Leafcutter John interview [Listen 24'15"] Picking Up Sound and Spreading the Idea S02 Ep04 (part 3 of 3)
Interview Date: February 9, 2012 @1pm EDT
Special Guest: Leafcutter John is an artist, an electronics hobbyist, and a musician who is always thinking up new ways of exploring sound. He has brought out a list of incredible albums like “Microcontact” [Planet-Mu] ,“The Housebound Spirit” [Planet-Mu], “The Forest And The Sea” [Staubgold], and "Tunis" [Tsuku Boshi] as well as worked with the jazz band Polar Bear (with Seb Rochford) on their album “Peepers” [Leaf Label]. He has a website where he describes some fascinating projects that he has worked on like “Making your own Acoustic Guitar,” “Soundtrap 2,” “M-Log Controller,” “Growing your own Contact Mic,” “How to make Laser Microphones, “ “Light Controlled Music,” and much more. Check him out HERE.
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Article On A Long Thin Wire
Guitar, drums, bass, keys, maybe a DJ scratching a disc if you're hip. You're hip, right? That's what you need to make music, ya? Forget the laptop, you tool. Without these things you'd be reduced to a cappella, yes? Well, there's a lot more to the world that can be used to produce a work of music, or sound art, or whatever you want to call it, and a lot of it is really brilliant.
Sound can come from many things. Often, the knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss sound art as ridiculous; it gets a lot of flak, and there will always be opponents to anything new, but one thing we're hoping to do here on this site is to introduce listeners to new forms of music; we do this for the love of music. Try it, you might like it. All you need to do is open up your mind and ears and accept music from another approach.
Have you heard of "Music On A Long Thin Wire" by Alvin Lucier? It's a work involving exactly what it states--a long thin wire, electrified, amplified, and manipulated. In it's performance it produces ethereal tones, pulses, and harmonies. Part of the instructions in the composition is to illuminate the wire so that the waveforms are evident visually, like a true analogue oscilloscope. The piece gained enough attention for the composition to be broadcast continuously for 5 days on public radio station KUNM in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It's doubtful that events like that could take place today, but other artists are looking to capture sound by other means and objects still.
Leafcutter John has used a slinky in his performances capturing the sounds, and recorded it in different fashions like hanging it outside a window, and many other artists are experimenting with sound and it's reproduction. All this has echos of the futurist movement and Luigi Russolo. Russolo, a painter, composer, and one of the first noise music composers and his brother, Antonio, would make their own instruments in an attempt to bring back the sense of wonderment of sound. “He wanted to go back to the roots of sound in modern instruments, and also suggested using the sounds of nature (wind, water, and various animal sounds), the sounds of the modern urban environment, and 'all the noises which are made with the mouth without talking or singing.'” He designed and constructed a number of noise-generating instruments called Intonarumori and assembled an orchestra to perform on them. His first concerts were either accepted, or met with outright hostility and violence, and at least one time causing a riot. It brings images of usually conservative and staid middle-aged men swinging hay-makers and bellowing “That's Not Music!” But, aside from the opinions of the rioters, there was something to what they were making, and while they didn't receive a large degree of acceptance, their work and influence has persevered and gone on to influence many composers including Ravel, Stravinsky, up to today's modern artists; the argument could be made that this influence includes Amon Tobin with his implementation of found sound, and different frequencies of revving engines in his music.
Like the Russolo brothers, sound art often makes sound from other approaches other than from the conventional, be that from another sound emitting device, or capturing sound from an alternative situation. Recordings are made in places often overlooked, but once captured, draw focused attention to it and captures something fascinating and worthwhile of your attention and awe. Leafcutter John's homemade underwater microphones, “hydrophones” captured incredible sounds underwater including the sounds of frogs mating underwater. Alvin Lucier's "I Am Sitting In A Room” captures his initial speech in a room, captures the sound of the performance in the room by tape reorder, replays that recording and records that performance with the resonance of the room increasing upon itself in succession until what is captured and played back is completely manipulated by the resonance of the room and the words themselves are unintelligible.
Another artist who has a long career in exploring and discovering sound in alternative fashions is Gordon Monahan. We've posted a link to a work of Monahan's previously, but his work deserves more attention. Many of his compositions fall within everything I want to illuminate here. He's captured wind and atmospheric buoyancy in different forms and environments to activate strings placed in such places as a farm silo, church tower, and inside a home in front of a fireplace where the elements activate the strings to produce sound. But not only using the elements to manipulate sound, he also has manipulated the production of sound with his Speaker Swinging. Simply, it's speakers, illuminated, emitting a sine wave swung around by performers to produce a noticeable Doppler effect. There's much more to the composition than sound, and essentially, it's pretty simple to explain, but really the performance has to be undertaken in an auditorium to truly capture the effect.
There's so much more that could be said on the subject of sound by unconventional means, but simply take this as a primer, for example there are several more fascinating artists who are under the radar such as La Monte Young, a father of minimalisn, and Ryoji Ikeda, Ikeda is an artist who sometimes uses sound on the extremes of human hearing, and other times uses discretely phased pulses coupled with dazzling visual projects.
Far from something to ridicule, or riot over and kill in a mob, the artists and concepts have created some lasting foundations and movements (and anti-movements) that have enriched the experience of audio performance many times over. Accept music from unconventional means, and the experience can be mind expanding, but you're not likely to find it on the top shelf, you might have to dig a little deeper.
-Guthrie Alan Corwin
This weeks winner of the Colorado Record Crate Contest is Mervyn Endacott of Kent England! This is him with Rock Photographer Mick Rock. Thanks again for "Liking" us Mervyn.
And of course we would like to thank the talented and cool people at Colorado Record Crates for donating another one of there stylish "one of a kind" record crates.
Your tinny laptop speakers and youtube can't do any justice to the sound, but here's something for you to look at.