Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

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 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.

Disquiet Junto 0271: Prison Sky [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.

“Wait, for now,” wrote the poet Galway Kinnell. “Distrust everything, if you have to. But trust the hours.”

When one is incarcerated, life is nothing but empty hours. It’s a peculiar sort of time that is both structured and unstructured, shaped by the constraints of geometry and dictated by astronomical cycles. If one is fortunate to have a window to the outdoors, the view of the sky is framed not only by the size of the opening but also the sun’s rotation on its axis. Six hours of sky, half a meter square.

The ordeal of Bassel Khartabil is a heartbreaking love story. Suss Müsik imagines Noura Ghazi staring out her window and wondering if her husband might be alive or dead. Perhaps there was a moment when they gazed upon the same patch of sky at the same time, their thoughts locked as one.

For this piece, a melodic phrase is twinned on piano and flute accompanied by organ. The mood shifts at the 2:30 mark and becomes increasingly more foreboding. A drum machine clicks off time as the atmosphere deadens, recalling the anxious footsteps of a loved one awaiting bad news that may never arrive.

The piece is named after the Arabic word for “heart.”