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”



Musical Eyes: Pressed And on Street Art and Fauvism

Traversing space in reverse, blinking in slow motion while moving at warped speed… the imagined side effects of Pressed And are infinite. The music that Mat Jones and Andrew Hamlet make together has a way of picking you up from your seat and propelling you forward without relent—it’s a textural journey like no other. And the experience doesn’t simply stop at sound; they had their debut EP Imbue Up developed into a loose film which recently premiered at the Ackland Art Museum Film Forum and online at Stadiums & Shrines.

One doesn’t come to create sonic textures like Pressed And working in isolation, so I’ve asked them to share with us some of their visual inspirations. The responses on paper seem incongruent, Mat’s lean toward graffiti and Andrew’s favor Fauvism, but when viewed side by side the 100 year gap is quickly closed.

You each have solo projects of your own, Mat as It is rain in my face. and Andrew as ArnHao. Can you tell us how your collaboration became Pressed And and what each of your contributions are to the sound?

AH: ArnHao is my collaboration with Arturo “Trizz” Holmes II; we are on hiatus but have unreleased material that we’d both like to eventually make public.

As for solo material, I make ambient guitar and soundscape pieces. ”Pinnacle Cow” more or less represents the sound of my solo material. I recorded that song after hiking along the Appalachian Trail where I encountered cattle standing in a meadow that overlooked a beautiful expanse of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Mat and I met through a mutual friend, Tripp Gobble (who would later go on to co-found Denmark Records). Tripp and I ran UNC’s student-run record label Vinyl Records, and Mat performed in one of our annual showcases and recorded an EP for our monthly VR Presents series.

About a year after first meeting, ArnHao was scheduled to perform at a Denmark Records showcase but ended up having to cancel. Tripp asked Mat, as It is rain in my face., to substitute for ArnHao. Mat and I chatted after his performance and decided to start working on material together. About two months later we had our first song, “Etching,” which is featured on Imbue Up.

MJ: We don’t really have set roles in constructing the songs. If either of us come up with something interesting, no matter what it is, then we keep it. Generally, I do most of the vocal samples and Andrew does most of the ambience.

Mat, in addition to being a musician you also work as a visual artist, utilizing basic elements of form and color to create compositions you describe as purely aesthetic. How interwoven is your visual art with your music? Do they build upon the same core concepts?

MJ: I think music and art come from the same place for sure. When I make stuff I typically concentrate on the technical aspect of it, no matter what it is I’m making. It’s only at the end that I can look back and figure out what anything means.

Both your and Oliver Vernon’s paintings have underlying elements that seem to derive from street art. What about graffiti are you drawn to? What other artists/types of art do you look to for inspiration?

MJ: I really enjoy the idea of someone painting on a wall that doesn’t belong to them. Even though it has it’s negatives (like you just ruined someone else’s property and somebody’s going to have to clean up after you) I think it’s a beautiful representation of something essentially human. Folks have been painting on walls for thousands of years and it’s cool that we still find it significant. I guess most of the artists I like are associated with street art and graffiti, because with that type of art there’s such an emphasis on interesting colors and compositions. That’s what I primarily enjoy about Oliver Vernon and Augustine Kofie…and Escif as well, though his colors and composition are interesting in a more subtle way. Escif is also very clever and funny, which is something everybody loves.

Rich saturated color and an emphasis on the inherent qualities of painting–brush stroke, the build up of pigment, etc., were a main focus of Derian and Matisse during their Fauvist years. Andrew, can you speak to the aesthetic parallels of how you approach sound as an art medium and the art you enjoy?

AH: Whereas extreme displays of color characterized the Fauvist aesthetic, sonic texture and richness of harmony inform my approach to sound. Right around the time I first started to understand the guitar, I took an interest in jazz. It is funny because jazz players describe variations in harmony as “color,” and this is most definitely where I developed my sense for complex chords and voicings.

But unlike jazz and its improvisation, my contributions are simple and refined–like the Fauvists. I believe “color” can be enough to imbue a piece with a certain emotion.

With your recent ep, Imbue Up, you had each track visualized by different video artists and provided no direction as to how it should look. How important is it for Pressed And to have visual art accompany the music and why was it decided to not direct the artists? 

MJ: I feel like having something visual just makes it that much more of an experience for people to take in. I’ve always thought that music and art are about connecting with other people, so I’d guess we’d like to achieve that through whatever means possible. As to not directing the videographers, I think it just went along with the music…when Andrew and I make music we don’t try to direct anything a certain way, we just feel around in the dark until we find something that’s satisfying. I feel like if you’re not imposing some kind of direction on what you’re making then you’re able to find something more genuine, which is hopefully what got reflected in the videos that everyone made.

AH: There was a trust that the music would direct the video artists to whatever it was that would inspire them to create. In that way, it was more of an experiment in how the artists would perceive their respective songs and how their perceptions would collectively come together to form a whole. I am really impressed with some of the themes that emerged as a result. It appears the video artists picked up on water, outer space, and sexual energy, among others. Additionally, by not directing the video artists, we, in effect, allowed the creation of the movie to become a performative art. I think the work ended in a beautiful statement on our current collective sense of human agency, or lack thereof. For myself as I imagine for many others lately, I have felt very much out of control of the many variables in my life, but as the creation of Imbue Up suggests, perhaps there is an underlying order to this chaos.

Thank you Mat. Thank you Andrew.

Their debut EP Imbue Up, is out now on Crash Symbols. You can stream/purchase the limited edition cassette here.

Images from top down.

  1. Oliver Vernon: Spitfire – 2009
  2. Oliver Vernon: Crossfire #3 – 2008
  3. Oliver Vernon: Promised Land – 2007
  4. Mat Jones: Okay With It - 2011
  5. Mat Jones: This Is How I Will Speak To You - 2011
  6. André Derain: Charing Cross Bridge – 1905
  7. Henri Matisse: La Moulade – 1905
  8. André Derain: Paysage à L’Estaque – 1906
  9. Henri Matisse: La Moulade (Collioure in the Summer) – 1905

Musical Eyes: Gem Club on Japanese Boro

Few things put me at peace the way Gem Club does. Like staring at the moon, with stars dimming out of focus, clouds at all sides, churning with a rain that never falls—it’s a melancholic kind of contemplation, yet ever-assuring, as I know that this pure, unrelenting beauty lies just out of reach, just one squint away.

Gem Club, comprised of Christopher Barnes and Kristen Drymala, has soundtracked many a late night while I’ve worked on my own art, often making me wonder what types of visual influences might exist behind the sound fueling mine. Christopher has been kind enough to open up his and his partner Jared’s personal collection of textile art, as well as, chat for a few on his path to music and his admiration for Japanese boro.

Gem Club – Lands "Gem Club – Lands"
Gem Club – In Wavelengths "Gem Club – In Wavelengths"
Gem Club – Sevens "Gem Club – Sevens"

I know very little about Japanese boro, can you tell us a little about what it is and it’s history?

In rural Japan back in the 19th and into the early 20th century cotton was very scarce. Most early Japanese garments were made of hemp, but for northern Japan these clothes had to be thickly woven, were often uncomfortable, and did not retain warmth very well. So when cotton was introduced to Japan, it was seen as a luxury item for rural poor. Cotton was brought from warmer districts such as Osaka and other cities by ships, where people bought fragments instead of a cloth roll as it was less expensive. It was common for these textiles to be passed down through generations, where they would be patched and mended to reinforce them for the next user. It’s sort of an unintended art form, which highlights preservation and the importance of reuse and recycling.

You hold degrees in fields outside of music. For you, was music an unintended art form? What paths lead you to form Gem Club?

In some ways yes. For a long time there was no real path. Well, I mean I was making choices that would ensure that there would be none. I had graduated from university…I’m not quite sure how that was pulled off. I was very much a mess. Somewhere in there I decided that I wanted to go back to school for music but I was having a difficult time keeping sober and going to school. School wasn’t a joke either, I think sometimes people think that going to study music means you’re playing the guitar all day. That’s part of it, but there’s a lot more going on – composition, ear training, theory. I had written songs before I went to school, and they were very personal and I never played them for anyone. They were also very bad. School forced me to have to perform in front of an audience, something I don’t think I would have otherwise ever attempted. In that way, I feel like had I not gone to school much of what would later happen with Gem Club would never have surfaced.

Boro are deceptively simple, made of only cotton, indigo and thread, somewhat mirroring the elements you use to compose your music–piano, voice and strings. Both achieve an incredible amount of depth from so few raw materials. Can you speak to this minimalist philosophy that seems to underline both the art you collect and the music you create?

This is an interesting question and something that I’ve never really thought of before. I feel like people would notice these flaws, the holes that needed to be repaired and they would cover it up, they would mend it. I don’t really think they would think twice about it, I mean which piece would go where. You saw that your jacket had torn and you fixed it because you didn’t want the hole to get bigger or you didn’t want to be cold or whatever. I don’t think there was a lot of concern for aesthetics. We admire these pieces for the unintended end result–the insane array of patches and stitching–but to the Japanese, the heavily patched side would typically be hidden.

I think with my work I tend to obsess about the missing pieces, often to my detriment. It makes me nuts. I remember working on Lands for weeks trying to find the right textures for the horn and the cello to fit underneath the chorus. There is a lot to learn from boro–not only about the history of the textile and the people who were using them, but also in it’s creation. Instead of fussing over these holes, worrying what piece should go where, or waiting around for that perfect piece to surface, the garments were just patched and with time you could eventually step away from these objects and see this fantastic end result.

Thank you Christopher.

You can explore more of Gem Club’s music on their website and stream both the LP, Breakers and EP, Acid and Everything here. I highly recommend you get a copy of Breakers (on white vinyl) while it lasts.

All images above are courtesy of the collection of Christopher Barnes and Jared Graves. I want to extend a very special thank you to Jared for photographing all of these for us.


Musical Eyes: Teen Daze on A Silent Planet

Over a continuous stream of emotive dance music, Teen Daze has evoked just about every contemplative landscape Earth has to offer—oceans, sunsets, forests, and so on. His latest effort however, leaves this world behind for a day-dreamt voyage through the pages of CS Lewis‘ celestial “Out Of The Silent Planet.” Upon first listen we begin acclimating ourselves with our new found surroundings, wondering what secrets may be hidden beneath the surface. Enlivened by curiosity we begin the exploration, him along side, scoring our thoughts as if hovering in the very atmosphere. He’s been here before and knows the way.

Anticipating that there must be more to the tale than sound and word, I’ve asked Jamison to share with us some of the more visual influences that helped shape the album. Below he describes how the novel, it’s many cover designs, the work of Scott Hansen, Carl Sagan and Candy Claws have effected the ep.

Surface "Surface"
The Harvest "The Harvest"

A Silent Planet
As I read “Out Of The Silent Planet,” the first in CS Lewis’ “Space Trilogy,” I was incredibly moved by the way that Lewis could create such vivid landscapes with his words. It was easy to feel claustrophobic and tense as the main character sped through space in his coffin-like ship, and it was easy to feel disoriented and in wonder as the main character first stepped onto the new planet. Throughout my reading, I had a visual playing in my head. As well as having that visual creation happening, I also heard what the soundtrack to those visions might sound like, and that’s what eventually became “A Silent Planet”. The music on the record is a companion to the visuals that I saw in my mind.

This isn’t the first time that visuals have played a big role in the creation of my music. Listed below are several different artists/pieces of art that have had a significant influence on the creation of A Silent Planet, as well as all my other works as Teen Daze:

Out Of The Silent Planet Novel Covers
Obviously, “A Silent Planet” draws a lot of influence from its novel counterpart. But the physical novel itself even served as an influence; the many pressings of this novel mean that there are many different visual interpretations of the story. Each one tells a different piece of the story, and each presents a different idea visually. Just as I had my own visual experience with the novel, it’s so interesting to see how each one of the illustrators has their own idea of how to represent the novel.


Scott Hansen (aka ISO50)
One of the greatest inspirations for me, both musically and visually, has been the work of Scott Hansen, who creates music under the name Tycho, and designs under the moniker, ISO50. Scott’s works evoke so much emotion and feeling. So much of my work as Teen Daze has been created as “vibe music”, or in other words, it’s been created to have that same characteristic that Scott’s work has. I want Teen Daze records to draw out those same emotions and feelings that I experience when I listen to Tycho, or when I see some of his design work.


I only discovered Carl Sagan this past year, and I dove head first into Cosmos. The man’s passion and love for all things “unexplainable” is so inspiring. The way that he was able to take something very intellectual and formal, and present it in a very relational way was such a wonderful gift. His passion for Science spilled over and became a passion for anyone that came to experience him, whether personally or through this series. Visually, the series itself is so lush and pleasing to the eye. The soundtrack uses electronic music in a way that is more comparable to classical music, rather than dance music, which is a trait that I’ve always strived towards.


Candy Claws In Dreamland
A huge musical influence on the record is the works of Candy Claws. Dreamland is a series of videos that feature the band exploring some of the beautiful nature scenes in their home state of Colorado, as well as showcasing their ability to create other-worldly sounds through the series’ soundtrack. When I first approached Ryan, one of the principle members of Candy Claws, about possibly designing the album art, I was shocked when he said that he was a huge fan of the books when he was growing up. A week or so later, and he sent me his first draft, which ended up being the cover!  His design work has this modern, 50′s look to it, and it suited the feeling of the album so well.

Images from top to bottom:

  1. Out Of The Silent Planet, Publisher: Avon Books 1949
  2. Out Of The Silent Planet, Publisher: Avon T127 1949
  3. Out Of The Silent Planet, Publisher: Pan Books 1962
  4. Out Of The Silent Planet, Publisher: Mac Millan 1970
  5. Out Of The Silent Planet, Publisher: Scribner Paperback Fiction 1986
  6. ISO50 – Tycho: Past is Prologue
  7. ISO50 – Tycho: Dive

A Silent Planet is available (September 13th) digitally on bandcamp and physically at the Lefse Records shop on both CD & cassette.


Musical Eyes: PEPEPIANO on Retro Futurism

PEPEPIANO is a made up band name from David Bird’s past, plucked from his imagination to impress and perhaps perplex his schoolmates. Today, PEPEPIANO is this Cali native/Midwestern space argonaut/student of sound’s alias under which he produces some of the richest bedroom/laptop/electrospacefunk around. He’s also a lover of art, with an eye for envisioned futures of our not so distant past and contemporary disconnected narratives on the same theme. David’s taken some time before beginning his final year at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music to share with us a couple of his favorite visual artists, Kilian Eng and Syd Mead.

Graphic Adventure "Graphic Adventure"
Gym Mystique "Gym Mystique"
Fire Hands "Fire Hands"

I’ve read on your tumblr that Syd Mead was a family friend. What was it like growing up surrounded by his art, when at the time it wasn’t necessarily retro future but still very much future? What about it sparked your imagination?

What’s most immediately striking about Syd’s work is the pure functionality of his designs; I mean, I guess that’s why he was hired to do the early designs for Tron and Blade Runner. It’s that kind of attention to detail and faith in design which makes one’s initial subscription to the “Mead”-ideal so real and effortless. It’s the same sort of investment necessary for ones enjoyment of any piece of fiction–science fiction included.

His “A Portfolio of Probabilities,” commissioned by U.S. Steel, was something I encountered as a child, and I had a very viscerally inspiring experience mulling through them. I ended up using them for the cover of ‘Babes‘. The collection doesn’t allude to or get off on any common science fiction tropes, and I never experienced his work that way. Mead doesn’t propose a possibility of the future, he’s too confident. Mead’s art is more about design, highly rational, blueprints, single handed models of what, with any luck, might be down the road.

…and knowing the history of the steel industry soon after that commission; as if they were buying the inspiration. It’s so very (tragically) American, I can’t handle it.

How has Mead’s vision effected you as you began exploring sound as an art form of your own?

There’s a large element of fiction in my stuff, but there’s also a lot of nerdy musical quotes: truisms, in some sense. The balance is difficult I guess, but mostly it’s about making it all feel real, or functional in the same way Mead’s work operates. There’s a dickish persistence which sorta undermines all my stuff; I can’t explain it, but it’s there. I’d only hope it evokes a vivid enough environment that people can envision or involve themselves in (in much the same way Mead’s work creates such immediately plausible futures).

There is a distinct color palette used in most retro futuristic art that seems to be embodied by your sound, almost as if it could be its modern soundtrack. Was that ever a conscience effort?

I think a lot of my work w/r/t production comes from an interest in orchestration; Stravinsky and Berio’s work especially. For me, it encourages the type of color balance you’re talking about. But it’s more of an expectation for myself than a conscious effort, framed by things I’ve dug (or not dug) in the past, biased towards a sorta bold ideal, vivid and really saturated. It’s super powerful, or I suppose it can be. Color is super important.

Both Mead and Kilian weave rather complex visual narratives into their work, how do narratives come into play during your writing process?

I don’t use narrative as a formal device, and lyrically it’s devoid of it as well. But the lyrics in my tunes can often trigger a troublesome metaphor when positioned against its musical counterpart. I kinda get off on this stuff. It’s like an invented implementation of tastelessness weaved so tightly into the structure of a track that it often goes unnoticed. I see a similar shade of this when I see these paintings. Mead’s placing a white 1950s American family at the center of these futuristic ideals, while Kilian is playing with and distorting nostalgic devices, implanting darker themes at the heart of work. There’s nothing subliminal about it, but it gives it strong character.

Are there any other visual artists you’d like to collaborate with? Any dream collabs?

I’d love to work with Theo Anthony again, I think his music videos are super inspiring, and weirdly get at the heart of what PEPEPIANO is. Kilian also makes neat videos. Dream collab may be something with David Firth, but I might explode if that happens.

Images from top to bottom:

  1. Title image: Kilian Eng - untitled
  2. Kilian Eng – untitled
  3. Kilian Eng – untitled
  4. Kilian Eng – Dollhouse Journeys
  5. Syd Mead – from USS: a portfolio of possibilities
  6. Syd Mead – Water Sports from USS: a portfolio of possibilities
  7. Syd Mead - Sentinel 400 Limousine from USS: a portfolio of possibilities
  8. Syd Mead – Space Wreck from “Flight of Icarus”

Listen, stream, download several PEPEPIANO albums on bandcamp, explore more on tumblr and check out the end of summer 2011 mixtape he created for Think or Smile.


Think or Smile | Nathaniel Whitcomb © 2011