Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nashville Public Radio “Sound Crawl” (transcript)

Nashville’s “Sound Crawl” (transcript)
Wednesday, September 30th, 2009
By Kim Green

In an industry town that polishes and packages its sound to perfection, it can’t be easy to get folks to rethink their ideas of what music is. But for composers Aaron Doenges and Kyle Baker, experimental digital sound like this is as vital a genre as country and bluegrass. That why they’ve launched SoundCrawl: Nashville — a festival featuring sound art by composers from all over the world . WPLN’s Kim Green reports – For more information:

Audio for this feature is available here.

GREEN: Composer Aaron Doenges finds music where you least expect it.

(SOUND: coins spinning)

DOENGES: “That’s a sample that I’ve created myself of a quarter spinning on one of the end tables in my house.”

GREEN: Doenges calls himself an “electroacoustic” composer. It’s a broad category that basically means music produced digitally, using anything from synthesizers to theremins to recordings of everyday sounds, manipulated using audio editing software. (SOUND: coins dropping into a machine)

DOENGES: “Another sound enters that is a coin being put into a slot machine or a vending machine of some sort.”

GREEN: Coins. Thousands of them. This is one of Doenges’ compositions. It’s called “The Suicide of Freddie Mac,” and it’s featured in the festival. By manipulating recognizable sounds that connote money, the piece journeys through recent economic history. The clanging of slot machines and the Wall Street bell build towards a giddy climax. A crowd cheers as an ATM dispenses easy cash, evoking an era of feverish speculation. Finally, the bubble bursts. :25

DOENGES: “…and then suddenly you get that kind of alarm sound, // when the ATM doesn’t give you money. And every time that happens, the crowd kinda boos. Until it gets to a breaking point where there’s a gunshot // and then the ATM sounds turn into a heart monitor like you would hear at a hospital, and then it’s back to that initial quarter spinning.”

(SOUND: coin spins)

GREEN: Doenges and Kyle Baker, both recent grads of Belmont’s masters in composition program, dreamed up the SoundCrawl festival as a way to showcase and advocate for the kind of experimental work they do— which often has a hard time finding an ear outside the academic music world. One night last summer they posted a call for submissions online.

BAKER: “And we woke up the next morning at eight and we had six emails with submissions, and none of them were from the United States.”

Ambi: “Grinny Memories”

GREEN: This piece is called “Grinny Memories,” by a Lithuanian sound artist who goes by “Gintas K.” It’s one of thirty-six chosen for the festival from nearly two hundred and fifty pieces submitted. Some are tranquil soundscapes. Others use ordinary sounds to transport you to a place.

(SOUND: farm sounds – mooing, neighing)

GREEN: — and then bend and distort the familiar into something new.

(SOUND: Farm sounds change to more jarring electronic noise)

GREEN: A few entries feature recorded voices, rendered abstract and poetic by repetition. Like this piece, which Kyle Baker created using verses from an audio Bible.

(SOUND: “Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good…“)

GREEN: On Saturday night, during Downtown Nashville’s monthly Art Crawl event, the sound pieces will be playing at seven downtown galleries, most of them in the Arcade. By associating SoundCrawl with a popular gallery tour, Doenges and Baker hope to harness an audience that’s already open to experiencing something unconventional.

(SOUND: “Tranquility”)

GREEN: Still, they know they’re taking a big risk introducing this kind of avant-garde work to new ears.

BAKER: “We tried to select pieces that moved pretty quickly, knowing there are people who’ve never heard anything like this outside of maybe Bjork or Imogene Heap or something. And this can open up their eyes.”

(SOUND: “Tranquility” up full)

GREEN: What’s opened Doenges and Baker’s eyes is the response they’re getting from the local creative community as word of the festival gets out. Even after the deadline, audio engineers, technicians, and all kinds of folks who usually help others make music, keep submitting pieces. Baker says these are the people whose creativity he wants to encourage. People who engineer Bob Dylan’s album at their day job, and then play with their digital audio software in the basement at night. These are the people who push the envelope —

BAKER: “..the tinkerers and the entrepreneurs and the inventors, because they’re exploring just to explore, they are valuable to the rest of society as explorers. And you’ll see things move from an avant-garde piece to a pop album in two or three years, and that space is getting closer and closer and closer.”

GREEN: As with any vanguard movement, some experiments and innovations will always fail. But the ones that succeed will likely blaze the trail for a mainstream culture following closely in their wake. For Nashville Public Radio, I’m Kim Green.