here is an excerpt (the last 12 minutes) from my set opening up the community performance portion of the toronto sound festival on november 23, 2019. an extended video will be posted in the near future.
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.
in commemoration of the 62nd anniversary of the USSR satellite Sputnik 1 burning up while reentering earth’s atmosphere. sputnik 1’s mission lasted a short three months. during that time it completed 1440 orbits of the earth.
recorded using a minimal eurorack modular synth setup: noise engineering’s loquelic iteritas thru 4ms company DLD and mutable instruments clouds.
FFO: godspeed you! black emperor, merzbow, sunn o))), sleep research facility.
artistically speaking, 2019 was a surprisingly good year for me. since my return to canada from philadelphia in october of 2007, i was trapped in both an artistic and clinical depression. but for a few rare instances, i stopped performing in public altogether (a drastic change from my semi-regular gigging schedule in philly, and occasionally nyc). from 2007 to 2014, a blurry seven-year period of my life, i was so depressed i barely spent any time creating.
BREAKING OUT OF THE FOG
in 2014 i made the conscious decision to make a concerted effort to break out of the depressive cycle i was in, starting with tackling a major source of frustration and stagnation of mine–ADHD. i started treatment using vyvanse which almost immediately released floodgates of inspiration and creative activity. over the first weekend on the drug, i was able to keep my focus so well that i completed an album that was about 90% complete since 2004! i’m not sure if it’s ironic or incredibly on point that an amphetamine would be the thing that helped me finally release third rail of a one-track mind (variations on a theme), but it certainly helped make the breakthrough happen.
over the following years, i switched my focus towards composition and DAW-based production instead of live performance. i continued to self-release a number of albums on bandcamp, including an expressionist two-part drone piece about my adventure in 2014 canoeing the length of loch ness solo over a day and a half, and my polemical eight-hour drone rendition of the internationale: a requiem for working class struggles betrayed. during this time i also began creating scores for a few student and independent short film projects including: the short thriller jakob directed by michael oakes; bursting at the seams a short documentary about poverty, homelessness, and crisis faced by shelters in toronto produced by OCAP; and contributing additional original music to the score for not just another case: when your loved one has gone missing or been murdered, a short doc on missing and murdered indigenous women directed by audrey huntley.
FORWARDS TOWARDS THE PAST, BACKWARDS TOWARDS THE FUTURE
in late 2018, i finally made the jump into the world of eurorack modular synthesis. this was simultaneously moving on to a new artistic phase and the return to an old one. my initial musical/sonic experiments—montages from cut-up cassette tapes, messing with the internal components of radios, feedback loops through electric guitar/bass pedals—all pre-dated the boom in accessibility to DAW software, so i started off in the very tactile and analog medium of hardware. while the increased accessibility and possibilities software like cubase, reason, logic, and the plethora of native instruments tools provide are amazing, the virtual instrument world is very incompatible with my ADHD brain where usability in an improvised setting (where i am most at ease) is concerned.
those who may have been around the underground avant-garde scene in hamilton, ontario during the mid-to-late ’90s may remember some nothing inc. shows where i layered multiple cassette loops live using some walkmans routed thru effects and into a mixer. i tried my best to replicate that with software and MIDI controllers, but i never got the results i was looking for. i need a button/knob to do one thing—and just that one thing—consistently, regardless of context. so MIDI isn’t my cup of tea, but i found what i was looking for in the hardware world of eurorack modular synth modules. as 2018 was drawing to a close, i decided to make 2019 the year i break out of my artistic rut and begin performing again. thus i began launching into a new artistic phase by returning to my hardware roots, but in a new way.
the effort (and expense) has proven well worth it. looking back on the past year, i not only found the tools i was desperately looking for to experiment with and create the my art, but i also found myself returning to public performance after a painfully long hiatus. i had the great pleasure of performing with a number of talented and creative local artists, and even had the honour of being a featured performer at the 2019 toronto new wave festival.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
i am genuinely excited for the year ahead, which i must admit is not something i’ve often felt. a number of things are already in the works for 2020, including a special collaboration
with my dear friend oops… NO SPOILERS! you’ll need to check back here to keep up to date, and i suggest you also follow me on instagram, facebook. big thanks to everyone who has supported me by coming out to shows, downloading my music (especially from bandcamp… apple music and spotify don’t really pay artists), or who simply shared it with their friends. i can’t wait to start sharing some new stuff with you soon, in the meantime here’s my soundcloud playlist of live shows from 2019. if you like what you hear, please share it across your social media. it’s a cheap and easy way to support independent artists.
another generative ambient patch, this time more on the noise/drone end of the spectrum. again the batumi is clocking the pressure points, which in turn is modulating plaits, which is soaked in reverb and granulated via clouds.
this was originally posted to my instagram on january 26, 2019.
here i am using batumi to clock the pressure points, which in turn is modulating the plaits’ model, v/oct, and harmonics parameters based on each pp stage’s settings. batumi is also modulating plaits’ timbre and morph. generative modular patches spark joy.
this was originally posted to my instagram on january 26, 2019.