Jace Clayton. Artist. Musician.

Feb 03, 2011

Jace Clayton

This week, Kindle is pleased to feature Makers Muse awardee, Jace Clayton.

Clayton is an interdisciplinary artist whose interests include music, writing, and public space. Clayton explores memory in the digital era, and how technology and culture intersect in low-income communities, with an emphasis on Latin America, Africa, and the Arab world.

As DJ/Rupture, Clayton has performed and collaborated with musicians in over 30 countries. He has an album coming out this spring, so be sure to keep up with him via his blog.

Here, Jace shares with us his writing about Radio GooGoo, a sound installation project that was never documented.

Thanks Jace!

Radio GooGoo
by Jace Clayton

I just finished an album that’s a soundtrack to a remake of The Shining, set in a luxury hotel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The film doesn’t exist, but our music for it does. In a few months you’ll be able to hear that, so I don’t need to talk about it. I’ll use this time to tell you about a sound piece you can’t listen to, because I forgot to record it…

In 2010 the Studio Museum in Harlem invited me to create an audio installation for the museum’s front rooms, as part of their StudioSound series. My main concern was for the museum staff – the guy who does coatcheck, the people behind the front desk. They have to stand around there all day, so the last thing I wanted to do was make a 10-minute song which they’d be forced to listen to, on repeat, for months. Museum guards are the main audience for museum art. How could I create a constantly changing audio piece that wouldn’t wear out its welcome?  I started thinking about composing for a process rather than a product. I also wanted the piece to be non-narrative, something you could simply experience without having a specific start or end. I’ve never liked narrative audio- or video-installations that loop – perhaps because I always walk in on them at the worst possible time.

The core ideas of ‘Radio GooGoo’ came all at once: take radio, transform the sounds, broadcast the altered signals – realtime – in the Studio Museum. Instead of writing music, I built an assemblage of FX and strange digital audio machines, then “played” them, optimizing each one around the particular station it was built for, composing several long pieces – not of music, but of parameters for musical transformations. Radio GooGoo is, among other things, a series of computer-based algorithms which listen to local NYC radio and radically transform the sound, re-broadcasting the results in the front spaces of the Studio Museum.

When it was up & running, Radio GooGoo cycled between three FM stations/algorithms, one each day:

  • A classical station transforms into floating ambience. The results are a gauzy, drifting cloud, which is periodically tuned to the dominant musical scales of North Africa (Arabic, Berber). Classical music receives an enormous amounts of funding. This piece engages ideas of “classical” both as a Western system of listening and a virtuosic performance, but mostly it sounds like Beethoven on zero-gravity painkillers.
  • My piece for Hot97 (“blazing hiphop and r&b”) makes the station’s broadcasts sound like a lovesick synthesizer inside a dripping cave. Mostly it’s a lot of atonal, irregularly spaced bleeps with a timbral palette that alludes to classic mid-20th century musique concrete, but at times it  resolves into legibility and you’re able to recognize the stacatto main riff of a popular song (albeit replayed on a vocoder). Sometimes the signal with go completely unprocessed for seconds, so listeners can hear the transformations.
  • I took a different approach for talk radio. Here, words get chopped up and scrambled, realtime. Certain phrases repeat, linger, shuffle backwards and forward wrapped in echo. You can understand the topic of discussion, its tone and themes and vocal tics, but the conversation’s in tatters.

Radio GooGoo was a result of my efforts to create a welcome space, sharing “music like dirt”. The Jamaican phrase refers to music’s ubiquity and abundance. Although this was not its intention, the piece  presents an alternate universe of copyright and authorship – I created Radio GooGoo, and Radio GooGoo creates new music – by digesting local FM radio and giving back something totally

new. It is the sound you hear, as well as the software system I cobbled together to make it. Radio GooGoo generated months of original audio during it’s Studio Museum run, but, with all the abundance I never bothered to record it. I’m a terrible archivalist. Didn’t even take a photo of the computer running it, which I wanted to capture because it was so mundane.