Posts Tagged ‘found objects as instruments’

Four-Track Cassette Looping Part 3.

August 26, 2007

Actually I’m not quite sure what part this is, but we will continue on from three from now on, as I’m sure I’ll continue to have posts about this subject.

Fostex Four track

While lamenting the rather wimpy volume control on one of my varisped tape recorders and wishing I had another like my Marantz Field Recorder, with it’s many controls and mic input, I remembered my Fostex X-18. I hadn’t played with the Fostex much since I figured it would not end up making a great live looping tool, but it did have some characteristics that I thought would suit my work with latralmagog.

After setting it up and getting re-acclaimated to it’s controls, I began trying to figure out exactly how fast I could switch from record to play, thinking if I could get it pretty tight it might work in a live setting. So I began, and I was getting pretty good at fast switching, and I started to feel like I was discovering something that could revolutionize my live setup, especially since it works great with contact mics. Then I discovered something so amazingly logical and useful I feel like an idiot even listing it as a discovery.

When the machine is in play mode, all you have to do is push the record button down too.


And to get out of record mode, you just hold down play and hit stop. This way only the record button pops back up.

Okay, so what have we learned here? READ YOUR FRICKIN MANUAL!!!!

Seriously though, I should have read that thing cover to cover, but hey, better late than never. So anyhow, now I have the ability to gradually build up loops without ever stopping the tape, and since four-tracks have those nice mixing capabilities, I can fine tune levels and bring parts in and out at will, something none of the expensive digital loopers will let you do. Plus it’s got that great shitty chewed up tape haze that makes everything sound like a transmission from another planet.

So of course I had to record a few loops using this method, and here they are…


– Phin Feedback, Bowing, and Plucking
– Zither Knocks, Plucks, and Feedback
– Flute, Horn, Silver Platter, and Bells


I’m not dead (I’m just moving extremely slow)

August 23, 2007

Some of you may have noticed I have not been posting with the usual frequency. I appologize and by no means have I abandoned this blog. I have however taken a big hit to my available time by re-entering the workforce. While this new development certainly limits my time for doing more interesting things, such is life and I will as I have for much of my past, attempt to work around it.

Personally, I like Keith Rowe’s perspective on the situation. The following is an excerpt from a talk he gave at the Slought Foundation in philadelphia a little while back:

“I’ve always had a job… like always. From the time I left the art school… Actually, I really enjoyed that… The idea of being an amateur… You could have a kind of obscurity. If there was kind of a slogan of the art school i went to, it was, the definition of success is to be middle-aged and obscure.”

Of course, this got quite a laugh, but I think the re-definition of success he is portraying here is pretty inspirational, and I find it aligns very well with my current attitudes toward “art” or “craft” as a thing of and for common people.

One of the non job related plusses to having a job located in the city, is the variety of interesting sounds one encounters. My first week, I has riding my bike home when i passed a truck with some huge compressor in the back making a huge sounding drone as it ran, that was just loaded with dancing overtones. I could have listened to that for quite a long time. I was kicking myself for not having a minidisc recorder with me. It would have made a great piece to post here. Suffice to say that I now have the MD with me at all times, and hopefully I will be happening upon some other sound of note soon enough.

This leads me to another unfortunate reason why I have not been posting as much of late. Latralmagog. With weekly recording sessions and a new motivation to crank out new sound making devices, it has become quite difficult to find time to post. And I certainly don’t want to turn this into a latralmablog (har!) by only ever posting our recording sessions. Of course, my increased instrument production rate has provided me with a bunch of new sounds that could be posted, but I’m so behind on documenting things I’ll never catch up. Sigh… jobs. I always wonder if there could be a way I could just do what I do and make money for whatever value I am able to provide people… maybe some time in the distant (distant) future.

That’s enough ho-hum for now, on to things exciting. AL and I this past week both played our first show, and released our first official packaged recording. The show went well all things considered, but I found that it was much more difficult to improvise in my normal mode while being watched by strangers. I felt very self conscious at first and felt an odd pressure to produce some sound that I felt would be acceptable to the perceived tastes of my audience, though I resisted the temptation. I did however fall into a sort of safe re-playing of ideas and techniques that I had previously deployed.

As the show went on however, my confidence grew and I ended up playing much more in my usual way, listening to AL and attempting to compliment what he was putting out there. I felt the set improved drastically from beginning to close and I ended quite happy and reasonably psyched. I also realized that if we are going to play out more often, I need to develop a better live set up. I ended up doing too much moving mics around and not enough playing. That being said though, I think our music is much better suited to small enclosed spaces and if we performed in such a venue, amplification would be far less a concern.

I think the CDR we did came out great. I planned the packaging so we could do all the printing ourselves. The cover ended up being drilled in such a way as to create a letterform that would serve as the focal point of the cover, but also as a stencil to decorate the (otherwise blank) discs. The stenciling helped create color washes on the cover that were then silk screened over in black ink. The type and lines were all cut by hand into freezer paper which served as a silkscreen stencil (thanks art school). We basically banged out all the printing and spraying in an evening. The music however was a nightmare. For some reason when I brought it up to peak level in Audacity it clipped when playing in iTunes?!?!? I can’t figure out why this would be and especially not when it seems to just be this session. Whatever, we got over it, albiet after two days of hell. Mental note… Learn something about mastering (yeah, right). We used the most recent session, which was really cool as it was ready for sale one week after it was recorded. How’s that for a turnaround time? We even sold a couple which is pretty cool.

Here’s the CDR design:

If anybody wants one, they are available on our myspace page: Send us a friend request while you’re at it!

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. ­čÖé 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 ­čÖé ) 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.

– Part 1
– Part 2
– Part 3
– Part 4
– Part 5
– Part 6
– Part 7

– 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.


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).


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:


The improvisation shall continue.

June 22, 2007

The recording setup

Based on the OBVIOUS (haha) success of the first improv sesh, Al and I have decided to continue our explorations together on a somewhat weekly basis. And of course as is my custom, it will all be released here for you to listen to, should you be of the sort that actually listens to mp3s on blogs. There is also talk of “releasing” (if you thought- like a dove?- you are correct) the second one in some kind of physical format with “art” and whatnot, so if that is the sort of thing that interests you, let me know. Otherwise you can just download it below and make your own “art”.

I have to say that this thing we have been doing together is really a revelation for me. Especially since after my last band split, I had no interest in playing with anyone for a long time. (this had nothing to do with the band really, just bands in general) In the wake of that I did a lot of different things on my own. As this blog is evidence, I explored a lot. In many ways there are certain seeming paradoxes about the sounds and ideas that resonate with me that I could never figure out. I like synths and circuit-bending, but I also like ancient and primitive instruments… I like things most people would think are weird (the shop-girl at the local hardware store gave me a hard time the other day for doing “crafts” for fun! what?) but i have no interest in “weirdness”… I’m pretty much attracted to anything that makes a noise, but until recently I wasn’t sure for what. Somehow the improvising I have been doing lately has made it all sensical. Somehow everything I thought was out of place, now seems to fit. I like it.

In other news, I recently fixed my busted bell piano, so that will factor into this weeks jam, I circuit-bent one of Al’s toys (I’ll post samples at some point) and I’m sure that will find it’s way in, and I’m almost done building a bowed lamellophone out of a coconut I bought a few weeks ago (sound samples and photos soon). I will also start work on a pre-prepared “guitar” (a bunch of metal stuff and a pickup) and a hurdy-gurdy style drone box… more on those soon.

And now the last session… Implements used in this recording: whistle, nyatiti, bat repeller, boss rv-2, clava, a curled xylophone, frog childrens toy, flute, mini thumb piano, loop station, air organ, ocarina, plastic saxophone, chimes, bells, cymbals, chainring gong, silver platter, spring reverb unit, cigar box guitar, tape machines, looping cassettes, tongue drum, shakers, chihuahua, appalachian mouth bow, harmonica, toy accordion, and probably more stuff i am forgetting now.

Equipped for gapless playback… enjoy!

– Part 1
– Part 2
– Part 3
– Part 4
– Part 5
– Part 6

My first time collaborating on improvised music

June 6, 2007

For all the things I have tried musically, there is was a very obvious one which I had not… until recently that is. I have of late become aquainted with a friend of a friend who is now my friend; Al. Al and I have some similar musical tastes and ideas, and it was suggested to us and we agreed that we should try making some music together. After a few missed connections we were finally able to hang out, talk music, and listen to records (he had an especially interesting set of 50’s vocabulary records which kept us occupied and laughing out loud for a good while). I also got to check out some of his various instruments, a kora like instrument, a synth, an electric kalimba (!) etc. and it was abundantly clear, we were at least of a very similar bent. We decided the best way for us to go about making music was to sit down to improvise, so we started making plans.

After missing a few more connections, we were finally able to get together to actually make music this week. Al met me at my house this time, so he could check out my laboratory and see what my noisemaker stash had to offer, and after pulling out a number of devices, a little impromptu jam just sort of happened from us tooling around on various things, so I grabbed a bunch of instruments, amps, mics, cables etc. and set up a little recording area in the living room. I decided the easiest way to capture this initial session was to just mic the room so I set up a pair of condenser mics, one for each of our approximate areas.

We ended up improvising for 76 minutes straight. I think that is the longest I have ever played anything. We probably would have made it to two full hours if we the mics didn’t start shorting out. (I really need to check that out) The session was great. We managed to create a sort of space where we could really do pretty much anything. And the resultant overall feeling was really cohesive. For the first session, I was really pretty surprised how much of a unified “vibe” we were able to generate for most of the performance.

One interesting part of the overall outcome was accepted more than planned. Due to the thin-ness of my walls and the fact that i’m constantly hassling my neighbor for blasting modern rock radio, we had to keep the volume way down. In fact one of the amps we are using for the electronic instruments is about six inches square, and it still competes admirably with the 10 inch Ibanez that the kalimba was running through. This also meant that none of my acoustic instruments or cassette recorders needed to be miced. As a byproduct of this, every movement we made was audible in the recording, from me shuffling through cassettes to Al thunking his kalimba down on the coffee table. The unexpected part is that it somehow works. In listening back to it, I thought some of the noises were intentional and successful, and then later realized that I couldn’t really even tell if some were intentional or not. The line had completely blurred. The unintentional sounds being made by our “playing” had not only become an aleatoric musical component in the performance, but one of my favorite parts.

For those of you who care, here’s the rundown…

Personnel: Al B & ET (me)
Implements: Cassette recorders, home made “lute”, various modified and unmodified children’s toys, kalimba, silvertone acoustic, boss reverb pedal, boss loop station, bells, chainwheel gong, loop cassettes, transistor radio, playing cards, cappuccino foamer, cardboard “costume” guitar, voices, found answering machine tapes, harmonica, random household items, and probably more stuff I can’t remember.

I cut the performance into 6 parts, based on what felt like individual movements within the session. I have cut them off directly, so they can be played gapless. The end fades out due to technical difficulties in the final 15 or so minutes. Enjoy!

– Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 1
– Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 2
– Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 3
– Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 4
– Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 5
– Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 6

Indeterminate composition techniques

May 31, 2007

In the music I make, for some reason, I am always persuaded to incorporate a certain amount of chance. In a way, I want the music as an experience to remain somewhat “new” to me when I first listen back to it, even though I made it. I also seek in some ways to make music that doesn’t sound like it is being “played”, but instead appears as though it just is. I guess in a way I am looking for a sort of lightness of hand. I think this is why in some ways I am attracted to the theories of John Cage. He believed in separating the self from music as much as possible in order to let something more subtle and natural come in to view, something unburdened by popular culture or personal intent. While I don’t take these concepts as seriously as Cage, I do firmly believe that no matter what we do, no matter how mundane, there is a piece of our personality fingerprint on all of it. No matter how far we stand back, no matter what we use to block it or smudge it, it is there, naked for anyone with the sense to look. What they see is the unconscious mind, the true self.

Unfortunately the conscious and unconscious minds are at constant war with one-another. The conscious mind has all of the emotional needs, paranoias, hang-ups, ego, etc. that we turn about in our heads daily to seek even the most basic understanding of our place in the world. It is a jungle of frauds and misperceptions that must be constantly unravelled like a ball of string that has been left in a junk drawer for too long, if we are to be of use to ourselves or anyone else for that matter. This fact makes it extremely difficult for us to do anything truly genuine. The network of opposing influences, misconceptions, misperceptions, hopes, needs, oversights, crutches, etc. etc. etc. that we must sort through to make any form of creative decision is so dense that most people will never manage to cut through it. This does not mean of course that we cannot make anything pleasing with our creative minds, but it will always be somewhat addled by the burden of consciousness.

One way to avoid the trappings of the consciousness, is to utilize chance, randomness, or generative processes to dampen it. Probably the most familiar form of this process is the cut-up, brought to some prominence by William S. Burroughs and popularized by David Bowie and later Kurt Cobain. While these techniques on the surface may seem “cold” or “scientific”, this assumption is in ignorance of an important point. As I stated above; we are never free from our unconscious mind, so that all the decisions we make in selecting and deploying our randomness techniques are governed by our innermost self and therefore, no matter how abstract, still form an image of ourselves. This image, expressly because it is so unconscious I believe, is the truest form of expression we have of who we are and in creativity, our overarching aesthetic sensibility.

In my personal musical explorations, this idea of “randomness” has taken many different shapes. the following are a few of the techniques I often employ:

Field recording and the use of physical spaces as a randomness field
I consider these to be one in the same as it applies to my music. I carry around a mini-disc recorder most of the time and at home I have a beat up, but no less sublime Marantz Field Recorder. Whenever sounds strike me as interesting or somehow meaningful, I record them and save them for later, usually with no real idea of how they will be used. When I have a need for something, I go through my recordings and select something I think will work, drop it into my composition somewhat randomly and listen to the results. At times I use it straight, at times I take pieces of it, and at times I process it somehow. Almost always this is done with some form of respect for randomness, so I try not to edit too much.

The use of spaces as a randomness field, is the idea of recording in some form of unstable environment (like a room with a window open to the street) so as to capture the juxtaposition of played and ambient sound and to inform the music with a sense of place in a direct manner.

Blind Overdubbing
This is the practice of overdubbing by recording a new track within a composition without listening to playback while doing so. This frees one from having any idea of time or composition and so the final result often contrasts with the rest of the piece in an unpredictable and interesting way.

Improvising with elastic time
This is simply allowing yourself to speed up or slowdown time in your playing at will. I often find that in doing so, more complex rhythmic structures emerge which I am not aware of at the time, but am always surprised by on playback.

Similar to Burroughs technique but with music. Parts are recorded and either cut up pseudo-randomly and placed back together, or, cut up based on some kind of rule, and reassembled by numbering and drawing.

Back to consciousness
All of these techniques can produce either wonderful or horrific results, and this is where the conscious mind comes back, but ultimately in a much more sober state, to make some kind of aesthetic sense of the mess. This is of course a fine line. With the advent of digital music editors (I use protools ironically enough) it could be very easy to edit everything into oblivion and destroy any of the piece’s subtler characteristics. Lets just say I try not to let myself get out of hand.

The ironic thing about all of this, is in order to communicate it here, I am forced to use language and descriptive techniques that inherently make this all sound very boring and intellectual. This is a shame, because in practice it is much more like playing a game. You have your strategies, but when push comes to shove, you are playing the game to have fun. Part of the fun of employing these techniques is seeing what kinds of interesting things come of them. It can be really cool to hear the result of a process for the first time, or the result of a blind overdub. And when something interesting or compelling does happen its very exciting.

The piece I am posting today was made with a few of the above techniques and I am quite pleased with it. With each new piece I apply these techniques to, they become more refined and my aesthetic for their use becomes sharper. In a way I feel like I am inventing my own form of music, even if that feeling is a complete illusion. Either way it is exciting, and a lot of fun.

– Birds, Bells, and Barnacles


May 20, 2007

I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post. Trying to do this blog along with all of life’s other facets can get difficult sometimes. A million other things come up, busy-ness overtakes creativity, etc. etc. The worst is when I have time to post, but am just to psychologically drained.

Recently my work had been doing this to me. When I was there, I did next to nothing, (not that there’s anything to do) when I got home I felt like I had a labotomy. I was worried my employer was bleeding me of work so I could be fired. I was right. My department was a bit of an experiment within the greater company and due to some of the worst mismanagement I have ever seen, it failed. So they fired us all.

This fact has been bearing down on me recently. Now I am out of work and I need to find a job again, so every bit of free time I have is either me doing work to that end, or procrastinating. This has all but killed my drive to make music. I have been trying to figure out how to make space for creativity in this new landscape, but it has been difficult.

However, while i haven’t been experimenting much lately, I have been playing my makeshift phin a lot and really enjoying that. Right now it is in a tuning very similar to the tuning that was used in the sublime frequencies video that inspired it’s creation. I have been bowing it some, but also playing it with a pick. I have continued to grow in my appreciation of it on a whole. I love how simple it is, and the resonance of the tin, especially when bowing, is really nice.

Here’s a clip of a little melody I have been fooling around with:

– Phin Picking

And here’s is some random feedback noise from the tape I recorded this on. I have no idea where this come from, but it sounds really cool.

– Feedback Noise

Cigar box raga

May 3, 2007

Obviously drone has been a big part of my life recently. Drone as a side dish has been a favorite for a long while, but recently, I have been really into drone as a main course. Its something I know a lot of people don’t quite get. Even some of the most open minded listeners I know can’t take Tony Conrad for more than a few minutes, let alone listen to something like “The Tamburas of Pandit Pran Nath” by La Monte Young, even if only for a small part of it’s full hours length.

There was a point in time when I thought that if there was only one note playing, nothing was happening, but as I pursued an understanding of music and acoustics, I came to find out there was a whole world of things that could happen. Harmonics or overtones specifically are a good bit of what makes drone interesting. Humans are not robots, so as we play we never exactly play the same “way” twice. These little mistakes change the way the overtones resonate and lend subtle shifts to the stillness of a sustained tone. This is one of the things that has really attracted me to drone. While within the stillness of the tone, you are focussed, on all of these smaller changes that would be very difficult to perceive if there were more than one fundamental tone being played. In a way, it’s kind of like zooming way in on a picture and seeing a whole new level of detail.

A week or so ago, I was asked by my brother to make some drones for him to incorporate into one of his band’s songs. I had been mostly bowing my guitar at that point, but for some reason I decided to try bowing on a cigar box guitar that I had built. The sound was really great. Due to the imperfect nature of a cigar box as a resonator the overtone relationships are very different than a guitar, and for some reason it has a bit of a reedier tone.

My Cigar Box Guitar

After recording some single string drones for my brother I decided to tune the CBG to an open “D” chord and try bowing all four strings together. It sounded really great. The subtle differences in bow placement and velocity changed the sound a lot. For a drone it was very maleable. So I recorded about 12min of bowing, moving the bow from as low as I could go on the neck. all the way up to the nut, fret by fret. The result is somewhat Tambura-like. I think this has something to do with the shape of the cigar box and which overtones it reinforces, and the fact that the nut is a carved piece of soft stone.

I think the end result is very listenable. The changes in the tonal quality and timbre are pretty dramatic throughout, so instead of it seeming like you are listening to one unchanging thing, instead, you are listening to one fundamental thing that takes different forms as it progresses. I like it quite a lot.

I put it on the other day as I was just working on the computer and it struck me that it’d be a good thing to try and play slide guitar along with. Since my CBG was already in open “D” I picked it up and started fooling about. I had so much fun I made a note to record it when I could. I got around to it yesterday. I was going to do a few passes and edit together the best parts, but once I had two and listened to them playing at once, I liked it too much to edit. Instead of making it like a raga with a single main melodic voice, the two tracks play against and off eachother in interesting ways. There are some real cool moments where you could swear it was two people jamming together, but it’s all coincidental.

I find this end result really peaceful and meditative. In fact I actually had a hard time staying awake while working on it. Always a good sign. I think the world needs more music to fall asleep to anyway.

Here are the tracks, both the drone by itself and the fake raga one. I hope you enjoy them.

– Cigar Box Drone
– Cigar Box Raga