interview: patrick mcginley of framework radio

"although we say framework is about field recording, it's not really about recording, it's about listening"

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welcome to the fifth issue of “tusk is better than rumours,” a newsletter featuring primers and album rankings of experimental and ‘outsider’ musicians. artist primers are published every second and fourth monday, and on off-weeks we publish a variety of articles ranging from label and genre primers to interviews to guest writers. if you’re handy with a calendar, you’ll note that this means we’ve got a surprise this week—an interview with radio host and sound artist patrick mcginley, who is celebrating the 700th episode of his excellent phonography-based radio show framework.

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patrick mcginley has hosted framework radio for 700 episodes and nearly 18 years. framework is, to my knowledge, unique: an hour-long weekly radio show built entirely from field recordings sent in by, or solicited from, people all around the world. listening to framework is sometimes soothing, sometimes invigorating, always surprising. crucially, it is (in my estimation) the best resource to find up-and-coming field recordists and sound artists. keeping such a show going for so long is an impressive accomplishment on its own, but he has also been integral in fostering a cohesive international community of field recordists through his enthusiasm for networking and collaboration. every other week, mcginley invites a collaborator to create an edition of framework:afield, a special episode of the show that focuses on sounds from that recordist’s local surroundings. he’s also created the framework:seasonal series, which highlights work from emerging and established field recording artists.

the show’s home is at london’s resonance fm 104.4, but it also airs from utrecht to lisbon to santa barbera. if you can’t pencil a live broadcast into your schedule, you can stream or download episodes from the archive. framework is listener-supported, so you can (and should!) support it via the show’s patreon.

i contacted patrick by email to ask him about the history of framework, his recordings and performances as murmer, his approach to field recording, and what new names to watch out for in the world of phonography. in the course of the conversation, patrick gives advice about creative projects (keep going), recording sounds in public (invite strangers to listen with you), and living abroad (get uncomfortable until you’re comfortable). at the end, he recommends five framework:afield episodes to help guide you into the 700 hours of audio he’s broadcasted. and, for the first time, you’ll get to see me use proper capitalization.

(ido toninato, we become giants, dragon’s eye 2020, from framework episode 700)

First off, I’d like to congratulate you on 700 episodes and 18 years of your radio show, Framework. Doing 700 episodes of anything is a monumental achievement, but Framework has always struck me as unusually labor-intensive. Could you speak a bit about your process of soliciting, organizing, and sequencing field recordings for the show?

It was Udo Noll, my good friend and the creator of the Aporee Sound Maps, who explained to me the importance of longevity. There was a time, many years ago, when I began to wonder: I've been doing this for a long time. Is this just getting egotistical? Is that enough? Should I stop? Move on to something else? It's not risky any more, or challenging to create, maybe I should know when to call it a day? But Udo said, No!, the great value of a project like framework, or like Aporee, is its longevity. These projects take on their own life, create and maintain their own networks, and are valued by new people everyday. It would be egotistical to kill it, to let it live and continue is essential.

Production is labor intensive, of course, but the fact is I've been doing it so long that it's a bit like breathing now. It takes time, of course, but the effort itself is automatic. The material comes to me in many different ways – I'm always on the lookout (hearout?) for new material for the program, through mailing lists, social media, personal connections, etc, and when I come across something I'd like to be able to feature in the show, I ask for it. Obviously I can't afford to buy all the material that I play, but all my sources are very forthcoming with radio promos, especially in this day and age of mostly downloads. Years ago, when I was still living in London, I would get multiple CDs in my mailbox essentially everyday. That  doesn't happen anymore, which is both good (no more shelf space) and bad (it was like Christmas everyday!). Alongside that, and actually in much greater proportion, I receive submissions from all corners, releases directly from artists or labels or distributors or promoters, unreleased material from artists and enthusiasts, suggestions from listeners… Basically, far more material every week than I can fit in the show. So there is also a huge backlog of material waiting for airplay, some of which, unfortunately, will never make it. So my suggestion to artists is, if you've submitted material, and it didn't make it, please accept my apology and don't be offended or disappointed, but understand that I physically can not fit in every appropriate submission, and keep sending me stuff! That's that best way to hear yourself on the program. If I've received multiple submissions from a single artist and I know I haven't fit them in yet, I will work extra hard to make it happen.

The mix itself also (now) happens basically without thinking. I make a selection or 3 or 4 or 5 submissions I want to feature that week, make a selection of sounds from the Aporee Maps, pick an intro, drop it all into a bucket, shake it up, pour it out, move the pieces around a bit, and there's your show.

Was there already a community of field recordists in Europe in 2002 that you could rally around the Framework project? If so, how did you reach out to them, and if not, how did you build an audience of contributors and listeners for the program?

Oh yes. By 2002 the mailing list and website were already going strong, and Dale Lloyd's And/OAR label was already on its 2nd compilation of field recordings from the phonography community. That was how we got and stayed in touch – already online, but before any social media. Being part of that community is what made me finally pursue a 'public voice' for it in the form of radio – I'd always wanted to have a radio show, since my days listening to college radio as a teenager in the States, and here I was, part of a community that needed a voice, with an opportunity to be a part of the newly forming Resonance FM in London; all the pieces were falling into place to finally make it happen.  And once the show began, the show itself became the catalyst for contact and contribution. So much of my contact with artists came via their getting in touch to contribute to the show, or me getting in touch to invite them. From then it became a self-propelling machine.

I've always spoken of framework in relation to the advent of the digital community – for the first time a community didn't need to be geographically based, so it could be strong even though it was spread thinly all across the globe. Framework really benefited from this new development.

What were your goals for Framework when it began?

I think I essentially answered that above, but my goal was to create a public portal and voice for a community of artists, a community I belonged to, whose work otherwise did not have access to a particularly large audience. Also, I wanted to be the radio DJ who I felt I owed so much to, as I discovered so much amazing music in my youth by listening to underground radio late at night, scribbling down names, and scouring used record shops. The program in particular that I always reference, which wasn't a single show, but the 6pm to midnight programming every weeknight on WZBC in Boston, was called No Commercial Potential. I believe it's still running.

Framework began in 2002, in the early days of programs like Ableton and Audacity. Did the availability of such programs affect your decision to go forward with the show? How has your (technological) approach to recording changed in the interim?

I had nothing to do with any sound software in those early days. I made the show live from the Resonance FM studio on Denmark St in London on Friday nights, with a stack of CDs in my backpack, and then after an hour of meditative field recordings, took the 73 bus home amongst drunken West End revelers. My own music was made on a cassette 4-track with sounds from a minidisc recorder and a single condenser microphone. I didn't use a computer at all for sound until I left London at the beginning of 2007, and needed to find a way to mix the show myself at home so I could send it in to the station. Since then I've been mixing the program in Ardour, a full-featured, open-source DAW. I'm still not big on software – I now, as you might guess, make my own work on a computer, also using Ardour, but I'm mostly only using it to emulate what I used to do with my 4-track. I don't code or patch or granular synthesize, I mostly just layer and explore.

In my experience, field recording is a niche pursuit—most people have never heard of it, or they think of it only in relation to things like sound design or Foley work. Do you have any examples of people being turned on to field recording through the radio show?

Well, I certainly hope so! I definitely have been contacted by people who've come across the program by accident and been inspired to go out and make some recordings themselves. Or people who've jokingly said they blame me for the fact that they can not now walk down the street without listening to every little detail of the soundscape they come across. Because although we say framework is about field recording, it's not really about recording, it's about listening. We should say framework is about field listening instead.

One of my most treasured recordings is a gritty, hissy, technically terrible recording of frogs that my father made, unsolicited, on a dictaphone and sent to me may years ago.. He passed away this past November, and I'm so grateful to have that in my archive.

In addition to organizing and hosting Framework, you also record your own field recording and found sound pieces as murmer. Could you speak a bit about how you got into field recording? Do you have early influences that brought you to it—for example, for me and I think for a lot of people, the field recordings that Godspeed You! Black Emperor used on Lift Your Skinny Fists served as an entry point.

I always credit a certain major change of environment with my inspiration to begin making field recordings. I was already interested in outsider music when I relocated from the US to Paris in the mid-90's, and walking through the streets of this new city, which sounded so different from Boston or New York or any other city I was familiar with, made me start imagining what it would be like to capture these sounds and see what they sounded like together – elements from different locations in a single city, combined to form a new sonic reality. Simultaneously to these thoughts, I was realizing that any music I could imagine was already being made by someone somewhere, and all I had to do was find them. And right there in France I found the likes of toy.bizarre, and Eric La Casa, and of course all their musique concrete ancestors, and it opened up a whole new world for me.

Once in Valencia, Spain, I took my recorder out to try get a clean snippet of this group of birds that I knew had a nest down the street. As I turned the corner, a full brass band started playing in the street—completely unexpected, but I never would have encountered that or been able to record it otherwise. Do you have any notable experiences as a soundhunter, when unexpected or serendipitous events enlivened your work?

I had a great recording experience in Valencia as well, recording Mascletá, the daytime pyrotechnic display that is basically noise-fireworks. I was invited to play at a festival there, and the organizer, as a surprise, booked me into a hotel just around the corner from the city square where this display happens during the festival period, on the day when they started. So I arrived at my hotel, put my bag down, and then started hearing this amazing cacophony. I threw open the window, listened for a bit, and then went out and followed the noise to the square. Those recordings ended up on my 2016 LP songs for forgetting.

Have you noticed that field recording changes the way that you move around in the world? For example, I live in a campus town, so I get relatively few stares or odd looks when I’m wandering around recording, as people just assume it’s something for a university project. In Europe, however, I was very self-conscious when recording on public transit in places where I didn’t speak the language. Do you have different strategies or approaches to different environments when you are recording?

To be honest, these days, I record mostly in places where there are no other people around. That said, my strategy for being left alone has always been to look incredibly concentrated and serious, and then passers-by tend to steer clear. Or, if recording with concealable equipment, to pull out a phone and pretend to be looking up some directions. Or, and this is probably my favorite, not to try to avoid people at all, but be open to contact, answer questions, and let people listen! I love handing my headphones over to someone who looks curious, especially if it's a kid, and pointing out exactly what it is they're listening to. I have a lot of recordings of people reacting to what they're hearing for exactly this reason.

You were born in the US but are currently living in Estonia. I think in the American imagination Estonia is a bit “out there,” relegated to a sort of caricaturized version of eastern or northern Europe. If you can recall, what were your preconceived notions about Estonia? When did you first visit, and what made you decide to stay?

I had absolutely no preconceived notions of Estonia when I first came here, which is exactly what drew me to it. I don't mean to pompously imply that I have no prejudice, but just simply that I think I had never thought about it as a place at all! I've thought a lot about what drew me here, or what drew me to any of the places I've lived (there are a lot of them) and I think I've narrowed it down to the fact that I like the feeling of becoming familiar with new, alien surroundings, and I like the feeling of being accepted by them. So each time I've moved, I've had to move into more and more alien environments. But that's done now – it seems I'm here to stay!

I first visited Estonia in 2005, at a time when I was anyway starting to feel a little trapped in big city life in London. I immediately loved it here – its distance from what I was familiar with, its quiet, its forests, and its thoughtful, grounded population. I basically knew immediately that I eventually wanted to live here. I returned several more times, for longer and longer stints, and finally moved here permanently in 2009.

Are there remarkable differences in the artistic (field recording or otherwise) communities in Estonia versus the US or other European countries? I’m not sure where exactly you’re situated, but I hear that Tallinn increasingly has a reputation for arts and music.

I'm nowhere near Tallinn, and go there rarely, but I know many or even most of the people there working with sound and field recording. It's a young, but increasingly enthusiastic scene. I look forward to seeing how things develop in the coming years.

Here in the newsletter, I plan to cover the big names in field recording and musique concrete like Chris Watson and Luc Ferrari. But can you recommend some newer names for curious ears?

That's easy – just look through the framework radio playlists! And look at the framework:seasonal series of releases. Recent issues have featured the work of Manja Ristić, Jonáš Gruska, Julie Rousse, Stéphane Marin, Kate Carr, Jeremy Hegge… too many names to list here!

Again, congrats on episode 700 and may there be 700 more!

Another 18 years! We'll have to see about that!

Five Notable Framework:Afield Episodes

I rather unfairly asked Patrick to choose his five favorite framework:afield episodes. Here’s his response:

It's impossible to pick 5 favorite framework:afield episodes out of hundreds – I don't even know how to count how many there have been – 300? 350? So here are just the first 5 great ones that come to mind. You'll have to explore the rest yourself.

#701: 2020.02.16 [d.l. lutz] – Earscape: Storm

#697: 2020.01.19 [jilliene sellner] – Women in the Field

#310: 2010.12.19 [rie nakajima] – I Can Hear It

#279: 2010.04.11 [yannick dauby] – frogscapes

#231: 2009.03.22 [felicity ford] – SHEEP