Text by Allan Gardner
OUTLANDS is a project founded to create an international interdisciplinary network of experimental musicians and artists, fostering cross-genre collaboration. The key aims of the project are to pool expertise and resources, to encourage diversity and accessibility, to build local audiences, and to support engaging and ambitious interdisciplinary music productions across the country and the organisations that strive to promote them.
Their most recent commission, Fracture Patterns, comes in the form of a live collaboration. Bringing together UK-based artist duo Semiconductor and New York musician and producer Eartheater, the commission combines multi-channel video works by Semiconductor with a new live soundtrack and performance by Eartheater. These divergent practices fuse into a bespoke production exploring the space between meaning and noise, Fracture Patterns existing in instant separating the two.
Semiconductor’s work centres around the material makeup of the world and the intersection of these materials, ranging from the cosmological to the quantum. Their practice considers noise or chaos as the space in which ideas are born, or materials meld, either emerging from the disarray reformed or being swallowed by it. Eartheater focuses on audio, layering vocals and treating the voice as a diverse instrument, performing different functional and aesthetic roles across her genre-bending catalogue of output.
This collaboration comes from an awareness of chaos, disarray and noise as a creative catalyst. Both Eartheater and Semiconductor recognise the broad scope of noise as something encompassing myriad components, forces which can be utilised in the exploration of new territories – both materially and emotionally.
Speaking with CLOT, commissioner Caleb Madden discusses the genesis of the project and the decision to combine these artists: Semiconductor use noise as a generative force; be that by re-using discarded NASA imagery of the sun or by visualising seismic data from volcano eruptions… Eartheater uses noise sonically as a productive and often beautiful force in her music, for instance, with multiple layering of her vocals creating a sort of rich multiplicity. And in her wider practice, her costumes and her choreography, again I see a kind of noise, a cultural noise, a fantastic generative layering of ideas that add up for me, again, to a kind of productive or generative noise.
This focus on noise as productive or generative is an important distinction to consider regarding Fracture Patterns. The work (and the other works commissioned by OUTLANDS) challenge the tired aesthetic of transgressive noise, realising the potential both as a genre and as a descriptor, as something which can reform or reproduce following the destruction. The project focuses on advancing the functionality and terminology of noise, forcing the screeching feedback antagonism to justify itself in favour or a new, more aware community of artists utilising disordered sonic and visual aesthetics.
In discussing their collaboration, Eartheater described the work of Semiconductor: Semiconductor’s films capture some of the most magnificent details of our world that are too small, too far away, or too rare for most people to observe outside of the usually sterile controlled context of science. They say the devil is in the detail, though I’ve found that humans tend to make their most detailed work in reverence.
Understanding noise, or chaos in other words, as hiding nuance is something that I consider valuable in approaching the progression of the genre, the definition and the experience. Fighting through the disorder to the point of ecstatic reverence found swirling in the milieu is in the makeup of Fracture Patterns.
Semiconductor describe the collaboration with eartheater coming from a reflection of their approaches to intangible materials as a form of sculpture. In their words, Eartheater works with a materiality of sound in a way that it becomes very sculptural, her voice is very much used as raw material which she manipulates, these approaches come together to produce something very physical.
This is a direct parallel to their approach to treating the fabric of the physical world as a sculptural material, making the intangible malleable and using it to shape communicative visions for the viewer. They describe the collaborative process as not attempting to find a common language but instead about creating disruption in how both parties work, taking risks and challenging their own perceptions around creative practice.
This collaboration culminates in the form of a tour across the UK from 13th to 22nd June, showcasing an audio-visual project that encompasses large scale projection, live audio and vocal manipulation, physical movement and ultimately generates an experience existing on the blurred edge between dissonance and harmony.
If you want to read more about the project we had a chat with Caleb Madden that gave us further insight into it: The thinking behind this production is born out of my ongoing pre-occupation with noise. Noise as a sonic entity, but also in terms of multiple visual, informational, cybernetic and even philosophical understandings. In my own art practice and research, I am looking at the facilities of noise; the ways it can cause affective responses in people, processes, systems and cultural channels. Through this research I was drawn to the way Semiconductor use noise as a generative force; be that by re-using discarded NASA imagery of the sun (see their amazing early film Brilliant Noise) or by visualising seismic data from volcano eruptions (see Worlds in the Making). Personally, I come from a background of making noise as a musical proposition, so I was enthused to see how Semiconductor approach the subject in ways that go beyond the sonic – and beyond noise music’s perhaps tired association with transgression – toward what is for me, a more productive idea of noise – as a force that can generate new ideas, new analogue and digital experiences.
At the same time I have been engaging with Eartheaters practice, and again here is someone that I consider as coming at ‘noise’ in an original and intriguing way. Eartheater uses noise sonically as a productive and often beautiful force in her music, for instance, with multiple layering of her vocals creating a sort of rich multiplicity. And in her wider practice, her costumes and her choreography, again I see a kind of noise, a cultural noise, a fantastic generative layering of ideas that add up for me, again, to a kind of productive or generative noise.
So when I had the chance to put these two practices together (Semiconductor and Eartheater) I knew this collaboration had the potential to be very interesting – with the concept of noise as the ground where they meet, as the idea that could guide them, and perhaps inform the ways in which new forms can emerge from the noisy collision of their practices, be that in a quiet, loud, or sublime way.
The title Fracture Patterns is an attempt to encapsulate this idea of a collaboration as a generative collision. Fracture patterns are in fact those hexagonal patterns that emerge spontaneously in nature. For example, the patterns we see in dried mud or more spectacularly in the geological formations caused by cooling lava at Giants Causeway in Ireland. It is this spontaneous emergence of new forms from the tumultuous, the ability of noise to facilitate the hitherto unexpected and unexperienced that this project attempts to explore, enlarge and explode. Rather than turn away from noise this production seeks to linger at the fracture points, to lean in and to look for the new patterns that emerge from the chaos.
When talking about what he expects to bring with the show Caleb goes on: I don’t think I can talk about it in terms of expectation. Any artwork can be perceived in numerous different ways by numerous different folk. All I can do as a producer is set up the conditions for a positive and engaging experience that I hope can throw up new thoughts and in this instance perhaps provide a new way of engaging with the notion of noise. From our side, the audience can expect large scale projections onto bespoke surfaces, an original soundtrack performed live with moments of choreography, and all these elements wrapped into a production which seeks not to be difficult, or experimental in the way that that can mean unfinished or unresolved, but rather as a sublime and engaging, yet ambitious, ‘show’ in a comfortable theatrical environment. I want people to be absorbed, moved and opened-up by this experience.