Monday, January 29, 2007

Janek Schaefer

Janek Schaefer

Janek Schaefer is a sound artist and turntablist from London, England. His first album was a wonderfully conceptual record featuring audio recorded by a dictaphone wrapped in a box and then sent through the mail (Recorded Delivery, 1995). I forget the details of how it worked exactly, but it was basically set to record using some kind of a guage to tell when there actually WAS anything to record (so that it wouldn't run out of room by recording the long periods of time where there was no noise being made at all). What's audible is everything you might hear if you were to somehow be a "fly on the wall" of the inside of a package being sent through the mail. Listening to that composition, one hears everything from the staff at the counter, to the various machines, trucks and people who handle the mail as it's delivered from sender to receiver.

Jump forward to 2002, when I met Janek Schaefer here in Minneapolis. He was in town as a McKnight Composer in Residence on behalf of the American Composers Forum, working on the project he'd proposed, intending to somehow do something with Minnesota weather as inspiration. The conceptual framework upon which he ultimately hung his composition (Weather Report, 2003) was reminiscent of that postal piece he'd done eight years earlier. Getting hold of a giant weather balloon, he tied one of his cellular phones to it and then just let it go. He'd dialed his own voice mail box before sending the phone towards heaven, and using the resulting voicemail recording as the intro, produced a spectacularly evolving piece about the weather, using sounds (recorded in Minnesota) of everything from actual weather conditions to local radio djs and meterologists giving their daily forecasts.

I've had a chance to witness the creation of a small handful of the many sound collages which have aired here on the show, but I think the most personal experience, to date, was listening to an early version of Weather Report on Janek's laptop, one evening at the house where he was staying here in Minneapolis, before doing an interview for the show. There was a little party the following summer, so that first meeting must have been in the middle of a Minnesota winter - a particularly mild one, if memory serves. I remember it threatened to be an issue, as the piece was supposed to be, at least in part, about a traditional Minnesota winter!

Of course, along the way he's done a lot more than just those two albums. He's collaborated with other artists (including Philip Jeck, another notable turntablist) and released multiple albums of sound art. He's created site-specific sound installations and soundtracks for exhibitions, and has performed around the world. In concert, he's known for working almost exclusively with vinyl recordings and is perhaps best known for the three-armed turntable he designed and built himself...

1. 'Nipper' the His Master's Voice['s] dog [optional of course]
2. Tone-arm 1
3. Forward and Reverse play platter

4. Raised Tone-arm 3
5. On/Off switch
6. Forward/Reverse toggle switch
7. Ultra micro/vari-speed dial

8. Master fader knobs

9. On board mixer for each tone-arm volume output.

10. Tone-arm 2

(Self contained flight case)

The Tri-phonic Turntable can play three records at once, at any speed, and won Schaefer an official Guinness World Record for "Most Versatile Record Player." In 2004, he won another Guinness World Record for breaking the most number of vinyl records, on his 33 and 1/3rd birthday! To further accentuate the point, the records were all of World Music, and apparently he only had to break 17 of them in 30 seconds to achieve the title. Afterwards, he collected the broken shards, with the intention of melting them down to be reused for a very limited edition pressing of a recording made of the sound of the original records being smashed. Yet another wonderfully conceptual sound art record from Janek Schaefer.

Without further ado, here's the SAR Q&A with Janek Schaefer...

*Name: Janek Schaefer

*Another genre descriptor: Architect of foundsoundscapes

*Why you use this descriptor: I studied architecture, and I like to use and manipulate found sounds. I often make soundscape type constructions from the results... The name was given to me by a guy in Newcastle, England.

*Location: England

*Original Location: My blood comes from Poland and Canada

*What is your creative/artistic background: Architect, photographer, graphic designer turned sound artist and musician/composer.

*History: 10 years (1995)

*Born: 1970, middle England

*Philosophy: Entertain the brain and the heart

*How would you like to be remembered: Happy

*Web address: