Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Dead Air (The Wire #414)

The Wire #414 - a Minimalism special - contains my short history of broadcast radio silence (precursors to John Cage's unrealised 1948 plan to broadcast silence over the Muzak cable network).  The piece does, however, contain an editorial distortion! Hopefully I can provide an errata here.

It's frustrating when meaning is lost during editorial trimming down of writing, but a paid outlet for new research (even if slightly maimed by editors) is preferable to the unpaid academic journals who often disparage submissions from non-institutional researchers like me.... so... mustn't grumble too much.

The BBC's ticking clock, c.1930.
For silent moments in programmes.
I'd written about the 'ghost in galoshes' - the nickname given to the BBC's ticking clock sound that reassured 1930s listeners during silent moments within radio programmes.  15-minutes of this ticking was broadcast in October 1932 when the script for J. B. Priestley's talk To a Highbrow was mislaid.  I'd originally written that this 'dead air' was rebroadcast via a transatlantic line to the US CBS network at a reported cost of £2-per-minute.  However, in the editing (without my knowledge), this crucial detail about the transatlantic relay was removed, leading readers to assume that merely broadcasting silence itself cost £2-per-minute (roughly £100-per-minute today).

Despite this failing, the piece may have interest for anyone curious about the origin of the radio term 'dead air'.  Modern glossaries date it to the 1940s, but my research indicates it originates in late-1920s New York radio circles.  One of its earliest appearances is in a rare little dictionary of radio slang printed in early 1931, compiled by New York-based CBS engineer Irving Reis: the entry reads "Dead Air - Absence of broadcasting" alongside "Dead Mike" (an unconnected microphone).  Technological progress has rendered most other featured terms obsolete: 'Soup' (current fed to the aerial), 'Woof' (signal to start a programme), or 'Motorboating' (a distinctive sound produced when powered microphones had insufficient volume) are all unfamiliar now.

'Dead air' also appears in a transcript of spoken testimony dated November 1st 1929 during an appeal by the imperilled station WMAK against the Federal Radio Commission, who were insistent that stations in New York's overcrowded ether use their wavelength to full capacity.  Here, newspaper reporter and employee of the station WGR for Buffalo, New York - William G. Cook - used the term at least twice weighing up instances of radio silence.  As the Wire piece states, the negative term originated in America where airtime was precious, yet broadcast silence was more valued in other countries (notably the UK and Japan).  The BBC's director-general John Reith stated in January 1930: "We need silence badly, and consciously or unconsciously long for it"...

William G. Cook (left) and Irving Reis (right) - responsible for early appearances of the term 'dead air' in print.
Read more in this month's The Wire #414 for more - 'When Less Is More'

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Meadow House 2LP 'tapedropping' anthology in Freq e-zine

Many thanks to Mr. Olivetti for writing such a generous and in-depth review of the two new limited edition Meadow House LPs for Freq.  It can be read in full in the Freq - here.

Meadow House LPs 'Misadventures on the Scorn Cycle' and 'This should not be happening' - copies still available.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Wire #409 - Psyphonics: Further Listening

Coined by soundscape theorists Stuart Gage and Bernie Krause, the terms biophony, geophony and anthrophony have come to represent the complete range of sound-types audible within natural recordings (referring to biological sounds, geological sounds, and human/machine sounds).  March's eclectic issue of The Wire (#409) features my piece on psyphony - an impish addition to this trio.

Gage and Krause's terminological trinity isn't a totally inviolable gamut.  The definitions can be chipped away to some pedantic extent, e.g., where do those rare sounds that penetrate earth's atmosphere from outer space fit into this?  Appropriate terms might be 'cosmophony'(?) or 'astrophony'(?).  But I digress slightly...  The Wire's article - appropriately titled 'Further Listening' - goes far beyond this into more wayward territories, introducing psyphony as a capturing of hypothetical intangible essences of thought and idea within sound.  (Readers of this blog may be reminded of the previous blogposts on Delawarr Laboratories' "thought-to-sound" experiments).

Without giving away too much of the piece (which is a fun 'thought piece' whilst also containing fresh research-nuggets such as the BBC's radio telepathy experiments and J. Tyssul Davis' odd never-before-discussed 1928 publication The Sound of Your Face), it will suffice to say that the term psyphony can be applied to audio pieces that challenge or call into question the extent of any hearing person's sonic perception.  However spurious psyphony may appear, its concept can be discerned within today's experimental music and radio art, from occult/quasi-occult sound practices (for example - Silent Records' compilation Tulpamancers: A Collection of Sonic Thoughtforms) to the more procedural technologically-geared sonifications and data mappings (as with Masaki Batoh's Brain Pulse Music).  It spans various genres.  The concept of psyphonics came into focus whilst contemplating Viewfound's EP Memorate, a dense ambient EP aiming to capture memory essences.  The concept was also tentatively trotted out to describe the fascinating sound-work of Aki Onda.

Silent Records' compilation Tulpamancers / Shimmering Moods releases: Memorate by Viewfound / Resonant Moments by Andrew Tasselmyer
Some may view psyphony as indicative of a recoil from modernity's technological materialism.  To those who may decry its 'woolliness', they should bear in mind that similar ideas can be found in plain sight in the most sedate framings...  When I first visited The Wire magazine's office some years ago - back when they were situated on the upper floor of a building near Spitalfields Market - interesting music was being played.  I asked what the piece of music was.  I can't remember the answer to this, but more memorable was the casual remark that every month, any music played in the office gets listed in The Wire's special 'Office Ambience' tracklist.  As a little metaphysical aside, it was quipped that the music heard in the office might be somehow ingrained - as a quantum essence - within that month's issue.  It was said in jest... but as George Orwell once commented: "every joke is a tiny revolution"....

The full particulars on 'psyphonics' can be read in The Wire #409, March 2018 - out now.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

OUT NOW! (15+ years in the making) Two New MEADOW HOUSE Records

New Meadow House records: 'Misadventures on the Scorn Cycle' and 'This should not be happening'
These two new Meadow House LPs are OUT NOW!  Together they form an anthology of very varied 'tapedropping' nuggets... that is, music designed to be left on cassette (or CDR) in random places for people to find.  (See the full explanation here in this older blogpost).

Why not listen whilst reading their backstory which is zested with angst, allegory and cautionary tropes?   Read on below....

Late in April 2012, I was semi-trespassing on someone's property to rummage through a skip in their driveway.  I was in a state of manifest neglect and genuine poverty (and still am now), ravaged by a rabid want of PhD funding and galled by the knowledge of the dross that too often beats me to funding.  [Singer Dannii Minogue and footballer Ryan Giggs both have honorary doctorates, incidentally.]

In happier times...
I looked through the property's window and saw a louche guy in a suit gawping at a massive TV, watching TV's Jason Bradbury enthuse on Channel 5's Gadget Show.  [Hint: most of the pricy gadgets fetishised on that consumer show can be freely found in trade waste bins years later, especially those of charity shops that don't accept "electrical"].  But I digress...  It was a moment of profound discord, because there I stood: stained with bin-juice; cold, hungry and smelly, raking through rat piss trying to find old shit to sell online or to make instruments with, and yet only eight years previously in 2004, the very same Jason Bradbury had emailed me, having heard my Resonance FM show about 'tapedropping'.  Bradbury offered a meet up: he ended a long introductory email with, "I relate to your 8-bit harmonies and human beatbox - I relate to your divergent presentational style and I relate the potential to roll all of them up into a stage show or a TV proposal or... just an interesting chat over a coffee. If you're up for a meet - drop me a mail."  Foolishly in hindsight, I haughtily declined his offer as I was busy at university and had resolved to focus on an academic direction (which propelled me into oblivion, it seems). [There's a moral to this story somewhere].

The music featured on the first of these new Meadow House LPs, 'Misadventures on the Scorn Cycle' (Public House Recordings), originates from around this era - circa 2004 - and is likely some of the very same material that prompted Jason Bradbury's email to me 13 years ago.  On the label's release page, I note a reviewer named "The Don" gave it a dud review, indicative of the sad fact that there are still snobby people resistant to the 'tapedropping' approach who require a supreme sonic kick to their waxed arse, yet dropping such media as cassettes is arguably no longer possible in these post-media days, fuck, alas.
  'Misadventures...' is essentially a re-release of a partially-unheard 2003 demo CDR I'd sent to various places that year (including Norman Records, who now release it).  The fact that it took 14 years to get released gives me hope that maybe other offers might boomerang back into play (such as from labels or publishers I'd sent things to previously, or even Jason Bradbury's 2004 offer to discuss ideas for a "stage show or a TV proposal", of which I now have many - of various character - in my dayfantasies, a la De Niro's 'Rupert Pupkin' in the 1982 film The King of Comedy).

The second LP, 'This should not be happening' (Feeding Tube Records) contains later material, from around 2012.  The tone is obviously much more despondent here, following successive buffetings and prolonged marginalisation.  It contains catharsis, cries for help, requests for relief/employment, and much much more...  Truly, this should not be happening.  The LP is almost entirely produced using instruments and materials found in bins.  Resourcefulness is necessary in times of destitution.  The "8-bit harmonies and human beatbox" that Jason Bradbury lauded are smothered to death under a big pillow on this release.  Because of my reluctance to relisten to any of it, the release was curated by the valiant Joey Pizza Slice (aka Son of Salami), clad in his sonic hazmat suit, who is a wonderful musicmaker with great sensitivity.

Note: I may have overstated the role of Jason Bradbury in all this.  However, in hindsight, his cameo here gives an excuse to Tweet this blogpost to him to see whether he reads it or feels inclined to promote this stuff like a 21st century techno-savvy Warhol.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Organised Sound 22 - August 2017 - What are Failed Histories?

My situation is becoming unbearable.  Faced with closed doors everywhere, the bleakness is gut-wrenching (and it's amazing how far guts can be wrenched).  Everywhere, it seems, dilettantes are ascending to lofty positions whilst the hardest working researchers rot: poor, unacknowledged and girlfriendless/boyfriendless.  This may sound bitter, but you'd be bitter too if lacerated by the implicit insults within hundreds of job rejections (e.g. employers that state they're "committed to hiring only excellent people" [which is always untrue] - not to mention the humiliation of rebuffal from unpaid thrift store volunteering), and subsequent regular intimidation from police for bin-diving and electroacoustic busking.  Why is this happening?  Do I have some sort of character flaw?  My parents assure me "no" as I wail in despair covered in filth, but these struggles certainly imply so...  it all points toward a character mismatch between recruiter/recruit - or 'mismatched impedance' as Daphne Oram analogised defective society/individual interfacing (a composer who herself found recognition to be elusive - her work becoming more widely known only after she died in 2003).

Organised Sound Vol. 22 No. 2 contains my lengthy paper titled 'Failed Histories of Electronic Music' outlining the mechanics of failure (vividly, I hope) via the 'failed history' concept that foregrounds the dynamics between culture and the individual 'agents' within it.  Having experienced successive failures, I'd like to think it carries much weight.  In an Oramesque spirit, I've provided an analogy in the form of 'failed subharmonics' - spikes of activity that are never re-referred to or 'recontacted' within the historical continua ever again.  I present (or jumpstart) the stories of three 'failed histories' - hitherto unexplored never-discussed electronic music precedents absent from all its textbooks - drawn from my own intensive research with hard-won primary source material: 1) "Electric musician" Johann Baptist Schalkenbach, 2) John Gray McKendrick's first electronic sound demonstration in 1895, and 3) radio oscillation in the 1920s.  The latter vignette actually came about through the discovery of rare early radio ephemera found whilst bin-diving.  Certain neglected aspects of Futurism also haunt the paper.  Regular readers of this blog may recall that in 2015 I tried to self-publish writings related to all this in the light of zero publisher interest (it seems failed histories beget failure).

Post-electronic soundmaking apparatus
The idea of failed subharmonics emerged from apparatus-building work in my long-running post-electronics / miraculous agitation-seeking musical project (which, coincidentally, is briefly referenced by another author elsewhere in the same issue).  The presence of subharmonics within motion-inhibiting vibrating physical systems has been demonstrated by José A. Sotorrio.  My own research and soundmaking has revealed failed subharmonics are also plentiful.  Failed subharmonics constitute blips within a tonal continua that didn't fulfil their 'bounce' potential to reconcile themselves as periodic undertones.  Pitchless components of vocal fry are an example of this.  I knew that another author had used the term "failed subharmonics" somewhere before - but it was unGoogleable.  Googling "failed subharmonics" (or hyphenated "failed sub-harmonics") yielded only my own writings.  Eventually, among my cupboards I rediscovered its origin: "failed subharmonics" were first suggested - only very fleetingly - in a 1991 paper by Robert Schumacher as a possible explanation for the non-periodic sonic 'grit' within acoustic sounds.  Schumacher's paper, in Pixel magazine, is not currently on any search engines (web or academic) - a reminder that a whole world exists outside Google and its ilk!

Failed subharmonics represented as 'unfulfilled bounces' in a vibrating system
'Failed Histories of Electronic Music' contains some 'reveals' necessarily compressed into single sentences or less.  For example, in the course of the paper, the true identity of Maskelyne and Cooke's Egyptian Hall in-house musician (and composer) "Charles Mellon" is - for the first time ever - revealed to be Lawrence John Holder.  Tracking him down was no mean feat.  I have charted his life story in an another unpublished paper, but no paying outlet seems forthcoming (is it too much to ask for recompense for the travel and archive-diggings?)  Nobody seems to care.

The Delaware Road
As a further example of 'ignored output phenomena', elsewhere, today's Guardian Guide carries a preview of this Friday's Delaware Road concert at the Kelvedon Hatch nuclear bunker, yet there's no mention of my Radionics Radio contribution which involves *electroacoustic music made with radionic thought-frequencies* and will feature never-before-heard excerpts from restored Delawarr Laboratories' tapes!  These are unprecedentedly novel and bold new territories with great philosophical implications, surely?  "Can thoughts be embedded in musical tunings?"  Why the neglect?  Evidently there's some mechanism of resonance inherent in culture which propagates some ideas/works/figures and ignores others, as if they're impervious to uptake (as with failed subharmonics).  Putting aside my own injured ego, the blurb also fails to mention that Delaware Road is in fact part of a monumental immersive theatre production (on a scale seemingly approaching that depicted in Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York) in which all the acts are building blocks - its entirety devised and storyboarded by Alan Gubby.  Anyways...

My proposed paper for the Journal of Sonic Studies titled 'Post-Electronic Music: Sound, Materiality and Electromagnetic Force Fields' - on the development and implications of electromagnetic force field resonation - has, bizarrely, been rejected.  Ditto my paper on the first ever electronic sequencer employed by Hugo Gernsback at New York's WRNY in 1925.  My freshly unearthed discoveries and original researches seem to not culturally adhere - despite me working hard and making as much noise as I can about them...

Aside from being deeply frustrating, those aforementioned culture-interfacing snarl-ups are first-hand evidence that 'failed histories' are in the making right now.  A good friend and cyber-contact of mine committed suicide in 2010 - a hugely talented poet and electronic musician - yet this person seems entirely forgotten.  Ironically, it feels improper to invoke this person's name here in what's superficially my own ranty cheap-shot at power structures within culture.  Ergo, if the current trend is to valourise unrecognised musicians and thinkers of the past, we should also remember that - in the present day - by merely neglecting to iterate and reiterate, each of us (including me) partakes in the 'make-or-break' mechanism that's still producing failed histories - more so than ever.  We are all filters.  Consider the world of contemporary electronic music outside the narrow confines of institutions: a lively landscape populated by inmates of airtight niches, savants rapt by idées fixes, bedsit tinkerers locked in inner battles with their own recalcitrance, goa-psytrance consciousness-escapees and ganja experimentalists living-for-the-moment: characters resistant (or invisible) to the academicised platforms of electronic music.  It would seem that the potential for failed histories is more prevalent in experimental music than anywhere else.  Consider also the ubiquity of certain music theorists du jour (almost always men) who hog positions that could be filled by seven or eight other theorists all keen for their own outlets to publish, talk or perform; outlets eclipsed by a gravity - a monopolised field of resonance - surrounding one figure.  No doubt future researchers will be spoilt for choice for unchampioned quarry when they start burrowing through the 21st century's data heap.

Maybe if one's activities can be adapted to adhere to the present cultural continua, the activities may find resonance (which is easier said than done) and avoid the fate of a future 'failed history'.  To return to the physical analogy - in post-electronic apparatuses, by making slight mechanical adjustments between parts, instances of failed subharmonics can be turned into steady subharmonics happily riding along the train of tone.  It's gratifying that 'Failed Histories of Electronic Music' was published in Organised Sound in a topically relevant issue (and filled with other excellent papers on the subject of 'Alternative Histories of Electroacoustic Music'), and it even forms the first paper in the issue - I thank the editors for including it.  Alternative histories are always more fascinating than the 'established' histories...  but that's of little comfort to the unrecognised, wheezing players behind those alternative histories, who would've undoubtedly much preferred at least some nods toward gainful employment while they were alive.

'Failed Histories of Electronic Music' is in Organised Sound 22, issue 2, August 2017.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Oscillatorial Binnage @ IKLECTIK - Tuesday 13th June 2017 - Post-Electronic Improvisation & New Electromagnetic Instruments

Rustlings at the horizon: an Oscillatorial Binnage rehearsal
For those who may have forgotten, Oscillatorial Binnage is a London-based experimental improvisation group containing Fari Bradley, Toby Clarkson, Chris Weaver and Daniel Wilson (this blog's humble author).  We employ a wide range of soundmaking techniques, from room feedback tones to stick-zithers; from touch contact cutlery to electromagnetic eavesdropping upon digital cameras.  Recently, FACT Magazine described us as creating "abstract noise from found objects and metal attacked with electromagnetic force-fields".   Indeed, this is our current modus operandi - it forms the basis of our long-awaited 'Oscillations: Post-Electronic Music' LP recorded in France a few years ago, employing the 'post-electronic' acoustic synthesis technique which we began to experimentalise in 2005, and which I pursue tirelessly here on this blog and wherever else I'm permitted to aerate.  In Oscillatorial Binnage, our individual explorations upon these instruments coalesce into living, breathing dronescapes from which rhythms and harmonies resound whenever the much-sought emergent states are achieved.

For more than a year, half of Oscillatorial Binnage (that is, Chris Weaver and Fari Bradley) have been engaged in an extended residency in the United Arab Emirates (where they have lectured, performed, released their 'Systems for a Score' LP, and built installations).   Their absence had muted Oscillatorial Binnage operations somewhat.  In the interim, Binnage member Toby Clarkson produced his feature length documentary 'Little Tsunamis', and I released an album that attempted to embody thoughts within tuning systems.   At long last - this month Oscillatorial Binnage are back together once again. A new gig this Tuesday June 13th at the Ikectik Art Lab - our first for a long time - promises to herald the upcoming release of the 'Oscillations: Post-Electronic Music' LP on Ash International later this year.  Our rehearsals have brought to light paradigm-shifting new sounds occupying realms between noise and tone; midway between percussion and harmony.  All puffery aside, the 13th promises to be an exquisite evening.

Oscillatorial Binnage's Chris Weaver coaxing emergent tones from electromagnetic gubbins
This event is the second in Resonance Extra's Extra Nights live broadcast series at Iklectik (the first of which was Milo T-M's groundbreaking 'Myrmomancy Music' last month [for which I was honoured to build viewing cases for; boxes within which live ants roamed]).  Dauntingly (for us), our upcoming Oscillatorial Binnage meditation/exposition at Extra Nights #2 will be shoulder-to-shoulder with greatness: it boasts the wonderful Lepke B. with his idiosyncratic sonic gobsmackingness, whilst the bill is helmed by US maestro and hardware hacking proselytiser Prof. Nic Collins, who gives a rare performance here in the UK.  Incidentally, a 'post-electronic thumb piano' - as used in Oscillatorial Binnage - is featured in Collins' landmark tome 'Handmade Electronic Music'.  Collins himself is no stranger to electromagnetic actuation - his backwards electric guitar virtually established the practice.  His performances are always engaging, instructive and entertaining.  So come see these wonders at Iklectik this Tuesday 13th June : Iklectik, 20 Carlisle Lane, London SE1.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Radionics Radio - 'An Album of Musical Radionic Thought Frequencies' (Sub Rosa)

Radionics Radio's An Album of Musical Radionic Thought Frequencies is released this month on the wonderful Sub Rosa label, available either as a download, or as a CD (which is accompanied by a 20-page illustrated booklet detailing the history of radionics' relationship with acoustics).

During the course of the Radionics Radio project many people enquired "isn't radionics a quack medicine?"  The answer is not so simple.  Over the years there have been many radionics researchers and practitioners, all characterised by a sincerely held belief that our scientific understanding of reality isn't all it seems.   Overlooking the ins and outs of radionic philosophy, Radionics Radio focusses firmly on the mid-20th century technologies, particularly those of Oxford's Delawarr Laboratories who were dedicated to establishing a physical basis for radionics.  This is because one of the most fascinating electronic soundmaking devices ever produced emerged from this laboratory.

Delawarr Laboratories' experiments with electronic sound began in the late 1940s, culminating in 1962 with the emergence of the Delawarr Multi-Oscillator.  The purpose of the Multi-Oscillator was to provide its operator with a means to find combinations of audio frequencies that related to thoughts (in a process similar to dowsing).  To those unacquainted with radionics, this may seem odd, yet composers do that selfsame thing whenever they compose: a theme is held in the mind (e.g. "a horse") and the music is intuitively built up.

In practice, the clinical Multi-Oscillator produced very dissonant drones in odd tuning relationships.  The sounds weren't viewed as music by Delawarr Laboratories, although coincidentally, the soundmaking techniques paralleled developments in avant-garde music.

Radionics Radio was launched in 2014 as an application: a web-based reworking of the Multi-Oscillator.  Controversially, I believe it's the UK's first ever publicly-funded radionics 'device' (funded by the Arts Council in a roundabout way).  The app was a single oscillator that users could control whilst thinking of a thought, intuiting any moments where the frequency corresponded with the thought.  A list of intuited frequencies would be sent in alongside the thought or phrase, and I would re-constitute them as drones to be broadcast on Resonance 104.4FM.  Gradually, sets of different thought-frequencies were sequenced in time, or even merged if harmonies corresponded.  Ultimately, a system was developed where microtonal scales could be built-up from thought-frequencies.

As I'm not a radionics practitioner, the app's main purpose was to collect sonic material for my compositions.  These compositions (such as 'Peter send me money so I can fix the boat you promised') are microtonal due to the nature of the frequency selection (which either "occultly" embody the thought, or are merely arbitrary selections, depending on your viewpoint).  It is during the process of composing with the frequencies that a form of mental searching takes place (comparable to radionic technique) to musically capture the mood of the thought.  Initially, Resonance FM listeners sent in thought-frequencies, but over time, more and more radionics aficionados from around the world experimented with the Radionics Radio app, producing submissions that somehow seemed more "plausible" (e.g. frequencies spread out more evenly)

An Album of Musical Radionic Thought Frequencies is the culmination of compositional complexity.  It only contains a handful of submissions (out of over two-thousand) that I have musically-worked-out as pieces.  Initially, I treated all the thought-frequencies as immutable chords, but soon realised that octaves and sub-octaves could be created from those frequencies without interfering with the unique harmonic moods (or detracting from radionic philosophies, viz. remarks on sympathy between octaves in Matter in the Making [1966])

An example is shown here.  One of Delawarr Laboratories' original thought-frequency sets is "Resentment" (8Hz, 59Hz, 80Hz, 130Hz and 350Hz).   Although it's a microtonal run of frequencies, it can be broadly represented on a score:

Microtones cannot truly be reduced to standard musical notes, but a full scale of "Resentment" in all its octaves and sub-octaves would look something like this:

And so this is the basis of the Radionics Radio album, which marks the end of my Sound and Music sponsored composer residency at Resonance FM.  A massive thank you to everybody who helped with this intricate project, and to all users of the Radionics Radio application!

Resonance FM will be repeating early episodes of the Radionics Radio radio series starting on Thursday 11th August.