Musical Eyes: Birkwin Jersey on Lo-Fi Photography

UK sample sculptor, Birkwin Jersey (or as his parents call him, Graeme Coop) has been hard at work this past year, releasing both an EP and LP on rising digital label Absent Fever. His sound is deceptively honest—organic, self recorded samples that twist and reverse under the precise influence of electronics; it’s a formula that’s setting him apart from other young producers. When I asked Graeme to share with us some of this visual inspirations it came as little surprise that toy camera photography was up his alley. His vision is clear.

In addition to sharing some insight into his sound, which includes some of his own photography, Graeme has gone above and beyond and composed a new track for this feature aptly titled, Think or Smile.

Birkwin Jersey – Think or Smile "Birkwin Jersey – Think or Smile"

Aesthetically, what attracts you to lo-fi photography?

For me, the imperfections really make the images. There is a certain honesty to them, really capturing a moment that otherwise would have passed in a way that couldn’t be replicated. The colours, even if they have been purposely manipulated, still have that element of chance which really brings the images to life.

Many of the images you’ve selected are double exposures, layering man-made with nature. How does this idea translate to your music?

I’ve always loved that juxtaposition of man and nature living beside one another like tolerant neighbours, like when you see the roots of a tree force it’s way up through the pavement. In that way I like the idea of combining acoustic instruments and found sounds with electronic production. Opposing the natural sounds of acoustic guitars and banjos with constant kicks in a regular pattern with some sloppy recordings of me hitting various objects, but set out in an almost mathematical way, l think it makes a nice balance sometimes.

Light leaks and color aberrations account for some of the ‘look’ of lo-fi, there’s beauty in the randomness. You’ve used many unconventional objects as instruments (lampshades, books, glass) which no doubt behave unpredictably, how important is the element of chance to your creative process?

It plays a pretty big part, so many ideas have started from accidentally moving a bunch of samples or playing a wrong note! In terms of sampling a lot of the sounds I use as percussion on tracks have been offcuts from other takes, like the noise of putting an instrument back or someone knocking on the door, everything has a sound, it’s just a case of recording it (intentionally or otherwise!).

I once sampled my cat purring with an idea to use it in pieces as bass hits in the percussion of a track, but the recording came out totally different, more like slow thunder, which gave the whole song a different feel and a whole new direction. I enjoy that unpredictability, going off on musical tangents gives the process an organic feel, if I actually managed to make the kind of track I originally have in mind it might not be so much fun!

With an overabundance of photo apps and the prevalence of easily accessible recording programs it seems it’s never been easier to get started in the arts, visual and sound alike. What advice do you have for someone just starting out, someone who may still be in search of his or her voice?

I’m still starting out myself so I’m not sure I’m qualified to advise, but I’d say listen to loads of different genres of music, and experiment!

If you’re not sure what kind of direction you want to go down, play around with combinations of styles to see what fits – you may only make a few tracks and then move onto something else but each time you’ll be learning different techniques and developing your sound.

With certain artists I like to think about what it is that really makes them stand out and what makes certain tracks feel the way they do, and try and learn from it. I used to try and avoid using constant kicks in any tracks as I saw it as being kind of obvious or lazy, but listening to the way Four Tet uses them in his tracks to give it a driving force made me realise that as long as it sounds good and fits with the song well there’s no reason not to do anything.

It does seem to be super easy for anyone to do anything creative now there’s an app for everything, but hopefully it will inspire people who enjoy making music or whatever to get involved and make something from scratch.

Thank you Graeme!

You can download Birkwin Jersey’s latest Old Hands EP and his full length Time Doesn’t Exist, Clocks Do for free on Absent Fever’s bandcamp or explore demos and older material on his soundcloud.

Images from top down:

  1. Graeme Coop – “Leaves”
  2. Graeme Coop – “Poles”
  3. Graeme Coop – “Houses”
  4. ina nasovich - ”Dryviaty Lake”
  5. Amy Fichter - ”deer, landscape”
  6. Semen Penya - ”science x art”



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Think or Smile | Nathaniel Whitcomb © 2012