Earlier this year I was invited by Paul and Rohanne at Tate n Lyle to contribute something to Radio Play: their quarterly radio broadcast where they present the creations of artists working across many, many different disciplines, reflect and speculate, and crack the overly-polished patina of so many other podcasts out there.
I really recommend listening: in this most recent episode I’ve discovered the work of John Giorno, whose faggy Beat Buddhist performance poetry conjures images of Allen Ginsberg eating Steve Reich’s ass while the latter twists some dials on a synthesiser. I really hope you’ll check out the whole episode, and all of Paul and Rohanne’s back catalogue too, because that’s what I’m going to do.
Anyway, since I started making work with Gemma Nash (as part of CUTTER // NASH) in early 2018, sound has become a big part of my practice, and I’m thinking about how I can branch out further into sound design / sound art. As invitations go, it was incredibly timely. I had a week-long residency at The Marlborough Pub & Theatre in Brighton in February, and with some time and space to start making something new, this is what I came up with.
The Big Other (or simply Big Other, depending on how I’m feeling about the word ‘the’) is a 6 minute track that’s primarily a way of me getting to know the capabilities of Ableton, the music software I’m using, a little better. I really like how Oneohtrix Point Never describes themselves as a science fiction music maker. He invents genres with names like hypergrunge. What would this be: electrodirge?
The piece evolved out of downloading and playing with Sam Kidel’s Voice Recognition Denial of Service patch. It’s a combination of phatic noises and rapidly shifting reverb that plays over your voice, a way of ‘disabling the silicon ear’, foiling voice recognition technology’s ability to eavesdrop on us. You can hear it from about 2 minutes in. I then took the reverb patch and applied it to a drum track. You can find out more about Sam’s work here.
This coincided with first learning about the term ‘surveillance capitalism’. I won’t go into detail about what SC is, but in a nutshell: companies like Google use the data we produce to predict and automate our future behaviour via an insidious information architecture that exiles us from our own realities. The phrase ‘Big Other’ describes this architecture, and the term resonated with me for its poetic qualities.
I decided to play with singing through autotune for the way it automates, predicts and corrects the voice, and riffed some text around the idea of being exiled from yourself and your environment (‘useless juices’, ‘lifeless piazza’ etc). I ran some simple MIDI notes from Ableton through my MicroKorg and played with the filters to create the sound of something hyperventilating and blossoming into something inescapable.
I wanted a contrast to the neat and tidy auto-tuned voice. Gemma and I have been talking lots about how we can use technology to move away from vocal normativity into something queerer, stranger. I added some Max for Live randomisers to a pitch-shifter and erosion sound effect to create this shifting, restless, difficult to pin-down voice, and recited the text. I manually made the pitch go way off a couple of times in post-production, at points where I think it needed to emphasise something.
There are one or two accidental Easter eggs. I’ve no idea where the little ‘beep’ at 00:10 comes from, and the second ‘beep’ at 03:34 comes from a pop-up notification on my laptop that was picked up by my mic whilst recording. I love the timing after ‘Data Kink’. I think it’s great.
And that’s it. As I mentioned, I’m really interested in what it would be like to work as a sound designer or composer for other people’s projects. If you like what you hear and / or my thought processes, hit me up.
Gareth Cutter, with thanks to Sam Kidel’s DoS patch.