A couple of months ago, I substantially altered ULTRAsomething’s site structure. By eliminating all subdomains, integrating all content under a single URL, and awarding top-o-the-heap, landing-page status to the essays, I liberated myself to write about topics other than photography.
Since then I have published two articles, both of which were about… well… photography.
So what happened to ULTRAsomething’s ambitious plan to increase its scope while simultaneously decreasing its readership?
Its been incubating.
Saying that I wish to write about “topics other than photography” is essentially a maundering way of saying “music.” I wanted to give myself an outlet for new music, and an opportunity to write about it. Music was my first love, my greatest motivator and, after an eight-year hiatus, is a renewed and predominant passion.
So these past few months, while I struggled to squeeze out two new photography articles, I was rather effortlessly churning out new tunes. Five of them to be exact. Six if you count the fact that my last article contained a vBook with a new musical score.
This incubation period was necessitated by my need to rectify the world I once knew with the world today. Decades ago, when I first became involved with music, the expected presentation method was the album — a collection of songs with a generally cohesive style and sound. “Serve the album” was the mantra burned into my subconscious. Serving the album meant settling on a sonic direction; spending a year writing and recording new music that conformed to that direction; selecting the best songs and arranging them in the best order; shipping the master recording off to the record company; basking in the thrill of seeing your music on the shelf at Tower Records or hearing yourself on the radio; then repeating the process all over again.
In truth, this distribution model was extinct long before my musical sabbatical began. My band’s record label (C’est La Mort) went out of business in the mid 1990’s, and I spent the next decade musically directionless — subjugating my own musical inclinations for whatever trend might help land me the odd scoring gig, or support whatever music industry product I was designing at the time.
It was this very lack of direction that eventually lead me to abandon music, and to concentrate on commercial photography. But it wasn’t too long before that, too, succumbed to the dreary existence that comes from wasting a passion on someone else’s vision.
And this is when I first recognized the synergy that exists between my musical and photographic pursuits; and how efforts in one endeavour could apply to the other. I’d spent too many years destroying my musical passion searching for commercial reward. So when a similar trend began to seep into my photography, I was able to recognize it and alter my approach — abandoning commercialism, and refocussing my efforts on becoming the photographer I wanted to be, and not the photographer I thought the world wanted me to be. I started the ULTRAsomething photography blog and became a teensy-weensy legend ’round photography’s more obscure outer fringes. Did it make me money? No. But it provided something more valuable — happiness, purpose, meaning and pride.
So a few years ago, when I felt those old musical passions rumble somewhere deep within, I was careful not to artificially expedite their return. I opted for an organic approach — if I felt like writing music, I did. If a few weeks passed and I didn’t feel like writing music, I didn’t stress over it. The strategy worked — music re-entered my life, and has now become the predominate passion that it once was.
Which meant it was time to apply some of what I’d learned from photography back into music. First and foremost, this meant recognizing that a similar happiness, purpose, meaning and pride are indeed within my musical grasp. All I needed to do was model my musical distribution after the one I established for photography. In other words — free web distribution and some accompanying paragraphs to give it a semblance of purpose.
And so, when you click the MUSIC link on this site’s Menu Bar, you’ll find yourself on a page that links to my current musical output. It’s an output void of commercial expectation. It crosses genres and fuses methodologies in ways that likely please only me. It is, in many ways, the antithesis of the album-oriented aspirations of my youth. If I feel like pursuing a musical idea, I pursue it — free from the worry of whether it fits within a particular classification, or whether it furthers or invalidates my “image.” Whatever ephemeral impulse guides me to create a particular track is accepted without judgement. Thus, the music I create is ephemaural music.
Because I’m following flights of fancy, I’m not currently grouping this music in any way — there is no this genre or that genre. There are no playlists, save for the big giant one that plops each new song at the top of a growing list, along with an accessibility rating from 1 to 10. Any song can be played without leaving the site. If one wishes to learn more about a particular song, they need only click the song’s name, and they’re whisked away to a page on my Soundcloud site where I’ve written information about that song. In further support of my cross-pollination of passions, I’ve also chosen to tag each song with a uniquely identifying photo or graphic.
For example, the song named Ghost of ’83 has an accessibility rating of 10, meaning it’s about as unchallenging and simple a piece of music as I could possibly write. Clicking the song title takes you to its Soundcloud page, which contains the following description:
Ghost of ’83:
“Have you even searched your dwelling for a lost object, only to unearth something completely different — something you didn’t know you still had? Maybe it’s an old 10 Ruble Soviet coin you got in grade school. Or maybe it’s an unmarked cassette mix tape. Whatever it is, you have no idea why you kept it, nor do you even recall making a conscious decision to do so. It’s just there — a miraculous survivor of numerous spring cleanings and a surprising reminder of a past you thought you’d forgotten.
The mind sometimes works in a similar way. You reach into the old hippocampus to extract a recent idea you wish to explore, and instead you pull out some dusty old remnant of a synapse that hasn’t been switched on in decades.
This is precisely how this particular song came about. Four days ago, I was messing around with a software emulation of a Buchla 266 Source of Uncertainty module, and a particular cluster of uncertain notes managed to exhume a small section of my long-dormant early-1980’s musical brain. Back then, influenced by slasher movie soundtracks, New York avant-garde minimalism and German New Wave, I was bravely writing and recording a rather unsophisticated style of instrumental technopop, which I somehow thought would prove popular enough to get me into the film scoring business. Ahh, youth.
Anyway, two hours after first realizing my new ideas sounded a lot like something I might have written in 1983, I had a complete recording — a four minute composition generated entirely by a heretofore forgotten remnant of my past self. Upon finishing it, I contemplated ‘modernizing’ it — replacing the anemic drum track with something less pedantic; rewriting the bassline so as to remove its naïveté; Maybe giving it a modern sheen and an infusion of more esoteric sounds. But I stopped myself. This song came entirely from a piece of me I didn’t know still remained. Why taint that? Why deny that ancient little synapse its very own unadulterated moment?
And thus was born ‘Ghost of ’83.’
Hmm… I wonder where I stored that old prog rock neural network of mine?”
Similarly, the song named Krelic has an accessibility rating of 2, meaning that engaging with its “charms” will prove rather onerous to a sizeable chunk of the world’s population. Clicking the song title takes you to its Soundcloud page, where you’ll read the following:
“In the 1956 film ‘Forbidden Planet,’ Dr. Morbius introduced us to a mysterious, ethereal and wholly electronic form of music, which was produced over a half-million years ago by the ancient Krell civilization. Though not knowingly descending from the Krells of Altair IV, I am a disciple of their music, and have prepared this humble homage.
A word of warning: while wildly popular amongst the kids on Altair IV, Krell music is not overly accessible to earthlings. If ‘Revolution 9′ is your favourite song on The Beatles’ White Album, or if you consider ‘Several Species of Small Furry Animals’ to be the pinnacle of the Pink Floyd catalogue, then you might enjoy ‘Krelic.’ (Though, truth be told, both of those songs have more in common with Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen than they do with ancient Krell music — but we’re diving into semantics here).
Because I lack the immense mental facility required to compose and perform such music directly, I have resorted to inhuman tactics and turned over full control to the modular synthesizer. By patching it such that it derives all its pitch, timbre and rhythm cues solely from modules feeding back into themselves to form complex networks of control systems, I insure that zero human intervention is required. Songs are ever-altering themselves — directing themselves as the electronic circuitry sees fit, and not as a human would. For this particular recording, I configured one of these self-evolving patches one evening before bed, then allowed it to continually play and metamorphose throughout the night. In the morning, I simply grabbed a cup of coffee, walked into the studio and hit the RECORD button to capture a 10 minute ‘snapshot’ of the song’s evolution some 12 hours after first patching it.
Who knows? In a half-million years, maybe it’ll have a few devotees of its own?”
Moving forward, these songs and their expositions might become posts in their own right (write?) — particularly if I think there’s something instructional, inspiring or even (gasp!) entertaining about a tune’s particular tale.
So there you have it. ULTRAsomething is now officially a two-topic site. As I stated previously, I’m sure this decision will cost me readers, and that’s a price I’ve accepted. Although it’s tempting to use my newfound freedom as a soapbox for all manner of issues, the site will maintain its focus on the angst and agony of creativity. For now and the foreseeable future this means “music” and “photography.” To create and write about other so-called “art forms” would require more commitment and dedication than I’m likely capable of generating in these waning years.
©2016 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THIS POST:
Because its referenced content is a hodgepodge of collected snippets previously posted ’round the ULTRAsomething universe, there’s not much to glean from a detailed description of it all, particularly when every source would have a different description. Most music is created on a rather bulky modular eurorack synthesizer, though a few other external hardware synths often end up in the mix (as does the occasional software-based synth). Recording always happens in either Ableton Live or Apple Logic Pro X. Mastering is usually done with Izotope Ozone 7, though occasionally something from Waves works its way into the mastering process.
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