Making new sounds means doing more than just making new sounds. Artist/composer Mark Fell (also known as half of SND) dives directly into the thorny question of form. And when he looks for new forms, he literally looks. The visually-trained artist speaks about making “non-representational” music in the same way an abstract artist might. (No surprise that arresting imagery invariably accompanies his work.)
And in his latest creation, he looks even further, collaborating with a neuroscientist to peer at tiny particles through a high-power optical microscope. The result is alien music, constructed from the dance of those nanostructures. The work pairs Fell with the University of Sheffield’s Jonathan Howse, watching particles of suspended polystyrene.
BBC News Science writes about the project, and observes that this stuff is not only aesthetic curiosity – particle movements are vitally important in working with materials:
Music from tiny particles’ movements set to debut [BBC News]
The mapping is simple, but in a clever twist the position alone doesn’t determine frequency. Instead, the distance of each particle’s movement is mapped to frequency, and the angle of that movement shapes harmonic distortion, across eight sound sources. This might be dismissed as a simple random source – sci-fi nerds will recall Douglas Adams’ quip about making an infinite improbability generator by suspending a gizmo “in a strong Brownian Motion producer (say a nice hot cup of tea).” But visual evidence suggests otherwise, revealing in Fell’s visual and musical work a real sense that we are charting new structures, patterns foreign enough to merit repeated listening and looking.
In addition to the installation/performance, there’s a 200-copy limited album.
Fell’s various albums are worth a listen, for further deep-diving into his world of mysterious structure. His Periodic Orbits of a Dynamic System Related to a Knot (experimedia album preview below) reimagines the 2010 Raster Noton Multistability. But while Raster Noton’s releases often – for better and for worse – tack close to a certain aesthetic path, here, Fell heads into deep waters.
Or, to say it another way, he does things with Yamaha synths that no one else does, like a superintelligent alien trying to operate the technology on the wrong dimensional plane.
His notes on that release:
UK-based artist and electronic musician Mark Fell presents Periodic Orbits Of A Dynamic System Related To A Knot, released on Editions Mego. The music here came about in various ways — one section is an outtake from my recent Multistablity (R-N 125CD) album and is reworked here, another began as a quadraphonic piece composed for and performed at ‘Supersimetria: New Languages In Computer Music’ (curated by Anna Ramos and Roc Jiménez de Cisneros in Barcelona 2011), others were taken from live versions of previously-released and unreleased tracks. The idea was to bring these together in an ‘almost-live-album’ format. The album features three presets taken from Yamaha’s four operator frequency modulation synthesizers of the late 1980s — JazzOrg, LatelyBass and Rich Strg #3 — modified to produce numerous descendants. The project was entirely written, mixed, and edited with MIDI. No audio recordings were present, with the following exceptions: the sound of a Mac Mini failing to mount a DVD, recorded with the internal microphone on a MacBook Pro (this provided a rhythmic template for the patterns that follow it); and a short section of Pi Saw flute played by Jan Hendrickse. The project was written in transit during a house and studio move, and exclusively produced using the internal speakers on a MacBook Pro. Due to time constraints, the mastering session with Lupo at Dubplates and Mastering was unattended. The cover image is of my partner’s arm after cutting the pampas grass in our front garden in preparation for the house’s new occupier. Thanks to Paul Emery for early advice and comments about the structure of this album, Jan Hendrickse for Pi Saw flute, Lupo at Dubplates and Mastering, and finally Peter Rehberg for his support of this project. –Mark Fell
The most recent release:
And from 2010:
Mark Fell performs in a brilliant-looking program Saturday at Berlin’s NK, presented by the terrific tastemakers of Digital in Berlin. The SCALE-STRUCTURE-SYNTHESIS project itself is up at the Creative Arts Development Space in Sheffield, UK, through Sunday.