Q&A with Janek Schaefer

Sound artist Janek Schaefer will be presenting a newly commissioned installation, Aerial Aria in the aviary, for The Engine Room exhibition at Morley Gallery. In this Q&A we find out more about Janek’s journey into sound art and his work.

Janek Schaefer

How did you get into sound art?
I was studying Architecture at the Royal College of Art, and was frustrated that you could only propose ‘designs’ for buildings, rather than making real life work. I realised that sound was an essential component of how we process space around us, and began exploring ideas and building installations. It turned out that I really graduated as an artist rather than an architect. I built my three arm record player to manipulate sound live, and began recording, touring, and making a living, and haven’t stopped twenty years later.

What role does visual representation play in sound art?
Sonic art is mainly produced with only audio, whereas Sound Art incorporates the physical dimension, so the look and feel of that is very important. It is visual and it is temporal.

What role does technology play in your work?
A big part. The variety of mechanisms required to make, and disseminate recorded sound since the invention of electricity is fascinating. An endless source of inspiration for working with found materials. I work with the physical and the cultural elements of the world around me, and re-arrange them to illustrate ideas, and emotions. I produce very little work that is without a power input at some stage. I am jealous of those who only need an acoustic guitar, as my shed studio is ram jammed with old equipment. But of course that is the joy. To collect classic record players, boomboxes, vintage radios, shellac sounds, transmitters, microphones, and to make work using it all in different ways. The technology both inspires, creates, and also exhibits the results in my mixed media installations and concerts.

Tell us about the new commissioned work you are creating for the Engine Room exhibition
Given the rich musical heritage of Morley College, I wanted to explore a music related theme, and was intrigued to discover an opera called The Perfect Fool, written by Gustav Holst while he was head of the music course, and premiered in 1923. This was a rather tongue in cheek, single act opera, that examined the divide between high and low culture, and was often a parody, sampling Wagner, Verdi, and Debussy etc. I did some vocal resampling myself from The Perfect Fool, along with a flock of other renowned diva warblers from the 20th century. I ‘helped’ them all to sing tiny phrases higher and faster, which in turn crafted a complex sonic aviary full of my own Aria Birds. I then underscored these new songs with many layers of subtle nature recordings, resulting in an eternal dawn chorus.

Aerial Aria in the aviary is an FM transmitter installation using my collection of vintage and retro radios playing a 4 channel composition, exhibited in a room that resembles a kind of walkthrough bird house at the zoo.

What experience do you want to create for your audience? How do you want people to engage with your work?
That changes every time. But this piece is light hearted, and I hope delightful to experience. It’s easy to read on it’s own merits, but I always include information as part of the show that describes the project ideas. That stems from my architecture training, and genuinely wanting to share and communicate the full concept and content of each installation.

What do you think is the importance of the Engine Room competition for sound art?
At all stages of your career, opportunities are the only door to the future. Find them and apply for them. Create deadlines for your ideas, and Do It! The Engine Room is an excellent one.

The Engine Room at Morley Gallery runs from 12 May – 12 June 2015.

— []

Sign up for the email newsletter

Keep up to date with news from Morley College