Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

Junto Project 0334: Mass Branca

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.

Florence, Italy, summer of 1990. Suss Müsik is sitting in a cafe with three fellow international students from the local art college. We’ve surpassed the “pleasantly drunk” phase and are rapidly accelerating into the “lemme tell you what I really think” stage.

Tonight’s topic of conversation is whether cultural salvation can be found in the likes of David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Jenny Holzer and Robert Longo.

“I hate Robert Longo’s work,” moans Daniel the post-modern painter from Cleveland. “Everything he’s done looks like that Branca album cover.”

“What’s a Branca,” slurs Roberto, whom we’ve dubbed Bill the Person because we suspect that’s his real name.

“He’s one of those New York types,” rasps Hartley the hippie sculptor in his Arkansas drawl. “Like Laurie Anderson.”

“Branca’s nothing like Laurie Anderson,” growls Suss Müsik. “For one thing, Laurie Anderson’s work is exceedingly boring.”

“Oh, like Branca’s not?” asks Daniel. “I mean, if you enjoy ear-piercing volume then that’s great, but boring and loud is still boring. And you really need to see Home of the Brave.”

Home of the Bore is more like it,” growls Suss Müsik. “And seriously, have you actually listened to The Ascension? Do you not hear the hidden tones between the layers of dissonance? The majestic sonic interplay created by hundreds of guitarists strumming a single chord? It’s like a symphony orchestra.”

“Do you guys like the new New Order?” interrupts Bill the Person.

“I don’t even like the old New Order,” dismisses Hartley with a wave of his hand. “Except that one song that goes ‘this is not my beautiful house.’”

Daniel points at Suss Müsik. “You’re nuts.”

“Defending Glenn Branca is nuts? At least someone at this table knows the difference between New Order and Talking Heads. Branca’s music isn’t loud for the sake of volume. It’s genuinely uplifting, cathartic. Plus, his participation in the No Wave movement helped to democratize a male-dominated landscape.”

“Democratic dominatrix no wave what?” squints Bill the Person.

“That is true,” Daniel quietly admits, nodding his head thoughtfully. “I hadn’t considered Branca’s influence on bands like Bush Tetras, Ut and Sonic Youth.” He pauses to wipe his hands on his Silence=Death t-shirt. “Maybe I should go back and check out Lesson No. 1.”

“Branca’s best stuff successfully blurs the line between highbrow and lowbrow art forms,” continues Suss Müsik. “You like Philip Glass, right? Some of Branca’s more cerebral work is similar. And if you want to jump up and down and get sweaty, the final two minutes of Light Field (In Consonance) is perfect. Branca’s probably the most maximal minimalist composer working today.”

“My favorite Allman Brothers album is Eat a Peach,” croaks Hartley. We already knew this because he mentions it every night.

“You know,” concludes Suss Müsik, “one day, there will be a global collective of talents who will come together to celebrate composers like Glenn Branca. They’ll explore the nuances of his craft through their own creative efforts. Who knows—maybe there’ll be some sort of communication technology that will allow musicians to share their output with a worldwide community of peers, inspiring artistic development among trusted friends.”

“Now you’re just talking crap,” murmurs Daniel, shaking his head. “Have another beer.”

Junto Project: Half Evil

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 666 is the number of the beast (as proclaimed by Iron Maiden nearly four decades ago), then 333 is … what? The number of half a beast? What diabolical acts would half a devil be capable of doing? No, there must another formula at work.

Suss Müsik has been fighting technology lately. This might due to the fact that much of Suss Müsik’s recording equipment dates from the Paleolithic Era. “One persistent dark side of industrialization,” said Jaron Lanier “is that any skill, no matter how difficult to acquire, can become obsolete when the machines improve.” A computer is half a devil.

If Vladimir Nabokov were writing Bend Sinister today, the novel’s setting might be a dystopian landscape in which ethics are established by computers. “At every given level of world-time,” he wrote, “there [is] a certain computable amount of human consciousness distributed throughout the population.” In this futuristic scenario, we might imagine the moral code to be limited by the boundary of storage space. Good behavior would be shared among millions as a precious commodity, passed from one person to another depending on available RAM and disk space.

Perhaps one becomes “half-evil” because there simply isn’t enough good to go around. By the same logic, however, it might be possible to suppress the half-evil from reaching full maturity. We can only hope.

For this creepy piece, Suss Müsik constructed an array of percussive, mechanical loops using two Moog synthesizers. These were rotated in half-measures while a prepared piano was recorded through two reverb pedals. The fake strings and pounding bass drum create the necessary dramatics, while two vocal tracks are refactored using the same Moog settings. The length of the piece is exactly 3’33”.

The piece is titled Padukgrad, named after the fictitious city in Nabokov’s novel. The image is taken from a t-shirt graphic designed by a friend of Suss Müsik.

Junto Project 0332:

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.

Given a room containing 23 people, there is a better-than-half probability that two of them will share a birthday. This is due to a set of mathematical laws described by David J. Hand as the Improbability Principle, which is why he insists that coincidences should never come as a surprise. “Given enough opportunities,” writes Hand, “we should expect a specified event to happen, no matter how unlikely it may be at each opportunity.”

In September 2009, the Bulgarian lottery randomly selected 4, 15, 23, 24, 35 and 42 as its winning numbers. Precisely four days later, those exact same numbers were drawn again by the same lottery. Hand believes that this event was due to something called the “law of combinations,” in which each time a lottery result is drawn, there’s an increasing chance that it will contain the same numbers produced in any previous draw. The formula is n x (n –1)/2, if you’re interested.

For this nauseatingly jolly piece, Suss Müsik explored the music of coincidence through forced combinations. The Bulgarian lottery provided the inputs; the numbers 4 and 15 were extracted to arrive at a 4/4 time signature in nine segments. The numbers 23 and 24 were added and multiplied by two to create a tempo of 94. The numbers 35 and 42 made a sum of 77.

An electric guitar phrase was looped and sliced at key intervals according to the numbers: 5 second loops consisting of silent breaks at exact intervals: 1m10, 1m40, 1m50, 2m00, etc. The softly modulating background are two Moog devices operating at an LFO of 7.7.

Most of piece was played live and recorded quickly to 8-track. A little sketch indicates cues for when the guitar cuts out and the fake orchestral bits (strings, brass, percussion) come in. Here, have a look:

chart

The piece is titled Shans, which means “chance” in Bulgarian.

Junto Project 0331: Born Under a Bad Sign

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 a robot is sad, it’s likely the fault of a human being. “To some degree, we all live out our emotional lives through technology,” writes Michael Harris in his book The End of Absence. “Yet every time we use our technologies as a mediator for the chaotic elements of our lives, we change our relationship with those parts of our lives that we seek to control … ultimately, we seek machines that can understand our feelings perfectly.”

Suss Müsik has never been comfortable unloading our deepest emotional traumas in any context—human, animal or machine—solely because we don’t want to subject our whinging upon others. A team of scientists once determined that the root cause of unhappiness is the persistence of painful childhood memories, which fester and accumulate over long periods of time. Now imagine a robot programmed to store entire reams of superficial data, terabytes of squalor dumped into its gloomy computerized brain like some digital landfill for the morbidly wretched. Hey, you’d feel sad too.

For this sedate piece, Suss Müsik aimed for a result somewhere between To Rococo Rot and Tom Waits. We started with a somber sequence on prepared piano and played it through a Boss RV-3 on the 12th dial setting. Two electronic figures were then composed for Moog synthesizer to imagine the sounds a sobbing robot might create. The misery ends with a sad trumpet and maudlin fake strings pecking at the carrion.

The piece is titled 0011101000101000, which is the binary code for an ASCII frowning face. The image is a sad little robot in Suss Müsik studios who feels a lot worse after hearing this piece.

Junto Project 0330: Wax Off

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 began with a piece created for Disquiet Junto Project 0264. The brief that week was time travel, which makes perfect sense for thematically exploring the idea of erasure. If Suss Müsik were to go back in time, after all, the first thing we’d do is eliminate all the stupid mistakes we made over the years.

“I think of sound architecturally,” said composer Maggi Payne in Tara Rodgers’ excellent book Pink Noises. “I’m sculpting the space so that it becomes a tiny point source, a huge trapezoid, stretched diagonally, coming from the ceiling in the hall, coming from the top of your head .. it’s always clear that the apparent space is being morphed in some way.”

There is nothing more apparent to a space than having something removed from it. What is left behind but the spatialization of our memories? That’s the approach Suss Müsik took with this week’s Junto.

For this piece, Suss Müsik recorded the finished track from 0264 directly to 8-track, randomly cutting the volume at various points. What you hear in the background are fragments of the original recording session: a bit of reverb electric guitar here, some homemade metallic percussion there.

The piece is titled Tram, a root of the original title Trammel named after a word to describe something that restricts one’s freedom of action.

Junto Project 0329: Extended Version

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.

“Wood turns electric,” wrote the late Grant McLennan, co-leader of the under-appreciated Go-Betweens. McLennan at first wanted to write and direct movies. In fact, it was a shared attraction to cinema that caused him and Robert Forster to meet and form one of Australia’s best-loved bands.

A semi-hollow body guitar offers a number of ways to create sound, the perfect meld of wood and electricity. It can be strummed or picked conventionally. It can be turned over and played like a percussion instrument. The strings are thick enough to make a satisfying scrape with a piece of metal, and the mere touch of an e-bow results in a wonderfully dissonant effect. All of this is possible even before plugging it in.

For this weird (and probably unlistenable) piece, Suss Müsik explored the hidden nuances of the semi-hollow body guitar. Each part was recorded live to 8-track through a Boss RV-3 pedal and then mixed dry, minus a bit of EQ and compression to fatten the sound a bit. No other instruments were used or abused.

Here’s how the sausage was made:

The opening drones were created by raising the strings with an aluminum tube and lightly tapping them with rubber mallets. The extended buzz-drones were made by loosening the strings while moving an e-bow up and down the guitar body. (Note: the effect is better with double-coil pickups, perhaps because there is more electromagnetic surface area).

That nonsense out of the way, the instrument was plugged into a Vox amp and randomly strummed through a Red Panda Tensor pedal. It’s at this point Suss Müsik remembered that the guitar had yet to be properly tuned, so attention was placed on the lowest string while randomly twisting the peg in both directions.

The percussive bits came about by slapping and pounding the back of the instrument. Those who have studied African drumming might recognize the rhythmic pattern as a warm-up exercise from the Babtunde Olatunji songbook.

The piece is titled Ifamọra, the Yoruba word meaning “attraction.” Yoruba is an official language spoken in the southwestern part of Nigeria.

Junto Project 0328: Sonic Pentimento

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 admits that the words “pentimento” and “pimiento” are similar in appearance, and there was great temptation to do a piece on red peppers. Thankfully, you’re spared such shenanigans.

Suss Müsik also admits that although the work of Jon Hassell is admirable and important, his name isn’t what comes to mind when considering audio pentimeni. Rather, it is the dub stylings of Lee Scratch Perry, Adrian Sherwood/African Head Charge and others who best represent the concept of layering upon previous work to reveal new sonic landscapes – much the same way a billboard advertisement is scrubbed away by weather and wear & tear.

For this weird, almost dubby piece, Suss Müsik started with four submissions from previous Disquiet Junto Projects. (We’ll leave it to you to identify which ones were used). One segments was “scrubbed” using a Red Panda Tensor pedal. Another was stretched and run through a Moog MF-102 ring modulator, and another was played straight through a low-pass filter at various frequencies. The drum patterns were split and given a nice dollop of reverb.

The piece is titled after the artist and educator Merle Spandorfer, who passed away this week at the age of 83. Among Spandorfer’s contributions to painting was her advocacy for using non-toxic materials; her mixed-media works consisted of items from nature overlaid onto handmade paper.

The image is a fading sign on the side of a building somewhere in Louisville, Kentucky.

Junto Project 0327: Time Zoned

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.

George Lucas is apparently obsessed with the number 327. On message boards and wikis around the Internet, fans of the Star Wars series have circulated increasing amounts of evidence. The docking bay station that holds the Millennium Falcon is number 327, the number of the Cloud City landing platform is 327, etc. And so it goes.

“The folk tale is for entertainment,” wrote the mythologist Joseph Campbell. “The myth is for spiritual instruction.” The unconscious mind rules subliminal behavior by converting fuzzy nuances into absolutes, thus rendering indistinguishable binaries that would otherwise never connect. Paul is dead, except he’s not.

Immanuel Kant believed that humans actively construct pictures of the world according to speculative theory. Working with three time signatures at once is a similar work process. The ear wants to create order from disorder by locking into a groove, because that’s how the brain digests information.

For this short piece, Suss Müsik created three distinct fields. The opening piano chords are played in 2/4. The fake woodwinds and accent piano are played in 3/4. The drums and acoustic bass are played in 7/4. To create a sense of randomness, the piano and woodwinds were passed through analog effects pedals at the same tempos as their parents and mixed live to 8-track.

The piece is titled Herodotus, named after the first known historian to systemically arrange a list of events for the purpose of testing their accuracy. The image is a distressed sheet of acrylic press type.

Junto Project 0326: Wave Turntable

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.

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

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 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.