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My brilliant, talented, completely wacko friend Matt tries to talk to me about science. He tells me things like how one percent of the "snow" on unused analog television channels is created by vibrations left over from the Big Bang.
Now, as one of the mad scientists behind the experimental noise night Cosmic Microwave Radio, he is taking the concept of something like this snow — a background noise coming to us from the depths of space — and putting it in front of their listeners' faces with performances from experimental noise artists.
Stay with me and I promise no more science.
In a lot of ways, it's easier to say what Cosmic Microwave Radio isn't. The artists who are invited to perform at CMR aren't making accessible, structured, or marketable music. There is a nebulous, undefined quality to what they're doing, that makes it really exciting. Anything could happen at CMR.
The event's founders Matt Hagan, Jim Kincaid, and Neal Cunningham chatted with me before Saturday's show at General Public Collective.
NUVO: Explain the concept behind CMR.
Jim Kincaid: Cosmic Microwave Radio is us highlighting and harnessing that background and noise and making it something to tune in to. It's not AM/FM, it's something more ancient that scratches through the static between stations.
Matt Hagan: [Last summer] Musical Family Tree hosted a Noise-A-Thon. It reminded me of my noise roots and the fact that this city had a noise deficit. I wanted to take direct action to add to the diversity of my community and my personal community is defined by music.
Neal Cunningham: Personally, I wanted a strange sort of audio-visual experience that didn't really have a theme or fall under any specific musical guidelines. My friends and I had all been dabbling loosely in manipulating sampled sounds and circuit bending, and after I slept on that first MFT Noise-A-Thon event I decided I'd have to find something else to do until the next one came around. Not long after that I ended up spending more time with Matt and Jim, talking about how we could bring this thing to life with sounds, lights, and other visuals.
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- Stills from the last Cosmic Microwave Radio broadcast
NUVO: Why the focus on experimental music?
Hagan: I honestly believe that the intended act of experimentation in music adds to the nebulous clouds of possibilities in people's minds, assisting in evolution, filling the pond with Vitamin Weird. I find the term "experimental" beautiful because unlike most words it applies to the formless nature of an undefined thing.
Kincaid: Anything original comes from pure experimentation. And some never leave that realm; it can be very fulfilling.
NUVO: And how do you define what makes something experimental?
Kincaid: Anything pure, original, random, free, full of life.
Hagan: I think the most telling factor is a degree of dissonance, be it in composition or execution, that is far beyond anything one would hear or experience in the commercial system.
NUVO: How do you choose the artists to perform at CMR?
Hagan: This is the most uncomfortable aspect of the whole endeavor as I feel, and [have] read a few neurological studies, that sound preference is subjective and [that] acceptable levels of dissonance increase with exposure. I have to use my limited resources to wheedle out what I take as genuine exploration and individuation on the part of the performer. ... I would love to eventually achieve a good mix of local and national acts.
NUVO: Will you choose a different venue for each performance?
Hagan: Not necessarily, because this crew has been threatening to make a rolling venue.
Kincaid: I have a background in mobile audio and video and we would love to have a trailer or vehicle with all of our performance aspects (lights, video, sound, etc.) So we could do this anywhere anytime. Who doesn't like hanging out in a parking lot?
NUVO: So Jim, you're creating all the visual art for CMR. Tell me about what media you work in and how you got started.
Kincaid: When we decided to do this I ordered one of the old video mixers like I used back in the day. We decided to keep it kind of lo-fi in order to get some of the grit and randomness of it all. Now [a]days computers give us all of the options in glorious HD and surround sound. There's something to say for working out of the box on a relatively limited piece of hardware. It helps me focus more on the performance and feel than considering all of my options. I also collaborate with friends like Michael Hathaway and Daniel Wood for videos they've made.
Michael does 3D environments and Daniel has a great eye for super close shots of everyday items that create great textures. A lot of those images get chromakeyed in a high contrast mode and layer over the other live feeds. I like to release the horizontal or vertical hold and let them stream across the screen. I'll do the same thing with various visualizers. I like using the visualizers because they can be triggered by the audio. I also use various lights that I can trigger off audio. When all of these layers of performance, multiple cameras, video effects, visualizers, and lights come together it's great. My goal is to create a breathing aura for the artist to exist in for their performance. They get real-time feedback from the room and can really get in to their performance. And that translates to a great video and experience for all. It's really intense and most of us are next to speechless when it's all over.
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NUVO: And Neal, you're the main audio engineer. How are you setting up to stream and record the performances?
Cunningham: I usually handle almost every aspect of the audio for the show. I set up a control station where I'm able to manage the live room sound, streaming audio, and recorded audio. The board audio feed from the live performance is what gets sent to the online stream then our room mics as well as live board feed get recorded to a laptop with Ableton. Being able to record and mix your own material to a certain extent is almost a requirement these days, and I really enjoy capturing the CMR performances.
NUVO: So to see the whole show, you have to attend or watch the live stream, right? Will these performances be archived in any other way besides YouTube? Like maybe cassette or something?
Cunningham: We're hoping to begin archiving these things very soon, and posting various media for everyone to enjoy. I'm a huge fan of cassettes, so I'd like to think that some kind of a CMR compilation is not too far off in the distant future.
Hagan: I chose to stream the show to allow the visual manipulations to have a real platform and as an homage to BadTaste [a daring noise collective and label from Muncie] and their first Indiana noise stream.NUVO: In creating CMR, were you influenced by other music scenes or events going on in other cities?
Hagan: There used to be a great noise scene when I lived in Muncie (2001-2005) that was mostly headed up by the Bad Taste/Animals Within Animals label. I happened to live in a house that hosted a lot of events so I was literally inundated by the sounds because I lived in the basement/performance space. I would see band after band perform and after you see enough bands you notice some strong repetitive patterns in style and instrumentation. But these people who labeled themselves “noise” artists did not seem to operate by any boundaries but the ones that were self-imposed. They seemed so liberated and diverse with their methods, their circuit-bent this or that, or their adaptation of a computer program that they personally scripted out to throb out sounds that have never been heard before or since while they pecked and convulsed maniacally in front of their glowing CRT screen.
NUVO: So what do you hope people will get out of attending the next event on the 13?
Kincaid: A buzz and a little enlightenment. It's a very spiritual experience for us and the attendees/viewers. The live show is where its at but the stream is a great option for those that can't share our time and space. There's nothing to interpret here except whatever you take from it.
Hagan: Manifest freedom.
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Matt Hagan describes each of the artists on the show thusly:
“Glitch art pioneer stAllio! will premiere some of his latest loop-based sound collage, in a rare hometown appearance.”
“An occult-themed hardcore electronic music producer from central Indiana who utilizes circuit bending, sound design, field recordings and horror movie samples into his production.”
“Naptown face with a Btown booty. Brilliant music by a brilliant artist."
Dr. Butcher M.D.
“Eldritch electricultronics, sickadelic breakcorror and necro electro.”
“Mr. Freedom is the perfect soundtrack to your next out-of-body experience or midnight drive.”
Exploding Head Scene
“A psychedelic happening featuring live tape collage, absurdist poetics, gadgetry and exploding heads.”