Electronic music production has had an interesting past with the classical music genre and despite their differences, the combination and collaboration of the more experimental aspects of using electronics to manipulate this sound has led to very interesting results.
It seems that Ed floats around this sphere on a regular basis. An artist who is just as comfortable working alongside a full orchestra as he is making noise with modular synths and fx processing.
Alongside running regular free events with his friends in Bangor under the name Oscillioscope he is also currently crowdfunding to travel to NYC to perform at 'New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival'
What follows is a brief yet interesting chat with the artists about all things noisy!
I Make Noise: An interview with Ed Wright.
Hi Ed and welcome to EMW. Could you please introduce yourself and talk a little about your musical roots.
Hello, my name is Ed Wright and fundamentally I enjoy creating “stuff”. I find it hard to talk about music and sound in a serious way, without sounding rather precious about it, so it is often easiest to describe a lot of what I do as making noise and leave other people to draw their own conclusions. Essentially I’m a composer/performer, mainly in the field of electronic music.
My background is a bit of a mix, in that as far as music goes I’m originally a violin and viola player. As a kid I was in the church choir and I did a degree in music, playing the viola and studying a real mix of topics, from performance, to music tech and ethnomusicology. It was around then, I first became engaged with writing music, at first in a very formal way studying four part harmony and exercises in orchestration, but also coming across electroacoustic and acousmatic music. There is something very liberating about making electronic music in that while it has its genre and conventions doesn’t quite have the same weight of history behind it. The new resources offer new ways to create and experience music, and open up possibilities that were not there before, and I think that this is a healthy thing.
Looking back to those early days, it still really informs what I do now. That idea of long development that you get in late classical (with a small c!) works; of taking an idea and working and expanding it through time feels incredibly nice to do. It turns up time and again in the big symphonies by the likes of Beethoven and Mahler, and I find it incredibly engaging and satisfying to listen to as it plays out. It feels like there are strong parallels to a lot of drone work where sometimes the entire system of the piece is evident in the first minute, but it is then the joy of slowly becoming aware of this unfolding of the work as it progresses. Similarly, singing as a kid taught me a lot. I still find the layering of sounds and pitches you get in renaissance polyphony absolutely astounding, and I think it has a lot of lessons to teach in terms of mixing and creating electronic sounds; that idea of perspective and depth, foreground and shade that can be achieved so simply, but can be so effective.
Both singing and playing taught me a lot about the physicality of sound too. There is an engagement that you have with an instrument, be that bowed or your voice etc. let alone the shear physical power of the sound itself and visual spectacle.
So I guess that leads me to the point where In short, I make a lot of music! Sometimes instrumental, often electronic; working in a style which I suppose people might want to box up as avant-garde. I play the violin (again often electric) through loads of stomp boxes and bits of home made software, I create surround-sound acousmatic music with kit like ProTools and SuperCollider, do quite a bit of free improv which includes performing as part of a trio, and keep it simple when people ask, and say “I make ‘noise’”.
I get a lot of pleasure making intricate beautiful things; in which I try to encapsulate the entire world from the sublime to the harrowing and the exquisite, crafting them as well I can.
Electronic music is, in consideration, quite a youthful music really. Finding its feet in the mid 20th century, with composers and educators such as Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez and Pierre Schaefer.
Do you feel that there has been progress and that electronic music is now considered as ‘serious’ music alongside your traditional classical compositions?
For me it’s almost the same thing. We tend to talk about electronic music as if it is some sort of genre, where in reality it is more like a set of tools. Stockhausen, Schaefer and particularly Boulez - directly built their work on the foundations of western art music, evolving it with another set of possibilities. To trace a line from Boulez back to Chopin and Bach seems far less of a stylistic wrench than one sideways from Boulez to Pendulum for example.
There are strong parallels in the disciplines of working in electronic art music and the purely instrumental sphere. For instance on a high level the disciplines of orchestration and putting together a studio mix are very different, but deep down the issues that they throw up when you are attempting to understand it do it well are strikingly similar.
I think that perhaps people listening to work or watching it can get very hung up on the visual aspect of what it going on, we all like kit with shiny LEDs on, and yes, they create a very different set of possibilities but, on some level whether conscious or not we are drawing on an established set of cultural and genre norms, so in some ways I don’t feel that it is that youthful. Anarchic and rapidly evolving yes, but it has an old head on its shoulders.
Over the last few years I have felt something of a shift in the way people regard electronic as opposed to classical music. There was a time when classical work was held in massive esteem and that for me it used to be that people were quite suspicious of the electronic side until I mentioned I could also play the violin and that somehow legitimised it and made me a proper musician. That feels like it has, and still is, shifting, there are a lot more people who seem to be willing to embrace new creative work and that ‘old’ music isn’t for them.
The impression that I get is that new interesting electronic music is at least viewed as on a par with the classical canon, two very different but complimentary things. For my money something happened in the collective music conscience around the time CDs went into decline. People just don’t see Franz Schubert working the social media to get his music out there, That shift away from established patterns of consumption, where CDs and LPs were artefacts and were badges of honour in peoples living rooms towards something ephemeral in the wifi; seems to have opened up (or is at least suspiciously concurrent with) a bit of a fresh way of approaching music.
It seems also that the evolution of electronic methods to manipulate sound have opened up new ways for musicians to collaborate.
I am considering works by artists such as Murcof and Vanessa Wagner as an example.
You have also collaborated with other artists. in particular, there is a YouTube clip of a violin performance being processed by computer at the back of the music hall.
Could you talk a little about this particular performance and the importance of collaboration.
Collaboration is a really interesting but tricky field. On a big level of course, all music is collaboration to some extent; even if it is only between the craft of the composer and the expectations of the listener, there is always some give and take. With the dialogue between composition, perception and performance the lines get a bit blurred. Once you throw technology into this mix the lines can become obscured all together.
The video you mention is actually a good case in point. I hadn’t ever really thought of the piece as a collaboration, you mention ‘a YouTube clip of a violin performance being processed by computer’ with someone at the computer and mixing desk, which I suppose is how it appears. The reality of the matter is that it is a piece I wrote for violin and pre-recorded ‘tape’ part.
I had made the piece in the studio recording bits of violin and layering them up with other sounds to develop and augment the solo acoustic instrument. What you can see on the screen over Emma Louis’ (Blipfonica) shoulder is the fixed part playing back as I played in sync to a score with timings written on it. In my mind that made it a piece I had composed, as me. However in retrospect it is obvious that Emma is performing too, diffusing the sound around the audience as another performer, on what I recall was an octophonic speaker rig. So in that sense yes it was clearly a collaborative performance. Where that really gets interesting for me is that your understanding from what you saw, was some sort of processing going on live in the computer that she was overseeing or controlling.
There is an odd dialogue with digital music, in that sometimes it is almost impossible to tell who is doing what. Much of the physical causality is hidden in ones and zeros inside these boxes which we all worship. Sometimes this detracts from the feel of people working together and sometimes this blurring of roles really adds to the magic.
As a field electronic music has become so diverse so quickly and (especially in the case of software) evolves at such a pace that it is very hard to have a significant depth of expertise in more than a few areas. Working with other people can obviously broaden that set of skills. In meeting and working with people who approach work in a different way you not only learn different skills but also encounter fresh ways of thinking.
"As a field electronic music has become so diverse so quickly and (especially in the case of software) evolves at such a pace that it is very hard to have a significant depth of expertise in more than a few areas. Working with other people can obviously broaden that set of skills. In meeting and working with people who approach work in a different way you not only learn different skills but also encounter fresh ways of thinking".
Lately I have been playing as one third of a trio doing electronic live improv and this has been a case in point we are all working to create this crazy sonic chimera that goes under the name of Accretion Entropy and this is the point where our skills meet, however Rob does a lot of video and music production working in a very slick, mainstream style and Charles got himself through a fine arts degree with a fair amount of coding and a soldering iron as his weapons of choice. It is great fun as we have radically different approaches but come out at a similar place.
I like this melting-pot of thoughts as a mode of collaboration. Not where someone just asks you to do something that they are incapable of; but where you can work quickly, in sync with people develop each other’s practices whilst honing your own and re-examining it.
Over time I have worked on various projects, with other musicians, composers, photographers, circuses, poets and the ubiquitous schools groups; and they invariably bring up fresh questions and fresh ideas. Yes there are times when it can feel a bit one sided sometimes in terms of work allocation and at others in times of creative control, but with sensitivity and tact you can learn and pass on so much, that a collaborative effort is almost always more impressive than the sum of its parts.
At the end of the day it is all about people, and they are pretty amazing things.
This leads on nicely to a recent invitation to travel to NYC to perform. You have set up a crowdfunder to help you get there. Another form of collaboration.
I guess there are two questions to draw out of this.
How did this invitation come about and how can Artists with limited funds raise support and finance to pursue the arts?
The invitation in itself is a relatively simple story in that I was commissioned to make a piece of acousmatic concert music for the Bangor Music Festival which took place in January. It is horribly easy to write a piece for a commission, get it out of the door and forget about it again, when in reality there are many many hours of work which have gone into it. So when the work was done I made a conscious effort not to just plough into the next thing and instead released it on Spotify, iTunes etc. and sent it around a few people who might be interested.
New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival came back to me asking would I go and be part of their week long festival and perform it, OK I would have to pay flights but in reality it is no different to paying petrol to play anywhere else... just a LOT more fuel!
This brings me on to the second part of your question, it is hard to finance and pursue, work and life in the arts. I think it takes a lot of faith in people, sometimes being prepared to take a hit financially because it will work out better in the long run and confidence (or at least most of the time) in one's own abilities but also that things will work out. There is art to riding the peaks and troughs where you can earn really well one day and not at all on others. There are some days where you have to admit you are doing something because you feel it is important or kind or the right thing. For me it is about working with a clear conscience, earning what you can from your work and yet also repaying the debts and favours that friends, life, karma or whatever throws at you.
The crowdfunding thing is a case in point. I was tremendously excited to go to New York but obviously flights are cripplingly expensive so I have approached various arts funding bodies as a number of them offer small grants for career development or taking homegrown arts overseas etc. However the issue is that as a process this takes a long time to get through, with no real assurance of being awarded the money at the end, in which time flights may well have gone up in price, and sterling fallen against the dollar and so on.
So I decided to try to crowdfund it too. I did not expect to get a lot out of it but I am amazed to say that in less than a week it has raised over £300 towards the cost of flights and counting!
Here is a shameless plug as it is open until 9th May:
I am shocked how kind people have been and how enthused they are about it, I guess that’s just things going around and coming around, you try to be kind and keep faith in humanity, sometimes it can be a disappointment but every so often it is really heartwarming.
You are based in North Wales and run a regular experimental electronic music night called Oscilloscope.
How has this been received and what plans do you have to progress with this concept?
Oscilloscope was set up in mid 2016 as a trial/fun space for experimental electronic music; somewhere that was relaxed, that you could actually try things that might not work, but could be amazing and get feedback from those around you. It’s done deliberately on the last Tuesday of the month at 6pm so people can dive out of work and do stuff or listen to it, and its regular so you can work towards things. You can build up a work and think ‘well its not ready for an outing now but next month I could do so’, it sets a target to work towards and a rhythm to structure around.
What is great is that it has built up a core of people who regularly come and perform, but also people who regularly come and listen (which is nice for this genre!). Around this there is also the venue who host us and Greg who does live visuals and Ronan who does poster design all working for free.
It’s all voluntary and that is cool, everyone is on a level and this takes me back to my earlier comment about trusting the universe. At Oscilloscope it is people doing stuff, because they want to, and it enriches us. I have become a better musician through it. I have met some amazing people and through those contacts have got to do some astounding things which, yes, has helped to bring about those situations where you do earn a bit more to support what you are doing. Fundamentally it is about being creative, having fun and developing or nurturing skills.
"At Oscilloscope it is people doing stuff, because they want to, and it enriches us. I have become a better musician through it. I have met some amazing people and through those contacts have got to do some astounding things..." Oscilloscope
Over time there have been quite a few conversations on how to progress the concept. A big milestone has been in the move to our current venue which in terms of atmosphere and seating which doesn’t give you a numb behind, it is a massive leap forward. There have been talks with other similar events/organisations in other parts of Wales: Aberystwyth, Cardiff and Swansea to name but a few on how we could try to get some sort of collaborative exchange going, which would be great.
There have been a few experiments with live streaming the event, not recording it, so letting it stay fresh and ephemeral but enabling more people to engage. One really simple idea that we are trialing from this month is having a guest blogger to do a writeup of the event. Simply a different person from the audience each time to put something together, it strikes me as a nice idea, as there are so many people who come along to watch and listen but don’t play or perform that it allows them to take ownership of it too rather than just being about the noisemakers in the room.
It’s been a really positive thing watching it grow and develop, yes there have been moments where things haven’t always gone to plan but that is the nature of life and it has built into a wonderful community of people and microcosm of digital culture tucked away in North Wales.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions Ed. Where can people find out more about you?
Thanks for asking, it has been interesting having to sit down and think about these things. If people are interested my website is at www.virtual440.com which you can click through to Soundcloud and those sorts of things.
Also I mentioned the trio which is at www.accretionentropy.co.uk or simply on Radio 3 at 11pm next Thursday (29th March).
Alternatively if you are about, come along to Oscilloscope at Club dB in Bangor on the last Tuesday of every month to have a conversation in real life :)
Ed blogs at https://oscilloscopeblog.
Thanks for reading!