Telephonic Photography (Aarhus)

Last weekend, I was in Aarhus, Denmark, to report on the marvellous SPOR Festival of experimental music and sound art. My ‘proper’ review will be published in the Wire magazine, but I thought sharing my ‘holiday snaps’ here might be nice.

Like many people these days, I’m happy to document what’s going on with a smart phone. There’s a convenience to whipping it out and taking a quick photo, but I’m increasingly aware of an absurdity: we’re taking photographs on a telephone. We’re not quite using the right tool for the job. Banging in nails with the blunt end of a screwdriver.

The telephonic photographer ends up with a lot of noisy, messy images such as this one:

Dawn Over Tottenham

Dawn Over Tottenham

In real life, this was the spectacularly beautiful dawn over Tottenham Marshes, viewed from the train on the way to Stansted Airport. Oh well..

Aarhus is an interesting city. There’s a collision of pragmatic, liberal Scandinavian modernity, a picturesque old town, and an impressive, dramatic industrial port. It all fits, somehow…

Atomkraft? Nej Tak

Atomkraft?

Cathedral

Cathedral

Impressive Blue Crane

Impressive!

…and there’s a beach…

Beach

View from the beach.

Anyway, here’s some of the other things I saw:

Improvisations in gallery spaces

Improvisations

Antique computers running Max/MSP

Max/MSP

The shō

Shō

Coming from London, the relaxed Aarhus approach to bicycle security is a surprise!

Bikes

Bikes

I stayed just next to the cathedral. On Saturday morning there was a carboot sale outside – homely!

Carboot

Carboot

We saw some sound art in impressive places. This was Kirsten Reese’s installation, No voice audible but that of the sea on the far side. Spiralling electronic sound projected inside a cofferdam, designed to lie on the sea bed:

Cofferdam

Cofferdam

Inside the cofferdam

Inside the cofferdam

Once in a while, telephone photography comes up trumps. Look at the view through the top, the perfect disc of Danish sky:

Through the hole.

Through the hole

At other times, the photography is not so marvellous. I tried to document the various preparations done to the pianos over the course of the festival. Everything from electric motors balanced on the strings, to swathes of masking tape. Interesting sounds, grainy images:

Piano + masking tape

Piano + masking tape

Piano + motors

Piano + motors

At festivals of experimental music, pianos aren’t the only instruments that receive some punishment. Oh no! Here is a guitar being strung up for a performance by Seth Kim-Cohen:

Poor guitar!

Poor guitar!

Poor guitar!

Poor guitar!

I managed to see everything that was performed, through a strategy of dashing between venues, but also found a few minutes to dash up to see Olafur Eliasson’s Your Rainbow Panorama, the permanent installation high above the city. And pose like a tourist:

Leo in rainbow

Hello!

Rainbow

Rainbow

That’s it. No sausages.

No Sausages

No Sausages

Epigram / Microgram (CZ) on Bandcamp

The small synthesizer album, “Epigram / Micogram (CZ)” will be available on all digital download stores from Tuesday 2nd April (iTunes, Amazon, etc. etc.), but you buy it straight away from Bandcamp…

Epigram / Microgram (CZ)

– Album due for release 2nd April 2013 –

Recorded in 2002 and finally released “from the vaults”, EPIGRAM / MICROGRAM (CZ) is a small expedition to the heart of a synthesizer and creative monomania. All seven tracks use nothing but the sounds of the Casio CZ-101, with its characteristic digital fizz and shimmer, to create spacey instrumental synthscapes.

Epigram / Microgram (CZ)
(Design by Daniel Kluge)

While the album has just one sound source, each track explores one compositional idea – they are not conventional song forms, but “aphorisms” driven by an attention to texture and harmony. For example, “Things You Can’t Hear, Things You Can’t See” is concerned simply with one chord incrementally melting into another. On “Theme and Deviations” the harmony shifts sequentially through every key. They’re studies – tiny journeys into what happens, artistically, when you restrict the material and focus the beam of the working methods. A kind of sonic microscopy.

CZ-101

The CZ-101, toy-sized but curiously powerful, all-digital but oddly warm, is the shy child of a somewhat grander 20th century synthesizer experiment. Its origins lie in the work of Isao Tomita, whose most famous album was Snowflakes Are Dancing (1974), a post-Wendy Carlos smash hit collection of pieces by Claude Debussy played on Moog synthesizers. He took the decision to embrace digital technology in the early 1980s and asked Casio to develop something new for him. The result was the cutely named “Cosmo Synthesizer” system, which made its debut on Tomita’s Dawn Chorus / Canon of the Three Stars in 1984.

The domesticated version of this instrument, the CZ-101, appeared shortly after. It’s an appealing instrument: small, cheap, rich with potential for strange new sounds, fiddly to program in an enjoyable sort of way. You can run it off battery power. Vince Clarke bought tons of them. Its “phase distortion” algorithms and unusual eight-stage envelopes give it a distinctive voice. It can buzz and moan, or sing glassily.

CZ-101

These tracks were written on eight-track tapes in my extremely modest studio, immediately after I escaped from my degree in classical composition. You can still hear the murmur of my interest in minimalist music running through them, but perhaps also an echo of the quirky electronica that was around at that time, courtesy of exciting labels like Planet Mu and Tigerbeat6. I re-recorded the album into ProTools, mixed it, gave a few homemade CD versions to friends, then forgot all about it.

This year, I was reminded that this stuff exists through conversations with Kerry Yong, a virtuoso pianist who also specialises in brilliant performances of high- modernist music on a variety of Casio synths. Now seems as good a time as any to release it. Perhaps it will shed some light on the musical genesis of the first few tracks I released under the name Simon Bookish, which followed the completion of this album, breaking away from my fascination with process music rather more decisively. With an eleven year gap, I feel able to be relatively objective about this music; I like its modesty and small scale. And I like those cosmic noises. Science fiction. Cosmosynth.

Now on Bandcamp

Some brief news, of an administrative nature!

As well as everywhere else, the first two Simon Bookish albums are now available to download from Bandcamp (Everything/Everything – not yet!).

This is just because I’m preparing to release a few ‘archive’ tracks in the next few weeks – some previously unheard things from the vaults. Watch this space!

 

Leo

Jennet Thomas – School of Change

Dear All,

For the past two years I’ve been working with the marvellous video artist Jennet Thomas on her new installation “SCHOOL OF CHANGE”, an absurd, hilarious, disturbing and unique piece of work, flavoured with the spirit of both Dennis Potter and 1970/80s children’s television. It was shot last year on location at Jennet’s old, real-life school in Hatfield, although its atmosphere and script are pretty much as far removed from real-life as it gets… possibly…

It features songs, sound design and, for want of a better term, ‘acting’ by me. Here’s the trailer:

If you’d like to go and see it, it’s on NOW at the wonderful Matt’s Gallery (click the link for opening times / visitor info) in Mile End, London, till July 29th… the film is embedded within one of Jennet’s sculptural environments, with live performers inhabiting the space too.

Working with visual artists is a pleasurable and intriguing process. Artists from different media getting together and exchanging something is a winner, as far as I’m concerned.

Leo
x

P.S.

Jennet is the Guardian’s ‘Artist of the Week‘ this week.

If you’re hungry for more information about ‘School of Change’, how it was made and what it all means (or doesn’t mean), there’s a detailed discussion between Jennet and writer Rachel Withers, with interjections by me, here.

The New Blog

Dear All,

After a few years of not having a blog on this site, I’ve plugged in a new one, with help from the charming and efficient Mr. Neil Scott, of Glasgow.

I realise that I’m now old fashioned in believing that blog posts are the sort of thing anyone wishes to read these days (in our glittering age of microblogging and viral videos), but hopefully I’ll remember to document some of the things I’m working on for the rest of the year. We shall see!

Leo