I read "SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives" by David Eagleman somewhat obsessively when I picked it up in 2009, and continued to reference chapters over the years as different life experiences brought about recollections of the various tales therein. With my move to Seattle in 2013, I found myself in a strange, dark place during that fall into winter, and once again the tales from SUM became frequently remembered allegories for my day to day life, metaphysical coping mechanisms, a contextual tarot of forty tales of death as change, of the afterlives as tomorrow's possibilities. I began carrying my slim tome of forty tales once again.
After the New Year, I'd realized my synesthetic nature was in full swing -- with so many re-reads, I could hear some of the tales crystalline clear: I could hear the movements of the characters (whether god or lover or quark), I could hear the music of their environments, whether supranatural or coolly mundane; I could hear the susurrus of their surroundings, microscopic or infinite; I could hear crystalline clear the cacophonous lack of hush that suffused these afterlives.
With the coming of spring I was compelled by an inexorable desire to express these sounds; and thus, I immersed myself in SUM once again.
Six months later, I can offer my full chapter-by-chapter soundtrack inspired by the book SUM by David Eagleman.
About the music:
My methodology had to be regimented; 42 tracks was daunting from day one, and I did not want the project to become unwieldly for either composer or listener. As a first pass at reining in the scope, I decided on a simple starting parameter: Each track would be roughly as long as the number of paragraphs in the chapter multiplied by ten seconds. Thus opening chapter "SUM," consisting of four precise paragraphs, would have a target length of forty seconds.
This outline of the durations helped define the scope of the project, but also created an interesting restriciton; some chapters easily inspired me to compose full symphonic suites of music (opening chapter "SUM" among them). Though restricted, I enjoyed the conundrum of the limitation, and with the final length of the soundtrack ticking in at almost exactly one comfortable listening hour, I have a tiny bit of pride in my randomly wise decision.
About the avatars:
I have drawn, carved, sculpted, painted, etc., then photographed unique cover images (avatars) for each chapter. Each avatar has been created with a base color that is part of a subset of the 40 chapter numbers. The chapter number within each subset that appears earliest defines the remaining members of that group; for example, Chapter 01 is the first member of the Fibonacci sequence, therefore the base color attributed to Chapter 01 is also used for chapters 02, 03, 05, 08, 13, 21, and 34 (the sequence of subsets chosen was entirely my own). The subsets of the avatars are:
• The Fibonacci Sequence: Created with gold as the foundational color, for roughly 1.6080339 reasons;
• 10 x 4: To diversify the pallette, avatars for chapters divisible by 4 -- the tentposts of this curious circus -- have been based on a blue/indigo/violet pallette;
• Prime-numbered chapters have been imagined on a base of red;
• Even/Odd: To prevent this obsessive endeavor from truly sending me 'round the bend, the remaining chapters have been rendered in even/odd subsets of yellow and green, respectively;
• The Intro and Outro images have been rendered in black & white, and comprise two halves of an original sculpture recreated as a sumi-e painting.
As with the 'count of paragraphs x ten seconds' parameter informing track durations, this pallete distribution was used only as an idea guideline; in at least one distinct case, the chapter avatar struck me as definitive despite failing strict adherence to this protocol ("Death Switch").
My intent across the breadth of this work has been to provide the listener with an immersion in the further complexity of color and sound I have always felt exists in these forty tales, the infinite levels of perceivable possibilities, possibilities for our afterlife selves that Eagleman has portrayed in such clever, curious, and brilliantly peculiar ways. The interactions between the complexities of the tales and those of the layers of these sounds and images have resulted in a set of palimpsests; to quote Eagleman: "Mother Nature’s a tinkerer instead of an engineer.... She doesn’t just invent something and check it off the list. Everything is layers on layers built on top of each other, and that provides tremendous robustness.” Eagleman permeated "SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives" with this robustness, and I here hope only to at minimum match -- and at best enjoyably enhance -- this exquisite quality.
released September 9, 2014
SUM: A Soundtrack inspired by the book SUM by David Eagleman
Recorded April - September 2014 at The Gathering Room, Seattle, WA.
Tomorrow's Man: All sounds and images except as noted:
AKAI EWI USB
Camel Audio Alchemy
Cucurbit Flute (Hulusi)
Electric and Acoustic Guitars
Izotope Breaktweaker, Iris, Ozone
Mackie Onyx 820i
Max for Live
Native Instruments Komplete 9
Propellerheads Reason 7
Seattle Thunderstorm, August 2014
Singing Bowls (Solo and Nested)
Soniccouture Kim, Skiddaw Stones
Intro: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on Spiritualism (public domain)
Outro: Excerpt from the Tao Te Ching spoken by Liz Durkin, Seattle, WA.