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Music by VICE

Concept Album (And Remix Contest) Sourced Entirely From Alarms

The unnerving alarm clock goes avant garde in a new project by Rajeev Basu.

by Kathleen Flood
May 11 2011, 8:26pm

Rajeev Basu is a 26-year-old English artist currently living in Colorado who has conceived an album made entirely from alarm sounds. Why? In order to see if he could turn the stereotypically negative stimuli into something people might actually enjoy. The four-track EP entitled EEP EEP EEP EP features the talents of sound designers Michael Manning (London), David Kamp (Berlin), Dominic Matar (NYC), and Malcolm Goldie (London) who used a conglomeration of alarms—including school fire alarms, oven timers, police and fire sirens, and smoke alarms—to create their conceptual soundscapes. Find out more about their individual processes here.

Keeping in line with the premise of taking something undesirable and repurposing it to create something beautiful, Rajeev made individual artworks, fabricated from clip-art, to accompany each track. Rajeev and his band of conspirators have also launched a contest inviting musicians and experimenters to submit their own tracks sourced entirely from alarms. For every track entered, Rajeev will make an accompanying Clip-art Artwork, and the most innovative tracks will be turned into sound-sculpture installations, which the artist aims to exhibit sometime next year.

Much like Creator Matthew Herbert’s work, many of the sounds on the EP were captured as “field recordings,” or in the style of “musique concreté,” using elements not traditionally thought of as musical, but making them so. After listening to the just over 12 minute musical masterpiece (and several times, at that), we’re surprised that the final result is so relatable, dynamic, and even “easy-listening” compared to the original source material. Alarms get a bad rep, so we decided to get some more insight from the man behind the project.

The Creators Project: First off, can you tell us what you’re currently working on?
Rajeev Basu:
EEP EEP EEP EP is my major project for this year. Last year I launched my Impossible Lamp sculpture. It's a lamp made of wax that works without melting. In one of my earlier projects, I attempted to create a table that was made entirely by rats (Rat Table). I have lots more coming up, and I'm always interested in collaborating on projects that sound slightly impossible, or at the very least, ridiculous. I actually believe that to be a good starting point.

Of all the sounds out there, why did you choose alarms as the basis of this project?
The thinking came from, what's the last thing people would want to listen to? I then worked backwards from that. I tried to figure out a way to turn alarms into music that people might actually enjoy. It felt like a good challenge.

You said many of the alarms were captured as “field recordings.” What are the merits of using this method?
For the artists making the tracks, it makes for a more personal creative process. It allows for absolute control from the very beginning, to the delivery of the final piece.

You collaborated with four different musicians on this project. How did the collaboration work? Did you give the musicians free reign when formulating their each individual tracks?
I have bookmark folders full of artists, engineers, animators, and sound designers whose work I love, but haven't yet had the chance to work with. These projects allow me to reach out to them. The musicians I worked with are so good, I felt confident in just telling them the idea, and giving them a simple brief. They were then free to do what they wanted. I'm a firm believer that when people are talented, just give them a steer and let them do their thing. They'll put more love into what they do.

What kind of alarm wakes you up in the morning?
I wake up at roughly the same time every morning, without an alarm.

Any words of wisdom for artists who enter your remix contest?
Be inventive. Everyone who enters has the same 12 original alarm sounds to play with. What will be really interesting is if people can produce tracks in a style that would be totally unexpected. How about something that's totally pop? Or could you warp/process the alarm sounds to make a country-style song perhaps?

You plan to exhibit the most innovative entries as sound-sculptures some time in 2012. How would you present them?
I have lots of ideas for how we can do this. One way I'm thinking about is to hack different alarm-triggering devices. Imagine pressing one of those "push here in emergency" alarm buttons, and hearing the alarm play out as a nice tune via some headphones plugged into it. I think there's something psychologically interesting in people pushing these emergency buttons, too. It's something many of us will never have the chance to do in our lives. I'm also exploring the best places to exhibit these, so if anyone knows of a good space, or wants to host it, please get in touch.