"Theory wrapped me in an entire climate of description. Theory was simply, shoulder-shruggingly, the only thing that helped me to see what I was and where,"Read More
If you follow our social media accounts you'll know we are spending this weekend amongst audio greats at Podcast Movement. First time visiting this particular conference, and already excited for the next one. Yes, they have it set.
This kicks off a couple busy weeks as we are continuing to put out The White Whale every Sunday, have some work for other shows in the mix and are playing participant to the 24-hour Radio Race from KCRW next weekend. Yes, we have asked ourselves what we are doing. Too fun to take that reality check.
If you are new to our podcast as of #PM15 please take a listen in whatever order you please. First season is chronological, but as conversation of the records and films speaks to listening and watching in whatever order you please we have designed each episode to be part of a larger whole that can be heard unto itself.
Cheers to all following and participating in this crazy business. We are having fun. If looking for us tonight we will probably be mixing some radio somewhere in the ether. Feel free to steal attention.
There is a lot of work on the horizon as we round the corner of summer into August. Not only is The White Whale's first season wrapping up in a couple weeks, but we're honored to be contributing to a few other productions for which we are long-time fans.
After the season ends we'll have a slight break. An album collecting original music from the first season is being whittled down. Something we're excited to release, but there is a lot to go through.
We'll also have some one-off productions covering the work of people we love. That's a secret we will hold for now though.
Second season is already under-way as well, though it's subject is still ours to tell. While its approach and aesthetic will be much in line with the first season, this is also going to be a very different experience and very different story. Much more dealing with a particular perspective of the last half century and how it changed the world. Pretty rich and cool stuff. Not a story we imagine you have heard.
What else? What else?
Surely there is more, but the audio world seems enough to highlight for the moment. We just released the newest music video from Scott Wooldridge, something many years in the making, and have a few other tricks up our sleeve in that end. There may be some fiction we wish to visualize as all this audio work is really presenting new worlds and wouldn't mind finally releasing some new photography from the last few years. See if we find the time.
If you follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ you know we are very busy. Anxious Machine's second season has started and our remix for ARRVLS is in the airwaves. We also had a big hand in the recent episode of SisterStory Presents: with Jo Piazza. A lot of music and producing went into making that happen.
There is also a lot coming down the road including a new music video for Scott Wooldridge as well as some others. The White Whale is kicking strong and growing a larger fan base everyday - but that is closer to its season end rather than beginning. We are going to fill that space with some different one- off radio docs as we prepare the second season. That is going to be a pretty different narrative, but built upon similar foundations.
This post specifically though is about a new mixtape American Residue Records is dropping tomorrow. Called Event Horizons, if you have heard any of the recent podcast episodes we have been a part of then you have heard some pieces. These have quickly gained some listeners so time to release.
follow our channels for all the updates and look for the new record tomorrow!
by John R. Barner
About midway through mixing down the tracks on Hikikomori, the machines began to “talk back.” This is the only way I can describe the mixes beginning to augment relatively independently in the computer software. Often I would spend several days away from a mix, either getting busy with life outside of recording or taking time to think about a particular song’s structure or sound. When I would return to the song, there would be changes that I didn’t remember making in the recording process. Sometimes subtle—a bit of echo on a beat, for example—that was easily explained when in the midst of tweaking levels of effects. Others, however, were drastic and many of the songs on Funayūrei contain elements that I genuinely don’t remember adding or enhancing. It was actually quite creepy at times! The phenomena occurred enough that I began to research technical reasons why it could be happening, but turned up nothing to explain everything I was hearing. I did, however, revisit a few creative instances where sounds ended up on a recording without easy explanation. During the recording of Joy Division’s final album, Closer, producer Martin Hannett remarked once to Rolling Stone magazine that the piano line on the song “The Eternal” would be heard through control room monitors when there was no one playing the piano or even in the recording room.
John Balance and Peter Christopherson of the band Coil recorded a side project entitled ElpH. The central creative conceit of the resulting Worship the Glitch, is described in band’s Wikipedia page as “random musical compositions that were generated from their own equipment, either by itself or as an unintended yet pleasant byproduct of their own work” although Balance and Christopherson would often say that they felt these “random musical compositions” were anything but, and seemed to be “transmitted” by somewhere or something. After uncovering these examples, I let the machines (or whatever force was using them) take over and much of what made the final mixes remains unedited. Funayūrei was intended to be the darkest of the records and the most evocative of the traditional ghost story. In Japanese mythology, the funayūrei are the spirits of those who have drowned or died violently at sea and are seen as acting malevolently so that seafarers will join them in their watery afterlife. Reading these myths and legends were incredibly inspiring to both realizing my vision for the music and the recording process itself, which evolved to sampling and making field recordings of water in various forms and incorporating electronic voice phenomena or EVP—static field recordings said to capture ghostly voices.
For the latter, I was able to access several publicly available archives of EVP first broadcast on the Coast to Coast AM radio program once hosted by paranormal enthusiast Art Bell, which I first heard many years ago on a road trip to California. From these disparate elements, the final part of the Yōkai Trilogy was born.
Coil vs. ElpH, Worship the Glitch: https://youtu.be/WUp8tUlftW8
Art Bell on EVPs from Coast to Coast AM: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0978912DC43800D
We released the cover art for John's third act tonight. Album is set for release Tuesday and as per the other releases we have films lined up. Next few weeks should be exciting as we send all this material out in the world.
This has been a long road and it's not over yet. The podcast has lots more material to cover - we just introduced this album, but we're going to travel back a bit so we're nowhere near the end. There are the upcoming films too.
And...John has talked of a special edition Trilogy release that would feature additional material not on the separate records.
We'll see what happens, but while this is an end in some regards, it's also just a beginning.
by John R. Barner
My second story idea revolved around the amount of what I call spiritual investment in our online presence. I use the word “spiritual” in a very general sense, and not indicative of faith traditions as such but rather those emotions that seem to define who we are as people: our personalities, hopes, dreams, needs for attention or consolation, our ups and downs, what we value and what we hope is valued in us by others. Hence, the great amount of time spent on “investment” in tools like computers and social media, which, if all is well, we get a “return” on, be in the form of “likes” or “retweets” or “friends.” But often we seek that kind of return, that “connection” and sense of community at the expense of real human interaction. What if that was all that was left? Only those digital traces cast adrift in the void of cyberspace—incorporeal and disembodied—that are today’s technological ghosts in the machines that connect our world.
I remembered immediately the Kate Bush song, “Deeper Understanding” from her amazing 1989 album The Sensual World (and later revisited on 2011’s Director’s Cut). The song was so eerily prescient about today’s technologically-informed social life and laid the foundation, in many ways, to the story I wanted to tell.
Another burst of information and inspiration came again from Rutledge’s Kūhaku. The hikikomori are the socially isolated youth of Japan. Government figures from 2010 suggest there are more than 700,000 individuals, most under the age of thirty, who live completely isolated lives, rarely, if ever, venturing out in the world and completely cut off from many forms of social life like family, friends, school or work. Many hikikomori get family support or are able to earn a living or have a solitary social outlet through computers, be it gaming, e-commerce, or virtual living spaces such as Second Life, but their lives are often filled with debilitating depression and psychic pain and the phenomenon can last for years, decades, or potentially the rest of their lives. I felt a tremendous resonance between what I was developing as a story idea and the tales I heard of the hikikomori. I was particularly impacted by a story I heard from a young woman who was the older sister of a hikikomori. In an interview, she stated that she empathized with her brother, and even respected his isolation, even if it meant he would not attend the funeral of their grandmother, but admitted that she herself suffered from an acute anxiety that the world itself might go out of existence and her brother would never know. It was as if, she said, he was already gone, already a ghost.
By John R. Barner
Around the time I had set for myself to start recording music for the first story idea, I happened to be reading a book called Kūhaku & Other Accounts from Japan, edited by Bruce Rutledge. In the book, I was introduced to Aokigahara, a dense forest at the base of Mount Fuji that was a popular spot in Japan for suicides. Within a few days, I saw a link for a short film produced for Vice magazine in 2011 that followed Azusa Hayano, a geologist researching formations around Mount Fuji, who regularly ventured into the forest and often returned having either successfully counseled or recovered the bodies of any of the 50 to 100 persons who travel to Aokigahara each year to end their lives.
What I was reading and watching was both profoundly moving and disturbing, and I took my inspiration from it and the music came together in a short span of time. The final mixing sessions also corresponded to the birth of my son, which added to the already dizzying flurry of activity. As I continued, I was mindful that the topic of suicide is a tender one, for myself and countless others. In no way did I want to cheapen or glorify the subject matter. I read more, researched, and tried to compose the music in a thoughtful and respectful manner. In this I was and remain deeply indebted to the thought of Simon Critchley, the philosopher and ethicist who said that suicide “introduces the possibility of an encounter with some aspect of experience…not reducible to the self” (from his Very Little…Almost Nothing, Routledge: 1997, p. 74).
In a way, that remains my hope for not only my fictional character that “haunts” these five pieces of music, or, rather, goes from living to ghost in the space of them, but also for those actual troubled persons that inhabit the very real woods of Aokigahara.
Kūhaku & Other Accounts from Japan: http://www.amazon.com/Kuhaku-Other-Accounts-Japan-Rutledge/dp/0974199508
“Suicide Forest in Japan,” a Vice film: https://youtu.be/4FDSdg09df8
Simon Critchley’s “Suicide – A Defense” given as one of the Durham Castle Lecture Series, Durham University, in December of 2014: https://youtu.be/SO5bBtO26Cw
by John R. Barner
Yōkai, in Japanese, means “ghost” or “apparition” and the distinction holds a particular pride of place in Japanese folklore and literary culture. The earliest beginnings of this project had to do with ghost stories, or telling stories with ghostly or supernatural elements in them. So the name fits, I suppose, but it is stripped of almost all the rich cultural history and color, reduced to its most literal sense. When I first started this project, I did not even know it would involve music but I remained committed to the idea of conceiving of one or more stories (written, recited, or performed) that had ghosts in them. And not just any ghosts, but particular ghosts that haunt us now. Before even starting, I had thought that the very idea of the ghost story was a tired one, lacking in color, creativity or anything I felt was unique or engaging. Everything seemed to have been done. For five months I mostly railed against what I saw represented in mainstream American and European popular culture around the idea of the ghost or ghost story. I re-read Poe, Hawthorne, James, Blackwood, Machen, Collins, Lovecraft, Doyle, Dickens, Shakespeare, and many other literary and dramatic representations. I watched films like Paranormal Activity and television series like Ghost Hunters—and still nothing felt right. Most often, I was left with versions of the same questions. Why was it, even in today’s modern conception of the ghost story, that the spirit in question either an unseen force of some kind, or some representative of a bygone era—the Victorian “woman in black” or avenging Civil War-era soldier? What would a ghost be like who had just become a ghost yesterday? Someone who surfed the Net, listened to Top 40 radio, and watched YouTube videos. I frequently asked myself if such questions were themselves silly and I more than once felt like The Maitlands, the young couple played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis in the 1988 film, Beetlejuice who are repeatedly chagrined to find their quotidian afterlife is never interesting or scary enough, in the traditional sense. Played for laughs in the film, I think it really says something about the Western conception of death and what lies beyond death that we, as a society, don’t really want to explore on some level, but are drawn to just the same. We want to be scared (and entertained by our fear, as it were) but we certainly don’t want to confront death on any level, therefore relegating the more frightening aspects always at some remove. For the Maitlands, it’s found in the more traditionally ghoulish and grotesque title character—for us it’s the invisible monsters, or the vestiges of the ancient, historical or unknown. It’s never us we should be afraid of. I think it was these persistent questions that finally led me to try to tell a series of ghost stories using only contemporary, mostly electronic, music and sounds. I reasoned this would, at least, be an attempt to answer the question. At the end of five months of research, I had three ideas, roughly sketched, and I started to work.
Producing The White Whale has really taken hold the last few weeks as we've begun rolling out our idea of a first main season. Eventually we are going to start introducing one-off recordings that allow some divergence and continuation between seasons without losing the idea of long-form documentary that we are embracing with The Yokai Trilogy.
Unexpectedly, this podcast has led us to rediscover content forgotten as well as tracks unreleased, though not by design. In case of the latter it could have been easy to pretend that wasn't the case and eventually release it as a single or as part of the original music for the podcast, but that feels disingenuous. Especially as part of the "intent" is to reveal the process.
Meta though this may be, it struck a cord that something sitting in an original assembly didn't make it all the way down the distribution chain; requiring rediscovery by an entirely unknown prospect at the time of initially considered release.
This podcast is blessed by our record label which allows usage free and clear where something original to the episode is not needed. Yet, the podcast has already offered something back and we're all better for it.
Excited to see what other pieces will reveal themselves in the process. For now, count this as an eventual one-off - investigating the discovery unknowingly necessary.
It's been a few weeks since we have written. We've been busy getting new content out in the world and it's limited the time to write a proper update.
The White Whale season 1 is in full swing as of yesterday with the first episode introducing John Barner properly and the ideas that have built his trilogy. Brimming with tales of ghosts and mechanical malfeasance - this should be a pretty great ride.
You'll recognize music from the catalog and certain approaches to sound unique to the games we play. The storytelling will keep evolving as the conversation evolves and grows richer so stay tuned for some impressive arrangements.
Any of the original material we bring into the mix will also get a certain mixtape remix - as we've done in the past, though this obviously being the first with music original introduced in a podcast. So, what you hear will come back around again. New shapes and forms to embrace the ideas we come upon through this journey.
We're always looking for a way to give you new work and new perspectives.
Release of the final album, Funayūrei,is also fast approaching. Album is ready, though release date has yet to be set. We are working tirelessly to finish up the films first so you will have the full experience from get go.
Other adventures are in the mix, but for now listen to The White Whale.