No Age’s Randy Randall on His Debut Ambient Album “Sound Field Volume One”

Apr 03, 2019 Web Exclusive
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Ambient music is inherently environmental. Boundless in design, its waves of sound converse with our surroundings, engaging in secret dialogue with atmosphere that one can listen in on. It can reflect the physics of an environment or perceptibly alter them, revealing a spectrum that might otherwise be obscured by survival instincts that narrow our focus down to the immediate. At their most effective, ambient forms of sound design harmonize our own headspace with the spaces we pass through, heightening our sense of connection to them.

For those able to tap into ambient frequencies, the stimulation can be profound. You might liken it to the spreading wash from a bucket of warm water, clearing a lane of admittance. As a willing listener, I’ve always regarded ambient production as an agent for the senses, naturally prompting perceptivity and fomenting observation. Much in the way a film score leads you through a visual storyline, ambient music can be the soundtrack to personal, real-world exploration.

This is a view held by experimental musician Randy Randall, reflected in a new album of ambient works titled Sound Field Volume One. With his debut solo recording, the guitarist, and co-founder of the experimental punk duo No Age has shaped the musical companion piece to a film installation currently on display at 1700 Naud Gallery in Los Angeles. Together with visual artist and longtime collaborator Aaron Farley, Randall has aimed to convey the depth of a relationship with a familiar landscape, shaped by numerous commutes through it. As a native of Southern California where he still resides, Randall has spent much of his life driving The route of the I-10 Freeway that intersects Southern California from the desert to the coast. The cultural variation mirrors that of the landscape along the way and has inspired his sonic impressions to Farley’s visual captures of the transformation. Displayed across five gallery screens, Farley’s footage combines the optics of changing habitats with Randall’s vibration channeling compositions.

“I was born and raised in Southern California and every day I would travel the route of the film, from the desert to the suburbs, through the city, and to the beach.” Recalls Randall, incidentally talking to me from his car. “Traveling was always close to my life and I thought about what that means to me as a person and as an artist. It kind of came down to the daydreaming that you do when you’re going from one place to another. You can look at someone in another car and wonder what’s going on in a life five feet away that you’re never going to [encounter] again.”

Right after No Age released its last record, 2018’s Snares Like a Haircut, Randall was alternating two-week tours with bandmate Dean Spunt, with two weeks spent back home. During that time he would meet up with Farley on early mornings and head out on the 10 toward the desert to make it in time for sunrise.

“The 10 runs East-West. We said let’s start at sunrise and wind up at sunset, so there’s the feeling of waking up in the desert informing what the sounds are..Then you hit downtown LA and juxtapose the chaos [there] with the stillness of seeing the LA river cut through... All the [scenes] I know from growing up here and also being skateboarder...From downtown, we’d head to Santa Monica beach [to catch] sunset on the pier.” 

Randall has always been interested in the agency and potential of ambient music. On No Age’s 2007 debut album Weirdo Rippers, bursts of sand gravel punk were complemented by sections of static guitar drone that suggested the swirling elements of earth. Each No Age record that followed has featured ambient interludes but Randall hadn’t considered putting out a whole ambient album until recently when he connected with the LA art collective Arthur King on its ongoing album release series.

“The fun was in the making and I would listen back and say, ‘This sounds beautiful’ but I didn’t have the confidence to think about it in the way of putting it out for other people...It’s like here’s this note that’s oscillating and modulating and ping-ponging left to right for eight minutes, but is basically just one note. It felt a little too indulgent. I think that’s beautiful but I couldn’t help having that feeling of ‘I’m not going to make anybody listen to this’. But talking with Arthur King and those guys, they were like, ‘No, this is exactly what we want to put out.’”

The Arthur King collective invites artists from the experimental music and visual arts communities around LA to collaborate on projects like the Sound Field installation. In a parallel series curated by Arthur King called Changing Landscapes, artists gather at a specific environment of interest and make field recordings that are then incorporated into live improvised performances on site. The original concept of Sound Field was to follow that same organic sound collection process but in listening back to his initial recordings, Randall began to realize the limitations of doing this alongside a ceaseless thoroughfare.

“I bought a boom mic and had the headphones and I was collecting sounds from these different environments [by the 10]. What I very quickly found out was that anywhere within twenty feet of a freeway all sounds the same [laughter]. It’s just white noise. So I went back to the drawing board and to abstract guitar expressions of what it might feel like [in each place]. Then me and Aaron would go back and forth with a visual-auditory dialogue [of each other's edits]”

Over eight pieces that span the commute from the desert to the suburbs to the city and then the shore, Randall’s compositional drift of unbroken guitar layers mingling with quiet synth accents symbolizes his emotive and historical connection to that distance. In one example “City Noon, Pt. 2” has the feel of building congestion upon entering downtown, with reversed notes that intimate car horns. The effect is reminiscent of parts of Jon Brion’s score to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

In some mysterious ways, ambient music is a practice of ceding control to the sounds of its origins. It may be the closest thing to letting go in sound design, a giving over of sonic energies  to the spaces they fill as a way to observe their behavior. As Randall put’s it, “Let the [place] inform what the music will be.” With Sound Field Volume One, Randy Randall has fashioned an impressionistic ode to a personal journey, informed by intimate knowledge but made with pure instinct.

“I think as with most people in alternative pop culture, my introduction to ambient music was through Brian Eno...Once I heard those Eno ambient albums and married those with my impressions on Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine and the shoegaze genre, I was like ‘Ok I got it, I can take this from here’...It’s kind of my personal essay...In a way, it comes from the punk ethos. Like, ‘I don’t know anything about Chuck Berry or rock n’ roll but I know these two chords and two notes, so let’s start a band.’ If anything, this is a punk ambient record in that regard.’”



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Chelsey Bobby
April 26th 2019
8:56am

Interesting post. I hope Randy’s debut album will create a new appeal to the music lovers. Randy has overall a good fan base. The unique design of his new album will extend his popularity in the music arena. I am a freelance journalist as well as a content writer. And my area of writing is the entertainment world. You can find me on https://researchpapers.io/. By the way, from my experience, I can say, Randy will rock with ambient.