The ghost in Ghost Notes refers to a robot drummer, although its appearance is less corporeal than it might sound. In fact, it employs quite crude technology not too different from your set of automatic car keys. John Matthias and Jay Auborn used solenoid magnets to convert audio signals sent from their computer into voltages that could fire hammers that would in turn hit a real drum kit. “It looks like a science experiment, all covered in wires”. Despite the rudimentary looks, ghost-drummer does an impressive job; allowing for digital collaboration with real instruments. In other words, instead of working with samples played off speakers, these can now be reproduced live, in a physical space.
As if straight out of a scene in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, the first time John Matthias and Jay Auborn brought their creation to life was a haunting experience. They fed it complex rhythmic information from a 1950s jazz recording of drum solos and lo and behold the drum kit came alive in the room with shocking resemblance to the original performance. That chilling encounter which, in the musician's eyes took technological appropriation to new, terrifying levels, pivoted the musician’s ideas: “We realised that we could use the method to extract the low level often overlooked rhythmic patterns within our own recorded or live material. [...] We now focused on creating Ghostly echoes of our own performances rather than invoking the dead to be in our band”.
This process became the bare bones behind the composition of Ghost Notes, rather than playing acoustic instruments and later digitally manipu- lating these recordings, these two stages were brought together in one moment and place in time, “The digital elements of our music were in the room with us during the improvisational stage, and in binding them together, we could create a live album of sorts”.
Just like a live session is filled with and shaped by factors such as the energy emanating from the audience on any given night, or the acoustics of a particular venue, Ghost Notes also embraces and plays on the undetermined. As the computer struggled under the demands of interpreting John Matthias and Jay Auborn’s improvisations live, it would sometimes act unexpectedly, hitting the drums as if possessed by its own agency. “Errors in the digital processing became fruitful diversions, like John Cage’s Ghost in the machine”. The result of this cyborgian jam session? A high-energy album featuring a wide range of sounds and tempos. In this regard, Ghost Notes stands in stark contrast to the more minimal, ambient output of other artists experimenting with similar frameworks of digital- acoustic interplay. Perhaps it’s because of this immersive quality, where textures, layers and emotional dramaturgy all combine to create unheard of worlds and make it impossible for partial listening, that Ghost Notes’ first track is named Dive Into This. Matthias' soaring violin lures listeners into shifting landscapes of syncopated drum beats and cycling synths. Classical structures are deconstructed into electronica and back, all the while Auborn is distorting acoustic sounds beyond recognition. “It’s about screwing with the materi- ality of it,” he says.
Although Ghost Notes is rich, layered and textured, it’s not one inch impenetrable. What could otherwise feel dense gets pierced by enthralling melodies such as virtuosic violin segments that pull on 19th-century romanticism, or soulful piano grooves à la Alice Coltrane or Marvin Gaye. At other times, the music tells imaginative stories, “In Christmas at the Twisted Wheel, we created a mini violin concerto which begins in an imagined Christmas advert for John Lewis through a dissonant landscape to The Twisted Wheel Northern Soul Club in Manchester”.
Ghost Notes is a testament to the enormous artistic freedom John Matthias and Jay Auborn have achieved together. Within the conceptual framework they set for themselves, they trusted sound to be their one and only guide, a model which led the duo on a vast exploration between extremes and nuances, like the collision and subtleties laid out on Vodka and Coke. In the track, emotional violin comes together with raw, brutal textures – “caveman beats” as the duo calls them. White-washed static noises are heard as the track progresses, the result of the computer’s own interpretations of what it was being fed, creating a surprising unison between the two contrasting worlds. “The sounds were a kind of digital shadow of ourselves. An in-betweenness of acoustic and digital”. It’s in that in- betweenness which doesn't sit comfortably in either classical nor electronica that Ghost Notes succeeds. It’s within that grey space between humans programming robots, and robots breaking down and erring like humans that the album achieves its finest, most original aesthetic expression, opening a new path for human-robotic collaboration in music-making.
ADDITIONAL NOTES ON THIS EDITION:
The album cover was created by artist, Stanley Donwood, using a copper verdigris technique in which the original drawing is printed on a copper sheet and undergoes a chemical decay process.
The original pencil drawing by Stanley Donwood is what is used for the print in our Dinked Edition. 6” x 6” with augmented reality experience information on the back.
On the inside cover of the vinyl, the artist Mike Phillips has developed 100 new images using a Generative Algorithmic Network (GAN) - an algorithmic AI technique for which Mike Phillips used the AI to compare the front cover copper verdigris image with the pencil drawing and produce the new set of twisted forms. You can see these 100 new forms concatenated together in an Augmented Reality animation developed by Chris Price of Zubr with sound designed by John Matthias and Jay Auborn by pointing to a QR code on the reverse of the Donwood print in the Dinked vinyl edition.
Dive Into This
Long Time Dead
Auto Psalm Engine
A Silver Solenoid
Christmas At The Twisted Wheel
Vodka & Coke