Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

Beige Nostalgia

“Beige box” is a term applied to older personal computers with dated aesthetic appeal and, by today’s metrics, substandard performance specifications. It’s typically used in derision when referring to consumer technologies made by IBM (and their ilk) in the 1990’s.

Suss Müsik is old enough to have used such devices unironically. Syquest drives, Iomega removable media drives, La Cie CD-writers, and (yes, admittedly) the odd IBM Model 30 have all graced Suss Müsik headquarters at some point or another.

For nearly two decades, these “beige box” devices have occupied space in Suss Müsik’s attic. There they sat, resigned to a status as dusty relics of a long ago time before iPhones and high-speed wifi freed us all from the shackles of 56k modems and 16-color graphics cards.

What those devices did have, however, were enclosures of exceptional strength and agility. They were often made from electrogalvanized steel, sufficiently rigid to protect their sensitive inner guts yet pliable enough to drill and cut holes. In other words, the perfect housing for a DIY synth or customized MIDI device.

Suss Müsik, ergo, has given these 25-year-old devices new life as sound-making implements. The first is an Iomega Jaz Drive from 1999 or so; the next piece is a removable SCSI backup drive. Perhaps the next project is an album inspired by technology of a long forgotten and underappreciated era.

Jaz Drive and SCSI backup drive from 1999 or so

front of Jaz Drive synth

back of Jaz Drive synth

Junto Project 0550: Abrupt Probability [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 was an incident at Suss Müsik headquarters this past week. During the overnight hours, a bird appeared to have met its abrupt demise as the result of an encounter with another animal—a cat or raccoon, perhaps. Nature is cruel and often mysterious. “[It is] in the womb of nature,” wrote the artist Paul Klee, “at the source of creation, where the secret key to all lies guarded.”

Dunno about that … but whatever took place, Suss Müsik’s porch was the stage for an ornithological unvermittelt featuring a random arrangement of blood, feathers, and at least one disembodied talon. Darwin might have described the scene as one species demonstrating “injurious variations” over another; in other words, natural selection at work. For Suss Müsik, it was an unexpected opportunity to test the garden hose’s pressure-jet feature.

(Apologies to squeamish readers. There’s no way to describe this creative process without a few gory details).

For this week’s project, Suss Müsik began with a photograph of the debris described above. The image was rendered for high-contrast in order to isolate the lines of the porch floor and placement of organic matter. The blood splatters comprised a basic three-part chord structure. Ten feather clumps were divided into two sets of five; one was used to design an arpeggio for piano, the other as a motif for grain synth and second piano using particle refactoring.

The piece is titled Tatort, which translates to “crime scene” in German. It was recorded quickly to 8-track in July 2022. The bird deserved a better epitaph.

porch with feathers and blood

highlight of feathers and blood

feathers and blood with numbers

Junto Project 0549: Sidelines [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.

In his excellent book The New Analog, Damon Krukowski suggests that listening to a quadraphonic recording is a simulacrum of the geocentric model proposed by Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy in 150 (CE). Ptolemaic cosmology assumed that the Earth was a stationary object situated at the center of the universe, and that other heavenly bodies traveled uniformly in a perfectly circular motion around it.

A different stereophonic geometry can be observed in “gandy dancers,” a nickname given to African American railroad workers in the 1920’s. Their job was to maintain and repair miles of railways in the segregated US south: replacing rotted cross-ties, refilling ballast, locking pieces of track into place, and straightening and leveling the lines to ensure safe train passage. The workers were known for their synchronized, graceful ballet that required strength and agility.

An important aspect of railway work was the transport and installation of heavy steel rails lining both sides of the track, a process called “dogging” in which a lead workman served as the “caller” or “call man.” The caller would sing a four-beat song to mark time, and the rest of the crew would follow in rhythm, working shoulder-to-shoulder in pairs. As they tamped the ballast under ties raised with square-ended picks, the workers engaged in call-and-response to ensure that all tasks were executed safely and correctly.

For this week’s project, Suss Müsik took inspiration from a 1939 field recording* of Zora Neale Hurston singing a traditional railroad “spiking” tune. A pair of percussion “lines” represent two sides of railroad track, each treated with glitched stereo delay in opposite left-right channels. A synthesized melody accompanies the lyric, which was passed down from a Jacksonville caller named Max Ford. The hammers heard in the original were intended to replicate the sound of spikes being driven into cross-ties, and they’re faithfully included here with bidirectional panning.

The piece is titled Gandy Dancing and is presented in honor of those who risked physical safety to produce not only infrastructure, but also a rich cultural legacy. May we celebrate their voices heard softly in the thick southern humidity, the kudzu creeping slowly onto the railway edges.

Learn more about gandy dancers from this fascinating Folkstreams documentary.

*Citation: Kennedy, Stetson, Herbert Halpert, Zora Neale Hurston, Herbert Halpert, and Zora Neale Hurston. Dat Old Black Gal. Jacksonville, Florida, 1939. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/flwpa000005/

Updated Discography

Suss Müsik is finally getting around to updating the digital discography. Now available via your streaming vehicle of choice are Ex Post Facto, Paraphasia, Co-Process Volume 2, and ::. Soon to come are SixOverEight and an 80-minute version of Quiescent. Also available are the Egret Zero releases I Want To Have Faith and Exploring Shackleton, both of which received very kind reviews. You can read explanations of all releases distributed under the net label Lůno.

Junto Project 0541: 10BPM Techno [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 common trope among social media posts are videos with enticing clickbait titles, such as: “Homeless Person Sits Down At Piano, Then THIS Happened.” The reveal is that the figure at the public piano is actually a professional musician. These scenes typically take place at a shopping mall, where an impromptu audience is delighted by the player’s unexpected dexterity.

Franco Bifo Berardi reminds us that “The goal of the [analyst] is to give him/her the possibility to see other landscapes, and to change the focus, to open some new ways of imagination.” One might imagine the reaction at Carnegie Hall if a virtuoso flubbed a performance so badly that it bordered on an Andy Kaufman skit.

This is why Suss Müsik cannot fathom a dance club scenario in which techno music plays at 10BPM. It’s not impossible, however, for such an event to occur in a setting such as a shopping mall. And rather than a DJ playing electronic techno music, it might be a very strange string quartet attempting to fit their odd time signatures within that 10BPM timestamp.

This is the approach Suss Müsik took with this week’s project. A series of four cyclical phrases were played on fake violin, fake cello, fake harp and fake dulcimer. A single strike of a mallet keeps time in 10BPM; meanwhile, the instruments are bowed and plucked in 1/64 and 1/128 to give a sense of movement. The constant repetition is perhaps a nod to techno’s reliance on looped beats.

All of this happens in front of a bewildered audience of mall shoppers (courtesy of public domain audio), who would just as soon be left alone in the food court without this distraction. Then again, as Violet Trefusis once wrote, perhaps it’s true that “love thrives on indifference” and some appreciation would be detected. Maybe we’ll try it one day.

The piece is titled Trefusis. The image may or may not be a shopping center somewhere in the US.

Postcript: feedback from a fellow participant noted how an “elaborate explanation [was] required” due to Suss Müsik “breaking all the rules” of the original prompt. This critique isn’t wholly accurate. True, the piece isn’t immediately recognizable as techno. There’s no drum machine, for one thing. The primary attributes of 10BPM and 4/4 time were preserved, however, which allowed opportunities to explore the use of 128th notes to creative effect.

Junto Project 0538: Guided Decompression [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.

Back in the Paleolithic Era, Suss Müsik had a day job in a print shop. It was stressful, physically demanding work; the craft of mechanical reproduction requires meticulous attention to detail and firm adherence to bulk scheduling. It was not uncommon for tensions to erupt during the course of a working day: yelling, crying, illness, threats, even the occasional fistfight.

Still, there was also something comforting about the work’s repetitive nature: an almost soothing glow that takes over the mind and body, not unlike the euphoria experienced during vigorous exercise. One felt a sense of camaraderie, of being an essential component of a successful process. We were merely cogs in a machine, yes, but it was our machine and together we cultivated an ability to convert stress into sedation.

Walter Benjamin (author of the seminal essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction) once wrote: “The relationship between life and purposefulness reveals itself, seemingly obvious yet almost beyond the grasp of the intellect, only if the ultimate purpose toward which all single functions tend is sought not in its own sphere but in a higher one.” This piece attempts to explore this process of manifestation.

A sonic facsimile of mechanical process was “played” using a simple melody. The same melody was then replicated using a “breathy” glass harmonium voice, amplified into a rhythmic synth pattern. The effect is calming by nature, its native rigor gently evolving while not disrupting the pattern. The glitched voiceover is a recording of a factory worker, describing how he had been given a warning after arriving at work three minutes late during a snowstorm.

The piece is entitled Jeckel, named in honor of a former coworker who sadly passed away in 2013. This effort is dedicated to the the laughs, frustrations and wisdom we shared during our time together.

Earth Day Art Model 2022

Suss Müsik is participating in the 2022 Earth Day Art Model, a global telematic festival of art and sound in response to climate change and biodiversity loss.

For this piece, Suss Müsik “thaws” a “frozen” synth wash by breaking it into rhythmic shards, metaphorically representing the splitting of sea ice into melting and floating fragments. The piece is performed live using a custom-fabricated Artiphon INSTRUMENT-1 and two homemade electronic devices. The piece is titled and first appeared in demo form as part of Disquiet Junto project 0511.

The vocal is a refactored recording of Professor Betts’ 2009 speech for the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, hosted by Oxford University Centre for the Environment. The use of Professor Betts’ speech is covered under a Creative Commons license and is “free for reuse, remixing and redistribution in education worldwide.” The use of this material is intended to promote broader interest in the scientific evidence supporting our planet’s climatological transformation.

Junto Project 0536: Metaphor Play [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.

In Sylvia Plath’s “Stillborn,” metaphor operates almost as a counterfactual. The poem is a satirical critique of her creative process, conveyed in a self-mocking tone to imply an uncomfortable concept: if these poems/children had a better creator/mother, they would be alive today. Plath delivers a harrowing, ironic message loaded with self-deprecating gallows humor:

These poems do not live: it’s a sad diagnosis.
They grew their toes and fingers well enough,
Their little foreheads bulged with concentration.
If they missed out on walking about like people
It wasn’t for any lack of mother-love.

O I cannot explain what happened to them!
They are proper in shape and number and every part.
They sit so nicely in the pickling fluid!
They smile and smile and smile at me.
And still the lungs won’t fill and the heart won’t start.

They are not pigs, they are not even fish,
Though they have a piggy and a fishy air —
It would be better if they were alive, and that’s what they were.
But they are dead, and their mother near dead with distraction,
And they stupidly stare and do not speak of her.

For this creative brief, Suss Müsik envisioned something beautiful and pristine contained in dusty glass jars of formaldehyde. A simple melody for fake woodwinds was slowly distressed using glitch technologies to accompany a VCVRack patch playing a Lydian chord progression. (The Schillinger System was used to define harmonic variations, for composition geeks out there, nearly undetectable under all the fuzz).

Although the final output doesn’t necessarily evoke images of rotten, grimy bodies left to decay, there remains a sense of something having “missed out on walking about” like a fully realized piece. To paraphrase Plath, Suss Müsik cannot explain what happened to it.

The piece is titled Plath and was recorded quickly to 8-track in three takes.

New EP, Unpronounceable Title

Suss Müsik accidentally recorded a new EP, titled :: (pronounced “dotbox”). Recorded in a series of improvisational weekend sessions in March 2022, these pieces seemed to hang together well as a single release. It wasn’t the intention, but Suss Müsik allows for happy accidents. Performed, in part, using handmade elecro-acoustic instrumentation and customized MIDI devices, all four pieces are reworked Disquiet Junto projects. The EP is now available on Bandcamp and soon will appear on all your favorite streaming services. Here’s the cover:

Junto Project 0532: Other Means [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.

In 1997, members of a religious cult called Heaven’s Gate believed that the passing of the Hale-Bopp comet would be followed by a spaceship. Convinced that the spaceship would take “true believers” aboard to the Afterlife, several members bought an expensive telescope to gain a better view of the comet. Within days, they requested a refund; when asked why they returned the telescope, they complained that the item was defective because it didn’t show the spaceship in the comet’s wake. Shortly thereafter, all 39 members of the cult killed themselves.

Cognitive dissonance is a term coined by psychologist Leon Festinger to describe the state when a person’s beliefs and behavior contradict one another. It manifests itself in various ways, from what we eat to how we vote. The COVID-19 pandemic was a breeding ground for cognitive dissonance; political and cultural biases invaded factual discourse, impeding our capacity to solve a global condition whose reverberations persist to this day.

Suss Müsik sought to explore the vexatious nature of dissonance using DIY-glitch technologies and manipulated vocalizations. Sounds emitted from handmade devices were recorded to tape and “performed” using a hacked cassette Sony Walkman. The most interesting bits were sampled into loops and run through a grain synth engine. The vocal effect (which features a sample of psychologist Dr. Dan P. McAdams) recalls that of sound art pioneer Alvin Lucier, whose seminal piece I Am Sitting In A Room suggests a new form of musicality: spoken words verbalized and abstracted, the non-tonic becoming tonic and back again.

The piece is titled Festinger and was recorded live to 8-track.