Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Autechre Identity

The holy trinity of IDM music are surely Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin and Autechre. It is entirely possible, however, that you might never have heard of all three of them and barely listened to any of their music. If we were speaking in 2011 that would have also been true of me so this is perfectly fine. These are not mainstream acts and its very possible that they have passed you by. All three of them are private and secretive. They do not seek fame and share a liking for the shadows (not the 1960s guitar combo!) and obscurity. All three acts are seemingly quite prodigious and you get the impression that all of them are always working on new music. I like to see all three (and many others besides them) as simple music experimenters. You never get the impression that they are going for a particular thing when they work. They just do stuff and something happens. Perhaps the albums they put out are merely arbitrary choices from their experimentations. None really so much as do songs as pieces of sound. Boards of Canada are perhaps the most melodic of the bunch here and Autechre, my subject today, the least.

Last week Autechre, from northern England, released their 12th studio album which was actually in 5 parts. It's being known as Elseq 1-5, a typically obtuse title from a band known for being obtuse about titles. It is already pointed out by fans (who are obsessive, nerdy types) that L is the 12th letter of the alphabet. "Seq" could be short for "sequence" and there are 5 albums. So maybe that has something to do with the name. The album in five parts runs to over 4 hours of music and contains songs with names like 13x0 step, c7b2, acdwn2 and spTh. Not very catchy. Three of the tracks run to over 20 mins but the average is around 11 minutes. This is not pop music intending to capture your attention for 3 or 4 minutes. In fact, in its specifics it is unremarkable. Only the overall effect remains. All the tracks are sound collage.

For those not familiar with the sound of Autechre let me try to describe it. The music of Autechre evades description. This is not very helpful. In many respects Autechre's sound has developed into a kind of anti-music. There is often no melodic structure or harmony. It is pure sound collage where timbre is uppermost. But it is also a rhythm collage at the same time. But these rhythms may not be regular and the glitch or stutter is a common occurrence. If you know of the music of the German experimenters of the 1970s, Cluster, then this is very much like their early work in abstract sound but as done by two guys (as they are) who grew up listening to Electro and breakbeats. Indeed, I see much in common between a band like Cluster and a band like Autechre in that experimentalism is all. Its only context that is different. Autechre began in the 1980s when new electronic music technology had given musicmakers viable consumer level drum machines and synthesizers. This influenced what they could make in new ways, ways the 70s bands didn't have available. Autechre's first album, for example, was more melodic and regular and suited to its immediate musical context. But as they have gone on, now for almost 30 years, they have become more and more abstract... now almost to the point of noise at times. And they have continued using technology to create things that couldn't be done before.

It will be no surprise to regular readers of my blog or to listeners of my music that Autechre interest me. Making electronic sound collages is basically what I do myself so I feel some affinity to what they are doing. We are also pretty much the same age and from broadly the same area. So, in some senses, they are me and I am them. (Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada are around the same age as well. Maybe this is a generational thing.) This psychological reason to like them aside, what draws me into their music? I think it is the very fact of its abstraction. From its birth in experimentation without direction to the almost arbitrariness of the results (I refuse to believe they ever set out to give listeners specifically what they produce) to the fact that these tracks on an album are basically unrepeatable (I have no idea how you could notate or reproduce their music and even less idea why anyone would want to) everything about their music as a thought process seems open and directionless. Or random. This is music that is a blank page and provides room for thought. It also seems to be music without rules, electronic free jazz in which you go where you will, music that ignores what some people think should be done in favour of letting it go where it goes.

Autechre will never be "top of the pops". I suspect that's the last thing they would want to be and, in exchange, they have become a cult band. This aspect often annoys me. As with Aphex Twin, who to many is some kind of electronic god, it gets annoying when people come along and tell you that so and so are completely original and no one or nothing is like them. This betrays the speaker's lack of historical perspective for no one comes from a vacuum. When you hear Autechre's backstory it seems quite logical where they came from and why they make the music they do. I don't see them as unique. They are just a couple of guys with a similar background to other guys who do similar things. Without wanting to be brash, much of my music from this year could easily be confused for Autechre. If someone told you it was then nothing about it would give its origin away. The truth is that at any one time thousands if not millions of guys in their 30s and 40s are doing exactly the same as Autechre are doing and probably for much the same reasons. (And that's to forget the younger kids who are doing it too.) Autechre are just the guys you know about. The rest of us aren't. 

So what of Elseq 1-5? Its frenetic, abstract bricolage. Its a cavalcade of textures, timbres and moods. There are no "stand out tracks" because its not that kind of music and the vocabulary of pop is alien here. For me Autechre is about a mentality and this represents that mentality well. If you can tune into it it will be very rewarding. The thing is, with it being so "anti-music", as it were, many will get dissuaded from listening before they have chance to get into it. You cannot judge a 4 hour project on a 30 second listen though. To listen to Autechre you may have to throw off convention and unlearn what you have learnt about music from being spoon fed what those in the middle of the road want to serve up to you. (Thats my pretentious bit of the blog over.) If you can find a place inside you for listening to electronic sounds (dis)organised by two guys from England then this might be for you. I personally find it incredibly exciting. Each track is a journey with an unknown starting point and an unknown end point and I see that as a metaphor for life. I'm not too shy to say that this music represents for me various ideas I have about life in music - chaotic, random, varied. So to listen to this is, for me, to open up my mind to the possibility of falling into that as well.

You owe it to yourself to listen to Elseq 1-5 once even if you never do so again.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

What is Beauty?

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever seen me that I do not pay much attention (read "any attention") to how I look. So there is not really much chance that anyone is going to look at me one day and describe me as "beautiful". This is just not something that happens to someone who looks like a bag of spanners such as myself. In terms of personal appearance I have mostly been one of those who ignores the very concept. I see clothes as functional rather than fashion items, personal grooming is something I imagine you do if you own horses (and you do it to them and not yourself) and I basically never try to impress anyone with the way I look. I guess I have always found that very fake and superficial. My presumed attitude in life has been that if you aren't prepared to go on more than a subjective appreciation of how I look, on your own terms and not even mine, then, well, you don't deserve to know what goodies lurk underneath the surface, unseen.

Now it may be that one reason my life is in the hole it appears to be is exactly because I have taken this attitude to life! I am not unaware of this criticism or this conclusion. But to hell with it anyway. If one is going to have opinions or make choices then the least one can do is commit to them and be prepared to see them through to the end. I was never going to be anyone's idea of beautiful anyway. There is some self-confirmation going on somewhere in all that as people see the bag of spanners, ignore or dismiss me and, in so doing, confirm to me that the world is superficial and cruel. Of course, it was a set up because I never tried to impress anyone in the first place. We see the world we want to see.

And this is the first thing to say to the question "What is beauty?" Beauty is a faculty of the eyes, a seeing thing, that takes place in social and cultural contexts. Beauty does not, and cannot, occur in a vacuum. It is one of the qualities of appearance. We are schooled through life to judge, critically and subjectively, what is beautiful and what is not. As with all subjective opinions this means that nothing is inherently beautiful. It also means that anything can be regarded as beautiful if it meets someone's requirements for it. I am now listening to something I regard as a beautiful sound because although beauty starts with being about what we see it can be used metaphorically in other areas too. The same rules apply here as well. There is no inherently beautiful sound but every sound can be beautiful. You may question me and say what about those things that everyone seems to think is beautiful? I would describe these things as subject to a great deal of intersubjective agreement. Most people seem to like sunsets or pictures of mountains or the beach, for example. 

Of course, the subject of beauty can be both benign and also full of consequence. My thinking about beauty this week started when I saw a conversation between some people online where one of the people, to my eyes a stunningly beautiful young woman, was speaking to a friend about how she does not always like the pictures people take of her and this causes her stress. This upset me somewhat because, as I say, to my eyes this young woman appears sublimely beautiful. I imagine that most other people seeing her would agree. But perhaps she wouldn't agree herself. We have all read stories of people who become obsessed with their appearance and it becomes a matter of some psychological harm to them. We have read or heard of stories where people, often young women it seems, have surgeries or even mutilate themselves (and its a thin dividing line) in pursuit of some idea of physical beauty. Perhaps they decide they need larger breasts or something isn't the right shape or their skin is the wrong color. Perhaps they think that covering themselves in tattoos is where beauty is found. For them beauty is a definite idea they have in their head or something the culture they want to live up to is telling them they must be. I pity such people both for the stress they go through because of this and because they objectify the idea of beauty in such a way.

All this makes me think about landscapes which I often find beautiful and usually mysterious. Natural landscapes are the results of random events. No one, in the main, made them look that way. A mountain just is a mountain. A fake mountainscape, someone's idea of what a mountain should look like, would seem fake and false by comparison. But just to look at a set of mountains, as I have done in the Bavarian Alps, for example, is to be almost overawed by something mysterious and unexplainable. For me it was most overwhelming and almost philosophical in the force of its beauty exactly because no one had done this. It just was, natural, innocent. This speaks to me of the beauty of innocence which is very unlike this world of our's in which innocence is almost a crime. Beauty is something we think we can make from scratch. But its not. Real beauty is like a pool that needs to be left undisturbed and just regarded. The minute you disturb the pool, thinking you can make it better, is the moment innocence is lost and ripples from your activity destroy what was there.

So I do not find beauty in deliberation and affectation. This is not to say that with effort we cannot improve something's appearance. However, notions of better and worse appearance need not necessarily be anything to do with beauty at all. This is again affected by our cultural and social situations. Important to me is that beauty can be seen wherever someone will see it. I often look at pictures on Tumblrs of abandoned buildings. I find a strange beauty in them. It is not a beauty of cleanliness, of human effort and of perfection for, on one view, these places are a complete scrap heap, a mess. But I would find scrap heaps beautiful too. This tells me that beauty is not about perfection, something which is an idea and an ideal in any case. Any notion of perfection you could come up with would be rhetorical, a matter of debate and not fact. All ideas of beauty are challengeable. I do not even really think that "perfection" is a thing that exists when we talk about beauty in any case. I have always found the flawed more beautiful anyway. This accords with my "natural" principles and I suppose this is why I find those people who chase after beauty in themselves so disturbing. When we confuse beauty with perfection we can go to a very dark place.

The same is true when we apply beauty elsewhere. In thinking about all this I, of course, found need to express it musically. So I made an album called "Schönheit" which is German for "beauty" but can also be used as the quality of being beautiful. It contains what I regard as some beautiful sounds and rhythms. You may listen to it and find it a noisy, dissonant, off camber collection of songs with few redeeming features. But, as with all my music and with me myself, I am only existing musically for those who want to look underneath the surface. The form the music takes is almost there to make listeners choose. Are they going to look, unthinkingly, think they hear a certain thing, and then turn away without so much as questioning what they think they hear, or are they going to go beyond it and actually interrogate what they are hearing and their own ideas of what it is and why they are listening as they do? Beauty and attractiveness, as I have said a couple of times now, do not exist in a vacuum. These faculties can be taught and we can shape them, either deliberately or unconsciously. So beauty and attractiveness are not static things, givens, we can lead them on, we can push them in a direction we want them to go. My music is there as an aid to this and is part of some notional agenda in me to help create people who question themselves and why they think the ways they do. And maybe even realize they can change that and start to do something about it.

Beauty is a paradigm subject in this regard exactly because it is not a given. It is an award we give to things in regard to how we think they look or how we perceive them. You will know from previous blogs that I try very hard not to be a conventional person. Convention I regard with a barely disguised contempt in most senses. One of the reasons I don't like convention is because it is lazy. When it comes to beauty I would much rather question why I find something beautiful or not than just feel safe in my enculturated points of view. Beauty, it seems to me, is almost exactly a matter of what is under the surface yet is taken by most people to ONLY be the surface. Beauty is only skin deep, right? Well, no. Beauty is not a matter of what you are looking at. Its a matter of what you see. And they are two very different things. The thoughtful amongst my readers will ponder that difference. 

You can listen to my album "Schönheit", which ponders these ideas musically, HERE! 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Electronic Oddities.... the album!

The Electronic Oddities Podcast is a podcast I started to showcase various styles of electronic music. I started out with a mixed bag of stuff in each show and now I'm moving into a few themed shows. I intended from the start to do a run of 13 weekly shows and then to see how it had gone and reassess if it was working out or not. In future shows I hope to showcase synthpop, kosmische, noise, the urban dance of the 1980s and ambient music.

But now a new idea strikes me in thinking how to end the current run of shows in a few weeks time with most of the shows planned out in terms of theme if not fully in terms of content. That idea is to showcase an album of fresh, new electronic music made especially for the final podcast and heard there first.

My podcasts run to between 100-120 minutes and I don't really want to go over the 2 hour mark as this would then seem too long to most people (I am guessing). So in thinking about this album possibility that is my time limit for the totality of the music: 2 hours. So therefore if I was going to take submissions your idea for a 45 minute piece of abstract electronics is probably not going to fly. It simply wouldn't give other people a chance and would cut down on the number of different pieces I could accept.

So, to think about it more explicitly, it would seem there need to be a few rules:

1. I make an ELECTRONIC MUSIC podcast. So pieces must be expressly electronic and in a recognizable electronic style. I'm the judge of if your piece fits this criteria. (So no country, rock or acoustic. But anything from a noise wall to psychedelic weirdness to dance beats is fine. As well as anything else electronic.)

2. Pieces must be no longer than 10 minutes long but can be any length shorter than that.

3. The piece remains your property as do the rights to it. I just ask that before you release it yourself you allow me to play it on my 13th and final podcast of this series. That will be on July 1st. Thereafter you can publish it or do whatever you want with it. Its yours, after all. 

4. First come, first served and I reserve the right to politely turn down your submission in my desire to get as wide a variety of music as possible. I wouldn't want one style to dominate what I hope to be a varied showcase of new and current electronic music. So a rejection wouldn't mean I don't like your track. It would mean on this occasion it doesn't suit my very specific purposes. So don't take it personally.

5. Contact for this project will be done through Twitter. My name there is @Absurd13t so please direct any questions to me there.

6. All songs must be in to me by June 15th 2016. If I haven't got it by then, regardless of reason, it won't be included in the podcast. No exceptions. ALL SUBMISSIONS TO BE IN WAV FORMAT ONLY PLEASE.

7. If you intend to do a track please let me know so I can begin to map out the podcast in my head. It will also stop you wasting your time if I already have 25 submissions.

So that's all I can think of regarding this right now. If you want to be included please let me know. And maybe remember that the show is called the Electronic Oddities Podcast as you create.

Thanks for reading.

You can hear the Electronic Oddities Podcast at  

Music Taste is Irrational!

If you had known me back in 2008 you would have met a different person to the man I am today. Back then, I worked a day job but at night I had a different employment for I was also a DJ. I specialized in parties and so I was expected to play the music of the mainstream... or "dance mixes" of the same music. I played a lot of what was (and might still be) called "Funky House". Even now, in some barely touched archive, I have about 160 mixes of music that I recorded from those times. Nearly every single one of those mixes, which I made live, is at 128 beats per minute, the sweet spot for dance music if you play House Music. Every one of the mixes is an incessant "four to the floor" beat from start to finish. Most of the tracks played appear to be made in computers and use computer instruments. (You can usually tell this if the sounds made seem to be things you couldn't easily play but would be easy to draw on a computer screen in some program.) I find it almost impossible to listen to any of these mixes today. The music seems cheesy and the mixes are monotonous. I ask myself, sometimes, how I ever could have listened to it at all. But when you are a DJ you have to give the people what they want or you don't last very long. Its a scenario which breeds monotony as people want the same thing and the same style repeated every time. I would go to the same Army camp, for example, and play pretty much the same tracks every month. Its what they wanted and that's what got me the gig and the money for doing it.  

Two things happened to me last night. One, I was asked by someone to review an album they had just released so I sent a message asking them to give me a few days. I then listened to it. Two, I was followed by someone on Twitter and I clicked the link to their album in their bio and listened to it as well. The first album, the one I'd been asked to review, I completely disliked. But, nevertheless, its the reason I am writing this blog. The music was samey and formulaic. It couldn't have been more written to a template if it had been written by a robot according to programming. The formula was to start the track with a bit of speech, preferably from "the hood" and spoken by someone of black origin (the album nominally fuses rap with noise, a prospect I was actually looking forward to as something different), before segueing unceremoniously into a number of minutes of harsh noise or what is known in the noise genre of music as a "noise wall". Every track was like this and there was no variation. If you had listened to one track then you had listened to them all. This lack of variation disappointed me but I suppose the composer or composers of the album find it to be a formula they like. And that's their business not mine. 

The second album, the one I idly clicked on the link to, was altogether different. It was what I would describe as "Indie pop electronics" which probably isn't a genre but is my description for what I heard. This music was varied and interesting and I listened to every sound from start to finish. I even tweeted the person concerned who had followed me in the first place to let them know I was enjoying their album (without reply). The music of this second album allowed me to dream as I lay there in the fading light of a Spring evening and think about the sounds I was hearing and how they fit together. The music was somewhat enchanting. This was much in distinction to the album I had been asked to listen to which closed down my imagination and made me wonder why anyone would make music like this at all. Its worth saying at this point that, in both cases, I had started listening with an open mind and without any preconceptions. This is a necessary skill, not least in my DJ background, as you will often be required to listen to things you don't like. I did so here.

So what's the point of mentioning all of this? Well, firstly, I was asked to review an album, the first one mentioned here, and so I wanted to do that as asked. But, having listened to it, I knew that I had a problem. I don't like the album, as should be clear by now, and so there was and is no way I could say that I do or, in weasel words, have mealy-mouthed things to say about it to cover over this fact. So, secondly, I needed an angle if I was going to write about this album at all. We are in the fourth paragraph of this blog already and I'm not entirely sure what this angle is yet. Hopefully, I find one before the end of the blog. However, I must admit that I've clicked on a few of my old DJ mixes from 8 years ago and the monotonous beat isn't doing so much for my mood!

But then its Baby D to the rescue! It seems I mixed in one or two good tracks amidst the constant dance megamixes! (The track is "So Pure" if you're interested.) So let's talk a little about musical taste. This is surely not a static thing either from person to person or within one person from time to time. A lot of the tracks I played 8-10 years ago I actually liked back then but now you couldn't force me to listen to them. I've moved on whereas they have stayed the same. They could not travel with me. You may have a similar story to tell about some style of music or group of tracks. But what is "musical taste" in the first place? I want to argue that it is irrational and cannot be explained in terms of reason or rationality. Why do you like something? You might be able to give a retrospective reason or follow a thought process which justifies your liking something after the fact. But you can't say that this reasoning occurred prior to you liking the thing. "Why" you like the thing is altogether more mysterious than this. It has to do with a number of things too. Your identity at that point in time, how you came across it and in what connection are certainly part of these things, as is how easily you are pressured into liking something in the first place. You may be a relatively easy-going person or a person with a very strong and defined sense of what is likeable or not.

Notice here that I am not using a vocabulary of good or bad. Indeed, I'm consciously avoiding it. There is no such thing as good or bad music. There is just sound. When you say something is good or bad all you mean is that you like it or you don't. It is your own personal and non-transferable stamp of approval or disapproval. So, therefore, whilst I can say that the album of "rap noise" that I heard did not find my own personal stamp of approval I cannot say it is either good or bad. I can talk about it (as I have above) and say what I liked or did not like about it but this never transfers into a binding description of it. I can't even tell you that if I listen to it again next week that I won't, at that time and place, then decide I like it! This phenomenon sometimes occurs with my own music. I make my music quite fast and in an improvised way. Often (very often) its a matter of snap judgments and I never really know if I like the finished piece because I haven't really had the chance to sit back and make that decision. Its only in the following days and weeks, when I do that sitting back and listening, that I can then hear what I have actually made in context. It is only then that I come to appreciate the sonic relationships between the things I recorded. Or not.

So I think that music taste is both irrational (or emotional) and personal. Its not anything anyone should get too over-excited about in terms of its importance. People like stuff and they don't. This is subject to change from person to person and from time to time. This is all fine. No need to call the Culture Cops or the Music Police. If you want to make or listen to songs that are a portion of rap and then 8 minutes of harsh noise then do it. I wish you well with it because I think that the vital thing in music and culture is variety. Ironically, to my mind, this is variety even where all the songs on the album are the same. Yes, its true I would see more scope for variation in the particular album I'm talking about here. (I still think that a more varied mash up of rap and noise would be a great idea for an album.) I make electronic albums with sound and noise too. But I need my sounds and noise to be more varied and more subtle. This binds no one else to do the same. Its just my personal choice. But, taking an overall view, it is good that this rap noise album exists. It offers another choice and its one that someone else may like. All tastes are equal so that's fair enough. There is no overarching catalog of tastes which ranks some as better and others as worse and neither is the democracy of the public a binding guide either. Because some song is Number 1 does not make it good or bind you to like it. 

I imagine that this was not the kind of album review that I was being asked for and, I have to say, its true that I used to do album reviews on a previous blog but stopped doing them because one over-sensitive soul took my honest review of his work very personally and decided I had slated his work when, in fact, all I had done was said what I liked and disliked about it (liking it overall). But there is no point doing a review unless it is honest. Like Aslan, I am not a tame lion. And this is not the music press here. I'm not here to show you what a pretentious writer I am and pontificate about what "great taste" I have using all the twirly prose I can muster. Indeed, if you've read this far you know that I think the concept "great taste" would make zero sense. There is just taste, a sense we all have, for very complicated reasons, of what we all each like and don't like. That's all it is and that's as far as it goes. All I can say about taste is that you should push the boundaries of yours and see how far they can stretch. I guarantee you will surprise yourself and these little surprises are what keep life interesting. (I've now hit some of my old mixes that are more underground and I'm tapping my toes!) For me music and culture is a matter of variety, of nuance and of bricolage. Sticking to one thing and repeating it would be the only "sin of taste" that I could criticize. 

For reference I will give you the details of the two albums I mentioned here:

The album I didn't like and was asked to review was "For Tha Dead Homiez" by Hood Cannibal on Harsh Noise Movement Records and can be heard HERE! 

The album I did like was "The Diet For Life (Eat Less)" by Z Lovecraft Presents DJ Thigh Gap and it can be heard HERE! 

Of course, my personal opinions are absolutely not relevant for you since your tastes will be completely different to mine. This is just one reason I think reviews are largely useless, a tool for the lazy based on some supposed authority or honor you give to the person giving the review. But I've never yet come across a reviewer who I admire so much that I give him or her the position of deciding what I will like. And neither should you!

PS As I finish up this blog I'm listening to a dance remix of Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby"!!

PPS Since writing the blog I've received the following communication from Harsh Noise Movement Records which I quote word for word for sake of completeness: "Glad you like it! "... Dead Homiez" is a Harsh Noise album not a crossover. Its rap theme is purely a piss take. Nothing more."

Monday, 2 May 2016

Embracing Randomness

Music and Life are two different things. But in many ways I find them to be intertwined. Perhaps this is just me. I think something about life or I concentrate on the tortuous path of my own and music seems to either mirror that or come to be the means through which I express or interpret it. I make electronic music so perhaps this is natural. Something which always attracts my focus, and about which I have written before, is randomness. I am still convinced that many people find randomness threatening and devaluing of things (because they need an "author" and have an authorial view of the world). And I am still equally convinced that such thinking makes no sense and is stuck in its ways, unable to see that there are other ways of seeing. Of course, we all have our truth and we all see the way we cannot help seeing. We have each lived specific lives which lead to specific beliefs. But some of us, hopefuly most of us, realise that these things are not a must but just the contingent ways our own lives have worked out. We recognize that others have lived different lives and see things differently because of that.

There are many ideologies in the world today and many are not pretty. They are authoritarian and harsh. They tell us that things must be a certain way and often include compulsion in things or in us to make this so. People like to impose things on the world and say "So it must be!" I try not to be one of these people for I do not think that the world is a certain way and I have no interest in imposing anything on it. I think that the world just is, that it has motors of its own that cause it to keep rolling along, and that we are, at best, tangential to these facts. Human beings are creatures who are constantly over-egging their own importance in a universe in which, to be blunt, we aren't important at all. Our world and even the universe itself did not need human beings or their made up gods to come to be and to be as they are. We are in meaningful senses just one more cosmic accident and, it is not unforeseeable, yet more cosmic accidents will take us away as easily as they created us.

A person who thinks this way, or, at least, this person who thinks this way, can't then, I think, think in too strict terms. People's art comes from their appreciation of life and so, in music, similar thoughts tend to prevail. And yet, from time to time, I still wonder what others find threatening in randomness. In my music I have, many times, come across the notion that I have become set in my ways. I am, so I say to myself, once more just doing the same thing over and over again. I am using the same tool or the same sounds or the same process. And this bothers me. I feel that such things, when they happen, are constricting limitations in a world full of possibilities - if only I could think of them. Randomness is, in some sense, infinite possibility. I am often frustrated with myself because I will have some tool and use about 5% of its possibilties before discarding it. We are, as people, creatures of habit, as William James said, and it is easy to slip into habits and rely on them as safety nets. But I want to scream out loud that the world is not a place to be safe in. To be truly alive is to always be on the edge of disaster, to feel that there is something to lose.

Randomness has a bad reputation. When people think of randomness, and I speak musically now for a moment, they think of a random mess or incomprehensible noise. Randomness certainly can be this. It is random, after all. But take a step back and consider the following pictures. 

These landscape scenes were, in genuine ways, created at random. Certainly, no intelligence was behind their creation. (Theists may disagree.) We may say, in creative terms, that no creator created them. But I'd be willing to gamble that most of my readers, if not all of them, find these scenes stunningly beautiful. This should then act upon your thinking to question your notion of what the results of randomness can be. Things can be stunningly beautiful and inspirational at random without the hand of what some regard as a necessary author to give things meaning or beauty or importance. Indeed, I might go further and suggest that it is ONLY the random things that can truly do this. Such things are detached from others and we can get lost in what is before us without the static of who did what and why. No one created those landscapes. They just came to be. All by themselves, prey to the unthinking hands of a million random forces. It is a mystery why we find such things beautiful and I certainly cannot explain it. But that doesn't change the fact that we do.

Can randomness in music be approached the same way? I think so. For while there is no inherent beauty in the landscape scenes and it is a useful mystery as to why we find them beautiful, we know that we do find them beautiful. The same can be said of looking at the stars in the sky and many other things. If you ask yourself the question "Why is something beautiful?" it becomes very hard to explain it in terms of something deliberately done. It becomes easier to explain it in terms of "Things have just worked out that way". Randomness, and an appreciation for it, I think, helps us to do this. It is in letting go that we find ourselves more at peace and more at one with all the other things. Wanting control and to be in charge is, certainly for some purposes, a necessary and useful thing. But I don't think it is when being creative or wanting to understand things. You have to be able to let go and let things fall where they may. Musicians of all kinds speak of the good fortune of "happy accidents". I think this is a recognition that not always being in control and saying how things should be is a good thing. Put simply, the wonder is not our's to command and the ability to control doesn't mean that control is where it's at. Control is but a tool, one to be used in the knowledge that we are very limited creatures. It is human to remember that so much is beyond us - and should be!

My Electronic Oddities Podcast for this Friday (6th May) is to be about music made only with modular synthesizers. Some, if not much, of this will incorporate randomness. Indeed, in most modular synthesizer formats randomness has been embraced as a principle and there are various modules whose sole purpose is to provide random voltages or to randomize sound. These ideas please me even as those landscape pictures above do. They put right in the middle of music made this way that I AM NOT GOING TO BE IN CONTROL OF IT. I think this is a good thing and it reminds us of our place in the order of things. We are not controllers, we are just more things that came to be, things that can create and see beauty in things. I think the more that we repeat this to ourselves the better people we will be. 

I reject the modern notion that we can be in charge of everything and create the universe we want rather than the one we got and are constantly in receipt of. I see the notion that we should take charge, in its grandest sense, as a striving to be gods. But we are not gods. We can only become less human by wanting to be them. Randomness and, to some extent, the abstraction that often goes with it, is a reminder to me that things are fine just how they are, however they work out. We should be at peace with that if we can be. We are not gods. We should be content to find beauty in things, even things like pain, misery and finitude, for this is a random gift of our existence too. These were our lots, the things randomness assigned us. And we are not so poor after all if we can see things as they appear to us not as things that someone deliberately made for us but as things that just are. This is an anti-authorial view of the world and also an anti-authoritarian view. It is one in which we recognze that life is flowing past us and through us all the time. It is not fixed. It just is, constantly flowing. I like music that mimics and represents this. It is like a therapeutic reflection of life, the stream of consciousness that we all are. 

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Artist Interview: Scott Lawlor

Scott Lawlor is an artist I have been aware of for about a year. He is active both as a listener and collator of other people's music on his blog and associated podcast, The Blind Flight, (which has archives going back 3 years but has a longer history as an Internet radio show) and as a composer in his own right. Scott is a noisemaker and specializes in drone, noise and ambience. His projects can be of prodigious length (tracks of 45 minutes are not unknown nor projects that run to several hours) but this doesn't seem to bother Scott at all. I admire his commitment to what he is doing. Recently Scott submitted a track to one of my own projects and I said the piece needed to be between 20 and 25 minutes. When I received Scott's submission I chuckled as it was exactly 25 minutes in length. I felt like Scott had had to limit himself to do that! What follows is a brief interview with Scott about his music and his influences.

1. Please explain your musical history and how you come to be making music?

When I was in graduate school in 1990, I went to a local music store and purchased my first synthesizer, the Ensoniq SQ1, and after playing around with it for a while, and with some help from a friend who taught me some of the layout, I began to realize that I put sounds together much better than words. Up to that point, my ambition was to be a novelist but getting that first synthesizer was a life changing event for me.

2. What influences your music-making, both in terms of musical influences and in the tools you use?

My influences are quite varied from the instrumental music of Suzanne Ciani, who influenced a lot of my early compositions in the 90's which were more new-age in style, to people like Robert Rich and Steve Roach, who were very influential in my first explorations into space music. I am also influenced, to a large degree, by the music of John Zorn, especially in my more experimental and some of the organ works.  Merzbow is also an influence when it comes to my more recent noise concepts and then, to round it all off, there are classical composers like Chopin, Debussy and Messean who have been inspirations in a lot of my live playing.

The tools I use are pretty simple, just a Roland FA-08 (which I got in 2014, before that, it was the Ensoniq TS12) and a computer with recording software and some plugins

3. Your music is quite long, I've noticed. Is this deliberate? 

It depends on what it is I'm composing but in the beginning, when I seriously started composing ambient music around 2013, a lot of my works were longer in nature but as time went on, I tried writing tracks that were shorter.  Even when I'm playing live and I'm going for a longer track, I have to always be doing something active because my attention wanders and I can become easily bored.  That's also a motivator in trying different styles like dark ambient, ethereal ambient, space music, noise and some more experimental atonal material as well.

4. How do you form a musical idea? What is your process when working on a project?

A lot of more recent ideas are albums inspired by literature or articles from the Internet.  The collaborative works with Rebekkah Hilgraves on the Aural Films label are examples of such works whereas the Divina Commedia series with Jack Hertz was inspired by the work of Dante.

Sometimes, the inspiration of a piece of literature doesn't occur until after I've written the album and am listening to the playback. The Dark Descent and up to Reascend is such an example, and though, musically it's inspired by the early work of Pink Floyd, upon listening to the final draft, I discovered that it fit the narrative of Paradise Lost very well.

Since coming up with titles is not something I'm good at myself, I'll just start browsing the net while I'm listening to a track and find a phrase that seems to fit the mood of the piece at the time of listening.

With a lot of collaborations, I'll send someone a drone and then that person will add layers to it or the reverse will happen, at which point, we'll talk about titles and artwork and schedule the project for release.

5. If you could pick 3 musicmakers to learn from who would they be and why?

John Zorn because he also plays in a variety of styles from jazz to avant garde to classical.  I have always admired his ability to jump from one style to another and not to conform to the establishment.  If you haven't heard any of his interviews, try to find them, they are a fascinating listen.

I'd like to explore more noise music and learn from different people in the genre, not just about what equipment they use but production techniques and how they come to conceptualize the work that they do.

6. What musical ambitions do you have in the future?

An ultimate dream would be to be able to play at the drone not drones 28 hour event in Minnesota some day or actually jam with ambient musicians in a collaboration effort.  Oh yeah, I'd like to play a real pipe organ as well.  I love the sound of the organ and since I don't feel that the instrument is represented very well in ambient. I've made it one of my missions to change that.

Thanks to Scott for providing the interview. You can find his music on Bandcamp at and his podcast and blog at He is on Twitter @sklawlor

His track for my new project Silent Screams can be found HERE!