• Henri Falk

At the Intersection of Life and Art

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

I have had a growing feeling during the last year or so that I want to introduce more of a human and other organic elements in my work; something which connects the music with the human and biological nature of the receiver. It could be a message, elements of imperfection or organic sounds.

In electronic music, artists use computers and other electronic machines to sequence notes along a grid. In the digital domain, there are very few inherent imperfections. Notes will be perfectly in tune and sound very clean, without any noise. Typically, in order for the artist to make the music 'come alive' she may need to use various processing techniques to introduce imperfections, thus creating an emulation of something more natural.

I would like to start in the other end of the spectrum. To use technology to amplify, twist and arrange sounds of nature and sounds of everyday life happening spontaneously in our urban surroundings. Playing with the time and frequency domains of recorded sounds, hidden micro universes of textures and rhythms can be discovered. Here, technology is used to extract something which is already there. Nature is the creator, technology the extractor and refiner, and the artist becomes the explorer, art director and conceptualizer. By radically slowing down sounds, working with spectral and granular processing, it is possible to zoom in and unveil nature's creations at a microscopic level and present them in a musical composition. I often find a sense of balance, harmony and pleasant randomness in these recordings. Non-intention sometimes feels like a powerful element in the creative process. I cherish the notion of John Cage who said:

Everything we do is music. Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. The sound of a truck at 50 miles an hour. Static between the stations. Rain. We want to capture and control these sounds, to use them, not as sound effects but as musical instruments.

When I am moving around in the sonic landscape of Berlin, in nature or inside reverberating buildings, I always hear evoking sounds that I would like to capture and use in my work. Quite often, it is the more subtle sounds in the distance or the late decay of an impulse that for me have the most interesting character. I want to capture and manipulate these sounds, and also combining them with footage. In the visual domain, the same principles can be applied; capture footage of seemingly mundane and incidental events and objects and use some digital processing to enhance certain less obvious features. The point is to adduce the beauty and complexity of events that are all around and which typically sit in our peripheral awareness and are not appreciated for any sonic or artistic qualities.

In his article The Aesthetics of Failure: Post-Digital Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music from Dec 2000, author Kim Cascone outlines some of the fundamental characteristics of the glitch scene. Although artists in this genre mainly work with electronic sounds, I draw some connections to their approach and philosophy; the microscopic approach to sound manipulation, bringing forth the unintended, focusing on the background 'noise', and the use of digital processing tools. Cascone writes:

The data hidden in our perceptual 'blind spot' contains worlds waiting to be explored, if we choose to shift our focus there.

Glitch artists not only welcome sounds from the background, but also technical 'failures' and artifacts which become compositional elements. There is undoubtedly something interesting and human about failure and imperfection. My feeling is that most people are more prone to connect with failure rather than success and perfection. We can connect with an artist we do not personally know by hearing the music or receiving the message. And we can connect with others in the audience because they also respond to the presented work.

It is failure that guides evolution; perfection offers no incentive for improvement. Colson Whitehead (1999)
I would only observe that in most high-profile gigs, failure tends to be far more interesting to the audience than success. — David Zicarelli (1999)

Failure is a crucial and inevitable part of life and I believe art needs a high degree of life in order to be compelling, so why not include and expose failure. For the piece I am working on, I am digging deep into my recordings and focus mainly on non-intended rhythmical content. From these sounds, I am constructing some hypnotic motifs which will hopefully feel organic and electronic at the same time.

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©2020 by Henri Falk