Originally posted on Chicago Artists Resource, May 19, 2016.
By Dan Mohr
Grykes is the duo of Mark Booth and Shawn Decker. Both artists have advanced practices of their own: Booth’s work fuses elements from multiple disciplines, blending text, painting, installation, music, and durational performance. His month-long opera The Sea is Represented by an Irregular Shape was presented in February by Sector 2337 as part of the 2016 IN>TIME festival. Shawn Decker is a polymath who can be seen at any given moment playing traditional Irish fiddle, creating innovative sound sculptures that tour the country, or running Sketchbook Brewing—a ‘nanobrewery’ Decker co-founded in Evanston. Decker’s Prairie, a large-scale electro-acoustic sound installation, has seen iterations in Experimental Sound Studio and the Chicago Cultural Center, as well as various locations around the country—most recently at the Witchita Museum of Art. Both artists are faculty in the Sound Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
six-spot burnet, “named for the visually striking red spotted zygaena filipendulae moth", is a document of the first-ever Grykes performance. It occurred at the Empty Bottle on the Articular Facet series in 2013. Netlabel pan y rosas discos later released the recording for free download.
DM: How did Grykes come to be?
MB: Shawn and I had been talking about working together for a number of years and we finally had some isolated time and space to work while we were teaching in Ireland together at the Burren School of Art. In our spare time, we were recording in the natural environment, as well as on the campus of the school. When we meet to make work, the spaciousness of the very particular landscape of the Burren guides me. I think about Shawn and I hiking through micro-farms and farmlands and over stone fences to discover the landscape through our ears—not having a strong sense of where anything is, but a desire to learn and explore.
You both have active solo practices that activate many media (text, performance, installation, etc.), and your work is familiar in academic and gallery contexts; how does working in the more tried-and-true format of two guys playing music relate to the broader context of your practice(s)?
MB: Grykes is a collaborative context we return to when we have the space for it. Shawn and I both teach full-time, and each have art practices, and music practices (Shaw for instance also moonlights as an Irish Fiddler and a brew house founder). Since we’re both artists, we’re always working on things separately (sometimes together in the case of my piece The Sea Is Represented by an Irregular Shape at Sector 2337 where we did increasingly longer durational performances in Spring 2016). Grykes returns when we have moments of rest in our schedules. For me, the project or group, whatever you want to call it, is a way of stepping outside of all the work we do already and just get back to the excitement of playing for the sake of discovery. I’m not opposed to us making recordings but I really love the way live performance helps me to be very centered in the present moment.
There’s a lot going on in this six-spot burnet: field recordings, live instrumental sound, synthesized sound; it seems to me, as a listener, to highlight both tensions and harmonies between the natural and invented worlds. How did you create your sonic mise en place for this performance?
SD: I love your description of the work, because that’s the way I feel about it as well, and something I also aspire to in my own work. I believe that this is also exactly the trait that attracted Mark and I to each other. Mark and I each prepare separate material—we outline forms which we want to contain this material, and we rehearse using these forms. At the same time, while we come at this with known materials, we also do a lot of improvisation within this context—much of which constitutes a dialogue between us. Active listening on both our parts is essential.
MB: I think what exemplifies Grykes for me is the mutual agreement on the context of a situation, which is rooted in the now, of meeting together with what we are currently thinking about, working on, and tinkering with. Shawn brings a lexicon of interests and materials and I do the same. I feel like we’re kids who just got their hands on some really astounding instrument and no adults are around and we’ve got to figure out how this works and what we as humans can do with it.
Can you talk a bit about your compositional process? Is what we’re hearing improvisational, or is there an underlying score/structure at play?
MB: Grykes is very free and open. Shawn and I both prepare field recordings, record instruments, plan modular patches, and adopt or develop sound making environments, in which we can experiment, interact, present sound to each other, and find sound together. There is a structure for each performance, but the structure exists so that we don’t slip into a kind of improvisational homogeneity or unintentional repetition. Shawn has his modular [synth] set-up and I have a performance-specific group of recordings for live processing and arrangement. I think we think a great deal about landscape and sound as a form of unseen topography.
You have your second concert ever as Grykes this Friday at Experimental Sound Studio—how, if at all, has your approach changed since the first time you played?
MB: When we prepare for a performance and while we are playing we are in a state of immediate encounter and engagement. Each time we do a performance or project it feels very new. Some of the materials are invariably the same but we always build something different.
I think we’re very excited to be together, for the periods time our schedule allows, exploring sound, in front of an audience, and to have the gift of the ESS space. We would really love the opportunity to play more.