s_traits Audio CD Collaboration with John Supko


Jeffrey Edelstein

Project Website Project Archive by John Supko

“s_traits” is an ongoing collaboration between Bill Seaman and John Supko. It started in 2011 with conversations about generative music and how to make it. The two quickly discovered that they had been independently exploring what might be described as the “uploading” of human creativity to the computer: Supko’s work involved developing software that emulated his compositional process; Seaman was investigating how creativity could be codified and reanimated through artificially intelligent systems. A narrative history of the collaboration between Seaman and Supko captures how they wrote “s_traits.” Their work together began when Supko gave Seaman the electronic track from a discarded version of his percussion duo “Straits.” Seaman edited this track into hundreds of tiny samples, many lasting barely a second. These samples became the first entries in what would evolve into a database of source material for “s_traits.” Over the next two years, they added more than 110 hours of varied but complementary sounds to the database. The new material included field recordings, analog and digital noise, acoustic and electronic instruments, cassette recordings of Supko’s juvenilia, recordings of Seaman and Supko playing the piano (inside and out), and soundtracks from documentaries made in the 1960’s and 70‘s. As the source material began to expand, Seaman and Supko increasingly focused on the technical details of using the computer to compose music. The majority of the samples in the database were created with a series of software tools designed by Supko. This software was also able to generate new hybrid samples from the existing collection. It thus enabled both composers to remix–again and again–the work of the other. The unpredictable results of these processes were added to the database. When the sample database reached its current proportions, Supko built a new software system that could navigate the many hours of music in the database, extract and recombine dozens of samples, and compose complete multi-track compositions. The new system paired these compositions with fragments of a text Seaman wrote after the poem “Straits” by Kenneth Koch, which had inspired Supko’s earlier percussion duo. (Seaman’s text appears in full on the album cover.) But rather than leave the system’s compositions untouched, the composers treated them as first drafts, which they developed into the tracks on the present CD. In the end, 26 tracks were composed this way. Both composers contributed 13 tracks, although Seaman and Supko do not identify who composed what. The two sets of 13 are interwoven so that all the odd-numbered tracks belong to one composer and the even-numbered tracks to the other. Every track begins with a text fragment, which also serves as a title. Seaman and Supko plan to write a track for each of the more than 300 remaining text fragments. [Jeffrey Edelstein is a critic and Director of New Music at Crane Arts in Philadelphia.]

released November 4, 2014

All music © 2014 Bill Seaman & John Supko Text recitation by Bill Seaman Produced by John Supko Mastered by Dan Nichols at Aphorism Audio Text © 2012 Bill Seaman Liner notes © 2014 Jeffrey Edelstein Album design by John Supko

Poem After Straits by Kenneth Koch

what I say it is it is not

What I say I say in the silences


a bi-directional revolution

a code in the breaks

putting a spin on coded records

The late voice was welcomed in

The boat gently oscillated — a room of numbers in one

Roussel never made it to africa

The occular canal

lined with tiny waves

Using mis-understanding

the woman’s pun was spun

a textile of the turn-table

turned the tables and was run

run the code at different speeds

time fetched and stretched

This is the temporary housing

of sound I seek

Readymade for Rrose

setting a coded trap

The point, the pinnacle, self-writing code,

capsized through the father of motherhood

The horizon of time

seemingly frozen in drops

crystals of saline, or salient props

Crystaline shoes

The deception of destiny

is chance thrown

The spinning of the tall telling

The stillness of the day

the first words to be cast

The soft lips spread

the tongue in touching voice

The trajectory of code words

Maneuvering cyphers

in removing the dis-engagements

Detachment rains

The stable shifter


droning on across the day

probabilities at play

The voice flew

through a window of chance.

the home of sonic decay

re-seeding the distance,

till nothing fell there

Bathing in the low light,

licking the soft white ligature

The i-ching was spoken

a stumbling visit to stochastics

a silent shower of words

the liquids delicately fell.

Acting as they do as substitutions

gentle persuations, invasions, on less than ocular occasions

The legitimate family resemblance

The thrown sense

Palpable, taking on another

The forking cut

the throat of light,

the salient flow,

action at a distance

The floating sight,

the flesh curtain,

the sensual tongue

Folded and folding,

The cycle is over

as soon as it begins

The breath of chance

in a change of wind.

The still are moving

and moving still

Windows are spoken,

bored and barred

The drunk is plastered

and sings a succinct cypher

The legacy hardware

is put in motion.

Breathing life

into the old code.

The drive is on the blink

The broken voice

is crackling across the surface of the direct impression

Waxing poetic

waxing pathetic

Swimming in the reproduction

as a substitution of tongues,

one finds a full house.

A pool of loops, a loop of pools

a sentence swimming in uncertainty.

The rotating branch of indeterminacy

The birdsong is rhythmic,

repeated, rare, the atmosphere

derived of swells and swallows,

thoughts are in the air

The lines of flight glistens

from the angles that bare all,

the slight slit,

the hint of a glimpse,

the hands of chance

The symbols are posted

skyward across the horizon,

smoke signals and screens…


the physical code flew in a strait line,

winded but flowing

The wall was penetrated by codes

the single signal code - true

The spinning of this truth

a recording of the lie,

the lay of the land,

the release of a sigh

The painter’s voice and the singer’s eye,

The painting was of wind on water,

described by smeared words

on a mirror touched in steam

Confused with intention

to expose the mouth,

the breadth of the text,

the breasts heaving

The memory of a moment

the mouth of chance

flourished and smiled on the day

a word released in sway

across a forest of signs

The exploded sense well taken,

rewarded in kind

In flight, the wording,

though wandering went away,

the edifice slid, silently,

the wall fell astray

The wall of a boat floating.

The river of change was swollen

like the throat of chance

But later the line was filled

with the salt of tears.

The records were circling

along with the crew.

And energies were channeled

Panoramas were encrypted

sent from the shore

deplete or imply

The wind of a voice

swept the sleeping in specific

turned the tongue to the tune of a dream

The love of the moment

The falling of the now

The audience sits still

The machinery of chance,

the shunting,

the swell

The angle of the timing,

the clicking,

the shell

The hiding place

encoded with entrance

The grafting of the tones

gave purchase

to the shell

I had fallen for the delicacy

the sweetness of her tell

The doubled was doubled over

drunken like a boat

on a sea the horizon

reflects upon the shifting lines

Banking the poetics of light

The lines were red

coded as they were.

A point very fine

in the blue of sadness.

The sky was mourning after such a night

after all the love lost and the loss of the light

the painted lips moving

delicately take flight

The cost of the tongue

translations and tempting

the code of silence

the river empty

The fate of the straits or the traits of inflection

The words have legs

running askew

The dream has a pearl,

The silence was as full

as even cage knew

In love as in art we pay for our tongues

the words are sticky

the words are sung

The bearings are clear

the straits well known

The lover has spoken

a seed well sewn

the one who tempted the action

Spoken in wispers, in vespers and code

The painter of sound invested in the word

As an actor of being

as building a world

As generative as a tongue

touching tongues it is told.

The Analogue of code, the vocal chord

The autocatalytic space

the parallel space

of focused fires

The flight into a new territories

the distributed space

of a thought

The signals sets

flowed across the twilight

of language

The translation forming a new life

spoken in the crystalline

jewels of mathematical logic

The clicks and drums

also formed a conversation

The dance of multi-value logic

was in play

Silence spoke

in its own gesture language

Hands circling

The touch of fingers on the hand

of the other became

her sensual description space

The absence of spoken words

formed the images

of the landscape

not unlike sung maps

The flower of her lips

shown even if still

The messenger of the facial expression

mirrored the landscape of fire

The light danced

through the dense smoke

as it built moving lines

touching the senses

The voice of gestural intonation

spoke warmly

of this abstracted vision

in slow motion

The color of light

shown again as blue.

As they gathered

their thoughts

across the waves

Again stood still.


And banked on quiescent gestures,

chance and change motioning

Predictably arcane,

the luminous hands

The books were encoded and airborn

the voices cast shadows

And from the distances of silences

a plural and parallel

a set of worlds were born

The cover was in a different key

highly abstracted

pleasantly reformed

A number of rooms, a room of numbers

They spoke with clicks

and popping tongue touches

against the roof

Coming to know the the longing vocabulary

And the melting away

of the words written in steam

The fountain was penned but was never captured fully

The train of thought

is always in the now.

The now is always delayed.

Time buffers

and biological frames

He followed his intention of random walks

and I ching driving for the finds

And treated this like drifting

on the tides

cycling back and forth

Here, painted light was revolving code

painted sound and painted text

words made luminous

And the lines lived beneath the surface of the sound

The piano was quietly re-structured

becoming furniture for the guests

holding the music in his fingers

The body of the text was strewn

to the wind—

left hanging in the air

this founding of words

was later elegantly scattered

and deeply reflective

yet merging

with the landscape

the sound was entrained

the lines focusing flows

out from the straits

The drunken train strayed from the tracks,

and found rooms for sensual play

The library at Alexandria became luminous

And still a motioning toward quiescence

The waves were sold as code

and the code was sold as waves

The reviver was a re-written

Nosing out the ambivalences

the eskimos kissed

The apartments are numbers

performed and re-cast

Chance fell across the doorway

providing the mix

The tenuous movements

of the dance

formed the evening

And betting on musical chairs the furniture was encircled

The circular route

a rotation of records and drives

The investment was clothed in an erudite air

The circle became

the cycle of night and day

Tarkovski’s waters are always close

And lovers are soon to be found

The chance of meeting

in sound all full of heat,

emotion, and light

The record revealed

a revolution etched with an urgency

It isn’t what I say it is

The double bind

was danced and played

so many times it skipped

Against the volume of the sea

And ears were ringing off the hook

The least likely line was followed

And jumped from time to time

The Memory was strong

and the odor recalled it

Like wax cylinders in cyphers

the surface noise remained

Ada’s visions were displayed

with the operative music machine she wrote

The dead man’s switch

stopped the long line

And the steam still spoke

etched on the mirror

Through the cycle of paradox

all became clear

Nothing was moved

actioning a rotating schedule

Code words

formed the surface of the sound

Shimmering and shifting

The blue sound was well known

The loop pools flowed as if to become one

The field of codes

the cypher was spun

All was one in continuous blue

Luminous hands wrote the code in taps

Night fell everywhere simultaneously

Overtaken by deep blue

The angle of the lips

spread the soft dark news

In this nook

this frigid look

even the ice appeared blue

Electricity was conducted

until energy was lost

As displaced in uncertainty

as the words of the day

The memory theatre shifted to code

And the code words passed away

The ambassador of light distributed the lines

The straits and places and bearings

all fell away

Roussels state room

was certainly the place

And Descartes doll

could not be traced

Flung overboard as poetic justice

Chance words

fallen on deaf ears

Distributed and displayed

The quiescent eye

around which winds of high velocity move

One addresses with song

the sadness of the day

with taps and somber tones

muted trumpet would play

The strait tune played drunken

passed through the readymade

gesture to blue

And floats a line

that puns as it plays

The double bind

bristling with the life of the day

The fall had broken

where the code was spoken

Leaving the lips to play

the code was broken

where the lips had spoken

The floors shifting

The furniture was splayed

Holding its breath the silence shimmered

Her lips for a moment mouthed the lines

The fabric of her code

was woven in song

At the end of the mouth,

on the tip of the tongue

One notices what one has forgotten

The code from beneath

drives the lines

Mercurial as the light

Seaman 2012