Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

Junto Project 0528: Landscape Architecture [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 1925, Helen Keller challenged members of the Williamson County Lions Club, located about 20 miles southwest of Nashville (USA), to do more than just be business leaders. Keller instilled upon them the responsibility of better serving their community by adopting a philosophy that acknowledges accessible biodiversity. With that message came a commitment to providing experiences that a blind person could appreciate, even something as simple as being outdoors on a sunny day.

The result was a sensory park for the blind, located behind Grassland Elementary School and cared for by local volunteers. This small but inviting nirvana offers a feast for all senses, even if a visitor isn’t able to use one or more of them. A circular walkway features different stations, each devoted to exploring the possibilities of the soundscape, with natural earmarks (bubbling fountains, buzzing bees) helping visitors navigate the grounds without having to rely on visual clues.

Suss Müsik considered how auditory clues might be utilized to prevent blind travelers from trampling on fragile vegetation. The result is this strange and thankfully short piece. All the sounds are composed entirely from VCV Rack. Midi inputs were run from a Leap Motion controller, programmed to respond to gestures that move from side-to-middle. An Electro-Harmonix 8-Step CV sequencer controlled a Meris Enzo pedal from the mixer’s send channel.

Suss Müsik’s performance of this piece looks ridiculous, so of course there’s a video of it. Enjoy.

The piece is titled Liminality, a word to describe the status of being on a threshold. The image is a refactored bucolic scene somewhere in Pennsylvania.

Junto Project 0515: Talking Cure [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 their excellent book Healing At The Speed Of Sound, Don Campbell and Alex Doman mention how hospitals are experimenting with “[hiring] trained professionals [who] know how to harmonize with the sonic environment, mask ambient noise, and otherwise shape the auditory environment.”

Although numerous studies have been done on the benefits of sound design in clinical settings, Suss Müsik decided to seek some expert opinions.

Suss Müsik consulted with two friends for this project: one a mental health professional, the other living with the after-effects of a traumatic brain injury suffered a few years ago.

Both agreed that music is preferable to silence when sitting in the waiting area of a therapist’s office. Although neither had any interest in pop or rock music, there wasn’t much support for strictly ambient, shapeless, Enoesque soundscapes either. “I need something that rewards my attention if I choose to actively listen to it,” insisted the friend with a TBI, “I’m also fine if it recedes pleasantly into the background.”

The therapist friend echoed this sentiment, equating the music in a waiting room to the sonic equivalent of a fishtank. “There’s movement, light, shadow, and depth, but nothing that distracts or causes anxiety. The last thing we want is the environment causing mental or emotional friction. Something that functions well with natural light.”

For this short piece, Suss Müsik sought to create an actively calm, pleasantly busy soundscape. Something that rewards limited attention, settles into ambience when necessary, and serves as the auditory fishtank we all need from time to time.

The piece is titled Plume and named after Jenny Plume, a Nashville songwriter who created a music therapy program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and in 2013 released a CD of their works.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons BY 4.0, which allows any remix, adaptation or derivative works from the original. If you like it, have at it.

Junto Project 0511: Freeze Tag [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 of late has been studying the art of technoscientific semiotics. Don’t be too impressed. Most of the concepts befuddle and confuse Suss Müsik’s tiny brain.

According to a paper written by Zachary Horton, humans make sense of our environment by reducing everything to a transcribable surface. The sky, the land, the ocean — these vast entities represent forms of media that must be collapsed, in order to achieve comprehension of our place within the greater Anthropocene.

Freezing and thawing play a large part in our understanding of climate change. According to IPCC lead author and climate scientist Richard A. Betts, CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere are currently 50% higher than pre-industrial levels. Barring massive carbon removal over the coming decades, the melting of sea ice and rise in reflective temperatures will result in a global increase of four degrees Celsius (and possibly 10 to 15 degrees at the poles).

Grim stuff, indeed. Professor Betts takes great care, however, to emphasize that different models present nuances of uncertainty. The core message is that everything is getting warmer; how quickly that is happening—and what actions we need take for the short-term and extended future—are the variables to be reconciled.

For this piece, Suss Müsik “thawed” two synth washes that had been “frozen” in time since 2006. These were broken into rhythmic shards using grain synthesis, metaphorically representing the splitting of sea ice into melting and floating fragments. 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 learning more about the scientific evidence supporting our planet’s climatological transformation.

Junto Project 0496: Isolation Room [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.

“Teleology takes a different approach to organizing and writing history,” writes David J. Gunkel in his book Of Remixology: Ethics and Aesthetics After Remix. “If archaeology rummages around in the past for an originating ancestor, teleology begins from the end of the story, then reads backward into the past to find traces, precursors and nascent versions of the practice.”

This is the approach Suss Müsik took with this week’s Disquiet Junto project, a revision of Disquiet Junto project 0290. For that piece, Apple VoiceOver was used to record four quotes. These phrases were then refactored to approximate the gasps, hiccups and nonverbal noises that accompany everyday human speech. That part from 0290 was then isolated to create this new piece, recorded live to 8-track with some sloppy piano and DIY electronics.

The piece is titled Teleology. The quotes used in the piece are as follows:

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” ~ Groucho Marx

“Life is too short to work on inconsequential problems.” ~ C.K. Prahalad

“Somebody asked me, ‘If you had to give advice to a young actor, what would it be?’ I never even knew I was thinking this, but I said, ‘Always, even in a limo, wear your seat belt.’ To me, that’s good advice.” ~ Christopher Walken

“I’m seven people away from myself at the moment, but getting closer all the time.” ~ Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart

Junto Project 0488: Reverse Delay [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.

“The unadorned idea of a goal is ambiguous,” writes the neuroscientist Read Montague in his book Your Brain Is (Almost) Perfect. “As with any complex information-processing system, there are many levels of software in the brain … all other subgoals take a backseat to the most important edict—‘Stay alive until tomorrow.’”

One could be forgiven for procrastinating creative efforts during these past fourteen or so months. Alternatively, such conditions may also inspire a flurry of new activity that otherwise would not have happened. Regardless, some amount of stuff doesn’t get done.

Suss Müsik had an album ready to go for nearly a year before actually completing and releasing it this week. The concept was to revisit prior works with simpler, more spare arrangements.

Suss Müsik was also interested in exploring what French philosopher Gilles Deleuze described as “figurative analogies,” blurring the auditory lines between how digital and analogue sounds are represented.

This week’s Junto contribution, titled Deleuze, is the demo of a track that wasn’t included on an album that almost never got made. A figurative analogy, perhaps, for what we mean to do vs. what we actually do.

Junto Project 0467: Toolbox Show & Tell [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.

“The thing with analog circuits is they follow very simple, natural laws,” says synthesizer designer and builder Jessica Rylan, “just like breaking a tree branch, or like water, or even like birds flying in a V — they push and are pushed into that pattern because it’s the path of least resistance … like you turn on the power, it’s just following whatever the vibration would do. And the sound it produces is the exact same as the electricity producing it.”

There are many such nuggets to be found in Tara Rodgers’ excellent book Pink Noises, which compiles interviews with twenty-four women working in electronic music and sound art. Rodgers’ conversation with Rylan, coupled with pandemic isolation, inspired Suss Müsik to explore the craft of DIY synthesis and digital instrument hacking.

As a result, Suss Müsik’s toolbox is now teeming with circuit boards, jumper cables, soldering equipment, resistors / capacitors / inductors of all sizes, a kaleidoscope of LED lights, touch-sensitive / knob potentiometers, plastic casing of varying sizes, and a lifetime supply of 9-volt batteries. It’s great fun.

A key learning was that acoustic instruments create sound by moving air — a string is plucked, a drum is hit, a mouthpiece receives wind — while electronic instruments make sound by moving voltage. Nature is a rich ecosystem of patterns, and the ability to manipulate patterns of electrical current is the core of synthesized music.

This short piece is an excerpt from a series of compositions played mostly with custom-built and hacked instruments. In this particular instance, you’ll hear an piezo-amplified kalimba, a homemade sawtooth oscillator, and a photo-sensitive harmonic generator played with a flashlight and touch-ring interface.

Below is a photo of that last item, and the cover image is by visual artist B.G. Madden.

homemade synth controlled by flashlight

Junto Project 0466: [ ] Sound Machine [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.

December, 2010. Suss Müsik is walking the streets of Barcelona at night. It’s Christmastime, so the city is illuminated in celebration of the upcoming holiday.

Suss Müsik notices a pattern in the decorations. One cobblestone street is lined with circular disks of white light; another has rainbow-colored rectangles hanging from the lampposts. The two streets meet at a public square just a few blocks from La Rambla. Suss Müsik determines this intersection to be the Chromogenic Nexus.

A man is photographing the holiday lights around the square. Suss Müsik watches the man from a distance as he stows his tripod and camera equipment and revs up his motorbike. Suss Müsik mentally assigns this gentleman the job title Keeper of the Chomogenic Nexus. It’s a big responsibility.

The Chromogenic Nexus is the metaphorical congruence that personifies this beautiful, fantastic city. It’s a place where new and old worlds mesh perfectly, where a tour of Casa Batlló concludes with a 3D hologram of Antoni Gaudí waving you goodbye.

The Barcelona Sound Machine embraces this city’s Medieval origins, its Nouveau and Gothic architecture, its love of competitive sport, its cultural fluctuations, its nautical cuisine, its Catalonian nationalism.

It’s an audio landscape inspired by multiple generations of artists. If it were a gallery, it would display the surrealistic paintings of Joan Miró alongside prototypes built by Universitat Autònoma students, the two separated by 100 years and a mere 26 kilometers.

It’s a late-night ride on the FGC, where on the station wall a numeric display counts down incoming arrivals to within a microsecond of accuracy.

It’s the bronzed foam topping on a strong cup of coffee, enjoyed outside while gazing at a store mannequin that seems just a bit too realistic. Next door is a shop that sells nothing but scissors.

To Suss Müsik, ultimately, the Barcelona Sound Machine is a glitchy, multilayered, counterpoint homage to the Keeper of the Chromogenic Nexus. Godspeed to the Keeper, he who balances our understanding of what has taken place and what yet may happen.

Junto Project 0463: Making the Gradient [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.

Gradients are all around us in the form of airflow. As we move about at different speeds, refractive variations caused by density gradients distort our sense of light and sound. Higher velocity means more distortion, or at least a more visualized shift among images that remain in focus.

(Refraction is also why many of us have trouble seeing as we get older. Next time you stub your toe squinting to locate your eyeglasses, blame the gradients. Shaking your fist in the air at fandom fluid densities is entirely optional).

In 1864, German physicist Augst Toepler invented Schlieren photography as a way to visualize airflow current. Putting it simply, rays of light change when patches of air at varying densities are forced to pass through each other. Placing a concave mirror with a long focal distance helps to illuminate these shifts, which can be photographed using a knife edge or razor blade in front of a camera lens.

For this strange piece, Suss Müsik attempted to recreate a Z-type Schlieren setup with a guitar, two looping pedals, and a pitch-shifting delay pad. The original concept was to cut off one set of loops (the “lamp”) while “refracting” another set of loops (the “mirror”) with various sawtooth/reverb effects. The results didn’t quite hit that mark, but there remains some auditory evidence of densities splitting in motion and later converging.

The piece is titled Schlieren and was recorded live to 8-track. The image is a Schlieren photograph of shock waves produced by an in-flight T-38 Talon, the world’s first supersonic jet trainer.

Image credit = NASA & US Air Force: J.T. Heineck / Ed Schairer / Maj. Jonathan Orso / Maj. Jeremy Vanderhal, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Junto Project 0461: Goldilocks Zone [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.

The human brain processes emotion by categorizing all input according to two responses: sympathetic and parasympathetic (i.e. “fight or flight”). Imagine a graph with two axes: one axis representing a state of stimulation (from excited to calm), the other depicting stimuli as being negative or positive.

In his book The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, the late Clifford Nass refers to these two plots respectively as “arousal” and “valence.” Whether an emotion makes us feel angry, humiliated, serene, jubilant, frightened or something else, the brain’s job is to determine what level of valence or arousal is appropriate for a given situation. Although Nass’s book doesn’t go into the Goldilocks Zone as such, the author does explore how the brain constantly resets itself chemically in an attempt to keep us “just right.”

For this weirdly industrial-sounding piece, Suss Müsik attempted to capture the polarities and nuances between valence and arousal. The main pounding riff (the “arousal” side) was created with a pitch-shifter applied to acoustic guitar. The “valence” side is an analog synth wash combined with audio scans of two-dimensional artwork. The two sides meet somewhere in the middle, thanks to some liberal digital-delay phasing and a Ditto looping pedal.

The piece, entitled Nass, was recorded live to 8-track with no overdubs. The image was created by visual artist B.G. Madden.

Junto Project 0460: Creative Destruction [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.

“What distinguishes a particular engineering discipline from another is only the palette of things to be put together,” says structural engineer Mark. E. Eberhart in his book Why Things Break. The same might be said for how things are broken apart.

Human beings are compelled to be destructive; otherwise, we simply don’t evolve. Our survival quite literally depends upon our capacity to wreck stuff. Destruction is a fundamental component of construction, for without the ability to sculpt raw matter into tools we have no means by which to build. Destruction is evidence that we have successfully moved forward as a species.

For this exercise, Suss Müsik approached the concept of destruction as both starting point and continuum. A simple counterpoint sequence for fake strings and piano was duplicated and distressed, using heavy distortion filters and run aggressively through a pitch-shift modulator.

The resulting artifacts form what you hear at the beginning of the piece. From there it was simply a matter of reversing the “destruction,” which seemed weirdly self-referential: could the act of destroying the destroyer be considered, by reverse logic, a form of construction? Suss Müsik will leave that for you to ponder.

The piece is titled Entropy and was recorded live to 8-track. The image is refracted sunlight dissipating through a glass of water on a white table.