Originally Published in September 2004
The Aural Organics of j.frede
By TJ NORRIS
In the last half dozen years j.frede (born James Frederick in New Mexico, circa 1975) has slowly emerged in the City of Angels as one of the world’s premiere young phonographers. His work embodies the presence of the ethereal in works that fluidly blend organic field recordings with bold digital technologies. Frede’s intuitive compositions source sounds from his immediate and distant axis having actively explored the subtle tones of field recordings in his compositions since his first European tour in 1998. In a constant process of discovering what he explains as “countless natural sonics” the environment often brings him all the acoustics he requires that do not exist in the synthetic or digital realm. He sees himself as an integral part of a burgeoning community of phonograhers that includes such other notable artists as Seth Nehil, Christopher DeLaurenti, MNortham, Dale Lloyd and Eric La Casa among many others. You can surf to http://www.phonography.org for the latest in who is currently channeling the elements. Labels like 12K, Accretions, and/OAR and Intransitive have supported the emergence of sounds bathed in the cryptic harmonies between nature and man. When I spoke with frede from his studio in Los Angeles he said “Recently I have been doing contact recordings of trees and plants for an upcoming event in LA that will focus on sounds from nature.” From bees and trees to flowers and showers, frede’s insistent passion for bringing aural harmony to spaces with more super highways and stripmalls than a bit of green may make him the Henry David Thoreau of his generation.
Most recently his work has become something of an excerpted, accented, and it might even be called post-self, collaborative work with UK’s Scanner (Robin Rimbaud). On ‘j.frede Rewrites Scanner’s Diary’ the latest recording which is now available on frede’s own Current Recordings (www.current-recordings.com) he takes on Scanner’s Y2K ‘Diary’ CD release, a live recording, as the source material for a completely re-scripted interpolation of the original, based on Rimbaud’s daily journal dated back to the Disco era (1976). This somewhat traditional process must certainly pose a challenge for an artist who seems to only be constantly traveling the globe. Frede says “I was visiting Robin in London at the end of 2001 and he gave me a copy of his ‘Diary’ CD and he explained about the accompanying tour and his personal discipline with his diaries. I loved the concept and the recordings that went along with this album so in 2003 as we were discussing collaborative projects we both felt this would be interesting and thought the title was rather funny….so it began.” As electronic music can often be interpreted as impersonal, frede’s use of such private and nuanced artifacts of memory truly counters the ultimate means to an end herein. As the recording plays, the pages of Rimbaud’s personal passages unfurl under the mysterious, stop-start harmonic convergence frede composes. “I began taking apart his live recordings from the CD, taking care to not mix the sources from track to track, out of my own neurotic conceptual nature, and create new tracks or in this instance “pages” from the recordings. The finished piece is a full length album that explores Scanner’s textures and sounds arranged in new compositions.” Quiet, dreamy isolation meets fragmented memory bits head on.
And Rimbaud is not frede’s only collaborator of late, he is what some may call a co-op artist, merging his mind and talent with many others who lay the land high and low including professional piano tuner David Nereson on frede’s recent “Unprepared Piano” release (Current Recordings), his noise work with a hardcore band named Deadlock Frequency, and other unreleased work projects with veteran sound artists Kim Cascone and Francisco Lopez. He shyly admits that there are other collaborative projects on the horizon that “i will keep quiet for now…” His collaborations grow from friendships and through various correspondence.
As a visual artist frede has developed a growing roster of ongoing installation pieces. With a small band of artists who work in this modality, his combination of sound with sculptural elements, video and other interactive technologies takes an avenue that enables the audience to have a more full experience of the sound center of the work. Each of his sound sculptures follow a strict conceptual format, that aligns to strict disciplines in his life and for years he was plain bored of simply performing live in the typical stereo PA construct, so he incorporated working with live quadraphonic performances that leant to the experience of site specific sound space. This, of course, set up a precedent for challenging the average audience’s attention span, and those who typically come out to a show for flashy bling-bling would be in for a completely different mind altering body numbing experience at the helm of frede’s craft. When asked if he could reflect on his process and discuss the temporary nature of creating work in a more physical context, effecting how the visuals or sound might come first he explained “Each installation varies – some are for single evening engagements some are long running exhibitions. I have found it easier for people to relate to my work through my installations than through my live performances – people have the option of understanding it at their own pace, and they are not forced in a seat for 20 minutes… so as much as I love performing live, i am very passionate about presenting installations.” His methodical approach is readily identified as he went further saying “My process….. well I have a book full of “future works” that I keep, when an idea or a concept comes to me I sketch down all of the info onto index cards then organize the ramblings and type them onto a “projects” template – then I print them out and file them into the future works book.”
From museums and planetariums to Nazi bunkers (Blockhaus in Nantes, France) and on the hull of a ship the live experience in frede’s world is more of a basic shifting of the alchemies of sacred turf. Performing live allows him the ability to really focus on the sounds available at the speed of real time. He releases binaural sounds captured in his travels throughout Europe and the United States into foreign and contained live spaces where the dynamics of the particular piece and the duration of the performance may vary depending on the performance environment. He weaves sound textures creating real-time spatial environments that move what you hear around the space manually or by sequencing the pans.
Get something on your chest! This Summer frede introduced a vibrant new series of t-shirts called “current.array” created to bring print designs from composers working in the field of microsound and lowercase music. The artists include Janek Schaefer (AudiOh!) who’s “12 Tone Turntable” is something of a dizzying vortex for turntablists with a passion for lock grooves and scratching, the contained dna of what could be the origination of tie-die in “Voice Print” by Steve Roden (Trente Oiseaux, Sirr) and John Hudak’s (Alluvial, Intransitive) swirly James Bond meets Vertigo-a-go-go.
In 2003 frede birthed the LA-based imprint Current Recordings, his second record label. Passion intact his penchant for producing work got him into curating sound festivals and events that initially helped launch his first record label, Ritual Document Release. The handprinted, handmade design and packaging is an fundamental part of the label, providing a more elegant, human touch to the standard jewel case packaging process. And the future is bright for Current, as they are currently putting together the Fall release from LA-based composer Kadet titled “Thin Air” as an enhanced CD with a 3D interactive application “Sensorium” created by Kadet and Reto Schmid. Other future releases include a 3″ CD from David Brady and a limited 7″ from Steve Roden. As artist, curator and label chief, frede is working harder than ever to establish new ways to morph art forms and genres melding the creative stylus, not slowing down for a nanosecond on his electronic freeway.
Originally Published in June 2004
Morr Music and Charhizma recording artist, twenty something Vienna-based multi-instrumentalist Fleischmann is no stranger to cross-bending territory where traditional themes are intercut with uptempo glitch and fuzzy overtones (cf “Guided by Beats”). Microfunk-laden tracks give way to pale harmony and German narrative on “02/00”, and Fleischmann permeates his work with lush and dreamy piano and vibes discourse on “Pass By” (otherwise a bit of fluff with rambling tightfisted drumming). There are even moments of Sigur Rós in the forlorn “Grunt.” Welcome Tourist is a vacillating narrative that’s as sonic (“The Blessed”) as it is cute on the Lou Reed-y “Le Désir”, where he sings as proletarian “have you ever tried to reach the sky on a sunny afternoon…we have dreams and we want them to come true”. Disc one falls to “Sleep” with Fleischmann’s awkward vocal about thinking about a sleeping girl, buying milk and bread and other sundry items. Love the line “don’t get me wrong, it’s just a song.” Drowsy travelogue synths graze over a syncopated backing track like a contemporary update of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts theme. Disc two is a single forty-five minute long track, “Take Your Time”. If static’s what you came for, let Fleischmann reshape it for you. The bent buzz and lapping rhythmics open this long player with blurted, bleached, censored art house vocals. Adding some light guitar strumming and the signature piano, which could be excerpted from anything from a Carpenters love song to the latest opus by Mum, and the mix becomes fuller. It’s something of an urban rodeo record, complete with dust and twang, basking in a midday afterglow like there’s no tomorrow, upright fat jazz basslines and all.
TRADITIONAL ARRANGEMENTS OF FEEDBACK
Former drummer for Union Carbide Productions, Henrik Rylander takes his percussive interpretations to task on this absolute blockbuster: Traditional Arrangements of Feedback is the experimental record of the year (so far). Plug it in, tune up and go-go-go. The funk-industrial “Formations of Feedback” proves hard sounds can have beat without dipping into the vestiges of Goth. Göteborg-based Rylander uses the “Repetition” of saw-toothed pulse-beats and a rocking underbelly to form these techno haikus, part Einstürzende Neubauten, part Peaches (sans four-letter words and no hole in the middle), but wholly enormous walls of controlled sound to be reckoned with. Through the fuzz of it all, like collecting individual hair strands of static pulse, Rylander harvests something gem-like, something awkwardly infinite. There’s instant elation when he tools with materials that could easily lead to haphazard mistakes but which make great sound effects, proving that such obstacles can be both overcome and controlled. “Destroyer” sounds like a small digital press with spikes and loose metal objects that have gone awry inside; the mechanism keeps going, pulping what’s in its path, slowly rolling on with the precision of a diecut machine running over the same tracks with a few imperfections along the way. The post-op version of “Warm Leatherette”? No, “Flange” is like one of those giant Lego robots turned into a smiley-faced clown menacing a Mumbleboy video. Massive and graceless and twice as happy as any Avon lady that may have stepped cross your threshold lately.
Originally Published in July 2004
Biotop is the second of Die Stadt’s series of 18 Asmus Tietchens reissues, mostly from originals on Sky. Opening with two bonus tracks that are expected to pop up throughout the catalogue (with “Fast Food” this may be the closest to the pop realm I have heard his sound stretch) and influenced by its era of new wave and punk, it shows Tietchens had a flair for wiggly Moogs and Rolands. This playful piece almost mocks the sophistication and development of his overall oeuvre, though it proves he can develop a sound that draws on the immediacy of new developments of technology (even though some of the mixers, decks and oscillators he currently plays are over thirty years old) – and a cheeky sense of humor. These releases reproduce the vibrancy of the original cover art, here in bright Day-Glo pink and green with geometric text design by Tina Tuschemess similar to the straight ahead boldness of Talking Heads’ 77. Tracks like the asymmetrically rhythmic “Die elektrische Horde” may have predated similar work by younger contemporaries such as John Foxx and David Van Tieghem, but Tietchens’ sound builds a greater tension, excludes unnecessary vocals and choral riffs, then detonates a batch of flavorful short pieces filled with harmony and punctuation. It’s a great look at how Tietchens immerses himself in the sound of an era without pinning himself down to particular trends, and while the equipment sounds a bit dated, it gives the work a documentary/historical rather than antiquated feel. On “Blutmund” you can hear the future of say Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy – “I want your soul……” After listening to this I want to break out my copy of Liquid Liquid to contrast: it’s that good, despite an endearing awkwardness that wanders a bit. Dare I say that Biotop is a fun record challenging his more academic later works? (What will Beta-Menge sound like in 2015, though?) With all eighteen tracks here at four minutes or under, these may actually be a collection of “songs” in the scheme of things. “Sauberland” sounds like a tribute to early Devo and all its spawn – upright, perky and conceptually edgy. The closing title cut’s caustic vibration transcends in a flight of pure, spectral light.
Spät-Europa, the third reissue of the series, was originally released in 1981, and its opening title track starts like a church service, choir angelically chanting until a churning, dark synth rechannels the sphere of menacing sound into a monster movie, bleeding into the corrosive “Frautod Grafitto.” Unlike Biotop this sounds like a lost Jack Smith soundtrack, the intimidating “Poanpo” as a children’s novel gone awry. The electronics are sharp and retro-futuristically sci-fi. Most tracks on this 22-track recording are about two minutes in length and have an archived birdlike alter-persona; the crow is watching, waiting, honing in. Spät-Europa plays like a ghostlike fairground after hours, headless operators on “Bescheidenes Vergnügen” winding the machines with celestial muscle; the amusement is in the absence of rational gravity, the ethereal space is accented only by the wisp of icy cold air and lingering stale beer odors left from the revellers of the day. In comparison, the Lene Lovich-like levity of “Schone Dritte Welt” croons and dips like a schnauzer in heat. The gaiety of it all is like being lost in the swirl of PacMan curves while swallowing a larger than mouth-sized dollop of fiery pink cotton candy on a stick – sensory overload. Once you get your equilibrium back out pops the cold, gray dragnet of drone presented by “Erloschene Herzen” and friskier, yet moderately self-indulgent “Endspannung” and its leisure-suit percussion. The Cabaret Voltaire sound-alike “Ausverkauf” bounces metallically and screeches around the sharp curves of its James Bond theme. The mesmerizing choppiness of “Stille Hafen” presents beats by way of the acoustics presented like an orchestra covered in liquid latex, peering out of their cocoon and emerging like baby rats on the following “Epitaph.” Here a piano caresses the chaos, brings the tension to a standstill. The two bonus tracks rewind the motor, acting more like an encore re-presentation of some earlier elements heard herein. The closing “Zum Tee bei Frau Hilde” sways intoxicated with a boatload of fermented, archival synth spurts that are as quirky as they are refried. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz…
Switzerland-based Jason Kahn teams up with Sirr-ecords to bring us Miramar, recorded in Caudeval, France. Beyond the initial blatant warp of drone a tinkling undercurrent of pixie joy is just barely audible. As time passes, and the tone shifts just a hair, the subtlety is erased into a whirring abyss that throbs and spins. Kahn’s analogue synth bounces off the bevels of space, with an adroit curvature that ends in deadening silence. When track two flares up, it’s more a motor than an instrument, but listen on and the atmosphere quickly erupts into bloated banality with hints of sinister intent. It just hovers, though, mostly balanced, perhaps more focused on the finish line than on the gravity of the moment. The five tracks here sort of act/react in succession: Miramar’s intent is not self-evident – it’s a bit of a dreary collapsing enigma, actually. It has something in common with what has become known as the classic technical difficulty signals, audible and a bit menacing, repetitive and unnerving, but what sets Kahn’s work apart is its very minor tonal shifting that plays with such completely poker-faced dealings. This is complex listening to the nth degree, somewhere in the abyss between dark ambient and electronic noise experimentation, and its retrofit will certainly fend off your casual listener, appealing instead to those specifically interested in perhaps the findings of a forensic acoustician. Let’s say he is on to something, though he has yet to find his map – this is his journey.
Originally Published in May 2004
Alejandra & Aeron
THE SCOTCH MONSTERS
On The Scotch Monsters Alejandra Salinas and Aeron Bergman, who run Barcelona’s Lucky Kitchen label, rework this selection for the third time (earlier versions were presented in installation format – “Revisionland” presented in Scotland and curated by Diskono – and a limited vinyl run on Germany’s Bottrop-Boy) in the form of sixteen tracks. None is longer than four minutes and each is dedicated to an individual spirit entity, and they combine to form a larger narrative. Softl Music’s Frieda Luczak creates exquisitely simplified CD sleeves folded in and around like a brain teaser, kind of a peek-a-boo pop-up book (here a muted Day-Glo orange) with no real way in unless you destroy the jacket. Compellingly secretive. So was the installation, in which, in accordance with Scottish folklore, the duo buried mushroom shaped speakers that relayed their field recordings and atonal static directly into the soil, a forceful electronic barrier to ward off evil spirits with names such as The Red Caps, Trooping Fairies and The Gray Man. There’s something holistic and wise in Salinas and Bergman’s deconstruction of their work for presentation, a distance that throws into relief the creativity of the composition, which mixes an organic, handmade love of sound – a baby cries, water runs, random chimes tinkle, cowbells clang – with the eerie whistling inventions of the laptop. Call it fictional docu-audio. The primitive nature of The Scotch Monsters is engrossing in its depth, tribally poignant and totally conceptual.
Originally Published in May 2004
Concert is American composer Brandon Labelle’s collection of installation soundtracks for works created over the past few years. On “Automatic Building” a wooden structure is assembled / disassembled, a slow dragging sound of planks scraping on concrete structures in a 15th Century Florentine villa (see the album cover) with organic echo full of musty cobwebs and soot. “Transportation & Recycling (proposal to the mayor)”, the lengthiest track on offer at 22 minutes, was originally presented at the Ybakatu Espaco de Arte in Curitiba, Brazil, and speeds with the sounds of zooming motorcars and rush-hour traffic, Labelle’s intention being to converse with his audience by mirroring the city outside by using sound and other elements including pieces constructed of PVC, fabric, wood and sound devices. In Denmark, he presented “Event and its Double” where a specially created structure replicated color and shape elements at the local Museum of Contemporary Art in a sonically spacious homage of sorts to Cage’s celebrated “Black Mountain Event” (1952), while “Learning from Seedbed” refers to Vito Acconci’s famous 1972 Sonnabend Gallery living performance sculpture/installation. Labelle uses the original ramped gallery floor, though allows the viewer to get one step closer to the unknowns below the surface: instead of Acconci’s antics – mysteriously heard but not seen – Labelle contact-mikes the meandering of the audience itself and this crawling exploration of discovery is then relayed into the room as a broken, contorted and minimal collection of pops and excerpts.