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Finding music in the sound of stuff

The Sound Barrier : Blog

Music is always made up of some very fundamental things, but sometimes we don't take time to notice what they are and how they sound. On the latest edition of The Sound Barrier I explored some of these – from the sounds of human breath, to the bits and pieces of stuff that are found in everyday life and crafted into music.

At the beginning of the show I was joined in the studio with live music from Canadian duo Sound of the Mountain, which is Elizabeth Millar on amplified clarinet and Craig Pedersen on amplified trumpet. But they don't play their instruments conventionally. The instruments are stripped bare, closely miked and, with virtually no electronic effects, they shape the sounds of their own breath through wood and brass. The wind whooshes and hisses, forming staggering shapes and colours of human breath, taking you into the genesis of sound in what sometimes seems like the work of sophisticated electroacoustic manipulation but is, in fact, just creative sculpting of what breathes life into music. It's fantastic stuff. Sound of the Mountain will be performing live this coming Tuesday night as part of the Make It Up Club 20th Anniversary Festival at Melbourne's Bar Open at 317 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.

The human breath which Sound of the Mountain shape through their trumpet and clarinet is just one of the many basic ingredients that goes to create music. As Elizabeth said during my chat with her and Craig, there are sounds everywhere that we can hear musically once we make the decision to notice them. It was a nice segue into the music I had already planned for the rest of the show, looking at what musicians do with the things that are otherwise discarded in modern life, the things that we think of as unworthy, unmusical. The ways in which musicians take that concept and mould it into new and intense music is a reminder that everything can have a worthwhile place in who we are, and in how we express ourselves artistically and culturally, if only we take the time to absorb it and work with it creatively.

Both Automating and Tarab are Melbourne-based sound artists who have an interest in working with discarded sounds, discarded sound technologies. Automating is Sasha Margolis who describes his art as one that is 'sifting through the sonic waste and discarded technology left by the roadside of a world speeding to fast into the future', while Tarab is Eamon Sprod who talks of 're-contextualised collected sounds and tactile gestures formed into dynamic, psycho-geographical compositions inspired by discarded things, found things, crawling around in the dirt, junk, the ground, rocks, dust, wind, walking aimlessly, scratchy things, decay and most if not all the things he hears and sees'.

Both result in work that gives a different sort of life to these sounds that might otherwise be seen as having no life at all, reforming sound through techniques that, even when they are at their most low-fi, are given an unprecedented validity by the newness of the musicians' creativity.

From Automating, I played two separate works that he created during a recent month-long residency in Finland. Transmissions 61˚N 23˚E #1 and 61˚N 23˚E #2 (although I inadvertently played them in the opposite order!) are both from his new album Einstellung Zwei, available in a range of formats from Bandcamp. Although separate stand-alone works, they each gain much from the context of the other as different sounds of what seems to be the banality of daily life cracks and pops and bumps and scrapes around drones of electronic ambience and where the gap between the near and the far seems to be traversed by the interconnectedness of sound.

From Tarab, I played two tracks from his latest release, Obex, a collaboration with Czech-born, Irish-based sound artist Slavek Kwi, who performs as Artificial Memory Trace. Obex involves both artists working with ideas from each other, as source-material and objects are swapped and developed and swapped again, in a cycle of activity, exchange, and transformation. Material is developed and redeveloped, or sometimes left untouched, in its ever-changing contexts. It gives a kind of universality to the process of working with found sounds, as different perspectives and different places cast their different creative light upon them. We listened to a track from each artist to get a sense of their different approaches to music and material that is grown together, and yet apart, from the derelict debris of noise.

At the end of the show I played the work of Melbourne's Llara Goodall, from Surface Noise Vol 5, the latest release in the ongoing series from Iceage Productions. It suggests a reworking of rubbish in quite another sense – taking samples of pop music and mangling them through the ferocity of Llara's noise technology and, in the process, creating new and ferocious sounds that make us rethink what is commercially valued. You can listen to this music however you like – perhaps hearing in it a savage commentary on mainstream pop, or perhaps on the market that promotes it, or simply hear it as a respectful transformation of what is so often heard in just one way. In whatever sense you hear it, its message is an important one: that the lines we draw between what is prized and what is discarded is always a shaky one, culturally defined, and it's what you do with whatever lies on your side of it that ultimately determines its value.

As always, the show is available to listen back to, along with its playlist right here on the website where the details of the recordings are included, along with the websites of most of the artists featured on the program.

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