one year ago today was the release of duets for saw & deviated septum. in a recent post i talked about how the beginning of 2019 also marked the beginning of a new phase as an artist, and what role the leap into the world of eurorack modular synths played in that. ‘duets’ plays an important part in that change as my first album created using the eurorack modular synth setup i curated. one might expect that my first album using such a synth would be more traditionally musical as far as electronic music goes, or at least fit under one of the many electronic sub-genres. the direction i decided to go in was very different.
MODULAR FOR MUSIQUE CONCRÈTE
modular synths are fascinating in that they are particular to the person putting them together. beyond just the selections made in curating one’s synth, the immense flexibility in how they are implemented adds even more individuality to the synth. two artists can have the exact same set of modules, but how each routes and configures them will produce different results. the vast majority of the time, modular synths are curated for the purpose of making electronic music of some kind—be it tonal or atonal, with a beat or rhythmless and ambient—the sounds are generated by oscillators and/or complex physical modellers to produce sounds using various types of synthesis (subtractive, additive, frequency modulation, etc). while i am also interested in producing such sounds (such as on ‘third rail of a one-track mind’ for example), my goal was to design a modular synth that could also be used for musique concrète—an avant garde form of music where recorded sounds from field recordings, not musical instruments, are used.
the album title ‘duets for saw & deviated septum’ is quite literal. in true musique concrète form, each of the three pieces on the album are comprised strictly of field recordings of me sawing thru a 2” piece of ash with a hand saw, and a recording of me snoring (which my partner recorded one night with her iphone to demonstrate just how awful my snoring can be at times). each piece is done in a single, improvised take during which the field recordings were manipulated in real time thru electronics to build layers and add textures to the sounds.
REVIEW AND PRAISE FOR “DUETS”
the good people at avant music news were kind to not just publish a review of ‘duets for saw & deviated septum’, but they also included the album on their ‘best of 2019’ list!
This is a rather descriptive title of the compositional process rather than the resulting sound. Mike Barber recorded a hand saw cutting wood as well as his own snoring. From these sources, he looped, layered, and manipulated the recordings into three 20-minute pieces. The outcome is a distorted ambient environment that could serve as a soundtrack for a horror or science fiction movie.
Duet for Saw and Deviated Septum No.1 builds up slowly with sounds that resemble a machine or factory operating in the background. Shaped white noise and crackling elements drift in and out of the foreground along with prickly scrapings. Duet for Saw and Deviated Septum No.2 provides overlapping waves of muted grinding and distortion, with foreground aspects moving between speaker channels. This mix boils and folds upon itself for some time before featuring more immediate and indeterminate distortion processing. Duet for Saw and Deviated Septum No.3 is perhaps the most interesting piece, with undulating surges and gentler portions that juxtapose higher frequencies with the low-end rumblings.
The extent to which the overall sound of this recording departs from its source material is quite remarkable. While there are a few points where the listener can identify sawing and snoring, without the liner notes indicating such it would be been nearly impossible to discern. None of these recordings are overpowering – instead, in true ambient form, their influence is on both the subconscious and the conscious.