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Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014

Milwaukee’s Speakerdust Collective Explores New Sonic Frontiers

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It takes a whole crew to man a ship. With that in mind, Milwaukee’s Speakerdust approaches their improvisations as a group effort. Released on the winter solstice, Golden Sessions Vol. 1 captures the essence of the collective and the passion for exploration that spawns from their very being.

“By design the group is exploratory and aleatory,” member Ross Oldenburg says. Founded by David J. White and Alexei Easton in December of 2009 and named after one of White’s films, Speakerdust came to fruition after the two reached out to fellow experimental artists Scott Johnson, Jason Nanna and Oldenburg. Their concept for the group was to create a music collective driven by group dynamics and personal intuitions.

“We approach each performance and studio album with a sense of improvisation. It is unique and our instrumentation depends on what our members decide to bring that day,” Oldenburg explains. Along with synthesizers and more traditional instruments like percussion and guitar, they employ a heavy dose of electronics. For them, electronics mean everything from guitar pedals to circuit-bent sound-manipulating modules—basically anything that will help create unique sounds and tones. A lot of their gear has even been rewired or homemade; tinkering with sound technologies is a vital provision in the group’s exploration.   

For Golden Sessions Vol. 1, the group recorded three hours of material. Much like their live sets, they improvised to create an implied motion picture soundtrack with plot lines, varied environments, and emotions. But the final tracks for the album came about by chiseling the lengthy improv session with edits and overdubs.

Interested in anthropology, poetry, history, ocean exploration and space travel, they used these as “libraries of sound” and sprinkled these themes throughout. An example can be heard on “Aurora 7,” which features a sample of a NASA radio transmission. The track’s title comes from the capsule piloted by Scott Carpenter, the second American to orbit the Earth. The pilot is heard proclaiming, “It’s a beautiful cloud pattern out there.” From there a spacey synth rings in an acoustic drumbeat that ebbs through an ether littered with feedback burps and glissading theremin timbres. When the track comes to a halt the listener is left with an ending transmission: “I can’t believe I am where I am.” It’s a perfect epithet for the album’s cosmic wanderings.

It’s hard to accurately label an eccentric group like Speakerdust with a single genre. They point out that they channel ambient, free jazz, post-rock and musique concrète, a form of electroacoustic music that combines traditional instrumentation with electronics. In December, the group played their CD release show at the Borg Ward, a fitting institution for their eclectic mash-up. Recently, they were commissioned to create an organic sounding piece in which they performed with a woodwind instrumentalist.

The collective is not exclusive. In fact, they welcome collaborators and look forward to new ones in the future. Outside of the Speakerdust collective, the members are active with other projects, including their own solo work. White is in Agent LeBlanc, Easton is in Navigator Green, Oldenberg and Nanna are in Trees Fall and Johnson plays percussion for the cello-heavy trio Nineteen Thirteen. Giving and receiving an ample amount of inspiration, they come together in Speakerdust bearing different ideas and approaches to crafting sounds. Be it circuit bending a module or introducing new concepts and themes, the band’s improvisational nature ensures that each performance will be a different experience.

Speakerdust’s Golden Sessions Vol. 1 is streaming at speakerdustsoundtracks.bandcamp.com.