Serenity Dagger: Ubiquitous Relics

Artwork and logo by Derek Ballard.

Ubiquitous Relics is the first release by Serenity Dagger, a duo that have played together off and on for almost twenty years. Scott Bazar and Stephen McClurg met while playing in free improvisation groups along the Gulf Coast. These tracks began with Bazar’s solo improvisations, which were recontextualized into a variety of sound worlds and compositional approaches by McClurg.

Besides a mutual love of freely improvised music, Ubiquitous Relics is also influenced by film scores, the Okkulte Stimmen (Occult Voices) recordings, and the Mysteries of Mind, Space & Time book series.

It will be available on Bandcamp on September 3rd. Individual track information is listed below.

Scott Bazar is a prolific artist, composer, guitarist, and creator of improvisational games and several instruments. He’s currently working in several projects including BATS!, Cowl, and Bad Calm Zero. You can find his work on Instagram and on YouTube at Henry McKormick and Scott Bazar.

Stephen McClurg is mostly a bass player who also enjoys composing and improvisation. When not working or taking care of family, he is currently studying guitar and music production. As a bass player, he’s performed in a range of musical genres, including bluegrass, thrash, surf, country, and freely improvised music.

Track Listing and Info

(1) Zazel dans le Nitro

Scott: On one track I used light up Halloween masks and an oil pan. On the other, I used more Halloween masks and bike lights. They are combo of soundreactive LEDs and sequenced LED patterns. I have them like hand puppets where I can adjust the sensitivity wheel and its proximity to the guitar, while it’s running through an eq pedal to the amp.

Stephen: I heard free soloing guitars in the tracks Scott sent me, like louder passages of Derek Bailey. I wrote drum loops with the idea of a trio: two drummers and Scott. Mick Harris’s work in Painkiller was also a reference. I remember growing up and frequently hearing Latin percussion come in at the end of songs before the fade outs and thought I’d use it here. For some reason, it makes me laugh. I hope it’s not a concept I just fabricated for this.

The title is a mix of ideas: the first human cannonball, the Key of Solomon, a movie title, etc.

(2) We Danced and It Had Eyes Flat Like Gold Coins

Scott: I used guitar, an electric Christmas tree star topper, touch and sound reactive LED puppets, GE LED light stock, an LED Halloween skull, an Ebow with a metal plate, a portable Christmas projector with signal, feedback, and manual manipulations.

Stephen: Scott’s tracks had me imagining being onboard a UFO and so I went with the idea. The title comes from a UFO encounter that I read about, though I may have added the dancing, since I also wanted to work with the online Roland 808303 studio. I love those sounds, but had never worked with them. There were glitches as my samples ran live and I just left them in to break up some of the rhythms.

(3) Mockingbird Mound

Scott: My sounds were generated by guitar and effects.

Stephen: I don’t ask Scott what he used to generate tracks until I’m finished. I wondered if he had sampled some ’70s-era Miles Davis or even Philip Glass at one point. I knew I wanted to take three or four separate tracks from Scott and develop scenes around each one, but have them sit together like a suite. My thoughts and ideas were twisted up in a reading of Traditions of De-coo-dah by William Pidgeon, a mostly false recording of conversations with Native American mound builders, but what I took from it is encounters of opposites. Besides working with MIDI and my DAW I added guitar over a couple of sections, and attempted to recreate a kind of writing for drums that is in some Secret Chiefs 3 tracks. Then I had the kit float from side-to-side. Maybe I was thinking of Tommy Lee, too.

(4) Rebus

Scott: I used a guitar, an eq pedal, a metal straw bow, and a microwave rotator.

Stephen: Over two years ago, this was the first track Scott and I collaborated on in what has become Serenity Dagger. The original version, still on SoundCloud, had me on guitar, bass, organ, and spoken word. I was never totally happy with my parts, mostly because I was just learning how to record into a DAW. My Marc Ribot influence is probably too obvious.

For the EP, I decided to scrap my previous tracks (though they exist briefly towards the end) and re-do everything but Scott’s part. My sound references were Morphine, Weird Nightmare produced by Hal Willner, and the sound design for the character of Baphomet in the movie Nightbreed.

The book fell off the shelf
and I saw your name on the page
in sentences written a century before.

In the light late at night,
thinking about reading rather than life,
it’s dark except for the porch lights 
killing the fireflies. Wickedness can be bright.

A different life drawn around the angels’ names
in old books. Muses that Milton updated
and Modernism tried to bomb away.
The coffee’s gone and the candle’s out.
Sin is what the others saw.

It’s fall somewhere. Find a name in leaves there.
He had notions of letters in the oceans
and reading waves. I chipped a tooth on a tetherball,
but her nail polish rarely chipped at all. 
The broken pieces were on the inside.

(5) Pennywart

Scott: I used the guitar as a foley table to interpret the actions depicted on a set of cards. I used time cues, wheels, metal straws, basketball rim lights, etc.

Stephen: I wanted to give room to let one of Scott’s full improvisations breathe, but I knew I didn’t want it to be just that. For me, freely improvised music and noise can create similar effects that are more associated with ambient, trance, or drone music. I thought I would play with and perhaps disrupt that idea with the first half of the piece and throw in a small tribute to Geezer Butler by putting some effects on the bass.

(6) Flowerdew’s Timeslip Ensemble

Scott: I improvised on guitar using an eq pedal and battery-powered Christmas lights.

Stephen: I usually hear vocal qualities in Scott’s playing, no matter the gear or approach and I tend to build the tracks around that. His work on the improv track that is the basis for “Flowerdew’s Timeslip Ensemble” reminded me of a vocal quality in Javanese music. I started building a track with that idea, but with the thought of a sound environment that borrowed textures more than scales or songs from Javanese music.

I built a low-pitched aum chant, but never liked how it rested with everything else. Then I heard a kind of marching band sound and developed that track separately, not sure if I would even use it. Then I attempted to make it sound like the band marched through the original soundscape. 

I was thinking of film music and field recordings along with Charles Ives’ memories of and attempts at recreating two marching bands playing at once. Instead of two similar bands, I wanted to work with two very different bands separated by centuries, but playing in the same location. As with a few other tracks, I was also thinking about dichotomies: noise (density? texture?)/melody, East/West, songs of life/songs of death, stillness/motion, etc.