029 Phonaut

“Play twice before listening,” is the disclaimer that comes along with the 2 hour long excavation of deep ambient sounds carefully selected by Phonaut. The American with a track record that spans two decades is known for his narrative sets: “I try to design mixes for multiple listens, like soundtracks or to tell a story. Something to sink into.” The latter is a fitting categorisation of the visceral, almost material, effects that the listener experiences while listening to the otherworldly sounds and atmospheres that make up the 29th FIBER Podcast.

With a background in sound design and research into psychoacoustics it’s not a surprise that Noah Phonaut’s mixes tap deeply into the experiential levels of sound. The Chicago-based producer, sound designer and radio show host takes his time when building his sonic narratives. “I spend time listening (‘know your records’) then choose the best bits and consider how the parts work together. I usually prefer to let the tracks dictate where the mix will go rather than settling on a precise theme beforehand or forcing it too much a certain way. This gives a good flow but also can be surprising or disruptive at moments, often pleasantly so”.

The appreciation for eclectic surprises also comes from growing up during the 80s in the Midwest near Detroit. “I lived, close enough where I, while sweeping across Detroit’s FM radio waves late at night, could tune into radio shows and tape them. I’ve still got a couple of Electrifyin’ Mojo’s radio shows on tape, which were like sonic time capsules, the sound of the city. He’d play anything from Kraftwerk and Prince to Captain Rock, old or new, I liked that eclecticism. I moved to Chicago in the early 1990s, so I saw the tail end of the house and techno warehouse event boom here. I hosted radio shows for many years and one station had a massive collection so I was exposed to many types of music I perhaps wouldn’t have discovered on my own. Through that access I discovered things like Vietnamese folk music, for instance, which is amazing.”

It’s good to realize that radio and its idiosyncratic hosts had such an important influence on the distribution of music and the development of tastes.  The importance of the curator/gatekeeper is growing, in today’s overflow of net-labels and algorithmically curated radio/streaming services. “The sort of lineage of music history now with electronic music these days is staggering to consider. The intersections, influences, or sound-ancestry along with the rate of music being released today… it’s important to prioritize where to spend one’s listening time, and to continue to check out new sounds without forgetting and appreciating what came before.”

Luckily people like Noah open up old and new territories to discover. Apart from a catalogue of great mixes, such as Sleep2Dream published in the summer of 2014, a look at his website gives a great insight into his musical wanderings, passions, and additions to his collection. Asking about his past and present influences delivers an overflow of labels and artists that are featured in his mixes or “occupy considerable space on my music shelves”. From labels such as Nonplace, Eskaton/Threshold House, Echospace, Skam, Dakini, 12k, Mille Plateaux, to artists such as Tetsu Inoue, Rapoon, The Orb, Zoviet France, the KLF, Lustmord,  Bauhaus and Bill Laswell. He continues with a list of newer generation artists such as: Fatih Tuter, Sorrow, Vince Watson, Brock Van Wey, Mark Fell, Fluxion, but this only make things worse, as its impossible to be complete. “I’m leaving out legions of past and present ambient house and techno records, one-offs and one-hit-wonders, and the occasional classical, experimental, jazz, rock, pop, etc. music which are all part of a steady listening diet”.

Listening to his sets can truly pull the listener into an other-world territory. This is also what he finds fascinating when looking at visual sources of inspiration: “I have a book called The Self Made Tapestry. In it the author identifies patterns that occur in nature, and then explores why they occur in often startlingly different contexts, different scales, and different materials. It’s interesting to think of these in relation to sound. I also like sci-fi/fantasy, darkly numinous things, anything that makes you question your place in the universe or wonder at how much we still don’t know”.

Taking into account the accompanying artwork of this podcast, The Astronomer (1668) by Johannes Vermeer, is suitable as it symbolically represents the same qualities just described. The image represents a scientist at work, it has been said that the depicted man is Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, a contemporary of Vermeer and a pioneer of cell- and microbiology who developed his own microscope. On the level of the medium of painting, Vermeer himself was a wizard, who stunned people with the way he realistically rendered light in his paintings. The documentary Tim’s Vermeer (2013) mentioned by Noah, dives deep into this matter and follows the research of a Texan who reinvents a tool to paint a Vermeer. It shows how close reading and focused attention on something that you love are the fundamental ingredients to develop profound and engaging things. So just like looking at a Vermeer, the disclaimer for this podcast that calls for close listening and attention, are qualities with which to explore the sonic world in all its depths, and recognize the craftsmanship and embedded knowledge that Phonaut invested in this Sleep2Dream2 mix.