Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

Junto Project 0285: Live Barcoding

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 barcode was a graphical extension of Morse code. That’s how Norman Joseph Woodland arrived at his barcode prototype in the 1940’s while living in his father’s beachfront apartment. One imagines Woodland drawing with a wooden stick in the soft Florida sands, extending a series of dots and dashes into the cryptic patterns we all recognize today.

Morse code is commonly thought to be a mechanism of distress. Everyone knows the code signifying “SOS,” for example. The lyrics of “Dot Dash,” a song by punk legends Wire, appear to reference a more neutral approach to crisis. The narrator’s indifference to an upcoming automobile accident is oddly casual, almost clinically observant: “Progressive acceleration / Skidding, but the expression / Remains pan.”

It’s interesting how, decades after Woodland revolutionized the transactional landscape, our emotional response to barcodes is one of lax familiarity. We get bored with innovation when we’re constantly exposed to it. Using a self-checkout scanner at the local grocer has all the excitement of waiting for a traffic light to change. We simply go through the motions: beep, navel oranges, two for a dollar. Beep, bag of crisps for one seventy-nine. Whatever.

For this piece, Suss Müsik created a nine-part sequence based on three barcodes. Each “hit” was played using pieces of wood and overlapped according to variances in line thickness. As the rotation became more dense, a bit of reverb and panning was used to separate the layers and compress the more piercing frequencies.

Noting that one of the barcodes resembled an elongated set of piano keys, Suss Müsik identified individual notes and arrived at a somewhat accidental chord sequence that deadens the senses after two measures. Perhaps that’s what Wire was getting at with “Dot Dash” and the lesson of Woodland’s invention: random discoveries and events are unavoidably circumstantial, and the emotional responses they elicit can be surprisingly mundane.

The piece is titled Philco, named after the company who purchased Woodland’s patent in 1962 after IBM declined to pay his asking price.

Postscript: the wood percussion by itself is actually quite interesting, if a bit dry. If there is interest among Junto participants in hearing this part as an isolated track, let Suss Müsik know via comment and we’ll post it.

Junto Project 0284: Creative Commonfield

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.

“Music exists in time and space; it has a history and was made by work. Commodities, as we have seen, always conceal and render invisible the work that went into their creation — they dehumanize.”

That’s a quote by former Henry Cow drummer Chris Cutler. It appears in Plunderphonics, Pataphysics & Pop Mechanics, a book written in 1995 by Andrew Jones. It could be argued that the triumph of Chris Kallmyer’s work — which uses everyday objects in reference to how and where people live — is the way it restores humanization in music, something like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs rendered as sound.

The rise and fall of north St. Louis’ brick buildings stretches back nearly 200 years. The surrounding land was rich with clay and a natural site for brickyards, who churned out more than 20 million bricks per year by the mid-1800’s. Those traveling the southeast US will see evidence of this migration on buildings from Kentucky to Louisiana to Texas.

By the late 1960’s, urban flight left large areas of the North Side as depleted zones. The demographic shifted. Plans were proposed and abandoned; investments were promised and rescinded. Today, brick thieves contribute to the blight by dismantling structures and harvesting the bricks for resale. Much of the area looks and feels like a ghost town, large chunks of once-beautiful homes missing bricks in their structures.

For this short piece, Suss Müsik sought to reconstruct Kallmyer’s sound piece as a “brick-by-brick” process. Two individual tones were sampled and twinned with a generous heap of rotary reverb. Nine individual ceramic “hits” were sequenced and looped in various combinations (1 and 4, 2 and 5, 3 and 6, etc.) until the beginnings of a rhythm began to emerge.

The piece decays into a solitary note, perhaps signifying how illegal commoditization of even one brick degrades the honest, historical work that made North St. Louis what it was. May it rise again.

The piece is titled Reconstruire, named after the French word for “rebuild.”

Junto Project 0283: Rooms Within Rooms [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.

One of the most famous quotes by the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre is “Hell is other people.” That sentence concludes his play Huis Clos, written in 1943, in which three characters arrive in a room they believe to be Hell. The paradox is that in order to prove one’s existence, each character must transform the others into objects.

Rooms often take on the ambience of those who inhabit them. Sartre describes shame as an acknowledgement that we see ourselves as the objects that other people imagine us to be. “My original sin is the existence of the other,” he wrote. Rooms contain objects that dampen or accentuate sound, but then again people can serve the same auditory function. Screaming in a crowded room is a very different sonic experience than, say, screaming at the bathroom mirror by yourself. You’ll have to trust that Suss Müsik has deep knowledge of both these conditions.

For this piece, Suss Müsik recorded the following: (A) an empty room in the Northeast US; (B) a large hall in Canada where people came in and out; and (C) a very crowded lobby in Texas. Each room had various sonic properties that dictated their ambience, both human and machine. The pieces were sliced and arranged with no manipulation, other than a bit of EQ and panning to push the dynamic range a bit.

The piece is titled Koinoniphobia, named after the fear of rooms full of people. The image was taken at the Antoni Gaudí House in Barcelona.

Junto Project 0282: Berio’s Bach [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.

Humans have long been fascinated by destruction. It could be argued, in fact, that the desire to break things is a fundamental requirement for survival. The first tools invented by humans 2.6 million years ago comprised the earliest known stage of technological innovation. Thus did human capability advance through a process of fracture, limiting the lifespan of the tools we created by making them susceptible to damage through repeated use.

Rock-breakers 2.6 million years ago understood that the way materials broke apart defined their use. We build structures out of wood and steel because of their strength. We also use wood and steel to create such artistic objects as jewelry, furniture and sculpture. One could argue that buildings represent that which is “structurally significant” and art exists purely for “decoration.” It is in the humanities, however, from which we derive understanding on what it means to be alive. Judging by those who participate in the Junto every week, we can all agree that cultural pursuits are of critical significance.

For this piece, Suss Müsik sought to blur the line between percussion-as-spine and percussion-as-filler. A simple rhythm is played on wood blocks as random pieces of wood and metal are struck at varying intervals. Reed instruments contribute to the slowly evolving din, along with a circular piano phrase that attempts to keep along with the base tempo. Just as things seem to line up, the opening rhythm retreats and abandons the piano, who must now fend for itself. The function of wood and metal evolves from “structure” to “decoration” in turn, despite there being no change in tempo, sequence or notation.

The piece is titled Conchoidal, named after the type of sharpening or break that results in a smooth, rounded surface.

Junto Project 0281: Pattern Interruption [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 first tomatoes harvested for food were considered fatal to wealthy diners but harmless to the poor. This had everything to do with chemistry, not economics. During the 1500’s, the tomato’s acidity would interact with pewter flatware commonly used by the rich, who upon ingesting would soon die of lead poisoning. Poor people ate off plates made of wood and thus had no problems.

Today’s tomatoes are the result of thousands of years of genetic sculpting. In the 1950’s, researchers discovered a wild strain of plant where the tomato stayed longer on the vine due to a thicker “joint” holding the fruit to the stem. When crossed into existing breeds, however, the outcomes were disastrous: too many flowers, not enough fruit.

After screening 4,193 varieties of tomato plants, a team of genetic researchers led by Zachary Lippman have recently discovered how to engineer more productive crops through CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. By minimizing the gene that bears flowers and strengthening a modified joint that can hold heavier fruit, it is hoped that tomato farmers will soon have better and more predictable yields.

This is the method by which Suss Müsik created this piece for three pianos. It opens with a seven-note palindromic sequence, interspersed by two patterns of chords played with two separate “joints” — one “thick” and one “thin” to reflect changes in meter. (It made sense at the time). The opening loop is interrupted by another palindrome about halfway through, slowly dropping notes the way a tomato falls off the vine. A lightly bowed electric guitar adds a bit of color.

Suss Müsik admits to being inspired (and a bit intimidated) by the wonderful red ips spider by earthborn visions, a lovely composition in which loops seem to organically flow into each other. A real gem.

The piece is titled Inflorescences, named after the process by which flowers form on branches.

Junto Project 0278: MacConnel’s Jingle [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.

Kim MacConnel is considered to be part of an art movement known informally as Pattern and Decoration. A retrospective ArtNet piece describes how “P&D artists took both high and low images from global cultures … African and Indian fabrics, fur, feathers, sequins, Orientalist arabesques and floral patterns … and made a special point of incorporating into their work traditionally feminine materials and techniques.”

MacConnel’s work is like a visual quilt of cultural references, overlaid with kitsch imagery and bold chromatic selections. During the 1970’s, MacConnell’s work wasn’t taken seriously as art or even a style of painting. Although he would have likely resisted such comparisons, MacConnel does share some affinity with the Minimalist movement of the time. If there is such a genre as Post-Decorative Minimalism, this particular image is a prime example of it.

For this weird piece, Suss Müsic sought to invent post-decorative minimalist music. We transcribed the five panels of MacConnel’s painting into five “movements” of roughly equal length, inspired by the visual motifs presented in each section.

  • Movement 1 = electronic tones and static rendered as angular sine waves, with three synth phrases overlapped to create two composite chords.
  • Movement 2 = an attempt to compose a “classical” post-modern string piece, while envisioning Venus de Milo on the African Veldt.
  • Movement 3 = the result of pushing a cheesy CR-78 drum pattern through a delayed fuzzbox, with Native American ceramic flute and synth pattern overlaid on top.
  • Movement 4 = two polyrhythms for piano, wood blocks and organ played with binaural processing to match the pattern of a telephone cord.
  • Movement 5 = a softly muted faux-African rhythm on marimba, accompanied by ghostly vocals and a brief blast of organ.

The piece is titled Appliqué in honor of MacConnel’s first solo exhibition, Collection Applied Design.

Junto Project 0277: Chew Some Concrète Sounds [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.

There is a lovely moment beginning around the six-minute mark of “Chew Cinders 1” by C. Reider. What appears to be randomized white noise degrades softly into retreating tones, followed by the rumbling of a deep bass presence that explodes into blankets of industrial haze. The effect is both unsettling and restful, reminiscent of classic Zoviet France (for those unfamiliar, their album Shouting at the Ground is a good starting point and well worth your investigation).

“I believe in the future resolution of two states,” wrote the Surrealist André Breton. “Life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease[ing] to be perceived as contradiction.” Composers who work in such contexts remove sounds from their original source material, thus creating a dichotomy in which even the most experimental music can reside within the realm of familiarity.

For this weird piece, Suss Müsik adhered to a philosophy of “sharp attack, gentle decay” — an unfaithful reproduction of casually played instruments. You’ll hear washes of synth, glitchy electronics, the tinkle of a piano, the heavy drop of a microphone. Deeper listens may reveal the distorted whine of a saxophone, or perhaps the rumble that occurs when a Boss RV-3 pedal is pushed to capacity. A chopstick is tapped on a piece of paper to replicate a snappy drum snare; somehow the hum of a dehumidifier sounds like a choir. Plus there’s a guy talking. Instant dada.

The piece is titled Creideamh, a derivative of the Old irish word creitem meaning “to believe.” The image is a red baseball, torn in half, with a picture of Salvador Dali on its surface.

Junto Project 0276: 808 Blockchain Beats [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.

“I’m not just singing,” The great Mick Jagger said to an interviewer who suggested, at 70 years of age, that maybe Jagger was a little too old to be dancing the way he does onstage. “I want to do a performance, as well, so that’s waving my arms and running around. I hear the music and just can’t help dancing.”

Mick Jagger might be the most illustrative lead singer in rock and roll history. Perhaps the least engaged vocalist of all time is a relatively unknown Californian named Su Tissue, lead singer of an obscure 80’s outfit called Suburban Lawns. Dressed like a schoolteacher and looking decidedly uncomfortable, Su Tissue (real name McLane) didn’t have what you’d call stage presence. Her singing was something of an acquired taste as well, resembling a weird mix of Yoko Ono, Deborah Evans-Stickland of the Flying Lizards, and someone who’s just returned from having a root canal. Naturally, the Lawns were a brilliant slice of New Wave art-rock.

What does this have to do with Blockchain? Suss Müsik has no idea. We do know something about the 808’s “systemic cooperation” with our understanding of rhythm. As individual sounds, the 808 doesn’t exactly embed the urge to shake one’s booty to the ground. Once assembled into a recognizable beat, however, all disassociation evaporates as the synthetic beats are decentralized, distributed, indirectly coordinated.

For this effort, Suss Müsik considered the strange, wonderful aesthetic of Su Tissue in the context of Bitcoin. (Hey, somebody has to.) The 808 rhythm was purposely antiseptic. Two phrases were played on piano to roughly match the 808 sequence: syncopated yet awkwardly immobile. We kept the BPM as close to 88 as we could, although to our ears it might be a bit slower than that. There’s a fuzzy bass in there someplace.

The piece is titled Dosimetry, which is the measurement and assessment of ion radiation dosage on the human body. The SU-E-T-808 is a improved sequential booster for treating cancers of the head and neck.

Junto Project 0275: Revisit Something [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 Pearlman’s Guide to Rapid Revision, first published in 1965. The book is currently in its eighth printing. This means that an instructional manual on how to revise is, in and of itself, a revision.

Although Nietzsche considered eternal returns to be the heaviest of burdens, poet Alice Notley had a different take. “Your face comes clearer as time passes,” she wrote, “as if goodbye were forever younger like your face.” When it comes to developing an idea, sometimes putting distance between effort and output helps to clarify things.

Suss Müsik re-examined Junto 0272, a project in homage to the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system. The original piece is constructed around polyrhythms played in various ratios, which we simplified to eight phrases of six notes apiece. Each sequence was played on piano, strings and marimba, then phased according to orbital frequencies we attempted to recall from memory. (Some “cheating” was likely involved along the way. Apologies to TRAPPIST-1 enthusiasts.)

The piece is titled Meiosis, which is a type of cell division in which sperm and egg cells are produced by reducing the number of chromosomes in the parent cell. Without this form of “revision,” human life would not exist. The image is liquid soap in a glass jar.

Suss Müsik deeply appreciates the kind feedback we received from our fellow Junto 0272 participants. It is an honor to take part in this weekly exercise among such wonderfully gifted and talented contributors.

Junto Project 0274: The Genre of Broken Sound [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 is egalitarian when it comes to concept development. We asked our friend Carvin to describe the experience of listening to a genre called broken sound. What does it sound like, Carvin?

“The sonic equivalent of H.P. Lovecraft’s description of the Old Ones,” he replied. “Incomplete, phasing in and out of dimensions, and the sight of which drives one to insanity.”

Love it. Tell us more.

“Tonally frustrating. The rhythm and phrases are out of time and place. They’re there and then they’re not. Cohesion and confusion buried deep. Like DNA with chunks of helixes missing and replaced with something else.”

For this project, Suss Müsik distorted the concept of a broken consort, which refers to Baroque music composed for instruments of more than one family (i.e.; strings and woodwinds). We used piano in addition to such nontraditional “instruments” as power tools, electronic gadgets and mechanical toys.

The result is an amorphous, glitchy mess of a piece: creepy, unstructured, atmospheric, dissonant and decidedly unrefined. It’s not exactly ambient in the usual sense, yet you’d be hard pressed to score any notation except in rare bits.

The piece is titled Nyarlathotep, named after the evil shape-shifting deity invented by Lovecraft who is capable of assuming 1,000 unique formations. The image is a blob of clear liquid soap.