Last week, I reviewed My Fun’s fourth album “Sonorine,” a gorgeous electroacoustic work that has really caught my ear. Justin Hardison, the man behind My Fun and label The Land Of, took some time out of being a busy New Yorker to let me do a little e-interview:
STARTLING MONIKER: “Sonorine” uses a lot of source recordings one might not ordinarily expect to find in a postcard– pianos, birds, traffic, radio… what influenced the selection of sound sources you used?
JUSTIN HARDISON: One of the aims in my work has always been to incorporate sounds I’d find on an average day and then edit and transform those elements into compositions whether they’re musical, environmental, accidental etc. I guess when it comes down to it, My Fun is really about creating romanticized portraits of everyday life. Usually when I start a new project I try to build a collection of raw sounds to work with and I take and capture them from wherever I am at the time. During the time I was recording Sonorine, I was doing quite a bit of traveling and I was making field recordings of these trips as a way to remember them and share them with other people.
SM: With “Sonorine,” you’ve really done away with the usual concept of the “album-as-listener-trip,” and made it something much more artist-centric– at least if the listener chooses to play along with the overall concept. In what ways did this affect how you went about creating the album?
JH: I think the concept of the Sonorine or sound postcards is very loose and open to experience/interpret how ever the listener chooses. I didn’t even think of the concept for the recordings I was working on until much later in the project. The concept seemed to fit the recordings I was collecting and I think has helped explain the ideas behind this sort of music work to those who usually would have no interest in sitting around listening to bugs or shortwave radios.
I really like to use sounds that are at least semi-recognizable because this way anyone can identify with and possibly attach their own memories to a specific sound. It is that immediate emotional response to sounds that I’m really interested in and I think if a listener is first brought into a composition by a familiar element then it leaves me room to
introduce the stranger and more obscure sounds that hopefully pique their interest and curiosity.
SM: I’ve noticed that on many of the tracks, the more obvious “musical” elements– such as the drones in “Radiant,” or the piano in “Phonopostal”– are framed by what I think of as “environmental” sounds such as clattering, walking, mechanical elements, and natural sounds. How appropriate is it that the listener consider the sounds individually in this way?
JH: I think listeners are used to listening and paying more attention to the musical elements but forget about all of the other noises they might hear around them when they’re listening to a musical recording but I think it is those elements that make the central musical element sound more interesting. I’ve heard others mention this as well but I always loved the ambient and accidental studio sounds you hear on some records, especially jazz records and studio out takes. It is those extra breaths, voices, tape hiss, guitar amp crackle and especially the ends of these songs that give a recording that human and mysterious element. I think listeners should take all sounds into consideration when they’re listening. With that in mind, I think noise pollution is a serious problem and I’ve really noticed it more since moving back to New York. The worse culprits are traffic and aircraft noise. It frustrates me to go out recording and and always capture the roar of traffic or planes in the recordings. With all of the added noise, you really miss out on the more subtle and quiet sounds.
SM: If you’ll allow me to take this interview in a “Guitar Player” magazine direction– what sort of recording equipment are you using? What’s your studio setup consist of?
JH: I recently saw these pictures of some of the old studios where people like Tod Dockstader and Delia Derbyshire worked with the crazy tape machines and ten thousand knobs and wish I could say I had such a place! My studio is pretty simple really. I have a software based studio for editing and composing sounds. For field recording I have a couple of mini disc recorders, Audio Technica and Sony mics, some contact and lapel mics if I want to go more stealth. I sample a lot of old records and use all of those strange extra sounds I mentioned earlier or perhaps a single harp pluck or guitar chord. I also picked up a shortwave radio and record a lot from that and have a acoustic guitar, mandolin and various other noise makers like a music box and some toy rattles and cheap cassette tape
Walkman. I started off a long time ago playing in guitar bands and then made a lot of techno and drum&bass music for a few years. After working with so much hardware, I still find it amazing that you can do so much on a laptop computer.
SM: You’ve always said that My Fun is concerned with narrative works. If each track is a stand-alone “postcard,” how much thought has gone into making them a coherent group?
JH: I spent a great deal of time making them a group and it really is meant to be listened to start to finish. I composed the whole thing as a single track and then edited it down into individual tracks. I know it will be split up by iPods and MP3 players and I do take that into consideration but I think that track sequencing is very important when you’re making a collection of recordings and hopefully this will always be appreciated element in recordings as technology changes over time.
SM: What have you been listening to lately? Anything similar in spirit or sound you’d care to recommend?
JH: Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of different things. There is always a ton of great music to be found on net labels like EKO, SKM, Test Tube and others. I’ve also been checking out a lot of CDs from the library like “Premieres Chansons Douces” by Henri Salvador and the Anthology of Noise and Electronic music on the Sub Rosa label. Also a lot of minimal techno and I highly recommend Billowy Mass by Alejandra & Aeron as well as the Yasujiro Ozu Hitokomakura compilation on and/oar!
SM: What’s coming up for My Fun? How about your label, The Land Of? I see something about a Darren McClure release– what’s the date on that?
JH: I recently decided to turn The Land Of into a label that would release material by other artists. It is something I have thought about for a long time and am really excited about. Yes, Darren McClure has an amazing full-length called Softened Edges coming out on October 15th and I have a couple of other projects in the works as well. The Land Of won’t be releasing a ton of recordings. Right now I’m thinking about four or so a year. My wife Kimberly Hall has worked really hard on a visual identity for the label and is designing and hand silk screening all of the cover art as well.
As far as my own work, I’m always collecting new sounds to work with and I hope to get back working on my sound journal/blog. New York is very distracting! Also, a friend of mine is working on a book of various friends artwork and I’m contributing a sound element of some of those small recordable cards like you’d find in a sound greeting card. Each one has a different recording of a particular place. Too bad they only have a ten second memory!