I first became aware of the Eleven Clouds project in an appropriate roundabout, back channel fashion. A once-habitual, now-infrequent visitor to the the i hate music discussion boards, I found myself spending much of this past September catching up on a thread (one which ultimately stretched to more than 320 posts’ worth of responses) entitled “State of Improvisation 2010“. The initial post under this heading, attributed to one “hatta” (Hat-ta? Hate-ah?) is worth reproducing at length:
“… I think there is increasingly less to say about contemporary improvisation as there isn’t much of interest going on. I barely find myself able to raise interest in new releases from the usual suspect and when I do am almost always disappointed. Many of the releases given thumbs up by those [on this board] whose opinions I respect just seem like more of the same—little risk, little innovation; in short predictable. And I’d argue that good improvisation, in whatever subset you focus on, is always unpredictable in one way or another… At the same time there has been an increased interest in composed music, especially composed music that I think captures aspects of the last decade of interesting improvisation. Though frankly there isn’t really much excitement there but some exploration of ideas that I think may lead somewhere.
So the question is for the members of this forum is where do you think improvisation is today? What if anything is pushing the envelop, taking the risks, capturing interest. Is there anything genuinely exciting going on? And can you say how, or why—I’m certainly not interested in lists of albums, that is not the state of anything.”
This is precisely the kind of apparently “simple”, “direct” question that, once released into the Internet, generates all manner of fascinating tangents, which is turn may grow into manifestos, dedicated web pages, denunciatory blog entries, aesthetic retrenchments, mockery, semantic nitpicking, and hurt feelings and recriminations IRL. In short, the true ornaments of any Baroque culture. But the most unexpected of these byproducts also turned out to be among the most delightful, as I only discovered after clearing a path to a post I can no longer locate, in which “hatta” revealed the following (more or less):
“Utilizing his persona on the ?i hate music electronic message board the artist initiated a thread on the subject of improvisation in 2010…. While a participant in this thread it was of course allowed to proceed normally and after several days it had generated several pages of responses. The first page, plus one post, of responses were then collected into a text file with minimal editing (primarily web addresses were changed into text) which was then read aloud utilizing the OS X “Alex” voice and recorded to a file. The resultant audio file was used to create a source audio file which contained silences corresponding to the amount of time in between posts (scaled to 1 minute = 1 second). This new file was burned to CD-R and was played in the worlds cheapest compact disc player, through a very cheap FM transmitter, captured by a nearby FM radio (also cheap) and fed into a Nord Micro Modular. The patch the Micro Modular was running (pictured below) was designed to radically transform input, particularly frequency modulated input and patterns of speech. While any text run through this system would lead to similar sound, the pace, feel and structure of this piece depend on the source material. In this way the twelve people who participated in this thread up to the cut-off point can be thought of as collaborators in this piece.”
Intrigued by the nearly over-determined conceptual nature of this project, I endeavored to learn as much as possible about how to go about hearing the resultant piece of music. However, the musician had apparently made a serious effort of make this music as obscure (in the sense of practically inaccessible) as possible… ” Fugue State is released in an addition of twelve (12) and is available only to the collaborators on the project.” Frustrating, at least initially. But also more and more provocative as my desire to place myself in the audience for this piece and the other pieces in the greater project of which it was a part was thwarted. In fact, I began to wonder if the whole point was not the sounds themselves, their organization, the ecology of their presentation, but rather the vacuum—airless, empty, and incapable of transmitting sound—left in the wake of the music’s realizing the full extent of its essential impermanence. Perhaps I was meant to fill the space created by my knowledge of this unheard, “unlistenable” music with my own attention and my own listening proclivities, and with questions about both how and why I acquire music, and how those habits of acquisition relate to the recognition, simultaneously spontaneous and deliberate, unique yet repeatable, that, for me, makes music “good.”
So I decided to ask Robert Kirkpatrick, the artist behind the “hatta” persona and the singular force behind Eleven Clouds, Hollow Earth Recordings (and much else) to help me clarify my own experiences in trying to hear, much less understand, the individual particles cohering in these Eleven Clouds.
1) According to the Hollow Earth Recordings website, the Eleven Clouds project has yet to reach its combined culmination / summation. But, in the meantime, could you provide some insight into the origins of the project? Specifically, do you see this project as something of a departure from the kind of work in which you’ve been engaged up until now, and, if so, how?
Questions of origin always are hard to answer ; these projects are always a culmination of all the experiences leading up to that moment. By the end of 2009 I was highly dissatisfied with where my musical direction had gone. At the same time I’d become quite interested in what is known as “Live Electronics” as associated with David Tudor, Gordon Mumma, David Behrman et al. When I’d started making experimental music what I was doing was actually more in the Live Electronics vein than what was going on in the contemporary music scene. At the same time my interests were quite wide and I was listening to a number of forms that had yet to codify. But for various reasons, I narrowed my interest and focused on specific things that were especially engaging my attention. However I never felt I really developed a voice in those areas and in many ways pretty quickly retreated.
What had captured my interest at that time were forms of structured improvisation, especially graphic and text scores. I spent numerous years exploring these notions which culminated in the creation of my Book of Musical Patterns. When I had worked my way through that process (of course exploring these scores is a never-ending activity for me) what I really wanted was a direct application of what I had learned from this type of music-making that also contained the deliberation and spontaneity that I love best from the forms of improvisation that interested me. Around this same time I discovered David Tudor’s music and the notions of Live Electronics. This was exactly what I was looking for, for in Live Electronics the instrument is the score. The more I listened and read about this area the more I thought back to the earliest music-making I’d done. While that had been a highly intuitive process (I was completely ignorant of Live Electronics at the time and was really just beginning my exploration of experimental music in general) I had stumbled into a number of ideas that at this point I felt I could more effectively work with.
The intervening years had led to quite a lot of practice in what I think was a highly productive way: I’d often use just one or two things and explore them for a long time. This led to my being able to effectively work with a number of individual parts and how they worked together. From the combination of my old “state exploration” process, the experience I had gained and my research into Live Electronics I felt that I could finally begin that direct integration of the ideas of structured improvisation into the actual process of music creation. A tight coupling of score and realization that I codified theoretically as The Network Instrument.
2) The Eleven Clouds releases are only available, as you state on the project’s web page, in “absurdly small quantities.” For example, June’s release, 100 Black Kites, exists only in an edition of 1. What, for you, makes the chosen quantities particularly absurd?
I think Brian Olewnick put this the best in the single… well, I can’t call it a review since he doesn’t… bit of commentary that an Eleven Clouds release has gotten:
“Not sure how much sense it makes to review something of which there are only five copies extant (don’t know if one of the recipients will upload it somewhere) so I won’t, really.” http://olewnick.blogspot.com/2010/03/couple-o-weeks-ago-on-drive-up-to.html
In 2010 the notion that one isn’t able to a hold of a piece of music the moment one desires to hear it is generally considered absurd. At the same time there is a fetishization of the individual object. Independent music today completely depends on limited editions, which are the key to selling things at all. As a business model putting out numerous low run releases that sell out (and of course one can charge a premium for) probably makes a lot more sense then printing large runs of CDs and relying on a long tail model.
But to me “business models”, economic theories, all of that cheapens music. It is trying to ape the contemporary art market, with a small run release being analogous to a print run. And like the art world there are certainly those who buy these as an “investment” knowing that this LP they spent US $30 on they can turn around for US $50 after it sells out. The most extreme example of this is a label called Onement that directly cops to this model by making single copy LP releases that they directly correlate with a painting and price accordingly—apparently 3900€ for their most recent release.
Of course they elevate their artists and each “unique” release above mere mortals; these aren’t musicians, they are masters and you can buy a unique masterpiece! It is this situation that I find absurd and which this aspect of the project is (in part) a commentary on.
3) Modes of exchange and notions of community seem to be a recurring theme in this project. Not only are individual releases produced in very small numbers, but procuring one may require personal interaction with the artist (I’m not completing any thoughts) or participation in a system of barter (Vertical Landscapes 1-5/Aeolian Electrics.) How much, and, if so, in what ways, do you see this project as a kind of commentary on the economics and social relations proposed by certain art practices that conceive of themselves as self-consciously “experimental”?
In short “yes” and in several different ways. There is this dichotomy between those that position themselves as “high art” selling their “sound art” in galleries and the self-consciously lowbrow performer who revel in their decrepit tapes and deliberate anti-intellectualism. But while these notions are always present in my mind there was a much more fundamental concern that I wanted to explore: the relationship between the listener and music, particularly music as object. This project as a purely musical exploration could have been done as a series of digitally released files with whatever support documentation one would desire to elucidate the ideas being explored. But at this point in time one could fill all of one’s free time, every day, listening to downloadable music that is freely given away, without even dipping into notions of “illegal” downloads. The premium is time much more so than money. This has led to the situation that in simply giving ones music away for free you are not necessarily able to gain any listeners. Listeners are of course what creators of experimental music are after; there is no money in it after all.
One response to the overabundance of music in even the tiniest of sub-genres is the limited release, preying upon the collector impulse, the music junkie’s desire to have something that few others do. Another option is to create increasingly elaborate packaging for ones physical items so that the object itself generates interest. I decided for this project to utilize both of these ideas: Most releases would be produced in tiny quantities and an attempt would be made to create unique objects that in and of themselves would generate interest. Furthering the exploration of the current consumer relationship to music it was decided that each release would be more or less given away, but would require increasingly more demanding activity from those who desired them. The idea here was to explore the relationship with time and the collector impulse —how much personal time would an individual give up acquiring the object. I think that this is a quite interesting area of exploration and it would I think have much more fruitful had it been done by someone who had a lot more of a draw in the experimental music field.
4) Your decision to employ the CD-R format almost exclusively for the purposes of this project strikes me as being of as much aesthetic importance as any other aspect of Eleven Clouds. Beyond certain practical considerations (e.g., cost) why this format / medium as opposed to say, cassette (equally recordable) or vinyl (the most fetishized of all audio formats)?
LPs were the first format that I experienced music on and cassettes soon followed. But I always hated tape for the way it degrades. When you are a teenager spending your limited resources on a tape that wears out or can be destroyed by its player rankled. I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten beyond that honestly. Tape was a utilitarian medium, one that I used a lot but it was always disposable. In my mind CD-R is in many ways the equivalent of tape in the modern era, though now almost certainly replaced by the mp3 in the zeitgeist. With digital distribution probably all physical formats are in way an affectation, something to appeal to the collector mindset. Tape is having a bit of resurgence of late and using it could have perhaps increased the cache in certain circles. Vinyl definitely would have. But I really hate flipping records and lots of the music that I love is longer then the 22 minutes per side (though I’m sure someone will point out my obsession with the 3″ CD which is of course roughly equivalent to an album side). Every time I’ve moved I’ve given away my LPs and I think that pretty well describes my relationship to the format. I have a nice turntable now and a small selection of things that aren’t available on CD but I always prefer a digital copy. I eagerly embraced CDs when they came out, buying a used player from a pawn shop when they were generally still quite expensive. The format has its limitations but for someone who was raised with vinyl and tape it was a revelation.
My music has always been DIY, I’ve never even used a CD-R printing service (which are pretty much within my financial grasp). Tape fits into that aesthetic but I’m setup for CD-R and in all ways CD-R is more practicable. That is they are fast to duplicate, cheap and easy to acquire and there are myriad ways to transform them into more unique objects. While CD-Rs themselves won’t necessarily last playing them doesn’t degrade them as it does tape. And the owner can easily create digital backups for them. I want the music to be heard and I’m not really interested in creating barriers between it and the listener. I encourage people to rip these and put them on whatever player they prefer. I’d suggest lossless or at least high bit rate rips as the music requires it but whatever works for the individual listener.
5) How much conceptual work has gone into the preparation of each of these releases? That is, in terms of the actual musical outcomes as well the physical form in which you’ve chosen to manifest these outcomes, how much of Eleven Clouds has been planned or mapped out, and how much of the project has been about a kind of intuitive / spontaneous interaction with your chosen materials?
This is rather variable from release to release. Initially the music was driving everything; I was exploring Network Instrument theory and trying to apply that in the ways that I described earlier. In late December 2009 I had a breakthrough of sorts that led to the creation of what I would later title I’m not completing any thoughts. I found this music confounding, compelling and challenging. I kept coming back to it but I didn’t know if it was any good or if anyone not immersed in the process would find anything there. This in and of itself was intriguing to me: Almost all of the music that had really struck me in the last decade has had a similar effect on me: I didn’t know if I really liked it at first but kept being drawn back to it. Sometimes years later I would find that I had changed in a way that something that had been confounding now was completely compelling. This piece was the first thing I’d made in a long time that I felt captured that (or at least potentially).
But I didn’t really know what to do with this piece; it was pretty far from what most of the people I knew in the experimental music scene were interested in. At the same time I wanted to explore that particular network, see how flexible it was, how much this configuration was mappable to a score. This was the genesis of the project, this wouldn’t be its own release it would be a part of a greater whole, an exploration of this “piece” as a score. From there I conceived of Eleven Clouds and decided this was an ideal forum to explore the other issues that I have talked about here. Since there was going to be a release each month and I desired each release to be compelling as music and as an object I knew that there had to be unique ideas explored in each one.
I’ve always kept a long list of ideas I wanted to explore, concepts for various projects and I mined this list for ideas to use in this project. I knew I was going to do a release every month and that did limit the ambition to some degree. I laid out a rough plan for each month including the ideas, influences, inspirations, concepts and so on that I would be working through. Initially I only had half a dozen ideas or so that I felt would work with the Network Instrument as well within the constraints of the project. I also worked out the various ways that one could acquire each release. By early February I was pretty much ready to go having worked out the basic parameters. I was prepared for the next several months with ideas and it was all a matter of putting this into practice.
Over the course of the project, of course, I would come up with new concepts or variations on what I wanted to explore. A number of ideas I abandoned as I became accustomed to how the community responded to it. I did end up doing several releases that actually took months to complete, being rather more complex (Vertical Landscapes/Aeolian Electrics, An Delay, Sometimes the rain is hard to see (9 haiku), 100 Black Kites) so the degree to which each project was laid out was highly variable. Some of them which were more direct exploration of Network Instrument theory was working with concepts I’d been thinking about and exploring for awhile and required little more in the way of prior planning (I’m not completing any thoughts, Skipping Stones, A Closed Letter.) Several of the projects were dominated by their own ideas enough so that they subverted the overarching ideas. This would include the projects that don’t involve the Network Instrument or are only tangentially related to the theory (Mid-Spring (rock, breath, 12kHz), 47° 32′ 25.80″ N / 121° 54′ 32.0″ W, Sometimes the rain is hard to see (9 haiku).)
6) Several (but not all) of the recordings generated for this project document “performances” by an instrumental set-up (previously referenced) of your own invention named “The Network Instrument”, which appears to be as much an exploration of artificial intelligence as it is a means of generating electronic sound. How much, if at all, is the Eleven Clouds project about exploring new “states” or “clouds” that serve as alternatives to the standard model of the (especially improvising) musician as a singular, authorial (i.e., “fully in command”) agent?
The Network Instrument is absolutely essential to the project. It was the impetus for the project though certainly not for all of its aspects. The article you link is certainly the starting place for anyone interested in it though as I say there it is but a work in progress. There are more articles planned some of which are based on my experiences on this project. I don’t want to try to get into the fundamentals of the theory here as I think these other documents are a better medium for that so instead I’ll focus on how it was used in this project to and the issues you raise in your questions.
The “network” that I’m utilizing in this project is primarily two interconnected synthesizers. The nature of these two synthesizers is that they are akin to modular synthesizers which allow for them to be put into configurations that are more complex than that may seem.. The Clavia Nord Micro-Modular is especially amenable to this and was almost always used in a configuration where it was equivalent to two or more simple synthesizers that were highly (though not completely) interconnected. While the network remained mostly static, these configurations, or Clouds in Network Instrument parlance, were iterated upon for each release. There is a direct lineage in the configurations used in I’m not completing any thoughts to Skipping Stones to Aeolian Electrics to An Delay. An expanded network was used for A Closed Letter and a both reduced and expanded network for Fugue State.
My background is in the sciences and I spent the bulk of my time in college studying cognitive science, with a focus on artificial intelligence. My years in college coincided with the heyday of neural networks and the decline of the previously dominant symbol processing paradigm (though I tended to advocate for a hybrid approach myself). The Internet was also on the rise at this time (the World Wide Web as we know it was developed during my third year in college) and networks was all the rage. I would say because of this background I tend toward scientific models to describe the music I make whereas comparisons to the arts are much more common. Various experimental musics are often related to painting or perhaps even more commonly to sculpture. While I’ve also long been an admirer of the visual arts and can certainly see relationships between music and art (especially if you look on the idea level, the ideas that drove much of 20th Century art was explored in many mediums including music), I find mathematical notions to be a more useful descriptor for what I’m doing.
The first electronic music I was making I used to describe as “state exploration” by which I meant I would hook up various devices (in a network, naturally) and make adjustments, change connections and so on until I stumbled across a sonically interesting state. Then I would tweak the parameters there until it fell apart. State exploration of course relates to state machines and graph theory and that was the model that I used. I should say that my earliest work was much simpler than what I’m generally talking about with a Network Instrument. I had to learn how to control the individual elements and I usually worked with what I’d think of now as Feedforward Networks. But this laid the way and Network Instrument theory is simply a way to codify what I was doing then as well as what I later learned others were doing. David Tudor’s Live Electronics, as I mentioned earlier, are a vital component to this and the various essays relating to his work is about the only information you can find on this area.
It was Tudor that made me go back and reconsider my earlier work, allowed me to see what I’d been doing in an historical context. The way that he thought of his circuits and configurations as scores for his pieces is an essential concept. As I listened to more Live Electronics I began to wonder how one would evolve what Tudor was doing into modern music-making practices. How one could evolve Live Electronics so that it was informed not only by Tudor but also by the last decade of electronic and electro-acoustic music? Lacking a language for this and not finding too much in the literature I began to try to work out a terminology, a methodology to describe the process. I don’t want to oversell what I’ve done and what I’m doing here. I’m definitely no David Tudor and I’m not really trying to work in the exact area that he was, so one should definitely not come to this with that kind of expectations. I’ve referred to my interest as “Post-Tudor Live Electronics” and in my mind one works in Live Electronics and ignores Tudor (and the other Composers Inside Electronics) at their peril. But the historical Live Electronics must only be a starting point and my interests lie beyond an attempt to replicate what they were doing (though that is not an invaluable pursuit either; this stuff could be lost if nobody figures it out.) I hope that Network Instrument theory becomes useful to describe historical Live Electronics but even more so for new work.
The language of artificial intelligence is certainly a touchstone and your question an apropos one. For these networks are not entirely under control, they have their own “personality” and follow their own rules. Score and implementation are unified as is indeterminacy. This allowed almost all of my current concerns to be combined and with the theory described. But neural networks are a bit low level in general (and likewise Tudor’s Neural Network Synthesizer), a Network Instrument would be more like a network of neural networks. A forthcoming article on my blog on the topic of Subnetworks will go into this in greater detail. All of this is still very much a work in progress and the work is slow, but hopefully this can be developed to the point where it is useful to others.
7) Your on record as stating that “sensual aural pleasure’ is really pretty far from my appreciation of music.” Yet I feel that the Eleven Clouds releases I’ve heard (especially A Closed Letter and Mid-Spring), with their exploration of rather extreme tonal registers and overall spaciousness, invite me to occupy my own listening in ways that, while challenging, are not unpleasurable. What do you listen for in music, and what might you ask your own audience to listen for—and value in—with respect to your own music?
This is a pretty weighty topic in my mind and while I’m clearly willing to go on and on about seemingly anything, this topic would I think require a couple of essays to satisfactorily address. But to try to take a stab at it, to me it really comes down to a paucity of language. Or perhaps even an abuse of language. Due perhaps to a paucity of language you find that notions of beauty in experimental music have been basically reduced to “I like this.” This leads to the rather low information situation where people declaim over the beauty of their harsh noise walls. Sounds in my mind can be a lot more than beautiful, in fact at a more fundamental level than beauty is I think interest. I find various sounds intriguing in a variety of ways, one of which can be a sensual beauty but for most it’s something else. It is interesting the way that definitions of music and beauty or what have you expanded among experimental music listeners, but taken far enough we lose our ability to communicate any real information.
There is of course still a limited definition of what is beautiful even among experimental music fans. In my musical practice I’ve spent a lot of time investigating sounds that I felt were interesting but not a priori beautiful. I was curious to what degree that these notions of beauty were involved in accepting things that were really more innovative in form. For instance would an ultra-sparse piece that utilizes decaying acoustic guitar chords be more accepted than the same form using sounds generated from a nail file on metal strings? It seemed to me that this is the case. Driven to explore these “interesting” sounds, I certainly never eschewed beauty and definitely never banished it, it was just never a prominent concern and I never sacrificed rigor to achieve it. I think people should listen to the properties of the sound and to what it is doing that is of interest. Perhaps think about why one finds something beautiful or not and question whether there is anything else worth noting there. Finally pay more attention to form, it really is what has been most innovative in recent music-making and is certainly a greater concern of mine.
The other main issue that this brings up, that I think really would require its own essay (or book) is the notion of what music is for. In my mind focusing purely on beauty really relegates music to a limited place, to being little more than entertainment. This is why in that linked conversation I constantly state that music can be beautiful and that beautiful music can have depth but music that only has beauty has no lasting value. John Cage I think put this best when criticized for making pieces that were thought to be too long:
“Well, they’re thinking of art as entertainment, and that isn’t what art is about. I would say, to put it as simply as I can, that art changes our minds.”
—John Cage, in conversation by Richard Kostelanetz
8) The latest 2 releases in the Eleven Clouds series—Fugue State and Sometimes the rain is hard to see (9 haiku)—are both transformations of textual objects into musical scores. Moreover, you’ve written rather extensively on your own music, as well as music in general, both formally and colloquially. Musical discourse would seem to be as important an aspect of your practice as actual sound-making. How do approach the task of writing about music? How literary do you consider your artistic concerns to be?
The written word was my first great love and remains more of an influence on me than anything else. If I could actually write better I probably would have focused the bulk of my creative energies in that arena. The titles of albums and individual pieces of music have always been essential to me and I can’t deny a certain degree of bewilderment at those who don’t put quite the same degree of thought into them. Much more so then the imagery associated with a piece of music via album art or webpage (though I consider those aspects quite important as well), any associated text is the artist directly telling the audience something about the music. To not take advantage of that, to not have it at the forefront of one’s mind when creating this link, seems like a major error to me. Even if you are titling things in an attempt to deny the connection you still have to take that into account. So my titles have always been very well thought-out and sometimes can even be thought of as a score of sorts for the music. For those who find this sort of thing of interest there are always going to clues there.
The two text-based pieces in this project couldn’t be any more different in conception, realization and meaning. I’ve stated earlier how the use of a certain class of scores has been highly fruitful for me and as different as these two projects are each are a manifestation of that. In Fugue State, the electronics parse the audio of the text , driven by its rhythms and inflections. The text here is the score but it is inextricably linked with the electronics and in many ways it is the electronics that determine the results. There would be a similarity found in the processing of any computer-read text, though there are certain differences that could be exploited. For instance, certain types of poems could lead to a much more staccato effect, or prose, such as you’d find in Joyce, would tend toward a more droning piece.
Sometimes the rain is hard to see (9 haiku) in contrast utilizes a meta-score to generate a Musical Pattern. The meta-score has its own set of rules that supersede many of the instructions of the Musical Patterns (as do many of the different categories of musical pattern) but in essence the challenge remains the same: how to turn very minimal material into music. I’ve always loved the haiku, it’s been my favorite form of poetry for pretty much my whole life (I learned the form in 1st grade and I still have the first haiku I ever wrote. Amusingly it was about tanks). My reading has waxed and waned as my interests shift but over the last couple of years I’ve been increasingly reading haiku as well as other minimal forms of poetry. My interest in minimal forms of music I think struck a chord and I made a note years ago that I should use haiku as scores. For this project I selected nine (actually eleven) from a variety of authors and used them for this music. As with any other musical pattern, any instrumentation could be used but I chose to not use electronics as one would expect for this project but instead a direct recording of my prepared wire strung harp. Why? Personally I think the material demanded it. But it also is a callback of sorts to An Delay, which is a combination of prepared wire strung harp driven by electronics. This piece can be thought of in similar terms, though I leave where the electronics are as an exercise to the reader.
Regarding writing about music, well again I’d refer the readers to that post on my blog where I discuss these things at length. As I say in that post, I started writing about music in part because I felt that the most engaging music occurring at the time was a global phenomenon and since no-one could be everywhere that reviews from the audience were essential to have a feel for what was going on. I was in short doing my part, writing about the shows I attended and the recordings that I was finding of interest. I resisted writing about my own music for a while for a number of reasons, but primarily I wanted it accepted entirely on its own terms. But I did find that in some cases I got more out of music when the creators wrote about them so I started doing that to some degree. Mainly I write at least one step removed, about process, ideas or what-have-you but not normally trying to break down a specific piece. I think it was with the publication of the Book of Musical Patterns that I realized I would need to write directly about process if I wanted people to not become frustrated playing these scores. Since then I’ve also written about the process of playing other graphic and textual scores in which I felt that perhaps the experiences I’ve had could be useful for others.
I think that in answering these interview questions I’ve written about certain aspects of my music-making that I have heretofore have never really written about. I can’t say its something I intend to do often but one thing I think is important is that in music there are no secrets. Those musicians that try to hide the gear they use, or not show people their patches, or use secret tunings or whatever, I think are doing the music a disservice. There is no mystery; no magic beyond the ordinary and risk of copycats are I think a pretty low price to pay for the potential of something greater coming from your tools and techniques. So I’ll describe the process and intentions when asked, but frankly I’m not asked very often.
9) What criteria for “success” and / or “failure” have you established for the Eleven Clouds project?
I touched on this in my answer to question 3) above, but the full answer to this would be as multifaceted as the project. Considering that at this point the project isn’t quite finished and that I have yet to spend much time in any sort of total assessment, means that any sort of answer here will necessarily be incomplete. There are a couple of areas though that I’ve thought about throughout the project that I feel I can comment on at this time, so I’ll focus on them.
The primary goal for me to was to explore the Network Instrument and to generate a series of compelling pieces. The monthly project can be viewed as a simple goal setting regimen to keep me working toward that end. Of course I layered much more onto that, each of which would have its own goals. It’s always hard to judge one’s own music, but each of the pieces that I released met the criteria that each release required. That to me is the only success that matters but it is undeniable that the listener completes the piece and thus is essential for its ultimate success. For some of the more purely conceptual pieces this aspect is highly fluid; some of these pieces may never be heard but there was an audience, the piece is a gestalt of all of the elements and in the way that the piece was experienced, it was sufficient
Some aspects of the project I consider quite successful, for instance the creation of the objects that represent each piece. Several of these releases are among my favorites of anything that I’ve done and I think that a few of these objects are completely unique, something that you couldn’t find in any other musical project. Other parts are mixed such as my exploration of the relationship between listener and the music that I discussed in my answer to question three 3). This wasn’t at all a failure but unfortunately only of so much value due to the inherent demand for the music I make. A more interesting case would be to take a musician whose limited releases regularly sell out and then explore how much time the audience is willing to trade for the object. In this project there were too many independent variables for that experiment to produce truly meaningful results. That being said nearly a least a few people attempted each of the tasks, with usually several new people for each one. I’ve always been very weak at self-promotion and it is possible that if I’d really flogged each release I’d have found more interesting results. But in the end as an experiment there is no failure only more data and I definitely learned a lot here.
As I said above the ultimate success or failure of any project is determined by the listeners and there hasn’t been a lot of feedback on it yet, but that often takes time to come. The music, the most important aspect to me, is never really good enough; I’m always struggling towards some unknown and perhaps unrealizable goal. I don’t let it go if I don’t think it is worthwhile and usually I can’t even really say how it is, just that there is enough there that I find interesting that I’d like others to hear and assess. The output of the Network Instrument has particularly been a great unknown to me, I find it fascinating but have absolutely no idea if anyone else will. Reading my answers to the questions here it may seem like I’m really convinced with what I’m doing but really the uncertainty is incredibly high. And I don’t have any sort of “the audience will catch up someday” illusions; it could be that what I’m doing will never find an audience which is, I think, in any sort of creative endeavor the only true definition of failure. Now it has already found some audience for which I’m grateful and makes me think that I’m not completely off track but really as much as a cliché as it is only time will tell.
10) Do you feel your year-long immersion in this project has significantly changed your aesthetic or your artistic practice? If so, how?
Yes, very much so, though it is hard for me to quantify at this juncture. The discipline of the monthly music-making has certainly not been something I’m used to and I’ve appreciated this practice. I’ve learned a lot about the instruments I’ve been using both at a micro level as well as in their networked state. I’ve also learned a decent amount about what I think I need to do to improve this network for my needs. This is, I think, a better route then just arbitrarily adding components and seeing what works. Really spending time working with limited sets of tools makes it quite clear what additional tools would provide.
Working more purely with electronics, especially those that are inherently indeterminate, I’ve also come to be a lot more accepting of certain sonic situations that I’d expend some effort in the past trying to avoid. There are certain clichéd sounds that analog electronics tend toward and I’ve often worked to avoid those. While I try to not linger in played-out areas I’ve become a lot more comfortable in following the lead of the electronics. As I’ve stated earlier, to me these configurations are a kind of score and while I’m the “composer” I’m also a collaborator with the instrument and the performer. As a performer/collaborator you may not always like or understand something in the material but to be honest with the material you work with it as directed. The instrument/score of Live Electronics has a lot to teach and being completely open to that, to follow it where it leads has been a lesson that I’ve been learning for years now but has really been a hammered home this year.
11) What’s next for you once Eleven Clouds is completed (assuming it can ever be considered complete)?
These last three questions have been for me the most difficult of this questionnaire. Not so much because the topics are themselves overwhelming but because the project is still in progress and I have yet to have had a chance to really confront these issues. The other questions have dealt with subjects that I’ve been mulling over and working through throughout the project and in most cases for quite some time prior. As I am still in the midst of the project, even if in the final throes, I’ve yet to have had the opportunity that post-project assessment and reflection. So considering what I’d do next is as difficult to me as assessing what I’ve learned from the project as was asked in the previous questions.
This project has been rather exhausting and that is often a poor position from which to try to decide what to next. That being said it has also really invigorated me and got me excited about music-making in this vein. As I touched on in the last point I have some ideas for how I want to develop the Network Instrument and that is my current plan for next year. I want to continue my research and exploration of Live Electronics in this context and try to continue to codify my results. One thing that is certain is that I’m not going to release any of my own music for the foreseeable future. I started making my music available in 2002 and from that year to 2010 I had put out ten (10) releases, one (1) of which was a compilation of the first three releases. While I think of Eleven Clouds as a single release with eleven (11) tracks it is pretty equivalent to the entirety of my released music to date. So I think a break is in order at least in terms of my own releases.
I’ve long planned to expand the slate of Hollow Earth Recordings releases and I could turn my focus there for the next year or so. In my research into Live Electronics and especially Post-Tudor Live Electronics I’ve stumbled onto a half a dozen or so people that I’d say were working in this area and most of them are woefully under-documented. This I think would be an area I would find highly engaging to focus on and are area for which there is a clear need. So while not a guarantee of future activities this is certainly a possibility.
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