Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

Junto Project 0445: Aare Tribute

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 River Aare is notable for its turquoise color, which gets bluer and richer as the weather in Bern gets warmer. Minerals from the surrounding mountains drain into the Aare via melting snow and ice, leaving an exotic cocktail of minerals in the water. Some locals suggest that the blue color has intensified over the years, as more glaciers melt due to overall warming of the earth’s atmosphere.

The color of the Aare was the start of Suss Müsik’s tribute to one of Europe’s most beautiful and overlooked geographies. The piece begins with a blast of “blue noise” generated by a grain synth, sequenced according to conversion maps drawn in the shape of the River Aare.

map of River Aare

The supplied image of the river and surrounding hotspots was then converted to high-contrast, binary tones. The resulting picture was then scanned as a high-resolution audio file and processed into samples. These were sequenced according to the matrix of hotspots as they appear on the original map. What resulted was a series of little blips and blorps in the key of B.

All of these components were then played and recorded live to 8-track.

The work process employed by Suss Müsik is similar to that used for an ongoing collaboration with visual artist B.G. Madden, whose first name coincidentally is Bern.

The piece is entitled Aare. Thanks and kudos to Tobias Reber for proposing such an interesting Junto project.

Artistic Collaborations

Suss Müsik continues a very fruitful collaboration with visual artist B.G. Madden. The latest piece, titled Dotto, was rendered from audio scans of Madden’s most recent work.

Given current pandemic conditions, Madden delivered his contributions via US mail in the form of handmade post cards. The new pieces are beautifully reminiscent of post-modern “picture theorists” from the late 1980’s: Richard Prince, Annette Lemieux, and especially the late John Baldessari. The scanned output was then filtered through grain synthesizers and Moog modulation boxes.

Suss Müsik has lagged behind the Quarantine Concert series. Dotto will likely be the next piece “performed.” Or maybe something different. The new social archetype is ambiguity, and Suss Müsik embraces it.

In related news, Suss Müsik’s piece entitled Attaché (also a collaborative work, this time employing Madden’s art as graphic notation) will be featured at this year’s New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (NYCEMF). Again due to the global pandemic, the entire concert series is taking place virtually. Some great work there to be heard, however, and you don’t even have to leave your house.

Junto Project 0442: One Sentence [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.

“So what hovers along with the general unhappiness of everybody with things as they are?”

That quote is by the American poet Robin Blaser, spoken as part of his July 1992 lecture on the nature of belief and doubt in politics. You can listen to the entire digital transcript at the Naropa Poetics Audio Archive.

“Inside that sense we may positively read the future,” Blaser continues. “And as a consequence [humankind] becomes one of the pieces of the puzzle … to try to make a difference.”

Suss Müsik finds this idea both relevant and fascinating. One almost imagines current events operating as a sociocultural trompe l’oeil, a layer of ornamental unrest necessitating our advancement as a kinder, more empathetic species. One hopes so, anyway.

Suss Müsik original’s attempt was to translate the cadence of Blaser’s voice into notation, something like Steve Reich’s excellent Different Trains. Suss Müsik is not Steve Reich, however, and what you hear are various sonic fragments in major pentatonic scale played on fake strings and woodwinds. One of these fragments comprised a four-chord piano phrase, which marks the transition to a synthetic wash approximating the same cadence.

Suss Müsik was struck not only by the content and inflection of Blaser’s sentence, but also the raspy quality of his voice — cavalier, droll, almost indifferent to the importance of his question. For this reason, Suss Müsik accepts Disquiet Junto demerits for including it in the final piece.

The piece is titled Atrococo, a mashup of the words atrocity and rococo. The image is an overlay of Suss Müsik’s attempt to map Blaser’s sentence to some form of notation.

Junto Project 0441: Three Stones [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 found three flat, smooth stones. They stack quite nicely into a pillar, which brought to mind the “stone town” of Kuklica.

Located near Kratovo in North Macedonia (about 260 kilometers northwest of Thessaloniki), the Stone Town of Kuklica is an area consisting of over 120 naturally formed stone pillars. The pillars are the result of natural erosion in volcanic rock over the past 100,000 years.

The most famous legend explaining the pillars’ formation is about a man who couldn’t decide which of two women he should marry. He planned to marry each woman on the same day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. (Suss Müsik recommendation: don’t do this.) While the first wedding was in progress, the second woman showed up in a rage. She cursed all the attendees and turned them into stone, where they stand today.

For this piece, Suss Müsik sought to capture the moment at which a wedding becomes a petrification event. An array of “hits” using the three found stones were converted into random patterns using a grain synthesizer, then compiled into a more coherent rhythm. The piece concludes with a few somber piano chords. The vocal melody is a distressed field recording of “Ave Maria” sung in Greek.

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

Junto Project 0438: Deep Plan [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.

“Continual activity and excitement seem to me a true perception of the nature of things,” said poet Kenneth Koch. “Because everything is always changing and turning into something else, and, as we’re sitting here talking, monkeys are jumping around in the trees, and waves are going across the Hudson, and new poets are being born, and covers are coming off books—I mean, all sorts of things are going on.”

We think of quarantine as a time of stasis and repose. Suss Müsik imagines something quite the opposite, however: small quarks of nervous energy, found in rooms inhabited by the impatient and restless. Carpets worn threadbare due to constant pacing; the passing of ambiguous deadlines; a flurry of activity in all directions without a compass.

The term Poka Yoke is a Japanese term used in manufacturing since the early 1960’s. Literally meaning “mistake-proofing,” the intention is to eliminate defects in production in order to prevent human errors from occurring. One imagines the chaos that ensues when the constraints fail and behavior can no longer takes its shape: the well-oiled machines break down. Covers get torn off books.

That’s how Suss Müsik approached this week’s Disquiet Junto. A cyclical counterpoint of organ, malfunctioning CR-78 and fake woodwinds provides a background for simple piano chords. When the rhythm is disrupted, all hell breaks loose. Everything comes back together, eventually, but not before we hear a passage of Numachi, a short story written by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa on the theme of insanity.

The piece was played live and recorded quickly to 8-track, minus one overdub for the text.

Quarantine Concerts

Given these weirdly unsettling times, it’s gratifying to see many homebound musicians and artists taking to social media as a way to connect with their audiences. It’s a nice thing.

Suss Müsik doesn’t have an audience commensurate with any of these folks; however, home confinement does present interesting opportunities to provide a real-time window into the creative process.

With this in mind, Suss Müsik has begun releasing small-scale performances to an audience of one: a lonely little houseplant who seems to appreciate the extra attention of late.

The first video is a live performance of “Foraging,” inspired by the sculpture of Richard Serra and the architecture of Tadeo Ando. Both of these visionaries transformed the brute aesthetic of their chosen materials into delicate studies of ever-shifting light and form. Sounds are created and manipulated from an audio scan of artwork by B.G. Madden.

If interested, you can learn more about Madden’s work or order a copy of Co-Process, the album on which “Foraging” appears.

The second video is an impromptu demonstration of a Suss Müsik-designed custom frame for the Artiphon INSTRUMENT-1. The frame makes the device easier to play on one’s lap while holding it upright. The piece is attached to the instrument via three 1/4-20 nylon thumbscrew, with a little notch to accommodate a shoulder strap. Specifications, materials and final 3D-printed manufacturing by WALT3D.

In this video, the device is played with a combination of tapping and “bowing” while using the Violin setting. It’s something like playing a Chapman Stick, except Suss Müsik is nowhere near the caliber of Tony Levin.

More video performances to come, pending length of current quarantine conditions. Everyone stay safe, healthy and sane.

For Those Confined to Shelter in Place

We’re navigating a period of tremendous challenge. Hopefully most of us will emerge on the other side. Of greater concern is the state of our communities and whether we’re strong enough — physically, spiritually, economically — to survive what will likely be degradation of historical proportion.

Quiescent coverSuss Müsik can’t mass-produce hospital equipment or develop vaccines. Suss Müsik can’t even tell you that everything is going to be all right, because who knows what’s going to happen.

The only thing Suss Müsik knows how to do is make sounds. A number of listeners report that some of Suss Müsik’s output has a calming effect on them, a sort of vibroacoustic conditioning that elevates concentration, improves mental outlook, and reduces stress.

Suss Müsik won’t even begin to pretend that an hour of ambient noise will successfully halt the decimation of global life. All that can be hoped is that, possibly, this piece can serve as a mentally therapeutic diversion for those who need it.

The piece is called Quiescent and is offered for free to anyone* who wants it. The running time is exactly 55-minutes. Put it on as background while you work, meditate, mourn, heal or rest. Or listen intently and think about a better future that can’t arrive fast enough.

*Subject to Bandcamp limitations on free downloads per month. If the download isn’t available, contact Suss Müsik and a download link will be provided to you.

More Collaborations with Artist B.G. Madden

Over the past year, Suss Müsik has enjoyed working with visual artist B.G. Madden on a series of art/sound collaborations. One piece explores system in nature to reveal hidden relationships between the natural work and synthetic technology. Another piece uses Madden’s work as graphic notation, rendering pigment and plaster into polyrhythmic fields.

This partnership has produced three new pieces built almost entirely from audio scans of Madden’s newest work: a series of open compositions inspired by the sculpture of Richard Serra and the architecture of Tadeo Ando. Both of these visionaries transform the brute aesthetic of their chosen materials into delicate studies of ever-shifting light.

Suss Müsik sought to accomplish a similar synthesis in sound. Madden’s work was scanned using a computer algorithm. These unendurable blobs of static were processed in real time using the major pentatonic (five-tone) scale in keys of D# and F#. The process resulted in a rich library of sonic overlaps.

The first piece, titled Montessori, combines two dissonant (yet seductive) surface textures to form an engagingly simple configuration of glitchy ambience:

The second piece, titled Corbusier, references building architecture less subtly in both its title and single-chord scaffolding. The title is derived by the educational approach that focuses on behavioral observation:

The third piece, titled Dovum, was created from Madden’s more Jan Dibbets-inspired work. The title is a mashup of the words doven (prayers recited in a Jewish liturgy) and ovum (a cell that reproduces when fertilized by its counterpart):

Marc Weidenbaum of Disquiet wrote a very kind analysis of Dovum that beautifully sums up what Suss Müsik has been trying to achieve since 2015: “a digital purity of sound that is employed to present materials whose cumulative chaos strives to approach that of the natural, analog, flesh-and-blood world.” Thank you, Marc.

The entire B.G. Madden collaboration is available for listening on SoundCloud. Discussions are underway to release a proper album and play some live dates. Stay tuned.

Update = Yet another new collaboration has arisen. The piece is titled Oort, named after astronomer Jan Oort who discovered a sphere of icy objects at the edge of our solar system and from which comets are believed to originate.

Original graphite works by B.G. Madden are shown below:

Art 1 by B.G. Madden

Art by B.G. Madden

Art 3 by B.G. Madden

Derrida’s Dilemma

Suss Müsik created a little video using the Artiphon INSTRUMENT1, six simultaneous MIDI channels, two Moog analog processors, three electric piano chords, the occasional burp of a grain synth module, and ever-increasing dollops of harmonic reverb.

Here’s the description of process:

Deconstructivism is a philosophy once taught by Jacques Derrida, who believed that absolutes were confining and that multiple meanings cannot be reconciled within a singular work. Think of it as a way of discovering hidden meanings within a structure intended to subvert them.

Deconstructivist architecture is designed to give the impression of fragmentation within a wholly composed building. The style is characterized by non-linear shapes that appear to distort predictable forms into controlled chaos.

With this in mind, Suss Müsik tested the Artiphon INSTRUMENT1. The intention was to see if a complex polyrhythm of interwoven phrases could be built up, broken apart and played in real time. Each phrase is built around a variation of a simple F chord, their timbres and timings controlled manually.

A total of nine component phrases (each with its own voice and notation) were looped with slight variations in the base chord fingering. This allowed subtle phasing between 3-note and 4-note sequences on the Artiphon.

Eventually the pieces dissolves into an ambient wash, signifying the release of absolute structure. When the parts are reassembled, a glitch filter and two Moog processors distress the remaining bits — a semblance of fragmented reminders.