John Supko and Bill Seaman's 's_traits' Spellbinding Headphone Music / by Doyle Armbrust

Imagine a dystopian future in which all that is left of recorded music are shards of vinyl, unspooled nests of tape and corrupted digital files. Drones hover above the smoldering wreckage, locating and feverishly uploading whatever fragments can be salvaged.

s_traits, a collaboration between composer John Supko and media artist Bill Seaman, is an excavation of this ilk, and one which is acutely coherent and utterly captivating. The album mines over 110 hours of source material culled from Supko’s percussion duo straits, field recordings, 1960’s and ’70’s soundtracks, and the collaborators’ cavortings with a piano. 

Supko's bearing_straits software (created specifically for this project) assembled automated, multi-track compositions out of the audio which the pair of human composers then polished into this 26-track odyssey.

The expansive sound stage here is striking. Take Track 8, "the drive is on the blink," in which a simple piano line, shadowed by a hollowed-out lower octave, gives the auditory impression of an otherwise vacant salon as a studio-quality-soundtrack string section bleeds in from the adjoining room. Digital pops and scrapes appear as close as though emitted from inside the listener’s shorted-out headphones.

- Doyle Armbrust

Seaman ushers in each number with a wafer of original text, after a Kenneth Koch poem, with a voice of oxidized silver inhabiting the same solipsistic universe as these sounds. Primarily tonal piano excerpts across the album take on a wistful quality, as with the arpeggiations of Track 19, "out from the straits," before layers of serrated percussion and disembodied resonances coalesce to from a mesmeric groove.

s_traits is not a dark record so much as an unrepentantly inward-looking one. It is the kind of album for which choice headphones, long winter nights, and a virgin notebook were created.

Post Script: In addition to purchasing the album, the curious can tweet #findmybearings to @Supko to receive an individual, 30-second composition from Supko’s bearing-straits software, a testament to the organic and ongoing nature of this project.