Junto Profile: Nick Sinnenberg, aka Sinny

From New York: drumming, collaborating, opting for blemishes

This Junto Profile is part of an ongoing series of short Q&As that provide some background on various individuals who participate regularly in the online Disquiet Junto music community.

What’s your name? Nick Sinnenberg, although I am known in certain circles as “Sinny.”

Where are you located? My primary base of operations is New York’s capital region, although I spent four years in Syracuse while attending Le Moyne College. During that time, I encountered a professor and musician named Edward Ruchalski, who opened my horizons to minimalist, drone, and musique concrète music from composers such as John Cage, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young, many of whom were associated with Fluxus, an interdisciplinary and holistic approach to art creation that has guided the restraint-based prompts found in Disquiet Junto. In the summer of 2022, I also had the pleasure of visiting La Monte Young’s Dream House, a sound and light installation situated one floor above Young’s dwelling unit.

What is your musical activity? Prior to joining Disquiet Junto in late 2021, I was a drummer/percussionist in various bands. While I certainly relished these opportunities, I also sought an outlet to create more experimental compositions that took advantage of multitracking and audio processing. I recognized that drone and ambient music was untenable within the confines of most standard rock bands, so I directed my attention toward audio production through the use of digital audio workstations (DAWs), eventually settling on Logic Pro as my software of choice.

Despite my roots as a drummer, I usually eschew the standard drum kit in favor of auxiliary percussion, found sounds, and programming to supply desired rhythmic elements. One reason stems from the difficulty of miking an entire drum kit — I simply do not have the necessary equipment to accomplish this daunting task! Another reason can be attributed to personal preferences — the timbral qualities of a slapstick are far more appealing than a standard snare drum.

In addition to my 100+ Soundcloud releases, I also have around 30 unreleased compositions that are currently collecting digital dust. Some of these songs are earmarked for my Cave Utensils project, a collaboration with an amiable British lad. A series of donkey oriented compositions and an eight minute deconstruction of Mambo Number Five will be released under the Cave Utensils alias in the foreseeable future. Other unreleased material include unfinished Disquiet Junto compositions, a dozen comedy songs intended for Babbling Blubber, plus some miscellaneous covers and originals that have yet to find a home.

Over the next few months, my focus will be shifting towards a musique concrète album titled Objects Around the House. The idea of fostering resourcefulness through the use of common household fixtures had been percolating in my head since late 2021, although the concept was formalized when I compiled my musical New Year’s resolution for 2023. Progress began in early January, when the prompt for disquiet0576 instructed participants to get a musical New Year’s resolution out of the way. The byproduct of that prompt was “Objects Around the House 1,” which is slated to be the opening song on the album. “Objects Around the House 2”  followed a week later, and additional songs for the project are also in development.

I’m also preparing an album called Solitary Statue, which will include nine reworked Sinnyseven songs released from 2017-19. A re-recording of “Calculation” was used for disquiet0579, although the album version will be slightly longer. Two previously unreleased songs that were created prior to 2017, namely “Market Square at 7:00” and “Robot’s Bath,” are slated to appear on the album.

What is one good musical habit? I occasionally go into music creation without having a preconceived notion of the finished product, and instead let the sound of an instrument or object dictate the general trajectory of the composition. This was particularly the case for disquiet0561, where Disquiet Junto participants were tasked with creating a composition using Samplebrain, a piece of sample mashing software designed by Aphex Twin. As prescribed by the prompt, I fed various bird and rain WAV files through the software and mangled the samples beyond recognition, eventually settling on a soundscape that resembled a glitchy sprinkler system. These unconventional means of song composition can manifest in unique creations that deviate from the chordal hierarchies ubiquitous in tonal music.

For those experiencing creative lapses, the use of prompts can be useful in spurring inspired musical output. My first exposure to this concept was through Oblique Strategies, which I discovered while browsing through Wikipedia. Developed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies is a series of card-based aphorisms that encourage lateral thinking as a means of overcoming writer’s block. Some of these prompts include “change specifics to ambiguities” and “abandon normal instructions.” An online version of Oblique Strategies is available for those who are interested.

What are your online locations? I was relatively late to hop on the social media bandwagon, although I eventually bent to pressure by creating an instagram account in 2017. A Facebook and Snapchat account later followed, although these have since been abandoned. While I occasionally contemplate abandoning Instagram altogether, I might instead launch another account exclusively dedicated to music releases. As of early 2023, my songs have been released with very little, if any, promotion, and most of my followers are probably unaware that I release music on a near-weekly basis.

YouTube, Spotify, and Soundcloud are my primary means of listening to music, with Spotify being my primary streaming service. If an artist does not have their entire discography on Spotify, I will usually turn to YouTube to fill in the gaps. SoundCloud is the only platform I use to release my own music, although I might explore other websites such as BandCamp and Spotify once I finish Objects Around the House and Solitary Statue. I am also an avid user of Wikipedia and have made several thousand edits on the website.

What was a particularly meaningful Junto project? Most of my Junto submissions are recorded without the help of outside musicians, but I find collaborations to be the most fulfilling projects. One such opportunity was provided through disquiet0527, where participants were tasked with completing the final third of a song created by another musician.

Even More Reflections (disquiet0527)” originated from Noodle Twister’s “Collab 1 (disquiet0525)”, a glitchy backing track with several percussive elements. A week later, Daniel Diaz overdubbed some tasteful bass work, culminating with the release of “More Reflections (disquiet0526).” Work on “Even More Reflections” began on February 1, 2022, two days before the prompt for disquiet0527 was officially announced. For those who are unfamiliar with Disquiet Junto, participants are usually given five days to submit their song, (from Thursday-Monday), although disquiet0527 was a rare instance where the prompt was hinted at weeks in advance. As such, I took advantage of the extra time to layer a compelling yet relaxing rhythmic blanket over an already percussive song.

One of the main rhythmic motifs was played on a miniature djembe from Ghana. Sometime around December 2017, a friend from college was visiting Ghana for a vacation, so I implored him to return with some cool percussion instruments, and he happily obliged. Sonically, the mini djembe is more akin to a high pitched bongo, and the instrument itself is quite portable. Much of the percussion on “Even More Reflections” was inspired by Herb Alpert’s “Rotation,” a jazz funk instrumental released in 1979 that managed to reach the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Also featured on “Even More Reflections” are three rototoms, which were tuned in real-time throughout the recording by rotating the drumheads. At certain points (such as the 2:40 mark), the rototoms created audible squeaks, and I even failed to hit the small rototom at one point, instead striking the rim (at 2:58). Ultimately, I opted to include these “blemishes” as they worked surprisingly well in context with the rest of the song.

Does being a drummer in some way give you a different perspective on making music than someone with a more generally chordal/tonal background, like a pianist or a guitarist? And if so, how?

Guitarists tend to write songs on a guitar and pianists usually compose on a piano, yet I rarely craft songs on a drum kit. Unlike the piano and guitar, most drums are unpitched instruments, rendering them largely incapable of producing recognizable musical notes.

To branch out beyond the drum kit, I learned how to play virtual synthesizers through a computer keyboard. The layout of a computer keyboard is very familiar to me; it also helps that the computer keys are compactly spaced, especially when compared to a standard piano. Furthermore, the “F” and “G” keys on a computer correspond with the same notes found on a piano, which made the process of learning “musical typing” relatively easy. Drums and percussion are still included in my compositions, but only when a song requires it.

My approach to music creation centers around a desire to create a compelling sound environment that makes use of both tonal and atonal elements. While my songs generally adhere to the 12-tone scale, they are often augmented with sounds not usually associated with music, such as animal noises and household appliances.

One such example can be found on “Soft Concrète,” which features the use of car keys, a flag pole, and a cuckoo call in addition to more conventional instruments such as an acoustic guitar and electric piano. Instead of relying on the guitar and electric piano for chordal accompaniment, I interpret these instruments as raw materials that can be melded and manipulated to construct brand new sounds. Conventional playing is thrown out the window in favor of amateurish experimentation, which in turn yields unconventional results.

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