Suss Müsik Featured on CKRL “La Croche Oreille”

On Sunday 16 October, Suss Müsik will appear on the CKRL radio program La Croche Oreille, hosted by Gaëtan Gosselin. The program is hosted from Quebec City and broadcast in French. Maybe someone who speaks that language fluently will kindly let Suss Müsik know what’s being said. This coincides with Suss Müsik’s latest album New Hopes being listed as this week’s “What’s New” feature. Exciting stuff.

Contact Mic Synth & MIDI Device + Meng Qi Wingie 2

Suss Müsik created a video demonstrating a handmade contact mic synth and customized MIDI device, built from recycled 1990’s computer hardware. (You can see the hard drive housing that serves as a sort of “plate reverb”). One channel was run through a Meng Qi Wingie 2. Reverb and delay pedals were controlled via footpedals; vocal samples were triggered by another handmade device using pads. The piece was largely improvised and recorded live in September 2022.

Junto Project 0557: Condensation Is a Form of Change [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.

Condensation is a form of change, but this is only half of the story. Condensation is what happens when vapor transforms to a liquid state; evaporation is what happens when liquid changes back to vaporous form. It’s a constant, cyclical form of reclaiming what was lost.

Michael John Harris, author of the book The End of Absence, has an interesting perspective on loss vs. gain: “My child will never know the value of learning to read a map without GPS. This is the problem with losing lack: it’s nearly impossible to recall its value once it’s gone.“

Some cognitive scientists argue that digital media has rendered our brains into mush. Others believe that, like how the clouds above manage moisture content, it’s simply a matter of displacing one form of cognitive processing with another.

For this Junto project, Suss Müsik explored the cyclical nature of something being there and then not there. The original photo was scanned and rendered to high-contrast, which revealed two distinct patterns: the first a reasonably formed outline comprising a circle (we’ll call that v.1), the other a series of amorphous blobs (v.2).

high-contrast scan of four condensation rings

high-contrast scan of four condensation rings, abstracted

v.1 became the basis for a cyclical riff played on fake bass and a DIY synth device. v.2 was played by tracing a finger across a DIY piezo mic resonator (constructed from old hard drive enclosures) and passing the signal through a Meng Qi Wingie 2. Some sloppy piano was overdubbed; interruptions were designed per interpretation of the “score.”

The piece is titled after Hieronimo Squarciafico, the 15th-century Venetian editor who warned that the invention of the printing press would inhibit humankind’s ability to remember things.

New Hopes Album Released on Bandcamp

Suss Müsik has released a number of mini-albums and EP’s since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of our globe. The latest is an eight-track LP of short electro-acoustic compositions for handmade sound-making devices, fake strings, piano, percussion, barely detectable vocals, and (in one track) a penny-whistle. The album is entitled New Hopes and currently available on Bandcamp. New Hopes will soon arrive at your favorite music streaming service. In the meantime, listen and read the always entertaining liner notes.

New Hopes album cover

Junto Project 0553: Break That Cycle [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.

Any break or interruption in tempo might classify as a form of bond fission. To compose a piece that celebrates fracture as a creative element, Suss Müsik sought to understand how to locate bonds in non-musical terms. Enter Colorado School of Mines geochemistry professor Mark Eberhart, author of the book Why Things Break:

“Picture yourself flowing in space. Off the right and left are atomic nuclei. Neither can be seen, however, as each is surrounded by a dense cloud of electrons. Move up or down, backward or forward and, as if you were descending through a cloudbank, the fog diminishes. Alternatively, move toward one of the nuclei, and the electronic fog engulfing you becomes denser. Follow the path to the nucleus along with the electronic fog is densest and you are moving along the bond.”

That’s the approach Suss Müsik took with this weird piece for piano, fake strings, and rudimentary homemade synth. A simple, repetitive chord sequence was twinned on two instruments in 4/4 time. An occasional blip of piano arpeggios exceed the time signature while staying relatively in tempo.

Things bust loose midway through the piece, as the strings succumb to excessive glitch refactoring at a much higher tempo (moving toward the “nuclei” of the arpeggio tempo). Meanwhile, an electronic gadget burps in approval at the same rate. In true Sun Ra fashion, the piano tries to hold it all together before the primary chords resume their respective places, this time accompanied by a fake cello mirroring the arpeggios.

The piece is titled Homolysis, a form of fission by which each broken part of a bond retains fragments of the other.

Stereo Resonance

Suss Müsik recently acquired a Meng Qi Wingie 2. This little device takes any audio input and converts the signal to a resonated series of tones. The results are quite beautiful.

To optimize the utility of this device in Suss Müsik’s sound world, a DIY contact microphone was built from a reconstituted heat sink pulled from an old Dell computer. Placing a sheet of aluminum on the top of the instrument allowed for additional signals to be picked up via the “alleys” of the heat sink. Combined with a customized MIDI controller built into the housing, the sonic possibilities are endless.

DIY MIDI device with heat sink contact microphone

Here are a couple of YouTube videos demonstrating the instrument at work.

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/