For several months myself & Brandon LaBelle have been chatting via email about some of the things that inform our work:
JrF: Your work often explores the relationship between physical spaces and sound (either already present or introduced). I wonder where you think this interest came from for you? Can you remember any early experiences that perhaps led you to this way of working or was it a natural progression of your journey through music & art for example ?
BLB: Yes, that’s a very insightful question, and I can definitely say it surfaced quite early on, when I was playing drums in bands as a teenager. The relation of sound and space became extremely present for me at this time, and maybe for a number of reasons continues today. Essentially, playing the drums introduced me, or taught me, how sound and space interact – of course, this is clear on an acoustic level, and yet I can also recall this realization was somewhat of a startling epiphany: that moment of first transporting the drums to another space, another location, to perform in front of people, and suddenly feeling the drums differently. It was suddenly as if it was an entirely different instrument, a different sound, which really broke open my relation to my actions as a drummer – this acoustical challenge in a way forced a recognition and negotiation with space you might say, through the moment of playing the drums. This simple experience opened up my understanding of making sound to that of the spaces around me – it made me realize that the object of the drum was also a spatial instrument, that it was defined by the space; but then of course, what follows is a sense that the drum can also define space. And I can remember this occurring in two ways. The first being the moment when my next door neighbor came over screaming at me to stop playing drums. His extreme emotional reaction was also somewhat of a revelation for me, because until that point I don’t think I realized how far my drumming could be heard, that it actually could affect someone in a completely different house. That was suddenly a deep understanding of the power of the drum, and maybe the power of sound, to create emotional response, to literally drive someone crazy. On the flipside, I distinctly remember that early experience of first playing to audiences – I was around 13 and 14 and my friends and I had a band (called Innocent Exile, after the Iron Maiden song) and we would play local parties. At first this all started very awkwardly, as we were not necessarily so good at that age, but surprisingly we did develop a rather distinct sound and ability to improvise, which seemed to go well in the party setting. Pretty soon we were playing every weekend, and this action, this sense of playing drums became a very active social situation – not only was I becoming defined as a drummer, a kind of sense of self, but also in doing so I became acutely aware of how the drums could also create extremely positive social experiences and spaces. That moment when you play and people begin to dance, that is a really valuable and generative experience that reveals sound and space as a social event, a social time. These experiences, or what I like to think of as drum lessons, definitely affected my sense of what it means to make sound, and to understand the movements that are possible within space.
JrF: Well, it would seem that the act of 'playing live' as a form of establishing or expaniding ones social life is something we and many others share. I too started early, around the age of 12 when new wave / punk first took off here in the UK & I was a fairly shy and awkward youngster. I somehow imagined that playing live would give me a way to say something to others from inside this 'musician' identity. I find it hard to track the changes in my development as an artist because, quite simply, it has been a natural process. So like myself the possibility to communicate directly with others was an important motivation behind you becoming involved in music, however with more abstract sound and, for example, field recording there is a much greater sense of being solitary and not creating a social activity - as opposed to being in a band and playing 'gigs'. So how do you feel about this ? about the way that whilst we develop to become much nearer in our attempts to communicate our inner creative voice we at the same time become involved in a less social way to create and perform our work ?
BLB: Interesting to question this push and pull, between an inside and an outside, between the imagination and a communicative act… I think this sense of finding your inner creative voice is a kind of important step – somehow, as you say, being a musician or a performer requires a great deal of confidence, to put something out there that is also extremely tied to the individual, and that necessarily changes you as well, it changes or effects how you then feel about yourself, who you are, etc. Though for me this process definitely resulted in making the inside and the outside more deeply connected, to overcome that sense of the isolated artist (I could actually never stand that role…) – I wanted that experience of drumming, that social and reverberant experience you might say to become an expanded space, where the production and reception become more bound to each other. This resulted in the question of working site-specifically, to loop the site, the social setting, the audience, into the process of the work itself – to involve others, and to blur the boundaries between objects and subjects. You might say, I become less interested in the drum as an instrument and more interested in the larger context and situation that the drum initially created or participated in. I guess I just didn’t want to be alone, but also recognized how there is already so much there to work with (found sounds), that there is so much which comes before I ever arrive (architecture), or which precedes me (context) and also determines me (language) in ways that are extremely curious, demanding, and enabling… So, I wanted to turn my attention to those aspects, and make them part of the project. How have you negotiated this tension, this position as an artist?
JrF: well, I suppose I have but it has always been important to me to not always attempt to place a theoretical thought process onto my progress or resulting work. Not by avoiding it - which would be just as much of a theory or approach as any other - but by the way it simply happens or the way I feel able to work. It is hard to put into words - basically there is a simplicity to my approach I think. One that is obvioulsly informed by my experiences and my feelings and thoughts and indeed by aspects such as architecture (for example in my recent work exploring the sonic architecture of buildings across the UK & Europe), context etc & I could talk about that but there is something in me that wants to not talk about it too much, especially not in a way that seeks to insist that these thoughts have to be understood for the work to be fully appreciated. I guess that could be the same for you & indeed for lots of artists but it's perhaps just that some find it easier to talk than others. I think there are areas of my approach to theory that are the result of various life experiences, various chips on my shoulder I guess, but I take the view that whilst there is an interest in overcoming those things it is also interesting to know that those things must also inform my work.
Here in the UK, which is where I live & so the only country I can comment on in this fashion, there has always been a clear link between artistic acceptance and ones ability to talk about the work rather than the work itself. It's a kind of intellectual snobbery that has strangled cultural life here in the UK and made worse by the opposing view that art should be therefore dumbed down to appeal to the masses. It's like we are missing the central core - that the work is what it is and whilst it can be influenced by as much social and environmental interaction as possible it is important for it to remain what it is and not to be altered, by the words or actions of others & by a process of influence by artists themselves, so that it fits into everyones expectations of it. I'm aware that that can sound rather confrontational to some, but it is in fact about the celebration of creativity, it's freedom and it's sense of exploration. To suffocate creativity, whether by way of ignorance or by an over inflated self-importance & a misplaced intellectual arrogance has such a negative impact that often goes unseen until its effects are too rooted into the culture. OK - rant over !
So, Brandon, can I ask if you are aware of the elements of your work that are related directly to where you grew up / live now ? & which would be there regardless of where you where ? is this ever possible ?
BLB: Well, maybe in this regard I’d have to follow your line that it’s not really so clear or easy to make the connection between the work and where I live, at least in terms of saying it definitely and in words. Of course, I’m always influenced by where I am – aren’t we all! – and I very much like the work to come from a process of investigation that has a lot to do with where I am. So, that is probably the one aspect that would be there regardless of where I am living or working. I’m not sure where this comes from, and if it arises from a certain environment or previous experience. I know for sure that in Los Angeles in the mid to late 90s, there was a scene happening related to experimental music that I do feel quite connected to. People like Damion Romero, Geoff Brandin, Erik Hoffman, Jorge Martin, and others such as AMK; the Haters, Steve Roden, etc., not to mention the SF scene with 23five, Randy Yau, Scott Arford, etc., all of this opened up a space of sharing that had a great effect on my work. (I have to also mention the presence of Eric Lanzillotta and his Anomalous Record shop, which used to put on excellent shows at this time, basically providing a space for experimental music to happen, in a very sustained and intimate way.) This was a very free and open time, before the laptop, before email, and which came from noise music or had a conversation with Japan at that time. People were working with all sorts of instrumentation, ideas, and approaches, from feedback systems to conceptual games, it felt very experimental in the best possible ways – no real identifiable thread, but more a collection of disparate people and impulses that did come together. I think deep down I always feel somewhat of a connection to this LA scene, and that particular moment, what was happening, and maybe this still comes through in my work, a certain west coast performativity, conceptualism, and playfulness.
may 18th-19th: field recording workshop, malmo, sweden
june 13th-20th: field recording workshop with Chris Watson & Jez riley French, Iceland
22nd june - 2oth august 2013: audible silence: the tate, sleeping and waking' - headphone piece exploring the hidden sounds of the Tate modern building, Tate modern, London
september 6-8th: field recording workshop with jez riley french & chris watson, norfolk, uk - places available
october 4-13th: installation (room tones / littorals), Spazioersetti galleria, Udine, Italy
october 11th: resonant terrain walk, castletown, portland as part of the b-side symposium
december 6-8th: field recording workshop with jez riley french & chris watson, norfolk, uk - places available