XperimentS ... M station

Recorded Delivery - an interview with Janek Schaefer
The London-based artist and performer Janek Schaefer was voted Sound Designer of the Year 1999 by London's Creative Review magazine. His work explores the nature of sound, from his installations and sound collages such as "Recorded Delivery" to the "Concréte ruffian style" [The Wire, 1998] of his live electronic improvisations featuring the Triphonic Turntable, a three-arm multi-record, reversible play infinite vari-speed turntable which he combines with live manipulations and found sounds in his performances. He talks to Miriam Rainsford about his early inspirations and his conceptual installation work and live performances, as well as his more recent releases with Fat Cat records and his forthcoming tour of the United States with Robert Hampson as 'Comae'.

page 1 of 3 :-)


# the story so far...


Janek Schaefer studied classical music as a child, and composed his first music concréte collage at the age of 6. He trained as an architect, and it was later, while at the Royal College of Art, that he returned to explore his interests in the nature of sound through the medium of installations. His earlier conceptual works during this period focus upon the isolation and translation of sound from one source to another; for example the Flotel [1996] a series of flotation tanks designed to isolate each of the senses individually,and other works where live sound from outdoors is brought indoors through hidden microphones. Here he talks about these early works and his approach to the use of sound.


> MR: Your Memory Museum was based around a similiar idea of taking sounds from elsewhere and putting them into a new space...


> JS: In a way, yes, That was based on a book "Concrete Island" - you can tell I'm a fan of concrete!! I love it when in music its called "concréte" - thats kinda what I do. Whether it means concrete as well I don't know, but it looks like it! So that was another site-specific project where I wanted to do a project on my favourite place in the world. I'd been asked at a dinner party where was my favourite place and I didn't know - and then a few weeks later I stumbled across this incredible overlapping layers of motorways, roads and pedestrian underpasses, and this big circular drum you walk through, that when you looked up from the drum all you saw was the underside of the flyover motorways and all you could hear was the sound of cars but you couldnt see any of them, so this kind of became my favourite place. Its very hostile in a way, but magical to me.


> MR: It has the very isolated feel of the story of Concrete Island as well [J.G. Ballard's story of a man, Maitland, who becomes marooned on a traffic island after a car accident].


> JS: Exactly, and its under the Westway flyover - which I lived under, a bit further down, but it was more or less, pretty much where Maitland might have crashed his car, and it was a deserted island in a way, and it seemed to all fit in - so I named it "Maitland Island". I wanted to do a real project rather than these conceptual ones that don't get built, and I wanted to do a project where if you're gonna use your favourite place in the world, you don't really want to change it, so those presented a few problems, and it basically became a kind of installation, a demountable, mobile - its called Memory Museum, that deals with the intangibility of memory, and the way sound becomes intangible once its happened, it only happens at a single place at a single time, and its transient and ..temporal... so I invented this museum that was a piece of street verger that you could attach to the back of your bike, you drove up at the site, you erected the sign that said what this place was, so you'd sort of given it a presence to all the traffic, you dropped down these chevron mic and speaker system - it recorded the sounds in the space and played them baqck again 4 seconds later - so the museum was a kind of 4 second archive, and once the sound had disappeared it was left in the people's minds who'd walked through the space - so the archive remained in people who walked through the space. So if you were trudging through and you hear kids screaming, and you go "What the hell's that on there? I'm not looking at that cos its a bit scary in here!" and then your voice gets played back again on your exit - so its a bit spooky really!


> MR: again its the disorientation of expecting one natural sound and then hearing another...


> JS: Yeah, which is the same but replayed. So you know extremely simple ... But the beautiful thing about the piece was that I wanted to adress all the potential public that were passing around the sites, the people that couldnt see the site that were on the flyover, there were people driving past that could see it in cars, and there were people walking underneath. I needed to get hold of all those people so I put a transmitter on the mast [the sign saying "Memory Museum"] that transmitted on the Radio 1 frequency within about a 200 metre area or something, so every time you're driving past on the flyover Chris Evans [a BBC Radio 1 DJ] would be interrupted by some abstract natural acoustic sound collages, people riding their bikes down below,


> MR: or saying "Whats going on here?"


> JS: Yes, exactly. And then it disappears and Chris Evans fades back in. And it works!


> MR: And presumably then the space itself then lent its own acoustic to it?


> JS: Yep, and there are feedback problems and all that kind of thing, which get a bit nasty...


> MR: but thats all part of it as well?


> JS: Yep.


# Recorded Delivery


While still studying at the Royal College of Art, "Recorded Delivery" became the piece which was to launch Janek Schaefer's audio career, a recording of a voice activated tape recorder travelling overnight through the postal system, made for an exhibition curated by one-time postman Brian Eno.


> MR: Recorded Delivery (1995) is probably your best known piece - released on 7" [Hot Air records] ... It was made by posting a tape recorder and microphone... I was wondering if you could describe how that was set up and how it was installed at its destination?


> JS: Well, the overall picture is that everyone in the Royal College was potentially invited to put ideas forward for this exhibition which was called Self Storage, which took place in a self-storage centre in Wembley. But we werent allowed to visit the site, and I prefer to do site-specific works if I can, so you can go along and get some ideas from the place - but you werent allowed to. Ok... I thought: how do you do a site specific installation where you can't go and visit it?... I thought, well, if you post something to the place then it goes across this specific journey, it goes from your house or whatever to the room the installation's in and it has a reason for being at the installation - when you're interested in site specific work. So I thought, well, I'll stick a tape recorder in it, and that records it; or you could cycle there - I did one version of it where i narrated the journey on my bicycle, but it wasnt as nice, cos thats kinda subjective and my favourite works are unsubjective ones where it is what it is and thats what it does and you can't argue with it really, it just happens. So then I came up with the idea [to post it] where - you don't really want ot have a twelve hour recording of the parcel going through the post, so how do you get it down from there? You let it do its own editing - you use one of those dictaphones that has a voice activated system on it. So when interesting sounds occur - I'd say interesting - loud, probably! - it switches on, then you can adjust the sensetivity and it switches off. So I thought, ok, this is a good idea, so I went out and bought one of these tape recorders and it had a full size tape in it so you could get a 120min tape in it, and I posted it. And it came back, and I was in the studio and I opened it and put it in the tape recorder, and it was shocking, what happened! It recorded 70 minutes of sound, which is rather perfect for CDs and things, and it got every single kind of sound that you can imagine, from me whistling and humming at the post office and them stamping things, and then it goes out the back, and there's like acoustic radios, and sounds of machines and people shouting and all these things. The favourite part for me is when it hits the sorting office at 7 in the morning, and these bunch of grumpy guys with too many hormones are talking about rude things, and what they claim to have done the night before, you know! And its all very rude and its just incredible, you know, this perfect, secret recording, because they had no idea! And then it walks into the self-storage centre and you can hear him signing his pen on the box and its like: "Thank you, The End"! I've tried a couple of other times and it hasn't worked as well, so I've turned those into a different kind of stuff...


> MR: Its one of those things that happens in the moment, as well...


> JS: Yeah, I mean I only did it once, and its like - great!


> MR: Things that happen in the moment are also very much part of your work?


> JS: Yeah. The moment - what springs to mind is kind of improvisation and uhh... I have a love-hate relationship with that term, but "in the moment" is quite nice... >more...







-> a cross-section of the Memory Museum under the Westway Flyover, London

-> more pictures and diagrams of the Memory Museum












-> the sound activated tape recorder concealed inside the parcel














 home  music  news  opinion  software  tips  email
ad ...CDnow ... electro/dance