♫♪  Coppice - Chrome/Boundaries Scaling Stereo Images and Promises (Some False)

Coppice document their output carefully, describe their process openly, and elaborate on their legerdemain freely, because breaking the code is part of their spell. Since 2009, Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer pry third eyes open by dealing pairs. Bellows and electronics. Physical modeling and modular synthesis. Refraction and reflection. Truth and fabrication.

Chrome/Boundaries Scaling Stereo Images and Promises (Some False) couples double-images in disorientating stereophonic while exploring, in the Chicago-based duo’s words, the “slip point between documentary and fiction.”

How did Chrome/Boundaries come about?

Noé Cuéllar: The ideas primarily flowed from conversations about Michel Chion’s “sound-image” and its dissimilarity to visible images… the lack of delimiting frames of sounds, and the impossibility to isolate the sound-image from the real world. For us this became word play, and curiosity to make audiovisual puzzles that explore “stereo images.” We’re also responding to the pervasive habit of daily consumption of images, and the constant scaling of their value, credibility, relevance, context, etc… what are we looking at? Chrome/Boundaries is the outcome of executing those ideas via long-distance correspondence. We discussed the technology and skeletal framework in Chicago in the spring, and they were executed and composed in Ano Syros in the summer at a former Jesuit Monastery during the Sounding Paths Residency, with spontaneous contributions.

Some of the contributors to Chrome/Boundaries also participated in the residency. How did you arrive at choosing sources, sounds, samples, visual materials? To what degree were outside contributors (outside of Coppice) passive or active in shaping the piece?

NC: The chrome relationship between the mirror and the microphone casings of the Unidynes got everything else rolling to assimilate cameras and microphones. Each contributor became involved differently, for example Phill Niblock and David Toop were invited to talk about musical memories of 1961 and 1989 into Unidyne models of those years, Eva Matsigkou asked to make a video with me, and I asked MP Hopkins to write something for me, which I then spoke in his absence. Renato Grieco contributed samples once the edit was finished. It was during editing that the slip point between documentary and fiction was brought out. It’s been a question for me whether there is such thing as “Documentary Music” since working on 1+2=4, a short documentary earlier this year… but the musical outcome in that is entirely different than what was explored for Chrome/Boundaries.

I heard a sample from the Current Group in there. What role does the past play in both this piece and in the Coppice timeline? What came before? Musical backgrounds? Origins? Events leading up to Coppice?

Joseph M. Kramer: Orientation in space and time is a major theme in Coppice. Reflecting on the past is part of how we orient within our current, active systems. The Current Group is a collective that I belong(ed) to in the first decade of the 21st century. It is one of the groups in which I was partially responsible for the creation and then ongoing facilitation until I moved to Chicago in 2008. The Current Group is an interesting choice for inclusion in Chrome/Boundaries. I believe the strong literal connection in the opening lyric content of “Boxcars” makes its relationship clear in at least in one dimension, but I would not have thought to include anything from that project.

NC: “Boxcars” is perfect yaw calibration for Chrome/Boundaries.

JMK: Thinking now about the structure of the Current Group though, I find its inclusion in Coppice’s Diffusion work highly relevant. The Current Group operated by open invitation. We limited our influence in the moment of creation by making the invitation for participation unlimited. Anyone who learned about the group was welcome to come to a near-weekly recording session and participate in any way they wished. Coppice started out very differently. Coppice closed in on a singular center and grew out, then was cut back. I feel Coppice has now grown out in enough directions that its edges are bleeding through other boundaries. Its center is becoming less solid.

When you started, did you have any categories (Refraction, Reflection, Diffusion) or a timeline in mind? How have your expectations, if any, changed over time?

NC: We didn’t set out to represent each of those from the start, but conversations about those phenomena and analogies have recurred in our conversations over the years.

JMK: Ha! I like the idea that Coppice could somehow have just been executing our multi-phase, decade-long, multi-part plan. We are trying to know when a phase has ended, but things tend not to end all at once, or to begin all at once. The work is modular and multivalent, but there are themes that emerge and there are ways of telling the story that can help it be better understood.

NC: We did, however, set out to study specific pairings of instruments and devices: Bellows & Electronics, and Physical Modeling & Modular Synthesis. We use Refraction and Reflection as understandings of the attributes respective to those studies, and they guide our website’s visitors through their own exploration of that if they want to.

JMK: I think that I always have a sense of moving upwards and downwards simultaneously and in spirals. Because of this, the phases are more important for me to help communicate the ideas that have gone into the work and the ideas that have come out of it.

NC: To communicate the different levels of ideas…

JMK: They reflect our plans, but it seems to me that we could not have planned them. This is especially true as we open the work more to the world.

I get the feeling that falsity, fabrication, etc. are not necessarily bad things in the framework of Coppice. Is that correct?

JMK: Correct.

NC: It’s as exciting to recognize instrumentation in recorded music as it is to discern its production values. A sense of falsity is like a sense of space, timbre, or mood with shades, hard to pinpoint at times, and we have to work with it. As a tool it can heighten or make bland depending on the idea, but within those effects there is something about reclaiming a relationship to it that is true, not false. In the synthesis work we played with the idea of “forging” our own earlier sonic palette, “fake air,” and juxtaposing sounds of original and emulated sources so the relations between them can be traced. This is often absurd or funny, but for Coppice it’s important to at least recognize they are in different positions, even if those collapse on each other! We’ve exhausted that angle for now. We’re more interested in documentary and fiction now, their seeming boundaries, the thing they form together…

What roles do chance, discovery, and caprice play in your process? What role does intention play?

NC: Intention plays a main role, and many others follow.

JMK: I like to think about the interplay between impulsive energy and long-term research and editing. There is so much intention that goes in, but there is also a lot of intuition and responsiveness. So many things in the world are outside of our control, so we set up experiments for interaction with those things and edit and/or the results.

How do you define freedom?

JMK: By refusing to define freedom.

NC: Virtual doors don’t need doorknobs.

Have you operated from the same studio space since the beginning?

NC: Different studios, some three or four in the last ten years, and many other locations in between.

How does a change in location affect your perspective, process, and outcome?

JMK: Studio location seems important, but I’m not sure yet exactly how. I’m still thinking about this.

NC: I’m not sure how locations influence the work because they don’t seem to matter when we’re working out a specific, clear idea. The early work is very airtight, and our intention was to keep the work spaces imperceivable, and focus on the instruments and devices, with few exceptions. But the synthesis work that followed is very much about location in the broader sense: Creating a virtual space, more specifically a portrait of Chicago as extended from our studios… this is captured narratively in Green Flame, an abstract commute from an exterior to an interior scene. Ideas developed in the studio take on a different state when working on installations and concerts… they seem to mesh more.

How does Chrome/Boundaries relate to Diffusion: Phonography & Fiction (2018-)?

NC: Chrome/Boundaries is made up of portable tools and ideas, and it was executed outside of a studio in the personal sense. It shows spaces much more than other pieces because it is facing completely different interests from the start: The dissolution of boundaries, decentralization; it’s where Coppice is going with Diffusion.

What makes this collaboration work?

JMK: I have no idea. Chemistry? Connection is a strange thing to think about - what makes things attract to each other?

NC: Correspondence.

JMK: At the subatomic scale, it’s all about opposites. Force flows out, force flows in. But at the macro scale, things are far more complicated. Choice is a big part of it. I’m assuming the word “work” could be replaced by the word “continue.” I think we have a lot of overlapping interests, and we like the results when we pursue them together.

NC: Or together-apart. Some pieces are asymmetrically balanced, but from a mutual idea. Coppice is shared perspective with different points of view.

Do you ever think of reproducing, marketing and selling any of your modified instruments? Is commerciality a factor you take into consideration?

JMK: I am interested in the way these questions have been grouped. It seems as though there is an implication that commercialization is related directly to the instruments. I tend to think the instruments are just a tiny example of how commercial questions pop up for us. I will try to take these questions one at a time, then see what happens to them as a group.

I have thought a lot about commercializing the instruments I make, but I do not like the idea of being in the instrument business. It isn’t a matter of principle, I just don’t think that marketing and selling tools is something I want to be doing right now. That industry is a large community, and joining new communities is something that is very time consuming and difficult for me. I would absolutely consider it if someone else was responsible for the business side.

Do you intend for your work to interact with the world in a certain way? A perceived audience?

NC: And interact with the world through the work…

JMK: Yes, the work is often intended to interact with the world in a specific way. Once it is out, then it is for others to carry the work with them. I always think our audience is bigger than it actually is. I think of what we are doing as connecting to all of the things that I am thinking about when I make the choices I make in the work. I think, for example, when I work out a specific EQ in the mix to bring out a certain timbre that whoever enjoy Silence is Sexy are also going to love because it reminds me of something that I liked on that record. Of course, that isn’t really the way audiences work. So, I just try to make work for an audience that appreciate or use our work in the way that I appreciate or use the work of others.

NC: Sometimes I forget, or remember, how abstract Coppice can be. It’s one of the reasons we developed an archive project for the website, to describe its arcs, document the instruments and point to where they can be heard. We want the website to feel like an open box set for whoever wants to make their own connections and listening investigations. Coppice is a laboratory with many tools… the ways others interact with it are their own. For us the listener completes the picture and we don’t need to know who they are.

What are you working on now? What’s next?

NC: We’re picking up where Chrome/Boundaries left off with a new work about the Refractor and Reflector telescopes of the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, WI. Listening to obsolete telescopes and rooms that are machines…

JMK: I’m looking forward to discovering larger-scale presentation in live and installation formats. Reading more about light and thinking more about sound.

Chocolate Grinder

CHOCOLATE GRINDER is our audio/visual section, with an emphasis on the lesser heard and lesser known. We aim to dig deep, but we’ll post any song or video we find interesting, big or small.

Most Read