I’ve always been interested in backgrounds, atmospherics, and frames: things that we encounter, that we notice and accept, and then tune out. My first sound piece was Room Tone (1998), a recording of the ambient sound of my studio using film production techniques. Another more recent work was b/w (2008), a 2-sided record which speeds up whalesong to sound like birdsong on one side, and slows down birdsong to sound like whalesong on the other. Crickets follows that piece in a way; it is based on field recordings, and deals with impersonation. I was interested in how a cricket chirps, and whether a human with an instrument could mimic that, and what the gap between those two sounds would be. And later I became interested in all the cultural and phenomenological qualities of crickets: how they are a kind of stand-in for silence, and how, in the context of performance, the sound of crickets means you’re bombing.
The score is based on a French compilation of field recordings of crickets from around the world (Borneo, Cameroon, France, Martinique, Senegal, Thailand, Venezuela). It has 25 chapters, or “movements,” based on the dates or locations where the field recordings were made. The field notes for those recordings are the sub-titles you see in the video. I collaborated with Michael Webster, a composer and sound engineer I have worked with before (on b/w, among other things), to transcribe those recordings into a music score. Then we auditioned musicians to try to play the sounds in the score. It took a long time; this project began in 2009.
I wanted to turn the sheet music into an artwork, and once I started looking into letterpress I though that “blind” debossment—that is, printing with an engraved plate but with no ink— would yield a nice approximation of silence. So the prints become almost ambient, like the sound.
During the rehearsals and production of the ensemble work, I recorded “solos”—that is, individual performers impersonating the chirp of a single cricket. So upstairs is the ensemble, and downstairs are the solos, playing in handmade cricket cages. The cages are modular— there could be one, or three, or 100. Edgard Varèse said “Music is organized sound,” and upstairs, with the ensemble, you have random sound organized into music through a coordinated, group effort, and downstairs, with the solos, you have unorganized musical components that take shape as an ensemble through spatial arrangement. Upstairs is outdoor and wild, and downstairs is indoor and domesticated.