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”
Earlier to today Stadiums & Shrines premiered what you see above—The Birth of Medusa—my inaugural attempt at combining my love of sound, motion, and poetry. It also marks the first (non-live) collaboration with audio researcher and sonic wav manipulator, RxRy as well as, the first film I’ve produced using my own footage. I hope the outcome is as much an experience for you as it was for me during its creation.
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.
Images from top down.
- Oliver Vernon: Spitfire – 2009
- Oliver Vernon: Crossfire #3 – 2008
- Oliver Vernon: Promised Land – 2007
- Mat Jones: Okay With It - 2011
- Mat Jones: This Is How I Will Speak To You - 2011
- André Derain: Charing Cross Bridge – 1905
- Henri Matisse: La Moulade – 1905
- André Derain: Paysage à L’Estaque – 1906
- Henri Matisse: La Moulade (Collioure in the Summer) – 1905
Human eyes are the great window into a world surrounding us, but what a universe we would see if they were capable of 100x magnification. If witnessing a brachionus rotundiformis’ meal pass through its translucent body or seeing a water fleas’ heart beat were a daily occurrence, what an astounding awareness we would have. Realizing the vast scale of nature and how vital each element is to our chain of existence, both up and down the evolutionary web is a powerful thing.
Every 10 seconds, everyday for a year, an image was captured of the sky above San Francisco. Collected and chronicled, each day passes in perfect synchronicity, displayed next to its neighbor as if comparing themselves against one another. They all watch as the winter solstice sacrifices its hue before the rest and takes its precious time waking from night. They watch each others cloud cover slowly disappear in noon’s heat and wonder what distant ocean current is shifting their winds this day. But somewhere over the course of a year they stop watching, comparing, thinking and simply exist. Day becomes days, year becomes years.
Think or Smile | Nathaniel Whitcomb © 2011