There’s an easel of sound, and American composer Charles Cohen is its gentle-voiced practitioner. What starts as primitive basic sounds magically becomes sophisticated, expressive, emotionally-charged musical painting. And Charles can show you how.
He did just that earlier this year at CTM Festival, at a workshop hosted by Schneidersladen, the storied Berlin synth shop whose fearless captain, Andreas Schneider, was one of the early champions of today’s modular, analog, and boutique maker revivals.
He walks through the process, with all the cool methodical pedagogy of Bob Ross himself. “You just pull the plug.” Complex sounds, simple controls. Clocks drive rhythms into the delay; each pattern living in voltage.
Below: an earlier film by Alex Tyson captures Cohen improvising on the vintage instrument. This isn’t just chin-scratching stuff, some sort of antisocial noise-making esoterica. Rather, it seems almost like a UFO control panel was wired directly into the brain, translating the buzz of neurons into dreamlike animals of sonic imagination. And it all seams to have the immediacy of picking up a brush – a good bar for anyone playing with sound, whether you get your hands on one of these strange beasts or not.
Charles doesn’t over-sell his work: “beepsandboops” is the name of his SoundCloud account. But what wonderful beepsandboops. You could easily be convinced you’ve just picked up the Smithsonian Folkways record of traditional music – from outer space.
Or, as Bob Ross would say, “You need an almighty easel while you’re doing this – an easel that’s strong.”
These words could mean painting or music making, too – whether you’re playing a mandolin, a Buchla modular, or a computer.
“These little son-of-a-guns hide in your brush and you just have to push them out. This is your world … your creation.
There’s no secret to this — anyone can paint. All you need is a dream in your heart, a little practice…”
And speaking of space and how it is, indeed, the place, Charles Cohen joins other artists reflecting on Sun Ra:
SUN RA CHANGED MY LIFE: 13 ARTISTS REFLECT ON THE LEGACY AND INFLUENCE OF SUN RA [The Vinyl Factory]
Charles Cohen: Synthesis and context [Resident Advisor]