Perfect Sound Forever


photo by Hodges

A Conversation about Process, Being with Sound, and the Pleasure of Surprise
By Daniel Barbiero
(February 2016)

A Conversation with C. Reider about Process, Being with Sound, and the Pleasure of Surprise Northern Colorado composer C. Reider works with abstract electronic, electro-acoustic and process music. An early adherent of the Creative Commons movement, he founded and runs Vuzh Music, a CC Net-label specializing in experimental electronic and electro-acoustic music. He first worked with cassette tape manipulation in the late 1980ís-early 1990ís, and itís to this medium that he recently returned with his releases Not Subliminal (Control Valve) and Tape Loops (Linear Obsessional). Here he talks about his compositional process, his relationship to sound as material, and composing as discovery.

PSF: Your most recent release, Tape Loops, is the result of an elaborate process involving the manipulation not only of prerecorded tapes, but of the plastic shells they came in. Before this, you released Not Subliminal, another work based on the manipulation of prerecorded tapes. Working with tapes I would imagine is a very physical experience, especially compared to working digitally as many of us do now. Iím especially struck by how the process behind the Tape Loops entailed a lot of handiwork--it seems to provoke a kind of dialogue between method and the consequent reaction of the material.

CR: Working outside of the comfort of an audio editor and DAW (digital audio workstation), and working hands-on, directly with material is something that's becoming more alluring to me recently. A lot of my work is intuitive exploration; it's easy with digital editing to get in a headspace where I've messed around with a sound enough that I'm not sure I could remember how exactly I arrived at the result. So, I feel very comfortable at this point working with digital editing, but when I begin to feel too comfortable with some method I use, I get a little antsy and wonder if I'm settling. Going back to tape was a way of disrupting my own work-flow.

I'm still unsure if I'd label this particular set of work with tape as being Ďprocess-based,í except to the extent that I set limitations and stuck with them. I used only tape and thrift-store tape players for several months, and just explored to see what kinds of interesting sounds could arise from that limitation. The motivation was "what would it sound like ifÖ?" which seems like a marker of an intuitive exploration. Then again, carrying through an idea like pulverizing a bunch of pre-recorded tape into tiny fragments and then re-assembling it on an adhesive tape substrate is definitely a case where the process defines the sound. I have done some quite rigorous process work in the past, but this felt a lot more loose and exploratory while I was doing the work, so maybe that's why I hesitate to label it Ďprocess musicí?

PSF: What struck me about Not Subliminal is how the method of its making was directly audible in the piece--the hand was legible on the surface, I guess you might say. Whereas with Tape Loops, I don't think that's really the case, although the loops' cyclicality is fairly clear. It's interesting, though, how bits and pieces of the tapes' original sounds make themselves present after they've been subject to manipulation. At about the five-and-a-half-minute mark, you've even seemed to construct an eight bar vamp out of a scrap of someone else's music!

CR: Well, that's not so strange in the context of my view of sound. I used to refer to myself as a "sample-based composer," but that just sounds wonky to me now. To me, all sound can be used as material, including previously recorded music. Some of my first recordings had loops with pause-edits from the radio, so I think I had this opinion before I had the capacity to articulate it (that early music was done when I was in my teens and early twenties). This is a good example of why I value permissive licensing, such as the Creative Commons licenses that explicitly allow other artists to sample or remix a given work. Or the thing Hal McGee used to print on his tapes "sample, extract and lift freely." Some artists say "my music is not material" but that always just strikes me as egotistic because --of course-- it is material.

The thing you say about hearing the hand at work is an interesting observation, does that make Not Subliminal feel more intimate? It is maybe one advantage instrumentalists have over a composer like me, it's easier to hear the person in the music, it's more relatable, maybe? I have friends, notably the brilliant Miquel Parera, whose aim it is to remove as much of himself from his music as he can, and I can admire that, it's the opposite of the overly egotistic approach so common in music. I think what he does is fantastic. But it's not really like the way I do things. I've always thought that any music, or really any art, reveals a lot about the person behind it. You can't hide the personality, not from someone who's really paying attention. When you draw, you draw yourself. So if that's the case, you'll be there in the music whether you assert yourself obnoxiously like a rock-star, or whether you just concentrate on the sound. After all, making music is at the core just a process of choosing sounds based on cultural and personal preferences, how can you hide?

PSF: Iíve always thought that to make any kind of musical choice--and any kind of musical gesture embodies a choice--is to disclose something about oneself. Thatís especially true of live improvisation, which among other things is a kind of self-disclosure without revision. But even the choice to create an impersonal music--or any kind of art for that matter--discloses something, and probably something essential, about the person making the choice. The trace of the hand would always seem to be there, even when itís concealed. But as a trace itís necessarily left in material--sound, paint, wood, or whatever. And material has an interesting habit of pushing back!

CR: I'm probably not the best person to talk to about improvisation, because most of my compositional career has been slow work based on meticulous editing. Improvisation is something I've only very recently begun to explore. What I find amazing about improvising, and this is not especially revelatory, is that the audience and performer are together in discovering the sound in the moment. There is an aspect of that when working alone in my conventional way, there is a moment to moment sense of discovery, an aware now-ness to the work, but it isn't shared with the audience until much later when the music is completed. And when I use process to generate sound, the awareness is postponed, and I have to wait until the work is done to discover what it is. So there are levels of being removed from the sound, and it seems improvisation is the closest to permitting the performer and audience to be with the sound as it happens.

So, if there's a removal from the sound, and this idea of 'being with' the sound is important to me, why would I deal with process at all? I think perhaps there can still be a 'being with' when using process, there is a 'being with' the action of doing process, and the sound comes after. The sound becomes a surprise for later, and I do like surprises.

Also see C. Reider's Bandcamp page

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