Feedback has had a curious past. It might be onerous to recount the entire history and physics of the phenomenon – born with the vacuum-tube amplifier in the early 1920s, assigned its own genre of ‘noise’ music by the late 1990s. Somewhere along the line, as with most experiments that challenge a dominant aesthetic with the hopes of undermining it, the appropriated accident worked its way into the high/low art vernacular and, over time, became quite comfortable there. The downside, though inevitable, is that a powerful physical gesture was sapped of its strength, leaving it as the domain of a thousand imitators who, 20 years ago, might instead have been playing power chords. The upside: sapped of that power, it became possible to use feedback as an instrument rather than a physical effect.
San Diego (by way of Providence) media artist Joseph Winter’s Studio Audience 7” and accompanying CD-R, recorded under the honest, if unimaginative, “Winter” moniker, use feedback in a way that is more sculptural than abrasive. Whereas noise-nihilists under the influence of the Wolf Eyes zeitgeist seem content to build machines that tear sound asunder, Winter gathers the pieces and reconstructs sonic artifacts with rare delicacy and intentionality.
Not to conflate aesthetics with ideology – if the effect of a generation bred on sonic assault was to reduce the instrumental tableau to timbre and physical gesture, it seems only natural that the far-flung detritus of the 20th century’s sound world would now be remapped as its own negative image. In other words, materiality itself can now contain the palette for a localized symphony. Fittingly, Winter works primarily with the most physical and most abstract elements of sound. Interaction between speaker wires and speakers provide the source material, while the resulting sounds are processed, though not obscured, with a computer. The result is a sort of ritualistic performance, an aural document of fragmented bodies finding one another. “Perc” imagines a shaman exorcising a network of speakers, mining crackling timbres and metastasizing rhythmic tones.
“Pulse” begins with an intermittent high-frequency feedback tone that tentatively calls into being complementary rhythmic tones and, eventually, a few richly textural waves of feedback that overcome and washout the soundscape. From there, a singular pulsing tone stutters from left to right, aggregating harmonic tones until a sort of droning chorus effect is materializes. The process here is not disembodiment but valence: a copper wire ensemble formed through the reception and deployment of discrete but related elements over time, a sculpture constantly being rebuilt.
By Alexander Provan