Archive for July, 2007

LATRALMAGOG Sessions IV & V and some philosophical rambling.

July 28, 2007

I think about music a lot as you can (i’m sure) imagine. While thinking about my recent activities as half of latralmagog, I have realised that in a lot of ways, it is an answer to some philosophical problems I have been tossing about in my head for some time. I supposed that makes perfect sense, and I imagine this progression from thought to action is normal for most people if at most times completely unconscious. However for me, it seems to have taken place on opposite ends of the same track where now there is a meeting at the center in latralmagog. On one end is my (seemingly inate) desire to make “difficult” music, and on the other are my philosophies about the personal/social politics of music and the making of music. When I started, both the making of music and the thinking about music were still very young, and so distant were they, that I did not really see them as connected, or as an answer to one-another yet. Here are two of the questions, and the thoughts (not to be seen as “answers” in an absolute sense) behind them.

First a quick caveat… I’m thinking outloud here. I don’t really know how to write, and I modify my position all the time, as I grow and change. This is here to encourage thought, not to get you to agree with me. Hopefully you will think, and come to your own conclusions. In the meantime, I hope you at least find my rambling entertaining. :) Oh, and I also didn’t feel like editing this, so you know…

What is music?
Way to start with an easy one huh? Well, from what I have been able to mete out in a combination of my own thoughts and the illuminations of others, it is whatever you think it is. Which is almost an alarmingly simple answer, but it’s almost a stupid question when you think about it, that it’s amazing how it has dogged so many BIG thinkers. When it comes down to it, “Music” is just a word… and like all words that define or deliniate space, its boundaries are only solid in inverse proportion to how much they are being attacked. Thanks to John Cage, the most formidable (in my experience) of the attackers, the word “music” is all but meaningless. In order for it to have any meaning at all, each individual must put their own restrictions on it, but don’t be fool enough to think that anyone will agree with you.

In my personal point of view I differ from Cage. He sought to prove that every sound can be music if you are willing to view it as an aesthetic occurance. He often referenced Rauchenberg’s ready-mades as a parallel in the visual art world, stating that the art he liked best directed you to the beauty that exists outside the artwork itself. So that in Cage’s world, all sound is music, all matter is art, and all experience is theater (and all these naturally overlap, a fact in which he took great pleasure). But this point of view maintains that art is everything you can appreciate aesthetically, and this is where I depart from Cage. I still maintain that art needs the artist. Not the Artist (with a capital A) that Cage deplored, but the finger pointing to the stars. The curator of the aesthetic. Why? Because people are as beautiful, curious and interesting as nature and while you can call their likes, dislikes, preduduces, etc., weaknesses, they are weaknesses which I feel are too tied to our human experience to sever. They like us together is a kind of maladjusted mutual sympathy that I think is ipmortant, even though it can lead to various ills that I have not time to get into now.

Now here’s where Cage’s idea and mine only really differ semantically (oh how useless language really is!). He says everything is art, I say art is whatever you think it is, but everything is beautiful. See Cage views the aesthetic appreciation of an object as a declaration of it’s existence as art, whereas I don’t link aesthetics and art at all. Art is what you say it is, but everything is beautiful. I guess this is beacuse I view art as a construct not a continuum. Art is the domain of the artist, and you can take it or leave it really, because beauty is everywhere if you choose to accept it.

In music this idea means that 1) I can still be a curator of sound if I want to because human experience is important 2) Music is whatever I say it is 3) Not everything I present for aesthetic consideration within the confines of a recording has to be “music” or considered by me as such. This philosophy produces nearly the same effect as Cage’s, but where Cage says the artist must be elliminated so that there is no artist/non artist dichotomy, I say, everyone is an artist if they think they are. (Which is funny because I refuse to call myself one, I guess that is because my philosophy exists in the utopia of my mind (like Cage’s) wheras, I live in a sad state of reality-by-commitee) Like I’ve said many times before, the only difference between me and anyone else is that I have the balls to say that what I do is “art”.

What is the relationship between the medium, availability and value of music?
Why is music pressed on records and why do we buy it? Why do we collect it, own it, etc.? Why do we have record labels? Do they serve a purpose other than fronting money for the production of “art” in order to (hopefully) make an ROI? Does the medium in which a work of “art” is presented affect the way in which it is perceived and how does that relationship function with “musical” “art”? Has our construction of a marketplace for art served us for the better and how?

Edit: Now that I’ve gotten flack for some of these statements, let me be more clear. I believe the art marketplace can be a good thing. If it wasn’t for some very giving souls who decided to use their money to bring the art they valued to light, we may all be bereft of some works we value highly. However, as I’m sure anyone can protest, this situation of money for art is extremely dangerous and that danger is not confined to the “mainstream” world.

I’m not going to answer all of those questions, but I do find myself asking them and stewing about them frequently. Especially in our current climate where we are basically innundated with high quality free music, most often in digital form. There are countless out of print record blogs where one could easily obtain for free, (a digital copy of the audio content of) a record that previously commanded prices of $5,000 on ebay! The value of music is changing, but exactly how remains to be seen. Personally I see the value going down, but I’m not sure we can be so black and white about that.

Is a piece of music put on record because it is valueable, or is it valuable because it was put on record? I’d say a little bit of both. I think it’s put on record because someone valued it and somehow because of the value they placed upon it, it then becomes valuable to others because they value it as well or value the person who deemed it valuable in the first place. But does it have any intrinsic value over and above everything else? Maybe not, I’m not sure I can say, it would depend upon how you define value. I have to say though that after hearing large qualities of amazing records by unknowns that easily rival records by our societal golden calves, it is hard to look at the art market as anything other than a spotlight. Am I alone in having heard steaming piles of crap on reputable lables, that become gems as they are accepted by the easily lead? Is the value of what I do directly linked to who else thinks it’s valuable? Well? Yes, but only if that is what I believe.

(Note: I’m omitting the questions about specific media that were here, because I don’t want to take the time to mede it out and it only distracts from the poit anyhow.)

Or we could ask a similar but different question. What’s more valuable to witness; The Velvet Underground live in the 70’s, or the music made in ones own family? (don’t answer too quickly now :) ) I think a lot of these questions are taking on the dichotomy existing in the world now, of the “art star” and “art star” infrastructure, versus the personal and communal. And why does this exist? Because we buy it. These people, concepts and objects are only more important than others because we have agreed that it is so. So where is value in all of this? It’s wherever you think it is. In this stage in the game relying on any definition of value other than your own pleasure in “art” is just asking to be lead off a cliff.

Now if these things are only of at their hieght in valuable because we buy them, what happens if we stop? What happens if we have so much fantastic music that we can’t even keep track of it and it is all free. We have so much that every record only gets one listen. What happens when even what was previously considered to be “the best” is so common we don’t need it any more? How does it effect how we place value on “art”, or how we approach our own? I would say it evens the playing field somewhat don’t you think? I think it has the potential to take us out of the fog of commercialism and offers us the chance to see, choose and make for ourselves. (Not that all music that is sold is commercial, but that ugly culture does exist.)

Edit: (The paragraph here previously was an ill thought-out rant that actually did more to confuse my point than make it. It is being replaced with something I think is more the point. I can’t stand by any of those previous statements.)

These ideas have definitely shaped latralmagog. These questions in part affirm my decision to improvise. For me, improvisation confronts fleeting value by being instant, commercialism and style by being amorphous, and the question of the definition of “music” by being an exploration.

In a way I feel like there was a time I was tying to cram what I really wanted to do into a box that I thought would be more easily palateable to others, and resisting the real impulse I had toward something less defined. I felt as if I was trying to train myself to make what was essentially other people’s music. Why? Because I guess in a way I thought it would be more “credible”. When I finally thought about it, I realized that I had been improvising for some time, but I had been casting it off because it didn’t fit with what I for some reason thought I ought to do. Once I opened up however, I realized how fun and fulfilling it was to give myself over to all of the ideas and feelings I had pushed aside for so long.

I realize after some of the comments below, that a lot of what I say above can be very easily misconstrued. I wish I were better at expressing my thoughts. I think the bottom line though is that everyone should feel free to do and think as they like about art, theirs or anyone else’s, no matter what the established art world thinks, or what trend it is worshiping today. There is no intrinsic value in anything, we bestow value, so feel free to cast yours wherever you like.

I also want to make it clear that I am NOT saying improvised music is better or cooler than any other kind of music, only that is better suits a certain set of ideas that are occupying me presently than anything else.

LATRALMAGOG, Session IV
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
- Part 4
- Part 5
- Part 6
- Part 7

LATRALMAGOG, Session V
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
- Part 4
- Part 5
- Part 6

Some new noise makers from OSM laboratories

July 15, 2007

Since LATRALMAGOG took off, I have been busier than ever creating new sound making devices. Having an outlet that is consistent has really been an inspiration to take a lot of ideas I have had and put them to action. Here’s some of the newer additions:

The Well-Prepared Guitar

The Well-Prepared Guitar, or; “The Plank”
Seeing Keith Rowe a while back, was a real inspiration. I admit I’m very late to the free-improv party, but at least I showed up! Seeing Rowe play the guitar as he does brought up a bunch of questions for me though. Aside from the cleverness of using a guitar in this way, and the excitement over having to develop around this restriction, what is the point of it being six normal strings? Is it in standard tuning? If so why? Why does it have frets? Wouldn’t it be more interesting and “free-er” if it didn’t?

Now, I’m not attacking Keith Rowe here, I’m sure he has perfectly viable arguments for all of these questions, and he certainly is not being hurt by whatever restrictions his guitars provide. The point is that these very questions began to inspire me. Why should a guitar be anything but a couple of pickups and some resonating metal, if it is to be used in this form of abstract improvisation? These questions began to form in my mind a “guitar” whose only purpose was to suspend metal “string objects” and amplify them. So from my junk pile arose “The Plank”. A guitar that is “prepared” by it’s very nature.

The Well-Prepared Guitar

I built the guitar from the guts of an old fender I had laying around. I routed out some wood piece I found in my alley and put tuners and a bridge on, from what I had laying around. The strings are the interesting part. They are spaced so they can be played in a more isolated fashion and are themselves improvised in that they are experiments in string material and structure. Currently the strings are as such: 1) rigid metal wire 2) ball chain and “D” string (I think) 3) spring and “B” string. I have found that due to the odd combinations of materials, the strings vary wildly in sound due to where/how they are actuated.

The Well-Prepared Guitar

From the sample, below, I’m sure you will get a sense of how interesting it is to just “play with” the instrument. I like just hooking up a few pedals, picking up objects off my work bench and trying different ways of producing sound. I have been using this a lot lately and I think it will become a mainstay of my arsenal.

- The Well-Prepared Guitar

Modified Record Player Music Box

The Modified Music Box Record Player Toy
It’s ridiculous how hard it is to get these things these days. I was watching them on ebay for about 6 months before I finally payed about $30 for this one! Some people were selling them for $40 “buy it now” and charging $15 shipping! Anyhow, I finally got my hands on one. The reason I wanted one so bad is that they seemed so easy to modify. The “records” are soft plastic and are easily cut and broken in half and the little nubs that pluck the kalimba-like tines in the “player arm” are easy to route out, or break off (i recommend the latter). These things sound great too. They have an odd acoustic amplification system in them that projects pretty well, although i would really like to up a pickup in one.

Modified Record Player Music Box

I broke one of the discs in half and reversed one of the sides, so it would not play a recognizable melody, and then I began removing nubs and playing the disc back, over and over, until all that was left were suspended tones that seemed to emerge out of nowhere. The sound is beautiful. One of the things I love about it is you never know what note will be next, so everything you hear is a surprise, and there are far too few of those moments left.

- The Modified Music Box Record Player Toy

Ferrite Bar Pickup

The Ferrite Bar Pickup
The final new piece I have to show you, is one I myself did not think up. It’s pretty much as old as the early synthesizers, or even further back to the birth of radio. The ferrite bar. Ferrite bars are most commonly found in old radios. They come in a few shapes and sizes, but should be easy for the electronics hobbyist to recognize. They are basically a magnet wrapped in a coil of wire that is usually tapped out at a few locations. I have removed one, found it’s hottest connections (there are usually a few) and wired it to a jack. I then plasti-dipped it to seal it from the elements.

At this point, you are probably wondering why on earth I have done all this. Well, ferrite bars function in a way not unlike guitar pickups (they are basically made of the same stuff in the same fashion), so they can pickup all kinds of mechanical movements, like the movement of a motor or string. You can amplify drills, electric toothbrushes, your computer’s drives, all sorts of things. You won’t believe how cool a laptop sounds through this thing. The result is somewhat different from micing, because you are not picking up the resulting acoustic resonances from the objects you mic, so you are hearing only the purely mechanical sounds.

The recording below is of a drill, an electric toothbrush, and an electric cappuccino stirrer. The sound here is somewhat shrill, but I have gotten beautiful drones out of drills and electric toothbrushes when processed with reverb and flanger. If you decide to make one of these, try it on all kinds of things, it really does unlock a whole new world of usable sounds.

- The Ferrite Bar Pickup

I hope this list of sound-making junk was inspiring to some of you out there. All of these objects have opened up my sound-world a little more, and they continue to inspire me to dig through trash hoping to find magic. If anyone reads this and wants to know more about these objects, just ask, I’ll try my best to answer whatever questions you have. Be well.

Enter LATRALMAGOG!!!

July 2, 2007

So my partner in musical debauchery Al and I decided to make our collaborative efforts offical by branding ourselves with a name. Now, this brings me (of course!) to a deluge of pholosophical questions… “How do you give a name to something that is undefined?”; “Can there possibly be a word or words that evoke an accurate concept of what this is?”; “Why does the name Ashtray Navigations have to be taken?” (yuck yuck).

LATRALMAGOG Notes

Above: Notes from our naming experiment

So after a couple false starts we decided that we would use two of our favorite devices in music making – improvisation and chance – to come up with a fitting name. We began with the use of our temporary moniker “AL B & ET”, subjecting the letter order to chance, but ultimately what came of it left something to be desired. Then we tried our full first names, which had a similar effect. Through all of this we were in hysterics at the alien sounding names that were coming out. Finally I suggested a nonsense word writing excercise. Improvised words. So we took turns writing off the top of our heads. Our goal was a longish word, and in retrospect, apparently one with neanderthalish qualities. We then chose which word would become our names by using the I Ching. Thus we became LATRALMAGOG. Pretty epic.

I am also posting our third session now. This one is much more ambient than previous efforts. It seems the music we make is very much effected by our moods on any given day. This is bay far the most peacful thing we have done. It is also quite beautiful at times. I hope you enjoy it.

Implements used in this recording:
Cymbals, tape machines, loop cassettes, Heathkit oscillator, Silver platter, circuit-bent tape player, melodica, shakers, bells, toys, cookie tin lute, appalacian mouth bow, air organ, electric kalimba, various effects boxes, etc.

no real clean way to chop this one up, so here’s the whole thing as one track:

- LATRALMAGOG – Session III


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