Collaging has long been a fruitful artistic technique, especially in music, but the next wave of ‘sonic upcyclers’ are taking madcap audio and visual sampling in a new lo-fi direction
Cut’n’paste culture screws around with the order of things and lets us construct our own originals. Dadaists such as Kurt Schwitters and Max Ernst used collage in their anti-art, William Burroughs applied it to his writing, and the entire genre of hip-hop is built on samples from old funk and soul records. More recently, a new wave of recording artists have been taking the scissors to slivers of bizarre audio and weaving them together to psychedelic effect.
Louisville-born Jib Kidder is one such artist making what he refers to as “collage art”. His audio montages are like a form of turbo-sampling, where disparate chunks are subsumed into a unified whole. These chunks could literally be anything – the crackle of a fire, the grunt of a pig, a backmasked guitar part or a snippet of abstract poetry. And, a bit like a musical game of exquisite corpses, they’re all squished together to make a song.
Jib Kidder – real name Sean Schuster-Craig – is shooting for “the full, psychedelic collage experience – the interconnectedness and meaningfulness of everything”. His new songs are acid-washed mosaics of his own recorded guitars, Vietnamese folk music and wry, oddball poeticisms (he cites Gertrude Stein as an influence). The idea is that the juxtaposition of numerous sources and influences will reveal new connections and previously hidden narratives.
NYC musician Torn Hawk eschews the word psychedelic in favour of calling himself the “architect of the video mulch”. He collages old VHS horror films, QVC ads and home video outtakes into mangled, grainy, distressed creations that add a manic tension to his scratchy electronica.
Meanwhile, avant-drone duo Vision Fortune are wearing the “collage art” mantle in London. Their new album, Country Music, is an instrumental collage of found sounds recorded during an artist residence in Tuscany last year, from the acoustics of a wine cellar to the clink of silverware and the splash of a 20ft swimming pool. In particular, they constructed their distinctive guitar sound using their own collage-style techniques.
“We often played the sounds back through a MIDI keyboard,” explains guitarist Alex Peru, “constructing the song through bits of sound rather than guitar chords. We started off making a guitar rock album [in the vein of] the Arctic Monkeys or Kings of Leon, but because we were cutting, pasting and processing the guitars in a collage-like way, it became something entirely different.”
At a time when it’s increasingly difficult to be original, techniques like these are allowing musicians to perform a kind of sonic upcycling, assembling whole scrapyards of sound and turning them into something better than what went before.
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