Jason Nelson Evokes Pierre Schaeffer

Looking beyond the flash animations that were assigned from class, I decided to hunt for some other messy, disorienting Jason Nelson creations.  After browsing through much of his archives I chose a particular one entitled “Conversation.”

The opening page of “Conversation” is dressed in circling block letters that are infinitely scrambling clockwise.  To stop the spinning scrabble-like letters, I clicked the links to the right that are small thumbnails of a drawn image of the human mouth stretched open.  Once on of the three links has been clicked, the game begins.

Once inside the mouth of the “Conversation,” Nelson creates a setting that allows the player to control eight different slide bars that then manage the volume of looped conversations.  A player can slide all bars to maximum volume to create a cacophony of voices, all telling stories with similar themes.  Or the player can choose to listen to the conversations individually with clarity.  The themes of injury, capitalism and one on “robots” are unmistakable, yet Nelson’s unmistakeable inspiration from the father of musique concrète, Pierre Schaeffer, isn’t quite as obvious for one having not known about this mysterious man.

Pierre Schaeffer was the Jesus of electronic and experimental sounds through various electronic mediums that he made famous through his tinkering and later mastery of recording machines.  Much of his musical work included multiple over-dubbed tracks of people’s conversations or brief anecdotes, which could even be as little as a single utterance.  But Pierre certainly was not limited to vocal utterances; he would capture any sounds generated in the natural realm.  After sounds of voices and conversations had been captured, Pierre would lay all these opposing tracks into a single layer where he would reverse tracks, distort them, amputate them, shorten them, slow them down, or just about any kind of manipulation that may alter the authenticity of the track…though he has produced tracks that are simply many, unaltered voices which sound to be all speaking at the same volume in a small room.

Jason Nelson certainly evokes Schaeffer in this musical child “Conversation.”  But what could all this recording of voices and the decision being given to the player to either isolate the voices or blend them into an unintelligible heap of human voice?  Jason Nelson not only creates this pieces as a musical statue to pay homage to the father of musique concrète, but he hopes to create  a naturally-occurring, unadulterated piece of music embedded into flash format.  By inventing this kind of board, Jason takes an oppositional stance to other general forms of music that are more commonly found on Pandora, VH1 or MTV (if they even host music these days). As opposed to notation that commonly defines what music is, Jason uses these “concrete” sounds and absolute forms to reconstruct a natural-occurring environment, organic utterances that would have otherwise been fleeting had not Jason immortalized these sounds and conversations.  So instead of Jason forming a board of eight individual sounds, Jason uses these forms and sounds to birth a unique musical experience.  Unlike Schaeffer, Jason doesn’t augment the human sounds but keeps them in their virginal form, which focuses more upon Jason’s interest in people and the human voice as it dances, rises and drops over words to create a musical experience.  Perhaps Jason is expressing the value of words and linguistics not only as symbols for relaying meaning, but the formation of words and sounds as also inherently musical.

Even the idea that Jason may be shedding light on the musical nature of language and speech has roots in jazz performances.  Jazz musicians are commonly noted for expressing the musicality of language by the complete avoidance of words by simply mumbling extemporaneously and talking nonsensically over a progressive jazz piece.  Here, such a display is seen as the voice is no longer a tool for relaying, complex information, but a musical device as well.  Jason saw the voice as having a dualistic meaning: at once it expresses ideas but it can detach itself from that and simply express musical ideas.  But even these aren’t mutually exclusive.


  2 comments for “Jason Nelson Evokes Pierre Schaeffer

  1. pkeily
    April 3, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    I’m glad you brought this up because I’m very interested in experimental music and find “Conversation” to be pretty fascinating.
    I agree that Nelson is confronting and challenging popular forms of music and the way they are accessed (as you mentioned things like Pandora, VH1, and MTV). “Conversation” allows the listener to manipulate the sounds presented and thereby create a near-infinite sonic experience. Avenues like Pandora do not allow you to do this. Although, one can manipulate mp3’s with the right technology (also think of record scratching in turntablism).
    Something else interesting you bring up is the use of the human voice/words for musical purposes rather than meaning-relaying purposes. As you mention it is hard to separate the two; we’ve been trained since birth to extract meaning from language. Some other good examples of separating the voice from (other than musical) meaning can be found in hip-hop. DJs/producers such as Madlib and J Dilla sometimes sample vocal tracks in between words to put the human voice in a solely musical role. The song “Happiness Is…” by noise rock band No Trend uses vocal loops in a way that straddles the two meanings you’ve proposed (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMVZJrR9YFc). I also guess any use of the human voice in a musical context straddles the two meanings, but that’s something else entirely.
    One more thing, have you heard of Luigi Russolo?(http://www.ubu.com/historical/russolo/index.html) He was making experimental/electronic compositions when Schaeffer was a toddler. He is nowhere near as influential, but was making sounds similar to the ones you posted by Schaeffer.

  2. pkeily
    April 8, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Here’s a documentary about American folk mouth music: http://www.folkstreams.net/film,173

    It really shows what the human voice is capable of.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *