A track-by track guide to C.A.N.V.A.S.’ new compilation, Cipher

Establishing itself as a London event series back in 2014, C.A.N.V.A.S. has since grown into an international artist network and creative collective with an exploratory focus on electronic music and live performance.

The brainchild of Olan Monk and Lugh, both artists were the first to release music on the platform. Now they invite a selection of fellow alien friends to contribute to their new LP compilation Cipher, tasking them with specific thematic instructions to create a contextually coherent, although artistically varied collective work.

With contributions from Michael Speers, Xao, object blue, Ashley Paul, Ben Vince, Ausschuss, Olan Monk, Flora Yin-Wong and Lugh, each of the artists were assigned a different task when creating, including the consideration of the Ryōan-ji, kare-sansui garden as a visual narrative, composing without the use of a physical graphical score, and creating music based around snippets of audio exchanged by two artists.

Ahead of the label’s album launch at London’s Cafe OTO in March, we catch up with the collective, asking each member to detail their creation process once set with a challenge…

1. Xao – Quintal

Platforms such as Soundcloud have popularised the waveform as visual representation of music – my approach was to reconsider this low resolution image as a type of score. I visualised existing tracks and tried to find common visual motifs. I then categorised these into groups such as feathered, spiky, planer, stochastic. I set about trying to recreate these patterns by creating a sound or processing a sample, inspecting its waveform, then altering the material in an effort to make the waveform fit more neatly into the category. This process was repeated across the different motifs and the results became the components of the track.

2. Flora Yin-Wong – Murmures

Halfway up Mount Danyama on Teshima Island, 400 wind chimes hang from the trees of a forest, fluttering in the breeze. Alone for most of our journey, save for a few deer, wild boars and birdsong, we entered ‘La Forêt des Murmures’ carefully, treading on the dry leaves underfoot. Hanging from each bell are the names of loved ones written by those who have come to visit. The sound of the chimes in the wind pay homage to these memories, expressing the flickering transience of human life.

Used as ‘cleansing bells’, the original field recording plays out in its unprocessed form as the last phase of the track to reset and clear the air.

These recordings are merged with percussive elements from an old yangqin, a melody composed on a synthesised koto, and the sound of the end of a concert hall performance which perhaps first appears to be running water from a brook in a garden.

3. Ausschuss – Frontier Control

The first thing that came to my mind while reading the brief was the portrayal of motion, direction and intensity. My approach to music has always been a very visual one. Hesitation, exasperation and dread can all be felt through the pacing of music.

The piece for me inhabits a space – a room, so to speak. The core centres around a certain ‘invisible room’ and maps out how the room is filled by separate elements. It revisits itself over and over, peeling back layers, revealing a denser construction each time.

4. Michael Speers – îË |I O Æ B

Drawing on the macro structure of the Ryōan-ji garden, I created five discreet 1min sections, derived from the five clusters of rock—each composed with the aim of conveying multiple perspectives, simultaneously.

A diagram in Will Petersen’s 1957 essay Stone Garden shows the garden from a bird’s eye view, with projections and mappings that show the rocks’ silhouettes and their spatial relationships to one another. I imagined an infinitely expanded diagram of this kind, which would include every possible (and impossible) perspective on the material within the space of this garden—from the external perspective of being amongst shuffling tourists, disrupting each other as they attempt to experience the tranquility of the garden, to speculating on the properties of the rock internally — observing and being amongst the unbounded molecular movement.

5. Olan Monk – Seph / Ashley Paul – Sleep Walker

In the crossover of 2014/2015 myself and Ashley met and started working together. While I was en route to the West of Ireland to record what would become the release MONK on her Wagtail imprint, I got stuck in Wales waiting for a boat to cross the Irish sea. I made some recordings on my phone of myself singing and dragging a suitcase around in the wind. When I arrived home I made some piano recordings. In summer 2018, I sent an edit of these recordings to Ashley. In response, Ashley sent me a recording of her improvising on an organ keyboard with interruptions from her daughter’s impromptu vocal performance. In response to each of these recordings – we each wrote a song. ‘Sleep Walker’ is Ashley’s unmistakable transmission of beauty on the edge of collapse and ‘Seph’ is as an ode to disappearing youth – made in an attempt to recreate Ashley and her daughter’s recording in pop song blowout form. (Olan Monk)

6. Lugh – Hot Mess

The second task of the project considers whether or not we make music in the image of how it is conceived in our thoughts. Hot Mess responds to it by speculating about the possibility of making our thoughts ‘readable’ so that they can be deciphered.

The hot mess is our immaculate pure thinking. The track conveys thoughts undergoing a meditative process to achieve a decipherable state. This speculative conception of a future of transcription and propagation of music involves producing form from thoughts through deep introspection.

7. Ben Vince – Fading In Panoramic

For my track, I made a recording template whereby the zen garden was represented by grouping motifs. I created a group for each group of stones, and within those groups, the number of stones are each represented by a motif I recorded. I then did a live take with the loops, imagining being a particle floating through the zen garden. Using the the graphic position of the stones, I used the loops from each group as triggers for when I encountered a particular stone or set of stones, there are some sharp transitions in the track when I imagined turning corners and new objects come in and out of view.

8. object blue – Fourteen Boulders, Fifteen Stones

In the Buddhist spirit of accepting things as they happen, I let algorithms and sequences run freely, where I found beauty by careful listening rather than trying to construct one.

Cipher is out now on C.A.N.V.A.S. 

Buy it here.

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