Better Know A Weisslich: Beavan Flanagan

Bangers for your belly, romantic apples, and this futuristic pedagogic resource:

‘What is This Thing Called Trumpet?’ (2014)

Welcome to the musical mind of Beavan Flanagan – another composer featured as part of our Better Know A Weisslich series in the lead up to our 31 October concert at Hundred Years Gallery.

Beavan is a Canadian composer currently based in Manchester where he is pursuing a PhD at The University of Huddersfield. Beavan writes music for instrumentalist and electronic mediums, and starting from 2013 began making experimental sound art. I became especially interested in his music with the first of his experimental sound art pieces, No Chance Music, a web-based piece that feels an awful lot like playing the sound art lottery – just as hopeless as the national lottery and with a reward equally fleeting as it is rare.

On the webpage hosting this piece, there is the option of selecting a random number between 0 and 10,000,000,000,000,000 and pressing start.

When you press start, a series of random numbers, arranged in rows, will appear on the screen. The top row displays a random number between the range of 0 and 10,000,0000,000,000,000. Each subsequent row then displays a random number that is between 0 and the number displayed in the preceding row. The random numbers change at different rates which also vary randomly. If the bottom row generates the number that you chose, a sound will play.

– No Chance Music (2013)

Despite its straightforward premise, the piece has always left me perplexed. For as many times as I’ve entered in a random number (you’d be surprised), and given my almost unhealthy attachment to opened browser tabs, I feel as though I should have heard this elusive – and by no means accidental – sound by now. However, after countless hours of running this piece in my browser my ears are none the richer. Wiser though, I would argue they are.

After some time of not hearing the sound of No Chance Music, an almost conspiratorial itch began to gnaw at me. Perhaps I had heard this supposed sound but didn’t notice, my mind having long since wandered away from the webpage and onto one of my other 30-something tabs. Maybe another sound in my environment masked the sound of the piece. More troubling still, because there is no concrete description of the sound, my mind began to wonder whether the sound was humanly perceptible. Beyond frustration and paranoia, there is an additional bit of text included on the webpage making this speculation seem somewhat less ridiculous:

Chances are you won’t stay on the page long enough to hear what that sound is, but then again maybe it is not meant for us anyways.

–No Chance Music (2013)

What if the sound was present, but intended for other sentient beings – ones capable of perceiving sound outside the range of human hearing? Although there is no evidence for this being the case in No Chance Music, this question does expose a recurrent theme running throughout much of Beavan’s recent work: maybe this music is not for humans.

Since No Chance Music, Beavan has continued exploring this line of thought in his sound art by marginalizing the human being or flattening/rebalancing its relationship to objecthood. His exploration has turned the human into an object such as in mixtape for a stomach, and imbued inanimate objects such as apples, and loudspeakers [warning: sound upon clicking] with musical agencies and histories that trouble any easy perceptions that these objects are solely tools for human use.

Beavan’s contribution to the upcoming Weisslich concert is the result of a long-term collaboration between him and me. Interested in what he might make when tasked with writing a piece that placed a human being directly at the center of the work, I asked him to write me a new vocal solo. Over the last three months, Beavan and I have been developing No sweeter sound than my own name, a piece that explores themes of human agency, technological mediation, limits of endurance, interiority and empathy. Extending from his exploration into musics that may not be for us, No sweeter sound than my own name finds the human having arrived in a precarious position between an object and a subject – the piece oscillating between being for and being about the human being.

Potential concert-goers seeking more background information on the piece may visit my personal website for documentation of the collaborative process.  Our performance on the 31st comes off the heels of performances in Coventry as part of the INTIME conference (24 October) and Birmingham (28 October) where we are in concert with works by fellow Weisslich-featured composers Robert Blatt and David Pocknee.

– Michael Baldwin

Oh, and this, just because it’s good!

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