John Duncan & Bernhard Günter
John Duncan with Max Springer
Mort Aux Vache
THE JOHN SEE SOUNDTRACKS
1998 Die Stadt, Germany
John Duncan - Intro
John Duncan is a rare artist who is totally immersed in existential research. His lengthy career of electroacoustic intensity and confrontational performance art events is the result of rigorous investigations into a number of arcane, metaphysical, and at times transgressive themes. Duncan portrays his work as a catalyst, inciting a transmission of energy through which he seeks to compel the audience to actively participate in the process of investigation and self-discovery.
- Jim Haynes, The Wire
John Duncan was born in the United States, currently lives and works in Italy. His audio releases THE CRACKLING (1996 with Max Springer), TAP INTERNAL (2000), PALACE of MIND (2001 with Giuliana Stefani), FRESH (2002 with Zeitkratzer), INFRASOUND-TIDAL (2003) and THE KEENING TOWERS (2003) are all considered by critics and composers alike to be benchmarks in the field of experimental sound and contemporary music.
Duncan's events and installations have recently been held at Villa Delle Rose in Bologna, MUTEK in Montreal, The Compound in San Francisco, Teatro Piccolo Jovinelli in Rome, the NoorlandsOperan in Umeå, Fylkingen in Stockholm, the Watari Museum of Art in Tokyo, Galleria Nicola Fornello in Prato, the 2003 Gothenburg Biennial, and Quarter in Florence. His work in performance has been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles; the Osterreichisches Museum für Angewandte Kunst (MAK), Vienna; Museu d'Arte Contemporani, Barcelona (MACBA); and Museum of Tokyo (MOT).
Recorded in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Aachen and Mei Tam Village, Thailand
INCOMING, CEREMONY and PASS composed with Christoph Heeman
John Duncan's release Incoming continues his work exploring the inner qualities of electronic drones in conjunction with shortwave radio, itself an extension of his work in pirate media, including both radio and television. The title track builds from metallic scrapes, layered with intense electronics, garbled vocals, descending electronic whines reminiscent of the final section of Karlheinz Stockhausen's masterpiece Hymnen, shortwaves, white noise, and digital pops. It is one of Duncan's first pieces that uses the computer, and Duncan is assisted by Max Springer, who also worked with him on the 1996 collaborative release The Crackling. "Flare" is a short loop exercise of vocal samples over a high-pitched shortwave background. "Voice Field" is quieter, a resonant drone that is often ambient in quality, except for the mysterious found sounds that lurk just beneath the surface and the growing intensity of the piece. "Ceremony" makes much more use of found sounds, including crowd noises and animal cries, all over a metallic drone, but transitions to quiet insect sounds at the end. "Pass" is a series of intersecting oscillating drones alternating with slabs of electronic sounds, the most electronic piece on the disc. Duncan's later work tends more to longer forms, so some listeners may find that the short pieces on this disc provide more variety and therefore more approachability. The two long pieces here, "Incoming" and "Voice Field," are excellent examples of Duncan's work, and the tendencies of these two pieces are continued through his later releases such as River in Flames and the more electronic parts of Klaar.
- Caleb Deupree, All Music Guide
Here we're at the maximum level imaginable. The hand of Heemann is not excessive, and enhances Duncan's compositional style. A more meditative and relaxing disc, always with a pulsating energy. Long resonant breathing, slow descending washes of echo, subliminal sounds, 'dark' sounds. The elements of Duncan's music are always the same but diversely dispersed in the audio panorama. Exceptionally beautiful are 'Flare' and 'Voice Field'. This is true trance! A complete masterwork, too bad that it lasts only 40 minutes. Unforgettable... and still available: don't let it get away!
- Massimo Ricci, DEEP LISTENINGS
Shortly after the release of SEND, a new CD by one of the most interesting composers working in what some call 'extreme' or 'industrial' music. Duncan works primarily with shortwave sounds intermixed with field recordings. This concept is continued on this new CD. Take for instance the piece with radio sounds (layered shortwave) that slowly transform into the screaming of a dying pig. Duncan's music is not there to please you, but to tell you a rather unsettling story. This is some of the most intense music I have come across.
- Frans de Waard, VITAL
Composed by John Duncan with Max Springer
Recorded by John Duncan at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC)
Computer sequences engineered by Max Springer and Benzine
Design and Layout by Tom Recchion
Mixed at AVW, San Diego
The Stanford Linear Accelerator tunnel is a straight line of prefabricated steel structures several stories high, connected end-to-end, 2 miles (3+ kilometers) long. Inside, microwave electron drivers are set every 10 meters, each unit emitting an intense, disorienting 120Hz buzz that creates phasing effects with the other units near it, all in an enclosed straight line that stretches out to a vanishing point. These drivers propel electrons in parallel paths along the tunnel up to velocities just under the speed of light, toward a collision chamber at the far end where the paths split and the electrons are driven into each other head-on.
The collision chamber is a solid-steel cylinder roughly 20 meters thick, with a hollow center roughly the same diameter as the length of a one-bedroom apartment. The temperature of the center at the moment of collision reaches 3 billion degrees Kelvin, cooled by a liquid nitrogen cryogenic system. The chamber and several monitoring stations are mounted on a multi-story steel scaffold that was originally designed by shipbuilders to support a supertanker in drydock. This entire structure occupies the far end of a much larger prefabricated steel building, that itself is easily large enough to house several 747's, one on top of the other.
The place is full of contradictions: structures built to dwarf and outlast their creators, designed to generate subatomic events that take place in a time scale that is experientially impossible to imagine, using forces and processes that are hostile or lethal to human life, yet are entirely human-created. A 'city of the dead' that seems to have an existence of its own with or without its operators.
For this work, the electron is understood as a metaphor for the process of life: isolated, compelled by a system that uses the electron's own energy to force it into a path that leads at a constantly increasing pace to certain destruction -- to a point of certain change, of complete resolution and the beginning of a new process.
John Duncan (1953, Wichita, Kansas) is widely recognized for his work in performance, music, and installations based on emotional responses to sensory deprivation and stimuli. Duncan's events and installations, often known to involve rendering participants completely nude and blind, have recently been held and shown at Ars Electronica, the Watari Museum of Art in Tokyo, and Lucia A-Go-Go in Stockholm. His work in performance has been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles; the Osterreichisches Museum für Augewandte Kunst (MAK), Vienna; Museu d'Arte Contemporani, Barcelona (MACBA); and Museum of Tokyo (MOT). His audio projects THE CRACKLING (1996, composed with Max Springer) from field recordings made at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California, and TAP INTERNAL (2000, Touch # Tone 11) are considered by critics and composers alike to be landmarks in experimental sound. NAV, his audio project with Francisco López, received a 1999 Prix Ars Electronica award for digital music.
John Duncan & Bernhard Günter
Composed by John Duncan and Bernhard Günter.
Released on trente oiseaux, Germany.
Home, Unspeakable is a collaboration between Duncan and Günter based on Samuel Beckett's last work, an opera libretto entitled Neither that he wrote on the back of a card for Morton Feldman. Although Günter and Duncan both claim Feldman as strong influences, this work sounds little like Feldman, but is instead a "series of musical 'places,' which in their entirety form the topography of a 'landscape' we feel might be described by the final words of Beckett's text: unspeakable home" (from the liner notes). Making a heavy use of silence (even for Günter), the work features several sonic episodes that only occasionally rise out of the fog. It is easy to connect this piece to Beckett's late work, where communication is reduced to a minimum, and every attempt to do so is doomed to failure. A listener can easily connect the episodes to communicative events, as they overlap and mutate into each other, or fade into silence. The last event, which takes the last third of the piece, starts with soft brief whistles and concludes with almost inaudible rustles, as if the whistler finally gave up and crawled off into the darkness.
- Caleb Deupree, All Music Guide
Ideal compliment to the preceeding disc [THE CRACKLING]. Listen over headphones since the techniques used suggest the nearly exclusive use of extremely low frequencies, recorded at near-zero level... but don't punch the volume up, because you'll risk your ears (this may sound contradictory, but consider ultrasound and you'll understand) ... From time to time the slow manifestations of interference and unidentifiable noise refer to a more identifiable situation than previous discs, but in every way this CD is in a class by itself and confronts alone the well-known American philosophy: certainly not the ideal approach to this artist.
- Massimo Ricci, DEEP LISTENINGS
...Best record of 1996!
- Jim O'Rourke, interview in THE WIRE
i liked john's musical work from the first time i heard it, although i could never really point out why... a discussion with a friend (who shall go unnamed here) who said: "i don't how you can like this - it's not even really composed!", put me on the right track: i found that the amazing thing about john is that he actually composes in quite a different way from how western music is generally done. the classic compositional method is mainly based on speech-like figures, & works by repetitions & similarities, whereas john uses almost exclusively differences for the connections in his pieces, with a great intuitive feeling for choosing those differences in a way that they actually CONNECT the different parts as well as separating them. so it was great to bring john's intuition about sound & it's development together with my ideas of constructing larger forms, which actually work using similarity & repetition, even more so because we found that using quite different methods, we were looking for more or less the same things in our works.
[In HOME: UNSPEAKABLE] we set out using the last line of samuel beckett's libretto for feldman's chamber opera "neither", "unspeakable home", as a point of reference to set the overall tone for the composition, deciding that it would have the overall form of a series of musical landscapes that might describe the topography of such an 'unspeakable home'... the piece has less the form of a story (language), but of a walk in a landscape perceiving its existence, it's "being-like-this" ... of course the quote from beckett worked more as a kind of landmark, a lighthouse, if you will, than a rigid rule, since we didn't want to slip into a weird kind of programmatic music.... we worked in my home studio on several occasions, using sounds made by both john & myself - what we came up with, i think neither of us would have been able to do alone by himself, which makes it the experience especially precious for me, plus it sounds quite like nothing else i know...
- Bernhard Günter
Either the most brilliant electronic music ever made, or the worst CD I've heard yet.
- Charles Powne, SOLEILMOON
CD including the full soundtrack from MOVE FORWARD and all soundtracks from the limited-edition picturedisc LP THE JOHN SEE SERIES released on RRRecords
Stunning and legendary material from veteran art-experimentalist Duncan. Some of this stuff is so dark and spooky and inexplicably visceral that it's hard to listen to it without taking a break. These are the infamous John See Soundtracks, along with other performance pieces dating as far back as 1984. There is an excellent full-color booklet with it, explaining the works and their performance. Whats the most striking at first listen? That would be Duncan utlizing pronographic moans and heavy-breathing within ambient soundscapes. This is certainly sexy in a mysterious way, but then these sounds just become haunting, like voices of the dead, bodiless moans absently pretending satisfaction. Then they end up somewhere near the mechanical, not even human at all. Extended pieces take the sounds of sex further, with one using a very strange, almost beastial male-noise, effected and distorted and repeated until it becomes something else. As when you repeat a word over and over, it loses it's meaning. And all this is under thin sheets of tense ambient drones, so it really digs its way into you. But there are pieces that have no identification with the sexual as well... and these become the unbelievably heavy, powerful ascendencies of sound, increasing and building into frightening, violent walls. This is truly breakthrough material, up there with legendary albums such as Permafrost, I.O.S.'s Historical or Randy Grief's Alice In Wonderland, purely for it's absolute power and ability to create that tectonic movement within the listeners psyche. Do not miss this one - Manifold Records
"Quite how John Duncan ended up writing, directing and scoring porn films in mid-'80s Tokyo (under the pseudonym of John See) I'm not entirely sure, but given his pedigree it was unlikely that he would attempt to peddle variations on the four-in-a-bed schlock standard, with safely cheesy lounge retread soundtracking. As he makes clear in the liner notes, the flicks in question were originally intended for commercial release and consumption, but in finished form were closer to (ahem) 'art' than pornography. This end point is fully evidenced by the nature of the music, which juxtaposes male and female orgasm-groaning thankfully applied with some restraint with abstract droning, tape distortion, and muted industrial clanging. The volume level is sufficiently background and never a barrage, but harrowing nonetheless - the vocal sounds of human sex, decontextualised and dislocated from their "necessary" visual accompaniment and indeed from any other sounds associated with intercourse, become random interwoven litanies of carnal grunting. The moans are looped and repeasted so as to at once sound both boring and frightening, and not very 'sexual at all. One presumes that the films were watched with the mute button firmly pressed, as so disconcerting a soundtrack would surely have induced rapid detumescence in the average besuited Japanese middle management bureaucrat. Also included is the soundtrack to Duncan's Move Forward film - in the words of the man himself: 'a collage of child- and adult-pornography, animated illustrations from scientific papers on nuclear warfare, S/M images, Hiroshima victims, broadcast television; projected on a paper screen that cover the room wall-to-wall. When the film ends, I set the screen on fire and blow the burning remains into the audience with a fire extinguisher.' "
- Nick Cain / Opprobrium
Already from the first sonic emissions it's clear that you find yourself confronted with a classic, a sensation not unknown to this writer when talking about John Duncan. The sound of SEEK is visceral, subliminal, studied; going past the limits of the known, and of the expectations of listeners who look for music with sound organized according to a pre-defined architecture, yet is always surprising. John is the master of frequencies and vibrations at the limits of the audible; he inundates the brain with a lava of indefinably beautiful color -- the audio spectrum gets turned inside out and disintegrated. A simple project becomes an unforgettable masterwork -- because in this case you're dealing with masterwork. The Mort aux vaches series is nearly always touched with grace; with every release -- at least in the last two or three years -- the series has produced CD's worth noting. With SEEK this important collection adds a pearl of inestimable importance and brilliance. Follow it wherever it goes: John Duncan will arrive there almost always ahead of the others. And... put it on headphones.
- Massimo Ricci, DEEP LISTENINGS, Winter 1999
...Speaking of Staalplaat, in the Mort aux vaches radio series comes SEEK by John Duncan, American composer who's been living for awhile in Italy, well known in more radical experimental electro-noise circles: shortwave, computer and ambient sounds are the sources for five elusive drones, between freezing conceptualism and dramatic Ligeti noise crescendo.
- Vittore Baroni, RUMORE, March 1999
1998 Released by Die Stadt, Germany
John Duncan never seems to miss a thing: in CRUCIBLE (Die Stadt), his CD-single (in 500 copies and luxurious cedarwood packaging), recorded at the local Topolò festival, he draws in 23 dense minutes an enigmatic homage to the Friulian village, evoked with sounds of water, old wooden buckets and stacks of logs, together with shortwave, electrical contacts and serrated dynamic cuts that confirm his sure mastery of electroacoustic material.
- Walter Rovere; RUMORE (noise), March 1999
Mini CD (20 minutes) by John Duncan, in memory of an installation in Topolò (Udine). The predominant sounds are of streaming water, splendidly captured with supersensitive microphones placed at close range to the natural event. The water, in its flowing and drumming, seems like a radioactivity signal, especially in the combined context of distorted bio-physical sounds. As for the rest, the usual swarm of electrical frequencies of disparate origins assembled with the usual mastery. Grand alternating dynamics in Duncan style... too bad it's so short... Splendid limited edition with a wooden box. In short, I like it all...
- Massimo Ricci; DEEP LISTENINGS, Winter 1999
John Duncan ... his soundwork doesn't meet up to mainstream musical taste at all, because his collection of documentary material -- religious killing of animals in Thailand, for instance -- and his wild frequency sounds offer without question a very intense and at times quite exhausting 'pleasure' of listening. John Duncan deeply descends into the abyss of particular cultural conditions, but without taking an affirmative point of view. He examines, touches the wounds, and asks about the basics of society that make such things as pornography possible in the first place. CRUCIBLE is a live album by John Duncan, that documents a performance in the tiny Italian village of Topolò. Topolò -- totally removed from the outside world -- is situated on the Italian/Slovenian border. Duncan amplifies the sounds of small rivers and springs, works with atmospheric disturbance sounds and the result is an intense sound experience with a clear, crystaline presence. CRUCIBLE comes in a beautiful cedarwood box with information on the documented performance included.
- Sascha Ziehn; INTRO 12-98/1-99
CRUCIBLE is a 23 minute sound installation recorded at an outdoor concert in the tiny village of Topolò on the Italian-Slovenian border in July 1997. Its thunderous opening is literally the sound of a downpour which Duncan harnesses and treats to produce something elemental yet edgily unnatural. Bruce Gilbert's work springs to mind though Duncan has a less synthetic touch. The aquatic theme continues as water drains down pipes, gutters and sewers. Thereafter an eerie quiescence pervades. There is still static in the ether, the ebb and flow of mountain air currents and the occasional chance human or animal intervention, but it is the calm after the storm.
How Duncan actually achieved this process is ... ultimately inconsequential. Presented in a neat wooden box, the results reveal little but yield something fresh with each listen.
- David Elliot; The Wire, February 1999