My name’s Peter Comley, aka Pete, I’m a sound collage artist based in Seattle, Washington, and this is my first humble attempt at a web site so that I may share my sound collage work with others.
What do you mean by “Sound Collage”?
Well, I’m glad you asked... that’s an excellent question. Put simply, I make collages out of sounds in roughly the same way you probably made collages out of magazine clippings in elementary school. I’m not the first person to do this sort of thing with sounds, are there are many essays available on this subject, so I won’t try to reinvent the wheel about the history and theory behind it all. You can Google the term “musique concrete” as a starting point for lots of interesting reading and listening.
How did you start making these sound collages?
Since I was quite young, I have enjoyed collecting sounds, either by recording them in the real world, finding them on abandoned media (such as an LP moldering in an attic), or creating them outright with musical instruments or by electronic means. Later I discovered that I liked to manipulate these prerecorded sounds to varying degrees, with all manner of digital or analog processing. From there, I discovered I liked to combine all these resulting sounds into far more elaborate constructs, which, for lack of a better term I’ve decided to call “sound collages.” (If I think of something snazzier, I’ll let you know, but I think S.C. will do just fine for now).
So, what are your collages like?
Maybe it would be better if you just listen to the examples… I think the collages do a pretty good job of speaking for themselves, at least if you are used to hearing odd things. But if you insist on a few words from me, my tastes in sounds lean toward the hypnotic, the abstract, the eerily beautiful, the mathematical, the surreal, the dreamlike, the noisy, the quiet, and the absurd... with a notable emphases on sounds from the natural world, sounds that blur the acoustic with the electronic, and the (odd) spoken word about various subjects. Lastly, I have a marked fascination with the two-channel stereo format itself… you can’t hear these collages in mono and really “hear” them. They’re all “In Living Stereo,” as it were.
Do you make these “live” or do you do this all in a studio?
There’s a lot of back and forth in that regard, but generally speaking, to make a really great collage, there needs to be a solid compositional or thematic backbone (aka “studio work”), which at the moment of live performance is decorated with “live” sounds that introduce an element of chance and risk. Mixing it up this way tends to give the piece a feeling of freshness and immediacy without it getting too disjointed. Once “in the can,” a good, publically performed collage becomes an object of finished art and I refrain from changing it further, though I do have a venerable pool of raw ingredients that I go back to over and over again as source material.
Do you use sound effects or sample libraries?
There are few rules, but in general I try to avoid the “101 Sound Effects” route. Many of the “sound effects” you hear are real events that I recorded myself.
Do you make a living making these sound collages?
No, I spend my living on them! But if by living you mean satisfaction, then yes, they reward me quite a bit.
What is your day job?
For over ten years I’ve been a professional sound designer (aka a sound effects artist) for the video gaming industry, though I was making “weird music” and sound collages long before I ever did that for a living. The hobby turned into a job, basically. I’m currently freelancing.
I listened to one of your collages while driving, while company was over, or really quietly while cleaning the house with the vacuum (etc) and I couldn’t really get into it. What’s up with that?
Love it or hate it, this stuff can only give you what it has to offer if you’re paying a bit of attention… sorry! I realize this might not work for everybody, but I’m not going for easily consumable popular hit stardom here.
OK, you’ve got my attention… So just how are these collages meant to be heard?
The best way to listen is in a quiet environment like you would want to experience anything else you want to pay a bit of attention to, like a book or a movie. Headphones or a good stereo are a plus (for all you “headphone nuts”… you know who you are… there are many special audio treats awaiting you here… I promise). My preferred medium is late-night non-commercial radio (where I first started experimenting with the collage form years ago on WRUV-FM in Burlington, VT). Radio is still the medium I feel best suits this form, though live performance venues or “jam” situations with other, similarly minded musicians can also be rewarding. A nicely packaged CD release would suit me just fine, but so far there haven’t been any of those.
OK, I’m listening. What’s with all the random human voices? What are they talking about? Is there a narrative to this or what? This makes no sense!
A big element in my work is “found sound” spoken word, but I can’t precisely tell you what makes me want to use one bit of spoken word over another. It’s not just what is being said, but how it is said, and what the voice of the speaker brings to the words. I also enjoy how the meaning of speech can be completely altered by changing the how it’s presented... adding strange new backgrounds, omitting key phrases, processing the voices, playing two unrelated speech items in odd relief to one another… this is something I and others have termed “re-contextualizing” speech. Oh, and just because some bit of speech appeared in my collage doesn’t mean I agree with all of it… maybe I just thought it was weird or interesting enough to include. Some utterances are in languages I don’t understand and I have no idea what they are actually saying, or how that might affect the meaning of the collages to those who can understand those languages!
And lastly, no, there isn’t a narrative in the traditional sense, but you may hear fragmented narratives of sorts, both intended and not. Let your mind go where it will! That’s sort of the point. For me, free association is a very liberating state of mind. There are themes and motifs, for sure… go with it!
Hey, where did you get that sound I just heard? Where did you get that voice sample right there? How did you do part right here? What gear did you use for this part? (etc, etc)
That depends… there are thousands of sound elements in these collages, and many of them have been years in the making (or collecting). Each sound has a different tale behind it. Some tales are great; some are boring, others I can’t remember. You can always ask me though.
Why do you call the site “Endorphin Sound”?
Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. Music and sound can release them in the listener. Sound collages are, for me, a kind of mental vacation, where I can let my tired (and generally very active) mind “let go” and drift in a whole new world of new aural stimuli… an extreme change of aural scenery, as it were. I return refreshed and renewed… and probably full of endorphins! (By contrast, the more music that’s supposed to be relaxing tries to do its thing, particularly new age music, the tenser I get).
Who are your influences?
Does anybody care? Er… well, just in case, here you go. There are too many to list, so I will attempt to summarize. Early on, I was fascinated by use of sound effects in popular music, with Pink Floyd at the forefront. A single listen to “Revolution #9” by the Beatles didn’t go unnoticed. Science fiction and fantasy movies of all kinds left a deep mark on my ears. Back in the 1970s and 80s (when I grew up), PBS and NPR were importing lots of British TV and radio… so I was heavily influenced by the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, but I didn’t know this at the time. In 1980 or so, I saw a documentary on the making of The Empire Strikes Back, and was fascinated to discover how most of those sounds I already loved were created by just one person, Ben Burtt, who seemingly had the greatest job in the universe. When I reached higher education, I discovered avant-garde music of all kinds, and listened to everything under the sun if it sounded unusual (I like to think of this period as “collage college”). I admired musicians that put together a huge range of disparate sound sources, like Laurie Anderson (particularly the album Mr. Heartbreak), Peter Gabriel’s solo work (mostly after he became interested in African music), and electronic and tape music composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Todd Dockstader. I take great interest I collecting strange audio artifacts wherever I find them (particularly used LP stores). Nature recordist Gordon Hempton got me interested in making recordings that are just plain beautiful portraits of the world being itself. Lastly, a big shout-out goes to Anne Labrusciano, a former DJ from Vermont who did the greatest oddball LP mash-up show of all time, “Two Heads are Better than Four Legs,” in the Orwellian year of 1984 or so. I never would have had half of my ideas had my brain not been properly jump-started by her show.
Hey, this collage stuff of yours sounds like it took a lot of time, but it’s sort of weird thing to do, like that guy that collected the world’s biggest ball of string. Why do you bother?
Oh, it’s all in fun really. I like the trial-and-error nature of the work, finding “happy accidents” as I go (some compelling, some ludicrous). The brain’s job is to make sense out of raw stimuli, yet the “sense” it tries to make out of some of these inkblot mash-ups can be truly surprising and delightful (at least for my brain this is true… your mileage may vary).
I invite you to think of these collages as playful exercises in sonic juxtaposition in which you can participate as active listeners. This page contains examples of some of the better stuff I’ve created over the years, and I intend to expand upon it as the years ripen… more to follow.
Listen and enjoy!
PS – All Rights Reserved. You may download these collages for personal enjoyment only. If you enjoy them or have comments please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.