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.
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!
Images from top down:
- Graeme Coop – “Leaves”
- Graeme Coop – “Poles”
- Graeme Coop – “Houses”
- ina nasovich - ”Dryviaty Lake”
- Amy Fichter - ”deer, landscape”
- Semen Penya - ”science x art”
Few minds are granted passage into other worlds, allowed to look around, feel what the walls are made of, hear the white noise that surrounds. Fewer still are those able to soak in every element, let it settle and bring their travels back home, to reconstruct them and share with all attentive ears their adventurous tales. And, then there are times on such journeys where you may find yourself naked, like Lei Lei did.
Old broken music boxes, warped circuitry, blogger cameos, banjos, pianos, (insert anything else that’s capable of creating sound waves here); now combine them with the voice and mind of Jordan Lee and you have Mutual Benefit. Often simply described as boyish crooning, Mutual Benefit, to me is so much more, it’s a heart-driven exploration into the mind as it finds it’s way in this world – arms and fingers outstretched. Sure, the journey may take detours along the way disguised as toy instruments, Midwestern basements and an existential crisis or two but I assure you the intentions are pure. In the dissonance there is beauty, in the beauty there is all of us.
I’ll leave you to look, listen and explore with words to live by from Jordan himself, “remember to do cool stuff and be kind to each other.”
In a sentence or two, tell us why you love each of the four artists whose work we see above.
Betty Blue – With Betty’s work she creates her own specific aesthetic universe using all the materials around her; innocent things become occult while disturbing imagery is twisted to become cute again.
M. Foster – I am always immediately drawn to M. Foster’s interesting color choices and but I also enjoy her sly social commentary.
Stephanie Bonham – While photography may seem to not fit in perfectly with the other three artists, Stephanie Bonham’s pictures captured an emerging diy music scene in Austin that influenced my sounds immensely. Her attention to the little details that make everyday life so absurd as well as the little moments that are so beautiful make her pictures special to me.
Whitney Lee – My sister Whitney Lee’s work is made from found latch-hook rugs which she uses as a canvas to hook an era specific nude model onto… I love how it blurs the line between art and craft, makes an interesting statement on feminism, and just looks really cool.
Of the artists you’ve chosen to share, many work with materials most would not consider suitable for “art,” such as markers, stickers, rugs… What draws you to their love for the unconventional?
Pieces that incorporate everyday imagery with consumer-level art supplies are definitely the most compelling to me. I like the idea that there shouldn’t be any entry barriers to expressing yourself and being creative. I see a lot of parallels between the art and music that I enjoy. Both could be considered “lo-fi” in a sense. I think there’s a lot of priviledged seclusion and hot air in the fine art world and its nice to see some people ‘stick it’ to any sort of remaining conventions.
Why is it important for you to surround yourself with contemporary, working artists instead of looking to what established greats have already accomplished?
It’s important to me to be able to connect the art to a person. Every day my computer spits out hundreds of images and at this point its hard for it to have a real impact on me unless I see it in real life. I’ve been lucky enough to talk extensively with the four artists featured here so I’m inspired equally by their personality and work. It gives everything much clearer context. I definitely appreciate the greats as well but its become so commodified. Until I saw Starry Night at the MoMA it existed in my mind as a mousepad. Duchamp and the other surrealist troublemakers did really amazing and important work but its still people making art now that inspire me most becomes now is now and now is real!
We had talked before and you mentioned that Spanish artist Betty Blue (who designed the drifting ep cover, as well as, I saw the sea) was the most influential to your work, even inspiring the music as you wrote. How important is it for you to bring visual art into your process rather than searching for album art after the fact?
In between releases there is a time where I’m just looking for inspiration to make subject matter for next album. Visual art can definitely provide a lightbulb going off in my head or a couple rogue neurons accidentally bumping into each other. For example, the idea of enso played a strong role in conceptualizing I saw the sea. Anything can spark song ideas though, a quote from Deadwood, bird documentaries, scary truckstops in new jersey, a girl talking in nonsense in her sleep, epitaphs of famous people…
You also run the cassette label Kassette Klub, often creating much of the handmade insert art yourself. Are you ever making art of your own while conceptualizing an album? If so, are your visions ever fully realized through your music?
I’m a terrible visual artist! I was hand-making the covers for a while out of financial necessity and it was nice but I’m discovering more and more that there are people out there who are so gifted at crafting imagery that it would be silly for me to try to do everything myself. On the other hand, I have found that getting a bunch of crazy books from the thrift store and having people come over to make collages is so much fun.
Images, from top to bottom:
- Title image: Betty Blue – untitled
- Betty Blue – untitled
- M. Foster – Quips: Directions
- Betty Blue- untitled
- M. Foster – Telebots at the Playground
- Stephanie Bonham – untitled
- Stephanie Bonham – untitled
- Whitney Lee – Venus of Urbino by Titan
- Whitney Lee – Afro
It should be no secret by now that I’m a fan of polaroids. Their ability to take an subject matter and apply to it a distinct nostalgia is unmatched. I’m also a pretty huge fan of nature and collage which made me instantly drawn to these polaroid composites by New York artist Patrick Winfield. He’s been working with polaroids, grids and other mixed media to create collages for a few years now, but out of his current portfolio the composited landscapes, for me, stand apart. I feel like I’m privileged enough to glimpse into someone’s memory of an afternoon’s stroll, each image acting as an instant of time. A glance at the sky, a cloud, a quick look at a pond, a moss speckled boulder, all make up the whole of someone’s experience. In his interview with Dazed Digital, he speaks of a push/pull effect these have on a viewer, which is exactly how I take them in, as memory snippets versus the collective experience. Thats the beauty of art, you get to think of it however you like.. to quote Winfield, it’s “about the journey.”
I’ve had “Make a music video” on my teuxdeux list for a while now, it’s been on my mental to-do list for even longer. I have sketchbooks full of elaborate ideas for short films and animations but it always seemed too daunting of a task to even start. I never could find a good place to begin. Well, there must have been some galactic alignment the other night because everything just fell perfectly into place.
While browsing archive.org I stumbled on a 1935 animated cartoon done by Van Beuren Studios for the Borden Milk Company called “The Sunshine Makers.” After watching a few seconds of it I was hooked. The animations were so beautifully glitchy and the colors were perfectly aged. Exactly the type of aesthetic I’ve been drawn to lately, and the plot was too tempting to pass up on. It’s a story about blissed out gnomes who have the power to distill sunshine and bottle it in the form of milk. (Perhaps thats where Burgess got the idea for A Clockwork Orange’s milk plus??) The gnomes get attacked by these anti-sunshine goblins which turns into an all out battle of milk vs. tar, sunshine vs. gloom.
After I downloaded the animation I scrubbed through a couple tracks I thought would effectively tell the story without words. I’ve been loving the singles from Brandon Biondo lately and “Westworld” had the perfect amount of energy, light and dark the animation needed to match what was in my head. I really wanted Com Truise’s “Sundriped” to work out but it was just a little too syrupy.
I’m really diggin’ how it all came together, I could jam to the Biondo track all day and seeing gnomes bomb goblins with milk bottles brings a smile to my face every time I watch it. Hope it brings a little sunshine your way.
Think or Smile | Nathaniel Whitcomb © 2010