Written by Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Prism House.
If there was one place in the world that you could identify purely by sound, it would be New York City. Not that we’re championing it as the greatest city in the world (well… maybe) but in the ostensible sonic sense, it’s number one. From the clichés like the New York Minute (time between two honking cars) and the angry pedestrians (“Ay! I’m walkin’ here!”), New York’s got sounds that would make for some great electronic sampling, which is exactly what Prism House of Brooklyn, NY does in their debut EP entitled Reflections and released on Ceremony Recordings.
Prism House is a duo that consists of Brian Wenner and Matt O’Hare. The two met in an NYU grad program of which Wenner just graduated. He moved to New York for music and admits using the pursuit of a graduate’s degree as an excuse to make that happen.
He was making electronic music (harder-edged IDM, as he puts it) in his hometown of Akron, OH but wasn’t seeing any fanfare for his efforts. Akron does have a pretty vibrant music scene though, with Devo and the Black Keys calling the town home. However, it didn’t look like niche intelligent dance music was quite the thing at the time.
After his move to New York, Wenner made a conscious decision to shift from dance music to the more drone-y sounds based off field recordings he makes now. BTR caught up with him while he was on a month long break from New York in his Ohio hometown.
“It was really just a matter of, I was tired of working entirely on the computer, I wanted to integrate some more instruments and field recordings and different things into what I was doing,” says Wenner. “So I bought a field recorder and started recording a lot of sounds around where I was living and it was getting pretty interesting results. I had also been listening to a lot of organic electronic music like this artist Pantha Du Prince that I’m really inspired by, and it was just to try something new.”
Being a duo, Prism House splits their duties entirely in half. Wenner works on the music and O’Hare works on their visuals, which they seamlessly meld together in their live shows. One could call them more of a performance group. The group had a third member until she went off to join the real world with a full-time job, so the current incarnation formed out of the fact that Wenner had some great music to add to O’Hare’s visuals.
The two have a very similar way of finding material to put in the songs, a crate-digging mentality. Wenner scours the city streets for usable sounds, and O’Hare scours the vast reaches of the internet to find .gifs and video clips.
“I use a lot of material off of the internet or I’ll sample sounds off of documentaries or just stuff on Vimeo and things like that,” says O’Hare. “It was just like taking a more collage approach and Matt takes a similar approach with the visuals for our shows where he uses a lot of .gifs and still images and we’ll manipulate those. So we’re kind of doing the same thing but he’s doing visuals and I’m doing music.”
Crate-digging culture has been around for a few decades with the heavy amount of sampling in hip-hop, and now with experimental electronic music (for a more detailed look at the culture, check out Retromania by Simon Reynolds). It seems that what Wenner does is cut from the same cloth as that culture, though there is one key difference.
Wenner explains, “It’s really the same kind of idea as crate-digging in a way where a guy would look through vinyl records and sample off of those. It’s just using the internet instead of vinyl, but it’s really seeking out cool sounds, cutting them up, manipulating them, and just piecing stuff together and come up with ideas that way.”
The internet has helped countless musicians’ careers by exposing them to a larger fan base, giving more platforms to share their music and making their tours more public. Still, many purists continue to knock the internet for “taking away the personal touch, man.” This is not Prism House’s agenda. In fact, they owe their entire livelihood to the good old interwebs.
“The record we came out with wouldn’t sound the way it does if we weren’t on the Internet looking for stuff. Chances are if I was doing crate-digging in the conventional you’d be finding a lot of obscure records that would shape the music differently. I totally embrace the internet, I think it’s great.”
This might qualify Prism House for future Advancement given their embrace of technology, and not overtly chastising it for taking away the soul, or something.
In terms of finding unconventional sounds to splice into songs, don’t confuse Prism House with mash-ups. Wenner had some thoughts on mash-ups:
“I think that’s cool, I think there’s something interesting in that but I don’t want to do things in a way where it sounds like it’s a critique on pop culture necessarily. Like ‘Oh, we’re gonna sample Star Wars and it’s gonna be ironic or something.’ I am looking for things that are unique and obscure enough to where it’s gonna do something unique to a listener where you’re not hearing something easily recognizable from your youth or from pop culture and give it a tongue-and-cheek vibe.”
Again, Prism House has no agenda, which will be ultimately beneficial to them because they become an entity of their own. This is not to say the music is inherently meaningless, as a lot of the sounds are juxtaposed to become a scrapbook of sorts.
“That was something I wanted to have to be a fundamental element of the music was recording sounds that are unique to a time and place. It paints a picture of a certain time period.”
You can listen to Reflections by clicking here.
Check out Prism House on The Discovery Corner on BTR!