061180 - I'm Considering Being a Cloud
When does sound cease to be something we can qualify as music? When does noise turn into rhythm, when do tones turn into art? These are questions musicians, music scientists and sound analysts have been asking for centuries. With the advent of electronic music those lines became even more blurred. Birmingham, Alabama sound nut John Parnell is not doing anything to un-blur them, either. Taking a “the music is there if you can hear it” approach to his most recent two albums, Parnell as 061180 is reinforcing the argument that all sound is music if there is someone who appreciates it as such.
061180 releases his sound vignettes at a staggering pace; nine of them in less than two years. Some are singles, some EPs and others, like his two latest “I’m Considering Being a Cloud” and “Rev. Queen Daddy,” are full-blown albums. All contain superbly written and arranged “songs.” I hesitate to call them songs not because I’m confused as to whether they qualify as music. In my mind they absolutely do, but they go far beyond what many would typically call a song. Perhaps “sound stories” might be a better term; each track has a beginning and an end, a place it’s going and a feeling to emote but it’s done in a much different, and dare I say, more evolved way than the average thing we call a “song” nowadays.
The “songs” on “I’m Considering Being a Cloud” seem so sparse that many would discount them as nothing but recordings of noise, if that. The first track, “Fiction,” has an intro of total silence and comes in so quietly that I thought there was something wrong with my earbuds at first listen. The track builds very slowly into a quiet symphony of pulses, swells and distorted samples. This track sounds as though something an underwater listener can’t quite make out is happening just above the surface. Maybe something even more sci-fi is conjured, like being trapped inside someone else’s body or waking up inside some sort of air-tight pod. Whatever you imagine, the track is meant to cause the listener to strain his or her ears to listen for clues.
This sound experience continues into the next track, “A Farm in the Dessert,” where indeed muffled voices slowly emerge out of the muted viscera of sound. Before the listener can discern what is being said, however, the voices are gone and another set of low tones emerges. This time it is a rumbling, almost as if the pod is being driven somewhere. These sounds continue for almost 9 minutes. If you listen to the songs on the album in succession, you may expect that by “Home Bird III” some resolution will happen or at the very least this sound story will continue. Maybe the next sounds will be of a door opening, a flush of water or more voices but that is not the case.
“Home Bird III” is a completely different set of sounds with more typically musical tones which might remind some of Tangerine Dream. Being that it is more musical in nature, “Home Bird III” may lull listeners into thinking that this track was made in a more conventional way, but these rhetorical people would be wrong. Palmer as 061180 creates his tracks in a style pioneered by the likes of German composer Merzbow and other science-driven musicians. In this technique, tones are set up on a mixing board and then pulses are run through them to create the unique sound dimensions. This technique takes a lot of science: calculating the time almost to the millisecond and creating the exact correct frequency and duration of the pulse to change the sound’s trajectory and tone to name just two factors. With a track which has very little musical structure, these tones and pulses are simpler to create as they don’t have to resemble music or have musical structure as most of us understand it. Wanting to create a whole melody with high tones and complimentary harmony requires a whole different level of skill on the scientific side with the pulse technique. “Home Bird III” is thus even more impressive in its achievement of a more conventional musical style than some of the more sparse-sounding tracks.
“Home Bird III” doesn’t sound musical for all of its 13-minute duration. It eventually devolves into a seemingly unstructured symphony of pulses, thus highlighting the technique even further, before merging with the next song, “Satan’s Kazoo.” This song is even more impressive as it features a number of pulse samples which are merged with guitar sounds to create an absolutely haunting effect. The song’s title could not be more apt; this sound story tells the tale of Satan luring souls to hell with his magical and seductive kazoo.
“Satan’s Kazoo” merges into “Eat Your Makeup,” an almost breakcore-like song. With literally thousands of different pulses needing to be coordinated at once, this is the most technically brilliant song on the album because it is so fast and most likely needed to be done in one take. This is probably the song which is most similar to Merzbow if you’re into him. “A Lessor Key of Solomon” is the short track which closes the album, and we come full circle back to the muted, underwater feeling with indiscernible voices. Whether this track is supposed to be related to the opener is unclear. Parnell lets each listener build his or her own sound story with his music, and I suppose it’s up to the listener whether he or she decides to hear an entire “sound book” in “I’m Considering Being a Cloud.”
The science of music is something man has been fascinated by ever since there was music. Pythagoras was the first to draw out the physics of musical structure, and since then studies of wavelength, frequency and amplitude have made our understanding of the physical structure of music very great indeed. With electronic music the sound/science loop may seem to have been closed, but artists like 061180 are proving that more can be coaxed out of these tones and techniques than we ever thought. Meanwhile the soul of the music, that indefinable element that analog musicians feared would be lost is most definitely still there. “I’m Considering Being a Cloud” is as emotive as any rock or classical piece. With the elements of physics and feeling coming together in such an interesting way, I think I can conclude from this album that 061180 is most definitely making music.
May 26 2015
Writer and contributor on Brutal Resonance
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