What is Elektronische Existenz? Elektronische Existenz (which is electronic existence written in German) is a 13 chapter music series which I started writing in the Spring of 2014. It started in dubious circumstances. At the time I was writing under the project name 13LFO and I wrote these four tracks which were stand out tracks, probably the best I had ever done to that point. I was going to mix them in with some past work (that was far inferior) and put it out as the first 13LFO album. But I wasn't happy with that. These four tracks were head and shoulders better than the tracks they were with. I decided to put them together as a four track album of 36 minutes in length. I called that album "Elektronische Existenz" after some thought because the title perfectly positioned the work in the musical and philosophical contexts that I work in - electronic music and existential philosophies.
I was so pleased with this album that I wanted to repeat the trick. This is always a dangerous thing to do because you set yourself a standard. I always think in general that the more work you do the more chance some of it will dip below the standard you expect. Elektronische Existenz was and remains a special album to me in which every sound, note and beat is perfect - just as it came from the "womb" of my imagination. I work improvisationally so this is an important consideration. I captured some perfect moments - or as perfect as any moment can be. But those moments can't be repeated or captured forever. I made three more four track albums and I had a series of 4 albums.
It was at this point that things really began to take off. I was happy with the four album series. But I wanted to double it. What happened next was that I created four more albums, each with only two tracks this time but of longer length. Along with this I started thinking about the mythology behind the tracks and how they were related. Elektronische Existenz tells the story, in music, of a character called "The Wanderer" (German: Der Wanderer). I envision the whole project as a story or mythology of this character. I'll flesh out the detail of that below. But, for now, its enough to know that this is a story that has three acts and an epilogue. Chapters 1-4, 5-8, 9-12 and chapter 13 as epilogue.
For several months the project stayed at 8 chapters or albums. At this point The Wanderer was "dead tired" (the final track of the 8th album being titled "Todmüde" - dead tired) and his status (alive or dead) was ambiguous at best. I was happy to leave the story there though until a chance event took me in a new direction. I watched a video about a Japanese forest at the foot of an active volcano, Mount Fuji, named Aokigahara. This is the second most popular suicide spot in the world, a creepy, impenetrable forest growing straight out of past volcanic lava. Each year several hundred Japanese go there to die. And so I imagined The Wanderer, dead tired, fleeing to this forest. I did two more albums of two tracks each making a total of 10 albums in the series.
But I wasn't finished. Thirteen has always been a very important number for me (I was born on the 13th) and, lately, I have become fixated with it and mathematical or other uses of it. (Elektronische Existenz is 346 minutes long. If you add 3+4+6 you get 13.) The Wanderer, as a character, is based on me and my own life. Elektronische Existenz is an autobiography in music using the mythology of The Wanderer as a literary device. Because of all this, and having come so far, I wanted there to be 13 chapters or albums to the story. But at that stage, with 10 albums in the bag, I wasn't ready to do 3 more albums. And so I did a sort of epilogue and made EEXIII, chapter 13. I wanted to make it clear at this point that The Wanderer wasn't dead. Chapter 10 had ended with "Conundrum" and the idea that, for all his travel and travails, The Wanderer was still faced with the same existential issue at the end as he had had at the beginning. The epilogue was purposely "The Wanderer is not dead" hence the "In place of" in the titles of the three tracks that make up album 13.
We now fast forward a few months and it occurs to me that there is a lacuna in the story, a chapters 11 and 12 sized hole. What happens to The Wanderer between realising he still has the same conundrum as at the start and the epilogue? I am very happy to say that this gap has now been filled and the story has been completed since I have now written albums 11 and 12. And so my 13 album project, 346 minutes of it, 37 tracks of it, my Meisterwerk, my Magnum Opus, is completed. It started from just 4 tracks I thought deserved better than to be chucked in with some others and grew to be a whole mythology in music.
Let me lay out the track order for you:
1. The Wanderer and His Shadow
2. The Wanderer and His Shadow II
3. The Wanderer and His Shadow III
4. Metal Blue LFO
Elektronische Existenz II
2. Serious Philosophical Question
3. Bleak Disturbances
Elektronische Existenz III
Elektronische Existenz IV
1. Existential On Your Ass
END OF ACT ONE
Elektronische Existenz V
1. Lament für Existenz
2. Die Störung
Elektronische Existenz VI
1. The Man in The Photograph
2. The Man Behind The Photograph
Elektronische Existenz VII
2. Panzer Tanz
Elektronische Existenz VIII
END OF ACT TWO
ACT THREE, PART ONE
Elektronische Existenz IX
1. Aokigahara 青木ヶ原
2. Yūrei 幽霊
Elektronische Existenz X
1. Das Bedauern
ACT THREE, PART TWO
1. Im Schatten
1. Fantasia 1
2. Fantasia 2
3. Fantasia 3
END OF ACT THREE
1. In Place of An Ending
2. In Place of A Parting
3. In Place of A Dying
A perusal of those titles will perhaps reveal a number of things of note. Yes, my character The Wanderer is inspired by my reading of and intimacy with the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche who added an extra section to his 1878 book "Human, All Too Human" entitled "The Wanderer and His Shadow". Yes, it is intimately bound up with the last 10 years of my life in which, never before expecting to ever leave the shores of England (and never really seeing why I needed to), the fates cast lots and I found myself living in Germany, a land I came to love more than my own. Yes, the story is cast as a play with 3 acts and an epilogue. These three acts are, in broad brush strokes, an introduction to The Wanderer in Act One, his life and circumstances. In Act Two his fall or down-going is recounted. Act Three is his "dark night of the soul" and the Epilogue is, naturally enough, a resolution of the story that isn't a resolution at all.
Perhaps now is a good time to go through Elektronische Existenz, album by album, chapter by chapter, track by track, and tell the musical story of The Wanderer.
1. The Wanderer and His Shadow
Our introduction to The Wanderer, a hesistant, sensitive, thoughtful fellow.
Musically, here everything is about taking your time, appreciating slowly, getting to know your surroundings. I always wanted to write music that had gravitas and substance but that was also thoroughly cutting edge, even ahead of the curve. In many ways much I do creatively is about marrying together diverse things. Because this is a reflection of my character.
2. The Wanderer and His Shadow II
The Wanderer is further characterised. Here ideas of slowness, even sloth, come to the fore. The music is at a slower pace, never too slow but slow, taking its time. The music of a man who goes at his own pace, maybe even out of step with the world. Much was played in Elektronische Existenz by hand without being quantised. Hence you will often hear things where they feel awkward or dissonant. This is deliberate and characterises The Wanderer.
3. The Wanderer and His Shadow III
A large part of the story of The Wanderer is about how people suffering much pain and trouble in life can still manage to see or conjure beauty. Or maybe to even ask the question of if they can. The testimony of this story is that they can still indeed. It is, I think, something of a miracle. This track is about conjuring some of that beauty. There is also a further theme, that of innocence. The Wanderer values innocence above all other things. The bell tone melody here is all about conjuring innocence.
4. Metal Blue LFO
Maybe this track should be "The Wanderer and His Shadow IV" - but it isn't. We start to move ground in our story. An LFO, of course, is often used in a synthesizer as a modulation source, lending movement to another sound. Here this track oscillates our story as we head out deeper into the character of The Wanderer. A common theme in my work, in terms of sounds and timbres, are machine sounds. These are often used as threatening cues. Machines speak of regularity and order, things The Wanderer does not like. He feels more at home in the chaos, symbolised here by the monotone that underpins the track. The harsh drums indicate work and the world of work, something The Wanderer finds alien and harsh and completely unsuited for. The "metal blue" refers to the colour of the sky on the cover for this album, brooding and foreboding.
This song represents both vulnerability (the bass drum pattern a crude imitation of shivering) and the desire for strength, an adamantium shield. It is the soundscape of a man alone in the world. The rising and falling sound is the sound of the rest of the people in the world going about their business. I imagine a vista, a huge desert and The Wanderer stands on a hill and surveys it. This is his world.
6. Serious Philosophical Question
Albert Camus said that there was only one serious philosophical question: why we should go on living. This track puts this question, the question of suicide, into focus as it strikes The Wanderer. So this track is a track of uncertainty, perhaps slightly to do with fear or strangeness. Again, it is about imagining a place, this time a mental place, and giving it sounds.
7. Bleak Disturbances
Perhaps this track is self explanatory, especially once you have heard it. It recreates the bleak landscape inside The Wanderer's head, full of questions he cannot answer with healthy doses of nothingness and meaninglessness on top. It is a hymn to a troubled and serious man. Here I tried to use sounds that suggested thought, but troubled thought, thought that was difficult to have and that led nowhere.
Feld is a hymn to a place - Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin. A former Nazi airfield and the place through which the Allies saved the people of West Berlin during the Berlin Airlift of the late 40s, this magnificent place is now a municipal park of outstanding size and natural beauty. It is The Wanderer's favourite place and spiritual home. Musically, then, I tried to give it a beautiful, mythical quality. Whilst not exactly the choir of angels, here I attempted to make this place seem like a dream.
A track about feeling blue. And yet still keeping it funky. You may find that contradictory. Yes, it is.
A track to give substance to the everyday, boring, dull, always the same existence of The Wanderer. And yet, musically, the challenge there is to put that across whilst writing interesting music. The key, I think, is not to think about it but to just do it. Every track in this project is based in, and comes from, improvisation.
The title means "survival strategy". This track has to make real the idea of The Wanderer thinking of ways that he can survive his life. Thus, again, we have sounds that are meant to suggest thought or thoughts. Do they lead anywhere? Sounds were very important to me into this project. I wanted to use ones you don't hear everywhere and put them in original combinations. This track is one such example.
Frightened. Here I attempted to create a nightmare, not necessarily a terrifying nightmare, but a creepy, strange one.
13. Existential On Your Ass
Could you take a philosophy and put it to music? That is what I did here with this track. As The Wanderer considers his life in existential terms, so the music considers Existentialism in musical terms.
Once more we have another soundscape about The Wanderer's world. Again, I used sounds to try and suggest activity out in that world as The Wanderer looks on. This idea of things happening that The Wanderer observes is prevalent throughout the whole first act of the story. The sound palette suggests a slightly Eastern influence.
Vergessen is a unique track in this project. Its the one track I am never sure if I like or not. It was made in much the same way as the rest using my usual practices and habits. But, I don't know, it doesn't convince me. However, in the context of the story it fits. "Vergessen" means "forget" and, in the story, it functions as The Wanderer pointing out to himself that not everything is sacred, not all things must be valued. Sometimes things just happen and the best response is to forget them and move on. So the music fits in the story. You may or may not like it. But narratively it is every bit as right for this project as any other track. So whilst not necessarily being totally convinced by the track, it serves many useful functions besides. Why should a composer like all his work anyway?
The title is random (and comes from "The Big Lebowski"). The idea here was to wrap up act one (originally it was to end the project of course when the project was just four albums). So the track works as a marker, an ending of sorts. Here the idea was something about complexity. The Wanderer's life feels very complex. For this reason I used the repeating pattern. Repetition plays a part in The Wanderer's life too - almost to mental torment! The bass represents The Wanderer's deep feelings.
17. Lament für Existenz
Until I wrote chapter 12 this was the longest track here - and deliberately so. A long, drawn out, meditational, lament for The Wanderer's existence. This one was all about trying to get the emotion recorded in sound. So, the timbres used were vitally important as were the notes. I hope you think I used the right sounds and got the point across. Additionally, this track begins the second act and The Wanderer's down-going to his "dead tiredness". Thus, this piece is very important in setting the mood.
18. Die Störung
The Wanderer suffers a glitch or a breakdown after his lamenting. The tone here is subdued, mysterious. There is also a sense of holding back or wanting time to recover. Again, sounds used to indicate action around The Wanderer but not made by The Wanderer.
19. The Man in The Photograph
Tracks 19 and 20 are based on a photograph of himself that The Wanderer looks at. It was taken in a happier time. This track is the soundtrack to the man we see when looking at that photograph. So this is meant to be slightly more "up" musically speaking. I used 80s drum machine sounds (Drumtraks, DMX, LinnDrum) here as I was indirectly influenced by listening to some Jan Hammer and his music for "Miami Vice".
20. The Man Behind The Photograph
But then there is always the other side of the story. Whereas on the surface all looked happy, behind the scenes things were much more serious and difficult. The wavering lead sound that comes in towards the end of the track indicates crying inside. This is a sad, sad, track. I find this track very emotional to listen to as it essentially lays bare The Wanderer's pain.
The pain leads to a "pain symphony". Here is that thing again with wanting to write something of substance but thoroughly modern. I find that much of that is all about finding, and combining, the right sounds. Essentially, I wrote this as a self-contained piece.
22. Panzer Tanz
This track is somewhat absurd. It imagines The Wanderer dancing in his protective armour, effectively protected, perhaps, but also isolated from the world. A little piece of madness amongst the sad reflection.
Originally, one of the two tracks that would end Elektronische Existenz (at the second or third time of asking), this makes up one of the sections of the project that stand out the most. Here The Wanderer has an existential crisis. I don't know how you would put that into music except to say that here I have. I hear a lot of angst.
The original end of the two act version of the project and, in many ways, a perfect song indicating an end. It is so ambiguous that you might think The Wanderer dead by the end. I think this track perfectly captures the senses of pain, struggle and defeat that The Wanderer feels. He is "dead tired", he wants to just stop and give up. The sounds, therefore, are appropriately powerful and yet somehow limp, life ebbing away from them. It sounds portentous and ethereal. Is The Wanderer still there?
The sounds of a creepy, impenetrable Japanese forest where people go to disappear and die.
A ghost dance as the Yurei (Japanese spirits) move around the forest and in the vicinity of The Wanderer.
27. Das Bedauern
A track that is meant to capture a specific mood, a regretful, repenting sorrow. Perhaps this is a little self-indulgence too and so the music, which is not the best in this project, suggests that. Slightly bland but in the service of a purpose.
The music here suggests that one is trapped in a circle or a maze. There is no way out. The pattern just repeats. It even gets more complex as the track runs its course. Again, this piece was at one time the end of the project and so this is another marker.
29. Im Schatten
The music here was to suggest a person in the shadows. A certain darkness is necessary for this and so a haunting melody gets introduced. The sound palette is once again creepy, strange and unexpected. And yet is there still a glimpse of some beauty?
Here a deep psychological event is signified, an apocalypse. Thus, I used sounds to suggest confusion or complexity yet also deep tones to suggest things of great import.
Another song about breakdown. This time I decided to use a confused beat and sounds that, perhaps, don't really go together. Such is the language of breakdown.
32. Fantasia 1
The Wanderer falls into fantasy in an attempt to escape the consequences of his broken state. Here I reused and re-purposed some recent music I had done as it was both of a quality and a tone that fitted in well with the idea of a fantasy. Note the scissors snipping sound!
33. Fantasia 2
This fantasy is in two parts. I concentrated on strong synth sounds here. Again, I wasn't afraid to take my time with this piece and it ended up being the longest in the project. A real fantasy ending with the lush pad sound!
34. Fantasia 3
This piece rounds out the fantasy and concludes the complicated third act. Consequently, it is itself a little unsure of itself and here I used dissonance for effect. The sounds don't necessarily go together and the pitches are, perhaps, at odds too. Not all fantasy is good or pleasing. And fantasies often don't make sense.
35. In Place of An Ending
The epilogue begins with ambience and bell melodies. It can only mean that the end is nigh.
36. In Place of A Parting
Crows, familiars of death, caw at the start of this piece. And then the piece changes completely into a ramshackle, absurdist groove. The sounds are all wrong. It makes no sense. Exactly.
37. In Place of A Dying
We might expect a dirge at the end. But this isn't a dying. Its in place of one. Instead, there is a repeating confused melody which keeps its cards close to its chest. Its all very ambiguous. And then more absurdist grooves. What has happened to The Wanderer? What does this mean for him? And what is the significance of that final blast of white noise? Like Tony Soprano cut to black, no one really knows........
And, finally, here is The Myth of The Wanderer, the story told in music.
The Myth of The Wanderer
The Wanderer lay in his bed. It was midday. He didn't get up anymore and hadn't for years. No point. Beside him lay his shadow. His burden. It was all the times he'd been let down, all the times his mum had insulted or ignored him when she should have praised or encouraged him. It was every time he'd been judged for his lack of looks, every time his abilities had been overlooked because he didn't know the right people, every time he was just a stranger. It was all the times he'd been rejected in life - and there were many. It was every bad decision he had ever made - and, these days, he didn't make any other kind. It was all these things and more besides hardened and ossified over decades so that they had become his very environment, his experience of life, all he knew. Everything he pondered about life and the world was in this context.
And yet despite all this pain and ugliness he still wanted to see beauty, he still wanted to risk imagining something pretty. It was his only hope. He oscillated between hope and despair.
And yet to do this it felt at times as if he needed to be made of stone. Feelings are risks that some people cannot take. Its not that the pain can get too much, although of course it can, its that sometimes you would just do anything to have some respite from it. If only you could be made of Adamantium, unbreakable, impenetrable. Life is bleak and there is the ever present question of what it is for. This was a real, genuine, constant problem for The Wanderer. He was really alone in the world and couldn't make out why he was there or what the point of it was. Why not just end it? There is nothing to lose and you are only bringing the schedule forward anyway rather than changing the script. We all die. And yet the beauty of place stays the hand again. A special place, Das Feld, brings a feeling of safety.
But what to do when life is a constant struggle, when every activity comes with a "what for?" attached? The feeling of melancholy permeates all existence, you struggle to find a survival strategy. Little things assume meaning out of all proportion to their importance both in good and bad ways. You are frightened.
Things occasionally fall apart. You become random, up and down. One minute this, the next that. The randomness becomes a defence and you seek out the new just so that you don't have to bear the same day after day. It all becomes about how you experience the now. There is no tomorrow, no yesterday. Just let now be bearable you think to yourself. I want to forget. There is only this moment. You stop thinking of life as an on-going narrative because that will only remind you how terrible it has been and how hopeless it is yet to be.
"Oh what have I become?" thinks The Wanderer. He laments his existence. There is an upset, a breakdown, a glitch, in his existence. Its one of many choke points he has had in life. He knows there will be more. Oh terrible burden that he has been given.
He considers himself in a photograph. He is sitting at a table outside in the woods of the Spreewald, an area south east of Berlin, all lakes and rivers and trees. He is eating ice cream from a bowl. An enigmatic smile plays on his face, not overt but discernible nevertheless. One imagines the smile is for the photographer but we do not see who that is. And then he considers the feelings that he felt inside as the picture was took and that tells a different story. We never know the things that people carry with them daily. Only The Wanderer sees his shadow. Only The Wanderer cannot be without it.
The Wanderer writes a pain symphony, an ode to his sufferings. He dances with momentary and tragic joy, covered in the armour that allows him to go on living, that both protects and isolates him.
But it is not enough. You can make a noise to drown out something else but eventually you must stop. All the survival strategies come to nought and what you are is still there, plain and simple, in front of you. Acknowledging it, you come to the moment of existential crisis that such acknowledgment always brings. The Wanderer collapses under a tree. He has sought solace in mountains and woods far away from other people. He wants to be absorbed into the ground.
He finds himself surrounded by trees in a forest that blocks out the world. There is only him now, him and the ghosts that swirl around him, the ghosts of his past, of himself, of this place and the others who came here seeking peace from the dissonance with which they were plagued. This is a portal between worlds, one of life and one of death, a place of decision.
He is overcome by a regretful, repenting sorrow - for himself certainly. But also for his life - as an experience and as a thing that was thrust upon him. For years he would gladly have given it back and he wishes he could now. And he realises that, for all his years, he is left with the same problem, the same conundrum, he always had: how to make sense of all the things he is when they just don't make sense.
All The Wanderer's life now lies in shadow. He inhabits the dark places, shying away from light, contact, others. He does not want to be himself with his conundrum. There is an apocalypse as the unsolvable problem is a burden he cannot leave behind. For the one person you can never leave behind is yourself. Inevitably, whilst this can be coped with on a day to day level, there is always a build up that must break out at some point. He reaches this point and breaks down. He lies there, broken.
The Wanderer seeks escape in fantasy. He dreams of places he would like to be, things he would like to have, women he would like to fuck. All kinds of scenarios play through his mind, good, bad and outrageous. He avoids life and who he is by pretending to be someone, anyone else. He creates fantasy personalities and multiple online identities to live out the fantasy.
The circle repeats and life goes on. The Wanderer is trapped in a constant loop. This is his life, all he has known. Even as he has lived through it, it has shaped him and made the experience part of his character. Like many who suffer from mental issues, the very things which plague him now feel as if they are him. To let go of his pain and insecurities, his fears and stresses, would now seem to him as if it was to make him a completely new person, not him. His identity is now the person his life has made him. It was, perhaps, an inevitable consequence. This identity is now all he has.
And so The Wanderer retreats into less habited spaces. What happened to him in the end nobody knows....
PS Why were the covers all pylons that were distorted?
The pylon was The Wanderer and the distortions were a visual signifying the effects of things on his life.
Elektronische Existenz is now available for download again at elektronischeexistenz.bandcamp.com