Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

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 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 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

Co-Process Volume 2 Released

Co-Process Volume 2 coverSuss Müsik amassed enough decent material from the latest collaborations with artist B.G. Madden to put out a proper release. Co-Process Volume 2 continues the path forged by Co-Process released earlier this year. It’s all glitchy, droney, ambient weirdness. Sound was created from audio scans of Madden’s visual art, which was provided in the form of postcards delivered via US mail. (These quarantine days necessitate drastic creative measures). The scans were then manipulated using all sorts of technical gadgets, from grain synthesizers to DIY electronic devices. The album is available on Bandcamp, and more of Madden’s beautiful artwork can be seen here.

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