Sam Gendel & Marcella Cytrynowicz
PSY031 • Released: October 6, 2023
AUDIOBOOK, the new project from prolific multi-instrumentalist Sam Gendel and visual artist/filmmaker Marcella Cytrynowicz, is comprised of 13 alphabetically-named tracks and corresponding illustrations that feel like dispatches from outer space, or unearthed ancient runes. At points melodic and cartoonish and at others glitching and somewhat unnerving, it’s a visual work and instrumental album rooted in a strange in-between, in a shadowy and vivid chasm between terrestrial and otherworldly. A puzzle that doesn’t ask to be completed, but invites you to play.
Cytrynowicz and Gendel have been consistent collaborators since 2020, with Cytrynowicz providing photography as well as music videos and visuals, including for Gendel’s DRM and their AE-30 documentary, and with Gendel contributing snippet scores to to her own short-form video work.
“What had happened a couple of times before we made this project is I would sometimes make a visual thing and ask Sam if he could just make a 30 or 45 second or one minute track, and I wouldn’t even show him the piece. And it weirdly always happened that whatever Sam came up with was just so on point,” Cytrynowicz says. “It would always just accompany the visual in this amazing way. It’s really shown that you don’t need to be fully aware of each other as you’re making – you just need to have the freedom to fully get into whatever you’re feeling at that moment. And it will link up.”
“We like the way things come together. There are some people who want to be so meticulous and have control over every element of something and that’s cool too, I think there’s room for all of it, but – this just happens to be. I guess it’s just how we naturally meet up in that realm.”
At the time of its accidental inception, Cytrynowicz was engrossed in drawing, in static visual illustrations, for hours and hours at a time while she listened to audiobooks and let her intuition guide her with lines across paper, vivid colors. She had initially worked in the music video world following her graduation from college, before becoming disillusioned with big budgets and the way the form took attention away from the actual music. The final track, “YZ,” was actually the catalyst for the entire project; Gendel was working on his own saxophone piece and then found himself engrossed in Cytrynowicz’s drawings – having visions of an ancient dance party, a swampy soiree, wanting to capture the feeling of the lines snaking across the page. The project crystallized once they started working next to one another, wordlessly building the AUDIOBOOK world.
He began playing along as her pen moved across the page, and felt the soundtrack simply worked. “I thought, what she’s doing on the page and the sound that’s happening in the background are really gelling. Let’s follow that idea.”
In viewing Cytrynowicz’s illustrations, it feels like the originals must have been done on a larger scale – a wall, a room, an entire town, an unknown expanse of land. Is it a map or a language? But the illustrations are on 8.5×11 pieces of paper, each drawn in stretches of 6-8 hours across 3-4 days, on a drawing pad of thick paper favored by manga artists, completely freehand and guided by intuition. She prefers to achieve the sort of smooth perfection look that AI might create, with nothing out of place – even if the place of subject feels unknowable. Gendel composed all of the music in real time next to her, improvising, with the bulk of the sonics coming from a Suzuki Waraku III. It’s an instrument he chose for no real reason other than finding it enjoyable to improvise on.
“It makes it easy to explore,” Gendel says. “In the same way Marcella describes how she draws, I sort of unlock these weird puzzles in my own mind, and sometimes just having one interface to deal with takes that mental pressure off. It has a strange quality sonically, too… I just gravitate toward that.”
“CD” in particular has a loping, shoulder-shrugging groove, expansive and hypnotic, but also a prickly and somehow sinister undulation. It’s disparate and acidic, glitching like static wavelengths across a tv. “MN” feels alien and anxious, while “QR,” which traverses three distinct phases, was the most conscious Gendel felt while composing for the project, actively taking Cytrynowicz’s approach to paper and trying actively to build a song the same way, “IJ,” which includes a cover of Wayne Shorter’s “Deluge,” a longtime inspiration for Gendel as someone who’s been able to effortlessly build multiple personalities in his jazz music. The interpolation came to him naturally, a song that simply loaded into his head at the moment, and feels at home with the jagged edges of Cytrynowicz’s illustration.
AUDIOBOOK is the meeting of something distinctly analog weaving into a soundscape that could be at home in a 90s sci-fi soundtrack, the parallel play of a visual artist and prolific musician, abstract art and sound reaching out to touch. “It’s the sound of us just individually trusting ourselves, and then aligning the two together and letting them meet, and also trusting in that,” Gendel says. “I don’t think about it that directly, though – this isn’t art inspired by art. I would say this is just a piece showing two people trusting in their subconscious and then trusting in that meeting point, wherever that is. And shepherding it along.”