It was 7:00am and I was running late. The temperature was 5º—cold enough to steam the water off of Lake Champlain’s 490 square mile surface.

Lake Champlain in Winter
Lake Champlain in Winter

My van started easily (thank you Cam’s Automotive!), warming up as I brushed the tiny, dry snow from the windshield. I was soon on my way to AM Frequency for the February 2020 performance.

AM Frequency Poster Feb 14 2020

At Karma Birdhouse Gallery, a few hundred meters from that cold steam, the coffee was hot and I settled in to hear ouzkxqlzn weave together layers of textured sound.

Her music incorporated field recordings played from an iPhone, electric guitar, cello, an array of looping and effect pedals, contact mics and objects, voice, and a pair of cassette players.

Lauren Costello plays guitar at Karma Birdhouse
Guitar and encapsulated electronics

As her set progressed she moved slowly and calmly between one sound source and another, managing the interplay between layers of unsynchonized sound.

When I arrived, a pair of guitar chords, the high tone rolled off leaving a deeper and indistinct thrum, gently oscillated from one to another while a patch of static formed a rhythmic pattern.

The vocal sounds in the set were always indistinct, a collection of tone in a pattern that was like speech but without the clarity to discern what the words, if there were any, might be.

Lauren Costello on vocals and cassettes
Vocals blurred through cassette

This was true whether the vocal was produced by ouzkxqlzn singing into collection of encapsulated electronics and amplification or whether it came from voices on a cassette.

As the morning progressed a family with two small children had a small breakfast from the café on the other side of the room. Myself and a few others focused on the sound events. Some people tapped quietly at their laptops, some with headphones and some without.

The disembodied voice of a foreman, communicating via walkie-talkie and blanketed with static, occasionally gave instructions to a maintenance worker fixing some functional element of the building. The sound felt at home, in place amid the sounds coming from the gallery.

Lauren Costello plays cello
Spectral cello sounds

Once a suitable bed of noises and musical sounds were assembled and moving through the air, ouzkxqlzn began to work from the cello. The technique employed was a very light bow and near to the bridge, what classical musicians might refer to as sul ponticello with an emphasis on spectral effects.

The sound was high in pitch without being piercing. Like many of the sounds in the set, this too carried the signs of clarity while the signal itself was worn down, whether through electronics or technique or both, to a comfortable sound. The cello layered in overlapping and long arcs, easily standing in for the electric guitar oscillations I heard upon my arrival.

Towards the end of the set, ouzkxqlzn produced a contact microphone connected to some small dried flowers. A contact microphone amplifies the tiny sounds that reverberate through objects. In this configuration, the dried flowers moving across the floor of the gallery generated a new layer of soft white noise. Each organic element making contact adding it’s own beginning and end of a sweeping sound.

Lauren Costello manipulates electronics
Working with contact microphones, loops, and guitar pedals

Using voice, cassette, a variety of strings, and material objects ouzkxqlzn created a rich texture of sounds. Altogether the effect created was one of knowing but not recognizing, sensing but not entirely perceiving, like a warm sound from another room, all edges worn away with care.

AM Frequency Series is a collaboration between Alder Studio, Community of Sound, Karma Birdhouse and is funded in part by a grant from the Burlington City Arts Community Fund.

You can hear ouzkxqlzn on Bandcamp.