I find my live performances, which is the kind of music I most enjoy, difficult to record or document in only sound. A lot of the performance is lost. My movements, even if considered as only affecting directional sound, can often affect the sound. If we ignore the visual aspect of my performance, seeing (if not understanding) what I am doing, there is still a difference. Everyone is in a different spot, I mix electronic (coming from the PA) with acoustic sounds, and often (as in this recording) combine these with small speakers. An audience member’s physical relation to this and to me will change their experience.
And then there are limitations inherent in recordings. Psychoacoustic effects that normally compensate for room acoustics don’t work on recordings. The positioning of the (often fairly simple) recorder is usually ad hoc and improvised. And since the music is, too, there is no option of checking the results apart from looking at the meters in the beginning and hoping I don’t clip (I always do).
Add to this the social aspect, I play in the evening, in a fun (usually) environment. People come with friends, have a few drinks. They see my vibes (happy, concentrated, cathartic, exhausted), and this can’t be separated from the sounds they hear.
Or, can they? At least if some version of the sound of the performance is recorded (as for this gig), we have a separate sound-only artefact. And previously I have thought of these as inferior versions of the gig, lacking in many ways. Some parts of my performances are too quiet to properly hear in a recording. Some are very loud and clip. If I want to be accurate when mastering such a recording, it will not work out. The quiet bits are often dependent on visual cues, which of course are gone. The loud bits might be loud, but not played back as loud, and not with a PA that has some capacity to excite material and bodies.
So, after coming back from my lovely Central European tour, I had this fantastic gig at Rello il Torrefattore in Brno still fresh in memory. I had a recording, and I wanted to share it somehow. But. Parts were too quiet. Too loud. Too weird. This is not the first time, and what usually happens is that I give up and archive the recording.
This time, I decided to not be accurate, but to re-interpret the music, and master the tracks individually so as to present some aspect of the sound as is. Instead of archiving them because some important aspect were missing, I would think of what was still there—or, perhaps more accurately, what was there instead.
Not to use it as a raw material for something else, or for “manipulation”, but to try and present the performance as honestly as possible without ruining it with “authenticity”. I would be more liberal in altering frequency content and shifting dynamics. Seeing as the live experience is lost, I would try to make something else from it, that re-creates not the live performance, but the recording of it. To be authentic to what I had then, at home, on my computer.
I would also treat the different pieces separately, rather than make one setting for all the tracks. This might seem basic, but my earlier desire for authenticity made me do things this way for a long time. As you will hear, the pieces are very different, and one setting would absolutely not fit them all.
One thing I did not want to do, though, was to make any edits to the timeline. I wouldn’t reorder or remove breaks between the pieces. I even decided to keep the interval, which consisted of my dictaphone playing a mixture of cut-up field recordings and other bits (some material on the microcassette was still left from my 2020 release dictaphone palimpsest, winter 19-20). Editing the timing or such would feel to much like retouching my performance. Although I’ve polished the sound, this is still it, warts and all.
Apart from this, you can hear the audience talking (in Czech, I’ve no idea what they are saying), but I want to stress that I didn’t decide to do this as a way to recreate the experience of going to a performance. The interval was part of the performance. In a sort of nested feedback loop of irony, it was a short performance of acousmatic music, indeed largely consisting of slowed-down or sped-up (and cut up) field recordings, on a noisy tape medium. Very 1950s Paris. But my recording of it is itself a sort of field recording, where people talking and walking, a door opening and closing, the sound of plates, are captured alongside the sounds of my microcassette (alas, onto a digital Tascam and not cassette). And now this field recording of the interval is being released as digital files and a small run of regular-size cassette tapes. I can’t make heads or tails of it, but I like it. I like feedback and recursion.
The term acousmatic music is based on Pythagoras’ mode of presenting his ideas: standing behind a veil to enhance his followers’ concentration and remove distractions. To have his voice alone instruct them, without gesture or face.
The veil in acousmatic music is the loudspeakers. The dislocation of sound from its natural environment into the listening situation using recording technology and amplification. A move from the physical into the mental, at least that seems to be the view of practitioners of acousmatic music. And as we all know, in our current philosophy, mental is good and high, physical bad and low.
One day, as a reaction, I realised that my live performances could be described with a removed a- prefix, as the visual aspect is critical to a full understanding of the music. I looked the etymology for acousmatic up, and the a- in the beginning is not actually a negating prefix. I think it was at this point the idea was elevated from theory to joke. I never went anywhere with the term, But it was fun and somewhat descriptive, perhaps a bit of a poke at composers who take themselves too seriously. I would mention it in conversation at times but no more than that.
It’s somewhat ironic that this text, about the difficulty of capturing live performances and a tongue-in-cheek jibe at acousmatic music, is occasioned by a release and decision and approach that validates it. My decision to master the music more actively, with distortion, compression, dynamic eq and such—to bring out what I like in the recording—shows that I no longer view it as a documentation of a performance. That I view the recording as something else, that can’t capture or function as the performance, is in line with acousmatic music theory. But then again, if acousmatic music does exist, so must also cousmatic music. The performance was what it was, and you won’t get that from this release. Putting out a recording can’t change that what it records. It’s something else. The sounds were indeed changed when recorded and played back.
Perhaps the point of the term cousmatic music is this: live is better than recorded.
My thanks to Ondrej Merta, Rello il Torrefattore and Bastl Instruments.
Making drones is easy. Perhaps too easy. Is making good drones easy? I’m not so sure. I sometimes think drone music is the kind where you only listen to and like yours, and never listen to others. But that’s not true, I have a few classics I return to (Folke Rabe’s VA for instance, or any droney things by Alvin Lucier) apart from often listening to my own drones to relax/travel/study (is there a genre of drone study music on Youtube? There’s a career). Then I imagine it’s like noise music, it works live but not in recordings. But I listen to Dror Feiler’s The Return of the Real a fair bit, although much more circa ten years ago than now. But also in-between noise tracks by Primitive Man. So not that either. But somehow I have an aversion to making drones, because I sense that it’s too easy somehow. This might sound like bragging and I guess in some ways it is, but that’s not my point. My point is that in some ways, drone music holds very little emotional import for me. I don’t care so much. It is perhaps a kind of music that doesn’t have great potential for emotional depth. It could still sound extremely fat and heavy live, and be visceral and so turn emotional via raw physical impact. Much like noise music. Noise music is more difficult, for me, because for me noise is live music. Improvised. And I have ways of making that very difficult indeed for myself. Drone music is studio music (for me), so there is less emotion (for me) as I’m not wrecking myself or stuff in a room full of people, but neatly and thoroughly (not very) affecting some sort of sound generator in a safe environment and then pressing record. Working with feedback to make self-changing sounds does make things somewhat more difficult and (so) interesting, but the danger isn’t there.
I guess I have little respect for drone music. It’s too often ambient and soothing, and I don’t have much respect for that either. Sorry. People who only make drones are missing out. Around ten years ago I was very into drone music, but it gold old pretty fast. Held notes don’t hold as much excitement as ones that change, but notes that change at a reasonably slow rate hold the least. It should be either or.
I have releases drones before and I am releasing drones now. I made them last week (on different days) and I think they’re good. But initially I mixed them, deleted the bad ones, cut them to length, etc, and then I was unsure what to do with them. So I started thinking about what a good drone is and why I have issues with (making and releasing) drone music. In some ways this very issue makes things more interesting/difficult for me, so the problem is the solution to itself. And after all art should create rather than solve problems (or questions). I was about to release it under my alias Dronewright, but I don’t actually like it. I realise now it’s just a handle I got when I was still actively using Soundcloud and ran out of space (I also have a /dronewright2). So I’m ditching that name and releasing these drones under my own name, as I have before with Still Lives, (released as Max Wainwright in 2015), and more recently in 2022 the release Bas under my alias ISO668. That one is sort of an edge case as it’s arguably just very monotonous and generative “dance” “music”, but it has some drone qualities, especially the second track with is mangled to hell.
There is already so much drone in the world, and making more is easy. We live in a post-scarcity world when it comes to drone and in particular ambient music. But that is hardly my fault and shouldn’t stop me from enjoying a long tone every now and then.
I’m going to take drone seriously, but also take care to not release too much of the stuff or start taking myself more seriously than what is suitable (pretend I understand some Artist Secret and squint into the distance), or start a drone society or something like that.
(Note: I wrote this text for the yet-to-be-released pifbook synthesizer, but recenty revisited it and found that it applies pretty well to me, still. I began writing it in the summer of 2019, and finished it in december 2019. An ominous month.) My life has changed a lot (and also not at all) since, but the fact that I still find this relevant should tell me something. Move north already!, for instance.)
thinking about how to perform solo
playing with John, I hav someone to misunderstand, understand, to foil my plans, whom I can ignore. To reciprocate.
There has been a lot of talk about playing with systems and improvising with active instruments, bouncing off surprises. this misses the social function of improvising. perhaps it's also why i don't record things even though i sttill think i want to. there's a lack of urgency and meaning to t. i test: check that there is sound.
the performance in newcastle at the old police house was recorded and is available on demand from n-aut. also on it are mythogeosonics. I haven't heard it yet but I'm sure it works. it works because I don't have to accept it, judge. neither does John. It's a reality and set apart from me entirely.
(email email@example.com to get a copy; no cost)
anyway. improvising. ation, action. this text is also improvised, rather aptly written on an ebook reader. it is very cumbersome and slow but i have no other writing tools. i am on a train headed north, nearing sweden's middle. nxt week I will go almost all the way up, to Padjelanta national park, which contains Sweden's pole of inaccessibility. Part of me wants to stay gone. sick of scenes and selling myself, marketing. I'm decent/good at a lot of stuff but really good at doing what John and I do. ( can I even do it alone?)
feel that it's only worth doing real things but the opportunities are few. so I work while others pretend-work on "pieces" and update their instagrams. this is part of why I want to leave things. people.
but even if I leave they remain, ignorant. they are also the reason to perform. I don't perform for my own sake. It is a form of meeting.
leaving impressions. physical in floors and ears social in people and me. my rucksacks spent the tourtryigto (torturing; tourture) t o u r trying to k i l l me. putting them on felt more like putting me in them; strapping in not on. the bags wrote on me.
in the end I survived, leaving more than I brought. burned speakers and so on. tthis is also a way forward, leaving things, backward things. burnnf speakers. not to become virtual and high tech (which always means on-grid; discrete; bounded), rather: real, social, low. most of what I brought wasn't used or even related to the performances. I could tour with so little, plus John. small pack list
this doesn't cover it. also it doesn't cover the workshops which cover the costs. plus quick-drying clothes to cover myself. but not too much, I get hot. from carrying it, wearing them, wearing it: strapping in. our (JR and I) tendency to bring our own amplification is worrying in this regard, but somehow essential. perhaps decent PAs have become too cheap and good, too clean, anodyne. Class D does this and likewise makes what it leads to (Class DIY sound systems (coined it)) at all possible.
More than a week later. (written on my decade old laptop). I went to the festival, which was full of dirty children running around with their parents phone numbers permanent markered onto their arms, folk musik, strange mixtures of people. Dancing to music I didn’t particularly like, lots of political and environmental activists, a Northern DIY spirit, just being in and with a weird crowd was strange. I’m used to being weird and noisy and not seen in particular. Seeing musicians in front of crowds who really liked them, even if they’d never heard of them before. Reaching out. Started feeling that I really need to change something in my life, not just work at a dead-end job and occasionally do fun things (tours). Fuck. Soul-searching. Went for few swims. Did I mention that the festival was in a beautiful place? I don’t live in a beautiful place.
So. Having that, not the expected alienation of being in the middle of nowhere. After this I went further north (much further north) to hike for five days in the wilderness with my partner and her dad. No signal. No electricity. No buildings (except a few huts). Tent, camping stove, lots of walking, talking, thinking, birds. I am now back in what goes by the name of civilisation. Right now it seems like trash. I can’t leave it.
Weeks later. 100% back to normal life. Seems like things I do (tour, make instruments, work) are basically immoral. Deciding for now to keep doing them, perhaps until my career fails and I become an arborist, or until it takes off enough for me to be able to act morally. Haven’t changed anything, but today I think I did begin, somehow. Really looking forward to quitting my job. So-called civilisation still seems like trash to me, still can’t leave it. Existence does seem fairly hopeless, still. Going to punk or doom gigs cheers me up, reminds me that there are decent people around. Then I cycle to work among the Car Commuters and fantasise about wielding some medieval instrument upon them from my road bike such as a lance or spear. I’m also partial to maces, clubs and other skull-crushing implements. I digress.
A few weeks more have passed. I’ve travelled, performed with John, met people. I saw Prague. Prague is fun. On the tram, walking to it, early Monday morning, I saw that cities are trash. I must leave them.
Malmö isn’t beautiful, but there are a few small green spots on the way to my workshop. Today is a grey, wet day with wet leaves of different colours on the trees, on the ground, in heaps and clumps. The air is wet and grey. I saw a wren. It seemed important. What I do, try to do, seems insignificant. I would like to have more time to watch birds, listen to drops of water. I just took a break from writing to make a paper cone, for directing sound. I enjoy using my hands and mind, cutting, drilling, sawing; programming, CAD work. Trying to automate/generate sounds and control, to flummox myself, has lead me to do these things, to became an amateur embedded programmer, designer, assembly line worker. To make things that play me. Is it leading somewhere? The cone was either unsuccessful, or this room has only ambience to listen to. I need to get out
I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Tech art is great but I prefer wrens and leaves, geese flying overhead at night. I think using medieval weapons isn’t the solution. There must be other ways.
Without having any facts on the political leanings of “artists” aside, I think most people would agree that they tend to be left wing. This doesn’t say much about their commitment, style of left-wing politics, knowledge, or indeed about the truth of the belief, but it’s my assumption for this text. Also, I will note that parties to the left are generally more in favour of arts funding, and that right wing parties are generally less enthusiastic. Granted, this applies to funding for basically everything, with perhaps the exception of the military (I’m not sure even police forces and the legal system applies—see the current UK Tory party for an example of defunding basically everything apart from Royal stuff and useless aircraft carriers, or the US (shudders)). And, to the extent that this divide stretches to views on universitites (universities in general aren’t really under attack (yet) in Sweden) the same tendency can be seen.
In Sweden, when students make controversial art projects that become media scandals, it’s generally right wingers who want to abolish Konstfack similar institutions. Some anti-intellectual left-wingers, or just those who want to seem more like Real Workers hang on, of course. Konstfack is the most famous arts university in Sweden, and has become a byword for artists who break (or rather: don’t respect) the law, “my kids could draw that”-stupidity etc., even though it also trains arts and crafts teachers, graphic designers, interior architects, industrial design and other less controversial things.
So. Left-wing people are generally in favour of arts educations and funding them. Right wingers think it’s just a bunch of destructive narcissists who live off the Tax Payers’ hard-earned money. Some recent things made me wonder: why?
The first thing is NFTs. I don’t want to make this longer than necesary, because the subject doesn’t deserve it. I believe it’s a scam, environmentally criminal, incredibly idiotic, not new in any meaningful way except that it is unbelievably awful, you couldn’t make it up (except that it is made up). It’s a way of monetizing information, right now presented as a way of collecting art—ish, you can also collect gifs and tweets, which aren’t generally thought of as art. But: moving and still images, sound. Art. Being a scam (a pyramid scheme) from the outset, the idea is that the tulips accrue value, of course without guarantees. But the gold-rush vibe lead people to assume they will, it appears (like a pyramid scheme should). So, not funding or just buying art, but investing in art.
The second thing that happened is more fun and interesting: a Norwegian art dealer has been accused of fraud, and the police has entered his gallery and seized paintings. The reason: he sold paintings attributed to a made-up artist, resident in Berlin. Importantly, this artist apparently has a brilliant CV. The real artist is the dealer himself, who has painted under the name for 20 years (!), and sold paintings for tens of thousands of NOK (thousands of Euros). Note that the artist “Werner Jensen” doesn’t exist, this isn’t a case of forgery but a pseudonym. But, the buyers thought that Jensen had (guessing here) had shows at prestigious galleries, studied at fancy universities, etc. Whereas in reality it was just an art dealer who enjoyed painting (I really hope he enjoyed his 20 years) and sold his paintings under a fake name.
We can compare with a fictional faked CV. Someone hires an electrician to redo the wiring in an old house. The electrician isn’t actually trained, just a hack who’s replaced a few broken sockets. The wiring is faulty, the bulding burns to the ground. Luckily the inhabitants escape! They had a fire alarm. This electrician would go to prison. They lied about their qualifications. So did the art dealer! The poor swindled fools who payed 2 or 3 months of salary for paintings can’t appreciate them anymore, because … why? They look the same. The crime is the CV, which everyone agrees on is self-evidently fradulent. The paintings weren’t made by a succesful artist with an education.
Probably, some buyers liked how their paintings look. Others just use them as interior decoration in their horrible 20-million NOK villas—let’t not forget who the victims are here: people who buy paintings for 4000 euros. But people also paid 4000 euros because they thought the paintings were worth it. The use-value of painting is … if it’s oil-based it should be a decent fire starter, I guess. Their market value is only determined by what people want to pay—4000 euros—it is nearly completely detached from anything “real”.
And for some reason a CV made people buy paintings (I’d love to read it). This stands to reason if they bought them as investments; they wouldn’t want to buy paintings by a lowly art dealer. But someone who *squints* lives in Berlin and is successful must be a safe bet. Supposedly the paintings are worth less now (I don’t think so), or were somehow secretly worth less all the time (fraud, remember), it’s just that only the art dealer knew. This kind of stuff quickly becomes ridiculous when you think about it.
The reason the police care, and that this is so obviously criminal, is because art isn’t bought and sold for appreciation or even decoration, but as speculation. That’s the purpose of the art world: to create value from paintings. This is useful if you are (for example) a Russian oligarch who wants to launder money, or if you are just criminally rich and want to invest/gamble other peoples’ money somehow.
But! Not all art is intended for this. Take Fluxus, which could not be sold as it was mostly performance, or cheap mass produced trinkets, or letters, or instructions. What happened? The trinkets are worth more, sketches and workbooks are sold, and likely leftovers from performances are sold (pieces of Yoko Ono’s shirt, or the scissors, forinstance). That’s how the art world works. Or, an example of a genuine Swedish art school scandal: NUG. NUG is a graffiti artist, who began by spray paintings trains and such (I think I saw a real NUG tag in the Stockholm underground once, but I’m not sure), got into Konstfack, and became famous when the Swedish minister for culture (an idiot) called his work trash. The work was a video of someone (a masked person) rolling around in an underground station and spraying black paint in NUGs characteristic abstract squiggles. Unsellable! I like the video.
Then I saw a documentary about NUG, wherein he decorated a posh night club/restaurant, who had let make huge rugs with his squiggles (green on white). He also painted a wall, careful not to go outside the lines indicated by the owner. There are more examples. If it isn’t sellable, the art world will ignore it, and it disappears from history. Perhaps this is the reason why performance art is generally viewed as a joke, even by people who otherwise enjoy obscure music, paintings, poetry.
So if speculation is (more or less) the purpose fine art, of the institutions—why do governments train people to do it? Why do left wing people think an industry that is just another stock exchange is good? The paintings can be good, and the art can even be left-wing. The buyers don’t care. If they think it will increase in value, they buy it, if not, they sell. People with that much money are incapable of appreciating art. So, why? Why shouldn’t Konstfack focus their money and efforts on teaching teachers, designers, etc. Teaching kids how to paint or sculpt is great, society needs more of that. Teaching people how to market their art to billionares..? I don’t see the point. And why are right wing people against it? they love subsidising their favourite industries!
Perhaps I just want to seem like a Real Worker. Or maybe it’s envy, if I could sell etchings for 4000 Euros, I would. But the correlation fine arts and left wing is weird.