SoundCloud

As of 2015 I hate SoundCloud, no longer visit the site, and have been slowly deleting my tracks as I cut back on my membership category. Initially I had some great experiences and have been richly rewarded with the discovery of artists doing similar work and the acquisition of some delightful online friends.

I will tell you of the rise and fall of my SoundCloud experience.

In 2010-11 I would have conversations with this guy while we were in the service elevator, traveling between the basement and the 37th floor. He worked in the mailroom of one of the primary tenants (occupying about 35 floors) and I worked for the company that installed and maintained their office furniture. Turned out he was an artist, too, working in a variety of media, also like me: graphic arts, sculpture (something I don’t do), poetry, and music. I gave him a copy of 15 Years of Prattle and Din.

This was Kristoffer West Johnson.

He suggested I post my recordings on SoundCloud. I’d never heard of it. So often someone mentions a site or I stumble across one and it seems promising until I start exploring it. My very vague recollection is that SoundCloud looked like a waste of time but it was free so I uploaded all the tracks from the album.

This was the first time since spring 1985, when I participated in a group exhibit of drawings at the Duluth Art Institute, that anything of mine had been placed before the public.

What started to turn me around was that I began exploring groups. I found other people combining poetry and music (or sound). This encouraged me to find the work of others, to hear what else was being done, and to exchange comments and emails. In other words, I found a rudimentary online community.

Of course I usually confused and offended whenever I commented on someone’s recording or responded to their comments on my stuff. Part of this is because many of the people I interacted with were not accomplished speakers or writers of English. Yet it was a thrill to engage with someone in Hungary or England or Argentina or Japan, to name a few. The idea that some obscure radio program in England or Germany had played one of my recordings or that one of them was part of a DJ set in Serbia gave me so much pleasure. But also to engage with the artists on a personal level was such a rare experience for me. Unfortunately I have a strange way of joking that is often misunderstood, even by family. And I am very resistant to kind words directed at me or my art; they were so rare in my childhood and those people who always say them seem insincere, so it’s been a struggle to be gracious enough to just say thank you. I also get prickly when anyone suggests that I’m a musician—it seems an insult to those who really are.

A related, attempted good thing that failed was a blog called Poetry and Other Sounds that was intended to be a bit of a reference point for poets working in sound the way Tape Op is for recording engineers. There were two primary failures: one is that it’s just too small of a field, many of us are working alone and suspect we’re the only one putting poetry and music together; the other is that I have neither the skills nor personality to be an editor. It was too much of a growing process for someone who doesn’t have the time to consume or adjust to all the new things out there on the internet.

Was it 2012 or 2013 that SoundCloud launched the new interface? It seemed designed to shut out people like myself, those creators exchanging ideas and support. On the one hand it became just another market site for producers and consumers. On the other it became just one more social site exploiting the narcissism of following (look at me! look at me! I have great taste!). One fatal change is that I was no longer able to limit my stream to what was posted by those I follow. My only reason for following someone was to hear their recordings and not to get sucked in by their tastes in music (though it’s a great way to discover new music I’d stopped following most of the musicians in order to focus on the poets, ostensibly to feed Poetry and Other Sounds). The other flaw is that the comment boxes became so small that you couldn’t read anyone else’s comments nor put in much of your own. It came to revolve around being seen commenting on someone’s track without actually saying anything. Dialog was over.

The results were that I stopped posting, I stopped listening, I stopped commenting, I stopped following or even logging in, and now I’ve begun deleting my tracks. The temporal commitment was sometimes more than I could afford but I seriously miss the new recordings and the interaction.

Below are the names and slight profiles, in alphabetical order, of some of the more talented and interesting people I encountered on SoundCloud, all of whom have become an online friend to some degree. I encourage you to support these artists. Most of us feel we’re so far out of the mainstream that every penny and pat on the back means something.

Andrew James Anderson is an American musician. I’d almost forgotten him because I had poets on the brain. His music could be lumped into some sort of dark ambient industrial ghetto if you don’t want to think about it. I’ve always heard it as a form of tone poem (though descended from industrial) with layers and textures gaining in intensity as the piece progresses. We’ve had a sporadic email dialog that almost ended up in us meeting face to face when he was in Minneapolis. That would have been cool but awkward, because I’m so shy I become very strange.

Lee Foust is a poet and prose writer, musician (drummer), raconteur, and academic who spends three quarters of the year in Florence, Italy teaching creative writing and summer breaks back on his home turf in the San Francisco Bay area (where, once upon a time, he was in a band called Nominal State), I assume trying to recover his humanity. His recordings have kind of a street corner vibe, Dante meets the Beat generation. So far I’ve only had the opportunity to purchase one of his books, prose and poems. The recordings of the poems were made available for download on SoundCloud but have not been assembled into any kind of album. Lee and I have had some interesting email exchanges regarding pop culture: even though we come from very different backgrounds, being close in age we’ve had similar experiences because of mass consumerism (a love of horror movies and the resulting plastic model kits, for instance).

Mark Goodwin, poet and sound artist, teacher (as community poet), host of Air to Hear, lives in the UK. Mark aggressively seeks other artists to promote what we’re doing, including putting together an exhibition in England that featured recordings from all around the world. Over the years I’ve heard him develop as a sound artist. His readings are a sonic adventure, the phonemes often drawn out until the words are barely recognizable. His use of sound is more ambient than musical, more of a suggestion than a statement. I’ve purchased several of his books but his recordings have not been packaged in a way that is convenient for the general consumer (for instance, his publisher provided a download link to a limited number of book buyers), neither as CDs nor as downloads. The last time I checked very few of his recordings on SoundCloud were available for download (correction, Mark says that they are now downloadable).

David McCooey, poet, musician, and academic, lives in Australia. Mark Goodwin was adamant that I listen to David, who at the time had just uploaded an album of spoken poetry and music onto iTunes, Outside Broadcast, featuring many poems from his book Outside. His work is subtle, quiet, and restrained, in the manner of Tomas Tranströmer and Brian Eno. I have since purchased or been given books of his poetry as well as volumes of prose and poetry by his wife, Maria Takolander, both of whom teach creative writing at Deakin. David and I have since developed a rich online correspondence. I have also had the pleasure of mailing him a very large (actually, gigantic) box of Grape Nuts as a thank you for academic assistance for when my younger child was in Australia in early 2015.

Dave Migman seems to work in so many media I’m afraid of mentioning any for leaving out something. Poetry and novels, graphic arts, stone carving, music. He usually says he’s from the UK; I think of him as Scots (he has the most enviable accent). Whenever I can I buy his books and recordings, though much of it has been available for free download on SoundCloud. There are several solo albums on Bandcamp as well as a couple of collaborations with Spleen Erebus (I’ve had trouble purchasing one of these, it seems a Serbian bank is somehow involved and the transaction won’t go through—I hope this is not a permanent condition). His solo recordings tend to show punk roots, being rather stark and energetically abrasive. The readings with Spleen of course retain his dark, angry, misanthropic growl, like Poe or Baudelaire resurrected in the 1980s Punk scene, but surrounded by Spleen’s lush, dark, synthesized ambience.

American artist Jeff Sampson hasn’t done much with spoken word, that I’ve heard, but he has numerous albums featuring his voice and keyboards. A good place to start is on Bandcamp. I’ve purchased quite a few of these albums but have also been given some, more than a dozen total, and yet I feel I’ve barely tapped into all the work Jeff has available. The majority of this work could loosely be defined as ambient, though I’m always hesitant to label anyone’s work either because their creative output is too diverse or in the hope that it will become so. Jeff is not only prolific but also quite flexible. He and I have also developed a rich online dialog.

Hank Tilbury is an American painter, storyteller, and musician. He is the greatest person for exchanging comments on SoundCloud, simultaneously supportive and irreverent. I have had the good fortune of downloading a couple of his albums from Bandcamp (more or less ambient experimental rather than the bluegrass and folk he so often posts) but it’s such a small representation of all the fine work he’s produced. We’ve developed an online dialog that sometimes strays into talk of collaboration (I have set my words to one of his performances).

I’m not saying SoundCloud isn’t worth your time. I encourage you to explore the groups to find some truly unique and interesting artists. I will say it’s no longer worth my time.

Really, I just wanted to post this as a small plug for the artists I mentioned.

And to complain. Complaining makes me happy.

 

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15 Years of Prattle and Din

Throughout the years I’ve put together collections of my recordings to inflict on my friends. Most of these people are still talking to me though we avoid certain subjects, such as my art. In March 2011 I thought it was important to assemble a collection celebrating fifteen years of audio production, so I made another CD/booklet package to hand out to friends (this time including my children): 15 Years of Prattle and Din.

To put this particular title into perspective I think I need to give you a little more background on my development as an artist. As far as I’m concerned it starts in the spring of 1983 when I’d come to the conclusion that I needed to do a book of poems and erotic drawings. I called it Laughing Water . In my memory this was a simple, decisive moment. In fact it had been evolving for at least a year prior and continued to transform for at least another eighteen months until it settled into something long term and open ended. Laughing Water became for me what Leaves of Grass became for Walt Whitman, it never seems to end (there will probably be some vague deathbed version for me), is constantly being edited, and seems to engulf all my artistic output.

A brief synopsis: I’ve been drawing all my life and started to explore oil paints during my last semester of high school (graduated in 1975). After graduating I started to read everything in the public library on the subject of painting, discovering the concept of glazing and finally finding Robert Vickery’s New Techniques in Egg Tempera, circa 1977, where I saw some examples of how it was done. Also influenced by Vickery, sometime around 1981 I started to hatch and then crosshatch to produce drawings as finished objects rather than preparatory sketches. Beyond these detached influences I consider myself self-taught.

Illustrations for a planned fantasy story circa 1976. Graphite, colored pencil, India ink.
Illustrations for a planned fantasy story circa 1976. Graphite, colored pencil, India ink.

 

A sphinx, circa 1976. An early work in oil paint.
A sphinx, circa 1976. An early work in oil paint.

 

A pin-up nude. My first attempt at using oil glazes, maybe July 1977. All the darker areas are made up of layers of transparent paint. Almost all the colors are pure out of the tube, mixed with copal medium.
A pin-up nude. My first attempt at using oil glazes, maybe July 1977. All the darker areas are made up of layers of transparent paint. Almost all the colors are pure out of the tube, mixed with copal medium.

 

An entropometer, which evolved into my image of the Apostle of Need. Drawn circa 1981 or 1982 as I was teaching myself to draw with hatching (eventually crosshatching).
An entropometer, which evolved into my image of the Apostle of Need. Drawn circa 1981 or 1982 as I was teaching myself to draw with hatching (eventually crosshatching).

 

The only finished portion of an attempted self-portrait circa 1983-4. Graphite, India ink, and acrylic paint (white highlight and ochre wash).
The only finished portion of an attempted self-portrait circa 1983-4. Graphite, India ink, and acrylic paint (white highlight and ochre wash).

 

Drawing number xxix-29 from Laughing Water. 4"x6". Graphite and acrylic. One of the few drawings from the collection permissible for most audiences.
Drawing number xxix-29 from Laughing Water. 4″x6″. Graphite and acrylic. One of the few drawings from the collection permissible for most audiences.

 

I’ve almost always worked within the confines of realism but not necessarily naturalism. By 1980 the imagery was almost exclusively sexual, mostly female nudes, but I felt like I was skirting the issue. Since coming to realize, in recent years, that art is primarily a matter of thinking rather than an act of producing esthetic objects, it was very important for me to tackle sexuality head on. I’ve come to see sex as a bridge for human contact and a focus for intimacy, as the supremely sensual experience—more than anything, it’s about skin—and I’ve long had an extreme dissatisfaction with our society’s interpretation of our sexual being (even the more sexually open philosophies such as Tantric Buddhism  and Hinduism seem dehumanizing).

Not long after I started to explore paint I also started writing science fiction/fantasy (a total mistake). By 1977 I was writing poetry. Math and art were my natural element until I finished high school, then I found words. Actually, since graduating I’ve found almost the whole human endeavor: I didn’t really begin to come to life until I was eighteen.

Almost immediately I fantasized about producing books with both my poems and visual art. Back then printing was very expensive, not something you’d do on your own, and the digital world was barely the dream of a few thousand techies (and not at all as rich as it’s come to be). But for several years I played around with how I could make this happen. So, my original plan for Laughing Water was that it would be grayscale—all drawings—and therefore somewhat affordable to print on my own. Maybe a couple dozen drawings and, say, fifty poems. Within a year I’d gotten fed up with the limitations of graphite, decided the actual book would be left to the future, and started using acrylic paints on the drawings.

When I began recording in 1996 it was as an extension of Laughing Water. It has always been my goal to have words, images, and recordings in a single package. The earliest releases on cassette were just the recordings but as soon as I could I started to put together slightly better artwork (illicitly using my employer’s copier). These were still basic cassette liners. When I got my first computer around the end of 1999 I spent a lot of time archiving my art and producing CD/booklet packages. I don’t know if any of these editions even added up to fifteen copies handed out to friends. They all had titles playing on the parent project Laughing Water: First Drafts of Water, Another Draft of Water, Up to Our Ears in Water, or something like that. As soon as I got this stuff on the computer the booklets came in full color and were filled with my sexually explicit drawings. If the weirdness of my recordings and poems wasn’t enough to make most people cringe then my visual art would clinch it, the average person tends to find my work perplexing and discomforting.

Which is where one of the choices for 15 Years of Prattle and Din comes in. I decided that it would be for a more general audience, including my children (at that time aged twenty and fifteen). Instead of using my drawings I would fill the book with photographs—landscapes, my studio, my face—most of which are washed out and used only as background to the text.

The more difficult choice was selecting the recordings. Usually my collections are of recent works (except for a collection put together in 2002 which had all extent recordings, all finished official drawings (numbered and signed with my first name, about 120 at the time), and the text to all recordings—this left out about 90% of my written work, which I consider to be part of Laughing Water, and thousands of drawings and paintings which I do not think of as part of the project). 15 Years of Prattle and Din is still dominated by newer works. To represent the older material I included things that had recently been recreated in the computer, all compositions from 1996. 1997-2003 are not represented. (The booklet does give original draft dates for each recording.) “Music, the Beginning”, “Evil 1”, and “Night Rain” were all originally recorded in 1996. The versions in the retrospective are all more recent recreations produced in ACID Pro on the computer. “Coverage” and “Effigies” (though some of my notes say “Effigies” was only started then but finished in 2009) are from 2004 and “Miasma” is from 2009. “Hello, Earth” is from 2010. “Passing”, “Work Yourself to Death”, “Sunday Morning”, and “World Without Prayer” were all completed in February 2011, a couple weeks before the album was put together. Instead of going for something truly representative—that is, something stylistically incoherent—I tried to put together a fairly cohesive album. I also chose compositions that I liked, except for a couple of the newer pieces. (I actually like listening to this collection the way I would someone else’s album.)

The version of 15 Years of Prattle and Din I’ve uploaded to Bandcamp contains newer mixes of all the tracks than on the disc I distributed in 2011. I suppose technically they should be called mastered, since I used iZotope’s Ozone mastering software to enhance the mixes (primarily to make my voice more audible). (If you really want to hear how a composition changes you can go through my annual playlists or, sometimes, my primary narrative for a composition will have alternate versions. The page of chronology can be used as a table of contents for all the compositions and almost all the other posts for this site. In the table as each composition is listed for the first time (that is, draft 1) the title has a link to that article. The year links to an annual playlist. Often the notes on the right hand side link to a post as well.)

The album can be downloaded for free, if you want to hear it or read the booklet. You are given the option to pay but I suggest you don’t.