Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

Junto Project 0385: Audubonus Instrumentum [repost]

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

The corvus sonic bowl is a type of musical instrument that uses a wide copper or crystallophone rim to produce musical tones by means of friction and velocity. The first models were produced in Finland, where one is most likely to hear and see the instrument in action.

The actual word has no lexical meaning in Finnish, and in Finno-Ugric language the instrument is often called a korppi meaning “raven.” It is unknown what ornithological significance this holds, but we know that the name comes from the Latin corvus vis Swedish korpen, both derived from the Indo-European root ker, “to cry out.” Mysteries abound.

The corvus (as it’s typically called) can be played two ways: by rubbing the edge of the rim with a moistened rubber ball, or by flicking various parts of the body framework with your finger. The emitted sound may be highly percussive, like hitting a clay pot, or it can resemble the angelic tunes produced by a glass harmonica.

Since the corvus was (and is) an expensive instrument to produce, recorded artifacts are exceedingly rare. Suss Müsik is fortunate to own several albums in which the corvus makes an appearance.

The Scottish progressive rock band Aloysius Colourboxx featured the instrument on their 1972 triple-album opus Trade Language, and US flower-pop outfit The Third Fifth Forth was known to break out a corvus throughout their two-week existence in the autumn of 1967.

Suss Müsik’s personal favorite corvus tunes are “Sifting the Soft” by funk-jazz great Bootsie Sidewinder, and an obscure 1977 B-side from punk band Screaming at the Mirror titled “The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree (Unless I Throw It At You).”

Highly skilled corvus players can emit a wide variety of sounds in a single session. Suss Müsik isn’t that skilled at anything, really, so we cheated by multi-tracking the recording for this week’s Junto. Unfortunately the rim cracked during our session before completely shattering to pieces, so that’s it for Suss Müsik’s corvus phase. Sorry.

The piece is titled Corvus. The image is a primitive sketch of the instrument drawn purely from memory.

Junto Project 0383: Interstellar Ambience [repost]

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

In his classic book The Design of Future Things, Donald A. Norman described how engineers once programmed what they called “comfort noise” into telephones.

In the old days, the phone’s clicks and buzzes were necessary to process long-distance calls. As technology improved and circuitry became quieter, people were concerned that they no longer had implicit auditory clues to signify progress. (“I don’t hear anything, it must not be working.”) Hence the introduction of fake sounds designed solely for the purpose of giving phone customers the impression that something was actually happening.

Sound is important for providing informative feedback, and we live in a noisy world. Still, the lack of sound can also be a distraction. We hear the slight buzz of a refrigerator, the gentle hum of an air conditioning system, the purr of an automobile engine. While much effort has gone into developing quieter devices for our environments, there is something unnerving about the abyss of absolute silence. It might be mere “comfort noise” to an engineer, but naturalistic sounds tell us that the products we use are working efficiently.

For this piece, Suss Müsik examined both the utilitarian and utopian characteristics of ambient sound. A living environment was imagined in which the polyphony of auditory spaces was something that could be “tuned” according to mood, texture or biometric response. The pulsating waves of synthetic fields create a privatized envelope of mechanically reproduced life systems.

The piece is titled Sensorium. The end abruptly cuts off in order to join at the beginning as a perfect loop. The image is an audio speaker from a hotel lobby in Washington DC, whence a lot of non-comfort noise seems to originate.

Junto Project 0382: Understanding McLuhan [repost]

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

“We become what we behold,” wrote Marshall McLuhan. “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”

The Suss Müsik library contains two distinct books titled Technostress, each written by completely different authors, and it would not be a surprise to see yet another book with the same title appear before too long. Whether we’re reading Craig Bod’s account published in 1984 (!) or the 1997 tag-team effort by Michelle M. Weill and Larry D. Rosen, the message is the same: technology = bad, if we’re not careful.

Technological determinism is the theory that human thought or action is influenced by our societal embrace of digital tools. McLuhan famously believed that the method of communication influences how messages are received. The cultural and societal impacts of technology make for a fascinating debate, but there is little argument regarding the effects of the Information Age on our physical health. Poor posture, degrading eyesight, mental fatigue, searing headaches, neck pain … even substance abuse and clinical depression have been blamed on our increasing exposure to computer-dominated work environments.

For this short and excessively strange piece, Suss Müsik sought to capture technology’s effect on physical instrumentation. Two quotes were pulled from the original source, resampled in various permutations and configured as a base rhythm. It took a few attempts to locate something “musical” from this arrangement. The same process was then applied to two guitar phrases. Lurking in the background is a bit of electronic noise passed through two glitch re-synth modules.

The piece is titled McLuhan. The image is an 1894 photo of a “typical figure showing the tendency of student life — stooping head, flat chest, and emaciated limbs.” Apparently even pencils and paper have a detritus effect on the human condition.

Suss Müsik extends sincere appreciation to Wm. Wolfgang Allen, who played the guitar, and to Jon Phillips for initiating such an inspiring Junto project. Special thanks to The McLuhan Institute for making these recordings available.

Junto Project 0380: Ears Only [repost]

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

Artistic collaboration is a form of automatic writing. In his classic book A Vision, W.B. Yeats discussed the importance of relinquishing to spontaneous discovery. “I was told that I must write,” according to the unconscious impulses that Yeats claimed had penetrated his creative process. “That I must seize the moment between ripe and rotten—that there was a metaphor of apples about to fall and [had] just fallen.”

Whether due to supernatural alignment or the ideomotor effect, Yeats was on to something. Productive creative dialogue is a magical experience. Listen to how African percussion music is built around polyrhythmic conversations, for example, forming a singular one-on-one connection between two individual members among a large troupe of performers.

Suss Müsik took part in a similar discovery recently with Wm. Wolfgang Allen. A rough, simple piano phrase was recorded to 8-track. Allen then emoted a beautifully wordless vocal: vulnerable, anguished, redemptive. The piano phrase was refined using the vocal as guide, which was then followed by a new vocal response. Not a word was spoken between participants; the dialogue was entirely musical. Softly percolating bass, Moog synth and percussion finish the piece.

The result is both lament and celebration, a deeply personal and transcendent interaction. To again quote Yeats: “I do not know what my [creation] will be to others — nothing perhaps. To me it means a last act of defense against the chaos of the world … a tragedy of separation and rejection, which instead of asking whether it is not something almost incredible, [it] clings to all that is vague and obvious.”

The piece is titled Translating and dedicated to the memories of W. Larson and T. Thompson. RIP both.

Junto Project 0378: Blue(tooth) Haze [repost]

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

The concept of Transhumanism was first introduced in 1990 by Max More, who optimistically suggested that human capability would soon be augmented by our embrace of augmentative technologies. He wasn’t wrong; examples are all around us in the form of genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and biometric nanotechnology. A more common example might be the way hearing aids and cochlear implants enhance humans’ ability to interpret sounds.

“We favor morphological freedom,” said More. “[We support] the right to modify and enhance one’s body, cognition and emotions.” Suss Müsik agrees. There are, however, ethical and social considerations. If a computer is not yet able to interpret context, then how can it be trusted to accurately convey an emotion? At what point should a machine be permitted to redefine the trust we place in our own senses? While a hearing aid provides wonderful benefits, it also somewhat distorts our concept of auditory range. If a tree falls in the forest and we can’t hear it without a device, can we honestly say that it made a sound? Riddle that awhile.

These are weighty topics, and Suss Müsik hasn’t even mentioned yet how our studio’s Bluetooth UE ROLL speaker (ironically nicknamed “Ultimate Ears”) tends to stutter when a connected device is moved out of range. This was the basis for this week’s Junto. For this piece, two ambient fields were performed and recorded through the UE ROLL straight to disk. The recordings were then sped up to create a base rhythm. Woodwinds, strings, percussion and piano were added afterward.

The vocal is Apple’s “Samantha” VoiceOver reciting an email created by Google’s Natural Language API. The vocal was recorded twice, each through a separate Moog synth module, then patched through a glitch filter at the same rate as the Bluetooth-derived tempo.

The piece is titled Exhumanism. The Creative Commons image is of a British gutta-percha hearing aid made sometime between 1840 and 1910. Thank you to artist and collaborator H. Bean for providing the text, which appears below:

I will be there in a few minutes and I’ll be there.
I will be there in a few minutes and I’ll be there up to today.
And I will be there in a few minutes and I’ll be there up to today and tomorrow.
And I will be there at the same time as the one I have.
The one I have is a good time to come by and see you soon.
I will be there to have a great day and I will be there at the same time as the one I have is a good time to come by and see you guys.
You guys how are you doing today and how are you doing today and how are you doing.
You have a good day and time and have you been up to today and tomorrow.
And tomorrow is the last day of the month and I have a few questions.
I have a few questions about what I am not sure.
I have a few questions about how I am not sure if I can make it to the meeting tonight but I can tomorrow.
If you want to do it in the morning and I will be there is a lot of work to do and I will be there at the same time and place and I’ll be back up to the outside.
And it is the best part about being able to see it and not the same as the one I have.
The one I have is a good time to come by and see you soon.
And have a great day and I will be there at the same time as they.
You know if you are interested in the morning so I can yes I can.
Yes I can.

Junto Project 0377: Algorithms Ensemble [repost]

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

“The most indubitable respect in which ideas have helped mankind is numbers,” wrote the philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell. “We have become, in certain respects, progressively less like animals [in] that forethought more and more dominates [our] impulses.”

Russell believed that all human knowledge was, at most, a best guess based upon knowledge attained to that point. In his 1903 book The Principles of Mathematics, Russell argued that mathematical concepts were immune from doubt because they were constructed entirely of logic. An algorithm is really nothing more than a process — a set of rules to be followed in order to achieve a result.

The logic breaks down because life and language are slippery, inexact and subjective. A famous example of Russell’s Paradox is the barber who shaves everybody in town except those who shave themselves. Who shaves the barber? If he shaves himself, then he doesn’t shave himself; if he doesn’t, then he does. Groucho Marx once remarked that he would never join a club who would have him as a member. Suss Müsik doesn’t really make music, nor do we do much sussing. Paradoxes abound.

For this piece, a simple four-note phrase was played on piano utilizing a scale of 8 notes. The 2431 algorithm was applied not only to note sequences, but also to sustain levels and attack times. This created a weird phasing effect during transitions. The algorithm was also applied to a “scale” of wordless vocal recordings by Suss Müsik friend, collaborator and mentor Wm. Wolfgang Allen. Expect more such collaborations from this team in the very near future.

The piece is titled Russellian. Many thanks to NorthWoods for contributing this inventive and interesting assignment to the Disquiet Junto community.

Junto Project 0375: Despite Yourself [repost]

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

If you were to go back in time and flip through the record collection of 13-year-old Suss Müsik, you might discover a few surprises. Tucked somewhere between Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and the odd Brothers Johnson album, you’ll find the heavy metal classic Paranoid by Black Sabbath. Even today, a casual listen of “Fairies Wear Boots” is impossible to resist. Arms raised, convulsive head shaking, ‘devil horns’ hand gestures … the whole bit.

Birmingham in the 1970’s was a largely working class city, its economic infrastructure dependent on factories and manufacturing. The sound of early Black Sabbath reflects their industrial surroundings: a chugging, blues-influenced slog characterized by low guitar tunings and beastly repetitive rhythmic structures. It was primordial sludge with a lyrical penchant for examining one’s sense of identity under traumatic (and chemically self-induced) conditions.

Suss Müsik wonders if Paranoid had been a different sort of album had the band emerged from, say, London or Berlin. “The ability of each organism to respond to environmental challenges introduces a degree of uncertainty into the physical word,” wrote the physicist Louise B. Young in her book The Unfinished Universe. “Consciousness is the central experience of life … even the most elementary inert forms of matter act in a manner which extends their own existence [over] time.” The appeal of heavy metal music, despite the genre’s increased sophistication and diversity, remains fundamentally distinct: RAWK OUT, DUDE.

Suss Müsik created this warped piece as a sort of homage to “uncertain” heavy metal, investigating the nuances between cosmic self-examination and our rudimentary (almost primal) compulsion for survival. Think of it as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs set to 4/4 time with lots of guitars. It’s no “War Pigs” or “Iron Man,” but you might bob your head a bit. Bonus pseudo-mystical nonsense included free of charge.

The piece is titled Dopamine, the brain chemical linked to feelings of pleasure yet known to cause paranoid anxiety when administered in high amounts.

Junto Project 0374: Glitch Glitch [repost]

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

Glitch can be interpreted as a form of deception. Technological malfunctions impede the transference of accurate or complete information, akin to how human being lie in order to shroud an unpleasant truth.

A double-glitch is akin to a poignant human arrangement in which two people willingly deceive one another, relinquishing any semblance of trust in order to achieve mutual recognition. “Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,” wrote Shakespeare in Sonnet 138. “And in our faults by lies we flattered be.”

Suss Müsik mourned the loss of Mark Hollis this week. Even during Talk Talk’s relatively commercial phase as a viable mid-1980’s synth-pop band, one can hear undercurrents of instrumental distress. Listen to the guitar on “Life’s What You Make It,” for example. A friend of Suss Müsik described the guitar tone as sounding like “it doesn’t even want to be there,” which brings to mind the uneasy relationship that musicians sometimes have with their instruments.

For this weird piece, Suss Müsik sought to explore the dynamic between humans and musical instruments in the form of glitch mechanics. A simple acoustic guitar phrase was played live and recorded to disk. The digital output was spliced and reassembled as a loop. The loop was then passed through an Infinite Jets re-synthesizer and re-recorded live to 8-track.

The piece is titled Sissela, named after the Swedish author and ethicist Sissela Bok. In addition to writing the book Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, Ms. Bok won a Nobel Peace Prize the same year Talk Talk’s debut album was released.

Artistic Collaboration: Limitrophe

A border is a sort of marker between two systems that share common attributes. While national law varies between territories, organic science has no respect for governance. Which begs the question: does the universe abide by its own set of rules, to be unearthed through examination, or does discovery occur by chance?

“The way different people have come to the same discovery independently,” wrote William H. Whyte in his 1956 book The Organization Man, “refutes the ‘great-man’ concept we cherish. It’s mostly luck who makes a discovery. If there had been no Einstein there would, in all likelihood, still be a relativity theory.”

piece by Bernard Madden

Artist Bernard Madden explores systems in nature as would a scientist, revealing hidden information and transforming meta-relationships into a new visual language. His work extrapolates these meanings into renderings of graphite, pigment and plaster, resting comfortably between avant-garde experimentation and traditional formalism. The piece Madden creates are beautifully disquieting yet energetically precise.

This piece, titled Limitrophe, is the first of a collaborative series between Suss Müsik and Bernard Madden. The first half is a series of layers: electronic fields of Moog-enhanced static, generated by an audio “scan” of Madden’s image. A base melody is performed on strings and accelerated during the piece’s coda, performed for fake orchestra using strings, brass and percussion. One field’s relative attributes informs the other, forming a clear delineation between the two approaches while maintaining their connective bond.

We are looking into possible performance/exhibition opportunities in which to further this fruitful experiment in cross-pollination. Stay tuned.