Junto Project 0627: Just Ice Society [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.

An Individual Conditional Expectation (ICE) is a type of plot that demonstrates the deviation from a predicted occurrence when some aspect of it changes. Resembling statistical visualizations popularized by Edward Tufte in the 1980’s, ICE plots represent information as a series of lines each representing a separate, unique data point.

Every new year brings a period of reflection, inevitably coupled with an optimistic array of good intentions. One might be compelled to plot these on an ICE or similar chart detailing progress toward a given milestone. For Suss Müsik, the 2024 plan includes critical objectives like “be nice, mostly” and “try to avoid hospitals.” The bar is admittedly set low around here.

For this recurrent Junto project (one of Suss Müsik’s favorites), the sound of ice in a glass was sampled and run through a sort of handmade grain synth. This weird rhythm makes its appearance later in the piece, following an organ prelude accompanied by an arpeggiated bell/harp pattern. The voices were digitally stretched to resemble nothing more than long breaths, perhaps metaphorically representing the deep exhale one emits after a challenging year.

The piece is titled 2101.06986, in tribute to the filename of a 2021 paper by three authors describing the use of slice visualization to model machine learning algorithms. (Another Suss Müsik 2024 goal is “title more pieces after numbers,” because why not).

Junto Project 0621: The Leftovers [repost]

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Suss Müsik’s entire creative practice is centered around the quest to derive gold from detritus. It’s likely an attribute shared with carefree art school days of an earlier era: a time when post-modern photography, sweaty punk rock, and ramen noodles served as daily sustenance.

“Photographs, so much a part of our daily lives, become highly self-conscious when pulled from the fraying of their ordinary locations,” wrote the art critic Julia Ballerini in 1989. “They refer back to their origins in a different voice … suggest[ing] a complexity of potential attachments, detachments, and reconfigurations.”

For this week’s project, Suss Müsik utilized four handmade devices recently built from material laying around the workshop: a digital sample trigger, a joystick-activated grain synth, a touchscreen MIDI device, and a touchscreen modulation controller. These were used to manipulate sonic material (loops, found audio, etc.) from the backlog, some of which has been in the works for more than eight years.

Given the nature of this week’s offering, Suss Müsik captured the session on video. The piece has no title and was recorded live to a TASCAM 8-track.

Junto Project 0603: Animated Suspension [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 a 2004 photograph by performance artist and painter Keith Boadwee, the artist is shown jumping off the roof of a house, his naked body horizontally splitting the frame in half. The piece, titled Leap Into The Yard, is arguably the most benign of Boadwee’s works. (Google him if you dare).

Boadwee’s image serves as tangible evidence of suspension, both literally and figuratively: a moment caught between decision and consequence, a physical body arrested in the flow of time. Performance artists have long documented their efforts with photographs or films, the ephemerality of their works legitimized through a process of ocularity. Think of it as an early harbinger of the meme “pics or it didn’t happen.”

Then again, maybe the pictorial act of suspension is itself a lie. Art critic Martin Jay reminds us that photographs taken in the 19th century often produced ghostly double-exposures, and that any image we view represents at best a distorted truth. “Artists insistently stage their desire to be present, to have an immediate effect on their audience,” Jay writes, “yet this very desire bespeaks an awareness that images will inevitably interpose themselves, and that all images can mislead as well as inform.”

With the above in mind, Suss Müsik tackled this week’s Junto project as an exploration in ghostly, there-or-not-there suspension. A metallic percussion rhythm was looped through a distressed synth filter, while a chord sequence was played on electric piano. A DIY electronic instrument (built from an old computer heat sink and run through a hazy reverb modulator) provides floaty background atmospherics.

It’s music that you hear, then you don’t; a sonic depiction of the blur between action and impact.

The piece is titled Ocularity and was recorded live to 8-track in July 2023.

Disquiet Junto Profile

Followers of this website (all eleven of them) will recall that Suss Müsik is a regular participant in the Disquiet Junto. Headlined by writer and publisher Marc Wiedenbaum, the Junto is a online music community who participate in weekly assignments. Prompts have included experiments in visual scores, collaborative projects with international arts organizations, and tributes to noteworthy composers.

Marc is publishing a series of profiles on Junto participants, and Suss Müsik was honored to be included in May 2023. Topics include a Neil deGrasse Tyson quote, some insight on DIY instrument building, and the importance of a good set of headphones.

Junto Project 0588: Swell Time (Make Some Surf Music) [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.

P.oceanica is a slow-growing species of Posidonia, a global seagrass that provides food and shelter to marine organisms, protect coasts against erosion, and purifies natural water resources. P.oceanica covers the entire coastline of the Mediterranean Sea with its network of roots and rhizomes. One colony discovered off the coast of Ibiza is believed to be nearly two-hundred thousand years old, which would make it the oldest living plant in the world.

Marta Solé, a research scientist in environmental engineering at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona Tech (UPC), has spent her career studying the impact of noise pollution on marine biology. Solé’s previous research demonstrated that cephalopods hear sound through small sensory organs, which become damaged when noise exceeds a certain volume and frequency. P.oceanica have exhibited similarly adverse effects to noise, compromising the plants’ ability to connect to root systems and gather nutrients from the ocean.

Suss Müsik considered the metaphorical duality of sound waves and ocean currents as a framework for this Junto project. Three “waves” of synthetic material were treated with various distortion effects and allowed to pass over each other. A cyclical pattern simulates the gently modulating seagrass that lies beneath the surf, insulating its tender blades from the harsher noise just above the crashing waves.

The piece is titled P.oceanica and was recorded live to Tascam 8-track. Those who wish to learn more about Solé’s work are encouraged to read The Sounds of Life by Karen Bakker.

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.

Junto Project 0553: Break That Cycle [repost]

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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.

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/

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.

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.