sonic artist Neil Rose

Sonic artist, poignant contrarian: Neil Rose

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sonic artist Neil Rose

I had the pleasure of meeting up with sonic artist Neil Rose for a bit of a biographical chit-chat.

The first and most important biographical bit of info is that at some point Neil Rose ‘went mad and it was encouraged’.

What I think Neil meant was that at some point in his youth his creativity was spotted, encouraged and nurtured, happily, I think, in a more or less conventional way (since Neil is not really mad).

Sixteen-years-old saw Neil already armed with a GCSE in music (taken a year early) and spending much time making music on an Omega 500. This involved the use of hexadecimally coded tracker programmes, “…the most laborious but freest way of doing it.”

So here comes the first significant point, because, you see, I didn’t meet Neil wanting to know all the ins and outs of his life, but simply with a checklist of what makes an artist. Is the man for real, artistically speaking?

That was my only question.

Neil’s comment above about the labour of programming is a good start, simply because art is work – it does actually involve some graft, and having the dedication to work is already a good sign, maybe the best. First box ticked. Incidentally, Neil really is a worker, he doesn’t stop making, doing, gluing, screwing, teaching, thinking, writing, constructing, and creating.

After graduating in 2003 from Middlesex with a degree in Sonic Arts, Neil inclines toward thinking of himself as an ‘electro-acoustic composer’. Later this becomes ‘sonic artist’ because the latter seems too limiting.

But if that’s true, since he now makes all kinds of work, why not just ‘artist’?

Because of the dedication to the main medium: sound.

That Neil is a craftsman as well as an artist is, for me, not in question. I’ve watched him at a computer putting together musical phrases from raw recordings of any old found-sounds. So, the conventional technical-proficiency-box gets ticked almost automatically.

But what about beauty, the sublime, – that which is not the medium but may be expressed through it?

I’m jumping ahead through my checklist, but I really want to know because it’s one of the biggest boxes to tick. And here I have to answer myself by remembering something that took place a while ago. Neil had been talking to the parent of prospective art-student whose main concern was what career prospects the subject offered to their offspring.

Later Neil said to me: “How do you convey to someone like that how much fun I was having, listening to the rain falling down the drain, half-an-hour ago on my break?”

The point is you can’t. You either understand or you don’t (the older I get the more I really believe that, sadly). Biggest box ticked.

But Neil told a fib. It wasn’t fun he was having, it was something sublime that he was wired into. Who, tell me, who, has two or three special drains dotted around the place that they go and listen to when it’s raining? Perhaps Neil is a bit mad after all. Another box ticked (funny how things start to come together).

The opportunity for the same ‘deep listening’ is offered to the listener in all Neil’s work. He wants people to listen, and the beauty of the work is co-created. To all intents and purposes, that’s the same for all art. Another box ticked.

But enough of ticking boxes and words. The fact is that Neil is an artist and his work is beautiful, that’s all that really matters. How do I know? By experiencing it. Neil has been called and calls himself a contrarian, mentions the poignancy of the listening contract and ‘thinks’ he is ‘becoming a musician’. I think he’s right.

He means, of course, that because he is not classically trained and does not play a traditional instrument it’s a bit hard, odd, difficult, to get one’s head around calling oneself a musician, with all that that implies. No matter, he’ll manage, and it fits because he’s a poignant contrarian.

What can I tell you? It’s like a musician, except better.

(image: Neil Rose)

This is an article from our Plymouth ArtsCulture magazine, which you can read for free online, or buy your own copy to cherish and hold.