Coppice is Noé Cuéllar & Joseph Kramer
For a long time, Coppice—the intimate collaboration between sound artists Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer—was focused on the physical; Kramer and Cuéllar approached their work with clinical objectivity, eschewing representation and mimesis to let their restricted palette of sound generators (bellows instruments) and filters (analog tape) be both the subject and the medium of the music. The abstract soundscapes and drones of their early work seem to belie the fact that they were created by human agents.
In 2014, that all changed. In a long-term project called Newly Cemented Dedication to Freedom (NCDTF), the pair have expanded their old approaches to create a new sound world based on emulation, modeling, and illusion, including instrumentation as varied as “Rhodes electric piano (and emulator), Korg drawbar organ (and emulator), varied physical modeling and modular syntheses, Multi-Material Filter and Copper Plate, the sound sculpture series Screens for Mutual Attraction to Related Objects (copper, galvanized steel, brass, cork, acrylic), Capillaries (brass, aluminum), acrylic screen, guitar amp, multi-channel amplification systems, cymbal, percussion, objects, auxiliary speakers, and acoustic filters.” The resulting work is mysterious and cinematic, and makes room for a particularly human interiority, despite the often synthetic origins of the music’s component sounds. I spoke to Coppice about NCDTF on the occasion of their Turning Concerts this weekend at Silent Funny.
DM: This track is part of a long-term project called Newly Cemented Dedication to Freedom, which is characterized by a departure/expansion from your previous bellows/electronics instrumentation to a more synthetic approach, emphasizing emulated instruments and effects. You developed a portion of the project as Resident Artists at Experimental Sound Studio, and are showing a new installment this weekend at Silent Funny. Where were you in the process at ESS, and what developments/evolutions has the project undergone in the interim?
JK: At ESS we experimented with recording methodology, and listening to the differences between recording real vintage instruments and their emulations. The recordings involved music that was being written at the time. The showcase was presented as a disintegrated performance across multiple speakers and speaker types placed inside and outside [the performance area].
Since the residency some songs have evolved and new ones have formed. They’ve taken on new performance techniques and approaches to fold physical materials back in, such as copper, acrylic, brass, and concrete. We began placing voices and text. The music has become more simultaneous, heterogeneous and dreamlike.
NC: It’s taking more architectural dimensions at Silent Funny. We hope readers can join us this weekend.
DM: One thing that surprised me about the NCDTF work is how the specter of the songwriting has seemed to infect your previously crisp, ordered sound worlds. I know that you both have a fondness for songwriting and songwriters, but hasn’t been immediately evident in your work as Coppice until recently. Can you talk a bit about your relationships to songwriting, and this unattributed phrase from your description of NCDTF?: "Sensual music for a folding world in which songs are directions to look.”
NC: Language and its suspension is very important in Coppice.
JK: It seems relevant to finally allow it to slip into the sonic world of the songs.
NC: And songs forms are like language, so perhaps this has more to do with communication. Shaped air.
DM: It’s ironic to me that despite the inherently tactile, analog nature of the instrumentation of your pre-NCDTF work, the new work comes off as far more embodied—more human. Can you talk about how the shift to more synthetic means led to the inclusion of melody, voice, and text? Is this what freedom sounds like?
JK: I am glad to know that the new work is being perceived more embodied.
NC: We decided to follow our interests in sound, through the abstract, towards evoking a clearer music sensation. Previous work is very musical to us but in an abstract, concealed way. Perhaps this clearer musical intention is what you sense as more embodied.
JK: I think that NCTDF intentionally opened up the Coppice world to try to let it include more of the outside world, including some elements of music that we hadn’t yet dealt with explicitly.
NC: The outside world, but also the body’s inner response to music. NCDTF responds to the freedom from an object, specifically the musical instrument. Whereas the bellows/tape work is founded on the history, fragility and power of the instrument/device, NCDTF is founded on the illusion of concrete. Music founded within the prison of the screen. I’ve approached sounds more as “images.” When I use an emulator of a Rhodes electric piano it’s for its “imageness” of a Rhodes, sucked out of its mechanical origin.
JK: Emulation and simulation, virtual and augmented reality are such a strange and pervasive things. They can be nearly invisible due to their ubiquity, and while they can be very pleasant and lead to very pleasurable responses and experiences, they still need to be carefully tended.
NC: We’ve had conversations regarding the ambiguity of heavy words like “freedom,” “concrete,” “dedication,” “new,”…what do they mean?
JK: I am still not sure that we both agree on the particulars of “freedom!” But trying to find it out together has been a very productive and sometimes overstimulating process.
NC: Our objective isn’t to represent any of those words in music, but to represent the leakage of music undergoing “Coppice processes.” Air would leak through, and now fake air leaks through… perhaps that’s what freedom sounds like: tactile, fake, suspended.
DM: The title of this piece leads me to question the authenticity of its content. What is the speaker’s role? Can he be trusted? What text is he delivering?
JK: I think those are excellent questions. I would add: What is the temperature where the speaker is speaking?
NC: Can fidelity be trusted? Do you trust timbre? Do you trust melody?
JK: Was this all spoken at one time? Where is the arc of the song? What is a Memories Object?
NC: His role is to use his voice to hold the illusion of song as object.
DM: I imagine the titles of your work to be items in some alien catalog of conceptual objects. Do they describe the “impossible objects” you mention when you describe NCDTF? How do you go about assigning titles to things?
NC: The impossible objects are the physical modeling instruments I’ve modeled. They’re only a component of the songs… songs get more complicated!
JK: Different songs get titles in different ways. Some titles describe scenes and some include words that are related to the way we hope to guide the listeners’ experience. Also, many songs have multiple versions that receive title variations based on where they are expected to appear.
NC: It can be intuitive and complicated to title things, but some titles are matter of fact and direct.
DM: The NCDTF work comes off as particularly cinematic—and there are visual components to the larger project, including silent repetitive video objects on your website, and collaborations with live video artists in performance. Can you talk about the influence of visuals—real or imagined—in the work?
NC: I’m not sure specific visuals have influenced the work, but rather our motions of images, swiping, infinite scrolling, the staggered paces of viewing—the pervasive traces of screens and viewership on memory and the senses. Philosophy of photography and media studies, the writings of Jean Baudrillard and Andy Grundberg have been repeated references for me during this project. We’re more interested in stimulating the mind’s eye, inner images. Therefore the grayed-out images we’ve made for the internet show aspects of restriction, banality, unappeal and flatness.
JK: I like the word “cinematic” for this work. We have been conceiving the whole project as players, scenes and stages for action or no action.
NC: We’ve talked a lot about evoking the sensation of a film where the characters have been removed. An undefined perspective that navigates through transitions and spaces without a main figure. The concept of “image” has been a strong theme. We found an underwater recording of an Arctic walrus mating call and then wrote a song over it, with several parts assimilating and subverting one another. We call it “Walrus Dream (Wet Hologram).” It’s a romantic superimposition of “images” that sink into each other.
DM: Where are we in the life of NCDTF? Do you have plans to issue a final statement on the project—perhaps a definitive release of music, or a retrospective?
JK: We think it is a triangle.
NC: An abstract, elastic triangle. Right now it appears in live settings, spreads out in space to surround bodies.
JK: We know that it is presently ongoing, we would like to see it collected, but probably not resolved.
NC: It’ll make its way to home listening devices, and later an epitaph.
Coppice present two evenings of Turning Concerts this Friday and Saturday at Silent Funny (4106 W Chicago Ave.), featuring guests Lou Mallozzi, Peter Speer, and visual artist Phil Peters. Advance tickets available via Eventbrite.
"Singletrack" is CAR's Artist Story for Chicago performers in which songwriters, bands, playwrights, actors and writers discuss the creation of a recorded work alongside audio or video clips of the performance. To submit your song for consideration, please email our researchers.
Photo is by Guido Gamboa.