Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

Junto Project 0326: Wave Turntable

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As mentioned in Disquiet Junto 0325, Suss Müsik loves the sound of surface dust on a vinyl record. We are also fans of composer Danny Clay, whose work explores territory between the guardrails of chance and curiosity, often finding musical significance in random pairings.

Perhaps Clay’s most inspiring works are his collaborations with elementary school students. In his piece 27 Overtures [after Ludwig van Beethoven], a group of 3rd graders were asked to draw graphic scores in response to hearing Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. The “scores” were then arranged and performed by a string quartet. Suss Müsik was particularly struck by one student’s interpretation: a boxed sequence of arrows on the scoresheet pointing edge-to-center.

For another Clay piece, elementary school students from Zion Lutheran School each drew and recorded their own graphical “note.” One student wrote the words “low long soft” to accompany her/his drawing, perhaps as a reminder on how the “note” should be performed. Wonderful stuff.

Jon Fischer’s work resides in a similar intersection: the relationship between ambiguity and rigidity, permanence and decay. Tricky Triangle is a series of printed works that portray the passage of time as “one of the least understood aspects of human existence.” Turn Table Drawings does this concept one better, constricting pen-to-paper actions to the rotations of a record player. Lines become loops, loops become forms, forms become evidence.

For this weird piece by Suss Müsik, surface noise on a turntable was broken into four fragments and looped through a Moog low-pass filter. Six sine waves in various tones were then played edge-to-center on a theremin emulator using a self-imposed “low long soft” rule: keep it low, keep it long, keep it soft. These swim lanes converge with a deepening sine wave before being released into random artifacts.

The title is Fischerclay. The image is an imprint of one student’s “score” overlaid onto an excerpt from Turn Table Drawings.

Suss Müsik thanks Mr. Clay, Mr. Fischer and the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts for allowing their creative work to be interpreted for collaboration.

Junto Project 0325: Fake Book

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Suss Müsik likes the sound of dust on a vinyl record. A compact disk with dust on it simply won’t play. That’s a design flaw, in our opinion.

The Edison Spring Motor Phonograph was invented in 1895. The sound was emitted by a machine that rotated a ceresin wax cylinder across an incising needle at around 120 RPM. A standard-size cylinder tended to yield between two and four minutes of audio, roughly the length of a church hymn or short monologue.

Due to the high cost of replication, there was initially no method for mass-producing multiple quantities of the same recording. By 1901, however, several innovations cheapened production costs while improving sound permanence: more durable wax mouldings, spring-generated motors, and less penetrative needles. There’s no science for removing dust.

The subtle beauty of ambient detritus has been explored by a number of artists over the years. Junto participants might be familiar with Stephen Vitiello’s electronic compositions accompanied by visuals, or perhaps Stegan Betke’s grimy dub tracks performed under the name Pole. Nina Katchadourian went so far as to create an audio tour of the dust buildup at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Suss Müsik can only imagine how thrilled the janitors must have been.

For this short piece, Suss Müsik sampled the “dusty” pieces of the recordings along with a couple of shorter bits. The sounds were looped through a ring modulation process at various speeds, with the occasional burst of brass or vocals. The lovely, swooping brass bit at the end was left unaltered. The effect is something like what might have happened if the Mille Plateaux label had existed sometime between 1890 and 1915.

The piece is titled Ozokerite, named after the naturally occurring substance from which wax is made. The image is a magnification of household dust from Suss Müsik’s headquarters.

Junto Project 0324: Factory Floor

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“The cybernetic revolution has developed more rapidly than many could have foreseen. We are entering the second industrial revolution in which human physical energy—[not only] hands and arms—but also the brain and nervous system are being replaced by machines.”

If you’re the type who follows technological trends, you might think the above was written by a post-2015 Silicon Valley scribe on the emergence of AI. In actuality, it’s a quote from Erich Fromm’s classic book Escape from Freedom, written in 1941. Suss Müsik can’t decide whether to be humbled by such prescient statements or depressed beyond comprehension.

Any attempt to create a work of art that avoids distraction and suggests momentum is bound to fail by at least one criteria. Cognitively speaking, we’re more likely to get into a groove when we minimize distractions. However, it’s well known that humankind’s greatest innovations are the result of expanding one’s realm of possibilities beyond current modes of working. It could be that the true nature of collaboration is where machines and humans each perform the tasks to which they’re most suited.

For this weird piece, Suss Müsik attempted to replicate the above approach by playing a series of looping phrases on piano, organ, sax and percussion. The piano and organ were treated with a Moog MF-101; the sax was passed through a Red Panda Tensor on maximum randomization. The percussion is various stuff we had lying around plus a CR-78 emulator.

The piece felt a bit … dunno what, so we added a vocal component in the middle fed through a Korg 411fx. The text was written by M. Tegler and recited by C. Koustourlis. Suss Müsik doesn’t know what it means, either.

The piece is titled Parabiosis, which is the artificial joining of two anatomic organisms for the purpose of scientific research. The image is a distressed coupling of two computer chips.

Junto Project 0323: Music for Meditation

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“Write a poem imagining your conception,” recommends Andrei Codrescu in an essay titled Exercises for Poets. “Use the breath measures that might have been those of your conceivers … [then] write a poem about your birth. The poem itself should be concerned mainly with the journey from the moist darkness of the womb through the birth canal into the light of the world.”

Suss Müsik declines to envision such grotesque imagery, thank you very much. That being said, effective meditation is understood to be something like returning to a womblike state. One concentrates solely on breathing in order to achieve a deep form of relaxation, helping to clear the mind from the cognitive detritus that collects day-to-day.

For this lengthy piece, Suss Müsik began with a simple organ riff that was played through a Moog MF-102 ring modulator. The sound of breathing was sampled and distressed to match the timbre of metallic percussion. You might hear voices and flutes in there as well. A chime enters at the 1-minute mark and repeats just before the final ascension back to consciousness.

The piece is titled Lůno, named after the Czech word for “womb” and dedicated to little Zachary Isaac (who was born this week to good friends of Suss Müsik). The image is magnified cotton.

Junto Project 0322: The Wanderer

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The theme of wandering is a common one in pop songcraft, exploring a range of sensibilities that don’t always evoke listless melancholy.

“Every night I wander all by myself,” admitted blues great John Lee Hooker in 1951, “thinkin’ about the woman I love.” Contrast that with Dion ten years later, who sounded downright cheerful while boasting “I’m the type of guy who likes to roam around … cause I’m a wanderer [who] roams from town to town.” The Beatles celebrated the benefits of manual labor to achieve mental stability: “I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in / To stop my mind from wandering where it will go.”

Suss Müsik would argue that these songs are less about wandering and more to do with purposeful distraction. A true wanderer travels seemingly without intention, drawn by cognitive impulses that cannot be explained. “Even I never know where I go when my eyes are closed,” sang XTC in 1989, quite possibly the most resonant lyric on daydreaming ever written.

For this intentionally unstructured piece, Suss Müsik played a series of random, minor-key chords on the piano. Quick blasts of clarinet, violin and fake strings were added and mixed to create a sort of phasing effect. Things go nowhere for a while, like a typical daydream, only to end in an unresolved state. You’ll likely forget you ever heard it.

The piece is titled Raichle after the neuroscientist Marcus Raichle. Dr. Raichle’s work uncovers what he calls the “dark energy” of the brain: electrical patterns emitted during periods of sleep, daydreaming or surgical anesthesia. The image is a magnification of kava tea.

Junto Project 0321: Let’s Active

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With all due respect to Dr. Taruffi, Suss Müsik isn’t entirely convinced that meta-awareness leads to greater happiness. Then again, Suss Müsik has never tested this theory on 216 participants using neuronal magnetic resonance. Suss Müsik has enough trouble changing the battery on a smoke alarm, let alone investigating the effect of delayed gratification on the prefrontal cortex.

What Suss Müsik does know, however, is that music definitely has some impact on the mind’s natural ability to wander. What might be worth discussion is whether hyper-awareness and emotional balance can be achieved by listening to “happy” sounding music. What sonic attributes make us happy?

This is where accounting for personal taste comes into play. For some, major scales and stick-to-your-ribs melodies evoke feelings of happiness, such as listening to Davy Jones sing “Daydream Believer.” Then there is the drum music of Babatunde Olatunji, which compels players to lock into a single pulse rhythm, generating a deeply hypnotic (some would say euphoric) state of bliss.

Anyway … for this short piece, Suss Müsik attempted to create a sonic environment to serve both goals of distraction and focus. Phrases were written at 154 BPM and played on fake banjo, xylophone, glockenspiel, toy piano and tambourine. Two baritone saxophone parts were played in real time in a single take, hoping to capture variability in pitch contour. Finally, an EWI with a piccolo voice was played through a Red Panda Tensor pedal to randomize the high-end.

The piece is titled Taruffi. The image is magnified grounds of coffee, Suss Müsik’s preferred method of ratiocination.

Junto Project 0320: Table of Contents

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The Wind in the Willows is a classic children’s novel written in 1908 by Kenneth Grahame, following the adventures of four animals (Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger) in various capers. The book timeless message of wit, wisdom and whimsy has entertained readers of all ages for generations.

Suss Müsik assigned each character a voice or phrase, then composed a series of loops in different lengths to represent each chapter’s setting: a zither to represent the hidden mysteries of the Wild Wood, syncopated percussion for Toad’s ongoing fascination with motorcars, etc. We took some artistic license with transitions between chapters.

For those who wish to follow the narrative, a synopsis of each chapter is represented below with cue points:

0:00 – Chapter 1. “The River Bank.” Mole leaves his underground home and discovers Rat paddling down the river in a boat, expressing his curiosity of the world above ground.

00:10 – Chapter 2. “The Open Road.” Rat takes Mole to meet Toad, and the three embark on a romantic journey across the countryside. Toad pursues an excessive compulsion to recklessly drive several expensive motorcars.

00:38 – Chapter 3. “The Wild Wood.” Mole and Rat get lost in the Wild Wood in the midst of a snowstorm. Cold, hungry and terrified, the two accidentally come upon Badger’s front door.

01:07 – Chapter 4. “Mr. Badger.” Badger invites Mole and Rat into his home, where they rest for a few days and discuss what to do about Toad’s mercurial behavior and dangerous driving habits.

01:39 – Chapter 5. “Dulce Domum.” Rat and Mole are traveling when Mole’s instincts cause him to suddenly realize they are walking directly above his underground home.

02:04 – Chapter 6. “Mr. Toad.” Badger, Rat and Mole attempt to speak sense to Toad, but he responds childishly and refuses to listen. Toad eventually steals and crashes an automobile, is arrested and sentenced to twenty years in jail.

02:39 – Chapter 7. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” While searching for Otter’s missing son, Mole and Rat set out on the river and hear strange music. They come upon the deity Pan who sings them a song as the sun rises, which they immediately forget.

03:25 – Chapter 8. “Toad’s Adventures.” The jailer’s daughter takes pity on a miserable Toad and helps him escape from prison. He convinces a train engineer to let him board, only he is forced to evacuate when the train is pursued by police.

03:57 – Chapter 9. “Wayfarers All.” Rat becomes restless and enters a dreamy state in which he hears the call of the sea. Mole takes it upon himself to bring Rat back to his senses.

05:03 – Chapter 10. “The Further Adventures of Toad.” Toad insults a washerwoman, steals her horse, swindles a peddler, steals yet another car and crashes it into the river. The current takes Toad downstream where Rat plucks him to safety.

05:31 – Chapter 11. “Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears.” Toad discovers that his mansion has been taken over by his enemies. Mole, Rat and Badger develop a plan to sneak into Toad Hall through a secret passageway.

05:56 – Chapter 12. “The Return of Ulysses.” Toad Hall is reclaimed, and Toad learns that his arrogance has been the cause of his troubles. The characters celebrate and live out their days peacefully along the riverside.

The piece is titled Domum, which is Latin for “home” and echoes Grahame’s theme of returning to where you belong.

Junto Project 0319: Duly Noted

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In his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, designer Edward Tufte describes how “erasing principles” can have a beneficial effect on the way we interpret graphical data. “Half-faces carry the same information as full faces,” he writes. “Halves [are] easier to sort [and] can be used to report additional variables. Bilateral symmetry doubles the space consumed by a design without adding new information.”

In an information-rich world where everything we do or say is excessively catalogued, it is our ability to edit that optimizes human experience. High-density design is hard work; detailed complexity renders our tasks more difficult, sacrificing economy of scale for the sake of gratuitous proliferation. The simple act of making a decision becomes more arduous, counterbalanced by the fear of leaving out something important that we’ll need later.

For this short piece, Suss Müsik sought to bilaterally visualize an erasing principle using sound. A simple, nearly symmetrical melody is played on fake woodwinds and degraded over 16 measures. Each note in the sequence is eliminated step-by-step to create a series of comparisons. In some instances, a note returns briefly only to be abandoned in the next bar.

The piece was starting to feel a bit dry, so we added a pulsing synth bass and acoustic percussion as background. The result is something like Martin Rev sitting in with Babatunde Olatunji while Ransom Wilson rehearses Vermont Counterpoint.

The piece is titled Gasko, named after the researcher Miriam Gasko. She is known for co-authoring a scholarly paper on the effect of halfspace depth on short-term memory when using a computer interface. The image is an eraser.

Junto Project 0314: Cold Start

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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

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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.