Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Event Horizon

A preview of my set for the Moers Festival in Cologne, Germany - concerts in complete darkness.  With that in mind, much of this new work is moving towards a unapologetically "cosmic" sound, but one rooted in earthly sources - the detritus of acoustic recordings.  With ever smaller amounts of sonic material, more expansive and expanding sound-fields.  For the first time, I have also incorporated (asynchronous) loops as a prominent aspect of the composition, creating a loosely musical structure underneath the wildly buzzing and fluctuating drones.
Many of the original recordings were made in a drum shop - the percussive strikes of a vibraphone, marching drums, tuned toms and various pieces of metal.  Though some field recordings have been equally productive - in this case, the sound of a bocci ball rolled across a concrete courtyard to the accompaniment of 6am crow-calls.  Many of these distinct or identifiable atmospheric details are obliterated through waveform manipulations, but something of their artifactual quality is retained, deep in the "DNA" of the spectra.
It has been refreshing to take a break from the obsessive vertical qualities of tracks from the past two years, and to work instead with loose, horizontal structures - uncoordinated and slowly unfolding, arranged in timbral rather than rhythmic relationships; revealed in smooth, large "moments" rather than the jagged, highly-crafted "gestures" of much recent work.  It feels like a drink of water, a dive into dark matter.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lunar Density

This is the latest and last in a series of six short pieces that I'm calling "Lunar Density". My compositions in the last few years have become increasingly “clotted” or “crystallized” – consisting of distinct sections, sudden shifts, abrupt introductions of sounds and equally abrupt disappearances. Over time, the pieces kept getting shorter, and my tolerance for duration diminished. I have tended to find form through removal, slowly scraping away at randomly layered events to keep only the “essential moments” of vertical correspondence. I became obsessed with creating more “pop” structures, but getting there by “anti-melodic” and non-rhythmic means. I have been looking for sounds which could represent or take the place of traditional instrumentation – drums, bass, synth, vocals – but in doing so, never quite arrive at predictable structures. For Lunar Density, I was inspired by a gritty aesthetic, tending toward distortion and the noisy degradation of sources, thinking about the aggression of hip-hop and industrial music (Gucci Mane, Throbbing Gristle, Suicide, Etant Donnes, etc.) I was (and remain) allergic to meter, and wanted to use percussive sounds in ways that suggests (but never adheres to) rhythm, creating awkward pauses, strange silences and a lurching, off-kilter quality. I’m sure it's this quality that produces the difficulty of extended durations. The brain keeps looking for and expecting a structure that is only hinted at, never satisfied. My goal of creating more accessible “songs” has perhaps resulted in something even more demanding than the "abstract" work because of its flirtation with (and rejection of) expectations.

In keeping with this crystallization, my compositional process became increasingly detail-oriented, crafting individual events and obsessing over moment-to-moment connections. I started with random layers and spontaneously recorded overdubs, but only as a means of generation. Output slowed, and many, many repeated listening were necessary to remove extraneous or distracting sounds, carving away bit by bit to find the compositional idea. This expects (or demands?) and equally intense concentration on the part of the listener, and perhaps works against a more casual or “broad” form of attention – for better or worse.

As the pendulum swings, I am now reacting against all of these tendencies and attempting to find a more immediately productive, enjoyable and playful process. Cleanliness instead of dirt, reverb instead of distortion, continuous strata instead of abrupt clumps… I’m still working with percussive sources, but manipulating them into continuity and unrecognizability. I’m finding a new collection of metaphors, some of which hark back to those images of uneven landscapes of about 10 years ago: rippled waves, twisted fibers, tangled hairs, corroded surfaces, abraded colors. I’ve been working with micro-edits (approaching “grains”) and micro-automation to create constantly and randomly fluctuating envelopes, pushing the recordings further from their original timbres. I’ve been finding ambiguous spatial clouds, muted beds of fluffy wool and pinpricks of light.