Interview: Simon James

CONTROL is Miniclick’s new exhibition, co-curated with Gordon MacDonald, for Brighton Photo Fringe 2016. It features work by Joachim Schmid, Rafal Milach, Sarah Pickering and Simon Menner, and explores the ways in which imagery and photography can manipulate the viewer in order to gain and maintain control. To accompany the exhibition we commissioned musician and sound designer Simon James to create a looping sound collage for the space. The piece is called Voltage Control and we recommend you turn it on here, to listen to whilst reading this interview…

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“I’ve been experimenting with sound for over 20 years, working with music, radio and sound design. I use found sound, archive material and electronic sources to create  multi layered audio collages.

My music under the name The Simonsound, took inspiration from the cold war, space race, science fiction and library music, and the album ‘Reverse Engineering’ was selected by Giles Peterson as one of his records of the year.  A darker sound in Black Channels found a home on cult soundtrack label Death Waltz Records. My current project Akiha Den Den, sees the worlds of radio drama, sound art and experimental music meet.”

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You’ve worked with Miniclick before on 2 Knocks For Yes. Can you tell us about that?

“Ha! Yes, that was basically an excuse to make scary sounds in a spooky church near Halloween! A year before I’d created a ‘radiophonic collage’ (a mix of archive and electronic sound/music) exploring the Poltergeist phenomenon, with a focus on incidents that tended to take place in the more mundane settings of 1970s suburbia. I called it ‘Two Knocks For Yes’, a line used by ‘ghost hunter’ Maurice Grosse during a recorded communication with the poltergeist  from the famous Enfield Haunting. When the opportunity arose to do something for Miniclick’s Paranormal series, I decided to do a live version of Two Knocks For Yes.  On a personal level it was a rare chance to work with my brother Curtis, setting up dry ice machines and experimenting with lighting, just like we used to do at school to get out of lessons.”

Two Knocks For Yes is available to stream at Soundcloud here.

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For this commission, Miniclick asked for a soundscape that took inspiration from the exhibitions they’re showing. How do you respond with sound, to an inherently visual exhibition?

It sounds simple but I look at the images and wonder what they sound like! And then I go a bit deeper and explore the themes and think about any archive material that might work. In the case of Simon Menner’s images of STASI Hand to Hand combat training manuals, I knew instantly that I’d like to use recordings and reconstructions of STASI Numbers Stations (code transmissions used by spies). A slightly less obvious theme in my piece that I would have liked to explore more is how sound is used to control people – radio propaganda, Muzak (music used in the workplace and retail) etc. The name Voltage Control comes from a technical term used in electronic music synthesis.

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You use a lot of archive clips. How much of your work is spent researching and looking through libraries?

Really these kinds of works live and die by the quality (and quantity) of archive material. It is time consuming sourcing, editing and sequencing disparate elements in to something that flows and has some kind of narrative. Its a fun jigsaw puzzle of sound.  I’d say the research makes up about 50% of the work.

You can here more of Simon’s work on the website for The Simonsound and on his Soundcloud page.

You can hear Voltage Control at CONTROL, which is open on Sat 29th Oct, 11am to 7pm and Sun 30th Oct, 11am to 5pm. For more information, click here.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Oct 2016 – CONTROL | The Miniclick Photo Talks

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