CNMN > Projects > Finding Folk for Music

Jeff Morton

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  • Ouvert (définition : partitions pour une instrumentation non spécifiée)
  • Objets trouvés ou matériel artistique
  • Instruments acoustiques
  • Appareils numériques
  • 13 à 18 ans
  • Adultes

2 one-hour sessions

  • Éducation
  • Associations communautaires
  • Écologie

Finding Folk for Music


Fin­ding Folk for Music is a way to share concepts and stra­te­gies for a kind of expe­ri­men­tal folk music. The series engages people in hands-on crea­tion regard­less of anyone’s level of pre­vious musi­cal expe­rience. Work­shops pro­vide an oppor­tu­ni­ty for impro­vi­sa­tion, explo­ra­tion, sound making, and audio recor­ding in res­ponse to the envi­ron­ment. They are a chance to prac­tice deep lis­te­ning, a phi­lo­so­phy and approach to music and sound deve­lo­ped by com­po­ser Pau­line Oli­ve­ros. Deep lis­te­ning helps us unders­tand and per­ceive our­selves in the world, and whe­ther through envi­ron­men­tal, social, or poli­ti­cal impacts, our sound­scape is always in a state of change. Docu­men­ting sound is an impor­tant aspect of Fin­ding Folk for Music. The work­shop and per­for­mance recor­dings are like trans­crip­tions of the acous­tic spaces and the par­ti­ci­pants’ musi­cal enga­ge­ment. The recor­dings have archi­val and docu­men­ta­tion value, and I find them plea­sant to lis­ten to. Through these work­shops I am fin­ding new stra­te­gies to bring people toge­ther to make expe­ri­men­tal music, and in this way, the series is an exten­sion of my com­po­si­tion and sound art practice.

In Octo­ber of 2019 I was invi­ted to present Fin­ding Folk for Music at the Sounds Like Fes­ti­val in Sas­ka­toon. The two-hour ses­sion invol­ved eight people and explo­red trans­crip­tion and com­po­si­tion stra­te­gies with a variable set of ins­tru­ments. The sample work­shop stra­te­gy found below this text was used for one of the activities.

It is inter­es­ting to hear the dif­ferent results from the two groups who were fol­lo­wing the same set of ins­truc­tions and lis­te­ning to the same loo­ping audio sample, and to note how qui­ck­ly the par­ti­ci­pants found a sha­red musi­ca­li­ty in their playing.

One year ear­lier in Rea­ding, UK, I had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to present a lon­ger-form ver­sion of Fin­ding Folk for Music, as a four-day work­shop with an ad hoc ensemble lea­ding to public performance.

Over the four days, our group explo­red field recor­ding, trans­crip­tion, and impro­vi­sa­tion, with the goal of making music that com­pli­men­ted and respon­ded to the envi­ron­ment. We went into woo­ded areas near cam­pus and lis­te­ned to the trees, city noises, and Hea­throw air traf­fic above us. With an array of micro­phones and ins­tru­ments in our hands, we set up in iso­la­ted as well as busy public spaces, making music that trans­cri­bed and com­pli­men­ted the sound­scape. In the quie­test places, we found a world of sound alrea­dy present, and for the per­for­mance at the museum, the large audience and their chat­ter, clin­king glasses, and shuf­fling feet became ano­ther sound­scape to which we respon­ded. Throu­ghout the pro­cess, we asked our­selves the ques­tions : Is there alrea­dy enough to lis­ten to ? Why am I adding ano­ther sound ? When I do, how can it be alrea­dy part of the sound­scape or how can it stand out through inten­tion, repe­ti­tion, or expression ? 

On the first day of the work­shop, par­ti­ci­pants bor­ro­wed por­table recor­ding units and set out to moni­tor and record the most quiet places they could find on campus.

As a stra­te­gy to encou­rage deep lis­te­ning, the field recor­ding exer­cise contri­bu­ted to the crea­tive pro­cess. When making field recor­dings, par­ti­ci­pants wore head­phones and expe­rien­ced the sound­scape in a close-up and immer­sive way, hea­ring the smal­lest details and encoun­te­ring the back­ground noise in even the quie­test places. This awa­re­ness of the sound­scape infor­med the group’s abi­li­ty to impro­vise toge­ther, and parts of the field recor­dings were inte­gra­ted into the performance.

Our per­for­mance was well-recei­ved, with hun­dreds of people stan­ding, sit­ting, and wal­king through the museum to lis­ten. Audience mem­bers com­men­ted on the focu­sed and immer­sive qua­li­ty of the music we played, and after­wards group mem­bers were inter­vie­wed about their expe­rience in the workshop :

“The sound is sup­po­sed to react to the envi­ron­ment but not over­po­wer it. We also recor­ded some silence and played along with those recor­dings. It feels very calm in our cor­ner ; the exhi­bi­tion is very hec­tic otherwise.”

“I lear­ned about sound com­po­si­tion, how to use ins­tru­ments in dif­ferent ways, crea­ting sounds with recor­dings from nature.”

“We were wor­king with sounds, with dif­ferent ways to record sound, to docu­ment it. It was a group pro­ject, four of us and Jeff as well. We were all there, wor­king toge­ther during the work­shops, making indi­vi­dual recor­dings, and put­ting it all together.”

Fol­lo­wing the work­shop and per­for­mance in Rea­ding, I had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to present a stand-alone ver­sion of the field recor­ding exer­cise in Win­ni­peg, on a very cold day in March in the office space of Crea­tive Manitoba.

Par­ti­ci­pants were given a set of ins­truc­tions during a short 20-minute session : 

(1) Bor­row a sound recor­der and toy xylo­phone ; (2) as a soli­ta­ry acti­vi­ty, move through the buil­ding to find a silent or near-silent space ; (3) record the sound­scape ; (4) speak quiet­ly and des­cribe where you are and what you hear ; (5) make sounds with the xylo­phone ; (6) after a few minutes, stop and return.

This exer­cise invi­ted par­ti­ci­pants to lis­ten to the acous­tic envi­ron­ment, and to hear them­selves and their actions in rela­tion to the sound that was alrea­dy there. The hall­ways and stair­wells were filled with ambient office back­ground noise, with machines hum­ming and the sound of icy wind out­side. The xylo­phones inter­jec­ted a play­ful ele­ment and a kind of sound impulse that acous­ti­cal­ly map­ped the spaces through echo and reverberation.

Later the same year, I had a chance to present Fin­ding Folk for Music at the Regi­na Public Libra­ry. As in ear­lier pre­sen­ta­tions, the work­shop inclu­ded field recor­ding exer­cises, group impro­vi­sa­tion, and deep lis­te­ning. We found sounds in and around the buil­ding, and we used these recor­dings as bed tracks and as a kind of acous­tic score. Playing in the open area of the libra­ry beside a rum­bling esca­la­tor and with sounds of people all around us, we respon­ded to the sound­scape, imi­ta­ting what we heard, mixing back­ground and foreground.

Through all of the pre­sen­ta­tions of Fin­ding Folk for Music, the series has grown and has been adap­ted for dif­ferent contexts. I have lear­ned more about ways that deep lis­te­ning, crea­tive music making, impro­vi­sa­tion, and com­po­si­tion can be enga­ged with by people with any level of musi­cal trai­ning or expe­rience. Results vary, and while I am moved by all the music we have made, appre­cia­ting this is a mat­ter of taste.  The pro­cess, howe­ver, is most impor­tant, and the stra­te­gies I am wor­king with play­ful­ly reveal musi­cal rela­tion­ships, artis­tic choices, and col­lec­tive efforts by people in the crea­tion of a work of art. For me that’s the point of Fin­ding Folk for Music.

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Jeff Mor­ton is a com­po­ser, musi­cian, and media artist based in rural sou­theast Saskatchewan.

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