“Unit 23”

Just the other day, Daniel Thompson (of the “Microtonal Composer” blog) and I were discussing musical tunings, which had turned somewhat to questions about duration. Thompson made the comment that modern music “has a lot to say about harmonic considerations but not much to say about spatial considerations.” I think this is very true– even decades after John Cage debuted 4’33”, harmony is still the boss. The interesting idea for me, is that speeding up a beautiful harmony creates an auditory “blip,” while slowing it down tremendously reveals silences within the individual tones– repetition, rhythm, something too large to “understand” in that harmonious manner.

One of the few examples of this phenomenon that I find offhand is Larry Kucharz’s “Unit 23,” a self-release of early computer music available through his own International Audiochrome imprint. The works, from 1975 to 1990, are mostly comprised of repetitious blocks of notes layed upon one another, and apparently introduced or removed at will. The sounds, which are often similar to a telephone busy signal or the generic “traffic” sound used in cartoons; form dense, beating structures. More complicated rhythms form due to the interaction of the notes, as well as the listeners occasional inability to separate these blocks from each other mentally.

I have to admit that I don’t know if Kucharz intended for “Unit 23” to be a demonstration of any sort of spatial theories. If anything, his liner notes suggest an emphasis on layers, and replacing “the thematic process as a compositional rhetoric.” Nevertheless, I hear my thoughts about duration expressed in these tracks– with a bit more speed, these blocks might truly become blocks of sound– and indeed, already take upon a block-life form that listeners can easily perceive. It is “between” moments such as these that I relish; when something is simulataneously two things (in this case, individual notes and monolithic blocks of held tone)… but somehow, not quite either one.

As for the actual quality of the album itself, I’m mostly pleased. The professionally-made disc has excellent sound quality, but the liner notes are far too brief for the period of time these recordings span. For what Kucharz feels is essentially an archive of early recordings, I also question the track order– why not present them chronologically? Lastly, my own picky concerns about titling– in an interview with AmbiEntrance, even Kucharz himself admits being occasionally confused with his numerical titles, which were apparently created to provide “a convenient handle.” Although I know this to be “corrected” on later International Audiochrome releases, perhaps the next pressing of “Unit 23” will incorporate these improvements as well.

One Response to ““Unit 23””

  1. Daniel Thompson Says:

    I just reread this article. Interesting. I have been reading about how people and some birds learn speech or music. It appears that we can both duplicate fine details that are too brief for us to be consciously aware of. I wonder if the process of slowing down a recording brings into conscious focus details that we already process on a subconscious level.

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