Artwork: Campfire Giant
Released on EOREOC Volume 1, Voltage Control Records (New York)
Available on Bandcamp
FORMAT: interactive recorded work for streaming (via Bandcamp, etc.)
PERSONNEL: solo listener with smart device or MP3 player
ORCHESTRATION: voice + electronics (percussion, ambient)
Music for Headphones lies at the intersection between interactivity and more traditional fixed-media recordings. As far as I can think of, there are really only two feasible ways to directly interact with a music track when listening on a device, using standard streaming software. You can interact temporally (moving back and forward within a track or through the tracks in an album/playlist); or else you can manipulate the volume levels. I’ve never seen the latter attempted; Music for Headphones is a tongue-in-cheek effort to fill this void.
The track assumes the tone of a satirical guided self-help meditation, borrowing from a spoken-word tradition instantiated by John Cage and David Tudor (Indeterminacy, 1959), and popularised by Robert Ashley’s television opera Perfect Lives (1983). More recently, the combination of a mellifluous speaking voice and ambient background noise has been adopted by Ryan Ross Smith and Andy Ingamells for their 2020 duet Recipes. Music for Headphones draws on this genre to lightly parody the proliferation (particularly during the Covid-19 era) of YouTube yogis - and their characteristic blend of on-demand mindfulness with adroit product placements. The track shepherds listeners through a series of sonic "calibrations", each spruiking increasingly absurd and fraudulent outcomes. The piece's ultimate measure of interactivity lies in its obfuscation of the track succeeding it; the final action required of listeners is to move to silence, without their realising that by the time the volume is again audible, the subsequent track has already begun.