Known equally as a composer of large-scale performances and an experimental turntablist working with hand-crafted dub plates, Marina Rosenfeld has been a leading voice in the increasing hybridization between the domains of visual art and music. Rosenfeld discusses working methods and influences with fellow turntablist Philip Jeck in anticipation of his upcoming concert on the 13th of September as part of Touch 30.
Marina Rosenfeld: I went to a talk last night by Carolee Schneeman. She talked about using collage over the years as a form of creating what she called fracture, "moving associated things apart slightly." (She demonstrated this by grabbing her lecture notes and tearing them into shreds and letting them drop on the floor!) It seemed like a process that had a really radical potential for her over the years, and it resonated with me thinking about embarking on this conversation, because I wanted to address with you how you think about improvisation and the form of your music. Your work often arranges and layers many fragments of music and I for one probably tend to think of it in combinatorial terms-- as something additive-- but I was wondering if the idea of also breaking things apart or creating "dissociations" has any resonance for you? Is that somewhere we could start to talk about dealing with the idea of the fragment of audio?
Philip Jeck: I certainly use layers of sound, placing one part of a vinyl recording with or over another and then another and also increasing the layers using a Casio SK1 (which is an no longer manufactured lo-fi keyboard) and a guitar delay pedal. I like the quote of Carolee Schneeman, "moving associated things apart slightly" (I took part in a workshop/event of hers in the 70's!). In my performances something like this can often happen without me making it happen as the record-players I use are old and not reliable as far as speed and audio replay are concerned. Constant variation appears and I think an important aspect of improvisation I bring to the "arrangement" is how I deal with the variations. That in the end comes down to how I feel or judge the sound to be, does it move me, resonate with me? If it doesn't feel right, I can abandon what is happening or if it does connect somehow, I try to follow or add to it or even try to find a small essential detail which I can reduce the sound to, some kind of essence. Each time I use the same material in performance the "connections" and "disconnects" change, it can always surprise, things appear as Robert Bresson in his "Notes on the Cinematographer" says "don't run after poetry. It penetrates unaided through the joins (ellipses)".
MR: The moment you describe-- where changes are unfolding independently as a consequence of the technology and in a kind of moment-by-moment assessment of how what you've done becomes what you hear... that is an amazing description of improvisation with machines. It seems telling that the Bresson quotation you chose refers to the camera. Do you think about the material on the records you use as photographic in any way? I don't necessarily mean visual, but having something to do with what cameras do?
(Also, what did you do in the workshop with Carolee in the 70s? From what I know about her work in that period, it could have involved meat, nudity, cats, and a lot of other great stuff!)
PJ: Yes the Robert Bresson book is really about film making, but much of it I think relates to all art forms. I don't think I use the material overtly as photographic, but there is sometimes a visual component. In the past I did think more in terms of sculpture in the making of soundwork, because that's the training I came from, fine arts. Over time that seems to have slipped into the background, the language in my head is now about sound, my own sound language that is. Music has always been the art form that has been the most powerful to me, but I struggled to make anything interesting to me, playing guitar or keyboards, mixing vinyl was my way in, incorporating my visual art training. There is another quote I keep by my work table at home, it's from the crtic Walter Pater "all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music" and as it turns out, "even musicians aspire towards the condition of music, something less wordy, less structured, more visceral." I discovered this only fairly recently long after I had already set out on that path.
What I remember from Carolee Schneeman workshop is a lot of mayhem , jumping off balconies onto straw bales (I think fire might have even been involved!). It lasted about 4 hours.
MR: How do you deal with the multiplicity of what's available as sound material? Do you find that the sounds you want to hear change over time? Does a sound material seem out of bounds then suddenly work to your ear? Or is it the transformations you make using playback devices and tools that bring sounds into the fold, so to speak?
PJ: Each time I use the same sound material/record it will seem different, relevant at one time and not the next. I'm not sure why this is so, it could be how I feel at the time or the context it's in, against one sound or another, one time working and then not. But always at the back of my mind I think it must be possible somehow to use and make it sound right (and good!). There is always the danger of getting lost, but that will always take me to somewhere new, and that gives a big shot of adrenalin to clear a path in another direction.
MR: And what about the listeners, real or imagined? When you play in the studio or play alone is there a big difference from the so-called "live"? What about us exuberant and impatient New Yorkers? Do you feel us when you play here?
PJ: I don't have the listeners as my main focus when playing, but more as an unconscious presence (unless they are booing or throwing things at me!), the mood, up or down, becomes another element of the whole, but I try to stay in some sort of control, finding the sounds that move and/or make sense to me. The audience can shift this in unexpected ways but always I hope in a satisfying way to me. I have only ever played in New York once before and that was as part of a performance group playing in a dance festival at Judson Church. It had an attentive almost reverential feel to it. So this is going to be new to me!
—Marina Rosenfeld, 8/25/12