—9— What can we hear when we stop talking?

Roarke Menzies — New York City-based Artist and Composer

For my presentation, I’ve actually decided to stage what I’m calling an encounter — a direct encounter with the phone itself. By the way of introduction and framing that — and since there’s been such a healthy thread about disciplines — I’ll tell you a bit about my own practice and maybe it’s equal parts tacky and apropos that I’m reading off my phone.

As an artist coming from the disciplines of music and sound art, a significant part of my studio practice involves engaging with objects, usually music making machines, with my hands, eyes, ears etc. I use similar tools to what any other musician might use: a mixing board, effects pedals, speakers, microphones, sometimes synthesizers, sometimes software. In fact, there’s a long healthy thread, since Mara was talking about pitch correction and pitch shifting tools.

I like to use those as an expressive medium where it is — rather than using them functionally for what they’re designed to do — about playing on the algorithms and the characteristics of that software. Outside of the software realm, I like to have physical objects in front of me. Lots of little knobs and faders, because I’m interested in having an immediate tactile relationship with the sounds being made.

I’m interested in the gestural aspects, in the manual hands’ and digital fingers’ interactions with the devices.

I often sing into microphones that are plugged into machines that echo back to me altered versions of my voice. A reciprocal relationship develops wherein I listen, act, respond, listen, act, respond while the machines do their own versions of these verbs and we, me and the machines, create works together. I have very intimate, long term relationships with some of these machines. I like to think we know each other very well. So recently during a collaboration with a choreographer named Stacy Matthew Spence, who coincidentally is current Eugene Lang dance faculty, I was asked to engage with objects that have very different properties from the musical machines that I’m used to: a glass jar, a ceramic mug, a teakettle, a large metal table. Each of these objects, their materials, sizes, shapes, densities etc. indeed had varied and complex sonic characteristics.

The process introduced a compelling new question to my approach. What if I engage with an object that has no knobs, faders, keys, strings, or any overt audio or musical interface? But if I listen as I do with my sound machines for the sonic characteristics (pitches, timbres, textures, etc.) produced by engaging manually with the objects’ material properties.

Since September, when we all received these loaner phones, mine’s been sitting on my desk in my bedroom. Which is where I have my little studio project space and interstitial moments while working on other projects. It has just been there and so I’ve been toying with the rotary dial and kind of exploring it’s materiality and it’s sonic properties. I’ve staged a few, what I’m calling, direct encounters with it that I’ve recorded the audio and video from. And initially, I was thinking that I would talk about what those experiences are like and present to you some of those recordings, but I thought maybe it’s much better if I stage one here in front of you and we can all observe it together.

Among other things this is largely just because it’s being framed by my practice, a listening practice. And so I don’t know if anyone’s hard of hearing, you might want to come closer, if anyone can’t hear you can replace listening with your own verb. The point is to be receptive. And you will notice the room — once I stop talking you will notice certain aspects, at least two. One is that — since we’re sort of deep in the belly of the built environment — the AC is in fact quite loud once you take away a foreground. And you’ll also notice maybe that your internal life is pretty noisy as well. We can treat both as kind of counterpoints to the the focal.

Roarke Menzies

Roarke Menzies is a New York City-based artist and musician who incorporates his voice, mouth and body with audio hardware and software, as well as other tools and toys, to create electronic and electroacoustic performances and sound works.