, timer, bamboo, plastic etc.). I set up 4 or 6 of these percussion ‘stations’ and perform them like sections of an orchestra. These clusters of notes form what I think of as a block of movement. These blocks are then placed in groupings. I group them according to their timbral qualities and pitches.

 

instruments - courtesy of Bryan Spencer

courtesy of Bryan Spencer

Chain D.L.K.: Reflex in Waves is a sort of celebratory release…can you tell us something about what it’s going to celebrate or summarise?

Ross Manning: This LP was a 2017 co-release with the Institute of Modern Art and Room40. It’s to accompany the catalog from a survey exhibition held last year at the IMA gallery. The exhibition was an overview of the last 10 years of my art practice, with a commission for a new sound piece. the LP is a kind of document of the studio sounds I was making leading up to the show. I say it’s a document more than an album, as it was done quite quickly and is more of a portal into the studio space at that time. I tend to view my releases as a library of sound more than discreet albums. The recording is problematic, as it tends to be a finalist statement of form, and I find the work I do is always moving and no one work can really sum it up.

In this mode of thinking, since the “Reflex in Waves” LP came out, I have a tape titled “both sides of the cocoon with chemical imbalance” and another self-released LP that I’ve just gotten back from the press called “frequency metal.” I hope to just keep on releasing as much as I can; if anyone wants copies of the above-mentioned records, please contact me!

 

Chain D.L.K.: Its sound is very different from “Interlacing,” featuring the reliable mark of Room 40… how did you draw the sound of “Interlacing”?

Ross Manning: Interlacing was an earlier way that I experimented with recorded sounds played back from many devices. Tape, mini disk, cdr, dictorphone, reel to reel, etc., all of which had a variety of similar sound types. I mixed this playback live and the results are kind of a ‘performative mix down.’ There are some tracks that use light from LEDs amplified using custom electronics, but I’m not really working this way anymore.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Some people keep on thinking that some releases are just random and that there’s no real work behind them…could you dispel this opinion by saying something about preparatory work behind your installations or albums?

Ross Manning: I can understand this. I’m not really interested in complete indeterminacy. I spend a lot of time finding and tuning the sounds that I require to complete an idea for a composition. There is an element of chance regarding how the system activates a selection of notes, but it’s mostly controlled. The energies within the spinning waveform physically react to the objects in its path. This playing of the selected notes is really the only part of the system that is autonomous. So everything is very much controlled and purposeful, although the system that activates them operates with its own kind of logic.

 

Chain D.L.K.: The sound of the opening track, “Three Tuned Sets in Crystal,” is similar to the one of that strange machine you used in a live set that someone posted on YouTube that you held in Annerley in Queensland…is it an update of that machine? Can you explain the machinery behind this track and that live show?

Ross Manning: Yes, that’s right, the same system, but the instruments are different. This track is a recording of the 3x spinning waveforms as seen here, but the sounds that come from it are the spring steel bars from chime clocks that I have modified and re-tuned. The frequencies of each 1 of 3 are very close together, and it forms a kind of auditory bleeding. These spinning ropes here are much shorter in length than usual as I try and get a regular rhythm coming from standing waves, more perfect waves, that pulse back and forth, striking across a 3-6 note section of the chimes. Proximity (distances from object to string) are key factors in the motifs generated, and I move these around by hand to change the interactions.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Some stuff in Reflex in Waves resembled something by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki… Could you trace a possible chain of “sibling” or similarities of your sound by quoting some more or less known composers?

Ross Manning: I very much like Penderecki, and works like Fluorescences and De Natura Sonoris 1 are really great… I do enjoy 20th-century composition a lot, and this makes up a large part of my record collection.

 

Ross Manning - courtesy of Bryan Spencer

courtesy of Bryan Spencer

Chain D.L.K.: How would you label your sound? Generically avant-garde?

Ross Manning: I’m not sure and wouldn’t like to comment, but I do think new music has an obligation to be interesting, progressive and of an individual voice.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Some listeners think that a valid support of some kinds of music, where odd instruments get used (including some contemporary free jazz and improv), could be better appreciated by watching them instead of listening through a cd…do you agree with them? Do you think that the visual part of this kind of music might be extensively adopted in the near future by labels or producers?

Ross Manning: If you hear a piano being played, the listener has at least some small knowledge of what’s happening between the player and the instrument, and therefore the skill levels involved. This isn’t the same, say, with say electronic music; the player may be highly talented, but due to the audience having little experience (mostly), this skill is lost. I don’t think you necessarily need to see the performance to understand the qualities of sound, as music is abstract, although it allows a deeper appreciation. I think all music is better seen live anyway; as I mentioned before, recording is problematic. But in saying that, I can be quite happy with not knowing the sound origin of the music I listen to.

 

Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress?

Ross Manning: Working on new material for a release this year that I’m very happy with, still with these kinds of instruments. We’ll see how it goes.

 

visit Ross Manning on the web at: www.rossmanning.com