“A Machine Music Manifesto” by Thomas Park
Earlier in 2017 I brought up some ideas for a “New Industrial Music”. A main component of this music involved using field recordings made of urban locations as sources. Rather than guitars and drum machines, actual recordings of the city were to be the source of sound. This idea has been further developed into a notion of ‘Machine Music”. Recordings of machines can be used as source material for this kind of composition, and the use of machines found in an urban setting makes Machine Music both its own variety and an extension of the New Industrial category.
I have made this observation, and my wife recently mentioned this of her own accord, that music on the radio follows certain formulae. She noticed that there were similarities between songs that went deeper than style, and got into using singers whose voices closely resembled one another, or the same technologies and instruments creating the same sounds (such as a use of “autotune”, which forces sounds, and especially vocals, to comply to a specific pitch). In a certain way, the mainstream music business is itself mechanical—methods and designs are used quite abstractly to generate products, much in the same way that factory machines do. Why not, then, simply express what is essential and make a music of machines?
Many forms of music already use or involve machines. Instruments are or resemble machines, as do devices used to record, including microphones and mixing decks, computers, and so forth. We master our sounds using software, on a computer. Files are burned to disc, or distributed online, passed from one machine to another and eventually to a mobile device or stereo.
Machine sounds themselves can be found in some music, especially in industrial music. A band might mix in a recording of factory equipment, or use power drills or similar devices as sonic sources, whether live on in the studio (such as the band Einsteurzende Neubauten). The machines create a supplemental voice in the mix, or are used as one or a few elements. I would propose that machines should become the dominant, or perhaps the only, sound source in a new type of music. How often do we need to hear a guitar, flute, or bongo? Why not explore and convey a new set of sounds made by mechanical devices?
Machines can make interesting and often rich sounds. A normal microphone can pick them up, but even better is a contact microphone. A contact mic is a small disc that is attached to a surface. It picks up the vibrations running through the surface, passing along the sounds manifested in its target. Contact mics are great for recording the various sounds that machines make as they turn on or off and run through their many cycles.
An excellent example of a machine as audio source is a washing machine. A washing machine produces literally dozens of sounds, as it moves from cycle to cycle. Each part of the washing process has its own sound, from the percolating sound of water filling the tank to various speeds of grind as the clothes are spun about. These sounds can be captured and further processed using audio software—excellent methods are to try various forms of granulation, or to add distortion or reverberation effects.
Composing using machine sounds can be as simple or as complex as needed. Many machine sounds are variations of noise (or noisy drones), and therefore they do not need to be tuned, and can be mixed together and layered freely. Occasional machine sounds have a pitch, which can be used as a source of tonality, or adjusted to match any other pitches using basic audio software.
What is the effect of such compositions? This may vary, but generally by using machine sounds, though some amount of noise exists within the pieces, it is quite easy to create a regular, repetitive, precise and meticulous kind of music. I would generally call these kinds of pieces “soundscapes”, as they are ambient drone collages of sound. The sounds in the pieces seem to come from the same sonic family, and indeed they do, having been recorded from similar sources. This effect is heightened if the same recording method is used throughout (for example, the same contact microphone, recording at the same fidelity). It is the case that machines provide their very own new category of instrumentation, and can harnessed to craft music with a very distinct aesthetic.
I hope that readers will consider furthering the New Industrial idea and developing a music of machines. It is a more honest approach to music, I feel, than regarding contemporary mainstream music as being anything other than mechanical itself. If a music is essentially of a machine, why not make it to sound that way? Machine Music provides a direct and authentic aesthetic of pragmatic, exact, and repetitive sounds, without using classical instruments or the human voice. Machine Music paves a clear path ahead in the world of music, and it is a good time to establish and explore this path.
"Gamma" by Grid Resistor-- music made using only recordings of machines:
Free at Bandcamp.
And don't miss the "Grid Resistor Playlist", steadily growing:
Three essential playlists, in retrospect of Mystified:
2. Vintage Mystified: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9TuK-wqyd1QDHftgnft8K1EwwIjRL9cj
Follow my channel to bookmark these and other videos, plus to follow new "Grid Resistor" material. Thanks!
2 new High-Fidelity sample collections, for listening or using in music:
1. Machines By Contact Microphone:
2. Shortwave Radio In High Fidelity:
Why all of these "Robin Storey"-related posts? A bit of explanation. When I first started writing music, I was trying to figure out what directions to take. I was searching for genres on a site called "Epitonic", and I ran across a category called "Drone" music. Drone music? What in heaven's name? Well, I began listening to some samples, and really got into the stuff, appreciating the uncanny and visceral qualities of this type of music. Robin's act Rapoon was listed as an example of drone, referencing several tracks from his album "Raising Earthly Spirits".
I wanted to create my own drone music. Not sure where to find sounds, I bought samples, and found that Robin had created two excellent, imaginative, somewhat non-linear loop sets, and that the guy who set up loop sets for what was then Sonic Foundry was also a fan. A lot of my earlier musical attempts used sounds crafted by Robin. About this time, I asked Robin if he would be willing to make a mix using some of his own "Acid Loops", and he agreed. He created the "Robin Storey Transit Remix", using sounds I had assembled for my own piece, "Transit". So, in a way, the "Transit" remix was really Robin remixing himself.
Years went by, and we lost touch. There were some reissues of his remix, I continued using his loops. At one point, I bought a painting of his, from his own "Tarot" deck.
A couple of years ago, I wanted to make a point of what a great influence Robin had been, both on my music and the scene as a whole, so I created the "Loop Messiah" tribute netrelease, which is a great collection of tracks by various artists that pay tribute to the music of Rapoon. This was an unofficial tribute, but it did quite well, with thousands of downloads on archive.org.
For a reason I can't describe, I felt that I should try contacting Robin once again. I found that the Abraxas project, and its loop30 series, curated by Gerald Fiebig, covered some historical and cultural themes that Robin had addressed in his music. When I opened a chat window to Robin, it was almost as though he knew why I was approaching him.
Several months later, and we have "Grasslands Dream of Electric Sheep"-- the current iteration of Robin's influence on my career, and itself a wonderful and authentic piece of music, touching on themes of growing up in Cold War England, and daring to access an emotional range not often found in current music.
So, there is the answer to the "Why all these Robin Storey" posts. I hope that i explained that well.
Robin Storey of Rapoon was asked to design some music for the Abraxas cultural center. Abraxas is a building in Augsburg that was used as a military bunker for both German and Allied troops. More recently, it has become a museum that focuses on its past uses, and generally a center of culture. Robin's piece will be broadcast in Abraxas in the Fall of 2017 through Spring of 2018. Some of the sounds in this piece were furnished by Thomas Park (of Mystified). Robin remixed these sounds and added his own. Thomas would like to deeply thank Robin for the time he took from his busy life to create such an authentic and beautiful piece of music.
Remember that Cyberpunk kid Kenji Siratori?
Here's an album I did with him back in the day:
Daniel Barbiero sent Mystified some very nice sounds he had recorded with his double bass. Mystified processed these sounds and added his own to create this industrial soundscape.
Mystified thought of the title, as this seems to be a current problem, that people are asked to try to sustain systems that are in unsustainable conditions-- fossil fuel consumption, the environment, the economy-- both on micro and macro levels.
Sustain is also a musical term that means to hold a note.
We are asked to strike a chord and hold it-- and keep holding-- even when this seems unlikely or impossible.
Special thanks to Daniel for his participation and inspiration.
Saint Louis: An American Topography
People who live in my home town speak of two cities. References are made to the "Delmar Divide". On the North side of Delmar live many of the entrenched African American families, often in poverty and with decaying infrastructure. On the South side live a predominantly Caucasian community. There is some poverty there, but also much affluence and a broader spectrum of wealth and opportunity.
All of this was according to plan, my wife tells me. Those who determined years ago how the city would develop made sure that communities that were mostly Caucausian stayed that way, and vise versa for the African Americans. I am not going to go into the history of this, or the various legal acts and otherwise that led to it. But I believe it.
Once a week I travel from my comfortable South City home and go North on Vandeventer, towards a nearly all-black library, where I spend the day as a technology assistant. Driving along Vandeventer is pleasant enough, potholes aside. I pass through a lovely park, near the Central West End, and then roll West of the museum and theater district.
Then I cross Page. Something changes. The infrastructure looks old and cracked, in disrepair. The stores along the street seem not to be doing so well. Right at that corner is an old gas station or something similar that has been abandonned and is literally falling to pieces.
As I travel further North, I see no affluent homes, only brick duplexes and struggling businesses and institutions. Soon I reach Natural Bridge Road, which has been dubbed the "Murder Street" of the nation by one publication. Anywhere past Page, it is rare to spy a white face-- usually if I do, it's someone hauling in scrap or other goods to sell in the North Side.
Terrifying to see, hard to admit. These American scenes have inspired many pieces of my music. One, "North Side, 3:13 AM", was created for the new minimalist netlabel Musicnumbers. I tried to capture the uneasy feeling I would imagine a person might experience when stranded for whatever reason near Natural Bridge Road late a night, perhaps a bit as I felt when I had no car and was waiting for the cab at the library after sunset. It's a feeling you might recognize, but that no one wants or cares to admit should be.
Another piece, "Page And Vandeventer", uses urban field recordings to capture the raw industrial ugliness of that intersection, and the sense that one has crossed into a place where there is no time or money for beauty-- brick, metal, asphalt, all are left to crack and decay in the elements.
I wrote a piece, "Natural Bridge Road", for a compilation coming out soon on Mahorka records, which I cannot share. Listening, I think of the sad procession of outdated cars along the street, the vacant buildings and signage still up from 70 years ago.
I will also mention "Concrete Expanse", more generally about the city, which captures the huge amounts of space in Saint Louis with nary a tree or shrub-- it's the kind of world that fosters kids who are later amazed to discover what a "cow" and "goat" are, even though we are here in the middle of the MidWest.
I am a believer in atmospheres and environments, and their power to affect and transform. I am not sure that my works on this subject would make people happy-- but they might be able close their eyes, and see what I saw, and continue to see, with mine that are open-- the ugliness of an unfair world, where men and women who never asked for it are made to live without beauty or adornment.