[syzygy] – [ouroboros]

ouroboros

[syzygy] – [ouroboros]

syzygywa.bandcamp.com

 

To someone familiar with my solo releases, it might seem strange that this one has been put out under the same moniker as my album [visitor]. The two releases are almost diametrically opposed in terms of sound, but in my mind, they clearly belong to the same project.

What determines if something is [syzygy]? The project’s driving question is: “What can I do with only this?”

In the case of [visitor], the “only this” is my detuned, 80-year-old spinet piano and my fretless electric bass. In the case of [ouroboros], it is my Behringer Xenyx 1202 mixing board.

All of the sounds that are heard on this release were generated by only a mixing board. This was accomplished by routing the various outputs of the mixer back into the various inputs on the mixer, creating internal analog feedback loops. This is known as the “no-input mixer” technique.

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The Behringer Xenyx 1202 set up as a no-input mixer.

It’s a deceptively simple tactic. Though it seems like it should result in basic, abrasive feedback squelches, the reality is much cooler. The various signal routings through the mixing console interact with one another to create surprisingly complex waveforms.

Each mixer generates sounds unique to its hardware. This is one of the only situations I can think of where lower quality gear can have a huge advantage over higher quality gear: lower quality components tend to modify the waveform passing through them more than higher quality components do. As a result, when the waveforms sum back together, they coalesce into more chaotic wave-interference patterns (i.e. feedback loops).

Behringer is known for making gear focused more on economy than quality, so the Xenyx 1202 is perfect for this application. When you really crank the signals with this thing, especially the low frequencies, it overloads and creates fantastic drum-machine-like rhythms. It can also generate single notes that sound like an electronic synth, as well as more noisy blocks of sound. Hidden within it, I’ve found sounds reminiscent of motorcycles racing through tunnels, ringing analog phones, air raid sirens, scurrying mice, alarm systems, heavy machinery, ray guns, heartbeats, woodblocks, flutes, and much more. This device has a very dystopian palette.

 

An improvisation performed on the Xenyx 1202. This is similar to the form in which each track on [ouroboros] began. As you can see, no-input mixer improvs can sound kind of aimless, which is why I wanted to experiment with using them as the building blocks for sample-based composition instead. This video only demonstrates a few of the sounds that the mixer can generate.

 

The composition process:

  1. Each song started the same way as the improvisation above. I plugged in the mixer, hit record, and played for roughly 20 minutes. This part of the process is very reflexive and intuitive. You can’t really predict how the mixer will react to most changes that you make to the state of the board.
  2. After finishing the improvisation, I went in, listened for parts that I liked, and spliced up the take into dozens of shorter clips. Some of these worked very well as loops. Others worked as transition pieces between looped sections.
  3. At this point, I developed the general structure of each piece by arranging the various clips I had cut out.
  4. Next, I added layers:
    1. Some parts needed noisy layers, so I would find the right sound and apply it.
    2. Many parts needed chords or melodies. At this point, I used the type of feedback that sounds like an analog synth playing a single pitch. I recorded various pitches and applied them over the clips, sometimes layering groups of two or three to create harmonies and chords.
  5. Delay and panning were added to certain sections where I felt like they belonged.
  6. At this point, I rearranged the parts over and over until every part of the song played back in exactly the “right way.” (This was an intuitive process; there was no metric for what was “right” or “wrong” other than feeling it out.)

This is probably the only session I have done so far where I actually utilized the sound of a brickwall limiter as an effect. I use limiters on every session that I master, as well as on select parts of certain mixes, but I usually attempt to keep them as transparent as possible. These songs have the limiter set far beyond the normal levels I tend to use. This smashes the layers together, causing the tonal layers to take on the rhythmic characteristics of the noise layers underneath them.

 

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From the Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra, created in roughly the 3rd century CE.

Its inscription reads, “One is the Serpent which has its poison according to two compositions, and One is All and through it is All, and by it is All, and if you have not All, All is Nothing.”

While working on this project, I was struck by the idea that the no-input mixer is a sonic embodiment of the ouroboros: the snake that circles around, consuming its own tail. This symbol is ancient. It is first known to have been used in the 14th century BCE, and has been used by a plethora of spiritual traditions since.

Carl Jung said, “The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which… unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious.”

The ouroboros symbolizes the universe’s nature of continual creation, destruction, and recreation. Its constant reinvention. The paradox of the non-conflicting dual nature of all things. The hidden oneness of the seeming duality between physical and mental worlds. The infinite. The shadow within.

I enlisted my partner Laura to paint the art and I think the piece is exactly right for the music. This isn’t related to the album, but as a side note, she’s currently doing an awesome 100-piece Instagram series of scenes and objects found around our house. It can be found at instagram.com/ladylervold. Check it out and give her a follow if you like what you see.

 

Final Notes / Other

One thing that I particularly enjoyed experimenting with while creating this recording was its inherent microtonality.* None of the notes on this recording were created using fixed pitch keys like you find on a keyboard. The no-input mixer is capable of producing an infinite range of pitches. Since I was free of 12 tone equal temperament tuning, I was able to step back and simply use my ears to find harmonies and chord progressions that I enjoyed without being stuck inside the rigid 12tet realm. The other side of the inherent microtonality of this process is found in the base layer in each song. When the mixing board develops complex waveform patterns, it doesn’t use any tuning theory. The harmonies it generates are pure physics and mathematics, and the intervals it spits out are not bound to 12 tone equal temperament tuning.

The other aspect that I really enjoyed playing around with while working on this was the appearance of high-denominator odd-meter rhythms (for example: 27/32). These are rhythms that can only be notated by using 32nd or 64th notes. You don’t often hear them in music because they are very difficult for humans to play accurately, especially at high speed. Complex feedback, however, has no aversion to them, so a lot of them ended up in the final compositions here.

 

* If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, see the “Microtonality” section of my Loiterer – Adrift writeup for some info. Or the Wikipedia article.

 

 

 

Released on Big Name Records – BNR1702
Available on cassette via the Big Name Records Webstore or Bandcamp.
Cassettes were printed in the Big Name print shop.

 

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Party Apartment – Teaser Singles

gasolinepic

Party Apartment – Gasoline (and the smell of it)


amethystpic

Party Apartment – Amethyst

 

partyapartment.bandcamp.com

Both songs tracked, edited, mixed, and mastered at Big Name. These songs are teasers from a full length to be released later this year.

Multitrack Video Series – June 2017

This is the second installment of my new Instagram multipanel-video series. These are quick original compositions that have no restriction on genre or instruments used.

This sentence is a link to my Instagram account. If you like what you see, please feel free to hit that follow button.

(If you don’t have Instagram, you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel. Or you can just come back here each month.)

 

AOL 3.0 – June 5, 2017


Not yet in Your Closet Hiding From an Enraged Yo-Yo Ma – June 8th, 2017


The Curling Champion of the World – June 16th, 2017


The View Was Pretty Nice up There, on the Roof of Arby’s – June 22nd, 2017


Clean Your Teeth on My Bones – June 27th, 2017

Multitrack Video Series – May 2017

This is the first installment of my new Instagram multipanel-video series. These are quick original compositions that have no restriction on genre or instruments used.

This sentence is a link to my Instagram account. If you like what you see, please feel free to hit that follow button.

(If you don’t have Instagram, you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel. Or you can just come back here each month.)

 

Tone Loc’s Lament – May 10, 2017


Vacation on the Dimensional Cusp – May 11, 2017


Earth – May 16, 2017


Help Computer – May 19, 2017


They Say Time Flies, but with the Way the Airlines Are Going These Days, Maybe Time Should Take the Bus – May 23, 2017


Orbs Were Banned in Europe and Cast into the Chasm After the Incident – May 31, 2017

Antiverb – General Purpose

antiverbblog

Antiverb – General Purpose

antiverb.bandcamp.com

Earlier today, The Hard Times (specifically, author Kyle Erf) put up an absolutely savage satire piece about noise artists. I’m a huge fan of THT’s work, so I decided to spend a little time today blurring the lines between joke and reality by making a Bandcamp for the band that they invented in the article.

The supposed band consists of members Hans Lederman (drums) and Ashleigh Milton (production) of New York City. Collectively they are known as Antiverb. Their release, General Purpose, is a 7″ disc of 180-grit sandpaper intended to be played on a turntable.

I was greatly amused by both the article and the EP’s concept, and upon completing my reading wondered if anyone had gone to the trouble of fleshing out the non-existent release. I entered “antiverb.bandcamp.com” in my address bar and found that no such page existed. “Antiverb band” on Google yielded no results either. I was honestly shocked that no one was using that name. At that moment I knew: I had to be the one to do it. I had to make this Bandcamp for the sake of the few other weirdos in the world who would read that article and think, “I wonder if anyone has made this into a Bandcamp.”

Anyway, to begin the process, I recorded the sound of a piece of sandpaper on a turntable. As someone who does a lot of work on my house, I happened to have it lying around, so I didn’t even need to hit Home Depot. Score.

A post shared by Jon Lervold (@bigname.music) on

As you can see in the video, the needle doesn’t move laterally while the sandpaper spins; it just sits in one position. This means that the sandpaper “record” would play continually until stopped by the listener. A computer program could be coded to replicate this endlessness, but Bandcamp only operates with standard audio files. An audio file can’t be infinite, so the digital recording of this EP needed a chosen length. The article states that the release is a 7″, so I decided to make the digital version 6 minutes long, as this is approaching how long a single side of a traditional 7″ record can be.

After recording and mastering the audio, I registered the Bandcamp page and uploaded the track. At this point I had to decide what to add for other content. I wanted to fill in as many of the fields as possible with information derived from the article. For the “about” section I took the brilliant Harold Zhou “New York Times” review that mentions using the EP to prep a shelf for staining. The artist bio was similarly taken from Lederman’s quote about the intent of the project.

For the credits, the band members’ names and roles were simple enough to fill in. The digital version really was recorded at Big Name, so I put that in there too. At this point I had exhausted the supply of pre-existing ideas. It was time to come up with some original content to fill out the rest of the page.

printstation
The Big Name printing, cutting, and scanning station. This is where I have put together thousands of copies of various tapes and CDs. In this case, it’s where I scanned the sandpaper cover art.

I used my scanner to scan more of the sandpaper that I had lying around. I was really worried about scratching my scanning bed, but as far as I can tell I got away with it. This scan was used for the album cover as well as the Bandcamp’s header and background. Next, for the artist photo, I used a picture of myself and Laura. I modified the image so our faces don’t show (so it’s not clearly just us) and then I added an overlay using the sandpaper I had just scanned because I thought that was funny.

The article mentioned a label releasing the EP, but did not give that label a name. So I had to come up with one. I chose Acquired Distaste Records; it just strikes me as a perfect noise-label name.

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All that was left at this point was a few pictures of the physical release. I took a 7″ record sleeve and cut the piece of sandpaper down to the size of a booklet. Then, I used another piece to create a proper disc. The pictures were taken using the setup that I use to photograph everything for Big Name Records.

The Big Name Records photo setup, consisting of styrofoam, can lights, mic stands, and curtains.
The Big Name Records low-budget photo setup, consisting of styrofoam, can lights, mic stands, and curtains.

I created a fake Facebook for the band’s drummer, posted the link on the article’s page on their website, and watched a scant few plays roll in.

hanspost
If you want to help get this post into the “top posts” of THT’s FB link so that a few more people find it, you can like it here.

I actually think that if this were a real release, it would be genuinely interesting from a conceptual standpoint. The audio would be fully generative (i.e. each playthrough would be a completely unique waveform), but then, to take that concept to the next level and turn it on its head, the differences between listenings would be indiscernible to the listener. While most generative music is done via computer programming, this release would be different, as it would be the result of purely physical processes. The infinite playback of the disc is also noteworthy; there are plenty of releases with run-out grooves where something repeats over and over again at the end of the disc, but I personally have never seen any kind of disc where the entirety of the audio is infinite. Also, as noted in the article, the disc would likely permanently damage the needle of the listener’s record player. The listener would have to make the conscious choice to put their equipment in harm’s way in order to experience the artist’s piece.

The EP, if real, would be construed by many as extremely pretentious, which would make those people angry. Of course, this is the crux of the satire piece. The pretentiousness, however, (in my humble opinion) could be cool provided that the artist had a solid sense of how ridiculous their piece really was and also provided that they had a good sense of humor about it. The release itself would be comedy gold in its own right, and would be a solid of a jab at noise music’s more absurd artists (while also joining the ranks of noise music’s more absurd artists!). As a final note here, I love that it really does sound kind of cool when you listen to it. I absolutely did not expect to feel that way when I first put the sandpaper on the turntable. The playback sounds exactly like how the surface of sandpaper feels.

 

ADDENDUM:

It has been brought to my attention that it could be helpful if I lay out a short list of all the reasons why I took the time to do this.

  • I thought that the idea presented in the article was genuinely artistically awesome.
  • I thought that the idea presented in the article was also genuinely hilarious.
  • I really wanted to know what a sandpaper disc would sound like played on a turntable.
  • I read the article and checked if anyone else had done this already. No one had.
    • I thought there might be a few other weirdos who would try the same search that I tried after I finished reading the article, and that they would be amused when they found the Bandcamp.
  • I had the means to do all of this quickly and for almost no cost due to having a recording studio, record label, and physical media production facility.
  • I thought it would be fun and a good exercise in creativity.
  • I thought that collaborating with someone (the author) in a way that they never would have expected and didn’t even know about was a curious concept.
  • I thought going to all this effort for something so odd and pointless was intriguing and ridiculous.
  • I found the non-existent release’s meaning very ambiguous and wanted to explore its concepts more concretely. I see elements of various forms of art in it and I am not sure if it’s more “music” or “conceptual.” It blurs the lines between different mediums of art. It also straddles the world of comedy and serious, thought-provoking concepts. I see no reason why comedy and art cannot coexist, and I like a lot of art that is humorous.
  • Taking it to the next step in the process, I wanted to explore just what the heck it would mean if I were to actually do what I did (flesh out the Bandcamp). It felt like doing art, but I wouldn’t even know what form of art to call it. It’s music, conceptual, somewhat performative, and it could be considered an internet installation art piece. Again, I think it’s all funny, but it’s also meaningful in some way. My end of the process felt just as ambiguous as the original concept.
  • Everything about my own hand in this process (the development of the Bandcamp and also this explanation piece) will certainly be considered very pretentious by some who encounter it. For whatever reason, that just made me want to do it more.
  • Most importantly, I just wanted to pay homage to The Hard Times, because their work is superb.

Honestly I didn’t consciously think through all of these things before I began, but they were all reasons that I took the time to do this. The simplest explanation is just that it was a fully natural thing for me to do.

An-Dron Yekrae – Atalean Spxldror

bandcamp

An-Dron Yekrae – Atalean Spxldror

andronyekrae.bandcamp.com

I am proud to present another new solo album. I think that its origins are worth discussing, as they’re pretty… odd.

One of the main principles that I follow while creating art is that the work must be allowed to flow freely, and that I should follow the art wherever it wants to go. Most of the time when I’m working on my own material, I try to actually get out of the way of the art, let whatever it is show itself, and then mold those raw impulses into a finished product. It feels like channeling something. This album was done that way, and it led me on a few twists and turns throughout its creation process.

Last year, melodies, chord progressions, and bass lines in the style of old jazz standards unexpectedly began popping into my head. Whenever this sort of thing happens, I make sure to capture and transcribe the ideas. After a few weeks of this process, I ended up with 14 complete pieces.

Originally I thought that they should be played in the style of a jazz combo, as would be expected for jazz standards. But I didn’t know how I was going to accomplish that. At this point, I can confidently say that I play drums and bass well, and piano decently… but playing jazz drums, bass, and piano is a different story. And I don’t play any traditional jazz lead instruments at all. My skills in that genre would need a lot of work before I could pull something like that off. So I puzzled over that impasse for a while, and the songs just sat while I worked on other things (like Retail Monkey – ADD/Nihilism and [syzygy] – [visitor] {which was “channeled” in a similar way to this album}).

When I have a project sitting, I can feel its weight in my mind. It takes up space and it makes me anxious. If I wait too long, the inspiration of the project can sometimes leave and never return. It wasn’t long before the incomplete project really began to bother me. I prefer to get things done and move along, but I knew something was not right about the way I was approaching it. So I couldn’t. After some time I realized that my original instrumental vision was definitely not how they were supposed to end up.

I realize how weird this all might sound, but at that point, the answer came to me. The project wanted to be a concept album: songs written by a character, an alien (An-Dron Yekrae) from another world (Atalea), who visited Earth and fell in love with two sounds: classic jazz and synthesizers. He got together some friends and recorded this album, melding those two interests. I don’t know where this idea came from, but it felt like the right answer, so I just shrugged and followed it. Immediately I rediscovered the flow state, and the entirety of the project was tracked within the week. After being stuck for quite a while, it turned back into a naturally flowing process. It was a blast to record all this stuff.

Yeah, like I said, it’s weird. But that’s what this project wanted to be. It was fun working with you, little alien jazz buddy.

Released on Big Name Records. BNR1701
Available on cassette via the Big Name Records Webstore or Bandcamp.
Cassettes were printed in the Big Name print shop.

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