Composer/guitarist Brendon Randall-Myers, in collaboration with electric guitar quartet Dither, releases dynamics of vanishing bodies, a 37-minute piece deploying a full gamut of techniques. Several alternate tunings, retuned during the work, a battery of effects and looping devices, and feedback all figure prominently in this powerful and deeply personal work.
dynamics of vanishing bodies
|03||phantom rhythms (with singing)|
phantom rhythms (with singing)
|04||trem chorale/harmonic melody|
trem chorale/harmonic melody
|05||vanishing bodies (lines and loops)|
vanishing bodies (lines and loops)
Entering a new stage in an illustrious career as a composer and guitarist amidst New York’s ever-evolving downtown scene, Brendon Randall-Myers presents his first piece composed for electric guitar quartet: dynamics of vanishing bodies. Following years performing in a variety of contexts, dynamics of vanishing bodies represents the culmination of Randall-Myers' relationship with the guitar – not only as a musical instrument, but a therapeutic device and extension of the body. Written specifically for fellow-NYC avant-guitar stalwarts Dither, the 37-minute piece deploys the full gamut of techniques, tunings, and six-string strategies at Randall-Myers’ fingertips across five dynamic sections of physically and sonically challenging ensemble playing.
At the root of Randall-Myers’ piece lies a palpable sense of ‘absence as a felt presence’; of the pain felt facing a void when a loved one has gone. The loss of his grandfather ignited this haunting sense of absence, as did lengthy periods apart from his wife (then based in Beijing while on a winding path to a Green Card). Randall-Myers describes the space around him as having been both empty and ‘full of memories’. “I was in our apartment surrounded by our stuff and communicating digitally with her, but with no idea when I’d be able to be with her in that space again.” This separation directly informed the emotional intensity of dynamics of vanishing bodies, formulating as it does delayed reflections of itself; organised within its five-movement structure as “event” followed by “ghost of event”.
Interlocking plucks and riffs from some 20 idiosyncratic tunings used between the four guitarists give way to both hanging silences and heavy walls of feedback. The four consistently break off too, moving through precisely composed on-the-spot re-tunings, at times audible with notes sliding between the melodies of the performance itself. The beautiful final movement, ‘vanishing bodies (lines and loops)’, sees all four guitarists switch to foot pedal and loopers to sustain the piece long after physically playing, reanimating the last remnants of the composition as it vanishes once and for all into an ornamental refraction of its own memory.
The composer’s own long-distance running and performing history also guided the piece’s composition, forming as it does something of a sado-masochistic challenge of focus and physical endurance for the performers. Randall-Myers joined the Glenn Branca Ensemble in 2015 and has conducted the group since the composer’s passing in 2018; he recalls the sheer physical and emotional intensity he felt conducting Branca’s music for the first time as “a kind of possession”, outright leaving him physically injured and unable to get out of bed for two days. Balancing chaos with discipline and learning to live with both; having a practice; having a structure – the way Randall-Myers sees it, this all goes “hand-in-hand with endurance”. While Dither are far from new to intensely physical and challenging music, recording sessions for dynamics of vanishing bodies were nonetheless fraught with exhaustion and visible fraying in the performers. Only with the trust forged via Randall-Myers’ personal relationship with Dither (he’s frequently subbed as a member of the group in live performances) could the project have even happened. “I could ask myself to do it, or them, but pretty much nobody else.”
dynamics of vanishing bodies was written as part of a Jerome Foundation-sponsored residency at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn. The piece first premiered at Roulette Intermedium in 2017, and was subsequently performed by Dither at Bang on a Can’s LOUD Weekend, plus The Stone NYC in 2019. The album was recorded at Greenpoint Recording Collective in Brooklyn and mixed by two-time Grammy Nominee Mike Tierney.
Recorded and edited at Greenpoint Recording Collective In Brooklyn, NY by Nate Jasensky
Mix, master, and additional edits: Mike Tierney
Additional mix consultation: Brendon Randall-Myers and James Moore
Artwork: Andrew J. Kay
Design: Tristan Kasten-Krause
Produced: David Roush
Special thanks to Jim Staley and Roulette Intermedium, The Jerome Foundation, Bang On A Can, and to my family, mentors, and community
Brendon Randall-Myers is a Brooklyn-based composer and guitarist with an affinity for complex, cathartic, endurance-based music at various intersections of rock, experimental, theater, and classical. Described as “fiercely aggressive but endlessly compelling” (The San Francisco Chronicle), "intricate and dynamic" (I Care If You Listen), "massive in its impact" (Sarasota Herald-Tribune), and “an exhilarating blast of energy” (Chicago Classical Review), his music aims to induce trance/flow states via repetition and amplification, inspired by experiences on 20-mile runs and performing in punk and metal bands. Brendon has written for classical musicians - pianists (Miki Sawada), string quartets (Friction Quartet), chamber ensembles (Exceptet), and orchestras (Chicago Symphony, Omaha Symphony) - as well for cross-genre/experimental groups like Bang on a Can, Dither, and Bearthoven. His work has received support from the Jerome Foundation, New Music USA, New York State Council for the Arts, the Guitar Foundation of America, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and ASCAP.
Brendon co-leads Invisible Anatomy, a multimedia avant-rock ensemble described as “sometimes haunting sometimes hilarious and consistently mesmerizing,” (I Care If You Listen) and Marateck, “a gripping math-rock band, combining shattered, wiry abstraction with moments of delicate atmosphere” (Tone Madison). He is a member of the Glenn Branca Ensemble, and has conducted the group since Branca’s death in 2018. He is a member of the absurdist art-rock band Ecce Shnak, and performs frequently with avant-electric guitar quartet Dither. As a freelancer, he has played with orchestras (China Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Atlanta Symphony), indie bands (Magik*Magik, Fay Kueen), contemporary classical groups (Ensemble Signal, Contemporaneous), and in operas and experimental theater (Opera Saratoga, Object Collection).
Dither, a New York based electric guitar quartet, is dedicated to an eclectic mix of experimental repertoire which spans composed, improvised and electronic music. Formed in 2007, the quartet has performed across the United States and abroad, presenting new commissions, original compositions, multimedia works, and large guitar ensemble pieces. Dither’s members are Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes, James Moore and Gyan Riley.
Dither has performed and collaborated with a wide range of artists including Eve Beglarian, Nels Cline, Fred Frith, Mary Halvorson, David Lang, Ikue Mori, Phill Niblock, Lee Ranaldo, Lois V. Vierk, Yo La Tengo, and John Zorn. They have brought their live 13-guitar rendition of Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint to The Barbican Center, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, The Ellnora Guitar Festival and WNYC's New Sounds Live. The quartet has also performed at the Guggenheim Museum, the Bang on a Can Marathon, The Performa Biennial, The Amsterdam Electric Guitar Heaven Festival, Hong Kong's Fringe Theater, The Winter Jazz Festival and the Borealis Festival.
Dither produces an annual Extravaganza, a raucous festival of creative music and art, which has been called an "official concert on the edge" by the New Yorker and "the here and now of New York's postclassical music scene" by Time Out New York. The quartet’s self-titled debut album was released on Henceforth Records in 2010 to critical acclaim. Their latest release Dither plays Zorn on Tzadik, featuring the premiere recordings of several of John Zorn's improvisational game pieces, was named one of Rolling Stone’s “top avant albums of 2015.”
Dynamics of Vanishing Bodies, Brendon Randall-Myers’ five-movement, album-length work for four electric guitars, sounds something like a scaled-down variation on some of Glenn Branca’s long-form symphonies for massed guitar orchestra. That shouldn’t be entirely surprising, given that Randall-Myers, himself a guitarist as well as a composer, participated in the Glenn Branca Ensemble and conducted it after Branca’s death. Randall-Myers’ background in punk and metal is also evident, particularly in the work’s distorted timbres and dissonances. Randall-Myers builds much of the collective sound as an accumulation of interlocking, short motifs and/or rhythms; rather than going for an effect of sheer sonic mass, he leaves open spaces over which the ringing ends of these brief riffs can hang. The guitars, played here by the Dither quartet of Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes, James Moore and Gyan Riley, put out a shimmeringly rich, reverb-drenched sound augmented by sustaining pedals and loops.
— Daniel Barbiero, 9.09.2020
From the very first moment, dynamics of vanishing bodies (2017) seems to shout the name of the spiritual godfather of its author Brendon Randall-Myers, member of the Glenn Branca Ensemble since 2016 and conductor of the same after the American master’s death in 2018. So far the name of the young guitarist and composer from Brooklyn has appeared mainly in collaborative albums and in collections of contemporary music for electric guitars: the one presented by the praiseworthy New Focus forge can therefore be considered his solo debut; and it’s hard to imagine a better way to introduce his eccentric and determined vision, a slow-burning engine that moving from an initially atmospheric trait proceeds towards an ecstatic peak of scorching intensity.
The exceptional architect of this performance is New York’s quartet Dither – formed by Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes, James Moore and Gyan Riley – which previously performed works by Fred Frith, David Lang, Phill Niblock, Lee Ranaldo, Elliott Sharp and others, as well as being the protagonist of the first volume of “John Zorn’s Olympiad” (Tzadik, 2015). These are guitarists with a rigorous academic background who were then converted to experimental music, and that with Randall-Myers’ five-movement suite have the opportunity to commingle the various extended techniques associated with the amplified and distorted sound, dissected and absolutized by the pioneering experiences of no wave and totalism.
dynamics of vanishing bodies offers the ear a sort of cosmogony in gradual accumulation of energy: a clockwork mechanism whose strokes, in the first segment, are presented in the form of overtones and feedbacks with razor-sharp edges, subsequently enveloped by ambient trails and propagations generated by the volume pedal and e-bow. The reverb of the amplifiers prolongs the decay of the single sounds in less and less cadenced succession, with a third movement that briefly allows them to breathe in their vague and isolated trajectories, deviated through slight manual detunings.
It is actually the completion of an anticlimax that leads to the abrasive epicenter of the work, a discharge of major chords and cacophonous compounds, a jutting mass of dark matter within which proliferate anxiety-inducing ascending scales and hammering rhythmic interlocks of natural harmonics and palm muting. Here’s where the dazzling catharsis of Branca’s symphonies fully relives, a profane sublimation that extends in the form of airy loops to the last, melancholy movement: if not the reestablishment of some universal order, at least the pacified dampening of a disruptive and troubled genesis, an arbitrary rewriting of the primordial energies hurling us in and out of existence.
The powerful completeness of Randall-Myers’ work unhinges the exciting prospect of an “electrified chamber” music bringing the post-minimalist legacy to uncharted expressive waters, while maintaining its transcendental vein intact. Dither quartet’s performance undoubtedly represents a defining moment for this new course, as well as one of the emotional high points of the year.
— Michele Palozzo, 9.27.2020
The electric guitar’s capacity for crying out loud is well documented, yet I’m hard pressed to think of a lamentation quite so arresting as the one that starts dynamics of vanishing bodies, a 2017 composition by Brendon Randall-Myers. Partly that has to do with numbers: not one electric guitar, but four, in the expert hands of Dither, a New York quartet known for championing and – by necessity – expanding the repertoire available for such a configuration.
But it also has to do with the piquant tunings Randall-Myers requires from the players: this movement, and indeed the entire piece, demands guitarists capable of excessive physical exertion, but also precise retuning on the fly. The composer knows that in Dither – Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes, James Moore, and Gyan Riley – he’s got the right players for the task, not least because he’s served on occasion as a substitute member.
Chords, clusters, and intervals jostle, merge, and shimmer like heat haze in “missing fundamentals,” the first of the work’s five movements, in a manner not wholly removed from the free stretches in a choice Sonic Youth live tape. That should come as no surprise, seeing as how Randall-Myers, like Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, came up under the wing of Glenn Branca, a guitar-wielding composer who knew his way around volume, intonation, and massed guitars.
It’s no coincidence that missing is in the movement’s title, since deep personal loss and extended separation motivated this composition. Hefty, jagged shards of sound flash past your intellect, landing somewhere closer to the heart. But not everything here feels animated by the weight of grief and solitude. The blissful second movement, “auras,” twinkles like a night sky specked with pinprick stars and smeared with ambient illumination. It sounds like a music box crossed with a glass harmonica and plugged into a wall socket.
Next is “phantom rhythms (with singing),” where the whisper of electricity, coursing through plugs and wires, maintains a constant presence. The fourth movement, “trem chorale/harmonic melody,” taps into the obsessive riffing and confrontational snarl of punk rock, pushed right up against the border of black metal’s nihilistic buzz. (There’s also, at 4:50, a high-pitched tremor that reminds me of Steve Stevens slicing into the opening bars of “White Wedding”—but probably that’s just me.)
This music is physically punishing, but also detailed with fanatical precision; again, it’s hard to think of anything I’ve heard previously that behaves or resounds quite this way. And there’s one last coup in store, when “vanishing bodies (lines and loops)” arises from the dying embers of the previous movement, its eerie spiritual viscosity achieved with pedals and loops.
What results is saturated with an unearthly glow. Still, Randall-Myers doesn’t attempt to hide the subtle mechanical clicks and clacks of pedals being engaged and disengaged—a gesture that grounds the raw electricity of this uncanny music with the physicality of lived experience.
— Steve Smith, 9.25.2020
Brendon Randall-Myers is a composer and electric guitarist with a multifaceted musical history—from conducting the Glenn Branca Ensemble to performing Bach. His new album, dynamics of vanishing bodies (New Focus Recordings), written for the electric guitar quartet Dither, focuses on the use of psychoacoustic effects to explore the sensations of place and memory. We sat down for a video chat to discuss his new record and his long relationship with the guitar.
Vanessa Ague (Rail): When did you start playing guitar?
Brendon Randall-Myers: I started when I was 11 or 12. I had my dad’s acoustic guitar, and I tried to start learning on it, but it was painful and too big for me. Shortly thereafter, my parents bought me an electric guitar plus an amp that together cost about $80.
Rail: Did you do classical training when you started playing?
Randall-Myers: I was self-taught for a year or two, and then my cousins gave me a few pointers. The year before high school, I started taking rock and jazz lessons. I grew up in rural West Virginia, so there weren’t a ton of teachers around. There are a lot of really amazing folk musicians in West Virginia and a lot of good rock players, too, but they're all far apart. Even this teacher was a 25-minute drive each way to get there.
I was homeschooled until high school, when I went to Phillips Exeter. I did everything I could there. I did rock, classical, and jazz guitar. I played in five rock bands. I was taking jazz piano. I finished the entire music theory curriculum by the end of my second year.
I kept doing classical guitar all through undergrad. I finished undergrad and I did another year of playing classical guitar somewhat consistently, and then I just stopped. I went back to electric and realized that I like practicing electric in a way that I don't like practicing classical guitar. Classical always felt like a lot of work, and electric guitar feels like a thing I can just do.
Rail: How did you get into the downtown-New York scene?
Randall-Myers: Early in high school, I got into math metal, like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge, and from there it was a short path to Mr. Bungle, which was a short path to John Zorn. Zorn was the first experimental composer that I really knew when I was 15 or 16, and it was totally through those Bungle records.
In undergrad, I got to know minimalist composers, but I feel like I only internalized Glass when I played Two Pages in my immediately post-undergrad math rock band. Glenn Branca was someone else that I knew relatively early through Sonic Youth. Once I was down the Bungle/Zorn, Sonic Youth/Branca rabbit holes, I was hopelessly a nerd.
Rail: When you were discovering all this music, were you also playing it, or were you just getting it in your ear?
Randall-Myers: I wasn’t playing the really experimental stuff. I played in a hardcore band my first year of undergrad, but then all those other people graduated and I didn't play loud music again the rest of the time. I was just playing in classical guitar ensembles. I lived in San Francisco for three years after undergrad and studied composition privately. I played in a math rock band and didn't really start performing contemporary music.
As a performer, I love playing really stressful, physically exhausting music for reasons that I can't fully explain. The same things that I get out of distance running I get out of playing Two Pages. If you screw up, you're just done.
Rail: I would assume that your experiences with the Glenn Branca Ensemble, conducting and playing, would surround that physicality of performance as well.
Randall-Myers: It's hard to find music that asks more of you. When I was one of the guitarists, I found it less insane. It drew on skills I've spent a long time cultivating. As a conductor, it is the most physically demanding and emotionally demanding performance experience I think I've ever had, especially the first one at MIT, which was the first ensemble performance that we did after [Glenn] died. You can play the notes, but you have to bring the energy, or it’s not Glenn. So that first performance was about finding that energy.
Rail: You wrote dynamics of vanishing bodies for Dither, a group that you also play with. Did you have a lot of collaboration and communication with them?
Randall-Myers: I don't do a whole lot of work where I'm just writing a one-off piece for someone—it's usually the culmination of a much longer relationship, and that's super true here. In the first performance, it was a little more prescriptive than I like to be with performers. Since then, I revised it a little bit—the whole last section of the piece used to be completely written out, and now they improvise the last four or five minutes.
I wrote dynamics of vanishing bodies after a period where Fay, my partner, was waiting to get her green card. It was five months, and I was not sure when we would be in the same place. I was thinking about the weirdness of spaces that people inhabit and then no longer inhabit, and also about technology and how technology can preserve these parts of people. Those are the two things I was trying to get at in the piece with its psychoacoustic effects.
Rail: The title is a double entendre, right? Because dynamics of vanishing bodies is a physics textbook, but it's also about a vanishing presence.
Randall-Myers: Yes, and I will admit that it's a riff on a John Luther Adams piece, The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies (2006).
Rail: Do you have an interest in physics?
Randall-Myers: Not especially an interest. I got back into the math aspects of acoustics because I was listening to this Maryanne Amacher record, which led me down a rabbit hole. Right when Trump got elected, I started trying to write a metal record with Doug Moore, who is the singer of Pyrrhon and a band called Weeping Sores. This summer, I finally finished that piece and what that turned into is kind of like the dynamics of vanishing bodies sequel. I've been forced to systematize some of the math things again to make it repeatable and a little more harmonically robust.
Rail: Did that dynamics of vanishing bodies sequel have any correlation to the election, or was that coincidental?
Randall-Myers: It's definitely not coincidental. There's all of this white male anger that's everywhere, and I was very aware of the aggression in my own music. Harshness is still there in this piece, but it's much more about tools to exist with pain and exist with uncertainty and discomfort and anxiety, and to hopefully find some beauty in that process.
There's also something for me about changing my relationship with catharsis and what I want out of heavy music. Heavy music has always been kind of a safety valve for me. I'm trying to learn other tools to manage my own feelings other than just raging in a pit. That's what a lot of the music that I've written in the past four years is: it's trying to sit with something long enough to see what's really in there.
Rail: Is that why you took up long distance running?
Randall-Myers: Long distance running preceded this; that was something I got into in high school, actually. The last couple of months, I took a class on nonviolent communication with my mom, and so much of that is about paying attention to what your body is doing. It connects so directly to the running practice because that's all you have to sit with on a 20-mile run. Bringing that awareness first to the body allows me to make better decisions with the rest of me. I've started connecting the running practice to the music practice more overtly in the last couple of years. This is also part of why I like metal. In the process of trying to do these ridiculous runs, you end up having to develop a pretty deep connection with your body. I've tried to abstract some of those ideas around endurance and physical presence and do it in music that isn't always as abrasive.
— Vanessa Ague, 10.15.2020
Brendon Randall-Myers’ first composition for electric guitar quartet is performed by Dither, which includes Terry Riley’s son, Gyan Riley. The five movements are both intimate and distant, sharp and soothing. The striking “Missing Fundamentals” mainly consists of crests of controlled feedback, and will likely crush your speakers if you play it too loud. “Auras” is less startling, more a dreamlike ring of several close-miked guitars plucking away in intricate circles. After the brief waking winkling of “Phantom Rhythms (With Singing)”, “Trem Chorale/Harmonic Melody” is more forceful, barreling straight into the heart of the unknown with with a tough but adventurous spirit, and easily the most exciting section of the piece. Randall-Myers has been conducting the Glenn Branca Ensemble since the composer’s 2018 passing, and this track is where the album matches the force of Branca’s best work. The concluding “Vanishing Bodies (Lines and Loops)” is mostly calm levitation and floating, although there’s a few flashes where tones jump out a bit more, and it plays off of patterns like this for the final minutes.
— n/a, 10.17.2020
Composer and guitarist Brendon Randall-Meyers has written for numerous acoustic ensembles, and played in experimental rock bands, but it was joining the Glenn Branca Ensemble in 2015, and taking over as conductor three years later, that seems to weigh most heavily on this dazzling new album. His masterful harnessing of massed electric guitars is on vivid display on this stunner composed for the New York electric guitar quartet Dither (Gyan Riley, James Moore, Taylor Levine, and Joshua Lopes).
While the five-movement work is technically daunting, with frequent real-time shifts in tuning, physically grueling finger manipulations, rigorous pedal control, and ultra-precise harmonic effects, Dynamics of Vanishing Bodies never sounds ponderous or busy—although the fourth movement shreds viciously. Clusters of notes tangle in remarkable harmonies, waves of billowing feedback, tricky post-Sonic Youth tip-toe tones, and jagged lockstep patterns, all carving out space with a meaty yet agile attack. The composer uses sound to explore a sense of loss and absence visited by the death of his grandfather and periods of long-term geographic separation from his wife. Each sonic episode is followed by what he calls a “ghost of event,” refracting and diffusing each gritty section with a kind of spectral memory where volume and intensity are reduced, melting down the preceding moments into a drifting essence.
— Peter Margasak, 10.26.2020