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Rod Cooper: Noise found in Nature & a Backpack of Gadgets

img  Tobias Fischer

In the press release to Accepting the Machines“, you mention that „because I work across many art forms such as sculpture, painting, music and instrument building, it's easy to categorise each separate practice, a system which I use to help me adapt from one body of work to the next.“ Does that mean that, at least up until the new album, you considered the borders between these disciplines as rigid rather than as permeable?
Combining them isn't always easy. Film and music have a thing going on. I see relationships between working methods of painting and music, yet I haven’t been able to combine them successfully onto the wall. I can do it with sound and sculpture. I currently have an exhibition here in Melbourne of sound portraits. The folio incorporates sculptures of friends and colleagues who work as both visual and sonic artists. They donate to me personal items of clothing that I cast with plaster and use as the armature to house hardware. I recreate a second presence of them performing on stage using their instrumentation, clothing, sounds and ideas. It’s a fun collaboration, especially when the artists play themselves in a performance or visit themselves at an exhibition.

Your work on the album seems to be aimed at avoiding your previous reliance on intellectual concepts and replacing them with more spontaneous forms of expression. Did this feel like a form of liberation or rather like entering a zone of confusion and uncertainty?

Yes and No. I have often worked in many improvisation performances and recording projects. Much of the sites specific work I have done in subterranean locations forces me to improvise on the spot. The execution of a concept doesn't always go according to plan, especially when the torch lands in the water. That’s where I feel that composition or notation can get in the way of time and place of the true sonic event in noise and music. Also improvisation can get in the way of composition. Being attached to your concepts can be a distraction to what is actual taking place during sonic events. Accepting the machines was liberating because I finally managed to find a way of performing and recording anywhere I liked. By designing simple instruments that I could carry into the field with a backpack of gadgets to make noise and record with.

What kind of qualities were you looking for with regards to selecting the landscapes for the album?

Places I frequented and had lived, such as the southeast Victorian coast. Plus chance findings such as track 3, “Ajax train spoonbill”. I think of urban landscapes as well. I like a mixture of rural and urban, the edges of small towns, farmland, and boat ramps and home. I’m not into doing big treks into the remote wilderness. Its more about choosing a time and place I know when the conditions and timings are right. I might choose a time when I know that its high tide at the beach and the surf will be a bit loader in the background. Or choose an early Sunday morning when most people are still in bed and there are less cars driving around.

You used various self-built instruments for „Accepting the Machines“. Where the instruments actually conceived with particular landscapes in mind or intended for a wide range of uses?
Yes, I knew the terrain where I wanted to go and I needed to be portable and easy to set up and then quickly move on. All the electronic gear, like small amplifiers, the oscillator and recorder were battery operated. Other mechanisms were old wind up timers that I sourced from other machines.

What were the recording sessions like?

Being relieved to finally get a grasp of the computer technology I was using combined with lots of experimentation with microphone placement inside hollow objects of wood, styrofoam and metal. Track 8, “Morning clock pole wire”, was done in wet and windy conditions just outside my workshop. I started before sunrise and recorded for over two hours and just kept adjusting the timing of my movements against the movement of the trees, the pole instrument and my automated gadgets. Afterwards a section was selected, digitally played with and edited. I spend time on the computer with the equalization effects, its great being able to take away sounds or noise you don’t want to incorporate into a track.

Despite your focus on intuition, there were nonetheless „moments you were working towards“. What kind of moments were these?
New combinations of sounds, electronic noise generation and noise found in nature. The call of a feral introduced bird species and the death pitch of a dying circuit losing battery power. I think they go well together. Creating collisions between all the separate sound elements and projects I had previously worked on as individual material, such as the gramophone discs made from cardboard and rubber, the field recordings, the magnets on blank tapes and the electromagnetic coil pick up material. Setting in motion different types of timings into a recording, with multi tracking, timing devices and non-syncopated rhythms.

You mentioned that „Accepting the Machines“ combined „many musical thoughts that would otherwise have stayed as singular ideas or sonic experiments locked into a particular aesthetic or style.“ What is the common denominator of these thoughts, would you say?

Don’t let style, aesthetics, rules or the artist to get in the way of the development of new material. Just try out all ideas, record, listen and then decide how I feel or think of the result.

Even concepts of spontaneity can eventually turn into routine. Have you already thought about establishing a process to avoid this?
I recently came up with this concept of "NOISE DAILY". The older I get, the more ways I seem to be able to find time to do my art, but one hasn't always got the time or head space to attempt complex works. In the studio there’s a small collection of gadgets going into a mixer. A Minidisk player for playback, zoom for field recordings, microphones, coils for electromagnetic signals, radios for random media, tape decks for concrete sound and various hand made instruments are plugged in and out of the desk at random. I use the set-up when ever the time is suitable, I may have all day or just a couple of minutes. I switch things on and off at random, set the record levels really high or low. I try not to think too much about the relationships of the sounds to each other. I might vocalize into the mics, blast them with radio noise, play an instrument or rant from a magazine. I make sure there is room for interruption and focus. I place equal value on all the sound sources by turning it into noise. Sometimes I’m not listening to all the audio that’s being recorded. I try not to edit the material too carefully, even material I don’t like stays. I burn it to disc and record the date on the cover. The covers are made from old music advertising posters that you see pasted up in the streets. I cut them down to size and tear back the hid abstracted layers of text on the posters, with the resulting image being the title of that particular noise daily work. Sometimes I wear masks when I'm recording or performing to help change my mental state into something else in the hope of finding new ideas or feelings about what I'm doing. I can change my instrumentation; the environment where I'm creating the work, change the technology, but the hardest thing to change is I.

Is there a limit to this process of change?
An Australian sculptor by the name of Jock Clutterbuck told me once, an artist usually only has one good idea that they change and alter into different works over their creative life. At first I thought this guy is talking nonsense here. But then I started to notice what he was saying. Some artists have a certain signature to their work, which may develop subtly over years of practice, some others change styles or mediums completely and bodies of their work can be vastly different from one to the next. I try to maintain all my creative pursuits and hopefully not at once.

The press release closes with your assessment that „humans are not the only species on the planet to make music“. After your work on this project, could you try to give your personal definition of the term „music“?
Its an ancient form of communication, so is noise. The need for music is at the top of the human pyramid of needs, along side food, shelter and love. Because its possible to sense the sound vibrations of music even when our ears have failed, it leads me to believe that sound is one of the worlds great energies like gravity, or magnetism.

Homepage: Rod Cooper
Homepage: 3Leaves Recordings

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