In recent USG news, continuing in the spirit of Lovecraftian lure and ancient subterranean rituals, Eighth Tower Records presents a dark aural journey through caves and underground choirs. Julien Lacroix’s Moloch Conspiracy musical project offers a stunning work of electroacoustic music and masterfully mixes a diverse range of sound sources. Many field recordings were done, according to the artist, in abandoned structures of the first World War. This record presents an intriguing story that should be listened to in one sitting if possible. Music reviewer TJ Norris writes “This is pure unadulterated atmosphere with a capital ‘A’ with the tracks easily flowing into each other as if it were a singular lengthy piece, yet it’s broken into seven parts”.
In the last blog article, we talked about a specific type of musical element and a genre in itself that derives from ancient, traditional and usually meditative musics, the drone. In the spirit of continuing our research on drone sounds, I have decided to record a short drone mix for this installment of the USG blog. Hope you enjoy it.
On another note, I had the pleasure of interviewing a USG collaborator, experienced music writer and multimedia artist. As a music journalist, TJ Norris has been writing about music for about two decades. He gives us a look at what that means in times of ‘recycled’ music. One that is, in his words ‘thin of meaning and context/content’ . He is the founder of Toneshift.net that contains reviews of new music and sound works from around the world.
TJ: Actually when I built Toneshift.net, it was really only going to be an archive project of prior writing. It was also a reaction to the loss of years of columns that I wrote for Oregonlive.com (‘Is It Art?‘) and my own self-penned ‘unBlogged‘ that because of changes in technology, editorship or other circumstances, were so ephemeral, and eventually became lost texts referred to and without hyperlinks to click back. Both of these were taken offline without a trace, and without compensation. So, knowing the importance of critical words (for those on the other end of my writing) I had to determine best practices for documenting these reviews for the long-term. When Toneshift.net was conceived I made sure to cull everything that I had written about music/sound into one space, some were hard to locate, others were a few Google pages away. This included pieces from defunct glossies like I/E Magazine, Signal to Noise, FO A RM Magazine, Grooves Magazine and online publications like Dusted, Brainwashed and Paris Transatlantic among others. From there I developed it between 2008-2010, adding several new reviews, interviews, etc. In the years between I put the pen down on music-related reviews to focus on teaching, and writing cultural/art reviews for the Willamette Week (Portland, OR) until my relationship grew, and I eventually relocated to the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Since 2014 I began publishing GoFigureNews.com – a site completely dedicated to the art/artists behind the making of designer toys, which went on to be nominated for two awards in the official Designer Toy Awards in 2016 and 2017 – for Best Media Outlet. I’ve also been recently married, purchased a new home and this past Spring brought Toneshift.net back as a daily venture.
Q: As someone who has spent 2 decades as a music journalist, how do you approach your writing when observing and critiquing a piece? How did you develop your unique flow and style of writing?
TJ: I’m all ears. I listen and write, simultaneously. I practice and encourage deep listening. I’ve been fortunate over the years to engage in live performances of otherwise nearly invisible music like that of Robert Rich or Francisco López. But I do not write about the sound composition at the fringes without a pretty diverse knowledge of other genres. I’ve been exposed to a lot of jazz, for instance, from be-bop Blue Note to the avant players of out work like Sun Ra, Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor and the list goes on. And often more popular music informs how I write about the world of electronic music, from my early days with new wave/punk rock to experiencing countless live performances of Spiritualized, Pan Sonic, Human League, Sigur Ros, The Legendary Pink Dots, Pet Shop Boys, Sisters of Mercy, Atom Heart, Jesus & Mary Chain….I’ve seen everyone from Nurse With Wound to Sylvester, Pole to Thomas Dolby, Abbey Lincoln to Bow Wow Wow live in concert – and from every experience I gain a knowledge of the history of various vestiges of sound-making. Beyond the ‘show’ – listening is the central experience.
Writing about music sort of comes naturally to me, I am in no way intimidated, because I appreciate so many things about silences, stops/starts, strange timbre and cadence, the flow between songs/tracks, pitch and beat…there’s so much to describing what you hear, how you can observe it from either/or a clinical/cerebral approach or something more emotional. I think I employ both somewhat. When I was only perhaps 10 years old I wrote my first music magazine, edition of one, with illustrations on white lined paper, all in ballpoint pen. I may still have it somewhere deep in my old archive boxes. From an early age I collected music, and as a kid who grew up in the late 70s/80’s mostly on vinyl LP at first. I must have had nearly 20K records before I sold them in the late 90’s to prepare for relocating across country from Boston to the Pacific Northwest.
Q: As a music writer, do you pay a lot of attention to the words you use to describe sound?
TJ: However bastardized, urbanized, digitized, truncated with emoticons, etc. language grows and/or changes – for me, words mean everything. I most definitely have a trusty Thesaurus always standing by just in case. It is literally one of my favorite books. That said, sometimes I feel as though I write in an ‘automatic writing’ style, as I lose myself in the music, I just write, not paying as much attention to what I last said previously, and more about how the sound makes me feel, and imagine scenarios. There is a meditative state of consciousness reserved for the sense of hearing.
On another side of the music biz, as it were, it can’t go without saying that we are in a time of recycled (regurgitated) ideas. In many ways we have so much flat-line, exclamatory, bubble gummy, over-produced music, thin of meaning and context/content, in the general entertainment market these days. It’s innocuous and therefore easily consumable. I realize I could never really write for one of the major outlets because it requires deriving meaning from proven marketing formulas rather than talent. This has driven many to seek out new artists with something to say, rather than simply replay.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration from? What sounds interest you in your daily life? Do you wonder about unexplained sounds or sounds of unknown origins?
TJ: My inspiration comes from so many places and sources. I’m mostly attracted to the mysteries of the ocean, the wind, the moon. I’m inspired by dancers with fluid and jerky movements. I’m not religious but I love ancient musics based on spirituality like Gregorian chant and also Javanese Gamelan. For making art I get my inspiration from looking at the world that surrounds me, in real time, I love the woods, the oceanside and architecture. In terms of sound I hear everything from the birds that visit my backyard, Mariachi sounds from the neighborhood, the spinning house fan – everyday sounds really.
Q: I read that you are also a multimedia artist. Please tell me more about your work. What is your most recent installation project?
TJ: Right now I’m in a transition where I want to connect new dots, where I want to fuse media in new ways. So, work-in-progress is yet unwrapped. That said I love the idea of fusing photography with sculpture – shifting planes, dimensions. I’ve used the format of installation in my own work, and in my curatorial work as well. In the past I’ve presented installation work that incorporated soundtracks made by various composers. In 2008 I was awarded a grant to present a 72 minute silent film I had created called ‘Infinitus’. The audience were asked to watch this film, but it was presented on two screens, playing forward and backward simultaneously, side-by-side via a very large screen mounted to the ceiling of the gallery. Visitors could lie on custom reclined lounges crafted for the installation. This was set to a soundtrack of the same length by French composer Christian Renou (Brume) (a review: http://www.wweek.com/portland/
Q: How important are visuals to music creation?
TJ: Well, being one who grew up with the first wave of MTV culture, I understood the connection early on (actually I even pre-dated this with shows like Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert). But aside from the glow of television visuals come from design, costumes, even the instruments people play create an image. These days the impact of “branding” sort of steals from the message of the music, but beyond the package the visuals of music come from the actual sound. Sometimes an artist/composer might use an old school synth that recalls something by the Beach Boys while the sound may be far devoid from the image, but it has this urgent sense of recall. In this way the visual is more like memory. I’m a huge fan of powerful design, in record covers, presentation, there are countless examples – but this is all part of the overall visual marketing of music. In the moment I’m recalling Raster-Noton and their 20′ To 2000 set. If you don’t know it, check it out (http://www.raster-media.net/
Q: How important are other human senses such as olfactory and touch to music making?
TJ: The age old question, the impact of the five senses. It’s always deeply relevant, of course. But it’s when in combination that something new is conjured, the sixth sense as some believe. Back in the early 90’s I curated an exhibition that tested that theory exactly, it was called ‘Uncommon Senses’ and it included multisensory work that could be experienced by its audience. It was shown at Cambridge Multicultural Art Center (Boston), SUNY/Binghamton Art Museum (NY) and at the Smithsonian (Washington, DC). Nothing was edible, however 😉