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Philip Samartzis: Research & Reflection

img  Tobias

The actual recording session of „Scheckenrock“ already dates back a bit ...
I was in Berlin for a week in March 2007 to undertake a recording project with Michael and Reinhold Friedl at the Ballhaus Naunynstraße which will soon be released as Wunderfrucht on the Polish label Musica Genera. Whilst I was in town Michael invited me to his studio to try a couple of sessions as a duo. „Scheckenrock“ was one of the outcomes that we produced improvising around electronics and stringed instruments recorded straight to a stereo Nagra. The three improvisations were done back to back in around about an hour and I did a little bit of post-production focusing on dynamics and tone balance.

What made it seem a good idea to record with Michael?
Michael and Reinhold toured Australia in 2005 and I was extremely impressed with the sound they achieved as acoustic based improvisers. They generated sounds that strongly evoked some of the more interesting timbral explorations that informed and shaped some of the post-war avant-garde including people like Gyorgi Ligeti and groups such as Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza. The sounds that Michael and Reinhold produced were extremely familiar within that history yet they sounded very electronic and quite abstract which intrigued me even more. Also Michael is a particularly mesmerizing performer and you can clearly see his sensitivity in the way he interacts and responds to the sounds around him.

I thought it exciting how close you and Michael sound on this album, despite your entirely different source materials ...
I haven’t really heard the recording since I completed the final master in 2008. I always thought that the blend of acoustic and electronic sound complimented one another and that we avoided repetitive or redundant gestures during our improvisations. I like the mixture of static or gradually evolving textures against more dynamic haptic based gestures, and the ambiguity that is formed between the acoustic and electronic interaction. Parallel to this are issues around spatialization. Michael occupies an acoustic space – the space of the studio whilst I occupy an electronic space, and that creates interesting perspectives around depth and width as well as localized and diffuse events. Ultimately I see „Scheckenrock“ as practice based research in which we are trying to develop a rapport between our different cultural and artistic sensibilities and that this is the first step along a much
longer trajectory.

In your work, I often feel as though the border between field recordings and electronics is consciously blurred. How do you select your source materials for a collaboration?
I don’t tend to go into any project without doing a good amount of research and reflection. In the case of Michael, I thought about how we might work for two years before we actually did anything. In that time I watched him perform, listened to his recordings and found out as much as I could about his background and interests. From there certain ideas started to form in how I could apply my skills and knowledge to what he does. I often think of myself as a supporting musician as I do not necessarily like to be the focus of a collaborative project. Rather I try and find ways of integrating what I do in as subtle way as possible so that the listener isn’t even aware that I am doing something until I stop doing it. Psychoacoustics is a field of audio research that has informed many of my ideas, as has the work of Alvin Lucier and his application of various frequencies to modulate and affect perception.

The selection of my source materials is an integral part of the research that I undertake in the development of a project. Once I knew I was going to record with Michael I started to assemble a range of sounds that I thought would match or contrast the types of sounds that he produces. The improvisation involved selecting and testing these sounds to see how well they worked and how they influenced the choices that Michael made during the performances we did together. I never play these sounds in advance as it is important that the person I am working with hears them in real time so that they can first perceive them, think about them, and then formulate what they think is an appropriate response. Often they can’t even hear them over what they are doing which often leads to a certain amount of tension and apprehension. During my recording session with Michael and Reinhold I don’t think they heard anything I did until they listened back to the recordings. Therefore
their playing is inadvertently affected by whether or not they think they are hearing something that I am doing.

Where did you and Michael cull those old German titles from?
We recorded „Scheckenrock“ in a relatively modern textile factory in Mitte I believe and we decided to use titles from medieval times that were used to describe certain clothing styles. I don’t think they mean a whole lot to anyone these days but I do like the way the words sound and they are certainly relevant to the spirit of the place in which we recorded.

How does your interaction with Michael Vorfeld compare to the trio constellation of „Soleil d'Artificer“ which you recorded almost at the same time?

I generally work with people I admire so the experience between Michael, and Eric and Jean-Luc was similar yet different. Michael is generally a very relaxed and good-natured person and a real delight to be with as he has so many stories that he likes to share. Eric and Jean-Luc are also very pleasant and generous yet they are also quite serious and enjoy very long discussions around music, aesthetics and philosophy. All are equally dedicated to their practice and are uncompromising in their aspirations and ideals which I admire. The field that we have all chosen to operate within can be quite challenging and success can be an elusive thing to achieve depending on the criteria you use to measure your achievements. I think each person has made a significant contribution to the way we think and experience sound in both performance and recordings.

Both albums are, in fact, releases of older material. What are you working on right now?
The best answer to this question is contained in an essay I recently published called Captured Space focusing on two sound installations I recently developed. One is called Black Habit and is a collaboration with Michael and comprises field recordings and recordings of Michael improvising with electricity and light bulbs.

I was recently awarded an Australian Antarctic Division Arts Fellowship to travel to Antarctica to examine the impact extreme environmental conditions have on people and the way in which they adapt to those conditions in order to survive. The project is based on a series of field recordings of the icebreaker Aurora Australis as it travels from Hobart to the Antarctic base of Davis and the sub Antarctic base on MacQuarie Island. As the Aurora Australis reaches each destination, additional field recordings will be made of the bases and the people manning them as they go about their daily routines, a long with the natural habitat and environmental conditions comprising each location. The recordings will form the basis of a series of new compositions for installation, performance and publication that reflect the environmental, philosophical and poetic dimensions of Australia’s incursion into Antarctica and its subsequent effects upon the human condition.

You've released with Room40 and just like Lawrence English, field recordings play an important role in your work. Do you and Lawrence sometimes „talk field recordings“, exchanging ideas and concepts?
In fact Lawrence and I talk quite often about music. I invite him to speak to my students from time to time as he is probably the most dynamic sound artist and label manager operating out of Australia at the moment. He always has good insights as to the state of things, who is doing what, which label is hot, whether the CD is dead, who we should invite to Australia for Liquid Architecture, etc. He is a very eclectic artist who also likes to explore various musical styles and collaborate with various artists, as well as an astute curator who is extremely dedicated and knowledgeable. I notice that Eric La Casa has just released a new CD on Room40 which I am sure is a good one.

Homepage: Philip Samartzis
Homepage: Non Visual Objects Records
Homepage: Swarming Records
Homepage: Room40 Records

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