Other spaces: Occupy Your Mind (2021)

Often, by way of amusing myself, I assemble my recording experiments around a particular play on words, and the oddly-connected thoughts I encounter while working on the music, as I roll the idea around in my mind.  The tracks on Occupy Your Mind have been rallied together under just such a tenuous link, like the murmuring remnants of a recently-dispersed crowd. 

In the flow of my general creative continuum, these pieces follow on from the loopish experiments on the Red Tape Bardo I – IV series just prior.  In parts of those albums I’ve used looped samples from an old 4-track recording experiment I’d made in Melbourne in the late 1990s, and I wanted to see what other interesting sounds I could squeeze out of it. 

One of these 4-track recordings is a circus theme, pumped out on an old (60s? 70s? 50s?) imitation Hammond organ, and complete with creepy clown laughter-from-a-can.  I was sharing a house at the time with Tom & B, one-half of the utterly unique band Stinking Badger Of Java; we had a big loungeroom in a bushy suburb, and they rehearsed there often, so the drumkit was permanently set up, there was a 4-track tape recorder and….the Organ.  I’d never played any piano before, but inspired by the cheesy wobble of this nutty machine, I set myself the task of working out some circus music, using whatever musical cliches I could remember from my cultural conditioning (lots of chromatic melodies, for starters).  I added some ragged drumkit for emphasis (eg cymbal crashes) and some fx that lent a certain disturbed quality (more creepy carny cliches).  The recording goes on a bit (how uncharacteristic of me), but as a first attempt I was privately pleased with it.  (I’ve included it in its unexpurgated form at the end of this post, for fun & reference.)

Anyway, when I used this recording for the title track Occupy Your Mind, I sampled and looped tiny sections of the organ’s drone in order to capture abstracted texture rather than melodic reference. The experiment stretched out over about 20 minutes, so I sliced the droney organism into two parts: in the first, Occupy Your Mind, I allowed more harmonic and melodic variation; the second part (and final track on the album) is After The Occupation, and in it I focus more on textures.  The effect might sound deliberately ‘glitchy’, but the layering of different chunks of organ tone randomly set off odd resonances between the drones, causing all kinds of erratic overtones and key-jumps as the frequencies bumped into each other.  I liked the effect and so used it as a feature.  One of my greatest pleasures in tinkering with sound is in spontaneously throwing elements together and finding these happy accidents.  As an endpiece, the reiteration of the title theme might suggest a question mark – what comes After Occupation?  What manner of occupancy?  Is it business as usual, more of the same – in the popular and misleading euphemism, the ‘new normal’?

In working with the old Circus Theme recording, I’d also been setting aside samples from it that made interesting rhythmic and melodic loops when taken out of context and given ‘the treatment’.  The seasick 3/4 waltz time and circusy organ melodies were much more obvious in these samples, so I decided to stitch them together into a musical piece that was unashamedly Circusing. The result was Every Ringleader Needs A Circus, reinforcing the joke by overstating the already overstated.  I put the sounds through the mincer, slowing them down, reversing and otherwise mangling them, and in places (if you squint your ears) it almost sounds like a chewed-and-stretched cassette tape.  It led me into thoughts of the Roman Circus, the Media Circus, of being thrown to the lions, the notion of ‘ringleaders’ as fanning the flames of dissent in a group, and the egocentric behaviours that surface in leaders of all causes, no matter how PC their ideology.

Another of these looping experiments grew from a brief recording I’d made on my phone at the Hobart Tip (or more politely: Waste Transfer Station..).  A great mass of crows, more like a genocide of crows than a murder, sneered overhead on their way to scavenge in the mounds of human wastage.  There was such a variety of different warbling groans and croaks in the recording that I kept my use of effects to a (relative) minimum, and mainly focused on layering the crowcalls so as to create a somewhat trance-like sense of space & movement; if I listen deeply, the layers of crow sound seem to produce rhythmic pulsations of their own as they weave & criss-across each other.

This experiment also became somewhat long, so I divided it into Right To Assembly and the reprise, Toe That Assembly Line, the sounds in the latter being more obviously manipulated.  Right To Assembly set the direction of my thinking towards ‘protest movements’, the short-lived Occupy movement, and the not-so-subtle coercion of our freedoms by the enforcing powers.  I slantwise reflected on crows as a self-organising ‘rabble’, assembling as they please, outside human constrictions, and from there my thought went to Nature’s over-riding compulsion toward growth, like grass pushing through the cracks in a city sidewalk. The title Toe That Assembly Line is a more cynical sidestep, observing that even in joining a ‘worthy cause’ we are susceptible to the same human tendencies to stratify, divide, limit and control, set up rules and expectations of conformity – the Party Line – which eventually lead to mechanistic (assembly line) thinking and rigor mortis of the original (and often useful) ideas.

This flavour of thinking also led to my choosing the phrase ‘Occupy Your Mind’ as an album title and loose conceptual net.  I considered calling the album Protest Songs, but I liked the double entendre of Occupy Your Mind. I remembered the Occupy phenomenon of the early 2000s, and it was an odd feeling to read the Wikipedia entry in such a (very) past tense, as if it were a barely-historical footnote or even just a fleeting phase the children were going through.  My merry ruminations meandered into more dystopian territory, the current climate of control from all directions, of public monitoring, and a societal acceptance (‘normalising’) of the very systems we no longer trust.

I reflected on the Mind as a state of Occupancy – eg occupied (controlled) by cultural (mammalian) politics, or occupied by the individual as a personal statement of resistance against external control. Every individual deserves sovereignty of their own consciousness; as patternmaking animals this is primal, deeply rooted in survival and concepts of self as other; we are all entitled to and need that sense of private domain.  However you slice it, our consciousness is ultimately what we rely on to navigate our reality, our primary tool in every moment. 

Even aside from political intrusions, our minds are regularly intruded on by the various voices of cultural conditioning – self-criticism, self-doubt, fearfulness, comparison, expectation etc etc.  To Occupy one’s Mind in this sense is to demarcate what intrusions one will accept or not, engage with the Mind creatively, and actively shape one’s own thoughts.  In this vein, the album’s title has another layer of meaning for me, in that I keep my Mind occupied (eg through such creative focii as writing & musicking) as a matter of mental health. 

Peacecore, one of the more ambient tracks, leans into this meditative territory. It features a drone extracted from the ventilation fan of a service station toilet, its incidental clunks implying a looped pulse. I liked the drone’s grainy texture, and there’s a tonal effect that reminds me of Tibetan Gyuto monks chanting. The title plays with Peacecore (like hardcore, slowcore etc), core of peace and peace corps meanings.

Another ambient soundscape, Rebellion Extinction, emerged when I dug up an old phone recording of a thrush singing outside our house. Birdcalls are always fascinating slowed w a a a y y down and these thrush calls offered many surprises. My first experiment with them revealed some beautiful ambient textures and something reminiscent of whalesong, suggesting both a sense of enfolding darkness and open space. The sounds led me to imagine a barren post-politiclypse in which all forms of rebellion have been rendered extinct by the controlling powers, a ghostscape.  Every sound in the track has been sourced from the thrush recording, even what appears to be an alternating two-chord piano pattern looping quietly in the background. This thrushcall experiment also inspired the shorter piece, Last Night I Dreamt Of Birds, Singing.  The brief rhythmic interjection that sounds like a boat propellor passing through is courtesy of another old ‘field’ recording, this time the fluttering of our fridge motor.

I sometimes have an urge to include a track that departs from, and is resolutely non-conformist among, the other pieces. The last track I created for the album was Itch, and I included it just for the ‘itch’ of it. This time I built loops from an old recording of a community drumming group I led on Bruny Island, in the first few years of my move to Tasmania. I sampled sections and messed with them to create a purely rhythmic piece, cannibalising another unused recording of a cello bass improvisation, and the layers of rhythm sit together with a certain agitation and uncomfortable tension.  I deliberately messed with timing to niggle at what might otherwise be a pleasant groove, in keeping with the album’s themes of dissent, protest, the agitative feeling that surfaces in the collective and the individual when there is a need for some kind of change – hence, the Itch

These tracks were all completed before the Oort album, but I had an odd process with deciding on a cover for the album, which prevented its final release. I had a number of images in mind and, annoyingly, found it difficult to decide which would best suit the collection. Anyway, the pic I eventually settled on is an abstraction of sunlight and shadow on the deck of a house I used to Occupy – to me it suggests a low key, lo-fi and abstract mood.

And lastly, as described, here’s the original 4-track recording of the Circus Theme that I made in 1998, and which I pillaged and mangled for parts of this album:

Circus Theme © 1998 Bradfield Dumpleton (organ, drumkit, fx)