Re: Releases Continued: The Modernity Trillogy

Once again we bring you digital releases of albums that were only available on CD for many years along with a little history behind the releases. This time it’s three related albums that span 6 years (one of which, Modernity, was in fact released digitally).

2000-2006 – The Modernity Trilogy

[Prologue – The Modernity Double Album]

“Modernity” is an album I’d been making since December 2000 that turned into a trilogy of albums released in 2002, 2004, and 2007. After the two years it took me to write and record the Misery double album I had the stupid idea to do another massive project right away. This was going to be a double album about the modern human being in our changing technological world. It was going to explore ideas of identity, creativity, morality, freedom and dependence, in the rapidly changing media-saturated technological world of 2000/1. The album was going to be called “Modernity”, and the two discs were going to represent two extreme reactions to the modern human being’s attempt to find her place in this world. Disc 1 would be called “Sinners” and it was going to be a harsh, noisy, heavy, electronics and grating guitars type affair with lots of screaming vocals [the Cash single was a result of some of this work]; it was going to deal with resistance and critique. Disc 2 would be called “Martyrs” and it was going to be moodier, with jangly guitars; it was going to deal with the vulnerability of the human being in this world. I recorded a LOT of material for this project, but finished very few songs (the Cash single and its b-sides are part of the result of the Sinners material, while a chunk of the Martyrs material made it onto Lumina). After a year and a bit of work though I was burned out. Tackling another large project after the Misery double album (which was both torturous to make and a massive creative turning point) was a misguided idea. By the time I abandoned the project the band had undergone the most profound change in its history.

The many early incarnations of Dumbass (from 1994 on) came to an end in 1998. From 1998 on Dumbass was a solo endeavour. I spent two years working on a huge, complex project that opened up a new chapter in the band’s history. And when it was done I needed to form a live band. Fixer joined the live band as a guitarist, then guitarist and bassist, then guitarist and bassist and percussionist, and then he was writing music and Dumbass was a two-man band. Writing music with Fixer was a thrilling new experience, and so we decided to scrap the ongoing double album I had been working on and write a new Dumbass album together.

d15hymns-30[Part 1 – Hymns of Disillusion]

Hymns of Disillusion was the result of this new work. It was a new beginning, but it also ended up capping-off the work I had been doing up to that point in what felt like a creatively satisfying way. There are a couple of complete songs as well as some elements of songs that came from the unfinished Modernity double album sessions. And — though I hadn’t planned on this — when I sat down to write the lyrics I ended up exploring the sort of themes (identity, finding our place in this modern world, freedom & dependence, faith and disillusion, power, etc.) I had been planning to write about.

Hymns of Disillusion is largely an experimental rock album with electronics (you could call it “Industrial” but that might not give the right idea). It’s a high energy album that has a lot of movement. I would characterize it as “lively” rather than heavy (it certainly doesn’t have an ponderousness to it); it’s an album that feels very alive and vivid. I think we married the rigid nature of electronics with some loose and fluid performances on this record, which ends up creating something interesting between these two extremes.

Three favourite tracks of mine are Blindness, where Fixer sings on the verses, Quietly, where he whistles (amazing live), and Waste, a noise odyssey that we loved to play live.

For the album art we each painted three paintings without discussing our ideas with the other or showing them mid-production. When we brought the six paintings together it was immediately apparent that Fixer’s spray-paint flowers on canvas would have to be the cover. I love this painting, which is on the wall of my office to the right of me as I type this.

01 Ende Neu
(Einstuerzende Neubauten)
ZM: vocals, bass, plastic percussion, metal percussion, programming, guitar, slide guitar, strings
Fixer: plastic percussion, metal percussion

02 Lies
ZM: vocals, bass, guitars, drums & programming
Fixer: sampled analogue synthesizer

03 Just lie down
ZM: vocals guitars, bass, drums & programming, edits
Fixer: edits

04 Falling up is easier
ZM: vocals, guitars, bass, drums & programming, edits, synthbass

05 Quietly
ZM: vocals, bass, drums & programming, plastic percussion, metal, percussion, wood percussion
Fixer: whistling

06 Ignoble
ZM: guitar & treatments (circa 2000)

07 Don’t believe
ZM: vocals, guitars, drums & programming, synthbass
Fixer: programming & edits, synthbass

08 The Message
ZM: vocals, guitar, drums & programming, synthbass, samples
Fixer: programming, phase distortion digital synthesizer, edits

09 Blindness
ZM: chorus vocals, guitars, drums & programming, oscillation synthesis unit, edits, vst synthesizers, synthbass, edits
Fixer: verse vocals, modem machine synthesis unit, drums & programming

10 Dry landscape
ZM: guitars & acoustic drums (circa 2000)

11 It’s ok, I’m wrong
ZM: vocals, programming, metal percussion, synthbass

12 The weight
ZM: vocals, guitars, drums & programming, percussion, crashes, papers, edits
Fixer: sampled analogue synthesizer

13 Time
ZM: vocals, drums & programming, bass, square metal tube, distorted acoustic drums, distorted metal percussion, screams
Fixer: texture guitar

14 This very earth
ZM: vocals, drums & programming, guitars, edits, Commodore Vic20 synthesis unit
Fixer: programming, synthbass, frequency modulation digital synthesizer

15 I used to believe
ZM: vocals, guitars, harmonicas, square metal tube, plastic & metal percussion, delay signal
Fixer: sampled analogue synthesizer, infinitely sustaining side guitar, delay signal

16 Insatiable disaster
ZM: voices, acoustic drums, delay loop (circa 2000)
Fixer: guitars

17 End of the end
ZM: vocals, acoustic drums, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, edits, programming, digital wave synthesizer

18 Torture
ZM: harmonica, chrometta, guitars, analogue synthesizer, chest cavity (circa 2000)

19 Waste
ZM: vocals, programming, electric guitars, acoustic guitars, phase distortion digital synthesizer, frequency modulation digital synthesizer, sampled electric guitar, synthbass
Fixer: programming, phase distortion digital synthesizer, frequency modulation digital synthesizer, strongs

20 Failing
ZM: synthesis unit remanufactured from a Nintendo video game unit

21 Weep
ZM: vocals, drums & programming, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, electric piano
Fixer: backing vocals

Hymns of Disillusion also spawned two singles, one for Falling Up is Easier, and the other for Blindness.

cover22-32[Part 2 – The Me Generation]

After we finished Hymns of Disillusion I was in Berlin for a couple of weeks and there came up with an idea for the next big Dumbass project; this was eventually to become Die Mauer (one of our best works). Making Die Mauer took us 1 year and 1 month from conception to final mix (before that we recorded another of our best albums: Summer/Winter/Two Weeks, but we released it after Die Mauer, for some reason). But along the way I had continued to think about the themes of the aborted Modernity double album, which I had addressed in some ways and from some angles on Hymns of disillusion, but hadn’t felt like I had explored all that needed exploring. Meanwhile, of course, the technological world was continuing to change rapidly. The information/media-technological matrix of 2004 was already manifestly different than that of late 2000. By that point it felt as though I had new things to say on the matter.

The Me Generation gets its title from a commercial for a certain (at the time) largely reviled computer operating system that depicted people “demanding more choice” (or something like that). And it got me thinking about the many different manifestations of the illusion of choice in our world, about advertising in particular, about manipulation, about infantilization, about identity as a product, power, and overabundance (in many forms) and its detrimental effects.

This was our first album that we made entirely free (we burned a massive amount of CDs and gave them out for free, took them to record stores and hid them amongst the shelves, left them in places where interesting people were likely to find them, and so on). We had had free MP3s on our website since it began in 1998, but online storage and bandwidth were expensive and we’d never been able to have more than 4 or 5 at a time online. With this album we wanted the whole thing to be free. And because we were talking about commodity culture, we wanted it to be a free physical thing that would be given to people, or shared, or found. So I put aside a chunk of money from my job (which was largely going to university tuition and books the time) for manufacturing. It helped that, again, technology had been moving rapidly. CDRs were becoming cheaper and cheaper as was printing.

We explored the idea of choice (and the possibility of the illusion thereof) in musical terms as well. We actually made 4 versions of the album, each less accessible and appealing then the preceding (but almost everyone just got the one version). The main version itself begins with our most accessible (and even poppy) songs to date and then takes a drastic turn into heavy, noisy, and at times lyrically ugly songs (there is a song called “The Retail Dance” told from the point of view of “the customer” that evokes a feeling of disgust from people who have never worked retail and a feeling of all-too-familiar recognition from people who have worked retail).

The instrumentation is similar to Hymns of Disillusion, but the feeling of liveliness is replaced by a more sombre tone, often rife with sarcasm, and, at several points the narrative of the songs are told from the point of view of those seeking to dominate, rather than those resisting or succumbing to domination. Looking at the ugliness of power from the ugly side makes some of these songs hard to bear; I probably listen to this album the least for this reason, but I think this also indicates that we hit on something real.

01 Sign of the times

02 Cozy blue

03 Relax it’s ok

04 I’m you

05 Actions

06 Now

07 Observations from within

08 Dissatisfaction (I don’t know what I want)

09 The retail dance

10 Intermission (a distraction)

11 Sacrifice

12 Distraction

13 Crying the blues

14 Bored & stupid

15 What is?

16 Failing

17 Take it all

18 What is it?

19 Disease

20 Reflexive knowledge

21 Tantrum

22 Is it hopeless?

[I don’t have a track-by-track breakdown of the instrumentation for this album as we didn’t print it in the liner notes (track-sheets exist, but they are buried in some notebook amongst many other old notebooks in a box of notebooks amongst other boxes of notebooks {there are a lot of notebooks})]

d33_modernity-34[Part 3 – Modernity Revisited]

After The Me Generation we went in a very different direction with Lumina and Jouissance. But again, that same cluster of themes from 2000 kept reasserting themselves, but again, as the world of information technology continued to change at a rapid pace, these themes came up in new lights, connected to other themes, and brought up further issues: identity, power, media, technology, commodity culture, information culture, creativity, freedom and dependence, money, choice and the illusion thereof, abundance and lack, and finding our place as human beings in this information-technological world. Once again we started working on an album exploring these themes, and, as things had again changed, the resulting album was different.

In a way, though it wasn’t intended at the time, the three albums chart the progress of the massive changes that the internet brought through these years. In each case the goal of the album was to look at the modern human’s place in the modern world. But in each case, that world had changed from the last time we looked in on the situation. 2007, when we finished the last album in this unintended trilogy (the album is called Modernity, after the original idea from 2000), was already different from 2004, to say nothing of 2002, or 2000.

Once again, the instrumentation is similar to the previous two, which gives the trilogy a feeling of musical connectedness that is, of course, rooted in the thematic connections. Harsh electronics combine with noisy guitars again, but this album has neither the frenetic feel of Hymns of Disillusion nor the bleak harshness of The Me Generation. Instead Modernity often feels melancholic, more reflective, more empathetic, exploring a different range of emotions and reactions. It’s also more historically reflective; it looks back across the years of change rather than just being a snapshot of the times like the first two albums of the trilogy. [More info]

In addition to the album we made a long-form movie to accompany it. Rather than a music video for the whole album, The Modernity Movie is a visual reflection of the album’s themes and narrative arc; it tells a story. I was obsessively studying the theory of silent film from the early decades of the twentieth century at the time and wrote the movie according to its principles. The movie tells a story in images as the album tells it in music and words (in both cases, poetically, with necessary degrees of abstraction) using the narrative mechanisms of silent film.

01 Non-Simultaneity
02 Fingers
03 4 Days in the Life
04 Processing Plant
05 Self Defense
06 You Know Just What to Do
07 Machine Culture
08 Less Than
09 Give Me a Reason to Believe
10 Passing Away
11 The Evolution of Entertainment
12 Broadband
13 Impending Doom
14 The Edge

[Once again I don’t have a track-by-track breakdown of the instrumentation for this one]

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