Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

Junto Project 0314: Cold Start

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 first sound that Suss Müsik recorded in 2018 resembles a throaty belch. You can hear it at the beginning of this piece entitled Hiko, which is named after one of several words used by Eskimos to describe snow and ice. The ice hit the glass with surprising force, the compression was turned up, and that’s what happened. Welcome to 2018!

According to the theory of linguistic relativity (also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis), the structure of one’s language is tightly bound to the culture in which it is spoken. From that, we might determine that Eskimo sociology is largely formed by the way they navigate wintry landscapes. It’s more likely, however, that Eskimo languages are polysynthetic, meaning that they simply invent morphemes as they go: a suffix added here, a prefix deleted there. Perhaps there’s a hidden tribe in the great white north where a belch means “ice,” like how in Suss Müsik headquarters a loud swear word means “I believe the intonation is off again, good fellow.”

Suss Müsik agrees with our esteemed Junto ringleader that it’s important to step back every now and again to pause and reflect upon one’s place. As Sapir and Whorf wrote, “The ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built upon the habits of the group.” Suss Müsik wishes everyone in the Junto many weeks of creative joy and fulfillment in the coming year.

Junto Project 0312: Amplify/Magnify

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 order to better understand the relationship between magnification and amplification, Suss Müsik referenced an old paperback copy of the 1965 psychology textbook Perceiving, Sensing and Knowing.

The book contains an essay written by Roderick Firth on the Precept Theory, a key tenet on how we interpret sense-data. The nutshell is that traditional psychological distinctions are construed by evaluating an object’s ‘given’ status compared to how it behaves ‘in use.’

Our ability to judge magnified or amplified sound relies on a process of acclimation. As Firth puts it: “It makes no sense to say of an after-image that it looks different from what it really is … there really is in such a case an object about which it is an after-image, or an appearance of a physical object.” This is especially true when it comes to rhythmic music that commits itself to continuous change.

For this short piece, Suss Müsik determined two points of sense-datum for piano and drums. The “object’s” original state is ‘amplified’ with the addition of repetitious phrases at intermittent points, creating a busy din of notes, chords and beats.

At about the 1:15 mark, the object is ‘magnified’ by alternating between F#m11 and Emaj7 and a hint of stereo chorus on the drum phrasing. A bit of staccato strings fills out the sound near the end.

The piece is titled Zajonc after the Polish-American psychologist who suggested that repeated exposure to a stimulus brings about a change in social behavior related to that stimulus. The image is a magnified view of a 1950’s flash cube.

Junto Project 0311: Ceramic Notation

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Suss Müsik’s art school education included an instructor who advised his students to explore “the romance” of whatever we were drawing. The romance of the drape, the romance of the still life, the romance of the human form, etc.

According to his biography, the work of Steven Geddes is a conscious exploration of the “tactile, textural, sensuous[,] formal and expressive” properties of his chosen materials. Porcelain, woven fabric, pen-and-ink — these substances offer Geddes a rich tapestry of “disembodied recombinations” with which to disrupt our senses.

For this short piece, Suss Müsik composed a three-chord piano phrase to roughly match the three rows in Geddes’ Notations sculpture. Each phrase was then played as a single sequence for a duration of three equal lengths. Little ceramic pots were struck for the percussive bits, while a CR-78 emulator and acoustic bass provide the spine. The ghostly wails were played with an EWI device to evoke Geddes’ Scottish Highlands upbringing; a squawky Korg synth modulator creates “space, rupture, blockage.”

The piece is titled Notaichean, a loose Scottish Gaelic translation of the word “notes.”

Junto Project 0308: Giving Thanks [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.

Gratitude is a quality that seems to have been imported from a long-ago and less complicated era in music. “Thank you for the days,” the Kinks sang in 1968, “those sacred days you gave me.”

Just a few years later, Alex Chilton took a moment to say “thank you, friends” while recording Big Star’s most harrowing work: “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”

Led Zeppelin, Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, Earth Wind & Fire and Etta James have all shown gratitude in song form. Even Styx, of all people, crossed linguistic boundaries with their weirdly bicultural 1982 expression of thanks. Our personal favorite is Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank you (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” covered by Magazine.

Counting this offering, Suss Müsik has now participated in 46 Disquiet Junto projects. For several weeks we lurked, frankly intimidated by the quality of output among Junto contributors who demonstrated such wonderful gifts. What we found upon entering was a community of practice among like-minded devotees, a labour of love designed and executed with genuine affection.

“I no doubt deserved my enemies,” wrote the American poet Walt Whitman. “But I don’t believe I deserved my friends.” Like Alex Chilton, Suss Müsik chose this moment to reflect and give thanks to all of you who spearhead, sustain and support this wonderful collective.

For this piece, Suss Müsik started with a phased rotation of chorale samples, each 4-second bit distorted beyond recognition. (We don’t often use samples, but it’s difficult to assemble a full SATB choir on short notice. Also, the Suss Müsik studios are small and there’s only so much beer to go around).

From this phrase, a notation sequence was identified by ear and played on fake strings and piano. From there we built a typical Suss Müsik wall-of-sound using rejected bits from previous Junto projects: a CR-78 with homemade percussion here, a dollop of trumpet reverb and clumsy organ there. We knew when to stop.

The piece is titled Wengerlave by mashing the names Wenger and Lave, a pair of cognitive anthropologists who first proposed that domain knowledge improves when participants learn and share in groups.

To paraphrase the writer Anaïs Nin: each Junto member represents a world not possible until you arrived. Thank you, friends, falettinus be house elves agin.

Junto Project 0307: Black & White and Punk All Over [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.

With respect, Suss Müsik considers the Sex Pistols to be merely a cultural bookmark. The group, assembled as a marketing vehicle to promote Malcolm McLaren’s bondage shop in West London, was in some ways no more a “proper” band than the Monkees. Their musical significance is dubious at best; their influence on the DIY aesthetic that followed was incalculable.

That said, Never Mind the Bollocks was something of a accidental watershed. By the time the album saw its 1977 release, the trend known as “punk” (which was really an update of what the MC5 and the Stooges were doing five years prior) had already collapsed as a musical genre. Within a year, John Lydon was endorsing the virtues of Peter Hammill, Can and dub reggae in a new outfit called Public Image Ltd. Thus was born the post-punk movement.

Admittedly, the Sex Pistols are among a cabal of punk bands who can hold claim to birthing a new era of musical exploration. Without punk there would be no Wire, no Gang of Four, no PiL. We also wouldn’t have The Pop Group, Magazine, Joy Division, The Sound, A Certain Ratio, 23 Skidoo, Minutemen, Liquid Liquid, Killing Joke or The Fall. These bands drove punk’s angry nihilism into a new, exciting terrain of avant-garde dissonance and sonic experimentation. A few are still performing today, shredding alongside protégés young enough to be their grandchildren.

It’s interesting that many album covers from the post-punk era are rendered in stark black & white. Perhaps this was due to the relatively cheap cost of 1-color printing at the time, or perhaps it was an artistic statement of angular minimalism. Suss Müsik is reminded that Don Van Vliet titled his final Captain Beefheart album Ice Cream for Crow as a sort of homage to contrasts, similar to watching Hurlements en faveur de Sade.

For this weird piece, Suss Müsik took a leaf from Colin Newman’s Provisionally Entitled the Singing Fish. This little-known Dada masterpiece from the former Wire frontman marked his creative transition from post-punk chunka-chunk to queasy ambience. A simple three-bar riff was played on a black Danelectro through a Vox amp. The same triad was converted to a dorian chord progression on strings and prepared piano, played live while twiddling various knobs. The “black” side breaks down as the “white” side builds before reaching a point of convergence.

The piece is titled Oeufnoir, which means “black egg” in French. It’s based on a line from a 1920 poem written by the Dada artist Jean Arp.

Junto Project 0305: Three Princes [repost]

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In a sense, William Golding’s classic 1954 novel Lord of the Flies examines serendipity gone wrong: a group of young British boys are randomly isolated on a remote island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Unconstrained by parental supervision, laws or even personal ethics, the children’s behavior is increasingly fueled by hormonal desperation and a hunger for conquest—a social parallel to one’s loss of innocence.

There is a lovely accidental moment at the 00:15 mark of “Wandanawe Yamu Pevila Thisarana Sile Wadimta,” likely an audio artifact created when someone pressed the Pause button on their recorder. There is also a fantastic vocal loop that occurs naturally at the end of “Man Rikzo Karaya,” and a terrific interlude in “Aatha Chandana Ime” that braids distant voices into a violent, wailing cacophony. It’s great stuff.

Suss Müsik employed these three elements to create this weird, creepy piece. The piece begins with the first loop sounding almost like a jack-in-the-box or some other children’s toy. A percussive phrase was then created from a small sample of that loop and played as a melody. Meanwhile, two other loops were stretched and phased at different binaural settings, concluding with the bleat of a fourth sample played via EWI device. There’s a little shaky percussion in there as well.

The result made Suss Müsik recall this quote from Golding’s novel: “I was asleep when the twisty things were fighting and when they went away I was awake, and I saw something big and horrid moving in the trees.” Happy weekend!

The piece is titled Mountaz, a rough derivative of the Persian word مونتاز which means “assembly.” The image is a gold-painted leaf.

Disquiet Junto 0304: Let’s Buzz [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.

Suss Müsik once visited a biodynamic farm in Kentucky. The influence that bees have our ecosystems, both natural and artificial, cannot be overstated. The basic structure of a honeycomb can be found replicated in a variety of industrial uses, from thermoplastic engineering to aerospace.

The architecture of a honeycomb is both hexagonal and quasihorizontal, meaning that each layer is built with a set of open and closed facets. The open ends are shared by opposing cells, which strengthen as they nest into one another. This ensures that the least amount of material is used while protecting the comb’s structure when honey is harvested.

For this weirdly pastoral piece, Suss Müsik sought to create a hexagonal and quasihorizontal musical composition using a similar approach. We played six “cells” on acoustic guitar with open ends, each sounding incomplete when played in isolation. It is only when the fragments are butted against each other that a musical function emerges.

To replicate the spirit of worker bees toiling, a subtle tambourine rhythm keeps time as the guitar parts ebb and flow, perhaps referencing the result of honey being harvested. Just as hexagonal patterns discourage bees from building larger combs, the lattice of guitars is constrained by the simple economy of a repetitious strum in three drone-like phases.

The piece is titled Broodcomb, named after cocoons that darken over time. This is the effect of “travel stains” caused by bees working inside cells of unharvested honey.

Junto Project 0302: Gronkytonk Based on Malka Older’s Novel Infomacracy [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.

“Wonk” is a condescending name applied to someone who is studious or hard-working. We often hear it used in US American politics when someone is disparaged as a “policy wonk.” Suss Müsik would think that being conscientious and knowledgeable are fine personal attributes, but what do we know.

When Tina Turner sang The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman”, she painted a brilliant image of a “gin soaked bar-room” where there is always the danger of being “pull[ed] out of some kind of fight.” We envision a dark, crowded saloon, located somewhere in the American west, teeming with the smell of testosterone and beef jerky.

For this piece, Suss Müsik imagined how a wonky tonk Woman (or man) might behave. We asked a female artist/librarian friend to describe what wonky tonk music might sound like. “Computers swearing at each other” was her reply, which we used as a creative springboard.

The piece was composed on two synth emulators run through a Korg Tone Works 411fx processor, a cheesy drum loop, some gnarly guitar feedback, slippery (sloppy) bass, horrid saxophones, fake brass, and a sampled bicycle wheel. We laughed the whole way through it, because the result is so ridiculous.

The piece is titled Gronkytonk. The image is a shot glass.

Junto Project 0301: Parts > Sum [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.

Water is distilled when its impurities are removed through boiling, after which the steam is condensed into liquid form. Repeating the steps (a process called double-boiling) renders distilled water of even greater purity.

Ambient music is much like water in that it assumes the shape of its container. Suss Müsik is intrigued by the concept of sound being filtered over time, a single droplet extended until the brain can no longer differentiate between individual tones. The entirety of Pauline Oliveros’ excellent Deep Listening work reflects this approach.

For this piece, Suss Müsik captured a 30-second excerpt from each of the ten tracks on Lee Rosevere’s 5 MInute Meditations. Each excerpt was then sampled and stretched to five minutes each. A 5-second sample was then pulled from this result (an audio form of “double-boiling,” if you will) and again stretched to the five-minute mark.

The ten distilled textures were each played on separate tracks with some form of MIDI instrumentation, for a duration of five minutes apiece, which we then faded in and out in sequential order. The segments overlap by ten to twenty seconds to produce the final result.

The samples felt a little thin, so a subtle deep beat was added to fatten the mix. The drum sound underwent the same “filtration” process described above.

The piece is titled Rosevere. The image is a magnification of water drops viewed from inside a glass jar.

Junto Project 0300: The 300th Consecutive Weekly Project [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.

Suss Müsik owns a copy of Ted Greene’s Chord Chemistry, an artifact from classical guitar lessons taken long, long ago. The book is like a skinny encyclopedia for guitar nerds, diving into the nuances of systematic voice leading and harmonic progressions as an approach to composition. We’d tell you more if we could remember any of it.

Suss Müsik is fascinated by the way that a singular component can be modularized and extended to create a system. The artist Sol Lewitt understood this concept very well, developing a complex visual language from a single geometric form. Chords are the linear elements that give shape to modular structures we call “songs” — it’s amazing the emotive depth a single chord can carry in the right context.

For this short piece, Suss Müsik selected the chord Eb7 for piano, mellotron and 12-string guitar. We chose this chord because it’s one of those chords that sounds ghastly played in isolation, and yet when bridged between other voices it has an almost lyrical quality.

The mellotron was played on dual “church organ” settings, creating a harsh phasing as the cycles overlapped in unison. The guitar was played with a Vox amplifier that for some reason picked up a pleasant background hum. The piano increased in force and volume as we neared the 100-second mark. The piece is titled Lewitt.

On this 300th Disquiet Junto Project, Suss Müsik extends sincere appreciation to Marc for kickstarting the endeavor, and to all who share your gifts of creativity and fellowship every week. Thank you for letting Suss Müsik be a part of it.