Archive for the thoughts Category

NQN details, part 9

Wednesday, 02 February 2009

The eighth track on ne quid nimis is “dying”.

“dying” was recorded by my high school friend Erinn Thorp during the Summer of 1992. He was studying to be a recording engineer in college, and he recorded my first full length tape as a solo artist – not named by Luster – as a project, for credit, during his off time from school. This track was part of that first tape of mine, but this was a pre-mix of the song that didn’t end up on the tape. The final mix of this song had vocals and a smoother delay, with fewer “mistakes”. I like this version better.

This song was directly influenced by Brian Eno. I am embarrassed to admit that in 1992 I had read a whole lot more about Eno’s ideas than I had heard his music. I didn’t have much spare money for buying albums, and there wasn’t such a thing as downloading records at that time. I had read something about Eno’s use of tape loops in “Music for Airports”, and this was my version of that idea.

Frequently, when people hear my music like this, they think I make music by playing synthesizer. This annoys me very much, which is part of the reason I like to list instrumentation, and also is part of the reason that I’m doing this series of blog posts. This is a guitar piece, with a lot of natural sustain, and with a fair, but not outrageous, amount of delay.

I ‘wrote’ the song by choosing six notes to be played on the guitar. The performer takes one of those notes and performs that note and only that note for the length of the performance. The note is played by striking the string with the volume pot all the way down, then fades it in slowly using the volume pot. This gives every note a slow attack, unlike your typical sound on guitar. The note is allowed to sustain, and then followed by a silence at least as long as the note’s duration, but subject to the whim of the performer. Once all six notes/parts had been played and recorded, the recorded material would be fed through a delay unit.

The guitar parts were recorded to 3 tracks of a 4-track tape recorder. Erinn and I played the 6 guitar parts.

Here are a couple of photos of Erinn and I listening to playbacks during this session:

Erinn did me a great favor by recording my music at this time, and I’m very grateful for that… but he also did me a disservice, by keeping the masters of the project for this class. Currently the master tapes are completely lost. Lesson learned: an artist should always own the masters to his work.

NQN details, part 8

Monday, 02 February 2009

On we go with more history about ne quid nimis. The next track in my remembrance of this project is “waiting”.

This track was in some senses a kind of tour de force of my previous work with “destroyed and abused” compact discs. I had been heavily delving into the use of the compact disc as an instrument of sorts for several years. I guess this places me as a contemporary of artists such as Oval, who pioneered the use of digital “glitches”. I do clearly remember the day when I encountered Oval’s album, found out about the praise it was garnering for its futuristic techniques and instantly my heart sunk and I said to myself “Oh shit, I guess this makes me a copycat now.” After that moment I never used another skipping CD as a sound source. I actually couldn’t even bring myself to listen to Oval’s music for a few years, so I guess I felt pretty low about the whole thing, which seems really very silly now, especially since I now know that Oval’s music is about 400 times better than anything that I ever did with skipping CDs.

I remember my best method for getting CDs for experimentation was to go to Wax Trax! and Albums on the Hill in Boulder and ask the people working there if they would give me some of the CDs sent to them as promotional items from record companies. They’d point me to boxes of hundreds of copies of albums and CD singles by bands like Firehose and Roseanne Cash and the Sensible Things. All those copies were probably eventually tossed in the dumpster.

After quite a bit of experimentation with ways to get CDs to skip (sandpaper, X-Acto blade cuts, burning with a lighter) I finally settled on the best method: a water/sugar solution left to dry on the CD surface. If the syrup dried and didn’t give a good skip, I could always wash it off and try again.

I did an awful lot of experimentation with this technique, and finally arrived on a method to render these sounds into a rather calming, throbbing sound field which I was really proud of at the time. Somehow, out of the context of the time, I’m personally left a little cold by the whole thing, which is a little sad.

One of the nicer compliments anyone has given me was about this song, from John Gore of Kirchenkampf, who said back when this album was originally released on cassette by AudioFile Tapes, that it was the sound of the future. As ironic as that feels now, I still warm at the compliment.

Within just this last week, I was looking through old cassette tapes and found a compilation on Epitapes called “Death Full of Flowers” – probably from the 1994-1995 time period – and on it was a track credited to C. Reider (odd enough by itself, during this time period, I usually credited my music as Luster). The title of the piece on the tape was “Study in Compact Disk Abuse”. I had completely forgotten about this track. In fact, its appearance on this compilation was the only copy I have of the track. I didn’t even bother to archive a mix of it for my own records, so it’s very rare, indeed. When I listened to it earlier this week, I was surprised to hear an early version of “waiting”. The structure of the piece is all there, so I guess this is a demo version of the song. In case you are interested, here’s the track. I haven’t cleaned it up at all, so beware of tape hiss.

C. Reider – Study in Compact Disk Abuse

NQN details, part 7

Sunday, 02 February 2009

Back to ne quid nimis… the next track is “dreamdroneone”, recorded in March 1994.

This was another track recorded for the Epitapes label. It originally appeared on the compilation “Like Wind or Empty Dreams”, a compilation of dream music featuring an unlikely assemblage of underground luminaries such as Ken Clinger, M. Nomized, Ataraxia, Kirchenkampf, Sebastien Gandera, Bubble Eyes and others.

I sometimes wake up with clear ideas of a technique for a musical composition, or with strong musical theme that stays with me after waking up. One particular day, after waking up from a fitful sleep, I was struck by some of the startling, piercing electronic-like sounds my mind sometimes produces while in hypnogogic/hypnopompic states. This track was a kind of emulation of those mindsounds, coupled with a recording of a drone from a fan that my wife and I would leave running all night long as a kind of white noise generator. I seem to remember that I recorded this directly out of bed, without even pausing to eat breakfast.

The other sounds you hear on this song are skipping CDs (a common sound source for me in the early 90s) and a “re-tuned” music box. Re-tuning of a music box is simply taking the tuned forks off of one music box and putting them on another, so that the box plays “the Danube Waltz”‘s rhythm with the notes from “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or something like that. You can force a formerly harmless music box which is programmed to play an inane piece of music to instead play an unidentifiable sound loop. In this track, there are clearly some really dissonant moments coming from the music box. Again, I don’t remember what songs were on the specific music boxes I used at this time.

There was a “dreamdronetwo”, which sat unused for a number of years, and eventually turned up on the catch-all 1998 release “abandon“. It was a strong musical theme from a dream, and I’m pretty sure it was conceived and recorded the day after “dreamdroneone”.

Those were not the only songs that were composed by my dreaming mind, but I don’t remember ever naming any song “dreamdronethree”.

NQN details, part 6

Saturday, 02 February 2009

Track five on ne quid nimis is “the speaking holes”.

The track was recorded in February 1994 for inclusion on one of Epitapes’ many themed compilations, but if it was included on any of them, I do not know about it. I sent Mike Tetrault of Epitapes very many tracks for his regular compilations, (probably to his dismay and irritation!). I now have five tapes in my collection from the label.

“the speaking holes” was one of the most minimal pieces of music I have ever conceived and recorded. All of the sounds on this song come from polished stones rubbing against each other. I had a small vase made of sedimentary fossil rock, and a ball made of the same stone that was about two inches in diameter. The ball fit snugly into the mouth of the vase, like a ball in a socket. I contact mic’ed the vase and rolled the ball around in the socket for the duration of the piece. I recorded four tracks of this, and ended up with something that sounded like quiet mouth noises punctuated by snaps and clicks.

Directly after recording this song, I kept the same set-up and recorded another little experiment by tapping on the stones with various things. That little experiment became “Tapping the Hole” on the release abandon.

NQN details, part 5

Friday, 02 February 2009

The fourth track on ne quid nimis is “coagulant”.

I had found several pieces of scrap metal here and there, always intending to use them as instruments. In this case I decided to do an entire track with metal noises. I like doing certain multitracked songs with a single sound source, which should be fairly obvious from this album, where there are four out of 10 songs which have one instrument (or one kind of instrument).

The main rhythm track on this song was a piece of machined aluminum which I struck with a soft rubber spatula, striking different places on the piece to get some different tones. The bell like tones were a piece of stainless steel that was about 1/4 or 3/8″ thick. If my memory serves me correctly, the scraping sounds came from the same piece of metal as was used on “the poisoned lambs 2”

It has long upset me how out of time my performance is on this piece, but on the positive side, it does bring on a feeling of disorientation when listening to this song, (much of my music is ‘about’ disorientation).

NQN, details part 4

Thursday, 02 February 2009

The fourth track of ne quid nimis (in this iteration anyway) is “the poisoned lambs 2”.

I feel some sort of strange relief that at last at least one of the versions of this song is available again. There are, at this date, three different recordings with the name “the poisoned lambs”. Part one appeared on the album “fall” by the Unseelie Court, which was an album worked on by myself with caerie and with Dr. Terrence 13 (here’s his newly acquired MySpace profile). I’ve intended to re-release “fall” for years, but I haven’t taken the necessary steps yet. The third part of this trilogy appears on my drone masterpiece (still waiting for a label to release it!) called I’d’ve.

The poisoned lambs trilogy is named after a news story I heard sometime in the nineties that affected me deeply. Some rancher was annoyed at activity by coyotes on his land, so he laid out some bait… several lamb carcasses laced with poison. Wildlife management people found many dead predators around the baited carcasses. The whole story just seemed horrible to me. More proof that man is a bad animal, as if we needed more. That some guy thinks his being annoyed is worth huge physical suffering and death on the part of however many animals… it’s just unthinkable.

A similar story has been in the local news here about a rancher who was so irratated with his neighbors’ herd of bison occasionally trespassing on his land that he shot them all, leaving many of them to bleed to death for hours or days. Thirty bison dead and the man responsible was charged and sentenced to TEN DAYS in jail. Our culture places no value on the suffering of a living being if it is not a human being.

The instrumentation in this song, an instrumentation shared in the two other versions of the song, is as follows: 1.) Bass guitar… played by rocking the guitar body back and forth without actually touching the strings at any time… 2.) A specific piece of scrap metal that I found while working on a construction site in Golden, Colorado in the early 90s: it’s a 1/4″ thick plate of carbon steel with about twelve two inch holes cut out of it with oxy-acetylene torch… leaving very little metal left over. This piece of scrap is mic’ed via piezo-electric contact mic and fed through a gain and flanging reverb. These two elements are in all the versions of “the poisoned lambs”. In the piece on display here, there is also the sound of the malfunctioning Alesis SR-16 I described in an earlier post.

There are a couple of very special moments in this recording, when the contact mic’ed scrap metal acted like a real microphone, picking up the sound of birds chattering outside the window a few feet from where the piece of scrap metal was hanging when I recorded this track. Listen for them! I did highlight those moments in this mix.

NQN, details part 3

Wednesday, 02 February 2009

The second song on ne quid nimis is “the hypnopomp”.

It was recorded – along with “the hypnogog” – for a pair of tape compilations of noise music called “The Creeping Eye of God / The Weeping Eve of Dog”, which came out in 1995.

The thing about the cassette underground in the nineties was that there were a lot of pop-weirdo musicians, a fair amount of synthy-weirdo musicians, a handful of heavy-metal musicians… and then there were 958 metric tons of noise musicians. They were all named Bondage Domination Penetration Matrix, or Thank You Jeffrey Dahmer, or Fistfucking Popes or Ted Bundy’s Biceps, or Kitten Torture Masters, or Serial Killing for Fun and Profit. There were almost no musicians doing quiet / subtle music or ambient music in the tape trading network, or at least not in the part of it I was familiar with. Noise at that particular time really turned me off with its macho bullshit fascist/nazi/violent stuff.

At any rate, you can see why, at the time, I thought that being an ambient musician was a rebellious thing given the environment. The tables have seemingly been turned 180 degrees now, it seems like there are more ambient/drone musicians than anything else in the underground. It’s funny how things change.

I decided to contribute to this double tape compilation of noise music, thinking I could do one thing that tried to fulfill what my idea of what “noise” could be, and then another that was a little less brutish. “The hypnopomp” was the latter of the two options. We’ll get into “the hypnogog” in a later entry.

So “the hypnopomp” got its name from the state of the brain leading out of sleep, in which the dreaming mind tries to make sense of the waking reality. Sleep and dreams were an important artistic influence, especially during the stage of my life that produced this album. I came up with many of the ideas for recordings on this album while in hypnogogic/hypnopompic states.

The structure of this song is pretty simple, it has a drone-like repeating guitar phrase, regularly punctuated by a bass tone. That is the skeletal structure on which a bunch of random noises are hung. When I was recording this I was very much enamored of piezo-electric contact mics. I would attach them to anything and everything. It was like looking at something through a microscope… a previously unavailable soundworld would be apparent simply by taping a piezo mic to any object. A cabinet door that had a particularly nice CREEEAAAK to it became a main voice in this track, as well as a woodstove made of cast iron, a water pot with a little water in it… whatever was around!

The Casio PT-1 that I used was a teensy tiny little keyboard that was colored hot pink. It was so small and insignificant, that if it were produced today the company wouldn’t bother to give it such a glorious designation as “PT-1”, as though it were part of a lineage. The whole keyboard was probably 11×3 or so. Its best feature was a little sequencer that you could trigger with a little button so that you could enter whatever tune you wanted, note by note, not worrying about actually playing it on time, because later you could tap it in time with the button and it’d be as though you had played it perfectly. For my part I just sequenced random notes and tried to hit that little button as fast as I could…

NQN, details part 2

Tuesday, 02 February 2009

Most of the tracks on ne quid nimis were recorded for various compilations, or just for the heck of it. In January of 1996 I recorded three entries specifically intended to finish up and round out this album.

By ’96 I had scraped together enough money for a couple of additions to my instrumentation; an Alesis SR-16 drum machine and a Trigon Incantor (there’s a photo of one (not mine) at the top of this page) built by Qubais Reed Ghazala.

I had bought the drum machine for a live band I was playing with. It was pretty important to the band, since we didn’t have a drummer, and no one in our small town was available or willing to play with us.

One day I switched the machine on and something short circuited, the LED display became all garbled and unreadable, and although the pads still played drum noises, they were not the drum noises that came with the machine! They were new and wonderful!

I recorded two tracks with the new sounds, “Breathes in Mists” and “the Poisoned Lambs 2”.

I remember being upset that I couldn’t capture the beauty of some of the little crackling, hissing, wheezing noises of the malfunctioning SR-16 on tape, due to the poor recording quality of my 4-track which obscured these sounds with tape hiss.

The other guy in the band I was playing in, (whom I was still paying back for lending me the money to buy the drum machine in the first place,) wanted the equipment fixed so that we could continue to practice with it. With deep reluctance I sent the machine back to the manufacturer and got back a drum machine in good working order with normal sounds. I really regret ever having had the thing repaired.

The first song on ne quid nimis, “Breathes in Mists” has a kind of rhythm based on those ‘wrong’ sounds from the SR-16, and a little drone-guitar. The chiming sounds are from a music-box from which I’d removed the spring-motor. I spun the keyed cylinder with my finger fast enough that you couldn’t tell what song was on the music-box (I don’t remember what song it was). The other sound, which comes in toward the end, is the Trigon Incantor mentioned above.

NQN, details

Monday, 02 February 2009

ne quid nimis has been unavailable for a very long time, nearly a decade. I’m happy to have it available again, even with its flaws… so many things I might do differently now!

By the time I released ne quid nimis I was in flux between being a mail artist and being a musician. I had already recorded all of the ENDT material, and later the Luster material that became the not named cassette… and I had conducted the mail art/sound art project “GRIME: the secret content of the abandoned roadside tapes”. I’d also used my new 4-track which I’d bought from a guy who was in naram sin to finish up a collaboration with Dr. Terrence 13 called the Unseelie Court. Side note: Dr. 13 is now a puppeteer (youtube channel here).

So this record was more or less my fourth main musical undertaking… maybe attaching a number in a sequence is not entirely accurate, I had been playing with recorded sound since my teens, now and again, whenever I could!

This was the first musical project that I felt that I had complete control over. Much of the previous work had been in collaboration… Even the Luster tape, essentially solo work, was recorded and engineered by a guy who later went on to be a “real” recording engineer. It felt strange for me having someone else recording and engineering for me, and even if I had no idea how to record music by myself, it felt much more natural to explore sounds with the intimacy of one man and his tape recorder.

What I didn’t have was focus. I recorded a bunch of stuff and didn’t really have any idea of sticking it all together as an “album”. I guess I was more into conducting audio ‘research’. I made mix tapes for my friends of the things I was working on, but for some reason an official “album” type release hadn’t occurred to me.

Carl Howard of AudioFile Tapes (now an internet radio DJ here) was a huge encouragement for me at this time, I might not have put this record out at all if it hadn’t been for him. I owe him much gratitude! I don’t remember what he told me, it may have just been “put together all your good stuff on one tape and give it to me and I’ll put it out on my label.” That’s probably all I really needed, though!

Carl’s impressive tape label was sadly lost due to a massive computer crash sometime in the latter nineties. I think this was a great loss to the whole underground. I’m pretty sure he had released about 200 tapes by the likes of Maeror Tri, Ed Ka-Spel, Jim O’Rourke, Klimperei, the Drowningbreathing, Swinebolt 45… some of those guys even have Wikipedia pages now!

Anyhow, I thought it might be fun, since this release is so absolutely ANCIENT to write a commentary on this release song by song, so I’ll be making a few more posts as the days go by about each track on the release. I might have more to say about some tracks than others, but if you like this release, you might have some fun reading my memories of making it.

more to follow…


Saturday, 01 January 2009

I went google searching for some plug-ins today.

When I first started migrating my recording set-up from the VS-880 to the computer, I did a lot of work in a very early version of MetaSynth. Some of the features I used most in that program were the wave shaping and convolution effects. When I upgraded from OS 9 to OS X, my old version of MetaSynth didn’t work anymore, not even when I booted in Classic.

Now, I feel like I’m really missing the capabilities of that platform. I have plundered the freeware plugins clearinghouses again and again, looking for something that might approximate the wave shaper and easy convolution of that early version of MetaSynth and I always come up with less than I was hoping for. Going forward has pushed me backwards.

Sadly, the current version of MetaSynth is 500 bucks, and although I’m sure it’s worth every penny, I’ve never been able to easily spend that kind of money on my studio. I am very frugal when it comes to music equipment. I know that if I won the lottery or something, I’d probably spend a good amount on music stuff, but on the other hand, I really don’t feel like I need much of anything that I don’t already have. In fact, I kind of always have thrived on working with the limitations of musical equipment that’s less than state-of-the-art. Having forced limitations is actually pretty inspiring.

Today’s search for plugins again did not yield anything that works (SonicBirth’s several convolution builds tend to crash my audio editor, if not the whole computer).

While looking for one thing, however, I found something else: a very nice little freeware VST synth that has one slightly adjustable “ping” sound that’s tuned to Just Intonation. Playing around with that little synth was pretty inspiring, and I completed one new song with it.

I do sometimes feel… I dunno… claustrophobic? with the Western scale. This is part of why I don’t make a lot of music with melody. Using Just intonation is a kind of limitation too, you can’t naturally make a melody that sounds “right” to ears that grew up listening to classic rock radio stations. The difference between how limiting this makes me feel and the extent to which this new convention frees me up is blurry.

Lately, I feel inspired. Most of my inspiration is directed towards conceiving physical objects that make noise, in this case variants on gongs and chimes… and automatons that are above my technical expertise.

I also have pushed ahead with making some new music, even if my current efforts with mixing and mastering are not complete.

The sound areas I feel like exploring these days are divergent, one the one hand, I feel like making some pretty / calming music with actual tones / melody… and on the other hand I am drawn toward noisy / electro-acoustic / musique concrete stuff.

If there were, in theory, to be someone who were really interested in my music, I would have to think it’d be a frustrating interest… since I can not stay mired in one genre. A listener to my music, if there were to ever be one, would have to be accepting of each available album sounding quite different from the last.

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