This past weekend Iowa City had the honor of hosting the Witching Hour Festival. It featured a series of sound installations, concerts, and workshops across several downtown venues. Tim Story displayed a multichannel audio install titled Moebius Strips for fans of experimental ambient galore. The piece presented collaborations with artists Mark Mothersbaugh, Eve Maret, Roedelius, and several other wonderful experimental/ambient producers. It included eight active speakers on Englert’s stage, a clear invitation for listeners to enter Story’s immersive audio meditation. House lights supported the warm and mellow space through dimmed, diluted washes of purples, oranges, and mints.
Story’s blips and tones usher you forth upon entry. It feels like a post-show vibe session with a group of tech-heads taking turns sharing tunes. Each speaker displays sounds you swear you recognize while simultaneously feeling fresh and exciting. The installation is a cacophony of smaller songs easing in and out as one edge of the 8-sided circle. At times it is a communication between two sounds. Other times it is a duet between you and a single emitted noise. And further into the experience, it becomes a dance between you and other spectators as you weave in and out of the physical boundaries of the environment.
Though the audio of the sound installation does indeed loop (I was told the album consisted of about an hour of looped audio), the placement of the spectator changes these loops for each listening session. I first found myself wandering around the space, wanting to experience every position or perspective I could think of to fully understand the piece. I stood next to active speakers, listening to sheets of metal produce horn-like washes. I tuned into speakers not playing any noise at times for a bubble of calm between two whirs of electronica. I crouched and laid down to get a sense of the verticality of auditory sensation. I stood outside the ring of speakers to observe the blending of lights and colors along the walls. I played with shadows. I sat and watched how other spectators were interacting and responding with the piece.
I noticed other listeners who couldn’t sit still. Folks who gravitated towards a specific corner of the stage. The occasional glance and whispers of contact. These loops of interaction I found embedded within the soundstage as well as the physical environment of the install. Audio feedback, bleeps, and bloops all shaped the peppered pulsing of the beat over washes of sound. Springs of textured tones influenced feedback between spectators as their bodies created washes of color. I felt the need to close my eyes at points and just experience the piece with my body. Allowing legs, feet, arms, shoulders, head to all follow along with the rhythms. You name it, it grooved. And as soon as Elbow 1 entered the stage, you know my elbow felt the need to respond.
I was also surprised by how much info a merch table can give you about an artist. Maybe the groovy album art resonates with your aesthetic; Perhaps past collabs with audio authors you’ve been listening to for years; or the staff helping run the merch. I commend everyone who had a hand in helping put this installation together and for how welcoming and informative the merch lobby came to be. It acted as a fantastic introductory space not only to the exhibit but as a fun info booth regarding the legacy of Story. I, as a relative newcomer to the world of Story, greatly appreciate this inclusion of clearly passionate staff. Bravo good chaps!
I was also able to sit in on the discussion and reflection panel Friday evening (led by the lovely Lauren Lessing) which provided insight into Story’s workflow and intentions. Being that this was paying clear homage to the late Dieter Moebius, it drew sound recordings directly from his backlog. Story explained how he placed himself in the ‘Moebius Mindset’ through converging unorthodox sounds or unremarkable noises with underlying rhythmic beats. How unorthodox and unremarkable you ask? There was a playful anecdote regarding Moebi arriving at Story’s house many moons ago to record a squeaky door for a piece. This became a melodic aspect of an album which a listener later experienced as a soothing saxophone. What was once simple foley now paints melodic symphonies and interesting tonalities, a splendid capture of Moebius’ thought process.
When asked how he reads an audience, Story said he rarely gets the opportunity to witness live interactions with his pieces. The majority of his previous audience engagements were from folks explaining how their relationship with a piece had changed over time. His work is a literal auditory amalgamation of loops as well as a cycle of listener perception as they re-experience it. It is a piece changed by outside experiences and perspective. Story has become increasingly aware of this symbiotic relationship between listener and source media, articulating how particular emotional textures resonate with different folks at specific moments in their life. The idea of sound developing new meanings throughout an individual’s life creates a fascinating, dynamic, and living relationship with loopable media.
When prompted on his typical workflow and how the pandemic has changed the process, Tim said he’s been privileged in that regard. Most of his time spent noodling and crafting sounds is usually been in isolation. Sending files back and forth every so often for collabs when not in-person has been something he’s done for a while. He’s cognizant of how ambient music doesn’t necessarily rely on live audience engagement. This has allowed him to continue working in a very similar fashion, sometimes spending months on individual works to get the feel just right. One thing that drives Tim is his personal interest in the piece and whether it can hold his interest for more than a few days. As for what’s next in Tim’s Story, readers and listeners should gear up for an upcoming piano collab with Roedelius.
You can find Tim’s music over on his site!