Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

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.

Junto Project 0531: Noise Sculpt [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.

Among the themes Don DeLillo explores in his excellent novel White Noise is the miasma of uncertainty: a deep foreboding that eclipses human existence like a noxious cloud. The genius of the novel, which some argue to be DeLillo’s best work, is represented by moments of dry humor and domestic banality that poke through its chemically worrisome haze. Consider this passage by the story’s narrator:

I opened the refrigerator door, peered into the freezer compartment. A strange crackling sound came off the plastic food wrap, the snug covering for half eaten things, the Ziploc sacks of livers and ribs, all gleaming with sleety crystals. A cold dry sizzle. A sound like some element breaking down, resolving itself into Freon vapors. An eerie static, insistent but near subliminal, that made me think of wintering souls, some form of dormant life approaching the threshold of perception.

This is the intention Suss Müsik took with this week’s Junto assignment. The goal was to create a “cold dry sizzle … insistent but near subliminal, approaching the threshold of perception.” A disquieting yet enveloping calm. Various forms of white noise were recorded and altered using VCV Rack modules, with an external Chase Bliss Dark Worlds pedal adding extra tones.

The piece, titled DeLillo, was recorded live to 8-track and mastered quickly.

It must be mentioned that, as of this writing, the world is undergoing significant trauma. Suss Müsik is reminded of another passage from White Noise that feels oddly appropriate: “War is the form nostalgia takes when men are hard-pressed to say something good about their country.”

May peace be with us all.

Junto Project 0530: Minimally Viable 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.

Minimal Viable Product (MVP) is a development and commercialization practice in which a new concept is introduced to the market with basic features. The intention is to maximize the amount of learning, in order to assess product fertility, while minimizing the amount of resource investment.

The general template of an MVP consists of listing the key characteristics of the product that customers will deem essential, usually in the form of questions. These are then coupled with elements that can be designed and manufactured within aggressive time and cost guardrails. Subsequent iterations of the MVP render an offering of increasing maturity, ideally and hopefully, before it transforms the market for which it’s targeted.

Suss Müsik took an MVP approach to this week’s Junto project. The primary questions regarding viability might be interpreted as: to what extent do acoustic and electric guitar fragments, when pressurized under certain constraints, no longer render themselves as inherently musical? At what point do these fragments cease to offer acousmatic value to the listener? And to what extent would an audience be willing to subject themselves to that experience?

The responses to these inquiries, as with all instances of MVP concept testing, are subject to input from a respective target audience. In this case, that audience is you.

The piece is titled MVP v.1 and was recorded live to 8-track in February 2022. The image is a schematic overlay of an actual instrument prototype.

Major thanks to Saga Söderback for having come up with this project.

Junto Project 0529: Squared Off [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 sun is not the well-behaved neighbor we would like to imagine,” says Sten F. Odenwald, the author of a book entitled The 23rd Cycle: Learning to Live with a Stormy Star. During the year 2000, at the peak of the sun’s 23rd cycle (according to when scientists began tracking solar storm activity), the number of observed sunspots reached its highest recorded peak to that point.

Geomagnetic storms are defined by changes in the disturbance-storm-time index (or DST), measured in units called nano-Tesla (nT). Think of it as something like barometric pressure, only on the sun. A geomagnetic storm is considered an intense “super-storm” when it reaches a minimum DST of less than —250 nT.

As the 23rd cycle closed in the year 2008, Odenwald warned that outbreaks of solar storm activity would only increase in future cycles. The historical models are already sobering; a geomagnetic storm caused the March1989 failure of Québec’s entire power grid, leaving six million people without electricity and causing auroras seen all the way to Texas. The minimum DST of this storm was —589 nT. (It would have been a delicious irony if the integer was 529, but alas).

With this cheerful tidbit in mind, Suss Müsik considered how the ionosphere of sound could be rendered unstable, causing fragments of foreboding beauty. A sampled bowl was refactored using a grain synthesizer, its shimmer used in parallel with a distressed organ sound. A Red Panda Particle pedal was used for the looping parts at 23 BPM.

The piece is titled DST —589 nT and was recorded live to 8-track.

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.