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Graham Dunning

Marbles on a metal disk
Marbles on a metal disk, used by Graham Dunning in Webster / Dunning Duo performances. The metal disk is from a spool of zips — it has a hole in the centre and a lip around the rim. The marbles collide with and occasionally lift the tone arm as the platter turns. [Click image to enlarge]

As an artist I make things in lots of different formats, but generally to do with either sound objects or found objects in some way. My background is in experimental music and this continues into the art I make and how I go about it. I use experimentation and play as a main part of my music-making process. I also like to set myself restrictions for my projects similarly to the way scientific experiments are conducted. I often try and repeat a visual process with audio, and vice versa.

Music by the Metre

Modified turntable
Modified turntable. I replaced the motor with a variable speed motor, controlled by the box shown on the right. This enables speeds of between approximately 10–200 rpm. [Click image to enlarge]

In this ongoing project I create abstract music using automated machines. The output is a series of recordings and various performance-installations.

Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio was a founding member of the Situationist International, and created Industrial Painting, or artworks created by machines which would automatically create abstract expressionist paintings on large rolls of paper. Music by the Metre is an audio homage to the techniques and ideas of Pinot-Gallizio.

Gallizio’s industrial painting was intended to flood the art market with affordable abstract paintings, sold by the metre, to cause inflation and devalue art as a commodity. In Music by the Metre I fill spools of tape with abstract audio to sell by the metre. One of the iterations of the project is a Kiosk or market stall where I sell these metres of music, or more frequently give away free samples. The transaction is redundant, as for most people a twenty-one second strip of music in an obsolete format is useless.

The recordings are made using a collection of repetitive or continuous sound sources, which all play concurrently and with different lengths. The composition of the pieces is in making the pieces fit together, balancing the elements and layering up different rhythms into a collage which is ever changing but ever the same.

Retextured records
Retextured records. Records with scratches, glue, sticky tape and sand-papered sections. I generally use a piece of thread attached to the tone arm to ensure it doesn’t slide straight to the centre — this also makes rhythmical loops from whatever the stylus encounters. [Click image to enlarge]
Homemade electronics
Homemade electronics. Various effects pedals, amplifiers and noise boxes made from kits and modified or adapted from existing hardware. [Click image to enlarge]
Modified pedals
Modified pedals. Two guitar pedals modified to change their sound. The delay pedal on the left has a switch to extend and glitch the delay time; the tremolo on the right has switches to change the wavelength and shape of the LFO. [Click image to enlarge]
CCTV Switching unit
CCTV Switching unit. Can work as a very slow step sequencer or a cyclical, timed gate, only allowing sound through for a certain amount of time. [Click image to enlarge]
Spools of Music by the Metre
Spools of Music by the Metre. [Click image to enlarge]

Mechanical Techno — Ghost in the Machine Music

This project grew from some of the techniques and setup used in the Music by the Metre project: the basic idea was to build a music making machine, then to perform a live dub on its output to release the ghost in the machine. Lee Scratch Perry described Dub as “the ghost in me coming out” — this informed the project. I use the mixing desk as an instrument and employ standard dub techniques and effects (and their cheap digital equivalents) to shape the sound: channel EQs, spring reverb, digital delay with analogue feedback, external EQ.

Piezo triggers
Piezo triggers. Drawing pins stuck to a record flick piezo transducers, which I use as percussion or to trigger synthesizers. It works as a clumsy sequencer. [Click image to enlarge]

After seeing a video in which Vinyl Terror & Horror had several altered records stacked up, turning at the same speed on one platter, I realised I could use the same technique to make several records play at the exact same speed. I used some of the techniques with looping records from the Music by the Metre project and developed some new ones.

Again, the main part of the composition is in building the machine itself. Each loop is selected to work with the others so that each part can be brought in and out in the live dub. This project works mainly to create studio recordings. The setups are often quite complicated and subject to various chance aspects: a small accidental pull on a cable might physically move the tone arm, resulting in a completely different loop. Leaving the machine running for too long whilst preparing the setup might lead to the groove wearing down and becoming audibly more noisy. I embrace these accidents as a part of the compositional process and work with them. I also often find these setups very frustrating — what might be very straightforward to do on a DAW (for example, setting up side-chain compression on a certain channel) might mean rewiring a whole section of the setup and potentially losing the “magic” that existed beforehand.

One of the rules I have set myself in the project is always to push on to do such bothersome additions when I’m becoming frustrated with the setup. I am also collecting recordings without having a specific output in mind: with each setup I perform several live dubs, which can range from three minutes to over an hour, collate the recordings and dismantle the setup. I plan to go back and edit some cuts from these dubs at a later date.

Blanked-out record
Blanked-out record. A piece of smooth acetate blanks out three quarters of the record, so only a short sample of one beat plays with each rotation. Again a thread has to be used to stop the tone arm sliding to the centre. [Click image to enlarge]
Silent record with scratches
Silent record with scratches. An uncut record with two sets of deep scratches. These are either used to trigger an analogue synth (Yamaha CS-5) or as audio as a clap / snare sound. [Click image to enlarge]
Automatic cowbell
Automatic cowbell. A standard cowbell with two beaters — they are lifted by a stepped record and drop back down onto the bell to strike it. A contact mic picks up the signal. [Click image to enlarge]
Stones and Bones
Stones and Bones. Used to prop the turntable’s tone arm to make loops, or to decorate the machine during live performance. [Click image to enlarge]
Parcel tape separators with chop stick
Parcel tape separators with chop stick. These are used to separate each record in the stack. I like that the brown spools look like a big brother to audio tape. [Click image to enlarge]

Webster / Dunning Duo

Part of my practice involves free improvised music in various ensembles, one of which is a duo with saxophonist Colin Webster.

Colin plays tenor and baritone saxophones and clarinet, exploring a strict palette of minimal sounds with an emphasis on breath and mechanical noises over pure or natural notes. No effects or external processing are applied to the saxophone sound.

My own intention in this project is to limit myself to a specific set of objects, and to explore non-musical or noise-based sound sources as opposed to sampling or playing records.

Mosaic Record
Mosaic Record. Made during a project in 2010 from excavated shellac fragments set in resin. Later used in performances. [Click image to enlarge]

I use cheap DJ turntables and dubplates of my own field recordings, avoiding scratch DJ techniques in favour of an assortment of noise, hum, crackle, drone and scraping sounds. In parts I also play the platter itself, the case and lid, and use brushes, dentistry tools, animal bones, marbles and pencils in sound making.

The dubplates themselves mainly come from site specific installations, video pieces or records made especially for specific performances: I recycle them for use in the live performances. I also play with metal and glass disks, test tone records and a mosaic record of pieces of shellac set in resin, itself from another installation.

In some recordings and performances I have used amplified objects, walkmans and a delay pedal. Sometimes I record the early part of the performance to a tape-dictaphone and later manipulate this recording as a part of the set. Other tapes I use are field recordings I have made from other projects or found tapes of people talking: I avoid sampling pre-recorded music in this project and focus on hiss, hum and button sounds.

I employ feedback through the stylus of the turntable or the walkman tapehead; earth hum from an unplugged cartridge; occasionally a contact mic through the mic input of the DJ mixer.

Dubplates of field recordings
Dubplates of field recordings. Two 10” records on the left are field recordings from Long Railing (video soundtrack) and Your Luton Symphony (installation). The 12” has five locked grooves per side of field recordings, commissioned for a performance in Hackney Wick. [Click image to enlarge]
Tools and implements
Tools and implements. Used to scrape and strike the turntable, lid, tone arm and stylus to create sound. [Click image to enlarge]
Platter with damage
Platter with damage. Showing scratch marks from various tools and implements during performances. [Click image to enlarge]

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