Thursday, March 13, 2014


Photograph by Vivi-Mari Carpelan copyright 2013

I'm getting a bit tired of explaining what I do and why... society is so obsessed with mental constructs. However... let's see what I have to say about the process of creating music as a visual artist...

I have now ventured further into the realm of sound and have lingered at the intersection of music and sound art. Compared to most sound art I didn't proceed in an analytical manner and almost solely relied on my intuition. The result is definitely more musical than noisy - sound art generally speaking tends to distinguish itself from music by avoiding sounding musical (sometimes successfully, sometimes not...). These are more poetic (they aren't strictly speaking "sound poems" though I've seen the term used for this kind of sounscape).

I am not just stringing sounds together in some random fashion, though that's how the process starts and you do of course make more or less conscious decisions along the way. It's in my mind a deeply creative process that demands a lot of attention and intuitive understanding of the way sounds work in harmony. It works much the same when I do physical collages, and I do enjoy this process of discovery and insight.

The two first pieces, "The End is a New Beginning" and "The Unexpected Longevity of Love". I decided to rename the second piece when I realised I was going to continue to work along these lines and might even want to make an album.

"The End is a New Beginning" and "The Unexpected Longevity of Love" (formerly part II of "The End is a New Beginning") are two experimental pieces of music that make something new out of something old. They use found sound. They are an aural representation of the kind of 2D collage that I have made using copyright-fee imagery from the past. How can you create a completely new feel from old material? This is the challenge I have set myself in this series. I decided not to include other elements and concentrate only on recycling the found sounds from two historical periods covering about 200 years each and only use vintage recordings of the public domain - at least for now. The process of picking the recordings from was somewhat haphazard (and was in fact done a while ago when I didn't have any clear intentions), and what I ended up with was recycled sounds (this is not an official definition). This is not unlike the process of taking an old object (preferably something unique and personal, of course) and turning it into a new expression of creativity.

This is my way of comparing music with images... generally speaking I don't agree with a lot of sound artists that you can analyse an image and construct sound/music that somehow corresponds with the image directly. To me, this is reductionism. Perhaps I feel that sounds are of a higher order in some ways, because of being more abstract, and complement images rather than represent them. (Check out this piece by Marios Athanasiou though, it almost works). In fact I'm a bit unsure of whether I want to put imagery to these pieces, as I worry that it will detract from the rich musical texture and twists and turns - these could be in conflict with each other, fighting for the spectator's attention.

Surprisingly, the pieces feel intensely personal - the process as well as the results had a deep emotional impact on myself. I therefore concluded that using found sounds rather than generating my own had little impact on how I felt about the finished piece. I was also interested in how this kind of work differs from work on a flat surface. Music and sound art depend on the passing of time and you can loop it if you wish. 2D work also has an element of the passing of time because of the way a viewer's eyes travel around the work. However, one compels you in one sequential direction whether the other compels you less. You also cannot loop a piece of 2D work so it doesn't have the same circular character. 

The first part comprises Renaissance and Baroque composers such as Monteverdi, Gesualdo, Palestrina and Buxtehude. There's mainly vocals and the organ. As this music has strange harmonies and a fairly simple structure, it was exciting to work with. The recordings were fairly good quality to start with so that also made the process a bit easier. The following challenge was using Romantic composers such as Beethoven, Verdi and Rachmaninoff, with a hint of Baroque in J.S. Bach's Goldberg variations. The vocal parts are an entirely different style, the tonality is generally speaking more complicated, and the main instrument is the piano. The piano notes resonate a great deal and the overall is more personal, two factors which makes it harder to mould clips into something new. The experience was quite different and as the recordings were somewhat lacking, the process proved a lot more laborious.

The title is philosophical but also personal because I feel that I'm at the end of a phase in my life, and it denotes a new beginning. This is a liminal space. It's reflected in the process of making sounds, which has left me feeling liberated and somewhat spiritually elevated. The end is also literally present in the beginning of both pieces.

I believe you can feel the flavour of these historical periods but also experience the pieces as completely contemporary that don't follow any common musical rules. In fact I'd say it exists in the liminal space between old and new, and is as much part of the collective consciousness as it is personal. I'm not a musicologist but that much I know! I regret not playing an instrument and knowing more about music (I was admitted to a music school when I was 15 but never attended due to chronic fatigue). However I'd like to believe that there just might be an advantage sometimes in not being bound by rules... please listen and judge for yourself! I'm quite happy with the results as I feel I have satisfied a desire to create music in spite of my educational shortcomings, and I might do it again. I have plans on using my own voice again at some point.

Martin alerted me to a sound artist who worked from the 1960s onwards, particularly in the BBC workshop - Delia Derbyshire. In other words, it's all been done before! Her electronically produced sound collages are well worth listening to and have something in common with my own work. I enjoyed seeing her demonstrate the process in a documentary by the BBC. I also found this series of the 1980s on Youtube which demonstrates the methods of making "new sounds" at the time (now rather historical but quite interesting nonetheless).

Do you really need to know the rules in music? Though I completely agree that you normally need to know rules in order to break them, perhaps you can also be self-taught just as well as being self-taught in any other creative area. After all, I have a life time of curiosity towards alternative music behind me, and I guess that's a kind of education too.

Delia believed that the way the ear / brain perceives sound should have dominance over any basic mathematical theory, but as with most things in life it is important to know the rules in order to advantageously bend or break them. (from the website)


"Don’t Tell Me You Don’t Have The Right Equipment – What Matters Is Your Musical Imagination!" (Steve Reich)

Listen to this piece, Somewhere a Voice is CallingVoices from the Dead Wax and The Boyling Cells by Paul J. Rogers. He uses old recordings in his performances, while relishing the imperfections. Though I saw one of his performances ("Somewhere a Voice...") last August, he didn't give me the idea to do this sort of chop up of old music. That's probably because the main element in this work was all the old devices for playback that he used to create an amazing soundscape. Many of us are looking for material with soul, feeling perhaps that computer generated sounds can be soulless. At least for the time being, I am also making a point of using only sounds of the public domain.

Photograph by Vivi-Mari Carpelan, 2013
Please read more about liminality and the reasons for doing this kind of thing in this blog post.

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