Name: Andy Klingensmith
Occupation: Multi-disciplinary artist
Recent release: Andy Klingensmith's Oh, Beautiful Bridge is out via Full Spectrum.
Recommendations on the topic of sound: I would recommend anyone with a heart and a brain who is interested in patience, harmony, and empathy to read the works of Ursula K. Le Guin.
If you enjoyed these thoughts by Andy Klingensmith and would like to find out more about his work, visit him on tumblr, and Soundcloud. He also has a personal bandcamp account for his music.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound? What were early experiences which sparked it?
I started feeling really receptive towards “sound” back in 2019 after I decided to quit drinking post-college. It was a very significant moment for me that changed my physical and mental health in a lot of positive ways.
When it came to music, I started listening to harsh noise pretty heavily around this time and funnily enough it piqued my interest in the quiet stuff too.
Which artists, approaches, albums or performances using sound in an unusual or remarkable way captured your imagination in the beginning?
I remember pretty specifically listening to R. Andrew Lee playing Bryan Christian’s “Each flows into the other” and genuinely feeling like the way I was perceiving and interpreting music was being entirely rewritten in real time.
After discovering minimal music like this filled with silence (Cristian Alvear, Taku Sugimoto, Steve Roden, etc.) I was quickly inspired to buy a Tascam DR-05 to demo ideas and record tape loops and I haven’t looked back since.
What’s your take on how your upbringing and cultural surroundings have influenced your sonic preferences?
Like many people, I grew up listening to pop and indie music that my parents loved. I think because of this I have a very “musical” approach towards even my most experimental art.
Sometimes I strive for listenability and certain aesthetics that others might find conflicting, but I think keeping my dad’s ears at heart has certainly saved us all from some of my most unremarkable music.
I also grew up listening to emo music, so I appreciate art in any form that wears its heart on its sleeve.
Working predominantly with field recordings and sound can be an incisive step / transition. Aside from musical considerations, there can also be personal motivations for looking for alternatives. Was this the case for you, and if so, in which way?
I believe so! Initially it was because I believed my life to be sonically interesting. I also probably thought my perspective was unique, but most importantly, I knew that silence was suddenly infinitely inspiring to me.
[For another artist fascinated by silence, read our Kenneth Kirschner interview]
Now that I was focusing on what used to be “neutral” aspects of sound and composition, there was a musicality and timeliness to everything I was experiencing and recording that felt important to document and base my creativity around. It was a way of validating myself and the world around me.
As listening and recording quickly became a very transient and personal experience, I became more confident and focused in what I wanted to capture and create.
How would you describe the shift of moving towards music which places the focus foremost on sound, both from your perspective as a listener and a creator?
I think there is an uber-passionate niche and fanbase for just about any type of music nowadays. One might consider “sound art” or “lowercase” or “field recordings” as the nosebleeds when it comes to Bandcamp tags, but I think there has always been a healthy audience for “sound” and experimental music.
I think people have always responded intensely to art that feels real, singular, peerless, unique. I also think people respond intensely to what’s cool, what’s beautiful, and what’s new, and make judgments on all of these criteria quickly and decisively. Every day it seems like there is a new album released by an obscure sound artist that could change the creative and cultural landscape. I think now that this happens every day it’s hard for listeners and creators to cope.
Sometimes I feel like the only way we can focus on the truth of what we are listening to and hoping to create is to stop interacting with it so obsessively.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and working with sound? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage when it comes to your way of working with sound?
My answer to this question has changed a lot, but for the most part, I am still largely interested in connecting the “interior” and “exterior” compositional zones. That is, I often seek to combine the fragile honesty of domestic life (performance, improvisations with objects, home ambient demos, room tones, etc.) with the scope, character, and detail that large scale and location-specific field recording affords.
I like to think that my work comes from the same place of empathy and intimacy that has influenced artists such as Graham Lambkin, Claire Rousay, and Jeph Jerman. I believe there is an organic quality to each of these artists, a cosmic detachedness to sound that approaches a spirituality that I actively strive to reimagine in my own practice.
I sometimes like to describe this style as “domestic tape music,” but perhaps it is a feeling more than anything.
[Read our Claire Rousay interview]
What are the sounds that you find yourself most drawn to? Are there sounds you reject – if so, for what reasons?
I find myself very partial to sounds that feel “distant,” no matter how close they are. Sounds filtered through walls and across neighborhoods and open fields. I also love soft, nearly imperceptible humming and pulsing. My brain is excited by rhythms and patterns, but because of this I can get very particular about the structure and pace of recordings.
There’s nothing that gets me out of the zone in the field more than a passing plane. I’ve also had heavenly sessions on nature trails ruined by lone hikers on cell phones. I believe there is something to allowing the action of a location play out no matter what the consequences, but to me, sounds that break the “trance” are hard for me to look past. It can be especially difficult to notice a day’s worth of recording marred by heavy wind.
To me, if it distracts, it detracts.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, from instruments via software tools and recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you personally starting from your first studio/first instruments and equipment? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Initially I started writing music on guitar. For many years it was just myself with a cheap microphone, a cheap interface, and sometimes a cheap keyboard. It wasn’t until I started making experimental music that my setup or techniques ever felt adequate.
When I bought my DR-05, the ease of recording made it feel like everything was an instrument ready to be played, every room a stage to be explored, every press of the button a studio session. From there, it became second nature to collage what I had been working on and start to form narratives based on whatever I had been recording lately.
My waking life quickly became the place I drew most of my musical direction from. I still believe my creativity when it comes to sound is directly facilitated by my physical experiences.
Where do you find the sounds you’re working with? How do you collect and organise them?
Since January of 2020, I have had a folder of recordings for every month of the year. I do my best to date and shortly describe each recording. Many of my projects are based on my travels with my partner, so I often have folders related to specific trips and locations, but often I am recording during my daily life and at home.
Sometimes I start with a new recording I like and follow its emotional or sonic resonance to other recordings of mine that come to mind. More often however, I start to conceptualize my projects around specific locations or spans of time.
The possibilities of modern production tools have allowed artists to realise ever more refined or extreme sounds. Is there a sound you would personally like to create but haven’t been able to yet?
I think more often than not it is not a specific “sound” I feel like I am chasing but more so a feeling. I naturally like to think of my field recording as an active journal, a catalog of all the sounds I have experienced or captured. Because of this, it is hard to feel like I am specifically missing out on any of them, as each is unique and accounted for in a way.
I find more regularly I will write down a feeling (lame example, but let’s say “dust bowl”), and feel I don’t have the correct recordings yet to capture the vibe.
I suppose part of the game is living until you are able to capture it, but part of the madness is you probably could if you just worked with the hundreds of hours of sounds you already have rotting on your hard drive!
The idea of acoustic ecology has drawn a lot of attention to the question of how much we are affected by the sound surrounding us. What’s your take on this and on acoustic ecology as a movement in general?
Like many of the worst effects of late-stage capitalism, the tyranny of sound and its effect on human behavioral patterns is surely impossible to actually quantify, least of all by me. Noise is an essential and natural part of our everyday existence. Inescapable, uncontrollable, a beautiful chaos that we travel impossible distances and spend thousands of dollars just to find “quiet” and “get away” from.
I think a lot of us are desperate for a break, desperate to be alone with something that we no longer feel connected to. I think the most compelling works of acoustic ecology allows us to make contact with, nurture, address this feeling. It’s a means of confrontation that is sorely missed in most popular art forms.
Above all else, I believe acoustic ecology movement has lent a set of indispensable interpretive tools, from deep listening to “leave no trace” recording styles, to both its listeners and practitioners.
We can listen to a pop song or open our window and simply take in the noises of the environment. Without going into the semantics of music vs field recordings, in which way are these experiences different and / or connected, do you feel?
I think people’s intention when engaging with art determines their experience with it. A pop song can be used as mindless background music in the same way an Eno album can. A listener can take in a 45-minute Jürg Frey piece with the same intensity of a man screaming from the center of a mosh pit.
To me, even if the content of the music could not be further apart, people turn music on for a short list of reasons. We are searching for peace, companionship, excitement, reflection, closure, commentary.
Nowadays, if you are looking in the right place, and looking with the right perspective, I believe ultimately you can find these things in whatever you choose to consume.
From the concept of Nada Brahma to “In the Beginning was the Word” many spiritual traditions have regarded sound as the basis of the world. Regardless of whether you’re taking a scientific or spiritual angle, what is your own take on the idea of a harmony of the spheres and sound as the foundational element of existence?
Perhaps perfection is the absence of any flaws, perhaps it is the absence of anything. Sometimes it feels like sound is the closest thing we have to nothing. In a quiet room, as an air conditioner comes to life, the loud, crashing sound of its motor fills the room as if it were the only thing left on the planet to hear. When its cycle ends, it softly hums back to stillness. What was that sound? In one moment, the only thing, in another, gone.
In being absolute, in having this quality of agency and presence, sound becomes elemental. I do not think it is the basis of the world, but it is a direct reaction and response to some of the most fundamental aspects of it and for that it should be explored and protected.