Shelley’s Frankenstein: Sound Art Comes Alive

Sound artist, remixer, DJ, Photographer, label owner and live performer, London based artist Shelley Parker, is deep in the game to put it mildly. She’s been making music since the 90s, honing a unique style that has become quite influential in the international avant garde electronic scene. Using field recordings as instruments layered over drums as part of her signature style, she creates creeping soundscapes that seem to be alive and could be identified as the soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic alien world. Her practice is self described as exploring “the experiential potential of sound and image through the manipulation of technology and the study of structure and material.” She is the founder of Structure Recordings, which releases much of her own material as well as that of other like-minded artists. Join us for a Q and A session with this talented multi-disciplinary artist on the cutting edge of the future of sound.

Femmecult:

How did you arrive at your current way of producing music? What drew you to using found sound in your compositions?

Shelley Parker:

From around 2005 – 2008, I returned to the sound recordings I’d made as a student in the late nineties at art college which I’d recorded for several sound installations and started to include these sounds in to my early remixes for Posthuman/Party Trash and the Bullet Dodge/Entr’acte labels. I think I realized quite early on that I wasn’t so interested in using sounds made from traditional instruments eg; software/hardware synthesizers for my music production, but just stripped down drums and bass overlaid with “instruments” which I’d made from found sounds.

Femmecult:

Please talk about your process for creating Cast, which you describe as “an emotive and atmospheric sound scape of field recordings and sounds responding to the notions of myth, religion and authenticity inferred by the casts to evoke a feeling of post-apocalyptic future in the V&A’s Cast Courts.”

Shelley Parker:

Yes, so Cast was commissioned in 2008 as a sound installation in one of the rooms at The Cast Courts at the V & A for the Cold War Modern: Art & Design Exhibition. The Cast Courts are 2 rooms housing Victorian plaster cast replications of greek and roman sculptures. At this time I was still working with loops for installation projects so produced a 9 minute loop of a soundscape constructed of processed samples from various recordings I’m made sourced from tapes, mini discs etc. including industrial sounds eg; helicopters, air vents, and audio which I’d recorded in the studio, bashing an old Fender Deluxe Reverb Amp with a microphone (!).

Femmecult:

What types of settings do you find most useful for field recording? What are some places you look forward to recording in the future?

Shelley Parker:

I think the settings change all the time but on the whole most of the recent sounds are sourced from industrial environments: Dungeness power station, building construction work, boiler rooms etc. Looking forward I have a few ideas for some new projects that I’m working on but again they’re all very different environments and difficult to categorize as one particular setting.

Femmecult:

How do you perform your music live? Please tell us about your setup.

Shelley Parker:

My current live set up is a MPC2500, small Yamaha mixing desk and sometimes the Korg Monotron. Towards the end of 2013 all of the sounds I programmed in to the MPC were unprocessed field recordings including all the drum sounds but this year I’ve recently started to re-introduce a few drum samples.

Femmecult:

What devices do you use to compose and record your music?

Shelley Parker:

I’ve recorded sounds using various devices: tapes, DAT, mini disc, portable digital recorders, line recordings into a laptop. I work in Logic and then for live sets transfer that audio to the MPC.

Femmecult:

Do you rely on traditional forms of musical theory to guide your composition? Or, have you done so in the past?

Shelley Parker:

I don’t consciously utilize any traditional forms of music theory. I’m continually exploring new ways of forming compositions and experimenting with different processes. Instinctively, after DJing for many years I understand structurally how to compose a kind of dance track if you like, but my compositional strategies change all the time. It’s quite difficult for me to be objective about what my live sets actually sound like in terms of an existing traditional genre. People say different things from minimal techno to gothic to industrial but similarly from when I was DJing, I’m not concerned with trying to fit in to any one genre. I’m definitely not a purist in that sense!

Femmecult:

As a DJ, what styles do you like to play out in clubs and why? What are some things that inform your track selection?

Shelley Parker:

When I first started out DJing at a night called Nerd back in 2001, I was mainly playing bits of old acid house, electro bass (Andrea Parker/Scape One/Two Lone Swordsmen) and some of the more straight ahead electro that was coming out at the time like Dopplereffekt/Drexciya and trying to fuse all those elements together. Later on in around 2006 when I was playing more regularly at bigger clubs like Fabric/The End, I played a lot of European “minimal” techno mixed with Detroit techno, early dubstep and a lot of electronic bass music eg; Keith Tenniswood, Warlock, Cursor Miner etc. I think I tended to just play music that generally has a kind of “old school” feel to it as that’s what inspired me when I first started going out to clubs in around ’89. I’d really like to DJ more again actually as after playing live sets it would just be so much fun to turn up with a stack of vinyl and not have to worry about the sound so much! I think one of the main tracks last year that really inspired me to DJ again was the JK Flesh remix of CX310 for Violet Poison and also artists like Ontal, Manni Dee, Ancient Methods just consistently I think produce brilliant dance floor tracks which I’d love to play out on a massive system!

Femmecult:

Tell us about your photography and video work. What makes a good subject for you, and are there certain themes you find yourself drawn to over and over?

Shelley Parker:

Most of my photographic work (1995 – 2003) were photojournalistic portraits and in a similar way to my sound installations, the exhibitions were site specific photo installations documenting a particular environment. For example, in 1998 I spent 6 months in Browns Focus (a high end fashion boutique in London) documenting the day to day running of the shop, and then exhibited an edit of these photographs inside the shop itself. In the late nineties, I spent a lot of time photographing night life, club culture if you like, and then moved briefly in to fashion photography working on commissions for i-D magazine, Katharine Hamnett etc. I haven’t really taken any photos since I completed my Masters in November 2003. Pretty much within a week I was taken on by the Haywire DJ agency with Andrew Weatherall and Keith Tenniswood and shifted my focus on to DJing and music rather than photography.

Femmecult:

What are some artists, movements, or philosophies that influence your own work?

Shelley Parker:

I’m still massively inspired by photographers such as Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillmans, but I don’t think there is one single movement or philosophy that would underpin the influences in my work. I guess old school hardcore really – is that a movement?!

Femmecult:

How have your methods of production (audio and visual) evolved since you began?

Shelley Parker:

I think working on the MPC rather than the laptop changed things for me in terms of live sets. I love the inherent sound of the MPC and that I can EQ sounds coming in and out on the mixer in the same way as I would do for a DJ set. Most of my sounds now are from field recordings – I think I used 808 drum samples to death and went as far as I could go with that. I’ve not really worked visually recently a part from the video Spectral I produced in 2012 for Supernormal Festival although I’m working towards planning some kind of AV set. Having worked as a photographer I’m extremely critical of visuals, projections etc so it’s taken me a while to think about what would constitute a relevant visual element to my sonic work.

Femmecult:

Where do you see your methods of creative expression going in the future? What are you focusing on for your career these days?

Shelley Parker:

I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about what I do in terms of a career (!). I just kind of get on with stuff that interests me at the time. I’ve always been quite lucky, as I’ve regularly been asked to contribute to projects that really interest me, so I work in a very organic way rather than focusing on a trajectory as such. I’m working this year on several music production projects and also my debut album Spurn Point is due to be released on my own imprint Structure in Summer 2014. The album is 8 tracks of edits and re-interpretations of performances and installations that I produced from 2011 – 2013. I like to work on projects which have quite tight conceptual and sonic parameters otherwise I get a bit lost (!). I get bored really easily if I have to just sit and bang out a tune. I guess it’s that really that makes me more of an artist than a musician.  

Connect with Shelley Parker Online

http://www.shelleyparker.co.uk/

https://soundcloud.com/shelleyparker