Deluxe Vinyl Package will be available once more in Q1 2019. Standby.
Liner notes from “Hip Mobility”
Notes on the Quindar
I. ARCHIVE FEVER
In July of 1969, the artist Robert Rauschenberg traveled to Florida’s Cape Canaveral—a vast expanse of marshland and sandy Atlantic coast—to watch astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins embark on the first manned mission to the surface of the Moon. Officially invited by NASA to observe and document the launch of Apollo 11, Rauschenberg enjoyed unrestricted access at the Cape. However, the artist headed straight for the offices, where he spent the next days poring over thousands of photographs, maps, and technical documents.
Combining these printed materials with clippings from press kits, advertisements, hotel menus, and scraps from Life Magazine, Rauschenberg created Stoned Moon, a series of over thirty collaged lithographs that rewrote NASA’s official narrative. Instead of reinforcing the pageantry of the launch, the prints offered up a lysergic universe, one where schematics of spacesuits, maps of the coastline, glistening Florida oranges, and photographs of birds nesting in NASA’s old gantry towers all collided. Stoned Moon’s multiple layers of visual information playfully deflated the iconography of the space program, without ever completely refusing the seductive beauty of its imagery.
Less than a decade later, two young art school grads living in San Francisco embarked on a similar project. Like Stoned Moon, Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s collaboration—several thousand photographs edited down into a tight collection called Evidence—also drew from a vast repository of technical imagery created during the heyday of the Space Age. But while Stoned Moon was colorful and maximal, Evidence was crisp and minimal: a series of black-and-white photographs culled from the filing cabinets of corporations, science labs, and government agencies vaguely alluded to industrial research. Stripped of their captions, the “instructional aesthetic” of Evidence’s images dared the viewer to make up their own narrative: men in blazers and hard hats stand in a field of cotton candy-esque flame retardant material, a tree grows inside a cramped glass box, a horse’s hoof is X-rayed, a car burns ominously in a field. Removed from their original scientific context, the photos feel like a storyboard from a forgotten J.G. Ballard story.
At times maximal, at other moments minimal, the record you are holding might best be understood as oscillating between the aesthetic poles of Stoned Moon and Evidence. Constructed around pieces of audio from the archives of NASA’s first two decades, this LP is, in part, an exercise in heretical archaeology. Strewn across corporate history offices and government filing cabinets throughout the country, the archival recordings are grounded in the minutiae of a given historical moment, yet tempered by our interest in separating that data point from its context. Our process is both analytic and synthetic. After researching the details of a specific sound, we strip it from its history, manipulate its formal qualities and then build a new compositional framework around the sound’s character, deciding in some cases to go so far as to fully obscure the original piece of archival audio with which we began.
II. REDUCED LISTENING, TONE GENERATION
This record also takes cues from both musique concrète (Schaeffer) and elektronische Musik (Stockhausen), and to a distinction that briefly amounted to something of a turf war in the early 1950s. While Schaeffer spoke of the importance of an embodied approach to sound—of using techniques of reduced listening and heightened concentration to more clearly hear a preexisting (or found) sound object—Stockhausen created new sounds using electronic means. Much of the archival audio we work with qualifies as a sound object a la Schaeffer. However, our central sound object—the Quindar tone from which our broader project derives its name—is simultaneously found and synthesized. We embrace Schaeffer’s legacy of using found sound, but like Stockhausen, we augment these recordings with material of our own production, and embrace the logic of the repetitive grid, the looped track, and a modular compositional structure.
But what of the Quindar itself? Though few recognize the name, the tones quickly entered popular consciousness during the Space Age, as a pair of sine waves that bracketed every early NASA transmission from Mission Control—each lasting 250 milliseconds and ringing in at 2.525 kHz and out at 2.475 kHz (a slightly sharp and flat D#, respectively)—a difference in pitch just barely perceptible, until one listens deeply and repeatedly. The Quindar may very well be the core constitutive element for the Cold War period: the smallest discernable sound object to define the entire era.
While the Quindar technically functioned as a gate device that opened and closed radio communications, it has been incorrectly interpreted at various times as an “intro/outro” set of tones, or as a courtesy tone that designated the end of an audio transmission: the two tones were in fact generated at Mission Control by a special sine wave generator (NASA’s synthesizer, in effect), and then decoded at various tracking stations. By bracketing commands sent up into space, the Quindar was like a musical note—a pitched, sonorous cue—within a dynamic and elaborate space-based performance.
We acknowledge both the factual and imagined purpose of the Quindar, and see a certain lyricism in these two sounds that “bracket” communications, a set of tones that serve to confirm contact, a pair of tones generated by a very simple synthesizer: “Are you there?” “Yes, I read you, I am here, are you there?” etc. We see the Quindar as a complex musical note (again, Schaeffer’s sound object), and as one that corresponds to the binary “note-on”/“note-off” states found in MIDI, which trigger the beginning and end of sounds (both found and synthesized) in an often vast electronic compositional realm.
Regardless of its precise or imagined function, the Quindar is fundamentally a statement about communication. A handshake. A code. A checksum. A call that prompts a response. All of which is to say, when we began to isolate, sample and manipulate the Quindar, we began to ask: What happens when we manipulate the “fixed” quality of these tones? What happens when we intervene into the sound as an industrial standard and use it instead as a compositional element? What is the speculative relationship between the Quindar and contemporaneous tone-generating devices, like those found in the Studio für elektronische Musik, or in the Studio d'Essai?
III. WORK SITES
This record is the result of a several year process of working closely with the archives of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The project was catalyzed in part by a 2011-12 Daniel C. Guggenheim Predoctoral Fellowship at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. (Thomas); by a career in audio engineering, music production and performance (Jorgensen); and by a shared conversation about music, history, recording, and communication that evolved out of these two perspectives. Between touring schedules and academic calendars, a large amount of archival material related to Apollo, Apollo Applications Program, and OWS/Skylab missions (audio, printed materials, photographs, film) was collected from the Smithsonian Institution; NASA History Offices in Washington, D.C. and Huntsville, AL; various branches of the National Archives and Records Administration (College Park, MD; Atlanta, GA); and a number of private collections. While many individuals helped in these efforts, special acknowledgment goes to the members of the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum, in particular Martin Collins, Roger Launius, David Devorkin, Allan Needell, Margaret Weitekamp, Hunter Hollins, and 2011/12 Verville Fellow Anke Ortlepp, who provided early guidance and invaluable historical context for studying these materials. Additional thanks go to Dino Everett and the staff of the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive at the USC School of Cinematic Arts for assisting with additional digitization; and to the Office of the Provost and the Department of Art History at the University of Southern California for additional institutional support. Thanks to the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University, and especially to Pamela M. Lee and Fred Turner, whose team-taught seminars cultivated early interest in this material, while helping to clarify crucial questions about technology, ideology, and method.
The tracks on this record were produced and refined in a number of studios (Transmitter Park Studio, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY; Inner Ear Studios, Arlington, VA; additional studios in Los Angeles and Ojai, CA) between early 2012 and mid-2015. In addition to archival recordings, instrumentation included various analog and digital synthesizers (Crumar DS-2, EMS Synthi, ARP-2600, Moog LP Stage Edition, Teenage Engineering OP-1, Roland JX-10, Elektron Analog 4 / Machinedrum / Octatrack, Korg MS-20, VolcaKeys, Critter And Guitari Pocket Piano, and Pittsburgh Modular Lifeforms Systems). Compositions were further augmented by digital processing via Ableton Live, Native Instruments, and Elektron platforms and the occasional acoustic instrument. Special consideration and gratitude to Simon Cote and Troy Manning at Focal Professional (whose ‘Be’ series monitor speakers were used throughout the production of this record), Bob Muller at Dangerous Music, Jens Jungkurth and John Klett at NonLinearAudio for supplying critical recording and monitoring equipment during these sessions. Extended sessions were edited, pruned, expanded, and then edited again. Finally, the tracks were mixed and mastered on Allen Farmelo’s custom analog API console (designed and built by François Chambard of UM Project) using the Grimm Audio CC1 audio clock for an ultra-low-jitter digital experience.
IV. MISSION SUPPORT
Since 2014, several institutions and individuals have allowed us to more meaningfully develop a number of these compositions in a variety of performance, workshop, and residency settings at museums and festivals. We acknowledge the early support of Sarah Cooper and her team at the
Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Louise Sandhaus, Valida, KCRW, and the Desert Nights Series at the Standard Hotel in Hollywood. Thanks to Emily Krell, Margaret Evans, Ben Young, and the staff of the Kaufman Music Center, New York; Judd Greenstein, Curator and Artistic Director of the Ecstatic Music Festival;
John Schaefer and WNYC’s New Sounds; and Joe Thompson, Sue Killam, Jodi Joseph, Meghan Robertson, and the support staff of MassMoCA for assistance during both a 2015 Solid Sound Festival Performance and a 2016 Performance Series Workshop.
We thank Heather Silva, Lea Sindija, and the staff of the 2015 Santa Barbara On Edge Music Festival and Goodland Hotel; and Lawrence Azerrad, David Pescovitz, Frankie Hamersma, Roman Mars, Julie Anixter, Kathleen Budny and the staff of the AIGA, the professional association for design. Extra special thanks are due to Steve Sprinkel, Olivia Chase, John Phaneuf and the staff at the Farmer & Cook, Ojai, CA; to Lindsay Ballant, Jeremy Roth, and Joel Fox for design and technical consultation at various moments; and to Chad Ress for the photographs of Quindar. Thanks also to Joy Lewis and the staff at Patagonia in Ventura, CA.
Among many friends and collaborators, a number of musicians and colleagues are to be singled out for their early support and encouragement. We thank William Tyler, Bradley Cook, Scott Hirsch, Adrian & Danielle Rubi-Dentzel, Orpheo McCord, Xander Singh, David Scott Stone, M Geddes Gengras, and Nick Hallett for their enthusiasm, playing along, gigging, remixing, and overall meaningful engagement with our work.
We thank Michael Slaboch and Penny Duff for their intrepid engineering skills under extreme radio broadcasting situations.
Extra Special Thanks and Love to Erin Pauwels, Cassandra C. Jones, and Trent & Olga Jones.
Special Thanks to John Berry, Allen Farmelo, Xeni Jardin, Braden King, Kaj & Milo,
Meghan O’Hara, Greg O’Keeffe, The Pink Moment, Alex Rosson, Wilco / Wilcrew / TMM, Denis,
Hugo & Declan, Shelley Wollert and Volker Zander.
Finally, we thank you, the listener.
Quindar is Mikael Jorgensen &
James Merle Thomas