Recent Praise for Isikles

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I am very excited about praise we have received for Isikles, a recent album I produced with Chilean producer Lister Rossel. Ironically yesterday was the Summer Solstice, but Lister has returned to Chile in the Southern Hemisphere where the climate is in the midst of winter. Everyone who has taken the time to listen to Isikles has appreciated the mystery and depth of this work. For example artist, musicians, and educator, Piotr Szyhalski said this after listening:

It’s interesting how it seems to transport my mind in both directions on the timeline. Certain elements send me back, sometimes way back, while others have a future oriented thrust. There is a sense of silent disaster unfolding. I imagine that this is what dying might feel like: when your mind brings you a sense of comfort, which masks the finality of the event…
Piotr Szyhalski

Richard Devine, whom I had the pleasure of performing with recently at the Dakota in Minneapolis, shared these thoughts:

Isikles puts the listener on a beautiful elegant journey of ambient, soundscapes, pulses and textures. One of the best chill out albums to come out in a long time.
Richard Devine

If you haven’t had a chance to listen, try the track Corvus in the player below. It’s one of my favorites. This album filled with analog synthesis, sound design experiments, and field recordings of ice and other things, was a joy to produce. Lister’s talent, work ethic, and conceptual clarity made it a very special collaboration. The full album is available for listening or download on our BandCamp page. Thank you for listening!

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The Taming of the CPU Part 2 at Honey

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On Wednesday, June 10, 2015 at 10pm (in other words, tomorrow) Taming of the CPU is happening at Honey in Minneapolis. I’ll be performing a set of new material using the DSI Tempest, Elektron Analog Four, and Moog Sub 37. This set was only played once before last January. Live coding artist, Mike Hodnick (Kindohm), and Ableton guru, Lucas Melchior (MKR) are also on the bill. All three of us are recipients of the Minnesota Emerging Composers Award (MECA) for electronic music.

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Chris LeBlanc will be performing live visuals at the show in response to the musical performances. This time he will be driving projections and a CRT video wall with an LZX modular video synthesizer hooked up to receive audio, MIDI notes, and/or gate clock in order to respond to the rhythms and amplitude of our sets.

Please visit the Facebook Event Page for additional details.

Meta Composition Lets Audience Compose Text Scores

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Now that I have announced my upcoming project Instant Composer: Mad-libbed Music (ICMLM) it is only fair that I share a little bit about the thought process and inspiration behind the piece. The inspiration comes from Pauline Oliveros’ instructional scores, sonic awareness, and deep listening practice. Oliveros explains in a very matter-of-fact fashion in an interview with Darwin Grosse that her text scores are instructions for the musicians or a soloist to follow. Often allowing for broad interpretation and improvisation, the scores rarely include musical symbols or notation.

Much of my own recent work involves the exploitation of chance: duets with traffic, trains, and the Singing Ringing Tree for example. ICMLM surrenders chance to the audience by resigning the writing to minds free of the context concerning the concept, preparations, and development of the “outer composition.” In this way ICMLM is a meta composition that allows the audience to compose within parameters predefined by the artist. However, the limitations placed on the compositional tool provided are not meant to confine participants.

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The most simple implementation of this concept would be a text area where the author writes whatever they want. I didn’t do this in part because I wanted to make the process engaging, inviting, and user friendly. It is not my intent to intimidate the audience. This is an experiment and we will not dismiss what anyone chooses compose for the ensemble. The process of composing happens within a webapp allowing the composer to specify instrumentation, tonality, dynamics, mood, tempo, length, title, and author. All the choices aside from instrumentation and length can freely be entered as any word or phrase the author chooses. In some cases optional choices are offered from a context sensitive menu, but in “mood,” for example, the author must use their own words.

What this means for the “outer composition” and the ensembles constructed for each piece is that the scores are almost entirely unpredictable. Scores might take the form of a Mad Lib when the author chooses to insert nonsense or humorous terms and phrases. On the other hand fascinating challenges might arise as thoughtful and provocative language is used to inspire the improvising musicians. Whatever happens a large part of the motivation and excitement about this project for me is not knowing what will happen until the piece is performed. I am looking forward to collaborating with the minds of our audience through the musical and sonic interpretations of their ideas.

Instant Composer: Mad-libbed Music

Instant Composer: Mad-Libbed Music

Northern Spark 2015 is June 13, 2015 and once again I am excited and honored to be taking part. This year I am directing and producing a project designed to directly involve audience participation in an all night long musical performance piece. Instant Composer: Mad-libbed Music (ICMLM) is in collaboration with a group of my interactive media students at Art Institutes Minnesota and an ensemble of improvising musicians from the Minneapolis and St. Paul, community.

ICMLM gives the audience a visceral connection to the ensemble because they will be choosing the members and composing the music! We have designed a mobile web application that allows the audience to write a piece of music that will be played by an ensemble within minutes of composing it. The compositions are textual or instructional scores popularized by Pauline Oliveros.

Pauline Oliveros is an American composer and accordionist who is a central figure in the development of experimental and post-war electronic art music … Oliveros has written books, formulated new music theories and investigated new ways to focus attention on music including her concepts of “Deep Listening” and “sonic awareness”. — Wikipedia

In five easy steps visitors will write their piece and submit it for its debut. The app allows participants to choose the instrumentation, tonality, dynamics, tempo, and length without needing to know any musical terms or techniques. The scores are like a Mad Lib, so we anticipate humor and transgressive play, but this will only make it more challenging and interesting for the ensembles.

The event is being held rain-or-shine on June 13, 2015 inside the historic Mill City Museum on the banks of the Mississippi river in downtown Minneapolis. It is free and open to the public and runs from dusk until dawn (9:00pm until 5:26am).

Participating students include: Ariel Marie Brooks, Michael Brooks, Renae Ferrario, Meg Gauthier, Abram Long, Valeria C. Sassi, Adam Schmid, and Steven Wietecha. The musicians include: Chris Cunningham (guitars), Jon Davis (bass, bass clarinet, saxophones), DeVon Russell Gray (bassoon, keyboards), Rajiah Johnson (flute), John Keston (keyboards), Donnie Martin (violin), Thomas Nordlund (guitars), Cody McKinney (bass), Graham O’Brien (drums), and Adam Schmid (drums).

New Album:Isikles with Lister Rossel

Isikles Artwork by Forrest Wasko

I am very excited to announce the release of the album Isikles! This is the third album released this month that I have been a part of. This one in particular is a collaboration between myself and Chilean producer, Lister Rossel. The two of us spent countless hours during the 2014–2015 winter in Minnesota composing and producing eleven movements that portray the fragility and magnificence of frigid environments. The liner notes for the album describe the concept:

Geologists propose that Earth has entered the Anthropocene. This epoch is marked by human activities that significantly impact the planet’s ecosystems. Markers include mass-extinctions that have led to a reduction in biodiversity, industrial and agricultural impacts on geology, radioactive fallout, and the most obvious marker — climate change.

As the planet warms polar regions teeter from stoic landscapes of frigid ice to rapidly evolving environments as they shed their ancient layers. Isikles is a portrait of nature and its transitions. It is a soundscape — a window to the coldest environments on earth; from the microscopic (Ice Mutation) to the macroscopic (Scattered Disk). Isikles reflects the undergoing global transitions of which we are all participants.

This album, produced by John Keston and Lister Rossel, combines composition with sound design techniques to present soundscapes inspired by these transitions. The sound sources include their own field recordings from frigid environments mixed with sonic interpretations uncovered through sound synthesis and processing during the brittle Minnesota winter.

Please have a listen to the album and consider purchasing the lossless download for the ultimate listening experience. The album was produced by John Keston and Lister Rossel, mastered by Tom Garneau, art direction by Luisa Rivera, and cover art by Forrest Wasko. Aside from a smattering of Rhodes playing, everything I produced on the record was designed using the Elektron Analog 4 and the Moog Sub 37.

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