Melbourne audio visual artist Robin Fox works across numerous mediums, endlessly seeking out visual representations for his sonic terrain. With a background in computer music and improvised music – in particular a long running collaboration with Anthony Pateras, a duo who were consistently pushing at the boundaries of experimental music, Fox has been a regular live performer working with the likes of Oren Ambarchi, Jon Rose, and Clayton Thomas. He regularly collaborates with dance company Chunky Move, has worked in sound design and has even exhibited visual works in galleries across the world. From oscilloscopes, to giant seven metre tall theremins, to psychedelic colour organs to his RGB laser show that drags rave culture kicking and screaming into the abstract experimental realm, Fox continues to amaze with increasingly sophisticated and challenging works that transcend narrow subcultures and appeal to a much broader audience – without diluting his intent or approach. This month he is performing a specially commissioned performance with legendary electronic producer Atom TM for Unsound in Adelaide, so we thought we’d ask him about some of the most formative music in his life.
ONE OF A THOUSAND POSSIBLE TOP-TENS.
1. Florian Hecker: Sun Pandemonium – (MEGO) 2003
This sound world hit my ears when I was in very similar territory aesthetically.
I was hunkered down in dark rooms teaching myself Max/MSP and making a lot
of noise with Anthony Pateras in a very exploratory way. I was heavily into improvisation and it seemed to be feeding the way I made patches…..on the fly….chaotic….yet with a sense of irrefutable logic. That’s what this incredible record says to me so it struck a real chord. Stocha Acid Zlook remains to this day one of my all time favourite pieces of computer music. While I have no idea how it was made the line it treads between fluidity and form is perfect.
2. Ryoji Ikeda: Dataplex – (Raster–Noton) 2005
Ryoji represents for me the mastery of a certain kind of hyperbolic restraint. His work is simultaneously overwhelming on the one hand and incredibly direct, precise and almost clinically minimal on the other. This particular album deals so beautifully with rhythmic materials and draws you into frequency bands that are often removed from so many recordings. It will stand the test of time as a classic of the early 21st century. Particular stand out tracks for me are Data.Hypercomplex and the longer form Data.Matrix.
3. Bernard Parmegiani: De Natura Sonorum – (ReCollection GRM release)
Composed in 1975 this is one of the all time great works in the electro-acoustic canon. Born of the incredible GRM studios established in Paris in 1951 this work takes the listener on a broad sweeping journey through familiar yet hauntingly distant soundscapes. Parmegani’s transformation of recorded sound fragments is nothing short of incredible given the technological resources at his disposal at the time of production. This work and, in fact, the entire output of the GRM (particularly Musique Concrete) has had a huge influence on the development of experimental and electronic music. Musique Concrete is, in essence, an early form of sampling. Whenever I’m ‘scrubbing a buffer’ in max/MSP it occurs to me that I am simply engaged in a super fast version of this 50 + year old technique. When I need a reminder that composition is essentially the organization of sound intensities and timbres over time and nothing more, I listen to this record.
4. Xenakis GRM works 1957 – 1962 (GRM ReCollection release)
From the same series as De Natura Sonorum (above) is this record of the electroacoustic works from the composer that had perhaps the greatest impact on my life in the formative years spent discovering music other than ABBA. It’s impossible to sum up the music of Iannis Xenakis in a few words so I’ll simply talk about the first piece on the first side of this album. Concret PH (1958). Made from the sound of burning charcoal this piece was a revelation to me. It was like Xenakis had taken a microscope to an organic process and revealed the underlying musical structure of heat and matter itself. It was the sound of real physical transformation. For me the whole world of musical and sounding possibilities exploded at this moment and is still in a state of steady outward drift. Below is Xenakis in his own words from the Nonesuch release:
“Start with a sound made up of many particles, then see how you can make it change imperceptibly, growing and developing, until an entirely new sound results… This was in defiance of the usual manner of working with concrète sounds. Most of the musique concrète which had been produced up to the time of Concret PH is full of many abrupt changes and juxtaposed sections without transitions. This happened because the original recorded sounds used by the composers consisted of a block of one kind of sound, then a block of another, and did not extend beyond this. I seek extremely rich sound (many high overtones) that have a long duration, yet with much internal change and variety. Also, I explore the realm of extremely faint sounds highly amplified. There is usually no electronic alteration of the original sound, since an operation such as filtering diminished the richness.”
—Xenakis, Program notes, Nonesuch recording H-71246 quoted
5. John Oswald: Plunderphonics (69/96)
This compendium of legendary audio pirate John Oswald was an inspiration for a number of reasons. I was drawn to the irreverence of the premise of these works. It’s easy in the music world to get hung up on romantic notions of authenticity and the maintenance of an ‘unaltered’ purity. Oswald says a big ‘fuck you’ to that and plucks materials from the sound slip-stream ebbing and flowing around him and forms new and distinctive sound pieces with an anarchic disregard for ownership. Aside from the irreverence there is also a real skill in transforming these found sound objects into meaningful materials and Oswald does it seamlessly. My favourite track from the comp is Power.
6. Full Spectrum Australian Digital Music: (Move Records) 1978
I have an enduring interest in the history of experimental and electronic music in Australia. This record was one of many that fostered my initial interests in that subject. Of particular note is the digital rendering of Percy Grainger’s Free Music 1 and 2. Grainger is perhaps one of the most interesting figures in the history of both Australian electronic music and in electronic music generally. His Free Music machines aimed to create a beatless music free from the constraints of what he called ‘harmonic morality.’ The link below is to recording of Free Music for 4 theremins composed in 1936. Other works on the record beautifully document the digital music being made at that time (1978) in Australia.
7. Aphex Twin Come to Daddy EP (Warp) 1997
When I heard this record I thought holy shit, experimental music has entered the mainstream! While it still has a popular bent, this release stuck out to me at the time as heralding a new (to me at least….I was young) hybrid of stochasticity and pure funk where sophisticated sound generation techniques were being employed to create music that was deeply unacademic. It was refreshing and still gets a hearing at my place. Particularly Bucephalus Bouncing Ball. Great track.
8. Steve Reich: Early Works (Nonesuch) 1987
These works really blew me away. When I went to study music at La Trobe University in the mid 1990’s they had a strange curriculum which essentially started with composition on tape machines (Musique Concrete) and free improvisation/instrument building labs and then moved from contemporary repertoire back through time until eventually, in third year, you were singing Gregorian chants. When I heard ‘Come Out’ for the first time I felt like I had learnt something essential about sound and particularly about phase. The piece consists of tape loops playing the same fragment of speech and gradually moving out of phase eventually returning to unison. If you haven’t heard Reich’s phase pieces then take some time out and listen to this whole record.
9. Conlon Nancarrow: Studies for Player Piano (the original 1750 Arch recordings)
This collection recorded in 1977 and reissued on CD by Other Minds in 2008 is the only collection recorded on the composers own instruments in Mexico city. Conlon Nancarrow’s player piano studies remain, for me, some of the most extraordinary music of all time. Nancarrow was interested in rhythmic relationships (among other tings of course) that were incredibly difficult for humans to perform. In the player piano he found a mechanical musical interface that he could essentially ‘program’ to perform elaborate and bizarre musical feats. Certain studies are exercises in pure symmetry while others explore shifting time signature relationships that produce what seems like impossible music. What I love about this work is that it uses technology to produce something that transcends the mechanical. These works become sublime and, far from being ‘inhuman’ they are super-human. Technology that unlocks an organicism that is beyond the reach of flesh, bone and brain is the future after all.
Check out study no.21 (Canon X).
10. Atom tm: HD (Raster-Noton) 2013
I’m including this record because I love it, but also because I recently collaborated with Atom tm on a new work Double Vision which is having it’s Australian premiere at the Adelaide Festival as part of UNSOUND on the 13th March. We were brought together to make new work that joined Atom’s amazing audio-visual screen work with my audio-visual laser materials. The result is an incredible hybrid of deconstructed pop, noise, tightly correlated sound and image…..and there’s some boxing too. I love Atom’s work for it’s precision, immaculate attention to sonic detail and sense of humour. The track I love you (like I love my drum machine) is a perfect example of the latter. The track below, Pop HD is a favourite.
Robin Fox and Atom TM’s Double Vision will be performed at Unsound as part of the Adelaide Festival on Friday the 13th of March 2015.
Robin Fox studio photo by Antuong Nguyen