THE BIOPHONIC MAN: A conversation with BERNIE KRAUSE on the wild origins of human music (from Arthur No. 35)

Originally published in Arthur No. 35, available now in stores and direct from us

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THE BIOPHONIC MAN
Guitarist, composer and analog synthesizer pioneer BERNIE KRAUSE left the recording studio to find that really wild sound. What he discovered was far more profound.
by Jay Babcock
Illustrations by Kevin Hooyman

“…The entity’s life will be tempered with song, music, those things having to do with nature.” — Edgar Cayce, the 20th-century American psychic, from a ‘life reading’ given when Bernie Krause was six weeks old, as reported in Krause’s Notes From the Wild (Ellipsis Arts, 1996)

Has any single person—any entity—ever been better situated to explore music’s Biggest Questions—that is: what is it, what’s it for, why do we like it, where did it come from, why does it sound the way it does—than Bernie Krause?

Check the biography. Born in 1938, Krause grew up a violin-playing prodigy with poor eyesight in post-World War II Detroit. By his teens he had switched to guitar and was making extra money sitting in as a session player at Motown. In 1963, he took over the Pete Seeger position in foundational modern American folk band The Weavers for what would be their final year of performances. He then moved west to study at Mills College, where avant garde composers Stockhausen and Pauline Oliveros were in residence. Soon he encountered jazz musician and inventive early analog synth player Paul Beaver, who was introducing the Moog to psychedelic pop music. They formed Beaver & Krause, an in-demand artistic partnership that released a string of utterly unclassifiable acoustic-electronic albums in addition to doing studio work with adventurous pop musicians (The Doors, George Harrison, Stevie Wonder, etc.) and composing and recording for stylish TV and film projects (The Twilight Zone, Rosemary’s Baby, Performance, etc.). After Beaver’s sudden death in 1975, Krause began to shift his attention towards field recordings of natural soundscapes.

This wasn’t such a great leap. In the late ‘60s, inspired by an idea from their friend Van Dyke Parks, Beaver and Krause had first tried to record outdoor sounds for use on their eco-musical album In a Wild Sanctuary. Now, Krause followed this thread more intensely, traveling to seemingly every far corner of the globe, innovating techniques and utilizing new technology to more accurately capture the sound of what’s left of Earth’s rapidly diminishing wild.

What Krause discovered there, and how it compares to what we now experience in daily life in the un-Wild, is the subject of his latest book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places, published last year. Writing with a scientist’s precision, an artist’s poetic wonder and a human being’s persistent outrage, Krause tosses in astonishing highlights from decades of field notes (elk in the American West are into reverb; the sound of corn growing is “staccato-like clicks and squeaks…like rubbing dry hands across the surface of a party balloon”; ants sing by rubbing their legs across their abdomens; the fingernail-sized Pacific tree frog can be heard more than a hundred yards away; “You can actually determine the temperature by counting the number of chirps made by certain crickets”; etc.) as he make several interweaving arguments about the aforementioned Big Questions of Music. One thesis is that the sound of animals in a healthy habitat is organized, a sort of proto-orchestra. What follows from this is the startling argument that gives the book its title: our music comes from early humans mimicking the sounds of the soundscapes they were enveloped in—we “transform(ed) the rhythms of sound and motion in the natural world into music and dance… [O]ur songs emulate the piping, percussion, trumpeting, polyphony, and complex rhythmic output of the animals in the place we lived.” And we developed our music(s) not just by imitating animals such as the common potoo, who sings the pentatonic scale, but also by mimicking other natural sounds: in one of the book’s most striking episodes, Krause recalls hearing the church organ-like sound of wind passing over broken reeds in Lake Wallowa in northeastern Oregon. “Now you know where we got our music,” a Nez Perce tribal elder tells him. “And that’s where you got yours, too.”

This past spring, I interviewed the entity Bernie Krause via the far-from-ideal set-up of two speaker phones. Ah well. Following is some of our conversation, condensed by me, and edited with additional thoughts by Bernie via subsequent emails. Continue reading

Arthur Radio Transmission #29 w/ SONNY SMITH

…………:In which wanderlusting scribe, Sunsets’ smith, and all around luminous luminary Sonny Smith lands a jet plane in the Newtown laboratory/public swimming pool just in time to solo-ly saturate the airwaves with new tales of color, youth, wooing, and woe.

…………:In which prior airwave-saturators Ramble Tamble return to rotate a mighty fine short stack of vinyl diskettes at all the right speeds.

…………:In which Ivy Meadows unfurls a comfy sonic tablecloth upon the dewy green grassy grass grass for all tomorrows’ picnicings and dreamings.

…………And Hairy Painter rolls in the closing curtains with an iridescent cloud of sonic dust.


Above: Sonny tuning in the Newtown Radio studio.

STREAM: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Sonny-Smith-8-15-2010.mp3%5D

DOWNLOAD: Arthur Radio Transmission #29 w/ Sonny Smith 8-15-2010

Playlist below…
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Arthur Radio Transmission #21 w/ Thomas (Ted) Rees

Excerpt from “filth-scape,” a manuscript of poetry by Thomas (Ted) Rees:

The Fence Dream
Goes like this: God is a burglar rob you straight out of the womb. Yes, God is a burglar rob you straight out of the womb. Oh, God is a burglar rob you out too soon and drops you on a wide boulevard. Air is full of money, collapsing coarseness. The new agora strokes your nipples and laces its fingers through your belt loops. Resulting constancy of blue balls drives the pursuit of plasticity, solace. You walk, electricity caresses every step, blink, a new sensation of blankness. As touch screens don’t touch back. Visibility is created by wallet thickness and frequency of use, so no one can see your body as you meander. Burgled of corporeality, you sense a smile on your unseeable visage. Beyond the city, another, never-wavering polis of compulsory paper-shuffling, turning in on itself. Praise the world’s pollyanna for gifting you, unseen. See.


STREAM IT: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Arthur-Radio-Transmission-21-6-13-2010.mp3%5D

DOWNLOAD: Arthur Radio Transmission #21 w/ Thomas (Ted) Rees 6-13-2010

This week’s playlist…
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Arthur Radio Transmission #20: Disco Sigil w/ Nonhorse

OIL FUTURE HEAT OUTPOOST DOCUMENT 20 STOP

TO TIMES QSQIUARE TOPPLED METAL)))) SANDAL OUTSIDE OVERDOME, SITE INVOCATION OF SCUM HEAT AND NEON SHATTERED AND ABSORBED BY IGNEOUS ASPHALT OF HISTORY

FOR TO STREAM: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/ARTHUR-RADIO-20-NONHORSE.mp3%5D

FOR TO DOWNLOAD: Arthur Radio Transmission #20: Disco Sigil w/Nonhorse

PART 1: In which our heroes call upon the dosed horn of John Coltrane, the open time slots of Fela Kuti’s studio, and the hallucinatory mojo of Kathy Acker to remove the barricades for to invoke a dance sigil in service of the psychic liberation of times square: hub of consumption, barometer of culture, shrine of empire. Use Your Feet For The Feat Of The Defeat Of The Demons Feasting On Your Future!

PART 2: In which comrade to the cause Nonhorse finds space amidst his beyondmeremortalmultitaskings to build a roomy nest of codified cassettery from which to deliver a highly prismatic and severely discorporating live tape manipulation set. Abridged here, the fulllll badass 2.5 hour tilthabreakadawn extent can be siphoned from the bountiful tank of the Newtown Radio archives. HEAVY

This week’s playlist…

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Arthur Radio Transmission #13: CLOUDS IN THE HERMAPHRODITIC MIRROR

This week’s collage, including illustration of Alejandro Jodorowsky by Will Sweeney and photo of Ira Cohen by Gerard Malanga. Double-click for fullscreen + scroll.

Let’s take a silver train underground
to the back streets of Atlantis
thru the corrugated iron roots &
then to the peak itself, to the
saddle of the last ridge past strewn
boulders,
finally meandering thru cascading snow
wearing miner’s hats on the perpendicular
dark night &
going up to the edge of the Southern Cross
where we reach at last the pure white
glistening glaciers &
begin to chant over bones in rags
of Scorpio
Armless in the sticky substance how could
they ever have had a chance?
Permission will not be required
only poems of blood offered to
the memory of TREE
It is not ice which is eternal
but the fury of the absolute
separating the void from the spirit
of man,
uplifting like life when it is used
against itself,
that is, Radical Love — & again, we
are reduced to living beings
Caught by the instant
we are taken away
We live in the imprint of the flame
& we are helmeted within the internal
blackness
where the ray begins its passage
across the indignant sky
Vain clouds uncaring in a tangle of
crossbeams
culminate in the hermaphroditic mirror…

– Ira Cohen (taken from “Atlantis Express”)

Read more of Ira’s dome-shaking poetry here.


Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Arthur-Radio-Transmission-13-4-11-2010.mp3%5D
Download: Arthur Radio Transmission #13 4-11-2010

This week’s playlist…
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Tonight – Maria Chavez @ Roulette in NYC

Born in Peru, avant-turntablist Maria Chavez currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. With a collection of new and broken needles that she calls “pencils of sound” and a selection of records, she creates electro-acoustic sound pieces. Chavez made her New York City debut in a duet with Thurston Moore, collaborated with Otomo Yoshihide as part of the 2007 Wien Modern Festival, and recently shared a stage with Pauline Oliveros and Lydia Lunch during Vienna’s Phonofemme Festival 2009.

Saturday, March 13th @ Roulette, 8:30PM
20 Greene Street (between Canal and Grand Streets)
New York, NY 10013 (See map).

Reservations/Tickets: 212.219.8242
$15: General Admission
$10: Students, Under 30s & Seniors