Student, Reid Dudley-Smith, explores music as a Sound Artist. Living in Kent, he is in his second year studying Sonic Arts at Christchurch University. Working with sound as a material, he has performed at many artistic events including international music festivals and contemporary art galleries. Using the computer software, we comprises old and new instruments, including vinyl (Reid thinks of vinyl as an instrument), that experiments with sound. He uses these instruments as a dialogue between them to create experimental and artistic noise. His most recent project is Beyond Interface; a study where he has used traditional and virtual interfaces when performing and looking at their amalgamation with the post-digital era. I met Reid at his house in Ashford in Kent, from the start he was very welcoming and through his emails he seemed more than happy to share some if his stories with me. Today was his â€˜Pressâ€™ day as someone was coming around to photograph him after we were finished talking, so I felt very privileged to be part of that. As I walked in, the house was a juxtaposition of two personalities; a feminine, cute and friendly female and someone who had a great passion for music. These two personalities looked as if they worked in harmony together. Reid, who has woken up two minutes before the discussion (due to a heavy night of working on his projects) invited me in for a coffee. We began talking about the past degrees he had studied, in particular East London University; a few years ago he studied Music Culture there with his best friend Rosie Brodhurst-Brown. But all these false starts in different degrees have been fundemental on where he is now.
The first thing he showed me to get an idea of what he does was his Crackle Box. Its and instrument from Holland that has an open circuit board which reacts through your body as a medium. When you touch the metal interface on the top, it makes this strange noise working over the resistance of your body, it can even work when one person touches the interface and another person touches that person, meaning you can play a person’s arm like a piano. He holds it like you would a clarinet whilst jiggering it around to adjust volume into the microphone, its a very bizarre piece, but very interesting as I feel like this was great starting point for understanding what was going on in his head. The basis of this 1970s instrument is to be played live. It has no way of being plugged into anything, it can just be simply played in front of a microphone, I believe this is partly why he enjoys the Crackle Box, you have to compose live, as opposed to engineering something through a computer. You can’t manipulate the sound, it is what it is, every movement you make becomes part of the sound. This piece cost him 60 EUROs when he was in Amsterdam, he claims he can’t live without it. It is one of his most treasured items, describing it as “beautiful”. He then spoke about his degree in Sonic Arts, describing it like art school but with sound, doing a lot of live electronic performances and making installations for art projects. Sound Art is taking an artistic approach to sound as a material. Music is a part of this, but if you can imagine all the different types of sound in the world, music is a very small percentage of this. So Reid has a huge amount of different types of sound to work with, which he finds a little daunting. In a recent project he used a turntable and crackle box as well as and Mono, which is a box with a grid of buttons that are programmed to a particular sound, that light up when used.
He is also working on an installation for a local sound festival based upon surveillance for supermarkets. His projects all interlink, he states that he has all these thoughts and produces visual pieces that reflect what he is thinking, then stimulating ideas for other projects so none of them ever really get finished and turn into something else. He finds inspiration in pretty much everything, I found him to be really inquisitive about products, the way he held them and studied them, was the same for the way he was describing how he worked. He told me when he was messing around with a turntable once playing with other musicians, then he stopped doing this and changed to playing solo and mixing with different instruments. He has studied in three different degree courses, the first he studied two years in a Music Journalism Course and then Music Culture as East London University. He felt this experience was fantastic, although he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, he still felt that this is where he discovered some amazing music that he had never heard before and wanted to dive into this instead. The music heard was electronic, sound that he had never imagined could be produced. He began to think about the sounds in this 20th century music that seemed almost impossible for someone to have produced and how they came up with such radical technology then. This fascinated he so he dropped out of his degree because what he was studying what the theory of pop music with a ‘half arsed’ approach to artistic music production. He also found that his piers were so different to him that it confirmed that this was not where he wanted to be, they all wanted to be famous pop singers. He stated “I want to make noise with hovers, not be a pop singer!”
He had on display a selection of vinyl in his living room; this wasn’t his whole collection. Although he didn’t have a huge collection, the appreciation he had felt as if it was twice the size of the appreciation of a collector with an enormous amount. He claims that this selection is only a fifth of what he has, he likes to be non-materialistic about his collection, a great deal of his friends have also borrowed from him which he believes one day he will have back. When I asked him about how often he listened to vinyl, whether it was an occasional thing, because it is easier to listen to CD, he sharply starred at me, giving me the look of horror at what I had just said. For him, vinyl is easy to listen to because he can scratch a vinyl with his eyes closed. This is a frequent thing to him, he doesn’t have much on CD and he never uses it, he doesn’t even own a CD player. Its either vinyl or he uses his Ipod to play music. He states that its the best way to listen to music and can’t understand why more don’t do it. It annoys him that his musical friends who own 3-4000 songs listen to their music on small laptop speakers, when music should be enjoyed through speakers that it was intended to be played on. He then told me he wanted to take me on a little journey. He considers his vinyl as stories, things that are really important to him, he doesn’t listen to some of them much anymore but has memories attach to every single on of them. Most of the vinyl are promo records that record companies have sent him when he was a Journalist for Artrocker Magazine. He then picked out two selections of vinyl, one that he uses to scratch on when performing and another for his own personal use, he described them as a cross section of his brain.....
He started by showing me his personal collection, one was a BBC sound effects horror edition vinyl that had lots of spooky effects for example ‘head being chopped off’, all made electronically. He got this Then he got on to The Meters, a funky 70s band, which he used to use a lot in his DJ sets when he worked for Orange Street Music venue. Here he was part of some of the Hip Hop nights they held, where he would be on the decks, dancers would be break dancing whilst other people would be graffiting the walls. The next was C is for Cookie, which has really left field punk songs which he uses a great deal on his Djing sets. The music is a great funk dance track but with a peculiar time signature to it. Reid finds it hilarious to watch people dancing to a track with a strange beat because its extremely difficult. A band called Bikini Kill are a 90s punk rock group that Reid described as ‘him’, his favourite punk rock band that he started to listen to when he was growing up. The reason he likes them so much is because they have an aggressive attitude and combining it with this image of the guitar which is commonly thought of as a white male symbol of power, it becomes something that it is considered influential and radical. Gender politics is important to him. He then pulled out an album by Shellac; a group who dislike CD, they produce all their work on vinyl, they practically punish you for buying it on CD.
He then finally came on to a band called No Age. To him, this is the music of the 21st century and when people look back, this will be the band that people will remember in 10 years to come. He doesn’t know why he likes this band, but they will be huge, it is his single favourite record. He actually travelled to the location of where the photographed the cover. Reid’s life ambition is to see a vinyl with his name on it. He is not bothered whether he gets signed to a record label or makes a successful album, if he pulls out a vinyl from the sleeve and sees his name on it, ‘that's it, everything is achieved.’
Reid has very high DIY ethics, he likes to support independent bands by paying for their music. He loved that the band Bikini Kill had produced this poster themselves inside the vinyl sleeve. He told me he was disgusted when he heard his old boss explaining that if he could take a cut of the merchandise that the band had produced themselves he would. Reid sees this type of behaviour as unacceptable when bands have spent a huge amount of effort in producing things themselves. He believes that bands are doing them a favour by playing their music at their venue and should not be charged for selling their merchandise. He downloads music illegally from independent artists, but if he likes their music, he makes sure he supports them by going to buy their t-shirt or some form of merchandise. That way, he knows they have the money and not the labels.
Reid describes the vinyl as an instrument, there are so many ways of making sound out of it, even if you shake it. He has specific vinyl he uses for scratching because it does cause damage and a specific turntable. This allows him to be creative with what he plays, he evens uses props within this to make the record jump, i.e. Makes the record turn so that part of it is raised and the needle has to jump only catching particular parts of the record. Apparently, this type of weird sound created was used by the SS as a form of torture. One vinyl he found in a skip has someone speaking in German on it; there is a small scratch on the vinyl that makes the record jump and forever repeating the same German phrase, 12 Deutschmarks, over and over again. This he found fascinating that by chance he found this record with this scratch on it that he now uses in his set. He also uses marks on the vinyl as markers for when to begin and start playing a sound sample which indicate a particular groove on the vinyl. He can read the grooves so that he knows exactly which part of the song is located. An interesting vinyl he showed me had incredible and extremely visible markings on which he received from work called HiFi Sounds (see an image of this on the previous page). He describes the markings as continuous tones for testing the accuracy of a record player and speakers. These continuous tones are perfect for scratching with on a turntable as you can change the pitch. Reid then plays this with another sample at the same time and because it is possible to change the pitch on a turntable you can make a harmonious melody when combining the two. Another vinyl he uses sounds similar to the crackle box, so he uses this like a mirror using the crackle box the emulate the sounds from the vinyl.
Reid then went on to explain exactly how a vinyl works. When the needle hits the groove, it an move in 3d dimensional angels; up, down, left, right. The grooves cut into it also have angels of left to right and up and down and so as the record travels around and the needle is stationary, and as it is doing this, there is a magnet inside the needle that generates a voltage. Over time, this varying voltage generates a sound through the amp. So when you scratch the vinyl, your actually hearing the metal needle scrapping across the grooves, you can hear how the vinyl is shaped. Vinyl allows us to literally see the music that is in it in a type of code.
When asked about what other interested he had, Reid replied, just music. Everything he does is based around music. Through further researching Reidsâ€™s interests, I could see that he was also into photography. He has a personal website that is a portfolio of work, it includes a selection of his audio material, photographs, a biography, and a CV. Everything in his life is based around making sound in some way, or talking about making sound. He has also been and still is in a band. He is also into watching films which he does occasionally. I could see from his DVD collection that he had quite a large collection, but it was also apparent that his girlfriends DVDs were in there too. From his website, I had seen that he had an interest in Photography, but he very briefly spoke about this and changed the subject back to music. I think photography is something he enjoys for personal reasons, to document interesting things he seeâ€™s in his life, but I get the impression it is just for fun.
Reid and his fiancee (he calls her his girlfriend because it sounds pretentious) live in a house in Ashford where he grew up. So it was very convenient that the degree he wanted to study was just down the road. They rent the house off his father. He dislikes Ashford and cannot wait to get away, its been a conservative strong hold for 30 years, and he cannot stand the attitude of the people in the village. There are no art galleries, or anything visual to inspire him, no culture just thousands of new builds. But it suits him at the moment, his girlfriend teaches primary school children in a local school, it is close to his University and London is only an hour away. He also works in a HiFi shop called Soundcraft HiFi as a Digital Media Consultant. Here, he is able to get the opportunity to install appliances for customers where systems are programmed to work all around the house, the area is quite economically rich so he gets to work with technologically advanced equipment. He doesn’t like the people he works with, but sees it as am opportunity to work with new technologies., another avenue of music to add to his belt. He has worked a lot in retail, including local shops, Levis and Selfridges in London and has found that this is not for him. He can’t ever imagine himself being a Manager.
Him and his girlfriend have been together for a few years and are to be married this October. They are having a small local wedding. I asked him if he was nervous about it and he replied he didn’t get nervous. He only got feelings of ‘I should be nervous now’ but he isn’t. He just gets on with things and does his best to have a good time. He and his girlfriend are planning on having children sometime soon, although it concerns him that he doesn’t know what part of the world he is going to end up. He hopes that his children will be like the young American band; Smoosh, who he will inspire and cultivate.
His favourite food is Thai Green Curry and when it comes to food, he prefers to cook it himself. His favourite colour is the colour he personally painted his room. He doesnâ€™t own any pyjamas, he is either naked or fully clothed. When he is relaxing, he is usually doing something musical within the house; he will either be playing around with samples or playing on a gadget of some sort. His idea of the perfect vacation would be to get a van and tour Europe; Paris, Prague, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Scandinavia, Russia and many more. He loves the idea of being completely DIY, selling merchandise out the back of a van. He hopes to do this in two summers time. For his honeymoon. They will be going to Vancouver, going from New York, to LA to Vancouver.
Some of the best gigs he has ever been to include bands like Mico Mico, Abe for Goda, Sonic Youth, Upset the Rhythm and The Gossip (“before they sold out to a commercial label”). Another favourite is the band Health, whose vinyl is in a previous image, who played so loud that he had a very serious ear infection for a week, he claims it was totally worth it. The first album he ever bought was Parklife by Blur which was on CD when he was 9. The first vinyl he ever bought was by a band called Black Flag at the age of 13. Interestingly, Reid is also doing a project on Black Flag, he wants to see how a song will change if it is played live 100 times. He has grouped together some musicians and make them play the same song 100 times to see how it will change in sound. He told me that from a young age, he has been very critical. To enjoy something for example a song, he has to understand it, he can’t just like something for reasons unexplained, he has to study it, and find out why something is good. He has a huge books collection. We then ended the conversation where he thought the independent music industry was heading. He believes that there is no innovation at the moment with more commercial music, independent music is where the creativity is. He began to tell me about Open Hardware, which is where people can buy their own circuit boards and get codes from online posts to programme the circuit board to make particular sounds like a synthesizer. This is where he thinks it is going, strategies that go against the grain of mass production where record labels have become too lazy and repetative making the consumers lazy too. Anyone can be a musician, to him anyone who makes a mixtape is a musician. He believes that because of a Capitalist structure, there is less freedom. Also, all technology has a shelf life with limitations, what will happen to all this technology? Where will the information go? That is why vinyl is definately a part of the future, its timeless. His girlfriend is the most important thing to him, she is the ‘base drum in his song’.