The New York sound artist, vocalist, and composer Lesley Flanigan has spent her career exploring liminal spaces of music-making. While her voice has always been at the center of her work, she’s steadily researched, experimented, and developed methods to change its context through homemade electronic devices. Over the years she’s worked with an impressive array of collaborators including musicians like Maria Chavez, MV Carbon, and Transit Ensemble, as well as choreographers and dancers, to contextualize her work, which uses effects pedals, analog electronics, and digital gear to generate a surprisingly serene and beautiful world of sound.
Perhaps nothing in her vast repertoire matches the sheer beauty and invention of her Amplifications project, which employs an array of handcrafted wooden speakers to generate meticulously controlled feedback to complement her gorgeous singing. As she said about her discoveries in an interview with Impose Magazine, “I had built a small amplifying circuit, and to test it, I grabbed a couple items that happened to be on my table: a raw speaker cone for the output and a piezo element (basically, a microphone) for the input. The speaker and piezo were touching each other, and a very complex, tonal noise of feedback occurred. At the risk of sounding completely lame/nerdy/cheesy, I fell in love. I spent hours playing with the electronics of that circuit, trying out different speaker cones. The sounds of feedback they generated were so “real”—it was electronic sound that I could see and touch.”
When Flanigan performs this music she sits on stage surrounded by these speakers, which have the look and feel of rustic art objects. Her tender melodies, often complemented by wordless harmonies, unfurl with exquisite patience as she sighs and coos in a way that recalls Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. At first blush the machine-like hums and rumbles of her speakers might seem a bit cold and harsh, but Flanigan quickly transforms them into sympathetic beings, unleashing reverberant swells and caresses that provide the optimal setting for her vocal excursions. She’s extending ambient tradition with sounds that are simultaneously serene and intensely physical.