PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Jed Speare: Sound Works 1982-1987

Long-form musique concrete. I didn't know either before hearing it.


Jed Speare

Sound Works 1982-1987

Label: Family Vineyard
US Release Date: 2008-01-22
UK Release Date: 2008-01-21
Amazon
iTunes

I knew Jed Speare for a brief period of seven weeks in early 1999, having landed an internship at Mobius, “Boston’s Artist-Run Center for Experimental Work in All Media”, where Speare was the director, as part of my college requirements. I traveled two hours each way to the gallery/performance space/office via car, train, subway, and finally by foot to have my 20-year-old mind blown by performance art work about breast cancer and multimedia tributes to Syd Barrett. Green as I was to visual and performance art, musique concrete, pretty much anything remotely avant-garde, I struggled to process what I encountered, or ask very many questions either of myself or the talented artists and creators to whom I had access. Nine years later, though still relatively unversed, my curiosity was piqued to investigate the Family Vineyard label’s two disc release of Speare’s Sound Works 1982 – 1987, to learn, to test myself, and to experience something new.

For most of us, I imagine, though none of the five pieces collected here is younger than 21 years old, they are most definitely something new. This is not casual music; if you are going to listen to the 35-plus-minute “At the Falls”, for example, you must commit, read Speare’s liner notes, poet George Quasha’s dense preface (“Uncategorizable sound proposes aberrant hypotheses, world-managing thought-strays”), think, work, and hopefully remain open and curious through the work’s challenge. Musique concrete, as a cursory glance at a certain online encyclopedia suggests, is an attempt to invert the process of musical composition. Instead of abstract ideas of notes, chords, and melodies being transferred to audible instruments, found analogue sound and field recordings are spliced and combined, “abstracted” back into music. In that respect it is ironic that the form is so daunting, when the elements which it manipulates form the clattering modern soundtrack of our lives to as much if not more an extant than say, I don’t know, “Fergalicious” (let’s hope).

“Sleep Tight” is the score to a 1983 collaboration with artist Barbara Duifjes of the same name, and is composed of the sounds of encephalograph pens, and a dry water faucet in the basement of the Franklin Furnace in New York City, where the work originally premiered. The twittering, beeping, bleating, and rumbling textures aren’t “pretty”, but they’re not inherently ugly either, and prove to be just as evocative and image-inducing as popular music forms, though in much different ways. Rather than suggesting a traditional narrative, a piece such as “Sleep Tight” offers the mind the chance to make sometimes bizarre connections and substitutions. The amplified squeak of the faucet immediately reminded me of a chickadee, coincidentally a bird that often frequents my dreams. Gong-like metallic reverberations, like stretched-out traffic or compressed white noise, and choppy, skipping recorded text are the background sound we live with everyday brought to the forefront, spun and arranged. “At the Falls” (1982) was an attempt to recreate the auditory experience of a waterfall, but without any water sounds, (among its elements are vocals recorded at a psychiatric hospital in Mirecourt, France). I’d defy anyone to crank such a composition on their iPod, or during their morning commute, but in the proper context and with the right focus, the work is remarkably intriguing.

The remaining pieces, “Taboo Death”, “Love Object”, and “Wayside”, offer more in the way of traditional musical sounds such as castanets and other rhythmic percussion, voice, piano, cello, even guitar, but nowhere near exclusively. Bells ring out into fuzz, pigeons flutter, and mix with sounds from the Bay Area Rapid Transit, and “tone generating oscillators” fed through “speakers mounted on copper rods in a white cylindrical vase.” I find now that what was initially imposing and inscrutable about work like Speare’s, has much to offer those of us positioned squarely outside of the experimental sound and art realm, if we are willing. Spinning wheels, distorted machine coughs and crackles, like the sound of blood coursing through our veins in rare moments of otherwise silence, or the grinding of a train carrying one down toward the Boston’s South End artists’ district, Speare’s work is worth the investment in time and consideration.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.