Sound and Location: An Exclusive Interview with Edu Comelles

Spanish artist Edu Comelles works on sound composition since 2006. His works have been published by various netlabels such as Resting Bell, Impulsive Habitat and Audiotalaia (created by him), and he’s involved in different collective and individual projects involving sound composition and installations. His work tries to investigate the relationships established between sound and location. Now a days he lives and works in Valencia, Spain where he’s developing a PHd on sound art.

Here is an interview I had with Edu, talking about his approach to field recording and composition.

(in Spanish here)

How did you get started with field recording?

As in many things in my life, accidentally. The first sound recordings I did were captured using an HD Sony DVcam. I realised that what the built-in-microphone was recording was far more interesting than the images itself.

How field recording and your artistic approach to sound have changed the way you listen everyday? 

It changed everything! Now I listen much more than before. Sound is always an issue, a topic to talk about, every place I go, I enjoy it much more listening to it, now I hear.

I love your work as Mensa, specially the releases you’ve done at Resting Bell. Could you talk us more about your approach on using field recordings for those compositions?

In Resting Bell I have released three albums, Northern Recordings, Southern Recordings and Braid Heritage. The two firsts where my first steps on sound composition and I used to highly process the sound sources I was using. By that time it wasn’t really important for me where the sound came from. The important thing was how I was able to transform it. I was taking more care on building compositions that remind me of locations, trying to build abstract soundscapes of natural places.

After the two firsts albums on Resting Bell I worked on three albums that followed the same premises, using highly processed field recordings to build abstractions of a territory. Those were The Clifts (Audiotalaia 2009), Moorland (Testube Netlabel, 2010) and Braid Heritage (Resting Bell, 2010). Those three albums were a turning point for me. On Moorland and Braid Heritage you can hear how field recordings and non processed audio sources are taking more protagonism.

Finally and after 1 year I released Orange Country on Impulsive Habitat. There, field recordings are the main issue. So in a sense you could say that I started veiling my sound sources under layers of effects and now, slowly, I am unveiling them until they are wide clear. By now I’m fully working with non processed recordings. Even though I might come back to the more drone and ambient textures as in the beginning.

In an interview for La Escucha Atenta you talked about the importance of chronology and narrative in your work. Is there a special reason for that? Could you expand the idea?

Apart from main projects I am usually building short sound pieces that I am uploading to my bandcamp account. These compositions use to be the output of a short trip, excursion or a bunch of recordings done in a short period of time.
Let me use a concrete example:

There is a recording called “Golfo di Orosei a Alghero” this is a composition done using field recordings captured in Sardinia in Italy. This specific composition follows an order based on two main aspects, first, when I recorded the sounds and secondly where were recorded.

So the composition starts with recordings on the plane to Sardinia and ends on Alghero where I spent the last day of my trip. Geographically the composition goes from western sardinian coast (Alghero Airport) to eastern coast (Dorgali, Orosei) and back again finishing the trip with urban soundscapes of Alghero. This is just an example but I think it describes somehow what I wanted to say.

Also, on my Sound Walk projects the chronology and narrative is a basic issue while composing. Taking care on these concepts the sound walks are more related to the environment where it are taking place. So the compositions are based on geography and environment limiting my compositional aims to the needs and characteristics of every place.

You also mentioned about your interest on trivial moments, rather than specific environments or places. Is that reflected on your recent work? what do you find interesting about those “trivial” events?

On a recent post on my blog I was talking about the concept of Sharawadji. This is an Chinese word that describes a certain moment in which different elements of a soundscape joint together to form a hazardous composition with certain beauty.

Lately I have been looking after this kind of situations. You can find it on the most uncommon places with really annoying sound. For instance, by standing between to ways on a big avenue you can hear cars coming in both directions, the doppler effect combined with the low frequencies from the wheel rubber and weight of cars and tracks can conform a really beautiful sound experience. There is a release on Konkretourist Netlabel by Son Clair called From The Bridge which is basically that; a drone built using the sound of cars passing by. For me that’s a trivial sound scenario that becomes something much more deep and conceptual when you talk about it, when you present it as a composition made to be listened.

As an example of this I would like to underline the work by Spanish phonographer José Maria Pastor. His personal approach is to capture whatever is next to you and present it as something to be listened to be respected as part of our heritage. Sometimes you listen to his compositions and you might find them “trivial” but when you realize that you are paying attention to well known sounds and you playback them the change, they become something else, common sounds are elevated.

In your project “La Ciudad Aural” you mentioned about doing slight alterations on binaural recordings, in order to compose soundscapes. How was that achieved? Could you give us some examples of those alterations in the compositions?

On La Ciudad Aural the compositional approach apart from being based on geography and chronology is based on a mix done only by panning sounds. This compositional system is quite interesting and exiting because you mix the different tracks regarding their location on a 360º axis. Basically you compose to point out our auditory perception.

Paying special attention on where the sounds come from I think its a basic issue to consider while exercising a deep listening experience. To prepare a set of compositions with alterations on panning was a way to force listeners to exercise and train the ear to hear more that what we are use to hear.

On La Ciudad Aural people really heard the city, the listeners were aware of the environment because of small shifts on the structure of a soundscape. The listeners had an experience where two soundscapes took place: the real and ongoing soundscape of the city and the recording I was triggering in each city location. Because of this layering their awareness on sound increased.

How is the relationship between field recording and your other projects like your painting, urban art, etc?

Now a days there is no relationship between those two worlds (or it might be but I’m waiting for someone to defend that). I haven’t painted a canvas since ages! Officially my degree in Fine Arts implies an specialization in silk-print and engraving, two disciplines I was working on a few years back. Now my efforts are centered on sound mainly.

What’s the biggest challenge you face when recording on the field or working on a composition?

Wind!!!!! no, just kiddin’

I have to admit that sometimes the biggest challenge while recording is to be patient. I am a workalcoholic so I cannot be doing nothing or stand still. For me to go around on a field trip requires lots of patience. I am learning to stay quite for a while and let the recording flow and enjoy those moments as what they are. Sometimes by not being patient I have missed great sounds to be recorded.

And while composing probably the biggest challenge is to do something that engages people. I consider that phonography is a discipline in constant struggle with the audience. The very nature of the discipline requires specific conditions and predisposition of the listener. Being able to break the “engaging” barrier is a big challenge that is always bothering me. In one way I want to do compositions that I love to hear but I’m also looking after compositions that anyone would like to hear, that can be a big challenge.

How has been the experience with your recent project with Juanjo Palacios? What is it about?

To work with a good friend like Juanjo is being an amazing experience. We both share a lot of common interests and we understand each other’s ways to work. On this specific project we are involved, we were required to spent a week on a remote area in the northern spanish mountains in Asturias recording sounds for a soundmap of the area. The outcome of this framework will be presented this very september. I think is quite interesting to see how two ways of working can melt together and how each other’s thoughts can contaminate your way to perceive things.

Also putting your work next to the work of another artist is great to confront your own approach. It makes you question what you are doing and how other languages intervene and change your compositional approaches or conceptual.

Also from the “sound geek” point of view it has been really nice to share acknowledgement, gear, tips, technology, software etc…

What is the latest sound that you recorded? Also, is there any current project you’d like to mention?

Answering the first question: The last sound I recorded was provably a soundscape that I recorded at Llorenç Barber’s backyard. Now in Valencia he’s organising concerts on his garden. So me and a few friends went there to hear an Israelian Hang Musician (LironMan). Barber also performed an improvisation with this Hang player.

The thing is that after the concert, we were gathering around chatting and so on. Suddenly I realised that some kids were playing with the instruments left at one corner of the garden so I set up my Zoom and left it there for a while. At another corner of the garden Barber has a pond where, at night, frogs gather to sing, really loud, by the way. So I ended up having a beautiful recording of the night ambience of the garden splattered by distant bells and kids yelling and everything accompanied by the singing of the frogs, quite a beautiful recording I think, the least you could expect from an Experimental Composer’s backyard. (You can check it out on Bandcamp).
Answering the second question:

I would like to mention what is supposed to be my main focus now a days and it’s my PhD in Sound Art. This is going to be a deep study on a basic idea that floats in my mind since a few years. This is the idea of Placing Sound on locations or the act of placing a hearing experience.

The study will take examples from sound art projects from the last few years and those will be confronted by projects of mine as exercises to prove somehow that even that sound and a hearing experience are non-physical materials, those can be placed on space or location.

Also the project focuses on how soundscapes are displayed and how we can enhance the experience of listening soundscapes from a museistic point of view. If everything goes fine that should be finished by next year.