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hars :: the mp3mabf - chaz - interview

july 2003.

One blue nine : "So, are these assemblages formed of layered recordings from multiple environments... On Mojo there are moments when the musical instruments almost seem to be playing if not, together, at least in a way that suggests they are aware of each other? Or is that happy accident? I notice the sax extends quite a bit beyond and actually lapses into a more conventioanl outside blues mode.

h# : If "So, are these assemblages formed of layered recordings from multiple environments... " is a question, obn, the answer is: 'absolutely'. I'm mainly using recordings I made with a monophonic cassette walkman (a dictaphone), which I usually carry along with me, wherever I go.
'Very lo fi'...

Starting to compose a 'Sound Chronicles' track - in general, there are some exceptions - is a lot like 'jamming' with the sounds I've got on these cassettes ...

And on MoJo the instrumentalists are definitely not aware of each other. I recorded the 'bluesy' basic guitar track on the Parisian subway. The saxophone player about a year later, somewhere in the streets of Paris. And then there is the climactic electric guitar & band towards the end, which I recorded on Venice Beach Market, LA, outside of a bar that had a band doing Doors covers playing inside.
All of them indeed 'go together' pretty well. Which at the same is and is not a 'happy accident' ... I mean, you hear them together playing on MoJo because I"made them do it" -- if you know what I mean ...
It generally does take me a lot of time to come up with a 'Sound Chronicle' that pleases me. I'm definitely not just 'throwing together' some sounds and then that is that ...
For one that stays, there's many that end up in the bin. Simply because they lack that little bit of sonic magic.

Chaz : "Sound tapestries are not for mass consumption. Clearly, an attitude adjustment is needed when listening to this type of music..."

h# : I do think that, at least in spirit, (most of) my tracks are very similar to pop- or rock tunes. And I do like to think they can be enjoyed as such ... as poptunes, I mean.
Also ears and minds of 'le grand publique' have gotten kind of used to what used to be dismissed as 'weird' and - that most abused of categories - 'experimental', say, twenty years ago. And sometimes they even (want to) like it ... All part of an ever increasing 'eclecticism' in creative endeavours and the ease in which nowadays it is possible to cross borders between disciplines. Things are no longer that easy to classify, and - wonderful ! - there's larger and larger parts of the audience that no longer need them to be (classified, put in a clearly distinguishable category).

One blue nine : "I'm listening to Pastorale and it's a bit easier to see the seams, here. The cow bells remind me of a recording I made back in the 80s with a very lo fi handheld cassette. I'd been driving on a winding mountain road through a lush, green forest in Switzerland. As I swung through the trees I kept hearing a repeating metallic noise that seemed to follow me in an eery manner. I kept looking over my shoulder for some kind of truck. Finally I pulled over and turned off the engine. After a bit I heard it: a cowbell. Of course, it couldn't have been the same cow I was hearing, but I suspect this farmer had the same pitch bell on all of his cows, who had distributed themselves through the woods. Either that or it was one fast cow."

h# : Pastorale is for now the longest of the Sound Chronicles tracks [a little over 11 minutes] and different from the others in the sense that it's a far more 'conceptual' track than the others. While hiking in the French Pyrenees last summer, I recorded all the exchanges of 'hello' with fellow hikers, during two days. (Well, one speaks French over here, so it's 'Bonjour!' that's being said ...) You hear the first day's 'bonjours' to your right, the second day's to your left, in what is approximately - as there's always exceptions - the chronological order of their uttering. It's different also because of the fact that most sounds here are - evidently - of a rural character, whereas 99% of the sounds in the other tracks have a metropolitan origin.
I'm a son of the city.
Pastorale forms kind of a bridge to yet another project, that I've been working on recently, as 'artist in residence' at Dit Eiland, an art gallery on one of the tiny islands ('waddeneilanden') a bit off the northern coast of Holland.
Generally I never go out with the sole purpose to record things to use as material for the Sound Chronicles. The recording is simply something I do along whatever else I have to do. Be it travelling, working, shopping, whatever.
On the island, though, I spent one week doing just that: go out and listen, then record all that catches my ear.

Chaz : "Could you fill us in on the where's and why-fors of what you have gathered, 'from a private collection of lo-fi field-recordings, made between the mid-1970's and now'?"

h# : Between 1977 and 1984 I was (over)active playing in bands and doing other, more losely knit, one off projects in a style that nowadays musicologists categorize as 'post-punk experimental pop'. (Dutch composer/musicologist Martijn Voorvelt wrote an interesting thesis on the 'genre', that should be available online soon ... [note nov. 2004: The dissertation is still not available online; you might be interested though in a short article, also written by Martijn Voorvelt, on Dutch Post-Punk Experimentalism.]
What interested me a lot and still does in this kind of music is what I call the 'narrative' of a track, a tune (which is independent of whether or not they actually have lyrics, mind you). This was/is not 'music for music's sake'.
It's about stories. Narration. Illustration. There's something very 'interdisciplinary' about it, something fundamentally 'multi'.
On the side, for a couple of years, I worked as a journalist and reviewer. Which actually was the reason why I started to carry about a walkman to record. To interview other artists. But sometimes I also recorded sounds here and there, usually because I'd thought about mixing them in later with more traditional recordings, either mine or others. As 'sound effects' say ...
It was while doing this type of recording, and listening back, that I 'discovered' that some isolated parts of these (for all practical purposes: random !) recordings, as by pure magic, would constitute fascinating narratives on their own. Songs. No more nor less than the ones I put together with my electric gear on multi-track.
Rare, maybe. But it did happen.
BruxellesGC is an example. This is an unedited, some three minutes long, cassette recording made on a north bound platform of Brussels Central Station, on the morning of Christmas, 1982.

When, as of the mid-eighties music led me away from music - and journalism - for a stretch of nearly a decade and a half (which, obviously, is yet another story), most probably it was due to the memorable 'chances' of snippets the like of BruxellesGC , that I did continue to carry my dictaphone around, and that I did continue to record.
I did not do anything with the recordings though, apart for a short while in the early nineties, when I got a friend's TEAC 4 track machine, on which for a couple of months I had mounted a tape that I intended as a random dump for sounds of all sorts - cassettes, tv, radio, late night conversation, guitar jams, piano excercises, telephone ...
I called that tape my 'Journal Sonore'.
MyCNN is an - unedited - outtake of that tape, which - again - does form a splendid sonic narrative, all by itself ...
I continued - and still continue - to collect sounds on cassette, and it was only at 'the turn of the century' that I thought it might be interesting to put some of these together. At the time I was thinking about a, long to very long, collage comprising twenty years of cassette recording.
What in the end came out, though, were shorties ...narratives of pop tune length ... kind of 'the usual suspects' ...

Chaz : "How did you first become interested in music?"

h# : Music 'ran in the family', say, or at least in half of it.
One of my granddads was a professional (classical, symphony orchestra) musician. The other one was a blacksmith.
[ ... that is an interesting mix, no ? ... ]
Pretty decisive also, in retrospect: the first time I heard Frank Zappa's Hot Rats album, at a (high school) friend's place.

Chaz : "Your unique style of composition makes me wonder, do you practice music in any way?"

h# : You mean, like playing an instrument? Oh I do! [ Or I did? ] I guess I was, and still am, a maybe somewhat onorthodox, but kind of imaginative and pretty experienced electric guitar player. Same characterization, minus the experienced maybe, for the piano, on which I enjoy doing free improvisations. Bits and pieces end up in the Sound Chronicles every now and then.

Chaz : "What are your goals and what do you have planned for your music?"

h# : I'm afraid I still do not have a workable business plan ... But I actually discovered, recently and much to my own surprise, that it great fun to do 'live' shows using my cassettes and dictaphones. It is also something that's opening new perspectives, and something that forces me to re-think 'compositional ways'. So I'll be concentrating on that the coming months. (Next event: this sunday, in la gaité lyrique here Paris, as part of the 72 hours 'final placard', ending the sixth 'international headphone festival' Placard#6 -- everybody's welcome, if you tell me you read about it here, hey, I'll even buy you a drink!

What I do clearly is the sort of stuff that will function pretty well as part of larger 'multimedia'/'art' projects, and I'm very much interested in such 'participations'.
A recent example: the 'Project > Soundwave' of the San Francisco based Me'd1.ate , to which I contributed the track Les Années Pop, a short montage, based upon the announcement of the murder of John Kennedy ('années pop' !) by the radio announcer Matthey Doret, 11.23.1963, on Swiss national radio.
What fascinated me in Doret's announcement was the tension caused by the efforts necessary to control his emotions, emotions that were clearly audible in between the words. That's why I removed all the words from this announcement, and kept only the vocal noises, lips smacking, breathings, in between, as basic material to work with. Les Années Pop is one of the selected contributions to the project's CD used in Start>Transmission, a promotional CD sampler that is offered for free to all supporters of the project. It also appeared earlier this year on the first volume of While the World Waited , a series of compilations of 'experimental' tracks released by Cory Thrall on his Samsa Records label ...

I guess it will all add up in the end. At least, I hope so ...

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