An interview with Scarcity's composer and guitarist Brendon Randall-Myers.
You studied composition, but you also have a passion for metal music. How did you approach this genre?
I was a metal fan long before I studied formal composition, so working on this music felt like ‘going back’ or getting in touch with my roots in some way. I guess I’d say I tried to work with the musical materials of metal - tremolo picked guitars, blastbeats, harsh vocals - and combine them with the structural and harmonic approach of my formal composition work.
Specifically, "Aveilut" is heavily influenced by black-metal, especially the more atmospheric one, isn't it?
The biggest BM influences on this record were Krallice, Jute Gyte, early Ulver, Blut Aus Nord, and Gliding Body. Other stuff that was floating around in my head was Portal, Dodecahedron, Oathbreaker, Leviathan, Yellow Eyes. I’m obviously familiar with Burzum, Mayhem, etc, but that stuff was less directly influential on this music.
I don't know if you know Liturgy, but their frontman is the author of an essay called "Trascendental Black Music" in which, among other things, you can read: "The meaning of black metal has something to do with a longing for ecstatic annihilation , a perfect void ". What do you think of these words?
I am certainly familiar with Liturgy and their frontwoman (Ravenna now, not Hunter), and those words basically resonate with me. I think for me this music has a lot to do with an urge to disappear, but it lets me transform that urge from something self-destructive into something constructive, cathartic, and collective. I don’t think that’s unique to black metal though - I experience a version of that transformation in a lot of music I love. It was certainly a big part of my experiences performing Glenn Branca’s music.
Am I wrong or on "Aveilut" you also developed a certain microtonal speech? Among your influences, you also mentioned Jute Gyte, the solo project of Adam Kalbach, who works a lot with microtones in his albums (especially "Perdurance").
Yes, this record is written using 12th tones, which divide the octave into 72 equal parts instead of the standard 12. I use these extra notes to create harmonies based on the overtone series (which are more mathematically ‘in-tune’ but sound pretty weird if you’re not used to hearing them), and also to melt/pull apart more familiar sonorities in other places.
As mentioned, Jute Gyte is a pretty big influence in this record, particularly The Sparrow EP, where he works in more minimal structures than he does on something like Perdurance. Kalmbach generally uses quarter tones, so we’re not using the same microtonal system, but I love his work.
At the origin of "Aveilut" there is the elaboration of a couple of mourning and the difficult moment of the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. How did the experience of death, albeit indirect, change your perception of life and music?
In summer 2019 two people close to me died really randomly and suddenly within about a month of each other. I sketched about 20 minutes of this music in response. I wrote the rest of the music in Beijing in February 2020 as the city was shutting down. Doug was living across from a funeral home while he was writing his lyrics and vocal parts, which was during the worst of the 2020 Covid outbreak in NYC. I think he was grappling with the scale of mass death we were experiencing as a city in a much more direct way. Something I think about with loss or change is the idea of space - something is removed or altered and it leaves a space in your life. I think in this record I was more willing to give ideas space, to sit in that space, which is in fact full of possibility and life.
Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher, about death said that death is nothing to us, since while we exist, our death is not, and when our death occurs, we do not exist. What do you think about this sentence? Is this enough to cheer us up in the face of death?
I don’t personally find death for me is something I need or want to be cheered up in the face of. Death is a part of our life cycle, something we all live with and have to find ways of accommodating and coexisting with. It’s an extreme state change and leaves voids in our lives that can be excruciating, but like I said earlier those voids are also what leaves space for possibility and new life. I think it’s important to grieve, to feel the pain of parting with what was, so that we can in turn create the space for what could be and what will be.
In your opinion, what are the albums and / or musical compositions that have investigated the mystery of death most effectively?
I won’t even bother making a comprehensive list here, but two recent works off the top of my head that I find really affecting are David Lang’s Death Speaks and David Bowie’s Blackstar.
Why did you choose "Scarcity" as the moniker?
Doug actually chose that name, so I’ll let him field this question…
Doug: "Scarcity" means absence and implies poverty. But there's another sense of scarcity that stuck with me when I came up with the name: to "make oneself scarce," as in elusive or difficult to lay hold to. This resonated for me with both the challenging composition itself and the way the lyrics sometimes run into contradictions and absurdities – the unimaginable certainty of death looming over the chaos of life; the way that any individual being exists in a superposition of absolute meaninglessness (in that they will inevitably be destroyed and forgotten) and absolute significance (in that they are each an irreplaceable element within both their human social fabric and the vast cosmic ballet of physical causality, neither of which could ever be the same without them). I also just think the word fits the way the band sounds: severe, thoughtful, big.”
The album cover is very nice. What exactly does it depict?
We worked with an awesome photographer who works under the name Creature Five Fingered (IG: @creature_five_fingered) for the cover photo. Here's what she had to say about it:
"The cover image is taken from a series of photographs that would later be categorized under the name “Fractured Landscapes”, which focuses on the ambiguity and overlap that arises when viewing natural textures at close range, and human-designed architecture at a distance. At the height of the COVID lockdowns, I spent a great deal of time watching incredibly eerie, aerial drone footage of abandoned cities, noticing how similar each city looked to old, intricate tree bark observed close up.These repeating patterns of human architecture hidden within natural forms have always struck me as symbiotic.The Fractured Landscapes photo series has also been greatly inspired by the idea that landscapes (and humans) can have "a geography of scars" that can shift, change, or become deeper with the passing seasons. I shot over 100 individual images for this project, but the one the band chose for the cover (this bizarre 'spine tree') works brilliantly to capture a bleak and unsettling emotional landscape."
Brendon, hw did you get in touch with Doug Moore? By the way, what do you think of Pyrrhon, the band Moore is the lead singer of?
Ha, I’m a big Doug fan. I’ve known him since 2010ish, and have been a fan of Pyrrhon almost as long as the band’s existed. I’m also a big fan of Doug’s death-doom band Weeping Sores. Doug and I started talking about doing a project together in 2016, but it took me a long time to find the right material and the right compositional approach. He and I were in touch as I was working on the instrumental and I gave him a decent amount of background about what I was thinking about as I was writing, but once I had it feeling ok I handed it off to him with basically no creative direction other than ‘do your thing’. The lyrics and vocals he sent back blew my mind.
You are a member of the Glenn Branca Ensemble and the music of the great New York composer is certainly one of the most recognizable influences of the sound of "Aveilut". What did Branca's music teach you? Do you think that the importance of his music on some of the most important experiences of rock (I think, for example, Sonic Youth, just to mention one name) has been adequately recognized?
Branca’s music taught me, along with the work of Maryanne Amacher, about ghosts in sound. The way he works with amplification, massed guitars, and overtone interaction obviously made a big impact on me. I also really appreciate the way he works formally with those big sound masses he creates and the momentum they have. Also I’d say the crazy physical and mental/emotional places I went when I was conducting his music after he passed were almost as big an influence as the music itself.
What was Branca's greatest musical merit?
The way he worked with amplified sound and his incredible energy as a conductor. Dude was a force of nature.
You are also the guitarist of the math-rock band Marateck, which has only one record, "Time Is Over" (2017). Do you want to talk about it?
It’s a fun record! I co-wrote that record with Jesse Kranzler, the other guitarist, and it sounds to me like a lot of both of us just trying a lot of ideas and approaches. There are some little hints on there of the vocabulary that would end up on the Scarcity record - mostly on the second-to-last song - and also I think I brought with me some of the ideas about musical time we were playing with. I’m not as interested in writing music that sounds like that anymore, but it’s a good document of where I was at that point in time, and I still enjoy listening to it. Also I recruited Marateck’s bass player Tristan Kasten-Krause, who is a killer player and composer in his own right, for the Scarcity live band
What are the ten records that influenced you the most?
Top 10 influences for this record:
Nine Inch Nails - Broken
Glenn Branca - Symphony No. 3 (Gloria)
Krallice - Diotima
Jute Gyte - The Sparrow EP
My Disco - Paradise
Gliding Body - Cold Sun
Maryanne Amacher - Sound Characters
Julius Eastman - Unjust Malaise
Horse Lords - Interventions
Godflesh - Streetcleaner
I’m terrible at limiting myself to ten records so here’s another ten:
Converge - Jane Doe
King Crimson - Discipline
Dawn of Midi - Dysnomia
David Bowie - Hunky Dory
Battles - Mirrored
Martin Bresnick - The Essential Martin Bresnick
Gyorgi Ligeti - Violin Concerto
Swans - To Be Kind
Meshuggah - ObZen
Bjork - Homogenic
Are there other art forms that influence your music?
I love both static and time-based visual art (i.e. film), and I’ve scored a couple short films. I’ve read comics and manga since I was a kid, and there’s something about the way comics capture motion and time in static images that’s still very interesting to me. Something I’ve taken from my film scoring work is the “less is more” lesson - you can get a ton of mileage out of very simple ideas. Working with film also has made me think about time a bit differently, since there’s a kind of external temporal structure imposed on you by the images and in some sense you just have to “fill the time”. In terms of visual art, I often like pieces where the process of making the art makes itself transparent in the final artwork in some way, or where I get a sense of the artist’s time and work that went into making a piece.
Have you done any concerts yet?
Yes, we played a couple NYC shows last month for our record release. Adapting the music to a live setting and finding the right players took a while, but actually playing the music live was a blast and I definitely want to do it more.
Do you already have material ready for a new Scarcity album?
New material is in development! Doug and I have been discussing thematic ideas and I have a lot of musical ideas percolating. I’ve been working on other stuff this fall but will dig back into the Scarcity material this winter.
Is there hope for this planet?
The planet, sure - this planet has been through crazier stuff than humans and we’re little babies in terms of geological time. Is there hope for humanity on this planet? Who knows!