The Gulch

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The Gulch

Joel Schenk

“Animals of different sizes tend to have naturally different life spans and presumably different time perspective.”

Interview by L. Valena


Can you describe what you responded to?

It was a photograph of a kind of a forested landscape. It had different zoom levels- there's a little box in the corner that had kind of a close up of what appeared to be part of a tree from elsewhere in the photograph. Everything was very much color-altered. These kind of garish reds and blues, unreal sorts of color.

What was your first reaction to the work?

It made me think of experiencing or beholding a wild landscape with primitive eyes- either on an alien planet, or somewhere on earth where you feel like you really don't know what you're looking at.

And how did you go about translating that into music?

Well, first of all, I don't know that I did. I suppose that some of the things that I felt I was able to actually focus on in the music were that segmentation where you have different aspects of the same thing- that box with the new zoom-in level. And also the color alteration, it looked like it was really just a photograph of an actual place, but all the colors had been really altered. That's what gave me the idea of doing an electronic arrangement.

I had recently been listening to some old tapes that I made a long time ago on an analogue four-track. I played the tapes at full speed, but then I was playing them on a regular tape deck and listening to them at half speed, and liking some of the sounds. So I thought I would go for that deliberately. My plan was- I had this midi rendition that wasn't at quite the speed I really wanted it to be at, then I found out that my old four-track, when I pulled it out of my closet, no longer worked.

Oh no!

So I ended up just using the pitch control knob on the tape deck which goes maybe a full step, and just ping-ponging with that. Recording it back and forth, at different speeds, I did that like seven times to get it slow enough, and it ended up getting really distorted. So distorted that parts of it you can't even really tell what's going on, but I thought that was fitting.

So that's cool- you're relating the speed of the music to the framing of this picture and the zoom levels?


I've never thought about that in that way before! Is that something you've previously thought about?

Kind of. I don't know about specifically thinking about speed of music to size of something, but in the photograph I wasn't really thinking about size so much as perspective. If you were a larger creature, you would be easily taking in that whole landscape, but if you were an insect sitting on that tree, you'd only be seeing that one close-up portion of it. Animals of different sizes tend to have naturally different life spans and presumably different time perspective.

Did you use all analogue equipment to make this piece?

No- all the synthesizers were digital, but the actual recording set-up was completely analogue.

How was this process for you? Did you enjoy this? Was it challenging? Was it fun?

Yeah, it was fun!

How does this relate to the rest of your work?

I've been tinkering around with a lot of electronic stuff lately, but not really finalizing or recording anything. So if anything I'd say I'm curious to see how it will relate to any projects I manage to complete in that arena.

Remind me what instrument you play otherwise?

I play piano.

Do you have any advice for someone else doing this project?


Is there anything I didn't ask you about that you want to talk about?


Do you have anything else to say?

I think you can guess the answer there. No.

Call Number: M8VA | M11MU.scGu

Joel Schenk relocated from Detroit to Cambridge in 2005 and, disregarding a transient year on the beaches of Southern California, has been at home around Boston ever since. Studies in Composition with Paul Brust at the Longy Conservatoire concluding in 2009, Joel has since sought to balance composing and concertizing with a wide array of other activities, including swimming, bicycling, playing ping-pong and taking Amtrak to the majority of its extremities. He currently resides in Jamaica Plain