There Is a Song

There Is a Song

In the words of Chris Rock, “If you want help, help yourself. People like to see that.”

I like to see it, even when the effort involves a hideously hued flyer. Pinned to a recently cleared bulletin board on Yale’s campus, it said, “i made an EP / i think it’s pretty good / here is the QR code / if you want to listen.”

It’s Gen Z poetry on Gen X paper, and this Millennial did, indeed, want to listen. I pulled out my phone and rode the code to Spotify, where Michael Gancz’s EP there is no song awaited.

Setting any irony or hidden meaning aside, there are songs, eight of them, and the first one, whose byline co-credits a collaborator named Dr. DogTruck, starts with a set of breaths—quick, quiet, a little phlegmatic—that had me leaning one ear into the base of my phone. Suddenly there was a chipper robotic “hello!”—the song’s title—and an epic sneeze: a huge buzzsaw beat with industrial-floor drums and a molten-metal synth riff sinister enough to signal the apocalypse.

I wanted this infernal factory to keep pumping out T-800s or whatever, but the groove sputtered out within a single bar. A restart started: a bubbling digital simmer like the bumpy and scratchy bits of a dialup connection, wafting off faint vocal samples I tried to interpret but couldn’t (because, almost immediately, they were gone). In even more rapid succession came a cascade of video game coins, a 32-bit bugle fanfare, a dog’s bark, a human or maybe android yawp.

Over a new beat, an atonal melody arrived, its rhythm as unpredictable as the flutter of final drips after you turn your shower off. Underneath it all was a dull roar like highway traffic, soon replaced by the more insistent blast of a train bearing down, cutting out abruptly for a whispered “I love you” and a ring like a rotary phone’s.

A negative-space groove tumbled in as a kinetic hum prepared for hyperspace, then tumbled further into a free-jazz cyberpunk drum solo. That short-circuited into a slo-mo gunshot exploding through glass, hanging in the air as a light swirl of digital artifacts and still-tinkling shards achieved the only feeling of peace since those opening breaths. A voice, perhaps Gancz’s, soon cleared its throat, then said something, maybe in Arabic or Hebrew, repeating the phrase over a sizzle of noise and feedback. The song is all of 86 seconds, but the frenzy between the initial expulsion and the final explosion is only 35.

As an unanalyzed aesthetic experience, the song is quick-fire chaos; to a trained musician, it’s attention-deficit order. I could easily hear the ambition, precision and command of style, theory and composition hidden beneath a guise of cool-kid nonchalance and class-clown antics.

Sure enough, according to Gancz’s website, Gancz has an MA in music theory and a BA in music, earned from Yale in 2022. Now working as a research associate for Yale’s Gerstein Lab, Gancz “design[s] and optimize[s] machine-learning tools to help analyze culture, creative expression, and the brain.” Even as most of the rest of the highly experimental EP—billed as Gancz’s debut record but not at all their first rodeo—embraces softer, more widely palatable textures and ambience, I can hardly imagine a clearer through line between the lab work and there is no song’s technophiliac, analytical, creative, expressive, brain-bending opening song.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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