Techno Improv Evokes Stockhausen at Moogfest and He Should be Happy

Lucinda Cheng

Moogfest 2019 banner. Photo credits to Forbes.

“New methods change the experience, and new experiences change a man. Whenever we hear sounds, we are changed, we are no longer the same, and this is more the case when we hear organized sounds; music.”  —  Karlheinz STOCKHAUSEN

Poème électronique on Soundcloud

Buchla and Eventide synthesizers send resounding echos from tunnels in the space.

Drumbeats rains down like fluid life.

Electronic drum machine occasionally blasts violent and enticing beats like hell opens a dancing floor.

And there’s mellow guitar and loop.

From nine to twelve in the night on the 26th and 27th, Stockhausen is there with the band on stage, spiritually. 

Along with his controversy, level of acceptance among reviewers. And he should be happy, for he is not the only person that felt lonely musically and intellectually that day. There are three more. And together they are happy.

The Atlanta based band Poème électronique evoked their muses, Edgard Varèse, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, in a ritual at the beginning of the performance, continuing the forefathers’ style that opened up the music space since last century — music as living matter, and that includes organized noises.

Two weeks ago in North Carolina, techno and electronic musicians from around the globe flocked to 21 Theatre, downtown Durham, displayed their performance for Moogfest — the convergence of art, tech, and music, like art installations in a museum.

Poème électronique is orchestrated as a serious modern symphony with electronic sounds made by rare synthesizers, master level percussion, and human voicing over passages on quantum physics, the historical truth of religion and occult, electric waves in biology, and music theories — everything blended within the same realm — playing with waves.

The trio of band members: Dr. Marlow Forbin in Quantum Physics, also an open source pioneer,  Archer Norton, an underground techno musician that worked with Lady Gaga, Professor Stuart Gerber from Georgia State University School all have profound understanding in at least two of the fields mentioned above.

People have often thought that the Poème électronique is a music band, and the ritual is part of their music elements. Some went on to their website, where Forbin uploaded eleven chapters of his preaching in the interdisciplinary of science and magick, in Bible style. They think it’s cool as a form of art.

Forbin considers the music part of the ritual, or the science, art, and magick are talking about the same thing.

In the beginning, they came close to the audience, have all breath together. They let the sound of the om, ah, ou, vom vibrating through their throats while placing the gestures of the four original universe-creating force up and down their chakras. Then they placed a horn sign in front of their forehead, and roar out an earth-shattering ”ahhhhh” with wrath.

The next step is different than the summoning ritual two years ago. After two years since they evoked the chaos goddess Eris/ Kali, who threw a golden apple to the Olympus banquet and caused the Trojan war, today they bring it to a closure, by drawing the pentagons reversely in the air, while calling the deities’ and must musicians’/scientists’ names.

In Poème électronique there is no melody. Archer Norton plays the drum machine, a panel with engineered percussion sounds built in, and a line of buttons to set where in time you want to play the beats.

Gerber plays real percussion, a drum set, and all kinds of little gears.

Forbin plays synthesizer, which gives the only constant never-ending low howling sound.

Sheba plays guitar and loop in a subtle way.

Nelzby likes his tempo set from the first button on the beat timeline. “This is my one.” he used to say. From there he builds a set of beats based on “one, two, three, four” that don’t go wrong. Nothing is tilting.

Professor Stuart Gerber from Georgia State University School of Music likes sound experiments. The beats express free forms, and are precisely executed. He is not limited by genre. By throwing away the confinement of certain genres, he obtains the essence, the Tao. As the old saying goes, take the fish and forget about the basket. In the sounds, there is the conceptual, abstraction of everything dynamic — the ebb and flow,  the piling and disappearing of sand hills, thoughts, of life, events — pulled by the law of force into formation and decomposition.

When Archer kicks in, it’s interactive, violent dance beats. When the professor pronounces, he does so in solitary, and people also watch it like seeing a painting in the gallery.

When the two talks, it is the golden arches of the two-hour flow. The professor’s off beats balance Archer ’s on beats. Avant-Garde interlocks with punk rock. Stuart adds contemporary high art to Archer’s killer enticing tempos.

Forbin’s synth sets the base tone of the flow like Esther to dreams. The synth creates a dark, resounding echoing tunnel. It separates this band from other airy atmosphere bands. When Forbin‘s horn blows bellowing winds, at afar in that deserted other world, Gerber’s bells ring like a Japanese pagoda, spiritual and haunting. 

When the synth player triggered timbre, Gerber picked it up in no time and exploded the drumset like a box of ignited black gunpowder.

In fact, three of them are so distinct and strongly expressive in their own way, they were holding the music from three poles like a triangle field. The tension is strong. The synth sets the space in which the percussion sail.

It sails as a spaceship in its outer-space journey alone.

This is clear because Archer would play differently by himself, tri-pop mostly.

The sounds of Poème électronique comes from the original force. It’s primitive, non-picturesque, non-romantic. The resonating trance-inducing dark synth, the natural form of drum reminds me of Hang Gai, a rock band from Inner Mongolia. Hang Gai sings about the cycle of life on the grassland. Their huge drums remind one of shamanistic tribal ritual music. Poème électronique is ritual music. The mission of shifting the state of mind of the listeners plays a key component to the music.

Pairing with Forbin’s idea that the sums of waves create butterfly effect with their minor ripples, which change minds, and as a result, change the collective reality, it appears to me so that the whole thing is a ritual.

At the last step, they repeated the breathing, pentagon drawing and names chanting again, ending it with a laugh. Forbin turned back to the stage, blew off the white bucket Diptyque candle.

After all the heavy gears are pack and reloaded back to the car, Forbin, Archer , and Gerber stood in a circle reviewing the show.

Archer  said, “We definitely changed some minds tonight.”

Forbin nodded. That’s the real evaluation standard for them.

Maybe that’s why Archer didn’t find much opportunity to speak in the music jam. The music is not musically enough, not audience-engaging enough for him. For Archer, music and community power is his magick. The relation of set and subset here between music and magick seems different between the duo magicians.

Archer has stated that he came from another school of magick, where he thinks the old school rituals are completely irrelevant, and all you need to do is live by his two principles: Art Harder; Be Excellent to Each Other.

* * *

After twelve o’clock, streets in downtown Durham is as empty as a bachelor’s closet. The band members were sitting outside of their hotel bar discussing whether the long murky dreamy state of their flow has driven people away — but, most likely it may have just been Stockhausen’s spirit. A happy woman named Mrs. Bigs spoke to them.

She told a beautiful story about how drums in a village came to her, at the time, when she was standing in the mountain. The drums served a purpose for social activities and she knows vividly what stories each tempo were telling.

She then voiced the confusion that, after writing seven to eight stories she had finished none. At the time, I told her “maybe you are writing the same characters/story. Loop them into one. ” “you are thinking.” Given a second chance, I would tell her to jog down what came to her in a flash of thoughts as fast as possible.

Her speed of growth outpaced her speed of writing. She can’t lock down, and ever be happy with a resolution for her past story, because she outgrew her past understandings.  Some writers do feel odd reading their past work on paper.  The desire to capture everything there is to life has bound our foot.

That’s the paradox of art creation in written forms. How can you orchestrate anything down on a paper, when both your internal and external are ever changing?

You, as a traveling spot on a rope, rippling out waves towards both ends as you travel, looking back and forward on this waving rope, the story looks different to you every second. Moreover, the future, and (the understanding of) the past interchange each other.

To capture all these paths, you are drawing a flying spaghetti.

For performing art they can improvise on the fly. A writer’s improv is the stream of consciousness style. One just leaves it to the passing of time as a music jam.

Either do that or just jog down what comes to you in one snapshot of the time, in one sitting. In that time captured in amber, there is everything and a resolution.

When two same waves overlay, they emit a small baby wave with the same function. That’s where we choose to stand. We can be the oracle of an all-encompassing, perfectly resolved story at any given point of time.

There is infinity within the micro. Reaching outside and attempting to gather everything — those images of Cthulhu, Medusa says a lot about that — someone trying to be God through reaching outside.

Chasing infinity in the forms (plots), will make the story an octopus; we want the story to be a fertilized egg, built with constraint but in itself there is infinity.

As I think about linear time is an illusion, I think of some episodes in my life. It comes to me that maybe the world takes the shape of a target ring, and when we are conscious, we are at the outer arch of it.

Nine realms, or in Taoism, 9+9+9+9 = 36 realms.

Each has its own fabric and laws.

An occurrence at any spot in the rings will show and be responded to in all realms. Some cases of this would be, prophecy dreams. A hunch helps you avoid an accident.

Or reversely: your emotional state at its hype creates some interesting outcome that gave you a sight of the real substance this world is built on, where there is no spacetime.

Imagine an incident happens next month, on the first ring, our plane, like a waterdrop. A wave rippling out, passing a door crack, still the same wave, into a different medium, still, the same wave, reaching the inner consciousness, so you know at the center, that happens. Time basically doesn’t apply at the center ring.

You always know the probability of every major emotional/spiritually meaningful event that is going to happen on the outer ring, where time does apply. Those are the strong waves. Those are the life mission/destiny.

The weaker waves create synchronicity. For example, I was pacing at the airport thinking about this chapter out, after I got it I walked to my gate, sat down in the vast empty seating area, typing. Someone came sat next to me, a quiet guy. We started chatting; turns out he was also here for Moog, and a techno musician. Then he taught me again about synthesizers and the illusion of brain perception. And going into the plane, his seat is next to mine.

And below is what we talked about.

* * *

More on information process and infinity

A techno musician engineers his sounds. By writing a wave function, and putting in the time span. The shorter the span, the more frequent the wave oscillates, the higher the pitch.

A Fourier synthesizer deals with complicated sounds from the real world. It picks up the sampling frame, and processes them into a coherent sound experience. A natural sound in real life would be difficult for the computer to decompose, for the sound can be split into infinite amounts of waves. As between two digits, there is infinity.

It decomposes the natural sound into a countable myriad of waves, and recomposes them back into a digital version of its lesser self. – one dimension down, less but enough pixels for the brain to make a coherent sense. Just like a projector shooting red, blue and yellow one at a time at the screen faster than the brain can catch it, though we can still see rainbows when we move our eyeballs.

The brain is a synthesizer.

Similarly, the perceived world is dimensions downgraded from the real world. It picks out the sampling frame and makes sense of it by forming a coherent linear experience.

In software, the wave is a string of 1 and 0 translated by the sound card. The wave also goes through different units for sound effects through a pipeline of sound production. In hardware those are modules. You can assemble your own synth by putting together modules of your choice. It comes from the earlier computer Analogue.

We create our own synthesizer. We create, break, then create our own cognitive machine, for experiencing and projecting a constantly evolving, hopefully expanding reality.