Educational institutes across Britain are now offering Sonic Art as a legitimate degree. What is sonic art? It sounds fascinating. Adrian Moore at the University of Sheffield describes it as: “working with sound like a potter works with clay”. A student of the subject at Brunel University, 29-year-old Jack Goldstein, has sponged that discipline and unleashed its creativity on his album Tonic of Wilderness.
The lo-fi music composer moulds soundbites (speech and audio), borrowed lyrics, pedals, old tape machines with the organic elements of his guitar, piano, original songwriting and his soft Iron & Wine vocals to create enjoyable, invigorating and eclectic pottery. The biggest challenge is whether Goldstein can make it cohesively match as a whole, like other plunderphonic acts like Koop and Grasscut.
Watching his music promo for “Don’t Let Me Go Now” is an accurate introduction into his experimental and contemporary yet uniquely charming methodology. Borrowing the cringe-worthy video guide to Windows 95’s new features – featuring Friends co-stars Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry – Goldstein superimposes home videos onto a computer screen, littered with a karaoke of lyrics.
The words effuse the scent of a flower power campaign from the sixties, but the music is an innovative parrot tulip of Lord Huron-esque sunset twang, xylophonic lullaby, rustling energy, bubbly programming and a springy personality. Like the majority of the album, it’s a fresh take on folk music for an enthusiastic bedroom-pop wizard. Listen out for the type of alert noise associated with Windows computers, relevant to its video companion.
Goldstein might be a product of the cyber-dependant generation and uses its technology, but his knowledge and inspiration is pre-internet. The Oxford musician admits that as a kid he was “obsessed with Elvis” and “rock & roll music; artists like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Carl Perkins, Little Richard and Buddy Holly“. On three separate occasions, he references the King. He updates the old pop songs “Pocket Full of Rainbows (Pocket Full of Rainbow$s)” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight (Injected With Donut)” to a modern day context using speech synthesis – most famously used musically in Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier” with a male persona and recently in Everything Everything’s “Distant Past”.
On the latter, it’s located within a haunting and reverberated ecclesiastical recital and on the former, the synthpop keyboard chords are reminiscent of Brad Fiedel’s Terminator theme. This is followed by a voice sample of a televised child actress sounding like it’s being stolen from a magical episodic kids show with life-saving missions – but its pitch is eventually altered into sounding creepy and misleading.
This is a typical example of how his tracks are seemingly split into their own chapters and parts. Although “Scent Of A Wilder” begins as a fragile and atmospheric piano ballad, it also manages to sneak in a Elvis name-check, as a speech synthesis quotes Patricia Arquette’s character Alabama from the Tony Scott film True Romance: “…except maybe I wouldn’t have named my son Elvis“.
Inspired by Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today”, Goldstein shares the American pianists’ fondness of sad stories told from a unknown character’s perspective and the accent/pronunciation of E from Eels on “The Champ”. There is also an additional layer of orchestral swirls that adds to its emotive emphasis. The track is completed spontaneously by a looped fragment from Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”; the line “get to know your parents, you’ll never know when they’ll be gone for good“.
“Ronnie James Dio Blues” pays tribute to the metal god but rather than adopting his genre – it’s a soft, sweet, melodic folk track with whistling, voice holding and crooning, as well as the drum pattern from ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky” – its name was inspired by it’s observed synchronicity as a soundtrack with the medieval video for Dio’s “Holy Diver”. Try it for yourself, see if it works. Although the video ends before it can link up with the whimsical and odd singing from Leland Palmer from Twin Peaks in the last fraction of the track.
Notably, Goldstein isn’t restricted to pop culture in his sampling, “100mph Libber” uses personal messages from “his three best friends” that he found on his Dictaphone, which speaks of a “man that can vomit through his eyeballs“. It’s the song with the most sections. Part 1 is the “goofy message” warped to sound like Martians, part 2 is banjo folk with the piano-speed of Efterklang’s”Modern Drift”, part 3 is a stuttering child’s voice and part 4 concludes with a Jonsi type falsetto produced in a static-drenched analog environment.
Although the album was recorded alone in his living room, “Try 2 Love” and “Thuggery Bisque” feature a female vocalist; that’s a friend of Jack Goldstein and former backing singer of the late composer James Last. “Try 2 Love” is a classical-crossover track in the vein of Clean Bandit, fusing a modern hip-hop beat (and elevated electronic swipes) with cinematic violins and a heavenly harp. “Thuggery Bisque” begins brave like a Superman movie with bold brass, before turning into a track with the positive qualities of The Go! Team: double dutch chanting, effortlessly essence of fun, DIY street drumming and the fuzz of garage rock.
It could be said that it’s part album and part advertisement for the benefits of studying Sonic Art if you want to become a budding musician. Tonic of Wilderness is out now digitally and today on limited edition 12” vinyl, Jack Goldstein also performs at The Library in Oxford tonight. Purchase Tonic Of Wilderness here, and to get it on Vinyl, go here.
Words by Matt Hobbs