↬ Twenty-two – 10: Utopia(s), translations, synths, resonances

Hi, I’m Rudiger Meyer and this is my monthly newsletter covering what I’ve been up to and what’s been catching my attention.

In December 2001, with hours to fill while on a stopover in Greece on my way to visit family in South Africa, I came across Björk’s Vespertine in the airport CD store. While I’m a big fan of hers, I never connected with the albums that followed quite as deeply as I did with Vespertine.

Björk has recently put out Sonic Symbolism, a podcast series exploring the “textures, timbres, and emotional landscapes” of her music, with an episode for each of her albums (stopping short of the most recent Fossora), and it was a fascinating way to revisit the album that meant so much to me 20 years ago. Following that I got round to exploring her Utopia from 2017, an album that I for some reason never got to listen to when it came out.

The thing that struck me while listening to her exposition of the album, was her feminine take on things apocalyptic.

Björk: Time-wise, Vulnicura [the album that precedes Utopia, dealing primarily with the break up from her long-time partner, the film-maker Mathew Barney] is the death of the patriarchy or the sort of explosion. And then after the explosion of the patriarchy, the habitants of humanity, they go to an island and it’s like a post-apocalyptic, but not like the typical male apocalyptic things. It’s very destructive and horrible and everybody’s dying and da, da, da, da, da. It’s the opposite. It’s optimistic. So that’s the rebellion because I think in matriarchy energy, you have to be pro-life, you know. If you’re raising children or whatever, you can’t just be like, “Oh, yes. And then everybody died… that’s the end.” You have to be like, “But…” So you have to invent hope.

As fate would have it, around the same time as listening to the podcast Kamil Galeev was tweeting about the dangers of giving in to annexation, with an example from 16C Russia that seemed to fittingly illustrate Björks point.

By the end of the siege, the city was completely destroyed. The entire male population of the city was slaughtered, female – partially slaughtered, partially enslaved. Only a few managed to break through the encirclement and escape to the forests

With the current state of world events, I’ve been thinking about that male version of apocalypse, perhaps exemplified in this short animation: A Brief Disagreement, and thinking that we might be in for a slightly different version on a global scale, destructive as the coming world wars might be. (I also think that humanity definitely is learning from its actions/mistakes, and not simply beating each other up with ever increasing technological sophistication.) And while I’m totally with Björk concerning the patriarchy, and understand her point of departure for these albums, I’d personally perhaps reframe it in terms of us moving away from the animal aspects of our nature towards true humanity, not necessarily male or female, although masculinity/patriarchy has certainly been good at exemplifying those ‘beastly’ sides of our natures.

I’ve also been thinking about her take on defining ‘a place from outside’ from which we can reframe the rest. The Einstein (attributed) quote that “one can’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking that led to them”.

Björk: I think there is some sort of femininity or, um, self-sufficiency in that. Almost like a queer kind of, um, survival instinct. How can I survive without this testosterone? You know, it’s not good news. It just ruins everything all the time. How can we survive without it? But I think also in the album there is also a moment where you realize you cannot survive without it you have to include it. So it’s first you define the new world without islands. You start building things, you grow plants, you have peace, you have a society with rules and it works and then you can invite the males into it, but you have rules. You have say, okay you cannot be violent here, you cannot kill, you cannot do all these destructive things. So, you somehow figure out a way for the feminine energies and the masculine energies to coexist again.

Kamil again, in response to Elon Musk’s tweets on Ukraine and Taiwan, pointing out how in the west we take for granted the space, the ‘hothouse’, in which our special flowers of innovation can be grown, contrasting it with the brutal mafioso landscape that Russian entrepreneurs face.

Non-violent entrepreneurs have prospered under artificially secure conditions and having (unknowingly) outsourced their security. If they don’t understand it, you’d be much better off ignoring their advice when it comes to security and foreign policy. End of 🧵

One might argue that the more a society that looks after all of its inhabitants, the less likely the criminality is likely to thrive. I seem to remember reading something about Naples after WWII and how the mafia was filling in support roles otherwise missing from the state, which then placed it in a good position to flourish.

Mylar Melodies recently put together a video of his visit to Synthfest 2022 in Sheffield, and what struck me was the positive attitude of many of those he interviewed, despite the immense supply chain and financial challenges the synth/module makers were facing, and that specifically in the UK with all the problems it is currently facing as a country. It cheered me up, gave me hope to see all these people, each pursuing their largely niche passions with a passion, finding new paths ahead when the old ones are blocked. It gave me a glimpse of a future in which we don’t face the total annihilation of the Brief Disagreement video, but a more feminine apocalypse in which, even though we most probably will face large scale collapse and destruction, we find our ways ahead, building out from whatever islands of peace we manage to sustain.

* * *

The Atomar podcast has reached its conclusion. Episode 8 starts with Our new prologue, the final poem of the collection, and proceeds with a version of all that’s gone before in a single stretch. It’s basically all the episodes in one, but without the intro bits and with some minor alterations and adjustments to the mix.

Lene has published our English translation of the poems on her newly established Maggie’s Mill. The Danish version is available in print and e-book formats, the English version only as an e-book PDF. For non-Danish speakers I think it could provide a good companion to following the podcast, should one be interested in that.

I see Lene’s original poems as being very much rooted in the current state of Danish language, culture, and society, and it took some effort to achieve an English version of the poems that stands on its own feet. I think we’ve succeeded. I hope so.

There’s also Atomernes dans (Dance of the Atoms) a new podcast with Ida Nerbø’s sounds to a (Danish) text by Solvej Balle.

* * *

Another project in collaboration with Lene has been the English translation of her novella The Weiss-Manetti Prediction.

Many years later, someone would tell the story all over again about the waiter who picked up a hopelessly drunk guest at closing time, called for a taxi, got a reluctant body propped into the back seat, closed the car door and watched the taxi drive away, locked the bar and walked down the street, only to meet the guest again on the first street corner, sober and energetic, talking to another person and laughing at a joke as the waiter stopped to wonder. Was it some kind of double? A visual illusion? Something he, due to fatigue and darkness, imagined seeing, like a dream?

A series of entangled vignettes covering quantum research intrigues, power, politics, migrants, personal relationships, family. Denmark, Norway, France, Israel, Canada. All floating in superposition without collapsing into a single state.

It’s been a much easier project than the translation of the poems. The text isn’t as specifically Danish, and each word doesn’t need to be endlessly weighed and turned before settling into place, as was the case with the Atomar. Instead of tracking the changes word for word in Microsoft Word, it’s been a joy to return to the fluidity of simply getting the text to flow in iA Writer. Might still take a while before it’s ready to be published though.

* * *

In previous newsletters I’ve touched on synthesizer music that I’ve appreciated for its directness (rather than conjuring some kind of sound-picture/landsape). John McGuire’s Pulse Music. Hainbach’s Syn-Ket variations. Benge’s ‘System’ albums.

I recently came across an album along similar lines: Paleozoic by H. Takahashi, although, interestingly, with an underlying landscape theme:

With a strong interest in geology and biology, Takahashi started imagining the landscape and life of the Earth in prehistoric times based on fossils and illustrated books, later used as inspiration for his compositions. At first sight, these images make it easy to envision the ecosystems and environments of prehistoric Earth as so distinct from those of today that they could almost be seen as different planets.

A more (FM) digital sound world than the analogue albums I mentioned above. Sometimes somewhat in the direction of McGuire, but without the same (compositional/conceptual) rigour, not that that’s a problem.

Also along the lines of the above, I came across Arash Azadi’s Healing Light Through Stained Glasses via Peter Kirn’s CDM blog. It’s a beautiful piece and somewhat different to the rest of his more conventional ‘new music’ output, as documented on his website.

The music is a minimal composition for one multi-layered synthesizer which creates a meditative soundscape over a long chord based on perfect 4th intervals. In this piece the composer has experimented with 528 hz (tuning A=444 hz, centered around C) that refers to ancient healing frequencies called Solfeggio and Sacred Geometry that are based on the perfect 4th intervals creating a Dodecagram. Over time the notes add on top of each other and get modulated gradually. The whole piece is constantly evolving and transforming in subtle, gentle ways.

I was intrigued by his reference to the ‘Sacred Geometry Solfeggio’. I’ve come across it in relation to numerous new age meditation things, there’s a lot on YouTube, and have always found myself rather sceptical. I’m still to understand how the solfeggio fits in with the fourths, but that aside, it seems on the one hand have to do with the Schumann resonance (making it somehow in tune with the earth’s resonance, or earth’s ‘heartbeat’) as well as numerology (the numbers 3, 6, 9), and can quickly descend into what I’d call pseudoscience and just plain weirdness/conspiracy stuff – see 432 Hz – The Truth Behind Nature’s Healing Frequency, or this for example.

Taking the primary Schumann resonance of 7.83 Hz as a starting point the 432 Hz camp rounds off to 8hz and builds from there, which gives a C4 at 256 Hz rather than the usual equal temperament C = 261.626 Hz (where A = 440 Hz). That means that all your ‘C’s have nice round numbers, and also the other the degrees of the scale, should you tune them to pure ratios, but that could just as well be the case with A as a starting point. A = 440 would go down to 8.176 Hz a little further away from 8 Hz than 7.83 Hz, but if you’re rounding off anyway? And the Hz measurement unit is itself as man-made a convention as is measuring distance in metres. If we’d settled a different measurement unit we could just as well have gotten other frequencies to give us nice round numbers. Perhaps practical in certain circumstances, but hardly intrinsic. And after all it’s the ratios between those frequencies that have a direct effect on us, no? As well as the way instruments resonate, changing their timbre when tuned to a higher or lower pitch standard.

Anyway, I’m not so keen to dive further into that particular rabbit-hole – whatever the case, I’ve enjoyed Arash’s piece, no matter the point of departure. If someone has a good explanation, I’m all ears.

Something else that I came across just yesterday has been Languoria, Sofie Birch’s new album with Antonina Nowacka. Similar in some ways to the old Battiato albums I’ve been carrying on about.

All the best
↬ Rudiger

P.S. If you have music to share, don’t hesitate to drop me a mail.

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Hi, I’m <a rel="me" class="p-name u-url" href="https://rudigermeyer.com">Rudiger Meyer</a>, a composer interested in the play between music, sound, and&nbsp;media.