The three-letter term IDM, for “intelligent dance music,” is used often enough to describe a broad array of music, from Aphex Twin’s jerky ambience to Kid606’s digital acts of agitation. Another three-letter word, ECM, as is the estimable label ECM Records, run by producer Manfred Eicher, might lend itself to a more precise subset of electronic-oriented recordings — music that is compositionally open-ended, and whose deeply sedative aspirations are not technologically dependent. Drummers as fit as Joey Baron and Tony Allen likely couldn’t play two-hour equivalents of drum’n’bass if their lives depended on it; the music, with its high-wire feats of metrical aggression, pretty much requires a machine to make it happen — not that there’s anything wrong with that. However, there is a brew of quietness, of soulfulness, that is as sure to echo from Bill Frisell’s deeply digitized guitar as it is from Arvo Part’s a cappella chorus. The band Rothko makes this sort of music, and its new album, A Continual Search for Origins, with a mix of softly intoned instrumentation and documentarian field recordings, evokes a spirit of profound reflection. The field recordings were made by Rothko leader Mark Beazley, who taped various background sounds during a trip to Switzerland. In the album’s brief liner note he explains that those raw tapes became the “starting point” for a variety of instrumental settings, including percussion, sleigh bells, trumpet, guitar and much more. The first and last track feature prominent vocals by Caroline Ross, who sings plaintively over the slow tide of music. Nine tracks in between overlay delicate compositions on top of sounds of rain, wind and, again, according to Beazley’s note, “the sound of just sitting quietly.” The album was released on the label Too Pure on June 4, 2002.
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• May 13, 2015: Last spring-semester class meeting of the 15-week course that I teach on the role of sound in the media landscape at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I'll next teach it in spring 2016.
• December 13, 2015: The 19th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• Ongoing: The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: soundcloud.com.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.
disquiet juntoThe Disquiet Junto is an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making space in which restraints are used as a springboard for creativity. It's housed at soundcloud.com. Subscribe to the announcement list at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto. There is an FAQ. ... These are the 10 most recent weekly projects: • 0182: Do a rendition of Ethan Hein's laptop orchestra score by yourself. • 0181: Imagine your favorite instrument is dreaming while it sleeps — what does it sound like? • 0180: Use the Russian nesting dolls as a model for a musical composition. • 0179: Show off (and explain) one thing you've learned recently about an instrument/tool. • 0178: Emphasize the bells in an urban field recording. • 0177: Netlabel Portrait Use samples of recent Dark Winter Records releases to produce a sonic image of the label: • 0176: Create a composition on top of a rough idea first recorded on your cellphone. • 0175: Record the composition on top of the rough draft. • 0174: Play something on your favorite instrument — wearing gloves. • 0173: Do an "over" rather than a "cover" of a pre-existing track.
... And there is a complete list of projects at disquiet.com/junto.
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