more!!y2k: a final report

april 12, 2004.

What is about to follow, dear visitor, is - even for SoundBlog standards - an extremely long post, counting over 8500 words. This is partly due to a great many literal citations from messages to the my2k yahoo-group - included here because I found them illuminating, interesting, and funny at times, but also because I wanted to 'keep them' for my personal documentation. In order for the contents to remain accessible on-screen, I divided this entry into several more or less independent sections. Corresponding links, of course, enable you to jump between parts inside of the document.

[ :: [intro] | missing days | progress reports | by the end of y2k | the my2k cd's | conclusion, sort of a | postscript | comment on this entry :: ]

I wrote about the 'My2k music/sound diary project' as early - or, maybe I should say: as late - as 02 september 2002, way back when mp3 dot com was not yet quite dot gone and the SoundBlog was hosted by "the now no more, the having ceased to be, the expired and gone to meet its maker, the late, the stiff, the bereft of life, the rung down the curtain, the ex- and joining the choir invisible (if we hadn't nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies) ...", but at that moment in time the upcoming and - or so I thought - refreshingly ambitious (nó, not parrot! but) OMD [Online Music Distributor]:

I spend quite a few - solitary, but rewarding - hours then, going though the tracks freely available on hundreds and hundreds of 'obscure artist's' pages. Hidden? No, not really, for how could one 'hide' on a world wide web ...? [ thanks you, tbl ...] So many little treasures to be had, though, which, given the indicated 'number of plays' were listened to but all too rarely.

The My2k project brought together, on the web, a small - tiny, really - bunch of musicians that got inspired by an idea originally voiced by Karsten Schulze, from Cologne, Germany: "record ten seconds of sound/music, every (yes, every!) single day of the year 2000".
In a short note on the project, dated january 2004, Karsten explains how in december 1999 he decided to try 'something peculiar for the Year 2000'

"I wanted to collect an album filled with musical or sound sketches, like writing my daily experiences into a diary, using the ideas and moods as well as the sounds and noises that are important to me on each particular day of the year."

Karsten then lists 10 ("partly unconscious") personal reasons for embarking on such a project:

"1. to help remembering my personal experiences of the year - 2. to gain a pool of musical ideas for later elaboration - 3. to explore my own range of musical ability and possibilities - 4. to provide a field of experimentation - 5. regular instrumental practise and rehearsing - 6. to train myself in the discipline to spend a high energy level on one subject over a long period of time - 7. to work out immediately one day's experiences by expressing them in very little song structures or in sound-patterns - 8. to gain new information on my own creative process and progress and to achive a better approach to answering the question which of my spontaneous ideas 'work' and which do not and why - 9. to provide to the listener a highly catchy product with many totally different musical micro-works every few seconds - 10. to explore the limits of my technical equipment (esp. my 4-track- and mini-disc-recorders)."

I fell for the My2k-idea as soon as I came across it. But at that time it was already long over and done with. Of course nothing would have prevented me from starting 'my own year long sonic diary'. The formal & intellectual & zen characteristics that attract me - the keeping of a sound diary as a daily 'process & discipline', the difficulty of having to force oneself to keep 'dramatic' tension as well as maintaining a proper amount of diversity within a stream of ten seconds long fragments, within 366 'isolated instants', maybe even intended to add up to 'a whole transcending its parts' - obviously none of these are restricted to a specific 'historical time period'.

My2k however does come with the, however irrational, plus of the '2k'. Even though there is nothing special per se about the year 2000, equal two to the fourth times five cubed, it clearly does have a very strong symbolic value, it stands out as as a number in the ongoing series of ordinals representing a timeline for western culture. And we all know about the power of symbols now don't we? (Isn't all of our written history not first and foremost a history of symbols?)

[ ... to develop (later?) ... ]

On a more personal level, the year 2000 for me marked a rather unexpected and sudden return to active 'musical and sonic' creation, after some fifteen years. Indeed, I began working on my series of montages sonores, the Sound Chronicles, based upon the large archive of lo-fi field recordings that I had been building - originally without any intention but simple 'collecting' - since the late 1970's, in the first week of that same year 2k.

I only found out about the My2k project by the end of the summer of 2002, through Jeff McLeod's page; then soon discovered that there were more artist's pages still hosting tracks related to the project, and a Yahoo-group used by the participants throughout the year 2k in order to inform one another on how their project was getting along. That 'group' still is accessible on line, even though, of course, it is no longer active and these days merely serves as sort of a 'black hole' for viagra, xanax, mortgage, university degrees, islamic awakening, and similar infamous spam to disappear into ...

But the first eighty or so messages - posted between january 7th 2000, and april 10th 2001 - are a great companion to the project, that started off with some eleven - online - participants, three of which, each in his own way, kept at it till the very end: Michael Peters (from Germany, and a friend of Karsten Schulze's), Jeff McLeod (USA) and David Cooper Orton (UK)).

Other erstwhile posting members on the list - 'Andy from Mexico City', 'Rev. (Fra.) Doubt Goat', Walter Brühn, Jason Reinier and Matt Davignon - did not. Even though all embraced the 'recording of ten seconds of music or sound, on every day of the year 2000'-idea with an enthusiasm that I for one can understand but too well.

"For the first time tonight, while looking to the lunar eclipse, I heard the whole batch, the 20 of them together, hey! quite a ride! this is so great! have we hit something here???" 'Andy in Mexico City' posted on friday january 21th. And: "I started to think of MY2k as musical Haikus" ...

Michael Peters early on decided to work on a web application that would enable one to listen to each of his daily ten seconds recordings separately, together with a description documenting each day's recording and its source(s).

"I've been thinking about this: audio is one thing, and I'd love to be able to listen to the complete hour. However, as a sound resource, it would be cool to have it on a computer platform, with an application which would allow for directly clicking a specific day sound, and getting some information about the sound - and the composer. (I recommend that everyone collects not only sounds, but also some written descriptions of this day and sound.)"
He agrees with Andy's vision of My2k as a colletion of musical Haikus: "sometimes they feel like one of those Zen ink calligraphies - you know, taking the brush, dipping it into ink, breathing, then drawing the whole thing with one swift continuous movement, and aahhh! instant beauty"

Michael put up his My2k-site as early as two days after this message: on january 23th 2000. (And then finalized it as late as earlier this year ...)

[ :: intro | [missing days] | progress reports | by the end of y2k | the my2k cd's | conclusion, sort of a | postscript | comment on this entry :: ]

On january 31th 2000 Jason Reinier reports that he is "still at it," even though "not able to do much other than try to get a sound or tune everyday." The next day, on February 1st, he addresses the problem that, quite naturally, sooner or later will pose itself to every serious sound diarist :

"What is the best thing to do if we miss a day?" Jason asks. "I have missed a few and i gather that it will happen in the future. Should we make them up or just pass on that day? What do you think? I've been thinking of creating a piece for the day I missed based on thoughts about that day, sounds that were heard but not recorded, etc. I like the concept of that more than the rigid need to record or compose everyday. Well, let me put it differently. The challenge of this piece is to create space every day for recording and composing. The reality is it may slip on a few occasions. What is the 'ethical' way to handle it?"

"I've missed more than a week," Matt Davignon replied. "I'm planning to make up time on my days off. So, in essence, the final project will be 'a song for every day' instead of 'a song recorded on everyday'. I'm aware that this is kind of cheaping out, but I'm morally okay with it since it's still chronologically close."

Jason agrees. "I think we should do our best and see what happens. We should share our own 'rules' and see how they line up"

These were Jeff McLeod's thoughts on the 'problem of the missing days' (the first one of which I find particularly attractive):

1.Create a default track to insert in these missed days. Sort of a 'Photo Not Available', if you will. Mangle it, distort it . . . whatever. Could be interesting.
2. Make up the missed day whenever you can--BUT: you must record a voice (any voice) with some kind of excuse as to why you missed the day.
3. Make the days up with complete, over-the-top, punishing noise.

"If I miss any days, I'll probably use some mixture of these. I think that, unless you're opting to be a stickler about being EXACTLY daily, any of these should be fun alternatives to just leaving the space blank or trying to fake it and make it up--which could work as well."

Michael Peters considers it not too much of a 'moral dilemma' to deal with missed days on later occasions.

"I try to somehow base the sound of that day on something really related to that day, but ... as long as this doesn't happen on a regular basis, no problem. What I try to do is create the sound on the same day, and even mix and cut and upload it on the same day, but if I have very little time and there is more time later, I do it later."

It's interesting to observe that most of the participants already very early on in the project decided upon the form in which they ultimately would present 'their My2k'. Making it tout de suite more than a mere dutiful collecting: a concept for arriving - pretty dead sure - at an hour-long composition, or an album.

Often I have nurtured similar ideas: one mid-eighties' spring day, for example, I bought a pile of music paper, and decided to start jotting down 3 measures a day, having calculated that this would add up to something at least having the size of a symphony within a year. But yeah, I started missing days soon enough, and then there was this, and there was that, and somehow the project just slipped into oblivion. (Though somewhere, I'm sure, I still have that pile of paper; including a pretty decent amount of jotted down measures.)

Several of my 'on-going' projects have this little 'conceptual touch' as well. My (Dutch) serial 'story' Henrik Henegouws Hellevaart for instance. I'm writing a 'chapter' every month (praise the lord's deadlines!) <but maybe this is a difference: there isn't any 'goal' I fixed beforehand, I want the story to go wherever it'll go. I'd rather have it never end, actually>.

[ I also still do think that one of these days I will start writing this similarly open-ended 'novel', at the pace of one page a day. As soon as the time is right ... (Well, I know ... this sounds a bit like the way in which I continue to give up smoking; but just you wait and see! ;-)
Oh, and Michael Peters recently drew my attention to a project of Aaron Ximm's, also based upon these very same premises: since january 8th, 2003, Aaron uses a small digital camera to record his daily life, taking 30 pics = 1 sec a day; adding up to 6 minutes per year, an hour-long film in a decade ...]

In the course of the year the My2k sound-diarists kept in touch by posting to the My2k Yahoo group. They did that sporadically, though. After the initial postings in january, they report back approximately once every three months. I include here large chunks of the messages exchanged, from which it is possible to learn how things developed over the year, including several fun details on the recordings made. (This is partly for my personal documentation. For those that prefer to 'get on with the story': you may skip to the end of the year, then eventually jump back later to read some of those details.)

[ :: intro | missing days | [progress reports] | by the end of y2k | the my2k cd's | conclusion, sort of a | postscript | comment on this entry :: ]

Jeff McLeod wrote on january 9th 2000:

"I'm going for the unconnected fragment type of thing. Although it'll be an insane listen (even with logical track IDs...), I'm really only doing it for myself and the handful of people I know will be into this sort of thing. So, I'm not too concerned with making it too listener-friendly.
I just got back from this weekend's shows with a tape of two 10 second (give or take a few) field recordings. I'm about to dump them into the project. Lot's of crowd racket, funny noises and overmodulated music. Should be perfect.
I'm waiting to edit the whole thing down at the year's end. I'm planning to use it in the order that I recorded it. Anyone else thinking ahead about how they're going to put the whole thing together?"

Matt Davignon did: "I was planning on splitting the 366 10 second tracks onto 4 discs. I'd like to see how it sounds when the discs are played simultaneously. I had an idea for a CD project called "Spontaneous Music" a while ago where there would be a few CD's in a single package. You'd play them simutaneously on shuffle play and listen to how they co-incide. Since I never got around to that yet, I decided to mix this project with that one. "

Walter Brühn's approach is of a more pragmatical nature (january 10th):

"I'm only able to set my thinking down for one moment at a day and try to collect 10 sec's of it. It's really a mess, how much work it is for me: building up the mikrophones, looking for my cassette recorder (my DAT has broken down, unfortunately) , doing spontaniously a recording of enviromental sounds (e.g. recording bubbling water with the mikrophone it the water- really great) or looking a the news and deciding to record shit like clintons bubblegum blabla etc etc.
It is a very chaotically thing [...]: doing recording on DAT at my work, looking for sounds on cd's I like, or on an old fashioned analogue cassette recorder (lightyears ago...) and then making a diary!!
But I hold on, at the end of the year I'll looking at dozends of cassettes or what ever, and THEN I will put it down to a computer and edit it ( o dear o dear what a work). An d how many cd's that will be, well I don't know, ask my in some days."

The british guitarist David Cooper Orton joined the project somewhat belatedly, and decided upon a different approach.

"I opted to record a minute a week," David wrote on monday january 17th, "partly as I did,'t get on board early enough, partly technical problems with my mini-disc recorder, and mainly cos leaving *anything* connected to a tape recorder for 365 days in our already over-cluttered house (let alone a whole set-up) was likely to be...unpopular with the rest of the family.
(Me: Son, clear those toys away. Son: why? your guitar's are all over the house etc etc)
I originally thought of attempting something cohesive over the course of the year, but I'm already re-considering a switch to a scrapbook-of-fragments approach. Possibly recording in styles etc I wouldn't usually.
Actually, a minute a week has already sufferred at the hands/ears of my tinnitus, but I did manage something very much in the vein of my usual output [...] and quite prosaically named "Week One". Its almost the first minute of anything I recorded this year, so it got used for that reason rather than one of aesthetics. Having been inspired by the far more experimental ideas discussed here, I think I'm going to take it outside a bit more. Possibly literally - once the minidisc works again, I know a garden centre with really great sounding ornamental pots which my son and I play tunes on in the summer whilst my wife decides what to plant next (ah we are but poor and simple folk). So thats definitely in at some point."

After january's vivid and enthusiastic exchanges, the list quiets down, everybody apparently going on with whatever he decided for him was the best way to proceed.
But every now and then there's a progress report, like Jeff McLeod's one, dated friday march 10th, 2000:

"I hope you're all having as much fun with the project as I am--although I do find myself lacking motivation some days!" Jeff tells the list members. "I've been doing some pre-editing, since mine is going to end up as a huge sound collage when it's all recorded and done. I figure that this will ease up the editing process some--rather than having to deal with working and sifting out the entire mess at the year's end.
This week, I've been focusing on 10-second pieces on the synth, having each one fade up and back out within the time constraint. Edited together, this should be a very rolling, if not oddball, moment in the collection. It's actually going so well, that I may carry on into next week with it. Previous weeks have incorporated found sounds, scanner radio recordings and crowd noise run through a Z. Vex Fuzz Factory pedal. I'm having a blast."

Rather unfortunately Matt Davignon (I became familiar with some of Matt's other work through his site, a 'corpus' that I enjoyed very much) then replies, on march 11th, that he had given up on pursuing the project in its intended form :

"Ack! I didn't want to admit this, but I'm more than a month behind! (My last entry was for january 26th.) At first, work get really busy, then I got the tapes back for 2 CD projects I was doing, and I had to master them [...]. I definitely like the idea of 10 second tracks, but I'd be lying to myself if I said that this still qualified as a 'my2k' project. I might finish a disc this year, but I'll probably name it something different."

David Cooper Orton is among those that quietly continue building their 'sonic y2k'.

"I'm still managing to post a minute's worth of sound per week to my site," he wrote on march 14th. "I've even managed not to use the guitar as a sound source on a few things, which is new for me (wind chimes, audiomulch and voice if you're taking notes). Haven't managed a drum'n'bass piece yet (as I suggested I might some weeks back) but there's ages left for that..."

And then of course also Michael's still going strong (march 16th - "the sound of chopped water"):

"A group of drummers from Togo meet Frank Sinatra in cyberspace, a cloud of granulated metal sounds, taken from a piezo microphone recording of a wastebasket, vibrations of a glass container for butter caused by a nearby freezer, chopping water into slices, the bathroom whale band plays a rhythm with a whale voice solo on top, a trio of metal thermos flasks, pushed around on a wooden plate ..."

A month later, in april, there are some more progress reports. But there seem to be but three active sound diarists left: Peters, Cooper Orton and McLeod.

"I've been very busy [...]," Jeff wrote on tuesday april 18th, "spending more time this month making mini-compositions and sound sculptures. I just picked up a used Ensoniq Fizmo synth, and have been very inspired by the sounds that I'm able to create from scratch with that thing. I've editing down about 8 minutes of the piece so far--just to get a litle ahead of myself on that end, since I'm going to make it one bit sound collage--and, listening back, I've found it to be ridiculous. I love it. "

Jeff gives away some more interesting details on the what's and how's of his My2k in a post precisely half way through the year 2000. On july 1st he writes:

"For the entire month of June, I've been using some panning insect noise mixed in with various sounds built on an Ensoniq Fizmo (which is an amazing, deep synth). I'm hoping that this will all edit together well to make up one nice 3 minute piece. In fact, I'm sitting down in about an hour to get up to speed on my editing--which basically consists of me bumping everything together to make a whole, or many wholes, as the case may be. In July, I begin a theremin piece that will be edited together from daily 10 second doses of theremin playing (practicing, I should say...ha!)."

Meanwhile Michael had been "moving. I've moved out of town with my girlfriend, and had absolutely no time for music for a week. Before that, I did some guitar based stuff (some of it surprisingly jazzy although I have no idea how jazz works), plus the usual odd found sound plus treatment."

And David Cooper Orton found himself "using sounds recorded in the back garden, voice etc, added to many of the usual ingredients. I also recycled some remixes and works-in-progress. Despite the fact I'm numbering each piece by the week in which its composed and/or produced," he wrote on wednesday july 5th, "it still came as a bit of a susprise to realise the year is already half over - or that (for us optimists) we still have six months left in which to experiment!"

There's a final 'progress exchange' between the three remaining diarists in october of that year 2k.

"At the moment, I have very little time," Michael Peters writes on october 19th, "and haven't done anything for 2 weeks - also, there is a big 6-week-hole in July because I moved to a new house in summer ... but I'm planning to fill that hole with earlier recordings - probably mostly field recordings from earlier vacations."

To which David replied that he "just about managed to maintain the pace if not the standard, and survived having week 38 rejected by for unspecified copyright problems (i just renamed it and resubmitted it elsewhere on the site and it went through ok!)"

Jeff McLeod: "Still at it daily here on this end. I'm working with an Ensoniq Fizmo synth and layering 10 seconds of related noise each day for this entire month. I've been backpedaling and doing some preliminary editing, just to make the year-end edit-fest a little less tedious. Sometimes I'm more inspired than others. I hope that I'm able to listen back and be proud of what I've devoted this entire year to!"

Then 2k comes to an end.

Time to look back.

"My [...] my2k efforts were partly successful," Michael Peters writes on january 2nd 2001, "but there is a large gap of silence in the summer when I moved into a new house, and another gap for the last 2 months when I had too little time. That's a pity but I'm planning to fill the gaps, probably with various recordings that happened this year and also earlier. Although this doesn't quite conform to the diary character of the project, it feels better to me to have a complete collection in the end.
I also noticed a trend to use series of sounds - mostly due to my laziness, I guess. It was easier to create 5 variations on a theme than to create something completely new every day. But this isn't necessarily bad - it rather makes for a somewhat easier listening. "

On his end, Jeff McLeod, is able to announce that he "managed to do it. Finished. Whew! I'm working on editing it into tracks and mini sound collages right now. I'm hoping to even go ahead and self-release it (a 500 run) after I finish getting it together/edited and mastered. I'm hoping to break it into logical pieces, with track i.d.s and titles for each thing that feels like a "song movement." It's pretty crazy and all over the map . . . everything from simple guitar improvisations to lavish 10 second noise compositions. Pretty scary. So much so that I'm really unsure if it's even approachable or presentable! Haha! I love it, though, and I'm proud to have spent the past year working on it.
It's hard to stand back and listen to it objectively just yet. One part of me is tired, and the other is ready to shape it into the document that I know it is and can be. "

David Cooper Orton up-loaded the last of his 52 weekly installments "at about 1am UK time on Christmas Day (well I was waiting for the family to get back from midnight mass etc so the house was nice and quiet, although the mouse was stirring quite abit with the cutting and pasting etc). So I plan to buy a CD burner fairly soon so I can make copies for trade etc (or I could do a mini-disc), but for immediate audioditioning, the last few weeks are up on and all 52 tracks will be sorted into a CD there before too long. It has been alot of fun, and though I think I was maybe getting a bit repetitious near the end, there are probably quite a few ideas I can go back to in the coming months."

There is no clue as to what happened to the efforts of three of the other early and enthusiastic participants in the list discussions: 'Andy from (or in) Mexico City', 'Rev. (Fra.) Doubt Goat' and Walter Brühn seem to have left without a trace. Only Jason Reinier drops in again, on january 2th 2001, to explain why he did not finish his 'sonic diary for the year 2000':

"I started out in Jan 2000 very well but then couldn't keep it up. [...] I am also thinking this year will be a better year for keeping a journal of sounds so I will attempt to do it this year."

But then, by the way, Jason at the time had been heavily involved in a different sound project, the Day of Sound 2000.

"The collection turned out to be two 74 minute discs with great sounds from all over the world," he wrote. "I submitted the sounds to the New York Times and they will be sealed in a time capsule that will be opened in the year 3000. The time capsule will be on display permanently outside of the Natural History Museum in New York City supposedly until it's opened in the year 3000. I submitted the sounds on mini disc with a mini disc recorder and manual, power supply etc. That way, if it makes it to the year 3000, the folks at the other end will have some idea of how primitive our technology was (and how poorly written the manuals) but at least they will have a unit from which to play the sounds. (assuming they have 110 power or something like it). "

This is where the (recording part of the) My2k project came to its natural halt.

[ :: intro | missing days | progress reports | [by the end of y2k] | the my2k cd's | conclusion, sort of a | postscript | comment on this entry :: ]

By the end of 2000, it was only David Cooper Orton who could 'smoothly' pass over into a new year (a new millennium, really!) with a 'finished' product on his hands. But then he did treat his sonic y2k in a weekly manner: one minute a week, mixed down and 'finalized' week after week. His collection of 52 weekly recordings (the tracks chronologically named and numbered, as 'Week 1', 'Week 2' ... et cetera) soon became (and I guess: continues to be) available as his My2K - a sonic diary for the year 2000 CD.

Jeff McLeod put himself to work on a final form for his version immediately after the year had finished, and he can - proudly, and justly so - announce, early april 2001, that he 'finally' received the copies of his My2k CD from the CD plant: Ye shall be cut into many pieces. He used the material he collected in chronological order, even though the final collection comes in 19 distinct, and named, tracks. In the liner notes, dated january 29th 2001, he writes:

"I've spent over a month piecing things together to create a natural flow, mixing and generally cleaning up and struggling with differing levels and crazy sound source anomalies. Nothing is out of order. Everything is here as it was added daily. However, I've edited things together to make songs and movements that are hopefully a bit more approachable than one huge slab of nonsense might have been. Some pieces were recorded with this in mind, and those actually are pretty succesfull at having a natural sound. I actually should have called this One Huge Slab of Nonsense. Lovely. Consider it the alternate title."

Michael Peters throughout the year continued to make his daily recordings available on his My2k site, by means of a clickable calendar, organised into monthly pages, with details of the where and what for each available day. An inventory. A catalogue. But with quite a few large gaps, though, that for a quite long time remained just that: gaps.

And Karsten Schulze, the man that inspired all of this activity? Not being much of a 'web person' himself, Karsten remained much of an 'invisible initiator', throughout the y2k, but also after. Did Karsten pursue his own idea? Did Karsten record daily? And did he persist until the very end?

Being a friend of Michael Peters', Karsten did get mentioned every now and then in the group's messages. Early on in the year, on january 8th, Matt Davignon wondered how Karsten "would [..] feel if he knew that all of us were doing the same thing as him? Would he be proud?" Matt asks. "Or would he be pissed off because we're all 'stealing his idea'?". Michael Peters replied that he would ask him, and then reports back, a few days later: "[T]alked to Karsten today. He's not pissed off at all. He asked me to give his greetings to all of you and encourage you to keep going."

Of course! And I do very much agree with a remark, by Matt Davignon, around that same time: "Personally, I think this idea is better if there's a lot of us doing it.".
Quite true.
For if there is anything that, in retrospect, one might regret about the y2k sonic diary project, it simply is that there haven't been many, many more people participating.

Karsten though did continue. He met up regularly with Michael, to discuss their respective approaches, and listen to the results so far.

"A few days ago I visited Karsten Schulze," Michael writes on march 11th. "I was really impressed. He has really taken time every day to actually compose tiny pieces, often with several tracks. The 60 tracks I heard were full of surprising ideas and really beautiful sounds. Compared to what he did," he adds, "I was rather lazy, but I'm happy with my collection anyway. :-) "

As was the case with Michael's project though, also Karsten was confronted with quite a few (technical and logistic) difficulties in the second half of the year, and wasn't able to 'meet his my2k-duties all the time'.

"I'm not ready yet," Michael writes on april 9th, 2001, "nor is my friend Karsten who had the original idea. But we'll get it done eventually ..."

And indeed. They did.

[ :: intro | missing days | progress reports | by the end of y2k | [the my2k cd's] | conclusion, sort of a | postscript | comment on this entry :: ]

Michael Peters' CD cover
Karsten Schulze's CD cover

Michael Peters surprised me early this january, when he send me a copy of his "<gasp> finally finished" CD, My2k - a sound diary for the year 2000. Michael filled in the gaps that had remained ... for almost three years ..., while keeping as close as possible to the original idea. On the CD he assembled the 366 ten second recordings into 52 tracks, one for each of the 52 weeks. Even though I knew the bulk of the recordings already, I found and find it quite an experience, to hear all of them as one continuous collage, to hear Michael's year 2k pass by in a flow of highly diverse snippets of music & sound, from the bangs and sizzles of the fireworks that started 2k to the ones that lead him into 2k plus one.

A month later I got an even bigger surprise. Also Karsten Schulze meanwhile had gotten round to finalizing his My2k, and when Michael told him about my interest in the project, he was so kind as to send me a copy of his CD, My2k - Diary Sketches 2000.

Like on Michael's album, the very first seconds on Karsten's y2k are taken by the sound of fireworks (it might very well be the 'same', actually, recorded 'from a different angle'). Soon after, though, it becomes clear that Karsten has been working on the project in a very different manner.

Diary Sketches 2000 is foremost a musical sketchbook. From the very start Karsten had his mind set not so much on the capturing and manipulation of sounds, as on the composing and/or recording of a daily 'miniature'. The CD is a dazzling concatenation of ideas, styles and atmospheres, occasionally interspersed with snippets of field recordings.

Unlike Michael Peters, Karsten did not accompany the CD with a detailed index of all recordings. The accompanying note though does indicate that in the recording of the musical tracks Karsten set himself the use of 4 tracks as a limit ("so that I had to avoid any tendency towards overproduction," he writes). Instruments used include various keyboards, drumkat, percussion, guitar, recorder and other wind instruments. And vocals ("partly sung through a voice-transformer"). Quite a few of the sketches are sung a capella, in english (including for instance Karsten's rendering of a fragment of Yes' "Roundabout" [track 11]), in german, but also - I guess :-) - in "kölsch" (the dialect spoken in Cologne) [e.g. track 24].

I will not even try to give an overview of all the different styles and influences that pop-up in Karsten's year-long mosaic. Let me just mention that on the whole Karsten musical and compositional approach is not that of a bruitist or avant-gardist. But then, hey, why should it be? It is precisely the careful building and experimenting with instrumentation, melody, rhythm and harmonical layers in a predominantly 'tonal' and 'traditional' setting that characterizes his My2k book of musical sketches, and makes it stand out.

In the second half of the year Karsten often had difficulties 'meeting My2k-duties', and he started to introduce fragments of his band- and choir-rehearsals or -performances into the chronology of the collection. Nevertheless, he wrote, "some pages of my diary had to stay blank. But just in its partly emptiness it is very authentic." He therefore chose for a drastic, but sincere indeed, solution to his missing days problem: on the CD the days lacking are represented by silence ...

Having tasted Michael Peter's and Karsten Schulze's y2k sound- and music diaries, I wanted very much to complete my collection, and my mental picture of the project, and listen to the two CD's that actually had been finished very early on: the '52 weekly tracks' version of David Cooper Orton, and Jeff McLeod's Ye shall be cut into many pieces.

So I contacted both of them.

And also David and Jeff had the goodness to put a copy of their work in the mail for me, so that, by mid-march, I was able to declare myself one of the very few people on this earth that own the complete collection of My2k CD's. [ That is, if there is not someone, somewhere out there, that 'secretly' participated - or pursued, unknowingly, the same idea; which is possible, of course, though unlikely - but if so, then she or he or they should contact me right away :-) ... ]

David Cooper Orton's CD cover

David Cooper Orton's My2k - a sonic diary for the year 2000 is by far the most accessible, the most easy-to-listen-to of the four CDs. But that is more or less obvious, of course, as his is a weekery rather than a diary: instead of daily 10 seconds, David weekly recorded 1 minute long tracks. And as Karsten Schulze's My2k, also David's My2k is largely a collection of musical sketches. But whereas in the case of Karsten these are the sketches of a 'multi-instrumentalist and vocalist', David Cooper Orton's are those of an instrumentalist. David is a guitar-player, and a mighty good one!

Also this of course adds to the 'sonic coherence' of the collection, and is another reason for his My2k's surprisingly high 'accessibility'. (Which is not to say that there's only guitar playing to be heard here. Besides his guitars, DCO uses electronics, wind chimes, voices, manipulates samples, field recordings and more. There are quite a few 'non-guitar' tracks, actually, which function very nicely as bridges, say, as interludes.)

The overall atmosphere on My2k - a sonic diary for the year 2000 is relaxed, relaxing, and open.

Jeff McLeod's CD cover

The difference with the hectic-tacktic of Ye shall be cut into many pieces couldn't be greater: Jeff McLeod's My2k indeed is the wildest of the bunch. It also is the only one of the four that does not in its title explicitly refer to the My2k project. On the other hand, it also is the one that, arguably, remained closest to the concept as originally phrased within the My2k-yahoo-group: record ten seconds every single day of the year 2k, wherever you are, whatever might be going on at that day.

Jeff appears to have done just that. And thus has been the only one who succeeded to keep this going for the full three hundred and sixty six days. Relentlessly. It's amazing.

In Ye shall be cut into many pieces he strings all of it together, in chronological order, but grouping the result into 19 distinct and named tracks. Inside the CD's booklet all of Jeff's sources are briefly mentioned, but contrary to Michael Peters list of daily sources (that breathes something close to scientific precision), Jeff's descriptions tend to add just this little extra bit to the mystery of it all ... :-)

The CD, and its liner notes, suggest a far greater detachment than do the other three. Jeff McLeod often appears as if looking in from the outside, at this 'other Jeff' doing his 'silly' ten daily seconds recording stuff. There's quite a bit of sarcasm, of irony. ("I actually should have called this One Huge Slab of Nonsense," he wrote in the liner notes. But on the other hand, "I love it, though, and I'm proud to have spent the past year working on it." (message to the My2k group, january 2001).

Jeff's My2k gives the impression of being a pretty rough ride: alternating fragments of 'field' recorded madness with loads of pretty wild'n'rousing guitars ('Swallowed Whole & Hard to Swallow'), 'public percussion & guitar smacking' ('Another Suspicious Package'), together with several up-tempo drums and percussion bits, seem to be responsible for this overall 'feel' of 'sonic aggression', even though some other early parts are more contemplative and synth-based in nature, or mere series of consecutive sound fragments, each one very different from the next ('Yuppie Discount Nonetheless', 'Collage for Corruption'). In mid-year we even come across long parts of slowly evolving concrete & electronic 'sound-scapes', that sharply (and beautifully) contrast with much of the surrounding harshness ('Collage for the Corrupted', 'Hello, My Flies', 'Do You Feel Swell or Swollen?').

The final track of Ye shall be cut into many pieces is december's month, 'Happy Abortion Day', which maybe is 'a curious amidst curious', as it seems to have been 'a project within a project' based as it is - according to the liner notes - on 31 days of original master source sounds courtesy of Jeff Rackley, added to and mangled by the other Jeff. A truly excellent montage, though.

[ :: intro | missing days | progress reports | by the end of y2k | the my2k cd's | [conclusion, sort of a] | postscript | comment on this entry :: ]

Each of the four My2k's is a highly personal document, and first of all the result of a process, a self-imposed regime, a discipline. And all four of them are as different as they are similar. I actually started to think of 'sonic diaries' as a genre; and even though there are probably precedents (in one form or another), I suppose one is justified in stating that these four records form something of a 'premiere'. And I sure would be interested to hear the results of similar 'experiments' in the future.

All of them were created by obviously talented musicians, without any commercial interest, nor financial incentive. There was 'only' a passion for music, sound and recording, and the willingness to make this the object of a 'personal struggle'; and render the result of their efforts public.

And these have been 'struggles', indeed.

Within in all four of these My2k's the actors work their way towards the frontiers of their ability to 'diversify'.
"Well, it's me that's doing it," Fred Frith once retorted - long time ago - to my, pretty naive, inquiry as to a master-concept underlying all of his so divergent musical enterprises. And the beauty indeed of each of these four platters does lie in the four musical me's that become delineated (as much with respect to their strengths as to their weak points) so well within the course of their year-long daily (weekly) 'exercises'.

Of course one should not measure these CD's by the same 'rules' as one does 'regular' releases. Would one judge a writer's diary as if it were one of his novels? Of course not. Neither can one judge a musician's diary, his/her 'book of sonic sketches', as if it were one of his albums, or compositions.

I stumbled upon this online review of Jeff's Ye shall be cut into many pieces, in which the reviewer writes off the CD as "a jumbled collage of noise, literally noise", and "a 19-track album of irritably unintelligible collage work".
"This album," the reviewer states, "comes off as a string of random audio for the sake of itself [...] as snippets of essentially anything and everything without a vision for what is to come of it."

Well, maybe it does, maybe it doesn't ... but mainly I think this simply is missing the point of these recordings as the result of a process, a ritual almost.

All of our lifes and times are fragmented, and in the end those are but strings of "essentially anything and everything [...] for the sake of itself". That these 'essentially random strings' become endowed with what we call 'meaning' and 'purpose' is due to our 'memories', the individual as well as the collective ones.
That's history (or -ies).
'Composition', if you like.

What I find fascinating about these four records is the way in which they exemplify the growing tension between essentially 'spontaneous' moments, and the 'history' that emerges when these 'moments' are recorded and kept in order. As the year progresses one feels how the 'burden' of that what has gone before is growing bigger and bigger, as the number of possible ways to add to, relate to and deviate from that what has been recorded before is getting smaller and smaller. I mean: consciously or unconsciously, each of them at some point, sooner or later, became concerned about 'composing' an hour-long work (or, at the very least: several minutes long ones). But in the end they all, and I'd say: necessarily so, fail to solve the fundamental contradiction between a self-imposed chronology and a semantically coherent 'history'.

For history, strange as this may seem, is essentially a-chronological ...

[ :: intro | missing days | progress reports | by the end of y2k | the my2k cd's | conclusion, sort of a | [postscript] | comment on this entry :: ]

There is a sound work of Brandon Labelle's that I quite like and that may very well serve as a footnote to My2k. (The recording can be found on the CD accompanying the second issue of Phrênésie magazine.) It is called '365', and consists in three hundred and sixty five dictaphone recordings of Brandon saying: "Three hundred and sixty five is a significant number."

I do not know whether these were all recorded within one shorter period of time (each 'saying' takes about four seconds, adding to 24 and something minutes), or whether these are daily recordings, hence that the piece emerged in the course of a year.

I'd like to pretend it did, hence making '365' something like a 'sound diary' (clearly different, though, from the y2k ones) ... but one that succeeds in avoiding the 'problem' of 'chronology' vs. 'history' by drastically limiting its usable material. Admittedly, this solution is an extreme one.

[ Let me stress that, as far as I know, this piece didn't intend to 'solve' anything of the kind. This is just me projecting '365' onto 'My2k', of course ... Someone just might have chosen a '365'-like approach. ]

And me, myself and I? How would our y2k have sounded like?

Well I guess had I participated at the time, my approach would not have been too different from that of the others. I also like to think that i would have been able to keep up the daily recording until the end. But I know, that is easier said than done.

And though I do not have daily recordings, I do have in my archives about twenty two hours of lo-fi field recordings that I made throughout the year 2000.

I think it might be fun to use these - chronologically! - to reconstruct something that just might have been a bit like my My2k ... (hope to find the time for this later this year ... but it's in the books, say ... :-) )

[ Btw, come to think of it: can one say that the My2k manage, in some way, to 'capture the sound of 2000'? Well, yes and no. For each of the participants this is and will continue to be the way 2000 sounded, and very much so. Even though, objectively spoken, I guess it'll be nearly impossible to point out something (if anything) in these four hours that could not have been recorded in an earlier (or later) year ... sounds will have sounded, that - to me, to you - could not but be at that specific instant in life's history ... but in order to grasp this, and experience them as such, one can not do without the corresponding 'narrative' ... I mean: this is a matter of personal, individual experience. ("a sound rarely comes alone".)
For me any one of these records might as well have been recorded in 1999. Or 2001. They wouldn't sound different to me. Not so, though, for many of the sounds in my personal archive ... ]

And if I were to keep a year long sound diary, would I do it the way the My2k-ers did?
I guess the answer is no, I would not. I would try for something different. But then I have had the privilege to hear and experience the results of these here earlier efforts, something that is difficult to over-estimate. I do think I have learned an awful lot. But how precisely my approach would differ, I cannot yet say.

For this to become clear, I'd need to start doing it.

And in fact this very morning I decided I will.

I will keep a sonic diary, by making ten second long recordings every single day of the year, in all the remaining years of my life whose number is prime.

Which means that, given good health and remaining efficiency, I will start my first sound diary some seven years from now, on january 1st, 2011. I might do a second one in 2017, and - if the lord permits - two more in 2027 and 2029 (a prime twin). Not totally impossible, though far less probable still: I'd have a go at my fifth attempt in 2039. And then - but oh, how unlikely this - might be lucky enough to finish a sixth one on december 31st, 2053 ...

These promise to become exciting times! Looking forward to every single one of them ...

So, yeah!, for all sake, do keep in touch ....

[ added nov. 2004: Like his 'Escape Velocity' and 'Stretched Landscape #1', now also Michael Peter's 'my2K' is available as part of the British 'Burning Shed' label's fine catalogue. Great! ]

[ earlier related entries: ten seconds a day :: my2k ]

tags: sound diary

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