Farida Amadou recalls the exact moment when she first held an electric bass in her hands. She was 20 years old and had been playing the guitar for a couple of years. But something about the feel of the strings, the way the bass vibrated in her hands and produced this great pulsating and humming sound, just stuck with her.
“I remember, from the first moment I was deeply fascinated by the sound and the way it felt to hold the bass. I always wonder if it might feel the same for cello players: that you feel the vibrations. It’s a very special way of connecting your body to what your hands are doing.“
In any case, that's when the Belgian musician discovered her passion for her instrument. The electric bass has been her main instrument for more than ten years now. And she keeps on reinventing the way she plays it. As a self-taught musician, Farida Amadou elicits the most exciting sounds imaginable from her Fender bass. She is an explorer. Her field of explorations: the known and unknown forms, sound worlds and contexts of her instrument.
Farida Amadou works at the converging points of blues, jazz, hip-hop, ambient sounds, and noise. She is equally at home in all these genres, which makes her one of the most remarkable new European stars of free improvised music.
In the last two years, she has naturally undertaken most of her explorations from home. Since 2020, she is based in Brussels. A relocation with odd timing: just a few weeks before the first lockdown. “Obviously I moved to Brussels to meet new people and play more concerts. At the beginning it was a bit difficult. But honestly looking back now it was really a good time for me. I had a lot of time to work on my solo project. The only thing I really hated were live streaming concerts.”
Elle vide l’air de la pièce pour la remplir de sa guitare aux notes délicates et jamais inutiles, et de sa voix douce et grave, avec le ton de celle qui n’a plus de temps à perdre.
Elle chante les yeux fermés, pour éviter les regards et plonger en elle. Quand elle a fini, il ne reste que le son des gorges qui se serrent et des cœurs qui se brisent.
C’est quelque chose qui est difficile à décrire et impossible à oublier. Pourtant, l’artiste folk dit ne pas être une naturelle. « Je n’ai pas la scène dans le sang, avoue-t-elle. Je l’apprivoise encore, je commence seulement à m’y sentir bien. »
Dans le café de Villeray où elle nous a donné rendez-vous, elle sirote sa tisane en parlant à voix basse. Son regard est calme et oblique. L’attention portée à sa personne paraît la gêner un peu.
Les autres clients ne semblent pas la reconnaître et cela lui convient.
Le plan fonctionne. Ses deux albums (Not so Deep as a Well et Ma délire – Songs of Love, Lost & Found) lui ont valu des critiques élogieuses de médias spécialisés aux États-Unis. « Une des meilleures parutions de la décennie », affirme Vinyl Factory.
Au Québec aussi, la bonne rumeur se propage. Mais pas assez à mon humble avis, d’où cette interview.
Il faut un peu d’arrogance ou d’ignorance pour prétendre faire de l’art radicalement original. Ceux qui l’affirment taisent leurs influences. Ou pire, ils n’en sont pas conscients.
Ce n’est pas le cas de Myriam Gendron. « Il ne faut pas se leurrer, réfléchit-elle. Même quand on croit créer quelque chose de neuf, on est traversé par toutes sortes d’influences. »
Sun Ra House, the three-story Philadelphia building that has been a cradle for Sun Ra’s evolving Arkestra outfit since the 1960s, has been listed as a historic landmark in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. The building at 5626 Morton Street, also known as the Arkestral Institute of Sun Ra, reportedly still houses a number of Arkestra members, including current bandleader Marshall Allen. Allen had lived in the house since 1968. In 2021, he reported that the building had partially collapsed. On May 13, the Philadelphia Historical Commission unanimously voted to grant the protected status, a representative for the register said.
As a result of the designation, the Historical Commission will ensure any adjustments to the building meet historic preservation standards, as well as advising on its restoration and maintenance. The designation came about with help from the Robert Bielecki Foundation, a philanthropist organization devoted to artists. Check out the Historical Commission’s proposal for the nomination.
Sun Ra returned to the astral plane in 1993, but his Arkestra continued to tour and record until the turn of the millennium, when it pared back to become a looser touring outfit. Sun Ra Arkestra regrouped in 2020 for Swirling—its first album in decades—which was nominated for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album award at the 2022 Grammys. After contributing to Swirling, the Arkestra’s longtime baritone sax player and manager Danny Ray Thompsondied in 2020 at age 72; bassist Juini Booth died the following year.
Most people don’t realize how crucial sound is to science fiction. TV shows and films about alternate dimensions or alien planets are only convincing when paired with sounds that also seem otherworldly. In 1958, the BBC launched its Radiophonic Workshop, a recording studio in West London stocked with music equipment that could generate the futuristic audio they needed. For most of the ’60s, the Workshop’s star engineer was a working-class girl with a Cambridge math degree who was obsessed with crafting sounds that had never been heard. Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and the Legendary Tapes, an experimental docudrama by first-time director Caroline Catz, offers a sensuous look at the inner life of this pioneering figure, whose mythology is fueled by the fact that she died of alcoholism, alone, and in relative obscurity.
Derbyshire, who is best known for realizing Ron Grainer’s score for the Doctor Who theme song, is revered by electronic music buffs for the bewitching melodies and soundscapes she coaxed out of her rudimentary machines. Her soundtracks and musical themes, ranging from satanic goblin chants to collage-based sound poetry and percussive proto-techno, have since been collected on a handful of highly coveted, out-of-print compilations. Until Catz’s film, however, she’s never received a treatment with such widespread appeal.
The film is an ambitious, interdisciplinary undertaking. There are the archival footage and talking-head interviews, offering a sense of who Derbyshire was and what drove her to pursue such an esoteric path. There’s the dramatic reenactment in which Catz herself plays the protagonist, relating the ups and downs of Derbyshire’s personal and professional life in a style that blends biopic and black-box theater. And then there are the psychedelic vignettes that recreate her improvisational studio sessions, with cosmic ’60s set design driving home the vision of Derbyshire as sonic alchemist. These reenactments are sound-tracked by Cosey Fanni Tutti from the legendary industrial band Throbbing Gristle, who makes cameos in the film alongside Derbyshire’s character in a kind of intergenerational jam session.
While the dramatic reenactment works as an accessory at first, the seams start to show toward the end of the film in the rushed storytelling and supporting characters who lack depth. Catz, meanwhile, delivers a charismatic performance in her role as Derbyshire, which creates some cognitive dissonance because, as we see in the archival footage, Derbyshire herself was not particularly charismatic.
The strength of the film is in its refreshing take on the old trope of the artist before her time. It’s remarkable, for instance, how often Derbyshire’s boundless imagination is hindered by the technical limitations of her clunky, primitive machines. These obstacles, when insurmountable, would send her into depressive benders that often ended with her destroying her tapes. But Derbyshire also hacked her machines to find clever workarounds that pushed the field forward.
Generally, the film is reflexive. It cheekily acknowledges the clichés that now comprise Derbyshire’s myth and legend. In the final scene, her disembodied voice reads out and fact-checks a posthumous profile in the Times, laughing at how tragic her life is made to seem. (“Hopeless alcoholic?” she jokes. “Actually, I was rather a successful alcoholic.”) In laying bare the process by which myths are made, the film asks us to consider why we find certain narratives so appealing, particularly those in which a woman’s vast accomplishments are shrouded by tragedy.
Max Pearl covers music, art and film, and splits his time between New York and Mexico.
Over the past three decades, Andrea Parkins has cultivated an inventive and diverse body of work with sound as its integral element. Her projects encompass creative approaches to music and the materiality of sound in a process-oriented form of making. Notions of the body’s physical limitations collide with performance, improvisation, and installation as sonic architecture. Combining her roots as a pianist and accordionist with practices in electroacoustic music, drawing, and performance, Andrea is a true interdisciplinary explorer. Two Rooms from the Memory Palace, her recent release on Infrequent Seams, is followed by the release of its companion piece, The Third Room. We spoke at Andrea’s flat in Berlin about processes of translation, the shift from conventional music to the outer reaches of abstraction, the role of creative process, and generosity toward an audience.
Lea Bertucci: I’m interested in where you draw the line between sound art and expanded notions of composition. What, to you, is the difference between those two things? And how does your history with visual art inform the way that you compose music?
Andrea Parkins: Within my own work, I don’t think about this distinction. However, there are works engaging with sound that definitely are not “music,” because they don’t aim to be music, but instead might focus on a critical consideration of what sound does. There is also music that does this, and some of it might also be considered sound art in terms of how it addresses social or even metaphorical space while taking up musical aspects of form, duration, timbre, or orchestration.
I was first a musician, although maybe now I could say that I’m an artist whose primary material is sound. I studied classical piano through my early twenties, which overlapped with five years of improvisation studies in Boston with jazz pianist Harvey Diamond. In our work together, we focused a lot on sound production on the piano, addressing timbre, density, and overtones. In 1981, I bought a synthesizer and dove into those sonic possibilities. Soon after, I took classes in sound and experimental film at one of the local art schools, composing tape pieces on reel-to-reel machines and making non-narrative Super 8 films. I began to realize that I could think about compositional structure in music in relation to what I was learning about film structure. Eventually, I decided to go to art school full time, making drawings, sculpture, and video while continuing to improvise and compose music outside of school.
Around this time I also acquired an accordion and was immediately compelled by its capacity to produce sonic textures, complex dissonances, and drones. I installed a pickup into the instrument, ran it through a line of effects pedals, and connected it to a big tube amp. The resulting sound absorbed me endlessly and took me in a direction that I’ve continued to pursue.
This was the beginning of my life as both an electroacoustic improviser and a composer. It was also the time when I started making connections between the materiality of the visual media I was exploring and the materiality of sound.
Andrea Parkins, Big Amplified Drawing: Being, Not Sounding, 2017, video capture. Courtesy of the artist.
What’s been fundamental is that I began as an acoustic musician, and that experience of my body’s gestural interaction with and resistance to my instruments is deeply embedded within me. Early on I noticed that this gestural aspect was also present in the way that I worked with drawing materials. Eventually, I decided to combine drawing and sound-making in a process that would help me to understand more about this connection.
I began drawing ambidextrously, working large and on the floor, amplifying the sound of my drawing tools and processing that sound through the custom-designed software instrument that I have been working with for many years. The instrument picks up the drawing sound and responds to it with sudden eruptions of feedback, stutter, and glissandi so that an improvisational dialogue ensues between the instrument and the act of drawing. I’ve discovered there is a real tension between gesture and the sound in this work, with the drawing mark as the artifact of that tension. I don’t know if this aspect of my work is sound art or music, but I think it’s musical. When I listen to recordings of my amplified drawing, I hear something that sounds compositional.
LBT: he more I think about this question, the more these kinds of boundaries dissolve or become irrelevant. As someone who also came from playing a conventional instrument, I find it liberating to think about an instrument as a sounding object in the way that you describe your approach to the accordion; you’re not trying to play accordion songs, necessarily, but instead to figure out the sonic characteristics of the object.
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When Venezuluan electronic composer Angel Rada found himself at university in Germany in 1970, he dove deep into the relatively new field of electroacoustic music, while also doubling in Chemical Engineering, ultimately earning his doctorate in both. Rada had access to Moog synthesizers and began pushing his explorations further and further out, but it was the discussions he had in the engineering department that led to his biggest breakthrough.
“I began to be aware that, in the universe, nothing is standing still,” Rada recalls. “Everything changes from one state to another, and every object is formed by moving atoms interchanging electrons. My perception evolved to a second stage focused on the relationship between quantum physics and Buddhism.” But even the most intrepid fan of early electronic music may be forgiven for not knowing about Rada’s oeuvre, as most of it was only released in his native Venezuela. Thankfully, this month, the Spain-based label El Palmas Music reissues Rada’s 1983 debut, Upadesa, which follows from the label’s handy 2020 compilation, Tropical Cosmic Sounds from Space. (For further exploration, the label has also digitally reissued a run of his ‘80s albums.)
“Venezuela is a small country, but it has everything, it is so rich in many ways,” DJ and label head Maurice Aymard wrote via email. As a Venezuelan artist based in Madrid, reviving Rada’s music was crucial for him. “The amount of genres that Latin America has is countless: cumbia, merengue, salsa, porro, son, guaguanco, Latin jazz, soul, funk and yes, even electronic music. It was unbelievable to me that an artist like Ángel Rada could produce this kind of sound living in a tropical Latin country, but with so many influences from around the globe.”
Born in Cuba, Rada’s family came to Venezuela when he was still a baby. By the age of 13, the young Rada began his musical training in earnest with his uncle, the chorus conductor of the Caracas Cathedral. He soon moved on to studying theory and piano at the José Ángel Lamas School of Music, before his pursuits finally took him to Lübeck University in northern Germany.