New York sound artist Nickolas Mohanna is the real Sound of the City. The noises of our rainy days, planes flying overhead or whatever’s happening on Mott Street are dutifully documented on his digital recorder, then stretched out and distended (via synth and guitar) into majestic drone worlds. The enveloping Oneohtrix Point Nostrand Avenue gush of his second album, Reflectors (out now via Preservation, limited to 300 copies), takes the atmospheres we experience every day and transmutes them into a glorious, enhanced, superatmosphere appropriate for the type of New York that Snake Plissken would escape from. The album’s final track, “Particles,” ultimately turns a plane taking off from La Guardia into a gorgeous, darkly hued, skipping, fractal zone-out.
Download: Nickolas Mohanna, “Particles”
What is “Particles” about? How did you create it?
It explores the materiality of sound. I wanted to construct a kind of immersive stereo space where the sound would be reduced to its rawest form. The process begins with working around this solid form—living inside it for awhile—and building upon it with various layers. While mapping out the piece, I wanted to capture the essence of decay and regeneration, forces that keep moving and reinventing themselves. The beginning morphed very much into a chance operation, with a plane flying out of La Guardia as I was trying to record something completely different. When that was introduced, the piece began to come together quite organically and I then followed in behind the blackened fuel and exhaust. And expand it until there is nothing left from it.
We’re obviously really fascinated with the idea of turning actual sounds of New York into music…
Me too. I don’t need an expensive synthesizer. You can transform them all out from the simplest of sources. There’s already so many tools out there at our fingertips. This particular recording is from up and around the gaseous area of the Willis Avenue Bridge, the Bronx/East Harlem intersection, which they’ve now finished renovating from years of weathering.
Do you stumble across sounds at random or do you go hunting for them?
It depends. I think when you have an idea of how you’d like a piece to be realized you tend to go and chase them down. These are unique and it can become a sonic library of material you’ve created through the process. Like the quick rain can become an expansive and infinite drone. Other times when it is more about improvising and I can leave the windows open, cast the net and bring it all in.
What is your favorite sound you’ve ever captured?
The automated robotic voice alarm from my window in the middle of a hot summer night that kept repeating, “There is a break-in…. Intrusion! Intrusion !” I haven’t been able to use it yet, but I have to. It’s quite tragicomic.
What’s the most memorable show or performance you’ve ever played in New York City?
Spanish Harlem. A performance inside my apartment. Windows opened. Guys drumming down the street.
What’s your favorite place to eat in NYC?
I used to go to the awesome Bánh Mì sandwich shop in the back of a jade jewelry store in Chinatown, but they moved and I don’t have the same fun going to their new place. It’s too normal now. I still go to Phó Pasteur on Baxter. They keep it basic: spring rolls, 33 Export and WWF.