Joe Colley | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Joe Colley 

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Joe Colley's latest album, Desperate Attempts at Beauty (Auscultare Research/Ground Fault), opens with a 20-second blast of violent, curdled white noise--suggestive of the sensation of sticking your head inside a jet engine--then abruptly drops off into rustling sounds resembling environmental recordings of a remote forest. Colley omits mention of his sound sources in the liner notes, though I've read that two of the tracks are derived from contact-miked recordings of clay absorbing water. Ultimately, however, the question of origin is irrelevant: the Sacramento-based sound artist manipulates his source material until it's unrecognizable, shaping it into sequences of serene hums, stuttering glitches, and sporadic crackles that provide both tactile pleasure (like the work of European artists Francisco Lopez, John Duncan, and Zbigniew Karkowski, Colley's sonic experiments are intensely visceral, as much about feeling as hearing) and a dramatic sense of progression. In writings and interviews Colley compares his methods to biological and cultural processes. Feedback and degeneration, he says, "are metaphors for communication and survival, mutation, manipulation--matter changing and reforming, a signal passing between devices until it emerges retranslated as a completely different entity." Colley eschews computers, relying instead on cheap or damaged consumer electronics--tape players, cheap microphones, and speakers with busted cones--to create his richly detailed abstractions. In his Chicago debut he'll premiere a new work for small microphones and speakers, voice, cassette recorders, and mixer; he'll also perform one of his clay pieces. Saturday, February 14, 9 PM, 6Odum, 2116 W. Chicago; 773-227-3617 or 312-666-0795.

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