By Chris Becker
The composer Morton Feldman once wrote, “Sound is all our dreams of music. Noise is music’s dream of us.” “Noise” — be it the low, ubiquitous hum of Houston’s freeways, or the sometimes dreamy, sometimes hard-edged music of electronic musician and video artist Jonathan Jindra — is as engaging and emotionally charged as the notes of a Beethoven piano sonata.
Jindra, who creates his unique brand of ambient music under the name CYCLEA, is one of five Texas-based sound artists performing June 21 at the CAMH as part of its ongoing interdisciplinary concert series, Texas Noise and Ambience. Curated by Markus Cone, the series features musicians who use and abuse synthesizers, analog effects and/or computer hardware and software to create “noise” that is as tactile as a stroke of paint or the shape of a sculpture.
When it comes to making and performing music, Jindra’s axe of choice is the humble laptop computer which, like the ukulele in the Jazz Age, has become the folk instrument of our time. “If you’re in a rock band, you’re limited by your instrumentation,” says 33-year-old Jindra, who played drums in a ska band before getting his degree in audio engineering at San Jacinto. “I’m not limited by that. I’ll just open up a keyboard or drum machine and when I find something that clicks, the music will grow out of that.”
The resulting sounds have an eerie, almost alien quality. Deep, multi-layered synthesizer tones drift in the background while short, melodic motifs bubble up and burst in the listener’s ears. Sounds repeat, but not in an obvious way, much like the repetition one hears in nature, in birdsong or the conversational chatter of insects.
Many of the sound artists featured in the Texas Noise and Ambience series work in visual mediums as well, and Jindra, who pays the bills shooting videos for bands and non-profits, is no exception. In recent years, he has created large-scale, immersive projections for CAMH and Art League of Houston gala events, and dynamic visuals for performances by such internationally renowned electronic musicians as Richard Devine.
“It’s been really nice working with artists who tour,” says Jindra, who started working in video as an alternative to losing his hearing as a live sound engineer. “Having the artist actually enjoy and tell you they like your work helps keep you going.” As a member of the electronic music and visual arts collective Defunkt Records, Jindra often shares the bill with touring artists and embraces a much faster, more abrasive sound. “I’m a big fan of hardcore music,” says Jindra, who names punk metal bands Code Orange and Converge as inspirations. “In my upbeat music, that’s what I’m referencing, but I’m doing it with synthesizers and drum machines rather than guitars and screaming vocals.”
For laptop artists, the physical process of “performing” a piece of music typically involves tapping keys and clicking a mouse, small gestures hidden from view of the audience. “If you’re onstage just turning a knob,” says Jindra, “people are like, ‘Well, he’s not really doing anything!’” While Jindra hopes listeners hear and appreciate the hours of work he puts into creating his music, he wryly acknowledges the challenges of maintaining the audience’s attention. “I’ve gotten better in the last few years with getting looser on stage,” he offers with a laugh, “moving around, dancing and stuff.”