Warren Realrider

Warren Realrider works electronic sound wizardry at OU’s art museum opening reception for the show “Ascendant” last month.

Warren Realrider was all ears as a kid growing up in Pawnee County.

Now a Norman resident, the University of Oklahoma art school alumnae who’s employed in the tech industry still is.

Realrider is a practitioner of experimental music, or what’s often indelicately referred to as “harsh noise or power electronics.”

It’s a sonic genre that blends what’s heard in nature with samples from conventional songs, industrial rhythms and field recordings.

These compositions are derived from careful or occasionally inadvertent listening combined with electronic wizardry.

Realrider’s solo project “Ticksuck” will present a performance of his work at 7 p.m. May 7 in Resonator Institute, 325 E. Main St.

“I was born in Tulsa and raised in Northeastern Oklahoma in Pawnee,” Realrider said. “The tribe I’m from is Pawnee. All my huge family is there.”

Realrider is from a family of several artists, including his celebrated sculptor father Austin Realrider.

“As a kid growing up with older sisters and older siblings of friends in the 1980s, I was exposed to different types of music,” he said. “I absorbed a lot of rock, heavy metal, dance music and country music.”

Realrider soaked all that up, along with his own preferences for hip hop and rap.

“I’ve always been an explorer in a sense of wanting to find out more and get as much information as I could about whatever music I was into,” he said. “It led me down paths of more extreme heavy metal, weirder rap music and then to more experimental things. Heavy metal blended with jazz and things like that.”

By the mid-1990s, Realrider was becoming aware of the psychedelic, shoegaze and noise genres, which found a nexus in the visual art he was making.

“I’d grown up drawing and painting, and that’s the direction I went in college,” he said. “I studied art at OSU and eventually transferred to OU. I graduated from OU’s art school (painting) in 2000 and was exposed to experimental things such as land art, site-specific installations and conceptual things. I combined my interest in music with the art I was doing.”

Realrider was attracted to some of the more intense sub-genres of heavy metal like grindcore and death metal through Metal Maniacs magazine and Relapse Records label.

“I was trying to find the most extreme sounds, like a band playing the fastest or the slowest,” he said. “Some of it wasn’t even music, and that was my jumping off point. I dove deep as I could into Japanese harsh noise bands Merzbow and Masonna.”

In his performances, Realrider uses contact microphones that are designed to be physically touching objects such as a cymbal that produces sound. He fabricates other sound-making instruments with a sculptural sensibility that’s reverential to his Pawnee culture.

Realrider grew up participating in traditional dances as those before him have for centuries. He has sampled these percussion rhythms in his compositions.

“I use materials common to Indigenous peoples in this part of the world such as willow branches to build instrument structures in different ways,” he said. “I’ve also used artificial sinew a lot, which was a replacement for when people no longer hunted to get that material. It’s something I use to tie contact mics to other objects.”

Realrider enjoys being part of his genre’s community. Norman and Tulsa in particular have vibrant groups of like-minded artists.

Realrider recently performed at an OU art museum opening reception for exhibition “Ascendant: Expressions of Self Determination.” The show is about Native artists at OU, which made him a natural inclusion for the event.

Realrider’s cousin Nathan Young was among the exhibition’s OU graduate student curators.

“Collaborations have been really good for me,” Realrider said. “Forming relationships with people is exciting.”

Many of Realrider’s recordings are done outdoors and in the field. Sounds of running water, rainfall, bird calls, diesel engine percussion and unidentifiable thumping are common in compositions such as “Kípaacu’ Kícáturaaru’” (Raw Road River posted under Ticksuck at Bandcamp).

Random and unexpected sounds often become front and center in his work. Once, he left his recorder sitting on a bench inside an enclosed dance arena in Pawnee called the Roundhouse, where traditional dances are held.

“We left the recorder there for two hours and the building has a lot of noises when there’s wind,” Realrider said. “The roof creaks, the air conditioner and noise from outside caused a nice minimal drone with these little sounds popping in. It was a raw recording from my recorder sitting in this space.”

It’s the kind of unadulterated soundtrack that can be soothing or even entrancing.

“I try to find an interesting sound,” Realrider said. “Birds are totally interesting and I could listen to them all day. The ones here in Oklahoma are unique.

“Sometimes it’s a combination of sounds in a space. Sometimes I don’t hear it in the moment. But when I go back and listen to the recording isolated from the environment then you hear all these interactions of the sounds going on.”


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