Loiterer – Adrift


Okay, so this piece is going to take some time to explain because it combines some uncommon experimental composition ideas. So to make things short for those who don’t want to read something long and dry, I will begin by putting this in quick-and-dirty terms:

  1. This is music co-written by my computer. I coded a piece of music that writes itself.
  2. This piece utilizes notes and harmonies unavailable in “normal” music.

Point 1 is particularly oversimplified. So if you’d like a more detailed, accurate representation of what this is, read on.

A few months ago, I released Key West, an algorithmic/microtonal* piece that was composed using the awesome software known as Pure Data. While I really enjoyed how that piece turned out, I wanted to go further with Pure Data and create something that had stronger rhythmic content. Within a few days of completing it, I began putting together a new composition.

I put quite a few hours into it over the next few weeks. The code ended up a lot more complicated than I expected. I liked how it all came together, but upon finishing it… I felt that I couldn’t put it out yet. This was because I actually didn’t understand some of the theory behind what I had done, and didn’t know how I was possibly going to explain it. I was told that to someone who wasn’t already deep into lunatic-fringe musician territory, the explanation I wrote up for Key West was mostly incomprehensible gobbledygook, so I wanted to be sure that I could thoroughly explain this new one before I put it out to the public. I had to do some research to figure out what exactly I had come up with.


* Don’t know what these terms mean? Don’t worry, explanations are coming below.




Like Key West, this piece also experiments with microtonality. Most music that we hear is written in 12edo (equal division of the octave), which splits the octave into 12 notes that the human ear interprets as even jumps in pitch. Key West utilizes a temperament known as 5edo, where the octave is split into 5 notes that the human ear interprets as even jumps in pitch, allowing the utilization of notes that are not found in most music.


This song, however, abandons that approach and uses a different kind of system. The composition came to be as a result of my curiosity regarding different ways of splitting up the octave. After trying a bunch of different things, I happened to take the octave and split it up into 16 even divisions… but instead of splitting them up in equal cent intervals (tones that the human ear interprets as even jumps), like with an EDO, I split the octave evenly in hertz (i.e. vibrations per second). This is one of the things that I did that, at the time, I didn’t fully understand, and later got really confused by, so hopefully I can explain.

The human ear interprets frequencies logarithmically. Doubling any frequency will result in an octave harmony. We understand 200hz to be the same note as 100hz except one octave higher. This doubling continues with each iteration of the octave; 400hz, 800hz, 1600hz, et cetera are all perceived as the same note. This means that in a tuning system where every step of the scale is interpreted by the ear as being exactly even, the amount of Hz between each note increases.


So, as I said before, I derived the scale that I used for this piece in the opposite way. Instead of dividing evenly in cents, I divided the octave evenly into Hz. This means that as the scale increases, the ear interprets the intervals as getting closer together. I later learned that this is known as an otonal scale due to its relation to the overtone series (shout-outs to Dave Ryan and Tom Winspear for helping me figure out what the heck this approach is called).


This particular scale is known as otones16-32. From my research, otonal scales seem to be pretty uncommon. I don’t know why that is. They’re a very logical way to construct mathematically harmonious scales. To my ear, they can be utilized in a way which sounds very consonant, but they also allow for some exotic xenharmonic flavor.

From the 16 available notes in this scale, I chose a set of 7 of them that I thought sounded agreeable together. The ratios† of these notes are:

  • 16/16 aka 1/1 aka unison
  • 18/16 aka 9/8 aka major whole tone
  • 19/16 (doesn’t reduce) aka overtone minor third
  • 22/16 aka 11/8 aka undecimal tritone (11th harmonic)
  • 24/16 aka 3/2 aka perfect fifth
  • 25/16 (doesn’t reduce) aka augmented fifth
  • 28/16 aka 7/4 aka septimal minor seventh
  • 32/16 aka 2/1 aka octave

I found the sound of this scale inspiring (especially when I heard how strange it sounded to build chords with it), so I set out to put together a new algorithmic piece. Like I said earlier, I wanted to be more ambitious and give the thing more structure than my last effort.


† “Ratios? What does that mean in this context?” The ratio is what you multiply your base note by to create a particular harmony. For example, say your base note is 100hz. To create a perfect fifth (3/2), you multiply 100*(3/2), yielding 150hz. When 100hz and 150hz are played together, every time that the base note vibrates twice, the harmony vibrates exactly three times in perfect alignment.





An algorithmic composition, in its simplest form, is music that is made by creating and then following a set of rules. The term, however, is more commonly used for music where the artist designs some kind of framework (most often a computer program) that allows the piece to perform itself without intervention from the artist. In this case, I did just that: coded a framework of rules dictating which sounds are generated when by a combination of soundwave generators.

This composition also falls under a closely related musical form known as generative music. A composition is generative if it is unique each time that it is listened to. It needs to be continually reinventing itself in some way. This algorithmic composition is also a generative composition because the computer makes many determinations about the musical output each time that it is played. Every time the program runs and the song is heard, the chord progressions are different, as are the rhythms and notes that the instruments play. Many aspects of the composition are the same each time, but many others are determined by the computer and are unique to every listen.


Here are the rules I chose that are the same on every playthrough:

  • The scale utilized
    • 7 notes of otones16-32
    • 1/1, 9/8, 19/16, 5/4, 11/8, 3/2, 25/16, 7/4, 2/1 (as explained above)
    • A base frequency of 200 (roughly halfway between G and Ab in A-440)
  • The overall rhythm and tempo
    • 4/4
    • Backbeat on beat 3
    • 137bpm
  • The intervals that the chord instrument plays
    • Root note, 3 notes up the scale, 5 notes up the scale
  • The instruments and their beginning timbres
    • Drums
      • Kick
      • Snare
      • Hi-hats on both the left and right sides
    • The polyphonic synth which plays the 3-note chords
    • Bass
    • A monophonic, airy sounding “ah” synth
    • A lead “sequencer” that plays in the center, with a 5th harmony that fades in and out
    • A short-tailed secondary lead layer
    • The warbly background synths on the left and right
  • The 17 available chord progressions
  • The overall structure of the piece
    • Fade-in
    • 5 parts
    • A “trigger” occurring at 3 specific points which activates one of the instrument mute sequences
    • A slowdown and fade-out for an ending


And here’s what the computer determines on each playthrough:

  • Which chord progressions (of the 17 available) will be used for each of the 5 parts. There are no restrictions on which progressions can be used for each part, so:
    • The computer sometimes makes the piece have unique chord progressions for each part, creating a song structure of ABCDE
    • It is theoretically possible that the computer could choose the same chord progression for all 5 parts, creating AAAAA, though highly unlikely (odds of 1 in 1,419,817)
    • I am not well versed in the theory behind statistics, so I don’t know the reason for this, but the majority of the time, it tends to pick the same chord progression for at least two of the parts
      • Most often, it seems the structure will end up being something like ABCAD, or ABACB
  • Unique melodies and rhythms for each instrument during each of the five parts of the song. That is:
    • A unique drum pattern for each individual drum sound during each part
    • A unique bass line during each part
    • A unique sequencer line for each part
    • A unique short-tailed synth line for each part
    • A unique set of warbly background notes on the left and the right for each part
  • The morphing of the timbre of the instruments
    • What morphs:
      • The overtones that create the timbres
      • The amount and level of frequency and amplitude modulation
    • When this morphing occurs
  • Where and when the instruments pan around in the stereo field
  • When the sequencer harmony fades in and out
  • Which instrument mute sequence (of the 3 available) occurs at each defined trigger point




There is one aspect of the composition that I listed under the “rules I chose” heading that I would actually consider some kind of middle ground: the available chord progressions. While I was working on coding the program, I made a chord progression generator. It automatically created bar-long chord progressions. Each time it would generate a loop, I would listen to it a few times and decide if I liked it or not. If I liked it, I would add it to the list of progressions that the computer could choose from. The ones that were musical nonsense were deleted. About 1/3 of the progressions generated by the algorithm I designed were usable. So in the end, I did choose the chord progressions that were included. But the computer created them in the first place.

On a different note, this method of presentation of the piece raises some art philosophy questions. Is the YouTube video of the piece being played actually the same piece? It’s not truly representative of the generative nature of the song; the YouTube video will be exactly the same every time it is played. It’s a facsimile that only demonstrates one particular runthrough. Eventually I’d like to make the jump over to Max/MSP, an extremely similar visual coding language that allows you to compile your code into a standalone program that anyone can run.

Lastly, all of the sounds you hear in the piece are generated via what is known as waveform synthesis. They are created by adding various combinations of sine waves and white noise‡ to one another. This creates complex waveforms which our ears interpret as different timbres. I could write a post entirely about how the sound generators in this piece work together to create the sounds that you hear, but this post is already long enough. Maybe for my next Pure Data based composition, I will focus my explanation entirely on that aspect of the piece.


‡ Sine waves are the most basic, pure waveform (a sinusoidal shape), and white noise is an audio signal that plays all frequencies at equal power (which ends up sounding like a sharp hiss). The audio demonstrations included in this article are all made up of basic sine waves.




Yikes! That’s a lot longer than I expected. Hopefully someone finds this interesting. At the very least, writing this cemented a bunch of this stuff in my brain.

Antiverb – General Purpose


Antiverb – General Purpose


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.

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.

bnr4-1-2 bnr4-3-2

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.

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.



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.

Internet Roundup – February/March/April 2017

Here’s some amusing, interesting, insightful, or useful internet stuff I discovered in February, March, and April of 2017.


Yeltsin Drunk. In His Underwear. Hailing a Cab.

To begin, here’s a short but interesting article. The information within comes from secret interviews conducted with Bill Clinton at the end of his administration. The article contains two amusing anecdotes regarding former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, who was found in the middle of the night on the street in Washington DC, in his underwear, drunkenly hailing a cab. He just wanted a late-night pizza.

King of the Hill animation help

King of the Hill Animation Rules

As an avid King of the Hill fan, I find these slides fascinating. They are a small selection of the rules and guidelines with which animators worked to keep the show consistent. These are little details the average person will never notice, but they add up to a consistent final product that is very cohesive and, in this case, realistic.

These types of decisions add up. A focus on realism suits the point of the show as a whole. Mike Judge wanted everything like textures, perspective, and windows to be sensible. To make the feel match a live action show shot on-location, the “camera” perspectives are set as though it’s a real camera in a room, not like most cartoons or even like a set on a soundstage. They took this level of detail down to getting things like the time correct on a character’s wristwatch in every scene.

It’s a good way to work through art in general, to make rules to work by (and occasionally break them for effect). It begets a lot of creativity and a consistent end product.



These are self adhering extra frets that you can add onto your guitar in order to play music that utilizes microtones. They’re dirt cheap and are not permanent, so they allow a lot of flexibility in experimentation. They can be used to add a very eastern flavor to a person’s guitar playing, as these intervals are traditionally found in forms of Indian, Turkish, and Persian music, among others.


24edo on a 12edo Guitar

And to further solidify that I am interested in the possibilities of microtonal composition (if 6 entries on my blog so far regarding microtonality didn’t give it away), we have a forum post where someone came up with a method of playing 24edo on a standard guitar without requiring any modifications.

I’ve been very interested in 24edo since I first heard Jute Gyte’s Perdurance. Jute Gyte utilizes guitars with double the normal amount of frets, with an extra fret added exactly halfway between each existing fret. As far as I know, there’s only one luthier out there who makes these necks with any regularity: Ron Sword of Metatonal Music. The problem is that the price is too high for someone who is merely looking to briefly dabble with the idea. This is a good solution for those people.

The system proposed in the forum post is simple and elegant. Instead of tuning the guitar’s strings fourths apart like in standard tuning, the strings are instead tuned half-fifths apart. This interval is also known as a “neutral third.” This is the note 50 cents between the minor and major thirds that most musicians are familiar with. This interval is not available in a conventional tuning. It allows for some interesting tonal possibilities.

Things full of beans that shouldn’t be full of beans

Things Full of Beans that Shouldn’t Be Full of Beans

An art project that answers a question everyone has asked at one point or another: “What if life was packed to the brim with beans?

Ryan Lockwood – Streets Agent 1:12

[Video contains strong language. If you are at work or around children, you probably won’t want to play this video.]

This is a classic YouTube video that I just rediscovered. For those unfamiliar with speedrunning, the idea is to beat a game or certain level of a game as quickly as possible. There are huge online communities where people obsess over every minute detail of specific (often decades-old) games, trying to figure out strategies (“strats”) to improve current world-record times. It can take many years of dedicated study and practice to improve a world record time by one single second. From the YouTube description:

Ryan Lockwood’s narrated replay of his record-tying 1:12 Streets Agent run with subtitles. He’s narrating his run over stream to a 50+ audience, shortly after achieving it. It was the first time he or anyone else watched the run.

Hundreds know Ryan Lookwood from his Twitch stream; dozens others have met him at our annual meetup. There are a lot of, um… idiosyncratic dudes that take to speedrunning, and Ryan Lockwood is no exception. He’s an intense dude, in short.

Ryan is the second person to achieve the time of 1:12 on this level. Normally record ties aren’t big news, but Ryan hit this time before getting 1:13. This is absurdly unlikely. 1:12 is one of the most frame-for-frame maxed times in GoldenEye, first accomplished by Marc Rützou in 2012, a player whose [sic] made a name for grinding hard to break/set records that are daunting to match. With 20+ people sharing the old record of 1:13 in early 2012, the prospect of 1:12 was a popular debate in the forums. A $100 bounty was posted for anyone who could get this time–legitimately–and after weeks of attempts, Marc won the “race”. Only a few have shown serious intentions (or even interest) in matching the feat since. Technically, Ryan isn’t among them, as 1:13 was his goal. But you’ll see in the video that he had a good sense of what was on the line toward the end of his run.

The nuances of “modern” Goldeneye speedrunning may be hard to detect, but the novelty of this run’s unlikeliness should not be. A 1:14 run Streets is probably a 1 in 20 event, with respect to Lockwood’s ability. A 1:13 absolutely requires something random (see: RNG) — the presence of a grenade launcher guard. Let’s call 1:13 a 1 in 500 event. A 1:12 run leans on “RNG factors” even more, also requiring at least 3 “boosts” from gunfire (getting shot in the pack [sic], pushing you ahead slightly). Let’s suppose 1 in 10,000 odds for 1:12, in which case you can probably expect dozens of 1:13 runs before achieving 1:12. Think of this like a statistical outlier in a distribution plot — perhaps a few hundred data points between 74.0 and 75.0 seconds, thousands between 74.0 an [sic] 76.0, and one 72.9.

[Written by Derek Clark]

More information about this feat and just why this guy was so pumped can be found in this video.


Internet Roundup – January 2017

Here’s some amusing, interesting, insightful, or useful internet stuff I discovered in January of 2017.


Compact Discs as Expanded Instruments: Pioneers of Hacked CD Sound Art

This article focuses on three avant garde artists who pioneered the idea of using CDs and CD players as instruments in their own right. Each of the artists has their own distinct approach to the idea. It is a solidly-written, long-form article that provides good historical context and that also functions as a jumping off point for further discovery. Most of this month’s Internet Roundup entries were discovered as a chain, one leading to the next; that process began with this article.

Turning the audio transmission device into an art generation tool is a musical tradition that has a rich history in our culture. There are many ways in which artists have subverted the intended use of a playback medium. Most musicians are familiar with the use of reel-to-reel tape players in this way, either as delay units or loop players. The turntable also has ended up being used in a similar creative manner as both a sampler and as a lead instrument via the familiar technique of scratching. These sounds have become a well-known part of our musical milieu. But using the CD player in the same way has never reached the same ubiquity.

I really like this kind of outside-the-box thinking. While not directly addressing this topic, this article raises questions about the untapped sonic possibilities in our current mediums: MP3s and streaming services. Is there a way to utilize these devices and services as musical instruments in their own right? Are there undiscovered sounds lurking in the structure of digital music playback that are interesting and usable? I would bet that there are.


Nicolas Collins

Nicolas Collins is featured in the above article from Soundfly due to his extensive usage of CD players as musical instruments. An interesting essay on his personal website about his CD-based works is referenced in the piece. Following that link exposed me to the rest of his body of work.

Collins is an experimental musician who is heavily influenced by John Cage and Alvin Lucier. Much of his work is electroacoustic, exploring the relationship of sound and space. He is very interested in creating works that question common, basic assumptions about music, and especially how those assumptions can be bent or broken. His work also often focuses on technology and how it can be built or modified to explore new musical possibilities.

As would be expected on a musician’s homepage, his site contains recordings of his pieces and his albums. Additionally, however, he makes available books and essays that he has written on practical and philosophical art topics. I appreciate when artists go into depth about the thought processes behind their works. Those discussions often bring about new, related ideas that can be explored. Beyond audio and writing, Collins also provides guides for making microphones and sound generators, as well as instructions on designing or bending circuits. Lastly, the site hosts many of his non-traditional scores, as well as custom software for performing some of these unique works. Collins has played with a lot of interesting ideas over the years and his catalog is inspiring in its creative breadth.


Joo Won Park

Joo Won Park is a composer and an assistant professor of music technology at Wayne State University. I found his work through his YouTube series 100 Strange Sounds. In this collection, Park generates samples from a variety of odd sources and processes them using a program called SuperCollider. This series makes use of many curious audio generation techniques. On his personal website this theme is explored further, branching into uncommon composition techniques as well.

Park’s work features non-traditional scores that often feature improvisational components. Some aspects of his compositions are generative. Many of his pieces feature a computer, often running digital sound manipulation algorithms that Park designed. One such composition, Control Click (dubbed a “piece for computer lab”) networks more than a dozen computers together. Each individual device performs a monophonic melody. All of them come together to create a generative audio-visual experience. As another example of something unique Park has done, in another performance he played a no-input mixer on an open-top bus as it drove through the city, interacting with the city as the artist and audience passed it by.

Park maintains a blog where he catalogs his works and also occasionally posts about software and fellow musicians that interest him.


Wouter Van Veldhoven

Wouter Van Veldhoven is a Dutch based experimental artist whose medium is difficult to define. His YouTube channel is a showcase of his studio experiments, most of which include him chaining together dozens of components to create automated compositions. His work crosses the boundaries between electronic and acoustic, installation piece and music composition, robotics and art.

For me personally, ambient music is usually a genre of little interest. These compositions, however, manage to be truly fascinating. Van Veldhoven uses secondhand materials driven by an analog Doepfer sequencer and many, many reel to reel decks to bring his studio to life. He has a real passion for experimenting with old tape recorders. His compositions utilize classic tape based techniques, like creating loops and delays, but then he often gets radically more creative with his patching. One example of a more advanced technique he uses is to rig up one single loop of tape through multiple reel to reel decks. Another is to use his Doepfer to automatically reverse the playback of a tape in real time, creating unique effects.

He is not afraid of using all sorts of odd things as automated musical devices. This includes televisions, radios, miscellaneous broken machines, sine wave generators, cassette decks, solenoids, and an array of modified self-playing instruments like the reed organ, zither, and toy piano. Robot-based music is often gimmicky, but Van Veldhoven’s compositions are genuinely haunting and beautiful.

Utilizing tape so heavily as part of his production process imparts a lo-fi, nostalgic quality onto the sound of the pieces. The dropouts along with the wow and flutter somehow abstractly communicate that Van Veldhoven’s living studio is a wise old soul.

He has albums available at woutervanveldhoven.bandcamp.com, and he maintains a blog at woutervanveldhoven.tumblr.com.


Mystery Circuits

Van Veldhoven’s monophonic cassette Mellotron made me wonder if anyone had used a bunch of cassette decks wired together to make a made a polyphonic Mellotron. A quick Google revealed that indeed, someone had.

That individual is Mike Walters of North Carolina. He’s a keyboardist and electronic instrument technician who designs his own creations during his free time. He then catalogs and writes about his instruments. On the site you can find oddities such as a drum machine where the snare is constructed of live radio waves, the aforementioned polyphonic cassette Mellotron, a repurposed and rehoused Italian auto-accompaniment machine, and much more. Quite a few of the devices on the site have audio and video samples, explanations of how the devices are played, and explanations of how they were built and how the circuits work.



My discovery of Acreil’s work also came about through further exploration of Van Veldhoven’s ideas. I was fascinated by his Doepfer sequencer and wanted to see if such a thing existed within the digital realm. That was when I found the program known as Pure Data and, subsequently, the experimental algorithmic compositions of Acreil.

In a Pure Data algorithmic composition, the composer creates a program that consists of a series of rules, math equations, and logic gates. These are known as “objects” in Pure Data. The various objects interact with one another in ways determined by the composer, eventually leading to a device that generates musical notes. These notes can be played using oscillators (which generate simple waveforms or white noise) or MIDI (which allows you to connect to virtual instruments in a DAW like Pro Tools). These waveforms come together to create a piece of music. The composer can write the program so that the music is unique on every playthrough, or so that it is the same every time, depending on how they orient their objects.

Out of the catalog of Pure Data algorithmic compositions, Acreil’s work is noteworthy for three reasons. Firstly, most Pure Data musicians that I have encountered either make ambient songs or outright noise pieces. Acreil seems to be one of the few who creates actual rhythmic compositions with drums. Secondly, he has experimented quite a bit with microtonal composition. While many microtonal pieces sound very dissonant, his sound quite consonant. Lastly, while Pure Data can be connected to a DAW like Pro Tools to utilize virtual instruments, Acreil uses the sound generators in Pure Data exclusively. The sounds he achieves are very complex, so his setups for each individual instrument in his compositions must be quite advanced.

My piece Key West, composed in January, is directly inspired by Acreil’s work. It uses Pure Data, a microtonal tuning, and only sounds generated within Pure Data. I intend to write more using this composition method in the future.

Acriel’s work can be found on YouTube and his longer albums can be found on Bandcamp. The other focus of his YouTube channel is demonstrating the capabilities of individual keyboards by composing songs that only utilize patches from the keyboard in question. While they are much less experimental, these end up being enjoyable compositions in their own right.


All the Scales

Being generous, we tend to use roughly twenty different scales in Western music. In reality, however, most the music we hear utilizes a paltry two of those, Major and Minor. That fact gets sadder: those two scales contain all the same intervals! The only difference is the degree on which the scale begins.

William Zeitler took the time to catalog every possible scale within the 12-tone system that repeats at the octave and that does not contain a jump of more than 3 semitones. He determined that there are 1,490 different scales that can be made from these parameters, each with its own set of modes. Not being content with merely pointing out the existence of this wealth of scales, he also created MIDI files for each one and uniquely named every single mode of every scale.

These scales can be utilized within the chord-scale system, or they can be used as a starting point for composition. Many microtonalists complain that the chromatic system is too limited, but this website shows that even within the limited 12-tone system there is a huge amount of musical territory left to explore. (Not that that should stop anyone from exploring microtonality!)


JLIAT: Silences

If every full-length CD that could possibly exist was played from beginning to end in succession, the resulting audio would be longer than the amount of time from the beginning to the theorized end of the universe.

That totality is impossible to recreate in the physical universe. Within the realm of all-discs-that-could-exist, however, there is a realizable possibility: discs of silence. Due to the way that CDs read audio, there are 65,536 unique discs that would cause a player to render only silence, totaling out at 9 years of playback. The creator of this conceptual art piece, James Whitehead, put together and made available 65,536 files that render 10 seconds of each one of these unique silences (which comes out to over a week of non-sound).

The piece is reminiscent of John Cage’s groundbreaking 4’33”.  The idea of quantifiably different silences is quite strange, as is the idea that all music that could ever exist is possible within a finite medium. As the artist states in the description of the download: “This poses the thought that any recording could be created by artistic talent, ingenuity, skill, sensitivity… or by brute force or accident.”


Born to Explore: The Other Side of ADD

I first found this site in 2009, when it was still available at its original domain. A few years ago, I went looking for it again, only to discover that the domain had lapsed. This was greatly disappointing. After a number of attempts, a search this month on the Internet Archive finally yielded results.

As a child, I was diagnosed with inattentive ADD. The doctors who tested me concluded that it was the result of some mysterious brain defect. Unlike a “normal” person, I would be forever stuck with absent-mindedness, difficulty focusing, forgetfulness, the need to fidget, boredom, and difficult mood swings. They also diagnosed me with a significantly-lower-than-average cognitive processing speed, which is something that about 1/3 of people with ADD suffer. Despite the fact that the other testing metrics came out above average, the professionals placed the focus almost entirely on the negative results. They called it a “learning disability.”

I carried that around like a curse while growing up. Believing that I was born defective was not a healthy self-narrative and contributed (along with other things) to years of difficulty as a child and teenager. It was early 2009, at age 20, that things began to change. A good friend of mine and I were having a conversation in which I was complaining about the difficulty of being a slow ADD person in our overwhelmingly fast-paced world. This friend is a quick wit… so quick, in fact, that it would sometimes get him into trouble. Back then he had the tendency to speak before thoroughly thinking through the possible repercussions of what he was about to say. He pointed out that my introverted, calculated nature could easily be understood as a strength, as I never end up in those kinds of predicaments! He said he was jealous of my ability to always fully consider the impact of my words before speaking. My mind was blown. I had honestly never even considered that this “weakness” I had could be understood, or even utilized intentionally, as a strength.

Thus began a search of the internet for resources regarding this idea. Born to Explore was one of the first I found. Many of the ideas on the site have stuck with me to this day. There are a number of different profiles of types of people who fall under the ADD umbrella and ways to turn the normal negative interpretations of their symptoms into strengths. I believe this sort of reframing is something that can be done with many personality traits or other aspects of life that a person may be unhappy with. The Positive and Alternative Views and Positive Quotes pages were invaluable for my transformation from depressed youth into functional adult. This page also helped me realize the importance of seeking out a life which is the right fit for my mind and my own strengths and weaknesses. When I am pursuing the type of work that my mind excels at, my ADD symptoms are practically non-existent. I understand that the specifics of this story are probably of relatively limited interest to my audience, but if this archived page helps one person via this blog entry, then I will be happy.

Revealing Music in the Unusual: An Interview with Publio Delgado

I first discovered Spain’s Publio Delgado in 2014 through his video Jones Big Ass truck rentals & storage – Harmonizator (above). While watching, I felt the sense that I was encountering something remarkable. I didn’t know exactly why I felt that way; all I knew in that moment was that I had to see more. Luckily for me, at that point in time Delgado’s channel already had more than 100 videos, so there was a lot to take in. Impressively, in the two years since then, his output has nearly doubled.

Publio Delgado

Delgado’s most popular videos are his Harmonizator series, which makes up about 40% of his channel. At first glance, these videos are entertaining. They’re bizarre, hilarious, and fun. But upon closer examination, there’s more to them than mere novelty.

In this series, Delgado takes videos, analyzes the pitch content of their audio, and then writes and performs jazz harmony with electric guitars, placing this music over the original. The results demonstrate a virtuoso-level understanding of jazz composition and performance, which is juxtaposed with a spirit of humor, mirth, and utter goofiness. While other artists have done this kind of thing before¹, Delgado’s choice of source videos is what really sets these efforts apart. This sharp disjunction between jazz (an exclusive, high art form) and viral videos (a humorous, absurd distraction that anyone can partake in) is why this series really shines.²

The Harmonizator videos represent a motif found in much of Delgado’s output: coaxing art out from unexpected places, hearing music where others don’t. Music is a mysterious part of human life, and his work sheds some light on its origins in the psyche. While watching, one realizes that music underlies everything that we hear in our daily lives, lurking just beneath the surface. These videos indicate that we may enjoy music because it mirrors aspects of the world in which we live. The fact that the Harmonizator catalog is so gigantic magnifies both the musical implications and the ludicrous, humorous aspects of the series even further.

Unsurprisingly, as Delgado’s videos went viral themselves (along with similar videos from his compeer and one-time collaborator MonoNeon³), many musicians began making copycat videos. There are now subsections of the internet dedicated to the practice, though at this point in time Delgado and MonoNeon still produce the most outstanding content.

Performing live in Taipei, Taiwan, 2012

Outside of bizarre jazz harmony, Delgado’s other focus is solo acoustic guitar work. Since August 2012, he has released an impressive seven acoustic guitar albums. The most recent, Time to Sleep, was put out last August. His guitar work often features elements of the percussive style made popular by musicians like Andy McKee and Kaki King, though at other times he plays more traditionally. Emotionally, this part of his catalog tends to portray thoughtfulness and stoic beauty, reminiscence and longing. It strikes a good balance between playing with feeling and playing in a technically interesting way.

In addition to these two series, Delgado makes whatever other videos he wants when the mood strikes him. These extra videos support the theme of drawing music out from unexpected parts of life. For example, there are a few videos where Delgado finds everyday items that sound like moments from famous songs. There are some videos where he plays arrangements with traditional instruments (electric guitar, upright bass, piano, trombone, vibraphone, koto, ocarina, vocalization, etc.), but then there are many where he plays non-traditional items musically. Here’s a list of some unexpected things that he’s used in compositions: shower wall tiles, glass bottles and cups, marbles, a plastic trash can scraping a tabletop, living bamboo stalks, pots, plates, flexible plastic tubing, and a swimming pool.

Singing one note from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in Barcelona, Spain, 2013

The remainder of material in Delgado’s catalog consists of a few short video sets. Early on, the channel featured a series called MHG, where Delgado arranged songs entirely out of sub-second-length video clips. In one of these videos, he recorded two clips per day over an entire year while traveling around the world to recreate Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. He has also dabbled in a series called Destroying Jazz Standards. As you might expect, these videos take jazz standards and convert them to aggressive versions with punk drumming, distorted guitars, and a spirit of reckless abandon. It’s an awesome idea, and hopefully more will be done with it in the future.

Delgado’s YouTube channel is a goldmine, but at this point his view counts are moderate relative to the YouTube superstars. While browsing through the channel, watching video after video of quality material, one can only wonder how long it will be before Publio Delgado is a household name. If he keeps producing such high-caliber content, it won’t be long.

p.s. In addition to all his talent and effort, he’s a really nice guy. He enthusiastically let me sample his video Unintelligible empanada truck VS dog for my recent math-metal album ADD/Nihilism.


The Interview

Hi Publio, before we begin I would like to thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I am a big fan of your work and it is exciting to learn more about your creative process.

Performing Edgar & Sabin’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI, 2013

What does your musical history look like? How long have you been making music? Did you attend music school? Have you collaborated with other musicians in the past, or are you collaborating with anyone now?

My father always played guitar and wrote his own songs for fun, so music has always been close to me. I started playing guitar at 16 inspired by Punk-Rock bands, and attended a local music school in Barcelona, my hometown, since age of 18. Five years later I got a scholarship from Berklee College of Music, so I moved to Boston, MA, and spend 3 years there until graduation.

I was a member of many different bands before moving to the States, and had some other projects in Boston and NY as well. Right now I do perform live with other musicians eventually, but I mostly play by myself.

What does the process look like for the creation of a Harmonizator video? Do you know what the guitar melody is going to be before you begin working on the video, or do you have to experiment to find the melody that fits the video?

I first watch the video and try to hear the music on it. If I feel it has some potential I start working on it. I take every phrase one by one and loop them, try to “sing” them, find its notes on my guitar and finally record them. Reproducing the melody is the hardest and most annoying part of the process… but as soon as I’m done, the fun part starts: harmonizing! Finding chords is sometimes really easy and intuitive and it takes me only a few minutes. Some other times I can’t figure it out and it might take hours…

“Improvisation” is included in the Bandcamp tags for your acoustic music. How much of your recorded acoustic guitar music is improvised and how much is pre-written? What does the composition process look like for your acoustic music?

For some parts I have a clear idea of what I want the tune to sound like and every note is decided. For some other parts I just have a slight idea and try to decide how it will end up while recording. I never write charts for them, that gives me way more freedom when I’m performing them, and lets them naturally evolve over the years.

I don’t have any particular method to compose for my solo acoustic project. I just try to take any musical thought out of my mind and remember life experiences instead. Think about that night sky full of stars that blowed me away, or those moments I spent with that girl I fell in love with so strongly… Instead of trying to take control of music, let music take control of my body. It turned out to be the best and most beautiful way for me to create.

You have made quite a few videos over the years that stray from the Harmonizator and acoustic formats. Some of your videos are multitrack compositions and they are outstanding (for example: FFVII – Anxious Heart, Kakariko Village). Is there a reason why your albums are almost entirely solo acoustic guitar music? Have you ever considered making originals in the style of those videos?

Most of the time the only instrument I have access to is my acoustic guitar, so I guess that’s why my albums are mostly acoustic. I’d like to work on some new material with more instruments, though (as I did on a few tracks in my most recent album).

Destroying Cole Porter’s 1935 classic Just One of Those Things, 2015

As a musician who comes from a punk background, there are two videos that grabbed my attention the very first time I found your channel: Destroying Jazz Standards. Was there any particular inspiration for these videos? Will we ever see more of this series?

My original idea was to make a bunch of those, but since almost all the instruments I’m using for them are borrowed from friends, and I record them whenever I have a little time when I briefly drop by my hometown, it’s not easy. I definitely wanna make more of them, let’s see if in 2017 I can record at least a couple!

Most of your music is instrumental. In some of your videos, you vocalize, but there are no lyrics. There are only a few videos where you sing words. You are clearly capable of singing lyrics, is there a reason that you usually choose not to?

I always had a hard time singing in front of people, I feel like I’m showing myself naked. Both singing and writing lyrics are too direct for me, I better leave it for people who do it well. I’d rather to say what I have to say through music without words. I do enjoy singing sometimes when nobody else can hear me lol.

There are a few videos on your channel where you are performing live. I see that you have traveled as far as Japan to play. Do you ever tour? If so, where have you performed? Do you have any plans to perform in the US in the future?

I’ve performed in Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary, UK, Ireland, Italy, Czech Republic, Italy, Brazil, US, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. I haven’t been to the States for about 3 years now. I definitely want to go back but don’t know when yet. I’ve only been to the East Coast so I guess next time would be time to visit the west!

Last question: what is your favorite video on your channel right now and why?

It’s hard to choose one between all my videos but I guess it would be the one I harmonized myself as a baby in the bathtub. That childhood video reappeared in my life when I was have a hard time and reminded me of what was really important. And the whole story behind it is beautiful. I had so much fun recording it!


You can support Publio Delgado on Patreon. You can also find him on Facebook. His YouTube channel’s address is youtube.com/vendidou.


¹ Hermeto Pascoal pioneered the general idea used in the Harmonizator videos decades ago.
Henry Hey is a contemporary jazz pianist who inspired the Harmonizator series.
In 1997, Spastic Ink recorded A Wild Hare, a fusion-metal song where the melody follows dialog from Bambi.


² Not every video from the Harmonizator series is based on a viral video, though most are. Delgado sometimes harmonizes mundane footage, which is interesting because of the way it draws music from everyday life. One recent video takes a more serious approach and uses Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, which creates a profoundly different effect than the comedy videos.


³ Wondering what the Harmonizator technique sounds like as a full band?
How about what the Harmonizator band sounds like without the original audio?
Some more of the songs with the video muted can be found here.


Internet Roundup – December 2016

Here’s some amusing, interesting, insightful, or useful internet stuff I discovered in December of 2016.



Exciting Books

Exciting Books is the work of an anonymous Washington-based artist. This unknown person invents ridiculous fake books (and occasionally fake product wrappers) with awesome design inspired by older styles. Some of his/her works include thrillers such as: Sandwich Slice Angle and Consumer Taste Perception, Historic Culverts of Manitoba, and Fon-Don’ts: Safety Lessons from the Fondue Craze.

This is a curious and novel art form, and the artist’s passion for design comes through clearly. These books offer the viewer an amusing journey into an alternate reality, one fraught with bizarre juxtapositions and absurd specificity. In addition to the original creations posted in the blog, sometimes the artist or fans will find and post books that have titles eerily similar to ones that would be invented for the project (for example: Bread: Social, Cultural, and Agricultural Aspects of Wheaten Bread), and purportedly a lot of the titles the artist invents are later discovered to be real books already (for example: Reusing Old Graves). When taking all the posts together, one develops a sense that the world in which we live is, in actuality, just as ridiculous as the imaginary one invented by the artist.




Attention K-Mart Shoppers

Archivist Mark Davis says, “this is a strange collection,” and he’s right. As most stores do, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, K-Mart played in-store background music for shoppers. As this was the time before satellite radio, this was done via the medium of cassette, with the tapes being replaced by new ones on a set schedule. When they updated the tapes, the old ones were simply thrown in the garbage. Mr. Davis had the foresight to save his store’s tapes from the dump.

The tapes are a time capsule, a window into the past. The recordings are most interesting pre-1991; later tapes are just regular mainstream radio songs which can easily be found elsewhere. But the earlier tapes contain original muzak, the type one would only experience in particular situations like a shopping mall in 1990. The songs are reminiscent of simpler times, when absent-minded American consumerism was at its height and 9/11 was still over a decade away. In addition to a sense of cultural nostalgia, the archiving project as a whole invites the listener into Davis’s personal nostalgia for the time period. While browsing the digitizations, it becomes clear that this time period was something special to him, and we get a little taste of that experience as well.




Is Death Certain?

This page is short but sweet… a poignant exploration of a simple fact / a universal human mystery.




Reality Sandwich

Reality Sandwich is an online magazine devoted to the “new wave of consciousness culture.” They cover topics including philosophy, psychology, ecology, technology, art, and more. The site is nearly 10 years old, so it has a large selection of content to explore. They are one of the few sites of this type that actively encourages user submissions and frequently publishes user-created pieces.

Some of the content on this site is, in my opinion, too far out there. But then other content is actually quite brilliant. I see no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The site is fairly non-dogmatic and open to different ways of thinking. I find the Psyche section the most interesting, as it focuses primarily on consciousness studies, but the Art section also contains pieces that I find intriguing as well.

I discovered this site through the article How I Freed My Mind from the Cult of Materialism. I’ve long thought the “default” philosophy of mind in our society, physicalism (there is only matter and mind is merely an illusion created by it), makes no sense. Despite the multitude of evidence within the apparent physical world that points in that direction, the basic, directly-accessible truth is that we only ever directly access mind. Objective physical reality can never be known directly and to take it as “real” is purely an act of faith. To completely reject consciousness, the only truth we ever know, is an act of mental gymnastics.

While researching the same topic, I also came across this article, The Case Against Reality, from The Atlantic. Both are excellent reads.




The Sync Book

I arrived at The Sync Book while indulging in a pastime I enjoy, researching insane conspiracy theories. In this case, I was watching YouTube videos about the more outlandish interpretations of The Mandela Effect (we are jumping between alternate realities, reality is a simulation like in The Matrix, the CIA is performing memory experiments on the public, and so forth). One video that appeared in the sidebar was Back to the Future Predicts 9/11, which looked way too entertaining to pass up. Down the rabbit hole I went.

What struck me about this video as opposed to similar others was its opening screen. Here is an excerpt of what is found in its Ignotum per Ignotius:

“the insinuations in this piece are… not proposed as evidence of an intentional conspiracy by the Back to the Future film makers… this piece is not attempting to implicate specific individuals for having foreknowledge of the attacks of September  11th… this is an exploration… the correlations uncovered are meant to indicate a conscious connective fabric that ties together all matter and energy within the universe, producing non-local phenomenon which can be referred to as synchronicity. As this fabric is observed by the characters it chronicles, their own stories will appear to reflect the fabric itself…” [emphasis in the original]

This is a far more intriguing idea than how the majority of viewers interpreted the video (based on the comments section: Robert Zemeckis is part of 9/11, it was a false flag attack, Hollywood is a wing of the CIA’s MKUltra project, etc.).

Psychologist and mystic Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity, “the coming together of inner and outer events in a way that cannot be explained by cause and effect and that is meaningful to the observer,” has always fascinated me. Everything that happens in the universe is, logically, the result of the underlying nature of the universe. Meaningful coincidences can be understood to represent that underlying nature in some way. If all things are aspects of one underlying nature, then similar representations of that singularity will arise in non-connected ways. It’s pretty entertaining to apply this idea to something as out-there as the connections between a classic 1980s adventure film and the most important historical event of our era.

Upon further digging, I discovered that the creator of this video is part of the larger project known as The Sync Book, which is an organization dedicated to exploration of this understanding of “synchromysticism.” They produce podcasts, books, and events dedicated to “exploring synchronicity at the intersection of myths, magic, media, and mindscapes.” They also examine “esoterica, high-weirdness, art, philosophy, science, politics, and spirituality.” There is a wealth of interesting content on the site to explore.




Replication Issues in Various Branches of Science

Psychology and brain science are currently facing replication crises. fMRI testing was recently demonstrated to be faulty, with some methods generating false positives as high as 70%: A Bug in fMRI Software Could Invalidate 15 Years of Brain Research. As the article states, this “could invalidate the results of some 40,000 papers… That’s massive, because functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is one of the best tools we have to measure brain activity, and if it’s flawed, it means all those conclusions about what our brains look like during things like exercise, gaming, love, and drug addiction are wrong.”

Additionally, a massive psychology replication study in 2015 determined that half of the studies they attempted to replicate were not necessarily sound: A Huge Study Found Less than Half of Psychology Findings Were Reproducible. This could be the result of unrecognized, uncontrolled variables in the original studies, or in some cases it could be the result of researchers attempting to make their data look more interesting or noteworthy than it really is. Regardless, we should learn to always take these new findings with a grain of salt until they are well-understood and reproducible.




The Atlantic – All Ears

This article from Sonos and The Atlantic touches on a lot of issues with the way that mainstream culture currently consumes music. Clearly, this piece is designed to function as an advertisement for Sonos products, but if you look past that there’s a lot of interesting information within. The following thoughts are what came to my mind while reading the article:

Music’s ubiquity and uniformity has bred complacency and boredom. It’s everywhere all the time, used as white noise, and it’s sometimes used as a way to shut the world out. Streaming services play piece after piece and the listener usually doesn’t develop a long term connection to the music as a result. Passive listening is an anemic experience. Music listening is most impactful when it’s done as an active, participatory activity, and music is best when it is people uniquely expressing their own capabilities and understandings of sound.

Music attaches itself in the mind to the context in which it is heard. The meaning and emotional states held within a song or album are amplified by the context and commitment of the listener; the mind makes associations connecting those pieces to specific time periods and experiences in our lives. Live bands are taken more seriously by the general public than studio projects because there is a ritual involved, an experience of the creation and consumption of that music; community bonds are formed that are represented by those sounds. Most people don’t put that same kind of commitment into their digital audio collections, and almost nobody uses streaming services that way. With streaming services, no investment is necessary. Music is much more impactful when it is sought out intentionally, and when it is shared with other people in person.




Dennis Havlena – DIY Folk Instruments

Dennis Havlena is something of an online DIY-instrument folk hero. His name gets dropped frequently by builders all over the net. Havlena has generated his reputation by operating his website for nearly two decades, posting a multitude of detailed build instructions in the process. Over the years he’s created and shared unique plans for upright basses, guitars, banjos, harps, drums, mandolins, dulcimers, flutes, ouds, hurdy gurdies, koras, bagpipes, and xylophones, among a variety of other instruments. These designs are usually hardware-store builds that use easy-to-find and affordable components, and when built by a skilled person they actually sound great.

The site is very Web 1.0, which is endearing. The design is cluttered and takes a lot of time and dedication to dig through. Whenever I look at it, I find new content that I missed on my previous visits. Unlike many webmasters these days, Havlena is focused on producing quality content instead of flashy design and ad-revenue-generating clickbait, so his site is a breath of fresh air.




The Ghost Ship Tragedy

As a member of this underground touring music community, this is personally a difficult topic to write about. I’m going to keep it relatively short. Here are two articles that I thought were particularly noteworthy:

DIY in Crisis: Has Oakland’s Ghost Ship Fire Jeopardized the Underground?

Judgement and The Ghost Ship Tragedy: America Has Abandoned Its Artists

Firstly, everyone should be aware that /pol/ posters are actively engaging in a campaign to shut down as many music venues as they can. They claim to be doing it to shut down radical leftist breeding grounds, but most of them are really just internet trolls looking to get a rise out of people.

That said, those who are serious about shutting DIY music down can’t really succeed in that aim. Unless the government starts a straight up censorship campaign (unlikely in our country, though certainly possible, as it has happened elsewhere in the world countless times), underground musicians will just play our music and make our art somewhere else. We do this stuff because we have to. That innate drive won’t be squelched by certain venues shutting down, or house shows being less common. If anything, it just strengthens the community’s resolve to keep going.

If you host shows somewhere, please keep it as safe as possible. The Ghost Ship was really the epitome of a dangerous space and that tragedy could have been avoided with some foresight. But also, those of you who host shows: thank you so much for what you do. As someone who has helped operate DIY shows and house venues in the past, I know that it is all too often thankless. We need you now more than ever.


Sawtooth – Post Americana


Post-Americana‘s Bandcamp description states that it “is dedicated to everyone who has ever thought about hurtin’ themselves over now seemingly silly feelings.” That is a fitting summation of the tone of the album: moving forward while looking back, growing to see the world as a more fun and inviting place despite the pains that come with being a part of it.

The Band
Sawtooth in August 2015

The album title is a suitable description of its own genre. Post-Americana is folk rock with a healthy dose of Olympia weirdness. It’s slightly offbeat without ever getting obtuse, managing to be accessible without ever getting boring. Some artist comparisons that could be made are Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield, The Beatles, and early Dr. Dog. At times, the album is reminiscent of transitions, overcoming, or being on the road (Dead Dog Eyes, Life Is a Book, I Don’t Need No One to Win My Freedom), while at others it sounds contemplative and wistful (Memorial Day Crossroad Blues, Florida Blues, Empathy/Apathy). Some songs are snarky and fun (The River Because, Leave Me Be), while others are dark and brooding (Florida Blues, Kindness Comes). These vacillations seem to be a central theme of the album.

At the time of recording, the band consisted of Stevie Smitty (guitar and vocals), River Nason (guitar, keys and backups), Tanner Dunn (bass), Josh KoKo (drums), and Emily Metcalf (cello). Each musician has a good sense of when to step forward and when to step back so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Though the vocal style is subdued, Smitty keeps it interesting by imparting an earnestness in his performance. The lyrical content is surreal, artful, and open to interpretation, which leaves the listener with a sense of curiosity. Sometimes the vocal harmonies are three or more layers deep, enhancing their depth. KoKo’s drum parts are groovy and always maintain a good musical sensibility, while Dunn’s basslines provide a solid glue between percussion and melody. Metcalf’s cello additions provide emotional weight to the songs on which they are featured, and Nason’s keyboard parts complete the sound, laying in a retrofuturist bent. This anachronistic addition somehow fits right into place.


Track by Track

The album begins with the anthemic Dead Dog Eyes. It nods to Pachabel’s Canon in D, immediately conjuring a sense of familiarity, welcoming the listener. The very first line (“They came in through the front door…”) seems self-referential. The song is reminiscent of traveling, changing, and looking ahead.

Memorial Day Crossroad Blues arrives thereafter, and the tone changes to become more contemplative and pensive. This song brings to mind life-changing decisions and the repercussions that all choices have (“My mind knows which way to go… at the crossroads”).

The River Because moves back into that sense of forward motion, this time with a fun and almost snarky attitude. One highlight is when Smitty sings, “And I will eat my slice of cake,” which Nason punctuates with a quick chord from the keys. The song’s end is one of the most satisfying musical resolutions on the album.

Please Excuse Me (4th Ave Blues) returns again to a more reflective state, and it becomes apparent here that this cycle is a theme of the album. The song evokes images of kicking rocks down a country road. The cello work stands out in particular on this track.

Leave Me Be‘s beginning is hard to resist; one can’t help but want to whistle along. The song has a plucky quality on the guitar, cello, and keys. There’s a sense of subtle irritation (“Leave me be, just leave me…”), but also one of trying to get along regardless.

Sawtooth live on Your Daily Hour with Me,
April 2016

Rendezvous on North Roger Road then functions as an interlude for the album. Its instrumentation is very different from the preceding songs, featuring just a piano, a kick drum, and a very lo-fi nylon guitar. The laughter left in the background is a nice touch. This song provides time for the listener to take a breath before the album’s epic.

Life Is a Book returns to that traveling spirit developed earlier, a sense of restlessness and the desire to wander and discover. It goes from light to dark, and when Smitty sings “How does the blood in your mouth taste?” the song takes on a cathartic nature: justice was somehow served.

Florida Blues provides a second interlude on the opposite side of Life Is a Book. It’s the only instrumental on the album. Its lost, brooding character is an interesting dynamic addition to the more upbeat quality of most of the songs.

I Don’t Need No One to Win My Freedom brings the album to its final upswing. This song evokes feelings of rejecting the norms and doing your own thing, reflecting the process and content of the album as a whole. The keyboard solo toward the end of the song is Post-Americana‘s climactic moment.

The album begins to wind down as Empathy/Apathy arrives with its nylon guitars. The song warns of getting too calloused as a result of being hurt, calling for the listener to remain brave. The outro in this song is the strongest of all of them, highly reminiscent of The Meat Puppets’ Plateau.

Kindness Comes closes out the album. The nylon guitar returns to its lo-fi sound, and the bass is conspicuously absent, as though Dunn took off early because things fell apart. It’s an interesting choice for the closer track. One would expect a triumphant, driving piece to finish it off, but instead we get melancholy and mellotrons. The subversion of expectation has a greater impact than if the album were closed out with something more like I Don’t Need No One to Win My Freedom, Life Is a Book, or Dead Dog Eyes. The album quietly dies instead, as if everything took a turn for the worst. It’s a surprise punch in the gut.

Post-Americana is an excellent effort that reflects the spirit of today’s Olympia. The album is well worth a listen. It is available on Bandcamp for purchase or free download. You can also find Sawtooth on Facebook.

Ravel – Gaspard de la nuit

Gaspard de la nuit was written in 1908 by the master of impressionist music, Maurice Ravel. He was 33 years old at the time. Each of its three movements are based on poems from Aloysius Bertrand’s eponymous 1836 poetry collection Gaspard de la Nuit, fantaisies à la manière de Rembrandt et de Callot.¹ This composition is fascinatingly complex, and at times its technicality borders on absurdity. Despite its focus on instrumental mastery, Gaspard de la nuit never fails to remain emotional and beautiful.

Though the piece is notoriously difficult to play, Croatian pianist Ivo Pogorelich performs this rendition brilliantly. This recording was made in 1983 when Pogorelich was 25. His interpretation and performance of the composition show virtuosic control of the piano, a brilliant sense of balance, and deep psychological insight into the music. It is obvious while listening that he loves playing the piano with all of his heart.

Gaspard de la nuit is a whirlwind of emotive content. It is a dynamic journey that, at the time of composition, broke the mold of what was possible with melodic and rhythmic content in music. Despite being written 108 years ago, it still sounds startlingly fresh. Ravel was a strange man, and his quirks shine through in the music.

The most recognizible features of Ondine (0:00) are its floating glissandos and its juxtaposition of quick, sharp chords with more drawn-out melodies. The section is mostly linear, with small repeated sections throughout to ground it and provide moments of return and deliberation. It is reminiscent of calmly floating on a cloud or down a river, but also at the same time of being driven slowly to madness. It sounds like not quite having lost your mind yet, but definitely being lost within it. The atmosphere is wistful, full of thoughts of earlier, simpler times. Yet there are also feelings of agitation and frustration. A dark genius is being consumed quietly by their own strengths.

Le Gibet (7:36) then eschews the linear structure in favor of a different musical method, one more focused on repetition and reflection. The piece slows down and skulks about, lying low. One gets a sense of an introspective recognition of descent. It evokes images of subsistence living, but nothing more. It is as though an attempt is being made to turn things around, despite the recognized possibility that it may already be too late.

The final section, Scarbo (14:28), is marked by adventurous passages sprinkled with staccato interjections. The musical structure returns to one of linearity with small moments of self-reference and deliberation. It begins with what sounds like an itch that cannot be scratched, a pain that cannot be relieved. A person is on the edge; their eye twitches incessantly. But this state is not to last. The final explosion occurs. It is the grand escape, or perhaps the final flight into madness. The music remains carefully elusive and ambiguous, allowing the listener to draw their own conclusions.

This resolution is beautiful, but also so much more than merely that. This is true for the piece as a whole. Beauty without substance is banal; Ravel, being the master that he is, never fell into that trap. Ravel’s works defy being nailed down with adjectives. For every descriptor that you attach to it, another ten could apply in other ways. His work is complex and worthy of serious study, thought, and consideration. Gaspard de la nuit is a breathtaking piece and a brilliant work of art, deserving thoughtful appreciation from a new generation of listeners.


¹ As these pieces were written from poems, Ravel composed with specific imagery in his mind accompanying the music. This analysis is written from a metamodernist perspective, and freely borrows ideas from Barthes’ La mort de l’auteur without necessarily adhering to them completely. The visual interpretations presented later in the text, therefore, do not reference Ravel’s intended imagery.