Swinging Modern Sounds #84: Music for Spaceships

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A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon a recording on YouTube of the sort that is liberally scattered there if you take the time to look. I’m speaking of whacky conceptual treatments of musical classics. In this case: a time-stretched edit of Brian Eno’s seminal ambient album Music for Airports that runs six hours in length. Same musical notes (no pitch-shifting), but elongated to six times its original length. Everything on the six-hour version of Eno’s album takes a long time to happen, even the silences between tracks. An open chord plays for twenty seconds. The vocal choir that sings on two tracks holds its notes for biologically difficult if not outright impossible lengths. Pieces that were too short on the original now run for an hour or more each.

This refraction of Music for Airports fulfilled a sort of spiritual longing that I have for extremely long pieces of music, music that can become part of a room, music that is as much like architecture as it is like music, music which is singular for extremely incremental development and minimal melodic vocabularies. Ideally, this music would somehow develop by itself, wouldn’t require a performer exactly, nor perhaps even a composer, and it would last for so long that the question of whether it was still playing or not would somehow become hard to answer. Music that no one person could listen to in its entirety, not in one sitting. Eno has proposed a number of similar projects, over the course of his career, some of them through the Long Now Foundation. Likewise, you can see forms of this kind of thinking in early Minimalism, in John Cage, in some contemporary electronic and classical music (Max Richter’s Sleep would be a related example). William Basinski’s work is nearby to this phenomenon, especially in The Disintegration Loops. But despite these relevant examples, many of them very satisfying, I go on searching, ceaselessly, for things that scratch my itch for duration. It has to be really long, it has to drone, it has to play with or include silence, it has to play with ambience.

Inevitably, a search of this kind runs up against a question like: what is music? Because one note playing for a really long time, for example (as in Eliane Radigue, e.g., or La Monte Young) would probably not, to some ears, constitute music at all. One note played for a really long time does not, in the strictest sense, constitute melody, harmony, or rhythm, which would seem to be the minimum basic requirements for music. And yet I often find things that are minimal in this way are powerful, spooky, numinous, transportative, just the conditions that are useful for me when assessing music that I find lasting and important. Is it music? Maybe not, but at the same time it has the same effect on me that music has, at least on occasion, and I treat it like music and it affects me like music does, then is the issue of terminology not resolved?

Perhaps space is an inevitable resting place for music of this kind, because time is completely different when conceived of in the vastness of space, and not only because of relativity. Space is a good metaphor for music of long duration, and its solitude is suggestive of the ideal environment for music of long duration, or maybe it is that the music is somehow like space, unfurls like space travel. And it happens, in fact, that when I encountered the six-hour version of Music for Airports, I was also algorithmically led in the direction of a twelve-hour loop of the room tone of Deckard’s apartment from Blade Runner, which in turn led me to a great number of similar recordings uploaded to YouTube by one CrysKnife007. Who would make such a thing? What is the purpose of this recording? And does anyone actually listen to a twelve-hour version of Deckard’s apartment? What questions does it answer? And is this music?

It took a little sleuthing to find out the person behind CrysKnife007, and less because he was trying to hide, but simply because the recordings are the most public pronouncements by him. He has a number of aliases, just because he has different impulses, as is often the case in the electronic music world. The interview below attempts to corner CrysKnife007, a.k.a. Spike Snell, into accounting for what he does, and the way that he has articulated an impulse on YouTube that was waiting for him, waiting for someone, to exploit—this space between music, architecture, installation, interior decoration.

I have listened to a great number of CrysKnife’s pieces now, and cannot always tell the difference between the various spaceship interiors. But that should not inhibit a certain kind of listening, a listening on the installment plan, a listening in incremental desperations, a listening that is really a being-with-the-music, a cohabitation with the music, more than a listening. Here’s how Spike Snell describes what he does. The exchange here lasted several weeks in July and August of this year, by email.

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The Rumpus: I’m interested in how you particularly developed your taste for ambient and room-tone oriented sounds. La Monte Young, the godfather of minimalist serious music, talks about an experience, when he was young, hearing the sounds in the high-tension lines in, I believe, the Idaho of his youth. Did you have some similar experience, as a young person, of being interested in droning and/or technological sounds?

Spike Snell: What I think developed this interest for me is my difficulty in sleeping at night and the use of fans to sleep. From a very young age, around eight or so, I started sleeping with a fan blowing on my face. This helped because of the sensation of wind and all the great sound masking noise that comes from having a fan that close to you. I used to imagine that I was on a small airplane as I went to sleep, and I would frequently have lucid dreams where I was flying around. I still sleep like this, and my fans of choice are currently a large box fan during the summer and a smaller air-filtering fan during the winter.

I have also loved science fiction for as long as I can remember, especially Star Trek. While binge watching Star Trek: The Next Generation for about the fourth time in a row while I was in college I started to particularly notice that the ambient ship noise present in most of the shots was very similar to the fan sounds that I like sleeping to. I eventually made a twenty-four-hour version of this ship noise and uploaded it to YouTube mostly as a joke, but also just so that I could easily play the noise whenever I wanted to sleep to it while pretending I was onboard. I was surprised when i09 wrote an article about it, which got it a lot of views and subscribers that kept coming back to listen to the video night after night.

After a couple of years I realized that the video had resonated with people; it was consistently getting lots of views, and the metrics on YouTube showed that many of these viewers would sit listening to the sound for hours, or indeed all night. I then started uploading and creating a lot more sounds like this and worked on building a YouTube channel mostly around this sort of idea, which then branched out to places like Bandcamp, Spotify, and elsewhere.

I probably wouldn’t have gone in this direction though if it hadn’t have been for my noise music project, Cheesy Nirvosa, where I’ve worked on creating really harsh and disturbing soundscapes since 2009. Since I was already very comfortable working with sounds when the Star Trek YouTube video I uploaded started taking off it was a natural progression for me to work on ambient sounds. I still like to work on harsh noises from time to time, but the Cheesy Nirvosa noise music side of me has started getting much more ambient overall.

Rumpus: What caused the sleep problems in the first place? You were simply a child who couldn’t sleep if it was too quiet? And did you listen to “conventional” music at all?

Snell: As a child I didn’t have much access to music other than the few country stations on the radio that we were able to receive in the woods—all of which I didn’t care for. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and my family got the Internet in our house that I discovered I loved many genres of music, especially ones with heavy electronic influences and a good use of synthesizers. Aphex Twin was a huge favorite of mine at the time, as well as The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Infected Mushroom, and also bands like The Bloodhound Gang and the older Metallica albums just to name some of my early favorites. After a few years I trended more to the noisier sounds of Merzbow, Yellow Swans, Psyclon Nine, and my most obscure favorite, Globoscuro (I must have played the Globoscuro album Research at least two hundred times over in college). I used to scrobble a lot of what I listened to towards last.fm, so that has the best collection of information on what I used to play the most.

For the sleep problems in general I’d say you’re right—to this day I have a huge amount of trouble getting to sleep if everything is silent. I almost can not get to bed at all without some sort of noise or a loud fan. Part of it, growing up, was also my dad and all his snoring; even from many rooms away you could hear it and in retrospect the fan noise was my way of masking that well enough that it didn’t bother me.

Rumpus: I’m really interested in your Last.FM playlist, which is lovely. I love the juxtaposition of the Terry Riley with the Bartok and then the more electronic items.

Can we just settle how woodsy were the woods where you grew up? In Arkansas—is that right? How difficult, when trying to encounter electronic and noise-based music, was it for you to find things that caught your ear? And can you talk a little bit about transitioning away from music toward ambient music? Did music like Riley (or Glass, Reich, Young, etc.) serve as a way station in a transition toward things with no melody? And how influential was the very loud snoring for your more noise-based compositions?

Snell: Thanks! Glad you found it interesting. I’d say I have some pretty varied tastes in music, or at least I certainly used to. Almost all I have played for the last few years music-wise (which isn’t on that list since I have stopped scrobbling for a while) is jazz. Mostly John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and Duke Ellington.

My childhood home was indeed in Arkansas (the state I still live in) and was about three miles up a dirt road on a mountain. It was really difficult to discover much music at all during that time since I was also homeschooled all the way through twelfth grade, until I went to college. I attended an astronomy summer camp in my teens where my roommate introduced me to new sorts of music that I hadn’t heard before, like Metallica and Papa Roach. Soon after that I discovered that I liked all sorts of music and started collecting mostly all that I could find online.

I’d say the defining moment for me which interested in ambient music as a genre was another summer camp in 2004 where they had us all watch the brilliantly atmospheric Koyaanisqatsi. The score by Philip Glass brings the film together in an incredible way, and up until that point I had never heard or seen anything quite like it before. It resonated with me strongly and after that my tastes in music and art started getting a lot more ambient and abstract.

I’m not sure that the snoring has a lot to do with my noise compositions, although it may have had something to do with it subconsciously. Creating noise music, and also listening to it, is a great form of catharsis for me and it was one of the main ways I dealt with all the stress I had in college from grades, studying, and being around so many people. Now that my life is somewhat less chaotic I don’t feel the urge to create as much noise music as I used to, and am a lot more likely to work on soothing sounds and atmospheric tones when I get a creative impulse.

Rumpus: I had a similar experience with minimalism. It was an earlier Glass album for me, which I heard in freshman year of college, one called North Star. It was sort of not so distant from some progressive-rock types of things that had been of interest to me, like Music for Airports, by Eno, and Fripp and Eno’s No Pussyfooting. I liked repetition a lot. I mean, it helped me think straight somehow. Soon after North Star, though, I heard Music for 18 Musicians, and that was the true ear-opener. Meanwhile, I have two questions, one about home schooling: was your home schooling religious in nature? And, second, did you experience your love of ambient music and noise as radically different from what people around you liked in Arkansas?

Snell: Very cool that it was Glass that introduced us both to the genre and the ideas of minimalism.

My homeschooling experience was one of the rarer kinds since it wasn’t religious or special needs-based in nature. It was always a personal choice for us, and every year my parents would ask me if I was interested in going to public school or wanted to try that out yet. I always decided to stay homeschooled. It seemed to me that my friends were very unhappy with their teachers at public school, disappointed with what they were learning, and frustrated with the whole process. I liked homeschooling a lot, and always felt like I was learning more that way than I would have otherwise. I credit both of my parents for this successful experience, and especially my mom, who devoted a lot of time and effort to guide my education and to preparing me for college.

As far as an appreciation of noise music I’ve yet to find anyone else in Arkansas who appreciates it much at all, or to the extent that I do. Ambient music is a lot easier for people to get into, it seems, and I think almost everyone appreciates some form of ambient music, even if it is just a well-made score for movies that they like. It is still a bit fringe, but from what I can tell ambient music and sounds seem much more approachable and understandable to the average person. Both genres feel very underappreciated to me. It could just be where I live, as you mentioned. As far as I can tell the noise community, in particular, is a lot more vibrant in the Northwest and in other countries like Japan.

Rumpus: Did you study music in college at all? And how long did it take you to find a likeminded community of people who understand your musical interests?

Snell: I haven’t studied music formally, in college or while homeschooled, so all that I know has been self-taught so far. Although while in college for my BS in computer engineering I did take quite a few art classes which nearly added up to a minor in art. I think that all the art classes I took—photography, drawing, art history, etc.—influenced me creatively in lots of ways. The art classes certainly helped to form a discipline of working on a project and helped me get comfortable at failing fast and learning from mistakes in an iterative way without giving up on an end goal of some kind.

I still haven’t found much of a supportive or like-minded community for my musical interests other than online. I used to really enjoy the channel #noise before what.cd got taken down, and I have liked many of the ambient Facebook groups that I have joined. The best community I’ve found so far for ambient musicians as a whole is Ambient Online. Overal,l though, I haven’t spent much time in any musical community, and I don’t generally talk much about music with anyone I know. By far the most communication I have about ambient music and sounds are through the YouTube comments that I receive on my channel, which I often reply to and always read. The YouTube commenter community has been the most supportive; there are a fair share of people that just don’t understand on there, too, but there are also a lot of commenters that leave really great feedback and give me good ideas of what to try next.

Rumpus: So when you began making music in earnest what were you original efforts, and on what instrument? Was it all computer-based? Or did you use a synthesizer? How did you begin?

Snell: All of my original compositions were remixes of songs that I was listening to frequently at the time. I made an album that I don’t have publicly available called Tweeter Fries where I mostly just remixed a plethora of songs into each other in glitchy and chaotic ways, something similar to the early albums of the artist Girl Talk whom I was very inspired by at that time. However, there were a number of tracks on that album which were completely original works. I produced those mostly by using basic audio techniques in Audacity as well as by mixing in other samples that I recorded with a cheap microphone.

I’ve never really been much of an instrument person and have not studied a particular instrument other than audio editing software. Occasionally I’ll make a recording of a synthesizer or an audio tool such as Korg DS-10 on the Nintendo DS but that is usually just to get me started with some good base material that I then heavily manipulate in software. My album Software Engineering is made almost exclusively from raw data files, mostly executable, that were converted into audio form before manipulating them.

I consider computers to be the most promising audio manipulation and creation tools that we have, and I really love working with them in this way. One could say that they are my instrument.

Rumpus: So how did you teach yourself how to do all this stuff on computer?

Snell: I mostly just figured it all out through a lot of trial and error. I would take samples and just start playing around with them without much of an idea of what I was trying to do. If I liked how the change sounded I’d usually save it and then move on to some more changes to mangle the sounds even more. I think it helped a lot that the kind of music I started out making was all noise based, so the ‘worse’ I got something to sound the more I usually liked it. I tried to make things sound as awful as possible for many years and it was a very exploratory process. Most of the procedures and techniques that I picked up through these noise music experiments stuck with me and now when I work on more soothing and ambient creations I have a lot better idea what I’m trying to accomplish and how to carry it out in software. So a lot of stumbling around at first, trying lots of things, many failures which were deleted, and eventually I’ve arrived at the point where I have some idea what I’m doing.

My favorite aspect of noise and music creation, though, is a good deal of letting go and having the process itself and the samples I’m working with guide what I’m doing. Sometimes I feel that I have no control over the end result at all other than to keep it around or discard it when I’m done. It is difficult to put into words, but I’ve often felt that the music creates itself through me. I’ve heard that many novelists experience something like this when they write, and I can certainly imagine that being possible for them since I’ve felt the same way countless times when working on audio.

Rumpus: I’m really interested in what you say about the music creating itself. Can you elaborate on the feeling a little bit? It’s true novelists talk this way sometimes. Does the creating-itself aspect of your work have to do with philosophical questions about the nature of music? That is, since some people might debate with you about whether a twelve-hour loop of the USS Enterprise actually constitutes music, you have to find ways to think musically about the work in order to believe in this piece as a musical product or result. Does your commitment to the practice, and your love of the project, mean that it becomes music because of the intention you bring to what you do?

Snell: Even though my view of what defines music is probably broader than most I’d also be very hard-pressed to say that the spaceship noises and other uniform longform sounds are “music.” I think of them more as ambient noise, and while I find that they serve a useful purpose for relaxing, sleeping, studying, and the like, I’ve never gotten that sense of the sounds creating themselves when working on them like I do when working on more intricate pieces. I do often get a sense of flow, or just the time going by quickly when working on them because I enjoy the process for the most part. However, when working on most of the long sounds that I upload the pattern I follow is very similar from one sound to the next, and I always feel like I’m crafting the sound with a definite purpose in mind the whole time, and I’m controlling the end result.

That sense of the music creating itself is what I get when working on more chaotic noise pieces, or even what I’ve shifted more towards lately with  ambient bombardments of sound. This is what I consider to be the “Cheesy Nirvosa” part of me and not the “Crysknife007” YouTube ambience side. When working on Cheesy Nirvosa, I’m usually trying to reach past a sense of flow and am wanting to allow the sounds themselves to guide the direction of their final form. I generally don’t have much of a sense of what I’m trying to end up with when I work on those, but rather an idea of what I want to start with, if that makes sense. Part of what makes it hard for me to explain is that I don’t fully understand it myself. When I’m lost in the flow of music creation and am able to find that point of self creation with the music I don’t have a firm grasp on my memory of those stretches of time. I try to turn off my analytical side and let my ears and feelings do all the thinking during that kind of process.

Most of my YouTube subscribers probably haven’t heard much, or any, of my noise and ambient noise music. Some examples where I feel like the music created itself are the following:

Especially that last one called “clowblarg.” No idea at all how that one happened.

Rumpus: How did you first make one of the ambient science-fiction interior pieces? And how long does it take you to make a twelve-hour piece? Do you really listen to the whole twelve hours in the process?

Snell: The first ambience videos I started uploading, such as the twenty-four-hour TNG noise, were simple sound loops where I just repeated the same sound over and over. The only tricky part with that was getting the start and end of the loop to sync up well enough to not be too abrasive. As time went on, this felt very lacking to me and started to bother me when listening closely. I’ve since gone on to use multiple samples faded into and out of each other at multiple and varied points. I now almost exclusive fade the samples in and out at many different places to make sure that the points of repetition are never too obvious. Many of my most-viewed videos are ones that I can hardly stand anymore because of the obviousness of the loops; maybe I’ve just been listening to them too long because for the first few years they didn’t bother me at all.

When I started out I would often listen to the full samples when I was done. Especially with the earlier spaceship noises, I would commonly play those all night when I lived in a shed in the woods. It was easy to make the whole place gently reverberate as if the shed itself was a starship. Whenever I release a proper album, such as my eight-hour Ethereal Material, I make sure to listen to it in its entirety many times over to make sure that I got everything just right.

I’ve been through the whole sound extension process so many times now that most of the time I upload a sound to YouTube I don’t listen to the entire thing in one sitting. Instead, I listen to all the points where the samples interact with each other, and all of the full original samples, so that I am confident that the entire track is uniform. I also inspect all the waveforms visually to make sure everything looks right. In a certain sense I have listened to the entire sound by listening to all its constituent parts and all of the places that they interact with each other.

It takes me a lot less time now to produce twelve-hour sounds. Most of the time spent is used locating and capturing good samples to extend. I’m in this noise-searching phase almost all the time, whether I’m gaming, watching something on TV, or even just out in town. When I happen to hear a particular noise that strikes my interest enough I try record it or capture it in some way. Once I have a clean enough sample, or handful of samples, the process of fading them all together and extending them to hours of playtime usually only takes me a half-hour or so. I run a pretty old machine for all this which takes around an hour to render and compress everything to the formats that I upload in. Most of the time after that is spent in getting everything off to YouTube; generally it takes me a few hours to upload the longer ones.

Rumpus: Can we talk about the shack in the woods a bit? How much of a shack? And were you alone there? I’m trying to put my finger on exactly what this kind of ambient sound is for, and I’m thinking that maybe being alone in the woods is a good analogy for it. It’s not just that ambient music is “relaxing,” because in that case all ambient music would be pan pipes or shakuhachi or something. It would all sound like Patrick O’Hearn or something. But your kind of ambience, the spaceship kind, is about iterations of space, and so it’s about imagination and the implication of others. But at least the emptiness of Decker’s apartment is also about expunging the traces of people. So the spaces are both social spaces, and anti-social a little bit. Was the isolation of space an attraction somehow?

Snell: For me the isolation of space is extremely appealing. I’m quite introverted and generally feel drained down if I am around many people for too long. Being alone helps me to recharge, and my experience with many of the sounds I upload is that they do help to promote a great sense of isolation. I suspect others use them in different ways; there is a subset of people that use them somehow more to focus than to relax and I’m not sure if they are looking for isolation in the noise, or something else.

The shed wasn’t much of a place in many ways, but I enjoyed it immensely. It was behind my parents house on forty acres of woods that they own down what was originally a dirt road until it was partially paved over a number of years ago. The shed was just big enough to fit a desk, a bed, and many old computers with a little pathway to walk around. It was fully electrified and I was able to get a wifi signal by attaching a wireless router to my parents back window. I lived there during the summer and winter between staying at the dorms at college, and then for a couple of years after that as well.

The thing I miss most about living in that shed was the great acoustics of the place. It was very well insulated, and the size and shape of the place made playing loud music and sounds a fully engrossing experience. I sometimes refer to that shed as my old studio, which is how I like to think about it when I’m being generous to the memory of living there.

Rumpus: Can you talk a little bit about the sci-fi sounds, and how you stumbled upon that particular recipe? Which was the first one you used, and did you conceive of long duration as a feature in the beginning or was it something you developed over time?

Snell: Like I said, the idea first came to me when binge rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation in that shed in the woods. At some point, I realized that I especially loved that super deep bass ship noise audible in almost all the shots with the Enterprise. I wanted to see how long of a sample of that noise I could push up to YouTube, mostly as just a joke for myself and a couple of friends online. It wasn’t something that I originally took very seriously, although that first one did take quite a few attempts to upload properly. I had to try a bunch of different lengths and formats, and the only viable place I had to upload the sound was at one of the computer labs at college. Even at the lab, it took a few hours to upload everything and the first handful of attempts failed for various reasons. A few months after that, the twenty-four-hour TNG noise really took off on Reddit and i09.

It wasn’t until years later when I realized that the video continued to amass lots of views per day and frequently brought in subscribers. I realized then that the whole idea was resonating with people. After that, I started uploading similar long ambient sounds, mostly of other sci-fi spaceships at first before branching out into more general ambience.

The long duration was one of the main ideas from the beginning, and I still don’t like to upload sounds shorter than an hour in length. I think one of the main uses for sounds like these is a sort of “set it and forget it” attitude where people aren’t listening or watching as intently as they would to other videos. Most of the time I don’t think people watch them at all, but just have them playing in the background while they do other things. At least that is what I use them for.

Rumpus: What are you ambitious to do next? Longer pieces? Installations of the pieces?

Snell: These are great questions! I’m often so caught up in what I’m working on at the moment that I don’t always evaluate my long term goals in this area.

I’d really like to finish putting together my sequel album to Ethereal Material that I’m tentatively calling Celestial Orchestral. I have enough material together for this follow-up album and I’m also planning to make it at least eight hours long like the last one. I still haven’t decided on track order, cover art, and have yet to do any remastering, but I am hoping to finish up this project this year, or at least by next year.

I’m also close to completing another noise album which is a mix between my old chaotic noise techniques and the ambient sounds that I have been trending toward lately. This goal is a bit further off and I don’t have a specific timeframe for it yet, although I nearly have enough material together of high enough quality to start narrowing down a track list.

As for the YouTube channel, some visions I have for it are to have over one thousand video uploads. Currently, I have a little over seven-hundred uploads so I think this should be achievable within the next couple of years. Another stretch goal for me would be to have over 100k subscribers. It still amazes me that the channel has as many subscribers as it does now, and with the momentum that it has I think 50k is certainly possible in the near future with 100k four to five years away if everything goes well. That silver play button which YouTube sends out to channels with over 100k subscribers is oddly motivating, especially now that it seems possible to get there some day.

I want to keep working on collaborations as well. I’ve been having a lot of fun with these lately, and it has been great to interact more with the long ambient noise-creating community on YouTube.

Rumpus: Is the YouTube stuff remunerative? I feel like 300,000 plays on YouTube, which you have, e.g., for the Blade Runner piece, is remarkable, and more plays, for example, than Berlin by Lou Reed has on YouTube or than Om by John Coltrane has. Is it possible, in a way, to make a living doing this work? Or do you have another job that pays the bills?

Snell: I do allow YouTube to run ads on many of the videos I upload although I believe they make us agree to some terms which say we shouldn’t talk about the specifics of it. I can say that it helps me personally in getting more motivated to upload new sounds frequently and it also helps me to get the equipment I need to capture sounds, and the means to work with quality audio samples.

My day job pays the bills. I work as a software engineer for Acxiom. I’ve been working on large-scale internal web applications for the last few years. I like the type of work, for the most part, and find it very mentally stimulating but there is a good deal of coding to meet the expectations and requirements of others, so it tends to offer less creative control than I get when working on sounds and music. It has been great to have side projects where I’m able to be fully in charge of everything involved. Having a day job does significantly limit the time that I have available for these pursuits, though, leaving me mostly with nights and weekends to work on editing audio.

Rumpus: And how do you get the noise-free samples? I feel like the Blade Runner sound, and, indeed, all of the sci-fi room tones are really clean. Are you using preamps and filters? Do you master yourself? Where do you get the samples? Are you at liberty to say? And can you speak about any of the software you use?

Snell: Thanks! Getting a nice clean sound is what I’m hoping to achieve with almost everything that I upload. Mostly I try to pull from the source material when possible, but I often get multiple samples instead of just one clip. As you guessed, I then often apply filters and equalize out much of the high notes to smooth things up. What I’m really going after on my channel are deep rumbling and room-filling noise without much on the high frequency end of the spectrum, and luckily this helps when cleaning things up quite a bit since I can minimize those kinds of sounds most of the time. After I have cleaned up some samples I then work on weaving them together, generally fading them into and out of each other at many different points so that any areas of repetition will hopefully go unnoticed. For video game noises I’ll often just take a line out and work on getting samples to use in that way, lots of times I’ll have the in-game character hide from most noises off in a corner somewhere. I do all the mastering myself for the long sounds, but I did utilize a friend who was great at mastering for some of my Cheesy Nirvosa noise albums, such as Software Engineering, before I was comfortable doing it all myself.

For tooling on the long ambient sounds I mostly still use Audacity. I’m a real fan of that program and even though it is a bit simplistic I often find that it provides everything I need. When I work on more complex arrangements for noise albums I’ll often use a mishmash of software and pick whatever seems appropriate to create the sounds I’m after at the time. My main workstation is currently an old Dell desktop which I run Linux Mint on, so I prefer to stick with Linux-based and open-source software as much as I can.

Rumpus: Last question. You have so many compositional personas that I have been deeply skeptical of the possibility that you are actually a person named Spike Snell. Seems like that could easily be yet another online avatar of some kind. There’s a working model for this kind of faceless musical production in the electronic music community. How do the different musical personas facilitate what you do? Is there any crossover among them? And how do they relate to the person who is or is not called Spike Snell?

Snell: The question I’ve gotten the most frequently my whole life is if Spike is my real name, so I’m very used to it by now. Spike is my legal middle name, and I usually go by that because I find it a lot more memorable and artistic than my first name, Edmond. It depends on the setting, if I want to blend in I go with my first name, and when I want to stand out and be more memorable I usually use Spike.

It is quite flattering to know that my musical personas come across as so distinct though. I’ve been working on cultivating a unique sort of sound for my Cheesy Nirvosa project which I see as zany and chaotic, very harsh. The Crysknife007 work I view as more of the long soothing ambient portion of what I do. I didn’t really intend for the YouTube channel to have that name but chose it at the time because my IRC (Internet Relay Chat) handle was Crysknife007. I’m a huge fan of James Bond, as well as the Dune books, in which they have a knife made from the tooth of a sandworm called a crysknife. The young teenager that I was then thought that combining the two ideas into one name was just awesome.


Rick Moody is the author of six novels, three collections of stories, a memoir, and a volume of essays, On Celestial Music. His most recent publication is Hotels of North America, a novel. With Kid Millions of Oneida, he recently released the album The Unspeakable Practices (Joyful Noise recordings). More from this author →