The Northampton, MA-based experimentalist opens up about his dark, glitchy new album.
Did you ever go through an “ego death” phase, during which you spent an inordinate amount of time immersed in the online literature on psychedelic experiences, consciousness, and the myriad illusions of “the self”?
I… may have. And while I eventually replaced that hobby with a social life, I occasionally encounter things that thrust me back into that literature’s dissociated, trippy headspace. For example: Northampton, MA-based experimentalist (and AdHoc contributor) Joe Mygan’s newest album, Ergo Cue.
Released in January, Ergo Cue is a dark, glitchy album that consists of four ambient noise tracks. This isn’t exactly new terrain for Mygan; his last release, Hidden Features, consisted of a pair of 20-minute-long, minimalist electronic singles, and he’s also involved with the heavily pixelated audio-visual project LSDV. On Ergo Cue, warped synthesizer and vocal fragments flicker and bubble and morph. These fragments loop, lapse, and relapse within and across the tracks.
Mygan’s fractal, sparse compositions simultaneously suggest deep introspection and a preoccupation with the cosmic. It should come as no surprise that Ergo Cue feels like a trip—alternately mundane and profound. We recently spoke to Mygan about his experimental approach to sampling, as well as the inspirations behind Ergo Cue. Read the interview below.
Ergo Cue is out now on Moon Villain.
AdHoc: Tell us about how this album came together, technically.
Joe Mygan: I’m still new to talking about my own work. It’s a lot of layers of modified vocal fragments. I was playing with space between sounds, trying to find [a sense of] balance, where I [felt different elements] kind of pivot around each other.
[I] do a lot of remixing of my own work. [Much] of this [album involved] remixing, reinterpreting, and warping field recordings [and] also previously recorded sounds.
I’ve been making samples and cutting up sound material for a while now—almost 10 years. [Over] time, I’m able to think about [those sounds] differently and reshape them.
What are some examples of sources for those sounds?
Different acoustic instruments; sounds of things in my environment; [sounds] from walking around the street; a lot of old VHS tapes or old cassette tapes; recorded synthesizers [and other] instruments; processing [noises] from the radio [and] TV.
So recordings of recordings?
Yeah. Old sounds from instruments that I would use, or recordings of instruments, [including] sounds from synthesizers, computers, and programmed computer data. [I’m very] process-oriented. It’s kind of like collaging sounds together. I’ll take bits and pieces of a collage that I’ve already made [to make new material]. I’m trying to melt together a bunch of different sources.
The pieces on the album are recordings of real-time, live [performances] using samplers and synthesizers. Although parts of [the album were] designed and programmed before, the recording process [involved] me performing the sounds in a live take.
Sometimes I feel as though I’m having out-of-body experiences when I’m performing the sounds. I’m influenced a lot by meditation practice and experiences with different psychedelic substances. I use a lot of repetition and slow, gradual changes.
How do you think about those changes within longer pieces?
I’m trying to blend different worlds together. Everything’s changing all the time, but [most changes are] slow, almost unnoticeable. Sometimes those [changes] are more noticeable. Everybody’s experiencing change in life. Using these gradual shifts—where there’s lots of space—[allows me to form] micro-songs or micro-compositions within a bigger piece. I don’t really set out to make any specific kind of music.
Was the track sequencing important to you?
The sequence stems from live performance. Hidden Features was [also] recorded for cassette release. I had to take this performance that I was doing and think about it in terms of recording it onto cassette. This is different. I was taking more time to record each individual piece. I wanted each one to be able to exist on [its] own, but also [for them to exist] as a whole.
Why the name Ergo Cue? What does that mean?
I did this medical research study for money, and some fragments of pieces are recorded samples that were made during [that] study. Some of the machines they were using…
Wait—this study was taking place in a medical facility?
Yeah. [The album name] is kind of like a mix of the strange nature of these medical equipment names. [I was] playing with those words and the idea of cuing when different sounds would start. Different results happen each time I perform the music.
Do you think of the pieces as dark?
They were made during a dark time. [I was trying] to understand and cope with losses in my life [and] feeling isolated. [Sometimes] I felt the sounds escaping me [or passing] through me, like [feeling] sound vibrations on the outside of your skin. [I was] attempting to delve below the surface. [I was] dissecting myself with sound—performing a surgery on myself, or something.
Catch Joe Mygan on March 22 at Dorchester Art Project in Boston with Solid State Entity, LIMBC, Erla Sól, and J. Bagist.