The second winner we wish to profile is Ken Ficara, a USA native living and working in New York. Doing web content management by day, he complements his purely technical skills with creative ones and applies technology to the creation of music in his studio. Listen to his entry.
Clio: What was your creative impetus behind the drone piece you created for us?
Ken: I begin most of my abstract/ambient pieces with as blank a slate as possible, and let the piece develop itself. But in this case there was a first principle: using several of the drones from the WhatIf collection. So I listened to all of them several times. I liked them all, but the bells and the crickets spoke to me the most, both because they were organic and felt “airy” (like the harmonica) rather than “watery” (like the bubble speech drones) or metallic like some of the synth pieces. My impetus was to build on that organic/spatial feeling.
How does this piece fit into your usual creative process?
My process happens in real time and does not involve computers. In this case it took nearly three days. I started with the wind bells, and began slowing them down. I wanted to hear the space between the bells, and the tonalities of the bells themselves, in more detail. I did this in real time, by bouncing back and forth between different loopers, with one running at half speed, several times, until the sample was eighteen minutes long, with many layers at different speeds, some reversed.
By the time I was down to 1/4 or 1/8 speed the tones themselves started to decompose, much in the way that the image in a photo is lost as you keep magnifying it, until all you see is the play of light in the small details. And having sat there and listened the loops play back over and over, and the layers built up, I became completely surrounded in and engrossed by the bells.
The other sample I used was the crickets. I used a cycling resonant filter to turn the rise and fall of the insect chorus into smaller pieces, more like individual insects, again working in real time. I “played” the filters as the cricket loop repeated itself. I listened to the bells, and responded with the crickets – sometimes they flit about quickly and lightly, other times they drone, or approach and fly away.
I lived with that landscape for a day or so, and then added the harmonica. Basically I just played F – the root tone of the bells – on many different harmonicas, in many different intonations, making the most of the harmonica’s vocality, and “staring” at this one pitch until it began to fragment. There are some other notes, especially from bending up into the natural F, but for the most part, it’s one note, on many harmonicas, treated in various ways, and layered.
By the end, it felt like I’d spent an entire weekend living within this sonic landscape.
We met during February Album Writing Month (FAWM) 2015. Did you approach our challenge in a way that was similar to your approach to FAWM? How do challenges like that fit into your creative process?
This was nothing like FAWM. This was not about writing, but about letting things happen, even if they took a while. There was no opportunity to move quickly with this piece. Sometimes it takes more time to make space; the immediate temptation is to add things, find the structure, get some scaffolding together. Instead, I added things very slowly and discarded hours of work when it felt too constricting or structured. I never throw anything away during FAWM.
On the other hand, the value of this challenge was much like the FAWM challenges: it gave me a given., so to speak. In other words, here is something you must take for granted; here is the rock in your garden that is too big to move or dig up. The ground rules became a point of leverage – my “way in.”
Finally, rather than an album of loosely-related (if at all) songs, the end result of this project was more than an hour’s worth of approaches, explorations and constructions in this landscape, a place I’m sure I’ll visit again.
What’s behind the title of your piece?
The entire project was called “What If?” so that lent a questioning air to the entire process. The loops themselves defined the landscape. The crickets put me outside, at night. The harmonica, centered around F, straying but never leaving, felt unresolved and questioning.
And as the bells slowed down and started to layer, they placed me by the sea. That in turn made me think of the perilous crossings by the refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. Of the “widow’s walks” on the old captain’s mansions on Staten Island where I grew up. Of watching people leave and not knowing whether they would come back. Of wars started. And as you wait, you wonder will they come back? And maybe you wonder, what if they hadn’t left? What if we hadn’t started the war? What if they could have stayed home?
Featured Image: Harmonica on Moog, courtesy of Ken Ficara.