Found sounds boost the utopian-minded Books
If there's one thing that's been underscored these past few weeks by the nonstop media circus surrounding both Don Imus's attack of foot-in-mouth disease and Anna Nicole's babydaddy, it's that, just as the industrial revolution ran on a stream of belching smokestacks, the information age is driven by a constant spew of sound bites. Indeed, this generation is inarguably the most media-saturated ever—a fact that has driven many a pop-culture junkie to unplug completely from movies, music, and news in despair.
Consequently, a duo mixing seemingly improvised folksongs with archival sound bites and workplace recordings might seem like the last thing you'd want to hear. But somehow the Books, comprised of New Yorker Nick Zammuto and transplanted Dutchman Paul de Jong, are growing more popular than ever among old-school audiophiles and postmodernists alike. Reached in his new home in Vermont, cellist and sound librarian de Jong seems nonplussed by the idea of sonic overload.
“[Vermont] is quite the opposite from New York City,” he says, speaking of his former residence. “I'm living with my wife in a barn”¦.You would think [that there would be less sound], but I'm still constantly immersed in it. Even when there is silence, there is constantly sound. Besides, nowadays, it's just a matter of turning on the computer and getting on the Internet and you're in the middle of the city again.”
De Jong notes that the noise of New York does have its downside.
“New York is very noisy, and that's not good for recording. We still like to record with the window open, and I like the sounds of a real room. I don't like to be cooped up in a bathroom or an isolated cell. Recording is a lot simpler than it used to be. All you need is a microphone and a soundcard and a computer. It's a lot simpler. The computer has become the new folk instrument in a way, because anyone can make music on it.”
It may be this utopian-minded use of gadgetry that has earned the pair a place in the hearts of those who normally abstain from sample-driven music. Their 2005 album, Lost and Safe, as well as the 2006 EP Music for a French Elevator (which was commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture) relied on an entirely unconventional use of samples. Whether it be the disembodied sound of laughter, an old film, or the sounds of the ocean, the group embraces the sonic minutiae that few of us stop to hear. When coupled with acoustic instrumentation (particularly de Jong's mournful cello), the resulting music is less of a pastiche than anyone would expect. In fact, the Books, with their French commissions, invitations to play at the Whitney Museum, and growing fan base, find themselves now in the position of having to get proprietary about their found sounds.
“We feel the need to dispel any notions that we are financially sitting pretty because of the acclaim our music has enjoyed,” the band's Web site says. “It's true, we've released a couple of records and we're grateful to all of the writers who have taken the time to write about them, but unfortunately our record sales do not reflect this. Our work, although deeply satisfying to us, has left us both on the brink of financial collapse since we began, so we are asking you: Please, do not steal our music thinking that we can afford it.”
“The kind of music we make, you can't make it without pretty much dedicating your whole life to it,” says de Jong, by way of defending this advisory. “It's not a hobby. It just takes too much time, the creating of libraries, creating the tools; the time that goes into it is enormous. We're not looking into becoming filthy rich or anything. We just want to make more music and collect more sounds.”
The Books play Richard's on Richards on Wednesday (April 25).