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Evergreen State College is making noise

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Learning how to control voltage changed my life,” says sonic alchemist Daniel Farrell.

Farrell, also known as Myello Electronics, is a sound artist — and a whole lot more. He sculpts waveforms, tones and resonances like Pollack sculpted splattered paint into nearly perfect geometric forms. While he considers himself a musician, music isn’t all Farrell does with sound. Farrell is one of a growing number of artists who sometimes discards traditional musical structures and theories in favor of fiddling with the physics of noise. Some work meticulously, driven like lunatics to stretch the boundaries of sound while exploring its most miniscule components — tones, waveforms and frequencies, for example. Some play with classic synths, effects and mystical electronic contraptions like children.

Some are just bored.

Farrell’s work is the product of his own will and ingenuity, he says, enhanced by classes and time spent in The Evergreen State College’s legendary sound labs. Farrell is one of many students who says his work in the college’s sonic laboratories has encouraged him to become a willing participant in a century-old artistic revolution of sorts.

“Before the (experimental music) classes, I had no idea where these songs and sounds came from. Learning all of this really changed the direction of the music I had been making,” says Farrell. “It gave me a vocabulary about the fundamentals of sound, and I began to appreciate people who can experiment with the mechanics of sound. The first time I made my own filter sweeps I was like ‘aha!’”

Sound artists trace their lineage to figures ranging from Marcel Duchamp to William S. Burroughs and Iggy Pop to John Cage and Sonic Youth. Sound art doesn’t always sound like music, says Farrell, and requires the careful attention of listeners. Those with ears to hear will sometimes note almost imperceptible shifts in tone, resonance, and sounds within sounds along with alien clips, clicks, and hums. But that’s just the beginning when it comes to the products of sound experimentation. Like any great experiment, sound art continuously evolves, wriggles, and refuses to remain predictable. Often sounds are woven together in a seemingly abstract tapestry of sonic elements — samples from Terrence McKenna tape reels fade in and out of carefully sculpted feedback, riding a single, droning tone from a modified Hammond and a sparse beat created from clipped distortion signals recorded within an aluminum tube.

Sometimes it’s weirder.

Artists such as Farrell use knowledge of the fundamentals of sound and human neurology to create sonic forms that defy description by conventional means. Sound art often has form, he emphasizes. But often the forms emerge from the totality or in seemingly random sections rather than being crafted to fit into predetermined musical formats.

“It becomes like a palette of sound. Music sort of weaves sound together into a specific form,” says Farrell. “This stuff has form, but it doesn’t repeat itself over and over again.”

The sound labs at The Evergreen State College are like a playground for artists such as Farrell. Each of the four labs is equipped with enough gear to make most musicians drool. The collection of classic machines is kept by the godfather of the labs, adjunct professor Peter Randlette, whom Farrell talks about like a wise, weird, beloved uncle. Randlette is a virtuoso, he says, and a great teacher for those who have the patience and drive to weave the tattered edges of sound.

“Peter is really an encyclopedia,” says Farrell. “We’ll sit there ready to do a workshop, and someone would mention a cathode ray tube, and he would ask ‘Do you guys know about electrons?’ Then a fifteen-minute physics course would ensue. He is so excited about how all these elements interweave. His enthusiasm is hard to not be moved by.”

Enthusiasm is something that marks many sound artists. Farrell is relatively quiet until he starts talking about using oscillators to manipulate an audio signal. He talks about certain modular synths the way an auto collector would talk about a 1930s-era Bugatti. Like all true artists, Farrell talks about his art in mythic terms. His ambitions, however, are mild.

“It becomes what I would deem ‘the human spirit’ compels me to make it,” says Farrell. “I’m not just doing this without reason. Music and sound have always been a huge part of the human experience. I’m part of this tradition. If someone ever happens to listen to something I have made and has some sort of sensation, I would say job well done.”

For information on entering the Music Labs at Evergreen, go to

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