Lockdown sounds and skronks with Rick Jensen

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When I sat down and started to write this word thing about Rick Jensen I didn’t really need to ponder long about how to start with the introduction as I’d already had a brilliant idea about how to do it and he’d already supplied me with the answer anyway. So it was him who was the catalyst of my brilliant idea because when I’d contacted him and said words like do you want to meet up for an article talk and he’d said yes and we’d arranged a time and then in the meantime between then and the meeting happening, a clarinet had come into my life but I didn’t know how to work it and I’d informed all and sundry about it on the social medias. From this information he’d suggested I bring it along to our meeting so he could see if it worked properly. I thought it probably was although when I blew it, it sounded in pain. Which perhaps is an accurate sonic representation of my anguish and turmoil.  I took it along for checking and when he blew it, it sounded like a real instrument and he knew what he was doing and I was impressed. I was so impressed that when he told me where to put my fingers over the holes to make it work properly, I forgot straightaway so I wrote myself a reminder to look it up again later.

Once we’d satisfied the clarinet curiosities and were content that I hadn’t just bought a cheap wooden tube, I put it back into its little satchel and started talking about other stuff loosely based around what‘s been going on in Rick’s life recently during this weird plague time. We addressed the lockdown issue of companionship with non-human species that we had in common. Although with different creatures, our lockdown times have been shared in the company of small animal companions with considerably different temperaments. I live with a deaf cat and he has been living with a wounded pigeon that he’s helped nurse back to health. My pigeon knowledge was lacking but after talking to Rick it is now improved. I think a lot of people in London hate pigeons but I personally like them and it was interesting to discuss avian feline behavioural contrasts in the context of human cohabitation. Pigeons apparently don’t like change or new stuff and if anything new occurs in their vicinity they need to investigate it whereas cats ignore it and go back to sleep. Sometimes you don’t really need humans for companionship as animals can provide enough, unless it’s a chat you want in which case they tend to be one sided. But lockdown does do interesting things to your imagination. I’m fairly sure animals don’t talk but sometimes I think they can but just prefer to communicate by gently smashing your house up.

So the pigeon investigations occurred heavily when Rick amassed a collection of lockdown procured objects to commence work on new sound pieces for his solo Oneirologist project. Of Unknown Purpose then became a partial pigeon collaborative work, featuring bird generated noises. Inquisitive claw gestures over effect pedal boards and pigeon chest puff sounds seated amongst harsh abrasive shorter tracks and some longer more calm and tranquil pieces for the album’s second half. I kept thinking while hearing it that yeah the sounds I can hear here are great in their variety but I also like hearing this as a whole because I can recognise some sounds for what they are but also I can hear other sounds have been further manipulated. It then makes me think of the thinking in Rick that makes him make the decisions he made while creating the sounds and putting them into order and how he made thoughts about which sounds sound nice paired with each other and which sound good in their own right and how they progress through the album’s course and all contribute to keeping my attention and it doesn’t make me want to turn it off. One piece in particular with its gentle looped electronic whirring made me think of the glitch electronica piece of genius from the 1990’s that is Oval. It reminded me and I like that because I like that Oval album a lot but what I heard with Rick’s piece was more like a minimal reduced take on it which stood up nice with my hearing in its own right. While we talked I mentioned my Oval thought comparisons and Rick confirmed the resemblance and said that he had that album in mind too. I like it a lot when sound thought comparisons work out like that and you’ve been thinking in the same way as another person, even though you’re in different places and everything. This also served to make me further roused when he then told me he’d recorded the album in just one day and I felt myself fall a bit sideways with surprise as I hadn’t considered this possibility. I know that time has gone all weird and stretchy during the lockdown infringements but even acknowledging that time warped oddness further makes this album a skilful whole. One day to make it is more than impressive by my thinking. It don’t sound rushed either.

Rick’s commitment to live performance and organising live shows with his Apocalypse Jazz Unit and Skronk events for the experimental community is known and praiseworthy. It’s ok for me to rehearse my bits at home and turn up and play occasionally at a periodic Skronk event but that’s just me organising myself. To have to run the whole thing and play a set too sends me off into places of panic and bewilderment that I’ve often spent money on careful talking therapy trying to stay away from. Or at least confront and deal with. Rick kind of thrives on it and enjoys the stimulation of it I guess. Well, it’s not a guess actually as he told me that. 

One of the first live performance events since corona arrived that featured real people in real life and not in a livestream replacement was the Skronkout multi player event in Hornsey which I dragged my relatively housebound form to and sat around listening to improvisations and reminded myself of the pleasantness of sitting about in reasonable proximity to other people. He’s doing another event at that place called New River Studios on 14th October if the corona says ok. I have intentions to go as I know some of the performers and I’ve realised I like the social aspect as it’s social. People that I know and like will be playing there and I want to hear and see them.

We kind of rounded off the talk by discussing writing and our experiences of it. I have been able to write words since school but only put my words into the public sphere with these articles since this lockdown thing has provided me an outlet. Rick has been doing the public sphere writing for considerably longer and on real subjects. His thoughts currently veer towards developing a children’s fiction book centred around a clarinet playing bear and is inspired by his employment involving working with people with disabilities. He has a tattoo of the bear and clarinet in question as well and so it’s a thought process that is gently taking its time to come to fruition in literature form.   I was personally pleased that the clarinet subject had arisen again to remind me that it had done back at the article beginning. I had brought a clarinet, felt engaged and enlivened by the subjects covered and then left with further clarinet thoughts in new contexts. I met Rick, and through the talking process, I felt grateful towards him afterwards for increasing the amount of good information in my head.



Andy Rowe is a sound artist who lives and works in London. He has worked with sound in a professional and creative context since 1996 and gained a degree in Sonic Art from Middlesex University in 2009. He has displayed work in Coventry's Herbert gallery, London's Hundred Years, Raven Row, Chalton, Art and Escape, Horse Hospital, ToandFor, and Doomed galleries. His sound, music and performance project is known as the Slate Pipe Banjo Draggers. He has performed live at festivals and events in England, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and Italy both alone and collaboratively

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