New Music LP Out Today: “Eternal”
Wait, a whole LP? Yes, that’s right, while you weren’t looking, I’ve been fiddling about on a specific musical project that ended up being 40 minutes long, which is to say, the length of a traditional LP. It even breaks well into two sides, with Side One being a shade over 23 minutes and Side Two a shade under 17. Did I plan it this way? Ha! No. But when it turned out that way I wasn’t displeased. It’s my longest musical work to date.
And also, formally, my most ambitious. It’s a single long work, with four parts, each with two movements. Each part is comprised of a single musical phrase that consists solely of the “E” note, played across four octaves, with that phrase being stretched and compressed, depending. The first movement has four instruments playing the phrase at different lengths; the second movement reverses the phrase, and shuffles which instrument is playing which phrase length. Each part has its own tempo, instrumentation and effects, including reverbs and arpeggiations, and has a tone and feel distinct from the others.
Why do this? Well, the short answer is that recently I was thinking of the late avant-garde composer Glenn Branca, who sprang not from traditional “classical” environs but out of the “no wave” musical movement of the late 70 and early 80s. Branca’s compositions were often confrontational and experimental, sometimes microtonal or atonal, heavy on treated electric guitars and other instruments not generally associated with symphonies and movements, a real mess and a lot of fun. And on at least one occasion, he’d have his musicians play a single chord, loudly, and explore the tonal landscape that would happen in the sonic crossfire of reverberations.
I am not, to be clear, Glenn Branca. The inspiration I am taking from him here is conceptual rather than directly musical. But I was curious about what would happen when one explores repetition, recurrence and revision, using a same bit of music, applied to the current musical technology.
I was also interested in the idea — and here I make an obvious nod to Brian Eno — of music that is designed as part of a larger experience. Eno’s thing is “ambient” music, to be listened to incidentally, a liminal soundtrack for public spaces (like, famously, airports). For this project I’m not thinking “ambient” per se, since I want you to notice the music more overtly than that. Perhaps “concurrent” would be a better way to put it; played as part of a museum installation, say, to set a specific mood or tone, each part easily repeatable to play continuously as people move through the area. Adding to the experience, and giving an emotional context for it.
Conceptually, then, you could say this album is a looping soundtrack for a cultural event that doesn’t yet exist. There’s a reason the cover art is of an entrance to the Louvre.
(Yes, I know, could I be any more pretentious. Look, concept albums are inherently pretentious. You accept it or you don’t do it. Clearly, I went with it.)
With that as preamble, here’s the album. As of this writing it’s on YouTube and YouTube Music, TIDAL and Amazon Music; Spotify and Apple Music are still processing it (Update: It’s on those two services now, too).
Eternal, Part One (15:25): The original version, with the slowest tempo (68 beats per minute), and the most heterogeneous instrumentation. I’ve noticed that depending on the speakers you put this through, you might hear instruments that aren’t there as the instruments that are there interact with each other sonically. Which is pretty interesting.
Eternal, Part Two (7:43): For this one, all the instruments are the same: a lightly treated piano. Each piano is performing the same arpeggiation, but each arpeggiation is being played at a different speed, from 1/8th of a bar to a single bar. This is played at twice the tempo (136 bpm) of Part One. Of all the parts, this one is probably the “single,” i.e., if you’re going to listen to just one of these, this would probably be it. It’s the prettiest.
Eternal, Part Three (5:40): The fastest (~180bpm), loudest, noisiest and most overtly electronic of the parts, and the only one with a drum track, which skitters over the whole thing like an angry spider. This is also the one where the difference between the two movements of piece is, in my opinion, the most noticeable. This part is the most abrasive one, without a doubt, and is also probably my favorite of the four.
Eternal, Part Four (10:30): The most “moderate” of the pieces in terms of tempo (99 bpm), but possibly the spookiest in terms of instrumentation, with strings that are plucked, buzzed, droned and morphed. This is the part most likely to be heard in an A24 horror film.
Eternal was a bit of a surprise project for me, coming more out of experimentation and exploration than a desire to make something for others to hear. But once I had it, I thought, hey, maybe people might like this. I hope you do. As summer ends here in the US, this is a fine way to take us into a new season.