Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

Junto Project 0322: The Wanderer

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 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

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 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

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 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.

2018 Refresh

Now that Zygotes has been released, Suss Müsik is exploring new paths in sound creation. We learned quite a bit making music for fake orchestras, and we’re looking to expand that palette into new realms and languages.

In no particular order, here is what has Suss Müsik excited for the time being:

Creating rhythmic signatures involving tuned and found percussion. This comes from a long fascination with non-western musical influences, including the drumming practices of such artists as Babatunde Olatunji.

Use of the Slonimsky-Schillinger symmetric system for creating notation logic using randomized scales. We don’t pretend to understand quite all of it, but it’s an interesting way to work.

Extrapolation of live recordings into sequential patterns. In other words: playing live in a studio for some amount of time and drawing small bits of material from the session. For example, the results of what happens when a digital delay artifact is compressed and randomized with other voices (not unlike the work of Markus Popp, only using instruments rather than software).

Greater accessibility. Suss Müsik was encouraged by the response to our most recent Disquiet Junto submission, which has us thinking that it might be fun to create a series of quirky, danceable dub compositions. Think early 1980’s bands like Maximum Joy or The Pop Group.

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.

Zygotes Release Now Available

Cover of Zygotes After a “soft launch” in which we received feedback from a few trusted advisors, Zygotes is now released. You can find it on BandCamp right now, and soon it will be available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Pandora and a few other places.

Many thanks to those who provided advance feedback and critiques: C. Koustourlis, W.W. Allen, D. Toub, A. Selby, M. Carvin in particular.

Update 01/05: Zygotes is now available on Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and Amazon. You can also listen for free on YouTube.

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.