A conversation about "Music from the Internet: A Compilation"

A conversation about Music from the Internet: A Compilation
St Celfer and Tom Moody

The following conversation is included as a PDF with the purchase of the above release. St Celfer and Tom Moody is a collaboration page where we are releasing some of our own material as well projects with other musicians. For Music from the Internet: A Compilation we assembled previously published works by East Sulphur Industries, Travis Hallenbeck, peef, Sa Cha, spudoogle, vonneumann, wet dog, and Wet Hands, and this is our discussion of those artists:

Tom Moody: In early January I started working on this invitee compilation with two tracks you sent me (wet dog’s “game over” and vonneumann’s “antiEuclid”). My picks were mostly visual artists who I knew made music. Some I had listened to in more depth than others. After a couple of days I had 20 tracks, including your picks, which I thought made kind of an exciting and cohesive statement. Initially you wanted to break it into two releases.

St Celfer: Honestly, I was overwhelmed with your response. I knew for sure I wanted to include these two tracks -- two artists who had inspired my current output of music -- and at that point, that was it. To deal with the magnitude of your input, I, myself, had to break it into pieces to understand what we were trying to put together.

TM: It’s longer than my own Bandcamp releases, which as you know run to 10 tracks/20 minutes.
In this one I didn’t have a sense of overall balance until I added more tracks, with, for example, the tunefulness of Wet Hands, Travis Hallenbeck and Sa Cha “offsetting” the more abstract and noisy elements picked by both of us. And possibly drawing out the melodic aspects of wet dog and vonneumann. A selection of four tracks each from peef, spudoogle and East Sulphur Industries worked better than one or two because they are relatively short.

SC: That makes sense and thankfully due to your enthusiasm and persistence, I now see your vision for this album. My only input was for us to stay true to the process we underwent. After my initial picks, I find yours are some of my new favorites even though I gave it a good try to dig up some more. Wet dog and vonneumann set a high bar for me to find fresh sounds discoverable online.

TM: I appreciate that you let me keep all this work together. I can listen to these tracks all the way through without getting bored or annoyed; they feel to me like an LP by a single artist. I think hearing wet dog and vonneumann sent me deeper into my own network of admired artists to find examples that complemented or resonated. Now I am persuaded by a selection that started out tentative and exploratory.

SC: It’s better at every pass. Should the title be "Music for Internet"?

TM: "Internet Music" would cover both "from the Internet" and "for the Internet." I think I emphasized the "from" as kind of a joke on "post-internet," which some curators considered around 2010 or so to be gallery art based on the internet. At the same time, artist Guthrie Lonergan pointed out, most people were making gallery art with an eye to how it was going to look on the internet. It’s an ugly circle.

SC: Is Instagram an example of the circle?

TM: I’m fixated on art theory (such as it was) from 2010 because that was the last of the old self-determining internet where people put up their own sites and found each other through relatively benign means such as blogrolls, del.icio.us and maybe even MySpace. By 2010 Facebook had completely become “the internet” and gradually I stopped hearing “post-internet” in visual art discussions. Then Instagram happened and the entire art world moved there for an orgy of likes and rapidly diminishing discourse.

SC: The “like” economy is perverse and, frankly, disgusting. How has music been affected, since there is no Instagram-like app for sound?

TM: Music after 2010 has been dominated by YouTube, Soundcloud and Bandcamp, from what I can see outside the Facebook/Instagram sticky web. There may be a similar “from/for” question but it’s not as self-conscious as it was in visual art circles, where people obsess about historical causation, in a few cities that continue to attempt to define the discourse. Whatever the Silicon Valley platform, I guess I am mostly interested in the consumer side, the idea of finding something placed out there in plain view but with little expectation of being found, given the online music glut. As opposed to the "producer" side, where the discussion centers on what it means to make art for the internet "medium." Although both are active considerations here.

SC: I like “in plain view” – too bad I can’t “like” it. I also like the idea of a consumer side not necessarily tied to a reward from market consumption. Can you give an example to better understand the current music-as-art situation?

TM: As we noted in the liner notes for this release, some of the songs come from here on Bandcamp, some are self-published and self-hosted (yes, that’s still possible!), others are soundtracks to YouTube videos, and a few have label or netlabel support. Each group has its own means of making music “for” the internet, and we could talk about their different, original intentions. I was more interested in how the music gelled once it all came together “from” the internet into a single compilation, and maybe, sensibility.

SC: I think that your choices greatly inform your own music, whether intentional or not, like the formation of a “scene” or better, a “sound.”

TM: It’s my taste so I guess you’ll hear echoes of my own tunes. I was actually trying to listen for both of us. I had just finished my compilation of your music and your tunes were fresh on my mind. I was actively listening for work that resonated with that. I was happy when you told me you liked East Sulphur Industries, for example (an alias for artist John Romero).

SC: I thought Romero’s video accompaniment to our music tracks was profound, pure genius, and the “performance” took off in many interesting directions thanks to all of our inputs. Consequently, your introducing his music to me on this compilation, and then me enjoying it, were certainly and happily unexpected.

I like his upbeat, arcade game-like tunes with simple rhythms in short compositions that, despite the time frame, take unexpected turns. This lack of logic ultimately defies their computer-ness. One senses resistance to cold digital production and a specific personal edginess, perhaps some angst, or slightly emo qualities -- which I like -- while not falling into any of those genre stereotypes.

TM: Agreed. There is an emo quality, a kind of emotional weight to the East Sulphur Industries tracks. Initially I thought they needed to be grouped together and somehow kept isolated because their effect was so powerful. I ended up sprinkling them into the mix to see what would happen. I only had one place where I had to make a change. I had ESI’s “logea” immediately before Sa Cha’s “Jumpout” and it was just too much of an abrupt gear change from sombre to sprightly -- I used spudoogle’s “Sunburn Tilt - Spitters Arch” as a buffer between them.

SC: In ESI’s tune “Intro” you hear a child and a woman. In my recent Suites #1-9 I have some recordings of my children that I used for their purely musical qualities of tones and timbre. However, as I worked on it, using these personal samples gave a deeper purpose to the tracks. Their presence definitely affects the music. I am not sure there is a similar backstory in ESI’s “Intro,” but I sense, whether that’s true or not, a deeper subtext that informs the outcome.

TM: I wondered about those voices, too (and they definitely made me think of Suites #1-9). The spudoogle track I mentioned has a sped-up voice that sounds child-like, also, and an “adult” voice in the same track, but the effect is more sinister. I can’t make out all the words but it sounds like they’re saying “what is this boy of mine?” and/or “what a good boy am I” (riffing on Little Jack Horner) while this kind of lounge-y, ‘50s strip club music is playing in the background. It’s really weird, like all of spudoogle’s music. He does stand-alone tunes but all the ones I picked were soundtracks for his YouTube videos, which feature surreal computer animation.

SC: Yes, I liked those. There is another similarity to what I’ve been working on with their time shifts and unexpected overlaps. My sped-up voices (as opposed to the real time ones) are an interplay between an old VHS porn tape and my friends who, after a Brooklyn night out, always wanted to make fake orgasm noises. It was this bizarre default we accepted when no one had anything interesting to say and a mic was thrown into people’s faces. I sped them up to make them tuneful.

I like this contrast between fake and exaggerated. I used to carry around a bulky field recording device – that was my beginning in music -- to take pure environment recordings; and, instead, I got performance clips. I wonder what the story is behind spudoogle’s voices; although, I don’t need to know, either. We both seem to want to jolt with the human voice in the service of making something musical.

TM: I sensed some resistance from you on my inclusion of the two tracks by Wet Hands, “Jarred’s End” and “NN (Contemplating).” I can talk more about their music and why it’s here but was curious to get your reaction.

SC: This is a tough question because it points to the difference between our music output, our likes, and I hate to introduce it in a conversation when we are having such a good time! When you came back with a fully fleshed out album, I had to cope with a new phenomena for me: how do I feel about curating work of people I only know “from” the internet. I felt a responsibility, that I had to protect my circle for some unknown reason. So, at first, I thought “Tom picked his favorites and I picked mine and that doesn't work”; so, let's take out the ones that are closer to his. However the album does work. I was wrong.

TM: In one way Wet Hands is closest to vonneumann, though, in that both outfits play instruments in a traditional manner. “Jarred’s End” and “NN (Contemplating)” are live improvisations, with two musicians, Albert Gray and Dvvid Watson, both playing keyboards. (I’ve known the latter for a while only as a screenname, either dvvidpw or dvvidw – we’ve only “met” online and for several years I knew him mainly as a visual artist.) “Jarred’s End” was difficult for me, at first, because it seems to go off the melodic rails in the middle. But then I accepted that discontinuity – it’s like a smooth pop confection that suddenly starts delivering Thelonious Monk “wrong” notes. Which are actually right, because they take the song in different directions. It’s a pretty tune, and stays pretty to the end, but gets more freewheeling after that initial moment of attitude adjustment.

SC: I had no idea that it was a band and that they play live! That gives me a much better idea why you picked the track. I think your detection of musical structures is pretty advanced and you picked up on a connection that I did not hear, but now I do. There are a lot of references and humor on this track that go over my head, but I am hearing how it fits the mix on every listen.

TM: Well, they may not agree with my interpretation but I do admire the sophistication and envy the playing. vonneumann also uses real-time playing; the group has several members and describes its style on that track as “free-rock.” The bass, drums, keyboard and electronics sound mostly live in the studio to me, reminiscent of the loose improvisational style of Can (especially Holger Czukay on bass) and Faust (noise effects made with organ tone generators) from the ‘70s, but with some 8-bit videogame synth sounds, as well. There may be some overdubbing and sequencing in there, I can’t really tell.

SC: I met vonneumann, also known as “nn,” online through their NorN release when I first explored bandcamp to see if I would put my own tracks up there. I was a late adopter after being frustrated by everything on the internet post 2010. Their music blew my mind and allowed me to release tracks I had been sitting on for ten years. I gravitated to nn’s improvisational style, which was a reaction to their math rock beginnings. I sent them an email -- more like a telegram: “you guys are great!”
...And fr, one the band members, wrote me back on behalf of nn. Incredibly we eventually met in Rome in person after one of my work trips. He took me to a Tomaga show in a tiny venue, yet another imprinting moment, giving me ideas for my next project, which will involve guitar pedals. I was practically standing over Tom from Tomaga and his pedals as he performed.

I believe fr works on the tracks in the studio after the live recordings; so, there is a mix of everything you mentioned. This particular track has a section around 2/3 of the way through that veers in an unexpected direction and is one of the best phrases of music I’ve ever heard. He told me it was a happy accident. It justified some music I was sitting on, and set a standard I applied to new stuff.

He and I continue to talk about music, his family, and visual art (which he is now making). This was an instance where “from the internet” became “in the same physical space” thanks to my job and positive communication vibes.

I don’t always hear or read words in music for their literal content; I interpret them as sound parts. This also applies to titles. When I asked fr for the track on this compilation, I suddenly keyed in on that title, “antiEuclid.” Between its literal meaning and the mazelike calligraphy, an invented language, on nn’s NorN album cover, it’s very tied into ideas expressed in the St Celfer/Tom Moody conversation On Breaking the Square.

TM: Another artist you might think of as a “Tom Moody pick” is Sa Cha, but I was actually thinking of your earcon song “Happy” which is just a beat and an upbeat little tune and keeps stopping and starting. I cut “Saxonph” down from 5 to 3 minutes for the “compilation edit” (with Sa Cha’s permission) and it still makes me laugh at how determined and monomaniacal it is: that huge reverbed room-filling beat just keeps going and going. It’s the opposite of Wet Hands or vonneumann because there is really no development and dares you to complain about that.

SC: Funny, because “Happy” was originally a track by my pre-earcon alias, jenghizkhan. It was different, with its repeated hook, from what I was doing at that point with building melodies and textures, and even though it was not made on the Monomachine (as were the other earcon tracks), the “earcon sound” emerged from that track. You were saying...?

TM: On his Soundcloud page Sa Cha explained his process (machine-translated from Spanish): “These are some tracks made [in 2001] with a demo copy of Fruity Loops, now called FLstudio. Saving was disabled on the demo copy so they were one-shot. There was no way to save my sequences, just export audio. This was truly a blessing for me because I was forced to start over every time." I love that zen attitude, and can hear it in the music.

SC: I’m glad Sa Cha stayed committed to that process and captured it. When I first started playing music live in NYC with SHARE (a regular open event organized by Ilan Katin) there were many friends using Fruity Loops and often they just played FL live with no way of saving the show or replaying the tracks later. The musical phrases were just loaded and launched live into the mix.

Thinking about your comments, actually, I think the development through improvisation that we all share manifests itself with Sa Cha from track to track rather than inside a track. This jazz pillar pervades all the tracks.

TM: Travis Hallenbeck, on his track here, exploits another elementary-type software called Sound Club, which is similar to the old mod trackers used by geeks to make techno on home computers. You input notes, velocity, and tempo into a grid resembling a spreadsheet, and the spreadsheet triggers highly compressed samples. What might start out as random sprays of notes have resulted in some nice motifs in Hallenbeck’s track, with a kind of microtonal, “eastern” feel in some passages.

SC: That's cool - using the grid to break the grid. I can't even tell it starts that structured. It feels very human.

TM: I’m curious to get your thoughts on wet dog and where she fits in here. Hers is another tune that stops and starts and changes tack a few times – which I like.

SC: I met her on Instagram. She does these awesome photo montages of seemingly disconnected images, loose connections, that still tell a long story, like a saga, in just a few shots. She has since left that platform -- and I don’t blame her -- but I miss those photos. One day she posted a link on her bio, which is the only place Instagram allows links, and I poked on it and was surprised to be taken to Bandcamp. I was pleased to discover her music. You’re right she moves musically through time and space quickly, not necessarily linearly and definitely, never looking back, as with her photo montages.

She uses affordable and/or vintage gear including an Electribe, which both you and I have used extensively in the past. You might hear that. Her ethic of working with inexpensive sound-making devices jibes with my next project, where I’ve built an instrument out of mostly old gear, all mounted like a Christmas tree on a single mic stand.

Like ESI, I gravitate to the personal feel of the tracks although they are clearly a type of dance music. This release was a message to her boss. I detect some angst, almost scary in all the best ways. It's like “reality pop” -- happy and dark all at once.

TM: peef, another artist on this compilation, is also a budget gearhead. And I think he’s close to you in patching together exotic clumps of gear to see what happens. His tune “Tame,” he told me, features the “Zoom H4N Pro as audio interface and microphone, Arturia Microbrute [for that ‘skronk’ sound that runs throughout the track], Korg Electribe Sampler (red) for drums and sine waves, and the Akai Miniak for the tinkly odd pad.” I asked him if he used the Vermona drum machine, which I semi-recognized, on the track “vrmoan.” He said he borrowed East Sulphur Industries’ Vermona and ran it through an old Ibanez rack delay effects unit, with the input cranked, and recorded it with his phone next to a small guitar amp. And he used a Kawai R100 to sequence the drum channels using MIDI signals.

The above machinations are almost the opposite of two people playing keyboards together…

SC: You mean like Wet Hands...?

TM: Yes, but what I like about this compilation is that different ways of working yield results that can sit comfortably together. My ear can no longer tell what’s live and what’s studio and I don’t much care.

SC: Tom, this is really a great compilation you put together. So much better than a dreaded algorithm or “random” setting on a playlist. Thank you!

TM: My pleasure, I’m glad we did it.

artist links:

East Sulphur Industries jollo.org/LNT/home/fanfare/
Travis Hallenbeck www.possiblebitmaps.com
peef ffog.sdf.org wrasse.pw/
Sa Cha soundcloud.com/sa-cha-516928585/
spudoogle spudoogle.blog www.youtube.com/user/ptato0
vonneumann von-neumann.bandcamp.com
wet dog wetd0g.bandcamp.com
Wet Hands dourrecords.bandcamp.com