Home In Their Own Words The Sloth Ensemble: how far can you stretch sound before it breaks? by JS Adams

The Sloth Ensemble: how far can you stretch sound before it breaks? by JS Adams

The Sloth Ensemble: how far can you stretch sound before it breaks? by JS Adams

A few months ago experimental musician Chris Videll approached Daniel Barbiero and me to provide new works for a drone night that Chris is curating for music promoter Sonic Circuits. We three then began an on-line conversation about pushing drone, monotonic music to its near-breaking point extreme as fully-static sound, and we’ll be performing the product of those discussions on Saturday, March 7, 2015 at Pyramid Atlantic in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Daniel Barbiero has pulled together a small acoustic ensemble LET X ≠ X to perform as a prelude to my ensemble piece. In Daniel’s LET X ≠ X, performers are instructed to play a concert D while continuously changing timbres. (For the variable “X” substitute “concert D;” through shifts in instrumental color D ≠ D.)

An image from an installation/performance of La Monte Young’s “Dream House”
An image from an installation/performance of La Monte Young’s “Dream House”

My piece, “A T N I G H T L Y I N G I N B E D S H E R E R E A D S T H E L E T T E R F R O M H E R G U N N E R A T T H E F R O N T”, is conceived as a glacial dirge (something akin to La Monte Young’s “Dream House”) and is based on the poetry of F.T. Marinetti. I’m realizing the concept by applying digital malfeasance (purposeful glitches) and communications decay to the poetry. I translated Marinetti’s poem to Morse code, and then ran the graphic poem through OCR (optical character recognition) software. OCR is the mechanical or electronic conversion of images of typewritten or printed text into machine-encoded text. While OCR is a common method of digitizing printed texts, the morse code printing of Marinetti’s poem scanned as a gibberish of punctuation and random letters — which we’re using as a score (see below).

The work is composed for cello, guitars, electronics, optical character recognition, voice, Morse code, text-to-voice programming, static visuals, prepared vinyl, and vintage Califone turntables. Wherein earlier works Morse code was MIDI-transcribed to piano, this piece uses the unaltered audio of the dots and dashes in the mix. Prepared vinyl for the piece will be two vinyl stereo-test pitch recordings with the center holes of the records chiseled out to wobble the playback, and creating wave interference. The opening section of the piece will be near-static waves of sound that finalize as a contrasting staccato of Futurist sound poetry and L’arte dei Rumori: How far can you stretch sound before it breaks?

A selection from The Sloth Ensemble score shows alternating instrumental (black and red text created through OCR of Marinetti’s poem) and vocal (grey text) stanzas.

I’ve been interested in sound and sound manipulations since I was a child. I was that artsy neighborhood kid, and luckily I early on found willing, like-minded collaborators. We were inspired by vinyl albums we purchased from the Import bins at downtown Chicago music store Rose Records and were encouraged to find that it was in our grasp to create similar sounds. We even borrowed the audio-tone generators from our school science lab.

We were not trained musicians and didn’t imagine ourselves to be “making music.” We felt that we were visual artists expressing our creativity through sound. One early experiment included my cousin’s electric guitar mixed with primitive percussion. Another involved tape loops on a hulking Bell & Howell analog reel-to-reel tape recorder. For another I pulled small lead weights from my father’s workbench and recorded them bouncing against the tone arm of record players.

My early college introductions to the music of John Cage and David Tudor, Cornelius Cardew, Mauricio Kagel, and Iannis Xenakis, reinforced my sense of conceptual composition and visual scores. I consider my backing tracks and compositions as audio collage, or performance constructions, and I continue to be grateful for the generosity of the like-minded artists joining me and adding their talents to my trajectory.

You can experience The Sloth Ensemble, Let X ≠ X, Anduin, Dave Vosh, M.O.S., Tag Cloud at the Sonic Circuits event Saturday, March 7, 2015, 7:30 p.m. – 11:00 p.m at Pyramid Atlantic, 8230 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring MD. Scheduled to perform as Sloth Ensemble are Jeff Barsky on guitar, Guillermo Pizarro on guitar + turntable, Doug Poplin, digital contributor, PD Sexton, digital contributor, Sarah O’Halloran on voice + electronics, Pat Gillis on electronics, and myself with loops + turntable.

J S AdamsJS Adams is a Washington DC-based visual + sound artist. His main musical projects are the modern classical/dark ambient group BLK w/BEAR, the BLK TAG collaboration with Chris Videll (Tag Cloud), and STYLUS vintage turntable ensemble. Rather than attending his senior high school prom in 1972, Jim – fueled by teenage exposure to the Deutsche Grammophon Avantgarde Series, Silver Apples, Freak Out, and Ummagumma – opted to see Pink Floyd perform in Chicago.

To read more about Sonic Circuits, click here.
To read more about JS Adams, click here.



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