Jacques Gaspard Biberkopf takes a long, hard listen to the human voice in all its stutters and sighs. Alongside the pop hooks of his image mix, there are spoken samples and raps, as well as buried breaths and gasps; on the inhuman side, too, there are bumblebee buzzes and digital jabbering to be made out among the bleeps and churns. Fascinated by ASMR, the phenomenon in which affected people experience a pleasurable tingling in response to certain sounds (whispering being a particularly common one), this Berlin-based Lithuanian producer’s latest is a 50-minute textural dreamscape full of shuffling, hissing, breathing, living sound to delve into, and see if any of it raises a shiver.
Beyond the ticklish effect created by the sound, though, this manipulation of voices also explores the full range of vocal communication in an almost scientific way, taking a long, hard listen at all the aspects of spoken language that reach beyond words. We don’t just hear the polished singing of Biberkopf’s subjects, but their mumblings, their breaths, and every miniature inflection. In short, it’s all the paralinguistic elements –the nuances of pitch, volume, intonation –that he’s particularly interested in searching for and extracting from music; the tics of humanness that you might almost not realise are there.
The very opening exposes the bare bones of the central vocal hook of Tronco Traxx’s strutting classic ‘Walk For Me’, isolated and occasionally running away with itself at speeds just fast enough to be uncomfortable. With no swaggering beat to accompany it, it becomes insistent and stressful, before giving way to acapellas of Kevin Gates’ ‘IHop (True Story)’ and Dream 2 Science’s ‘My Love Turns To Liquid’ that flow in and out of gushes of ambient noise. Somewhere along the way, Soul II Soul are laid bare alongside Planningtorock; genres in conversation with one another over a vast expanse of whispering, waves and silence.
We had a chat over email about how paralinguistics form characters in music, timbral listening and the beautiful vulnerability to be found in isolated vocal tracks.
aqnb: Tell me about this mix; what headspace were you in when you made it?
Jacques Gaspard Biberkopf: I was back [in Lithuania] from Berlin, mostly to see my partner, it was my 23rd birthday and few days after. The whole month before it, I was trying to narrow my horizon as much as possible, trying to destroy much of the digital-social space in my head, trying to listen more and to be more aware.
I was reading quite a lot before it.
aqnb: What kinds of things were you reading?
JGB: Mostly, anthropology. Also Plato, and I guess a bit of [Bruno] Latour.
aqnb: The mix is mostly beat-less and as far from the dancefloor as it could get. How is it designed to make the listener feel?
JGB: When I was forming the core of the mix, I don’t know if I was thinking of the listener but more engaging with the material itself. I was thinking of ASMR a lot, in terms of timbral listening. Also attention, and what you decide to pay attention to.
aqnb: Do you experience ASMR yourself?
JGB: I don’t know if i experience it. I’m certainly hyper-sensitive to timbral qualities of sounds. Cities drive me mad, and people whispering are lots of pleasure.
aqnb: In a recent interview you mentioned you were “really interested in spaces”. This feels really apparent in image: how did you approach the use of space in its recording?
JGB: Making it, I was especially aware of the medium itself, I tried to make the speakers come into being. ‘Love how the sound is constantly on the edge of breaking the fourth wall, constantly on the edge of fiction and breaking into the reality of your environment. Videodrome comes to mind.
aqnb: The human voice is used in many capacities here beyond singing. There’s a lot of focus on expression and articulation, on physically getting words out. Is this something you’ve been thinking about a lot lately?
JGB: I was sort of focused on paralanguage recently. The impact of voice beyond words. I was thinking about how paralanguage constructs the character of the individual and how wide-ranging the characters can be. Construction of new paralanguages, new identities and new meanings. The paralingustic impact in music.
I grew up listening to Dizzee and Wiley, not understanding anything of their language. But loving the personalities they construct. I’m similarly attracted to Divoli S’vere now. I feel his voice is very monumental and contemporary in a similar way.
What are you working on at the moment? Can we expect new music from you soon?
A friend of mine said she can’t watch new movies because they try to please too much. It’s the same for me with music, I guess. I feel like most of it’s trying too hard. It’s trying too hard to be attractive, to sell itself to you. It’s desperate.
I would rather listen to Sgt Pepper acapellas, drum parts, than Sgt. Pepper as a whole. Parts are more vulnerable, natural. I would rather listen to somebody speak rather than sing. I do still believe in musical fantasy, but most of it too self-oriented or delirious. I feel like my own idealism is being crippled and traumatised by the music industry.
Right now, I don’t want to hear music, I want to hear the world. **