Name: Charles Richard
Occupation: Sound artist, producer
Current release: Charles Richard's Sonic Earth is out November 8th, 2021 via Glacial Movements.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound? What we're early experiences which sparked it and what keeps sound interesting for you?
Yes, for me music has always been a very visual thing. It can produce moving images in the mind’s eye and bring memories of times and spaces in my past and maybe future too. My father had a good record collection, early James Brown, Eurythmics, Miles Davis, Grace Jones, Paul Simon, lots of blues, Stravinsky etc.
Music/sound will always continue to draw me in as I believe it’s the one art form that embodies all others and more.
What's your take on how your upbringing and cultural surrounding have influenced your sonic preferences?
Aside from my parents’ musical influences. I was expelled from boarding school in the early 90’s for smoking hashish. I was also an undiagnosed dyslexic, and so I could not wait to finish my schooling early. Which I did.
The counter cultures came into my consciousness, and I started learning to DJ in 1991. At 16 I left home with a record bag and travelled firstly to live in Paris then San Francisco and later Prague. This impacted me massively, as I left what would have been a potentially sheltered childhood into something very edgy and testing. I finally moved to London in the late 90s where I still live today and studied as an artist/designer.
My travels, education, the friends and musicians I’ve met along the way all influence me to a point. But yes, my early childhoods musical access meant I’ve always been adventurous in what I like to listen to.
Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage when it comes to your way of working with sound?
I think it’s music that helps you break from cultural lineage and always discover something new. That’s important but coming back to traditional roots in my practice, I would say it’s a mix of early church polyphony to more recent theosophical beliefs - in that they believe all things are alive in some sense and can all be linked directly back to God. Matter and spirit. As above, so below. This has played a central role in Sonic Earth.
I’m also learning that the way you frame your sound is really key.
What types of sound do you personally prefer to work with? Are there sounds you reject – if so, for what reasons?
One of the reasons at the heart of this project was to cut through what I deemed to be really awful synthetic synth sounds. I wanted to explore the root frequencies of geological materials as source generators for further digital expansion to combat from within the sounds that kept getting reworked into musical software packages.
That was one of my reasons for creating the archive, in the future hope to collaborate with a synth company and design the first geologically driven synth.
Where do you find the sounds you're working with? How do you collect and organise them?
With Sonic Earth, sounds come strictly from rocks and clay.
Many of the materials were recorded from the Natural History Museum archives. I organise the archive under a materials name and geological location maybe a little about its chemistry and period. This file will store the original recording along with further digital explorations that grow over time.
Some artists use sounds as a means for emotional self-expression, others take a more conceptual approach or want to present intriguing sound matter. How would you characterise your own goals and motivations in this regard?
I’m afraid that I’m an emotional being so it’s impossible to be solely conceptual. My goal is always: how can I tune and reveal the different aspects of this field recording into something that becomes a world that’s inherently already there?
Emotional issues can be a problem. It depends.
From the point of view of your creative process, how do you work with sounds?
With Sonic Earth it’s similar to the way astro photographers process the images of space into immersive deeply coloured photographs. They start with a rough snapshot of something light years away in black and white and start to use filters, digital tools and artistic licence to reveal that image. My process is similar.
I start with a long recording of the faint internal resonances of the rock then it becomes a process of magnifying the sound more to hear the clear amplified language.
As an artist I continue to be guided by the material and explore the possibilities of that language in different contexts. Sometimes subjective, sometimes emotional.
Which tools have been most important and useful for you when it comes to
working with and editing sounds?
Pitch, then low & high pass filters.
The possibilities of modern production tools have allowed artists to realise ever more refined or extreme sounds. Is there a sound you would personally like to create but haven't been able to yet?
Yes! I would like to work with a sculptor to shape a particular large stone to produce certain resonant harmonics that I would feel comfortable in amplifying to serious volumes in public space.
Many artists have related that certain sounds trigger compositional ideas in them or are even a compositional element in their own right. Provided this is the case for you – what, exactly, is about certain sounds that triggers such ideas in you?
They embody the seeds of possibility.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
Humans are often characterised as "visual beings". In your opinion, what role does our sense of hearing play in our understanding of the world? How do sounds affect you, compared to other senses like sight or smell?
The continual influx of sound into our minds and bodies is so constant we rarely are able to pick out singular moments with definition compared to the immediacy of sight and smell. Cultural sound exists somewhere between the conscious and sub conscious and to understand its impact is a very layered and distorted debate.
The way I like to describe an answer to this question is: When you study the cymatics of water vibrating to tuned and untuned frequencies, the geometrical order and chaos is visible. We are composed of 70% water and must also vibrate to environmental noises in similar ways.
The idea of acoustic ecology has drawn a lot of attention to the question of how much we are affected by the sound surrounding us. What's your take on this and on acoustic ecology as a movement in general?
I have the pleasure of knowing a Dr Gascia Ouzounian, a founding member of www.sonicities.org. Her work is incredible. I think it’s great to be having these conversations on the sonic impacts of our cities.
Re tuning/designing with 21st century knowledge and tools, the sonorities of our futures is important. In London there is too much motorway white noise, car tyres on tarmac. Whereas boats and carts used to enter into London through the Thames and streets. The trading of merchants and market places in the city centre must have created such a dynamic noise force long ago. It seems in trying to make cities quieter we can also make them more acoustically boring.
I believe a little noise is good for us. It keeps us on point.
We can listen to a pop song or open our window and simply take in the noises of the environment. Without going into the semantics of 'music vs field recordings', in which way are these experiences different and / or connected, do you feel?
From John Cage’s “4.33” we get the whole concept of musical silence. Before that, it’s been inspiring composers like Stravinsky, Debussy to all the atonal mid century works up to now. It’s a really important dimension, as I feel it opens us up to the truer dynamics of real time.
It's also dangerous if you want to make money from music. Only about 3% of the world accept the beauty of these kinds of musical abstractions. I’m defiantly a fan.
From the concept of Nada Brahma to "In the Beginning was the Word", many spiritual traditions have regarded sound as the basis of the world. Regardless of whether you're taking a scientific or spiritual angle, what is your own take on the idea of a harmony of the spheres and sound as the foundational element of existence?
I do believe this. Force is frequency. Frequency is an activator and designer of matter and feeling. The intention or primary function behind the sound/word is another intriguing subject. One great example of this is that of diatoms.
Diatoms are said to provide 50% of the oxygen to the oceans. They sit in micro forms on ocean beds and are essentially calcium vents that pump out the oxygen. The arrays of geometric languages in their designs is incredible, all crafted in real time through frequency and necessary function. Please see here.
But again, in reality, there are a lots of aspects less geometrically perfect and out of tune, which is still beauty to me.