Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

Junto Project 0297: Domestic Chorus [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 recorded household sounds whose primary functions are to help us remember something: an alarm clock reminds us that it’s time to wake up; a beep on the refrigerator tells us that the door has been left open; a laundry buzzer indicates that our clothes need to be removed from the dryer. In the meantime, the soothing hum of an air purifier reminds us that we are surrounded by dust mites (a fact of science we would be more than happy to forget).

Existentialist literature considers forgetfulness to be an essential attribute of the human condition. In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera describes characters for whom “space is an obstacle to progress.” The Danish philosophy Søren Kierkegaard once noted that “the most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.” Jean-Paul Sartre sang, “Ha! to forget. How childish! How can you keep yourself from existing?” And Charles Bukowski advises us to never forget anything, ever, because “There is always somebody or something waiting for you.”

For this weird and creepy piece, Suss Müsik composed a library from the domestic sounds of everyday forgetting. You’ll hear the items already described, plus amplified room noise and the thump of a refrigerator door closing. The sounds were assembled rhythmically with minimal treatment, except for some light sampling of the dryer buzzer (resembling an oboe or bassoon) which was randomly played with an EWI device.

The piece is titled Destinesia, an urban slang term describing an instance in which one forgets the purpose of a journey upon reaching their destination. The image is an architect’s compass.

A Future in Commons

“I am driven by two main philosophies,” said the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. “Know more today about the world than I knew yesterday, and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”

For the past year or so, Suss Müsik has participated in the weekly Disquiet Junto projects led by Marc Weidenbaum. For those unfamiliar, a junto is a gathering of like-minded colleagues for the purpose of sharing knowledge, friendship and conversation. The first Junto, known as the Leather Apron Club (now there’s a great name for a band), was launched by Benjamin Franklin in 1727 and lasted for 30 years.

Taking part in the Disquiet Junto has turned out to be a richly rewarding experience. We’ve made new friends and been exposed to a constellation of artistic influences from around the globe. Sadly, we were also made aware of the plight of Bassel Khartabil, a 3D modeling artist and software developer who was was detained by the Syrian government in 2012.

A Future in Commons coverSince his incarceration, human rights organizations have persistently campaigned for Khartabil’s release. His last known whereabouts was the Adra Prison in the suburbs of Damascus, Syria in October 2015. It was unknown whether Khartabil was alive or dead up until very recently, when in August 2017 his widow received confirmation that her husband had been executed.

In celebration of Khartabil’s life and work, English/Swedish musician and Junto participant Rupert Lally spearheaded the creation and release of a 31-track compilation album entitled A Future to Commons. All of the music is provided by participants of the Disquiet Junto.

Suss Müsik is honored to be a part of this moving tribute, yet we are frustrated at the senseless nature by which evil is permitted to transgress the boundaries of human existence. One might concede that from suffering can arise newly semantic forms of artistic expression, although we’d argue that a world with Bassel Khartabil alive and safe is better than one without.

The following is an excerpt from Marc Weidenbaum’s liner notes for the album:

During [Bassel Khartabil’s] incarceration, and during the extended period when his death was presumed but not yet confirmed, his story became a rallying point around the world. His plight inspired essays, and conference sessions, and political statements. And it inspired music … Facets of Bassel’s life provided several such prompts over the years. We created soundscapes to bring a new dimension to his CGI renderings. We sampled his voice and turned it into music. We created VR scores, and we tried to extrapolate sound from the poetic language of his correspondence. In the end, what we tried to do was spread word of his plight, to keep his story alive even after he was no longer.

A Future to Commons is available on Bandcamp, with all proceeds going toward the Creative Commons Bassel Khartabil Memorial Fund.

Junto Project 0296: Clustered Primes [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.

A Mersenne prime is a prime number that is one less than a power of two. It was developed in the 1600s by a French monk named Marin Mersenne. The Mersenne prime subsequence begins with the numbers 3, 7, 31, 127 and 2047, with 67108863 being the largest known Mersenne prime. Now you know.

Prime numbers have a special place in music history. Marin Mersenne himself was referred to as the “father of acoustics” for his seminal work on string vibrations. More recently, Three Dog Night sang Harry Nilsson’s famous lyric “one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do,” exactly twenty years before De La Soul reminded us that three is the magic number.

Suss Müsik studied the two columns of numbers in search of hidden dynamics. It would have been a delicious coincidence if the total number of submissions (1371) had been a prime, but the total went over by ten (the same number who submitted the “magic number” three).

list of prime numbers

We determined a semantic derived from the Mersenne primes and programmed those figures into three drum machines at a tempo of 111 BPM. The modulations were coupled with a simple piano polyrhythm played in threes and sevens at counts of ten and twenty-two. It got a bit confusing after a while, so we packed it in at exactly 3:53.

The piece is titled Mersenne. The image shows three nuts from a hickory tree, of which there are 19 species.

Junto Project 0295: Disregard Echoes [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. This project was inspired by Jason Richardson and Naviar Records, encouraging members of the community to write haiku describing local scenes.

Poisoned Waterhole:
Violent disregard echoes.
Keenly felt today.

In preparation for this piece, Suss Müsik took some time to research Wiradjuri history.

We learned how during the 1820s, war broke out between the Wiradjuri and white British colonists just west of Sydney. We learned about vigilante groups who were formed to roam the Bathurst plains, hunting down the Wiradjuri as if they were wild animals. And we read about a local homestead owner who poisoned the water hole from which the Wiradjuri took refuge.

Timothy Leary once said that all suffering is caused by being in the wrong place. Suss Müsik thinks that’s a crock. When consciously inflicted upon others with the cruelest of intentions, suffering is unavoidable — every place we go is the wrong place simply because someone doesn’t want us there.

“There is an elasticity in the human mind,” wrote Charles Caleb Colton, “which [is] capable of bearing much but will not show itself until a certain weight of affliction be put upon it.” Listening to traditional Wiradjuri music recalls ancestral spirits: the rhythm is insistent, a series of singular beats that grow in intensity during performance.

For this cinematic piece, Suss Müsik combined field recordings of water with the sounds of homemade percussion and looped echo effects. Pieces of wood were clacked together to create the nuance of rhythm, upon which various reed tones were played using an EWI device. Although the result is a little longer than anticipated, we felt it was important to let things breathe a bit during transitions.

The piece is titled Yindymarra, named after the Wiradjuri word for doing things with kindness and in good time. The image is the Wiradjuri symbol for “meeting place.”

Many thanks to Jason Richardson for opening this window to a part of history of which we were unfamiliar.

Junto Project 0294: Offline Status [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.

This past week was not an easy one in the US, nor in Barcelona (one of Suss Müsik’s favorite cities). We seem to exist today in a space between anticipation and the mundane. We fear that a catastrophe that may never occur will cause our demise, but the height of anxiety is in the waiting. As Richard Wright wrote in his classic novel Native Son: “There was but a long stretch of time that was very short, and then — the end.”

The sampled quote by Bassel Khartabil is a greeting followed quickly by an apology. “Hello I’m sorry,” sang Michael Stipe in the late 80’s. Suss Müsik imagines that most interactions contain at least some amount of regret for what might have been. We like to hope that times of crisis bring about a cycle of affirmation, but that’s not always how things work out. Bassel’s life was too short; the wait for his release took too long. Cruelly, both ended in a single event.

For this short piece, Suss Müsik interpreted Bassel’s vocal inflections as a form of notation. Early in the sampled recording, one can detect the plop plop that an Apple MacBook Pro makes when the sound volume is adjusted. We replicated this rhythm and used it to form base tempo. We then built upon this spine with bits of binaural cello and phased piano polyrhythms.

The piece is titled Fatra, which means “interval” in Arabic.

Junto Project 0293: Emerge/Immerse [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. This piece was inspired by the 3D modeling architectures created by #NEWPALMYRA Founder Bassel Khartabil and rendered into VR forms by artist Paige Dansinger.

Alvin Toffler, author of the now-classic (and eerily prescient) book Future Shock, knew something about transience. “One of the great unasked questions of our time,” he wrote in 1970, “has to do with the balance between vicarious and non-vicarious experiences.”

It was not so long ago that a hologram of the late Michael Jackson appeared at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards, sparking controversy over the ethics of using a digital visage to promote one’s posthumous career. Then again, humans have always been adept at manufacturing what Toffler calls “ritual significance” — the state at which the symbol for a thing becomes more important than the thing itself.

(Suss Müsik wonders what all the fuss was about regarding MJ. You’d think the music industry would be accustomed to such paradigms. After all, wasn’t it Freddie Mercury who famously asked “Is this real life? Is this just fantasy?“)

For this short piece, Suss Müsik explored the state of emergence. We hit little rocks with mallets recorded with heavy dollops of backwards reverb, then added some fake strings and gently plucked guitar. Buried in the mix are two solos played on an EWI device, which were panned right-to-left while the fake strings moved left-to-right.

The life of Bassel Khartabil was too short by any metric but the vicarious. Our collective participation in this week’s Junto project ensures that Khartabil’s work will continue to be celebrated and his memory preserved.

Junto Project 0292: Eclipse Music: In Coordination with St. Louis Art Hack Day [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. This piece was executed in coordination with an eclipse-themed Art Hack Day in St. Louis, USA.

“There is no doubt that the human mind prefers order and simplicity,” wrote physicist Louise B. Young in her book The Unfinished Universe. The process of abstraction that drives Euclidean geometry was invented to help us better understand the natural world, distilling life’s complexities into simple shapes.

A solar eclipse is the most exquisite form of balance in our known universe. It is an intricate ballet of planetary alignment that doesn’t occur often and soon will never happen again. The last ever solar eclipse is scheduled to take place in 600 million years, so you still have time to buy tickets.

While plane geometry helps us understand the ‘how’ of existence, humans sometimes struggle with the ‘why.’ Suss Müsik wonders what early humans thought when they witnessed the first solar eclipse. As the sun disappeared behind the moon and the temperature dropped, did they interpret the darkening sky with a sense of foreboding?

(This might be what Klaus Nomi meant when he sang, “Blow up, everything gonna go up.” Then again, Nomi himself was something of an abstraction, a monochromatic kaleidoscope of cross-gender angularity).

Suss Müsik interpreted the first and last solar eclipses as a single event, the shared realization that we are spiritually eternal yet cosmically insignificant. The piece is performed using a combination of prepared piano, real/fake violins, a single saxophone and some electronic noise. The “eclipse” is the result of a single bass drum, itself a perfect circle, representing the end of one state and the anticipation of another.

Suss Müsik dedicates this piece to the memory of Bassel Khartabil and his family.

Junto Project 0291: Make Music That Sounds Like a Lantern [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.

Synesthesia is a condition where one’s senses are simultaneously rewired in the brain, mingling how a person experiences colors, shapes, sounds and flavors. Although it sounds pretty weird, it’s not altogether uncommon; about 1 in 2000 are estimated to have synesthesia. Among those affected are such well-known individuals as Vasily Kandinsky, Franz Liszt, Richard Phillips Feynman and Mary J. Blige.

No two people experience synesthesia the same way. One person may see the color blue whenever the number three is mentioned; another imagines a city skyline when they taste blackberries, or they feel a tickle on their ankle at the sound of a harpsichord.

(Suss Müsik envisions the mischief one could have at the expense of a friend with synesthesia. Would they be forced to hear “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” every time we hold up a yellow card? Would they taste cod oil whenever we yell the word “tablecloth!” You probably do not want to be Suss Müsik’s friend).

For this short piece, we took an approach somewhere between those used by GL Smyth and the bell mechanical. We considered the filtering of sound the way a paper lantern diffuses light: thinly veiled yet repetitious, fragile yet warmly inviting. We sampled the subtle “zzzt” of an electrical switch and ran it through a Scream tape emulator at two simultaneous frequencies.

This fuzzy, breathy loop became the bed for a percussive rhythm we tapped on paper with chopsticks. The final touches were added using heavily diffused piano, plucked/bowed electric guitar, real/fake violins, and an EWI device playing various notes of the E-flat triad from three sampled tones.

In related news: Disquiet Junto participants may be interested in reading about a synesthetic installation that took place in Krakow three years ago, where pieces of music were transformed into fragrance and visuals.

The image is a magnesium flash bulb used by photographers in the 1940’s, which would emit a pungent, metallic odor when activated.

Junto Project 290: Text-to-Beat [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.

“Someone who doesn’t speak for a day has no idea what it’s like to not speak at all,” wrote the late film critic Roger Ebert, who spent the last seven years of his life speaking through a computer after thyroid cancer necessitated the removal of his lower jaw. He communicated verbally using Alex, the same text-to-speech (TTS) voice system that powers Apple’s VoiceOver engine for people who cannot see.

Mr Ebert bemoaned the lack of realism of computer-synthesized voices, describing how the comparisons between human speech and TTS were “relative, not absolute.” Communication isn’t simply about words, he explained; we also derive meaning from inflection, delivery, timing and tone.

For this short piece, Suss Müsik explored the relative (but not absolute) musical parameters of Apple VoiceOver. We recorded four quotes and identified one rhythmic phrase from each, which were then assembled to create a new sentence. The foundation of the piece is the combination of breaths, hiccups and nonverbal noises that accompany everyday human speech. Treated piano and metallic percussion were overdubbed.

The piece is titled Singularity in homage of Ray Kurzweil, who among other achievements is credited with inventing the first TTS synthesizer. The image is the Braille alphabet.

The quotes used in the piece are as follows:

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” ~ Groucho Marx

“Life is too short to work on inconsequential problems.” ~ C.K. Prahalad

“Somebody asked me, ‘If you had to give advice to a young actor, what would it be?’ I never even knew I was thinking this, but I said, ‘Always, even in a limo, wear your seat belt.’ To me, that’s good advice.” ~ Christopher Walken

“I’m seven people away from myself at the moment, but getting closer all the time.” ~ Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart

Junto Project 0289: Ancient Artifacts [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 metanoiaphone is a reed instrument constructed out of leather, wood, and sometimes bone. It resembles the tusk of a rhinoceros with two horizontal pull levers jutting out each side. Its name comes from the root word μετάνοια, which means “to have a shift in one’s mind.”

The metano (as it’s commonly called) originated in the mountainous Prespa Lakes region of West Macedonia, one of the most remote parts of Greece. A single road takes visitors over the Haliacmon River just south of Polyfytos, the hilltop village where the first metano is believed to have been made.

To play a metano, one blows into the mouthpiece while grasping a lever on each hand, slowly alternating push-pull motions on either side — something like pedaling a bicycle, only using arms instead of legs. Different notes are the result of shifts in lever position, hence the name.

The sound of a metano is rich and throaty, often mistaken for a ram’s bleat when heard from a distance. With proper breath control, it’s possible to extend a note indefinitely by slowly rotating the arms to draw out a smooth, even tone.

By the 1950’s, owning a metano had become a symbol of status among the musical elite in Germany and Great Britain. Legend has it that any instruments that made their way north were likely stolen from villages during the Balkan Campaign of World War II.

Very few recordings of the metano exist today, and Suss Müsik owns one of them. It was purchased by chance in 1988 from a tiny Thessaloniki record shop that smelled of mothballs and grilled meat. Just below a Tuxedomoon poster was this filthy cardboard box full of cassette tapes. We bought the entire box for 500 drachmas, the equivalent of about three US dollars.

The except you hear is from a piece written by the obscure Greek composer Den Katalaveno. It’s titled Κομμάτι για μετάνοιαφωνο και την ορχήστρα του δωματίου (Piece for Metanoiaphone and Chamber Orchestra). The rest of the tape has unfortunately deteriorated with age and is unplayable.