Cows are not musical instruments. Nor are buckets of soybeans, wet tarps or stethoscopes. But for L.A. experimental music and art collective Arthur King, these are among the unlikely sources that serve as the backbone for its new album and multidisciplinary project, “Wauters Farm,” out now via Silver Lake’s Dangerbird Records.
“Wauters Farm” marks the first formal installment of the collective’s “Changing Landscapes” project, and the latest output from the Arthur King Presents album release series. “Changing Landscapes” captures sound and images from a specific environment — such as a Chilean mine, L.A.’s Mt. Wilson Observatory or, in this case, a rural Iowa farm — via field recordings, and then uses them to create live improvised performances in that same setting.
“It’s a simple but powerful approach for creating art in an environment, and an experience through the process,” said Dangerbird Records owner and Arthur King co-founder Peter Walker. “It’s less about the outcome than the process that helps shape it.”
“Wauters Farm” is equal parts music album, documentary short and interactive multimedia installation, the last of which opens June 14 at Chinatown’s 1700 Naud Gallery. The opening reception will include a live performance by Arthur King featuring sounds and imagery collected at the titular small family farm.
Armed with audio and video gear, the collective — whose stable of L.A. art and music mainstays includes Walker, visual artist John Schlue, Earlimart frontman and Dangerbird A&R rep Aaron Espinoza, and composer David Ralicke — decamped to Wauters Farm in July 2018. They spent four days recording the sounds and sights of the starkly beautiful landscape around them, ranging from the rustling of corn stalks and bird calls to rain splattering over tarps and farm tools recorded through a stethoscope.
On the fifth and final night, the group returned to the site for a performance. The three musicians looped and manipulated their field recordings on samplers, gradually incorporating guitar, keyboard, horns and other instruments in a kind of improvised conversation as Schlue projected and reworked visuals back onto the space around them. Filmmakers were also on hand to record the process for a short documentary to be released at a later date.
“It’s so connected to the environment, it makes me appreciate what I hear, especially from the natural world, in a different way,” Walker said. “A simple sound, let’s say a bird, has so much power to it — because of this process, it can be pulled out and extracted from its natural place and become this other thing.”
The result is an instrumental landscape both familiar and otherworldly, as it veers from ambient to dub to noise. Opener “Swift” is all percussion and distorted melodies, with neat, slow-building rhythms that eventually give way to an engrossing swamp of sound. “Cow Palace,” meanwhile, trades off between splattering rain and frenetic guitar over droning loops of cow sounds that could just as well be horns or strings.
“Everything starts talking to each other,” Walker said.
In addition to an improvised performance at 8 p.m., Friday’s free opening reception will feature still photography, a video installation and an interactive audio sculpture.
“The goal is to help people see that in any given environment,” said Walker, “there’s more going on than what humans in our normal waking state are capable of experiencing.”
Arthur King Presents: Changing Landscapes (Wauters Farm)
Where: 1700 Naud Gallery, 119 Wilhardt St.
When: 7 p.m. Friday