Ben Turner starts to find some clarity in Confusions

The experimental musician’s new album, ‘Muck of Morale,’ releases on Friday, March 10.
Ben Turner of Confusions
Ben Turner of ConfusionsCassy Kolesar

Ben Turned compared the process of making new Confusions album Muck of Morale with creating an audio journal, the experimental musician collecting, sculpting and recording sounds as they arrived. In the midst of this process, Turner said he remained generally unaware of the emotions the songs were rooted in, gaining greater perspective on the compositions only months or even years later, after he had some needed distance from the material.

“And so, coming back to [the album], I’m seeing, ‘Oh, my gosh. There’s this discrepancy I was exploring in my life. This is something where my brain was trying to heal me and telling me I needed to change and get out of this situation,’” said Turner, who completed work on the album two years ago and will finally see it surface for listeners on Friday, March 10. “And it’s interesting now to see that roadmap, because I’m definitely not the person I was when I started making this. I never meant to make a grief album. But when I lost someone close to me, I had to shift gears. Music is always a place where I’m processing where I live and being reflexive of my experiences under hyper-capitalism. … It’s pretty much just one long string of trauma and grief.”

On Muck of Morale, these feelings of loss metastasis most strongly in “What Will Never Be Known,” an ambient, crackling soundscape designed by Turner “to sound like a big, open canyon – as if the world had cracked open,” he said, a concept the musician traced to the writings of author Megan Devine. Similar emotions ripple through “Not OK Is OK,” an alien sound collage that mirrors the sensation of acceptance settling in, found sounds gradually coalescing in a forward-moving rhythm. The track is followed by “Stepping Out of the Muck,” a comparatively airy tune that practically floats, moving as if completely unencumbered by life’s accumulated traumas.

In this way, the track listing traces the process of healing that Turner said accompanied the sessions, allowing him to emerge on the other side with a better sense of self.

“I think I was exploring this idea of no longer being a people pleaser and flirting with the idea of reclaiming my life from trauma, and I think now I have,” Turner said. “I feel like the album is almost my authentic self trying to creep out in the music, and I think it did. … I had a therapist once tell me that we experience things in two waves: one as society’s expectations, and then another as our true self. So, Muck of Morale, really, is me sorting through those expectations. And I like to think I’m a better person now for it.”

Along with these more introspective leanings, the album also takes a more outward look, with Turner relaying the corrosive effects of our capitalist system and the school-to-employment pipeline designed to keep the machine running at any cost (see: Muck of Morale’s “Same Wheel,” a relentlessly humming, Snowpiercer of a track). Indeed, a handful of tracks are embedded with audio clips from the Muckrake Political Podcast, hosted weekly by Jared Yates Sexton and Nick Hauselman, and more explicitly center these ideas.

“Listening to that podcast, one thing that stuck with me is that we need to talk about these things that are happening, and we don’t talk enough about white supremacy and how people are exploited under capitalism,” Turner said. “We just expect people to smile and be normal. … I guess as I become more emotionally mature in my life, I’m less interested in picking a sound or a sample that’s just obscure or funny sounding. I want something more programmatic, something that has some value communicated in it.”

At times, the sounds on Muck of Morale mimic this all-consuming machine, electronic textures grinding like outsized gears. But often these ideas are countered with more organic sounds and untraceable mutations of field recordings captured in the natural world, which help sonically break the tension and offer listeners a place of escape.

“Everything on the record started with an improvised source, so I would improvise on my synths or my drum set, and then put that through some effects treatments and kind of build from the ground up,” Turner said. “And I love that improvisational approach, making things out of very organic, human elements in ways [artists such as] Brian Eno and Animal Collective have explored.”

Working in this way, Turner said it can be a challenge to know when to step away from a recording, which explains, in part, the two-year wait on the new Confusions album.

“Even listening to the songs now, I still get ideas, and I’ll find myself creating new little harmonies as I’m working around the house,” he said. “So, I guess the music is never officially done, but for me it’s sufficient when it reaches a place … when people can finally listen to it. And hopefully, if it’s human enough, and I was honest and true while making it, someone can take something from it. And then it’s no longer just my story.”

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