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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

Monthly Archives: April 1999

VW: Listeners Wanted

The stylish folks at Volkswagen haven’t yet managed to put together a CD of all the wise song choices that enliven their commercials, but they have made one of the finest among them available for free at their web site. An archive page (at www3.vw.com) houses a list of many of the latest VW commercials, including music by Charles Mingus, Stereolab and Spiritualized.

But the real reason to check out this site is the opportunity to download a one-minute MP3, WAV or AIF file of “Jung at Heart,” the backing music to the much talked about Jetta commercial in which a pair of New Orleans tourists discover an entire street life attuned to the pulse of their car’s tape deck. The song is attributed to Master Cylinder.

Also available here: Hector Varela’s “Palomita Blanca,” from the Passat commercial in which two parents flirt from matching black cars.

Listeners wanted.

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Moby Gets Playful

Like recent Chemical Brothers and Fat Boy Slim hits, the more memorable songs on Moby‘s Play (V2/JBO) are built around snippets of black voices, in this case blues singers. Brief bits of yodels and catch phrases repeat until each rasp becomes part of the computerized rhythm track. The neat contrivance would be of less consequence if Moby’s contribution to those tracks — piano glissandos and synth flourishes — weren’t so reminiscent of lowbrow romantic John Tesh. The emotional gap between Moby’s keyboards and the vocals they support is bewildering. Certainly, the voices he selected are transcendent, but that was the case even before they entered his hard drive. Elsewhere on the record, Moby lends his own self-consciously antiseptic voice to the potential hit, “South Side,” and cranks out his contribution to big beat, “Bodyrock,” complete with — you guessed it — a central rap sample. “Oh Lordy … don’t nobody know my troubles,” sings a woman on “Natural Blues.” For all Moby’s emerging tunefulness, Play would fail to convince her otherwise.

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Purposefully Distracted

Musicians who make drum’n’bass, electronic pop’s avant-garde extreme, often incorporate the sounds of video games and children’s toys. Bogdan Raczynski mines everything from tin xylophones to windup noisemakers, plus a wide array of modern synthesizers, to construct his purposefully distracted music on Boku Mo Wakaran (Rephlex). Perhaps this vein of sampling is intended to provide familiar focal points amid the hallucinogenic goings-on. More likely, though, those sounds are important touchstones — the sonic memories that inform Raczynski’s work, most of which bounces around with the pace of an arcade game. The bass end hums like an ominous, circling death ray, while melodies (or their nearest equivalent) ricochet about at maddening speeds. There are moments of peace among the 26 tracks here, notably the elegiac closer, but Raczynski loses patience with patience fairly quickly.

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Techno Exotica

Orbital‘s The Middle of Nowhere (London/ffrr) opens like nothing other than some forgotten, early-’80s Philip Glass opera: a mid-tempo orchestral panorama of controlled bombast below a soaring synthesizer accent. A full minute passes before a functional drum beat arrives, signaling that the rave circus has, indeed, come to town. What follows is such an idiosyncratic mix of sounds (a caged diva, swaths of exotica, a multitude of what can only be described as sci-fi effects) that the listener will have difficulty keeping track without a checklist. The hour-long, eight-track record continues in that fashion. Orbital’s Paul Hartnolls has commented on the barrage, saying, “It’d be bloody difficult to play at a cocktail party.” Best to just settle back and observe the passing throng, or join in. This is techno at its most flamboyant and worldly. Even private moments, like the delicate fissures of static that comprise the prelude to “Know Where to Run,” eventually transform into party anthems. Only a standard issue vocal track, “Nothing Left Part 2,” truly disappoints.

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Listening to Pi

According to the web site (at cecm.sfu.ca) of programmers Stephen Braham and Terrance Yu, a fellow named Hiroyuki Goto holds the world record for memorizing the most digits of Pi. The feat required over nine hours for him to recite. Perhaps a bit to Goto’s chagrin, this handy URL features a little program that automates the task (it was devised by Braham and Yu in 1996). Digit by digit, Pi (aka 3.1415926 …) appears in all its mind-bending pattern-less-ness on your computer screen, and if your PC is audio-enabled a voice will read along — in your choice of a dozen or so languages, including French (the language of math), Cantonese, German, Hebrew, English and its variations (including a Cockney accent, as well as somewhat surreal Monty Python and Dr. Seuss terminology). Fans of the recent film ‘Pi’ know that the number can be cause for good tunes; the accompanying soundtrack, featuring music by Autechre and composer Clint Mansell, was a real treat. Braham and Yu’s Pi program explores the mathematical phenomenon’s musicality by allowing you to replace the spoken play-by-play with harpsichord tones. (Touch-tone and funny-noise variations are also available.) Let the program fly, and enjoy the tuneful extrapolations — but don’t bet on discerning any motifs in the available 2.5 million digits. (Note: occasionally the program fails to run — and in that case, check back later.)

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