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    “Before we cool off with some sounds meant to counteract summer heat, we’ll head back to July 2006 for some less-pleasant sounds: of construction, maybe a new Rally’s,” croons Aaron Rosenblum. Since 2013 Rosenblum has hosted “Radio Presque Rien” on ARTxFM, the radio station where his job title is sound art curator. By controlling the volume, he turns a pounding jackhammer into rhythmic tapping that’s almost soothing.

    Named after a piece by French composer Luc Ferrari, “Presque Rien” translates to “almost nothing.” Rosenblum says Ferrari’s original “Presque Rien” pieces helped establish the idea that minimally edited field recordings can themselves be considered artistic or musical works. “The pieces altered the way I experienced the soundscape present in my own life,” Rosenblum says.

    Tucked inside a small, almost-pink stone building with two green doors on Breckinridge Street, between Fifth and Sixth streets, the ArtxFM studio is simple: a long table with a wooden top, two turntables and a small soundboard. Two microphones hang from metal elbows like old-fashioned desk lamps. During the day, Rosenblum works in special collections at the Filson Historical Society. From 10 to 11 on Monday nights, he sends his field recordings onto the Louisville airwaves. (ARTxFM, originally an online station, has been on 97.1 since last year.) “I’ve had people text me and ask, ‘Is there a dog barking outside my house or is that on the show?’” Rosenblum says. On an evening in early July, he plays four recordings to take up the hour: day-old sounds of chirping frogs and cicadas from Bernheim Forest, like you’ve left the window open on a cool night; the Luc Ferrari composition “Presque Rien No. 4”; that decade-old recording he made of jackhammering; and one he made of lapping waves and birds from Penobscot Bay in Maine. “Hopefully an antidote to the warm and humid nights here on the Ohio,” he says as he signs off.

    Rosenblum has an extensive collection of noises: steam locomotives, Japanese vinyl albums of F-15 aircrafts (“I have no idea why this record was made,” he says), the sounds of a Dutch rowing team, the screams of kit foxes (“Really grating”). He estimates that his library includes about 100 of his own edited field recordings, with hundreds more unedited. People will send him recommendations and mail him albums and CDs in this genre. Sometimes one recording will fill an entire show’s slot — an easy night. A series of three-minute bird calls, however, means a lot of record switching, a lot of time bent over at the soundboard fading in and out between tracks.

    The 35-year-old has been making these recordings for about 20 years. “I came upon recording equipment and just started pointing a microphone at birds and the garbage truck,” Rosenblum says. He now has several high-quality recorders, and he never leaves home without at least one of them. “As with the old photographer’s adage that the best camera is the one you have with you, field recording is about technique, being present and listening,” Rosenblum says. “I’m agnostic about the source of a sound.”

    This originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

    Cover Photo: Radio Presque Rien // Facebook

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    About Jennifer Kiefer

    Germantown transplant. Louisville native.

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