Leslie Flanigan Artist Lecture Review – Jordan Dawson

Hybridization in art has always seemed very dirty to me. I often resist the combination of artistic mediums, even though I’d consider myself to be a reasonably open-minded individual. The breeding of visual art and music was no different, until I met Leslie Flanigan. For me, she changed what it means to be a musician. I approach my music like a total stranger now. Everything is new. The music I make now is completely different from the kind that I made before I met Leslie. Sure, it’s easy to claim that you’ve come back from a lecture a totally changed man. I know. That suddenly you’ve been blessed with all of these completely new ideals. It gives you something to talk about when you don’t really have anything to say. But she has given me more to do than to say. I cannot stress that enough.

Her message is simple: amplifiers themselves can be used as acoustic instruments. If you aren’t a musician who typically uses electronic instruments, then this probably doesn’t seem like the remarkably progressive idea it truly is. In fact, it doesn’t make any sense. At least when taken literally. Electronic and acoustic sounds have opposite definitions conceptually, so how could that mean anything at all? Well, what Leslie means is to play the electronic instrument as if it actually were an acoustic instrument. The means of making music is completely independent from its results. Electronic music is often considered digital and artificial when in reality it is extraordinarily physical. Amplifiers are visceral, interactive, perceptible and very real. You are manipulating the very core of each sound with your own hands.

Many of Leslie’s experiments incorporate visual elements into the music. Whether that be a projection of Leslie’s voice onto a screen from a laptop controlled by another artist (“Bioluminescence” w/ R. Luke DuBois and “Round Sound”), or the instruments themselves as sculpture (“Speaker Electronics” and “Plink Jet”). Although I usually object to such a sinful mixture, these sculptures felt less like an abomination and more like a natural step forward for art in general. It is gorgeously minimal, making these simple amplifiers and typewriter music machines and labeling them as sculpture. It is not their physical appearance that is important, but rather what they represent. They are machines and machines only, yet they can create such beautiful art on their own! The “Plink Jet” automatically creates its own signature style of industrial jazz. It is jarring and dissonant, but it is clearly organizable sound. It’s robot jazz. And it’s so awesome. The creativity Flanigan displays is easily enough to save today’s stale music industry.

Leslie also consistently organizes group activities wherein she coaches and records young singers within her studio. She uses raggedy speakers and recording equipment because it’s what she’s got. Not because its hipster, not because its cool right now, but because she develops a real bond with her amplifiers. I can attest to the profound bond that a musician can develop with their first instrument. Leslie’s just happens to be an amplifier. If everything grows old and nothing is perfect, then why would we ever dispose of our instruments, our greatest friends? Our children don’t dispose of us when we grow old, and ancient stars still burn on, undisturbed for billions of years.

These amplifiers are integral to her live performances, which she prefers over studio recordings. It is difficult for her to perform outside, because the sound is lost into space. Playing within small spaces is ideal for her though, because the reverb stacks upon itself into a wall of sound. Flanigan believes that in music, transparency is most important. Thus, all of her sound occurs on an acoustic level, except with amplifiers. There are no pre-recordings. In her “Amplifications” performance, Leslie utilizes a couple of overhead microphones that directly pick up the amplifiers feedback, and one overhead microphone for her own voice, which goes straight into a Rolan Loop Reverb Pedal and into the PA system. Improvisation is important to her so she often performs live. However, she does acknowledge the intimacy of recording in your own studio.

I can see so many new ways to create music now. Thanks to Leslie, I’ve been experimenting with amplifiers as well, without a guitar, and my music has become so much richer. I truly do believe that Leslie Flanigan’s immense creativity has changed my life forever.

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