Phoenix & Phaedra Holding Patterns
Janek Schaefer
56' 23"


On Air
Cyan Sees Through You
Eyrie of the Phoenix
Red Plumes
Eyes Close in Heaven
Love Calls Us to the Things of this World

Text by Janek Schaefer

Live composition for portable radios, FM transmitter, 4 corner speaker PA, found sound textures, & Shruti drone box.

Sound is all around us. An ethereal tapestry of invisible radio waves and sound pressure waves fills our world. Live in concert, Phoenix and Phaedra plays with our sense of place and scale, by using a surround sound speaker system in combination with a short range FM transmitter which broadcasts to a collection of hand held radios located within the audience. The concert is performed from the back of the auditorium, out of sight, thus removing the spectacle of the performer, and leaving an empty stage for a pure sonic-cinema experience. The composition weaves together foundsound textures, spatial sonorities, and the Shruti Box, an Indian drone instrument, which plays a central role in the work, with it's lulling and engulfing energies. I wrote the work to celebrate the arrival of my new born son Phoenix, and is dedicated to him.

Commissioned by A Thing About Machines Festival

Janek Schaefer interview (interviewed by sound artist/photographer, Cormac Faulkner

1.gPhoenix and Phaedra holding patternsh was commissioned as part of eA Thing About Machines festival 2009f. The theme of the festival that year was 'Spaces Speak', how does architectural space figure in this piece and your work in general?

It is an essential part of the way I think about sound and my wider body of work. Having trained in Architecture, my sense of place has been moulded towards the understanding that sound is only revealed through space. I think about sound in my compositions as a journey through spaces, but also as a material that has to be sculpted in space. In this composition, half of the audio was played over 4 PA stacks in each corner of the darkened church to wrap the audience up in the physical and spatial experience. The other half was broadcast on an FM transmitter to a bunch of portable radios given to the members of the audience to hold. I was then able to mix the scale of the sound right down to a little radio voice in your held in your lap, and influence our sense of space in the church and the music. Each space I play or exhibit in has a direct relationship with the work I make. In fact eSpacef is a core ingredient of all my work....

2. It's interesting that you use the the phrase 'wrap the audience up' because I find there is always a warmth to the sound of your work that maybe comes from the choice of instruments and/or field recordings. Can you explain where that aesthetic comes from?

I usually try to aim forebeautyfin my composition work. That is a very subjective and flexible ambition. Ifm not sure I always get there., but I simply attempt to make beautiful work and the music often determines its own outcome as well. Itfs up to you to decide if you agree with me. Ifm not a fan of harsh sound [in general] when it comes to music. Natural sounds can be forceful and beautiful. In the church where I recorded this album the voluminous stone architecture expanded the 4 corner PA sound, which enabled me to envelop and saturate the audience in a soundspace that was alluring rather than aggressive. Loud and full of uplifting energy at times, but not fierce. In fact volume and space are inextricably linked. The warm lulling drones of the Indian Shruti Box and other foundsound textures were indeed composed and sculpted to wrap them all up. The portable radios on the other hand allowed the sound to become very intimate. As with my previous live composition eIn the Last Hourf, I recommend this sort of album to be heard for the first time lying down in a darkish room with a good pair of headphones [no iPhone in the room!]. This focuses the experience of listening, and relaxing, and avoiding the distractions of our era, which really helps you get inside the sound. After that, listen as you like.

3. Is Phoenix & Phaedra part of a larger body of work or does it stand alone? Do you see a thread through some of your recordings/live performance/installations or is each project an isolated piece of work?

Yes it is part of a body of work using radio transmitters in fact. My first piece to broadcast was the Memory Museum back in 1996 from a pedestrian underpass to the motorway flyover cars speeding past above tuned in to Radio 1 [recently published in the book eTransmission Artsf]. Phoenix & Phaedra holding patterns has a loose theme exploring the airwaves surrounding us as we fly with the mythical Phoenix bird, so the transmitter and associated sound textures and radiowaves seemed to go together as ideas, along with the portable radios etc... Other radio/transmission based works that I have been working on are the eSecret Servicef and the eLocal Radio Orchestraf which I am touring at present. eLove Songf which I completed just after my wedding also used a transmitter and floating radio headphones at the heart of the piece. But in the end each project is of course unique, and based on a given context, and are all inter-connected within my developing practice. I canft think of much in my portfolio that is out of character, and friends note my work has a certain characteristic that we canft quite put a finger on.

4. What is the role of the audience in this piece? how much control do you relinquish and how do you feel about that?

In this piece, the Transmitter broadcasts to all the radios on the same frequency. So the audience do not perform with them, as they do in my other Local Radio Orchestra installation. The role of the audience then is to sit back and enjoy the sound cinema experience. I call the album a Live Composition. I work out and compose what I am to perform live, and then improvise a bit with the textures as they emerge. I am performing a live diffusion of the sound that responds to the audience vibe and the room acoustics etc which is a pretty important part of the experience. The CD is an edit taken from both the master mixing desk and the room microphone recordings, capturing the essence of the concert and composition together.

5. What is a transistor radio like as an instrument? is that how you think of it and what has drawn you to it?

Radios make very intuitive instruments, as you get a very tangible response from any move you make on the dial. This cause and effect also creates a fear of the unknown as it is difficult to predict. You have no way of knowing what is coming next usually, but in normal use that is what is so great about radio... Itfs a lucky dip experience. Ifve instead been exploring more controlled ways of making the radio work in a more cohesive and expanded manner with my own music. In Phoenix & Phaedra holding patterns I tried to use the real magic of eWirelessf radio to play with the scale and character of the sound in the church. I mentioned above that itfs taken me quite a while to come back to the transmitter and radio. I guess I had not thought of it like an instrument before, which it is for me now. I think the simple magic of how sound is transported across space via radio waves, which is essentially invisible energy, is quite fantastical. The further away you are from the transmitter, the less energy gets to your radio and eventually drowns in the sea of static as you go out of range. Itfs also how I feel about the mystery of how a vinyl groove works so successfully and simply. I find it hard to fathom... Both these basic mysteries of sound reproduction fascinate me, and indeed have inspired many of my projects.