By: Cassandra Aquart
Born with an ear for music and to a family of musicians, Joshua Fried (class of 1981) fell in love with music at an early age. One of his earliest memories, which he vividly recalls, was obsessing about the melodic sequence of As Time Goes By; he repeatedly asked his mother to sing it so he could dissect how it was composed. Fried would later explore various roles in the music industry: He became a drummer, played the piano, and was even a member of several orchestras.
But it was at Cornell that he became a composer—without even realizing it! Though not a conservatory, Cornell provided Fried with a rigorous music education. However, it was Cornell’s rich learning environment combined with great mentors and professors that allowed Fried to adopt a maverick persona: He was able to explore music with unbridled freedom minus the inhibition and pressure that comes when the focus shifts to fulfilling external expectations. The pivotal moment for Fried came when he had access to a soundproof electro acoustics lab with prototype Moog synthesizers and other musical equipment. There, he spent many nights “playing” around and learning how to use the equipment. After five months, he realized he was making music. He was composing.
Fast-forward to today, Fried still composes electronic, conceptual dance music. Unlike most musicians, he creates the software and technology that he uses to record music and in his shows. We caught up with Fried to discuss his musical sound and current projects.
For those who are being introduced to you for the first time, how would you describe your music and what you’re doing?
I am making danceable collages out of commercial media. And I do this live.
I create music that combines technology with a hypnotic, repetitive, or minimalist aspect and a dose of humor—in addition to being conceptual, and having rhythm and harmony. It’s based on dance music I was performing in the clubs during the 1980s.
In my current project, Radio Wonderland, everything I do is taken from live radio that I grab during the show. So I walk on the stage without any pre-recorded sounds. It’s sort of a daredevil performance art thing where everyone is in on the game because no one knows what’s going to happen next. And all the sounds are completely subject to whatever I pick up on the radio at the time, and how I react to it on the spot. I’m using technology as a way to do something that’s very much of the moment. I’ve been thinking this way ever since I was in that lab at Cornell composing music.
What other genres of music do you listen to?
I have to follow what shakes my booty; what makes sense in my body; and what makes sense with what I’m doing with technology. And that’s: techno, house, and deep house (sexy house music with female vocals).
Are you currently working on any new projects?
I’m performing as Radio Wonderland in support of SEiZE the MEANS, my newly released album. And I’m rewriting the software—making a new Radio Wonderland—to give my performances more capabilities.
Currently, I loop bits of live radio, and cut up and modify those loops as well as the ongoing live radio. However, I deliberately left out the ability to retain my own output, which is how most musicians build their walls of sound. I wanted to master this instrument by depending on my own real-time control using shoes, a wheel, and little gizmos. After performing for eight years with the same setup, I’m now ready for a change. I want to incorporate those capabilities without losing the real-time excitement or relying on those looping tools as a crutch.
What’s your favorite memory of Cornell?
Once, a friend and I succeeded in exploring a tiny bell tower in McGraw Hall. While in a classroom, we saw a ladder and wondered: What’s that ladder for? What’s on the ceiling? And then we explored the bell tower. It was breathtaking.
Other memorable moments include learning about Buddhism with Professor Allan Grapard and enjoying the long walk from College Town to Risley Hall; I could really experience the beauty and get out of my head.
What advice would you give someone who loves music, but struggles with the creative process?
Sit down with a pad of paper and imagine the kinds of things you might want to do and the problems you might want to solve. If you’re scared of the blank sheet, don’t be. It’s already filled with stuff from your past and your own conceptions. You just have to imagine what you see or hear on there.
What’s the outline? What’s the framework? If you spend enough time brainstorming, you’ll realize the questions that you have to answer start to get smaller and you can answer them.
Another suggestion: have a placeholder. Just fill in where you can.
Also: sit down at your keyboard or with your instruments and just improvise. Write down everything; don’t discard anything. There’s a brainstorming rule: Don’t say “no” to anything. And that’s true when you start to write a list of ideas. Write down the first one and the second one, then you get going—mental momentum. Otherwise, you’re never going to start.
To learn more about Joshua Fried, visit http://clang.cl/radio-wonderland/.