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LA sound artist sets the El Toro airbase 'record'

Jean Paul Garnier, a.k.a. “loopool,” in his magnetic tape suit Photo courtesy of Alex Crockett

Five years ago, a band of photographers transformed a jet hangar at the El Toro Marine Corps airbase into a giant camera. They used it to create "The Great Picture" - the world's largest photograph. Now "The Great Picture" has a soundtrack, made with field recordings from the decommissioned base.

Its composer is L.A. musician Jean-Paul Garnier - who goes by the name "loopool” when creating his unconventional sonic sculptures.

"(I chose the name) loopool because of my fondness for palindromes - and when I began I was using exclusively sound loops,” says Garnier.

“I like to have certain sounds repeating. When you listen to a sonic event over and over, your perception of it changes.”

Garnier's father Jacque Garnier is a founding member of the Legacy Project- a small band of renegade photographers who spent six years documenting every inch of the El Toro airbase as it transitioned to civilian use. For their grand finale, the photographers and dozens of volunteers transformed a colossal military jet hangar into a giant camera-obscura. It created one image; a sprawling 120-foot long silver-toned portrait of the base, it’s runways and the San Joaquin Hills.

Jean-Paul joined his father on trips to the base. As Dad shot film, he'd roll tape - sometimes using a contact microphone.

"For anyone who's not familiar with those, when you attach a contact mic to anything - particularly a hard surface - any sound that is hitting that surface will also be picked up,” says Garnier.

Garnier recorded inside jet hangars, subterranean bunkers and cavernous steel water towers. In the empty tanks, Garnier would dangle a microphone through an open hatch, the strike the inside of its metallic belly.

"I would have gone inside completely but it was so filled with spiders and dark, I didn't wanna go in there,” laughs Garnier. “That’s a good example of agitating and interacting with the base."

Each noise collected at El Toro became a new color in Loopool's sonic palette.

"Some of them are straight ambience recordings from some of the larger structures. You know following the Legacy Project's lead where they saw as these buildings see, I wanted to hear as the buildings heard."

A soundtrack took shape, Garnier layering one noise on top of another.

"The piece is designed to emulate the feel of what it's like to be alone in some of these locations on the base, to feel what that sonic environment is."

Garnier was especially enamored of the base's dramatically varied acoustics.

"At El Toro, the reverb times in some of these buildings are just outrageous and it really alters the way things sound. If you dropped a nail, you'd hear it ring out. If I sang a note, you'd hear its tail stretch out for a minute."

Garnier’s voice can be heard echoing across the base recordings. Garnier is also a conventional musician. He plays bass — that's b-a-s-s. Now he plays b-a-s-e, literally.

“I attached the contact mic to some barbed wire fencing that was about a mile long or so and it almost acted like an Aeolian harp, these wind harps that wind blows these strings they make create this beautiful ethereal music - which is music without any composer involved."

Garnier recorded real Aeolian harps at the Sound Garden in Seattle for an ongoing project where he posts a new field recording each week. It could be something as mundane as the sound of scissors cutting paper, or as grand as those Aeolian harps. Would-be sound artists can download selections to create their own sonic symphonies.

"Some people have chopped them up into little bits to make them more rhythmic,” explains Garnier. “There are recordings of the sounds of fire. Now when you play that with the sound of water on top of it, it's a situation that wouldn't occur naturally so it kind of trips you up and makes you think."

And that, says Garnier is the point.

"To try and get people to start thinking about their sonic environment. It gets you start noticing what's happening around you more. And that can't be a bad thing."

Jean-Paul Garnier's soundtracks can be heard as part of the Great Picture exhibit that opens November 5th at the former El Toro airbase in Irvine.