In this fifth installment of the USG blog, I talk about some new releases and interview the talented painter, sound maker and artist JS Horseman to discuss color-hearing aka synesthesia among other topics. Enjoy!
Jeton Hoxha’s album Vowel released by Eight Tower Records was recorded live in Struga, Macedonia in June 2018. The recording is mainly based on loopy electro acoustic sounds created by sources like field recordings, computer and synthesizer. This fusion has been treated through various filters, plug-ins and hardware signal processing. Listening to this piece made me imagine desolate, abandoned industrial wastelands filled with detritus and decay in a post-apocalyptic world. In a previous article, we explored some of the key elements of drone music and also some prominent drone artists. Hoxha is able to use drone in a masterful, fundamental way while keeping just enough variables throughout the piece to weave an intriguing story that keeps the listener captivated.
Artist and writer TJ Norris writes of the album: ‘Jeton Hoxha is a welcome newcomer in the world of drone and all that is darkly mysterious. The Macedonian artist’s forty-five minute singular work is coated from end to end with a shmeared landscape of reverb and resonance, mastered by the hard working label runner, Sonologyst. It’s layered with a thick sonic wall, but intermittently a melodic chord rises and pierces through the thick foggy surface.’
On the other hand, Unexplained Sounds Group recently released the Electroframework compilation that stays true to the spirit of the avant-garde and keeps pushing the boundaries of pure experimentation.
Unexplained Sounds is also working on the next experimental survey release. This time the focus will be on Africa. It should be coming within March 2019 so stay tuned!
I had the pleasure of interviewing artist Jeremy Santiago Horseman. Based in Providence, Rhode Island, JS Horseman is a multidisciplinary artist working in experimental music composition, sound installation and a variety of visual media. His work includes several mixed- media processes such as field recording, noise, and acoustic instrumental and vocal composition, modular synthesis, and experimental tape and vinyl recording.
Q: You have mentioned that your music is sometimes influenced by folklore and mythology. Which ones, any type in particular?
J.S: I think about the golem a lot, the iconic clay android of Jewish folklore and Kabbalistic texts brought to life through incantations. For me, it represents a cross-section of mysticism and science-fiction, desperation, anxiety, naivety, innovation, physicality, and supernaturality, all wrapped up into one theme; the desire to bring life to an inanimate object. I have created many sound driven installations contemplating this subject. They are surreal, spatial assemblages of clay, apparitions of light/color (both artificial and natural) with multichannel, computer-generated sound processes. Some of these projects have also included performers with traditional instruments and voice, modular synthesizer, and looped tape and vinyl recordings. Likening sound processes to “incantations,” all of the ingredients of the installation work together as meditations on bringing life to a body.
The above being said, in the last several years, my artistic goals and interests have shifted to primarily composing within the stereo field, minus the installation. Rather than trying to follow a specific narrative about the golem, I have discovered more value in considering a more conceptual, less literal process. I focus more on asserting formal elements of design as a sonic experience to the listener (especially space, shape, form, color, texture, timbre). As a synesthete artist, I want to stress that those formal ingredients are experiential in their own right and that personal synesthetic phenomena such as hearing color or seeing shapes in a sound can be made palpable to any listener. With this, I do believe that the years of contemplating the subject of the golem arrived at what I’m currently after: formation. I continue to sonically compare ideas about object and space with a formless substance that becomes shaped by surrounding circumstances, a subject sculpted by a context, a form tempered by the space that surrounds it. Here, the formal elements such as color function as ‘incantations,’ metaphorically breathing life into space and form. My goal for manipulating these elements is to confront the listener with physical and emotional awareness, memories, as well as surreal/uncanny feelings ( those in-between feelings that one can relate to but not describe).
Q: You mentioned in another interview that sound guides the rest of the elements in your work. Can you explain this in more depth?
J.S: Regarding the installation work, I have playfully likened physical space, organic materials( clay, tar, straw), and color as components of a body. I want this “body” to feel as if it were born from the underlying presence of sound, where the sound sources not only bring meaning to these other characteristics but is somehow the origin of their physical manifestation. Focusing on stereo works, as a composer/ sound artist, I continue to identify these physical characteristics as variables within the recording process. I consider the traditional fields of drawing, painting, and sculpture as nonspecific to a material medium. They are applications, ways of thinking. So, for me, sound drives the action of these traditional applications, where I aspire to sonically “draw” shapes, and “sculpt” form, and “paint” colors within the stereo field. And, about the golem, this too is a conjuring process. Whether there is narrative present or not, it is the abstract method that taps into the subconscious and invokes familiar and unfamiliar sensations, then emotions, then memories.
Q: What elements of sound drive these other characteristics?
J.S: I identify the elements of design as synonymous to both sound and visual content. The aspects that I consider to be the driving forces of visualization are how frequency drives color, how harmony relates to color mixing, how timbre drives color intensity, how audio textures are comparable to visual/ tactile surfaces, whether an installation or a stereo recording.
Q: How much is musique concrete an influence in your work?
J.S: Music concrete is a tremendous influence. Many years ago I discovered the music of Stockhausen, Messiaen, Varese, Xenakis, among other 20th Century composers associated with musique concrete, and I fell in love with this type of music. A recorded sound, warped, sliced, diced, and reassembled, often to the point of unrecognizability is what initially excited me about musique concrete. Then a few years later, a friend reminded me about the tape genius, Delia Derbyshire. I think I owe the original gratitude to my older brother Mike, who forced me to watch Dr. Who, and of course, hear the fantastic work of Derbyshire and the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. At some point in my young 20’s, a friend introduced me to C-Shultz, who remains a favorite. I’d say listening to and learning the history of the artists mentioned here have undoubtedly supplemented my fascination with both making concrete recordings and with the medium of tape.
Q: How do you use sound objects in your composition?
J.S: For me, a sound object could be any sonic experience with a physical item that I find intriguing, often by an accidental discovery. It could be a crackling eggshell, a breaking glass, a bowed piece of metal, or it could be a musical instrument. I consider the most exciting stage of composing as recording an object with a variety of different microphones. Here, as mentioned before, two very elemental things are at play: the object, and the space that surrounds it (which I consider even more important). In conjunction with the microphone type, the object itself provides its own unique set of color, texture, and timbre. Importantly, it is also a measurement of proximity within the depth of physical space that surrounds it. So the shape and scale of a room can be drawn by the specific characteristics of the recorded object. Transversely, recording the reflections in the room will reveal unique qualities of that object. Thus the room sculpts and conditions our perception of the sound object. Rhythm and harmony are not innately structural to me as much as the relationship between the object and the surrounding environment. Please don’t misunderstand. I love rhythm and harmony, and I have no intention of ignoring them but, for me, the traditional aspects of musical experience are born from object and space.
Q: What does this approach mean to you and how do you utilize these techniques?
J.S: The most exciting part of recording an object is experimenting with what characteristics of that sound I want to bring to life. Here, I spend a tremendous amount of time with microphones, where I engage with space. For example, if I record a crackling eggshell in a basement, that specific environment’s reflections and absorbency rate are going to reveal specific qualities about that eggshell. The room itself and the distance between the microphone and the object are already forming the shape of the eggshell’s sound, before any special manipulations– sort of a real space equalizer. I think the above can also provide one of many examples of how capturing specific sound qualities can automatically draw a sense of space/ place, without narrative explanation. So, for me, the microphone recording of an object and space further becomes the underlying compositional fabric to evoke other types of sound processes. Here, I listen for note intervals and harmonic possibilities, then rhythms, etc. This is where I might begin writing down notes for musicians to play and record, or where modular synthesizers might show up to the party, it depends on the project.
Q: Why is sound such an essential tool for telling stories?
J.S: Sound is such an essential tool for storytelling because it is automatic. It is visceral, and a mysterious, ephemeral, invisible force. Sound is immediately atmospheric, colorful and textural having the ability to alter perception and build an experiential relationship to a text or a scene. I believe that it tells the part of a story or scene where words and visuals simply can not.
Q: What emotions did you feel growing up that were sound related?
J.S: A few microphones and modular synthesizers later, I don’t think much has changed since my childhood. I have always listened with curiosity. When I was little, long before I was interested in spatial music and music concrete, I mostly listened to classical music. My mother had a small vinyl collection that represented significant composers of the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras. Oh, and of course, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf! When I was very young, my experiences with synesthesia were the most intense. This music would put me into an indescribable visual/ emotional trans. I recall Bach’s Toccata and Fugue as one of the first compositions that taught me that music could make you cry. Not because of sadness, but because of awe. I found that music could invoke these in-between feelings, where words have no description.
Q: Name one sound that makes you the most scared?
J.S: There is a sound in nature that I have only heard late at night, in rural wooded areas. I still don’t know what it is. Some have told me that its a possum or a fox that makes the sound. To describe it, it sounds something in between a baby crying, a cat, and a porpoise all at once. When hearing that at night in the middle of nowhere, It’s very unsettling and haunting–right out of a horror movie.
Q: What colors do you associate with the following sounds? Scraping, Wheezing, Cough, Rustling.
J.S: That’s a loaded question and not a simple one to answer. However, I am excited that you ask. Color-hearing is a considerable part of my process. So I will attempt to give general applications to that question. Fair warning, you are asking a very neurotic person this question:
Scraping: red, orange, brown, with aggressive, sharp, cold, bright greens on the outer edges.
Wheezing: a complex greenish hue, a minty green with yellowish tendencies, fine grains of brighter yellow almost white on the outer edges.
Cough: a punchy flash of dark red and blue-green.
Rustling: very warm, somber tonal blues, shifting brown, with asymmetrical pointed silvery edges.
Q: What sounds do you associate with these colors? Red, Purple, Green, Black.
J.S: Red: Depending on the temperature and value of that red, to generalize the neighborhood of 341-370 hz, or any related octave, F-F#. So yea, that cough I imagined was F, with a quiet B/C surrounding it.
Purple: Depending on temperature and value, the G-G# note, or any related octave.
Green: Depending on temperature and value, C-C#, 523-554 hz or any related octave.
Black: As a non-spectral color, I have no pitch association. However, I perceive it as infinite space. In a recording, it is the stereo field itself.
Written by Joseph Doumet