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“Lee Berwick: Collaboration with Found Sound” by Christopher DeLaurenti

His motto is simple—“Recycling the sounds that surround us”—but requires vigilance. Even on vacation, Lee Berwick keeps his ears open and field recording gear ready.

While most of us snap typical tourist photos of sunsets and buildings, Berwick listens for the unusual. This summer he ventured across Eastern Europe, capturing burbling hot springs in Slovakia and aiming his microphones at exceptionally screechy, almost siren-like subway brakes in Budapest.

After producing reggae and dub recordings in the 1990s, Berwick planted his feet firmly in the world of field recording. His 2001 installation The River Thames commemorates London’s famous river with a deft blend of voices, birds, and water. With the impassioned certainty of an artist who has journeyed far, Berwick affirms, “I work purely with found sound these days.”

This October, Berwick visits Cornish College of the Arts in tandem with SU-EN Butoh’s performance at the Seattle Butoh Festival. For two decades, the London-based sound artist has created sound works for SU-EN, looping and layering the things we hear every day into sonic environments that startle and enchant.

For Berwick, collaboration is crucial. “Some choreographers,” he notes, “have got a fixed idea and want you to write something they already hear in their heads. Good collaboration—real collaboration—begins with a discussion. Ideas should go back and forth.” Berwick believes the resulting performance should embody a seamless relationship between sound and movement, so “the dance evolves with the sound and the sound evolves from the dance.”

To create a piece, Berwick remains ready to take his microphones to unusual places. For SU-EN’s Slice, he visited butcher shops and fish processing factories, recording different kinds of slicing and cutting. Berwick finds a richness in common tasks we take for granted. When was the last time you listened to yourself slice a vegetable? What you hear may surprise you.

Unlike many electronic musicians, Berwick has no interest in using a laptop, declaring “As soon as I look at a computer screen, I’m divorced from the energy happening in the room.” Instead, he tailors the technology to suit his preferred way of performing. After retiring a small fleet of MiniDisc players prized for their ability to loop with less latency than a laptop, Berwick now deploys CD players, a portable sampler, and two Korg KAOSS pads. “I run them in series to play loops as well as for layering and live sampling of what’s happening in the room.”

Berwick steers clear of excessive editing, preferring to let the sounds guide him. “I have done so much slicing it’s unbelievable. My approach in more recent years is to let the sounds invent the rhythm.” He adds, “Ultimately, I try and let the sound lead me to where it wants to go.”

Lee Berwick masterclass
Tuesday, October 16 at 12:30 pm
PONCHO Concert Hall, Kerry Hall, Cornish College of the Arts
Free and open to the public

Christopher DeLaurenti is a sound artist, improvisor, phonographer, and music writer based in Virginia.


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