Notes On Fred Again..’s Artistry

Once in a while a musician moves to the foreground of the electronic music production landscape with many musical assets in play. Such musicians have a fully formed sound—a world unto itself that feels like discovering an overlooked way of listening that was available to you the whole time. Fred Gibson, aka Fred Again.., is such a musician. Until recently a producer for famous pop artists, Gibson recently stepped out with his own material, much of which is built around audio recorded on his iPhone. Most of this audio captures voices which then become melodies and lead vocal lines for tracks. On his Spotify page, Gibson describes his music as “‘Actual Life’, a trademark sound that features vocals uncovered from the unlikeliest of sources; from obscure YouTube clips to personal FaceTime conversations, random Instagram accounts and iPhone video footage of half-remembered nights out.”

There are a few qualities in Gibson’s work that merit discussion to better understand his artistry.

Resourceful. Given the recording capabilities of smartphones and the ubiquity of online confessionals and music making on social media (everyone is sharing everything all the time), it’s surprising that more producers don’t use what Gibson calls “actual life” samples rather than ripping off old records. There is, of course, still an element of ripping off to Gibson’s approach, but that may be offset by the personal and informal nature of the sample material. As a producer, Gibson is an ethnographer of the everyday, using his field recordings to both document and reflect the world of his listeners back to them. As he notes in an NPR interview: “One thing that’s beautiful to me is the fact that so much stuff is recorded now, that you can make art out of the actual experience.”

Conceptual. Working exclusively around voice samples gathered from everyday life–or what Gibson calls making “art of out of the actual experience”–is a conceptual approach that insists on adhering to a set of constraints. Gibson’s samples don’t necessarily sound great, but what they lack in sonic fidelity they make up for in their social fidelity to the voices, experiences, and moments in time that have some connection to the producer. Brian Eno, Gibson’s mentor from his teenage years, describes Gibson’s use of samples as a way of relating to his community:

“What he’s doing is quite unfamiliar — I’ve actually never heard anything quite like this before. He always seems to be doing it in relation to a community of people around him — the bits of vocal and ambient sounds.”

Inventive. In interviews, Gibson explains how he creates drone beds out of his vocal samples and drum samples from recording himself knocking his the kitchen table. The drones are used as harmonic landscapes to “frame” the vocals:

“Long drones—different ways of framing what the person is saying. Generally with samples I’ll make like five or six drones that it can live in, and the harmonic landscape of those drones will affect the emotion of the song—that’s what they’re born out of.”

Elsewhere Gibson describes the advantages of recording such sounds on his iphone, specifically how the iPhone foregrounds ambient soundscapes: “When you record something with your iPhone and stop speaking for a second, it amplifies the room around you. Everything. It has these very crass compression algorithms that I love, so I record everything from drums, vocals, piano, all on my phone.”

Casual. Perhaps the most significant quality of Gibson’s work is its apparent informal-ness and spontaneity. The music, although carefully crafted, doesn’t feel labored. Gibson’s tracks, observes Eno, are non-linear in their construction:

“What I noticed with Fred is that he would start something, and he wouldn’t turn it into a loop that’s going to run through the whole track…He doesn’t clean everything off, so in every piece of recording, there’s a sort of context that comes with it as well. The sound has a history built into it.”

The apparent casualness of the music is mirrored by Gibson’s bare bones production set-up: his studio is a laptop and and a pair of (regular) headphones. This allows him to produce anywhere, often in transit. In fact, as The Guardian notes, “Much of the Actual Life albums were made while on the move, be it via long train journeys, or on meandering tube excursions.” For Gibson, there’s creative energy all around us and the appeal of working while on the move is about “finding places where you get a conveyor belt of humanity to subconsciously affect you.”

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