Wired Science

From laptops to insects to wineglasses, j.frede's sonic experiments leave no sound untweaked.

"And this last summer," he adds, "I recorded in Utah at this hotel that I had stopped at. The sky was full of bats, and it sounded like wires buzzing or something, this thick blanket of bats eating insects above me."

His obsession with field recordings led frede to embark on the Audio Journal Tour across Europe during the winter of 1998. Throughout Finland, Sweden, Norway and Germany, he set up microphones in each city and used the resultant snippets of background noise as sources for that particular evening's show. By sampling, looping and processing these sounds, his performances became intimately unique to each setting, as well as displaying a sympathy and sensitivity to the surrounding culture.

"The thing that really stood out to me in Europe was all the language," he elaborates. "I would record lots of conversations and bus announcements and train announcements. And who knows? When I played to people in Finland, maybe they were like, ŒWow, this guy's making sounds out of someone reading their grocery list.'"

Minimal man: James Frederick, aka j.frede.
Minimal man: James Frederick, aka j.frede.

Still, as frede describes it, the European tour was "very hard, almost crippling," and he aborted the mission after four weeks rife with poor turnouts and non-paying promoters. On the long plane ride home, bursting with inspiration from the small yet cohesive experimental scene he witnessed in Scandinavia, he outlined his designs for Denver. In February 1999, just three months after returning to town, he opened Chernobyl, a Capitol Hill art space that served as a venue for touring noise and experimental acts and exhibited multimedia works coupling audio and visual elements. After Chernobyl closed a few months later, frede refocused his attention on the Atonal Festival, an annual event he created years prior that brought together many local and national figures from the world of contemporary avant-garde music. The final Atonal Festival, in 2001, was a massive two-night affair at the Gothic Theatre, during which the venerable hall was transformed into a labyrinth of textures, oscillations and bit-mapped rhythms. Among the laptop-and-synthesizer set was Kim Cascone, just one of the many acclaimed, internationally known artists with whom frede has associated and appeared over the years. That roster also includes Kit Clayton, Francisco Lopez, Robin Rimbaud of Scanner and Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3.

Frede and Cascone have a split release due next spring, but frede's most recent collaboration is with Denver pianist David Nereson. Dubbed Unprepared Piano, the disc is an exploration of mood and void in which frede uses editing programs to tweak, modulate, layer and arrange dissonant samples of an antique upright piano being tuned. His other new release, though, is even more noteworthy. Produced in partnership with IDM artist Carlos Archuleta, BLIP: The Glitch Electronica Standard Reference was put out this summer on the Sonic Foundry imprint, a subsidiary of Sony that specializes in providing raw material for musicians and producers to utilize, copyright-free.

Archuleta is also frede's partner at his record label (now called Current Recordings in honor of the gradual shift in focus from the Ritual Document days) and is slated to participate in frede's newest live undertaking, Glass Music. This one-time performance will take place at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, where frede appeared often before moving to L.A. in 2001. Almost a rebellion against his usual computer-based compositions, Glass Music is a symphony of struck wineglasses during which approximately eight players -- including Archuleta, electronic musician Marleah Tobin, professional composer Mark McCoin, ex-Blue Ontario bassist John Parks and frede himself -- will encircle the audience while coaxing euphony from their rather unorthodox instruments.

"I got the idea from doing the dishes," says frede without a trace of sarcasm. "The sound of glass is completely natural and acoustic, just the purest sound ever. There will be two parts of the performance: The first will be a duet between myself and Marleah using wineglasses to generate a drone piece out of the tones and resonance of the glass. And then the second piece will be with the whole group, half improv and half arranged by myself."

Besides preparing for Glass Music and his visit to Denver, frede remains dizzyingly busy. Between showing sound installations in galleries from L.A. to Portland, readying a second volume of BLIP for Sony and recording pieces derived mathematically from the patterns of pixels in digital photographs of buildings, the tireless artist has five complete albums in the can and awaiting release. But amid all the plans for more world touring and prestigious festival appearances, the lure of the dusty desert plains of frede's youth still beckons.

"It's so much more removed out there than it is in the city," he explains. "There's so little noise pollution in the desert or rural environments. You can really capture the natural acoustics of a landscape as opposed to a lot of noise from civilization. Actually, Marleah and I are going to be doing a project sometime in the next year documenting the entire American West with photographs and field recordings.

"You know," he adds with a hint of reverence in his voice, "that whole isolation of the American West."

With frede's effusive passion and ambition, it's doubtful his chemistry of high concept and stark beauty will stay isolated for long.

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