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Sounding out technology.
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Monthly Archives: October 2003

Halloween MP3

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And where there’s a campfire, there are ghost stories to be heard. So in the spirit of Halloween, the final MP3 for this week’s Downstream is a five-minute tape of a late night fire. It’s ambient by the most traditional definition of that word: a document of environmental sound. And it’s fairly spooky, even if unintentionally so. The location of the file (here) is the Phonography Archive (here), a haven for audio files uploaded by members of a phonography online discussion group.

Phonography is the art of field recordings, and the Phonography Archive is a repository of the taped work of the discussion group’s members. (The group is open to the public and can be found on its Yahoo page, here.) On the main page of the Phonography Archive site as of today are recordings of a Malaysian rain forest and of Chinese New Year celebrations in Amsterdam, of a metro entrance in Lisbon and of downtown Oklahoma City on a cold winter day. Most entries are annotated briefly, and the pieces are not to be mistaken as mere audio snapshots. There’s a compositional philosophy at work in much of phonography. The Viennese artist Bernhard Gal writes of one of his audio postings, a recording of a Taiwanese market: “by moving through the surrounding soundscape, i performed ‘my personal acoustical interpretation’ of the location, creating what might be looked at as a subjective sonic fingerprint of a typical taipei night market.” The description sounds very much like that of a fine photographer who composes within the confines of the camera lens. Phonographers are not categorically opposed to editing. Writes Gal, “the only modification i made is a short loop in the end of the piece which i found necessary in order to create a fade out/an adequate ending.”

As for this sublime five-minute MP3 of quiet fire, it was recorded by S. Arden Hill, who goes by the moniker Duul_Drv (homepage here). Hill’s track annotation records both the fire’s pastoral setting (“This recording was made at West Hawk Lake, Manitoba, Canada on a camping expedition. We got a fire going about 1 am and recorded this sample in between marshmellows”) and the phonographer’s ham-radio-like attention to technical detail (“Recorded with Sony MZ-N707 and ECM-DS70P stereo Mic”). For all the annotation, of course, a field recording is as much a touchstone for the imagination as is a traditionally composed piece of music. So download today’s Downstream track (again, here), and others in the Archive, and listen for the ghosts in the phonographer’s recording machine.

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Silent (Running) MP3s

An album of science-fiction-themed electronic music from Canada, Pheek‘s new collection, Tabisuru Kokoro, is the latest release from Thinnerism Records. Thinnerism is a German label that distributes its music online as free sets of MP3s. Pheek is Jean-Patrice Remillard, a Montreal-based musician who favors the key ingredients in minimal house: the willfully tepid beats, the tiniest of riff-like elements (mechanical echo effects, bells so distant they could be from the next track), almost all of it composed from a select palette of staccato samples, with the occasional enlivening wash of sound across the stereo spectrum. The album is reportedly a tribute to the sci-fi film Silent Running, for which Peter Schickele (the classical-music parodist better known as PDQ Bach) wrote the score, and which also featured songs sung by folkie Joan Baez. The only apparent vocal on Pheek’s album is a spoken snippet, on the opening track (“There You Are”), of Silent Running star Bruce Dern. Tabisuru Kokoro contains nine tracks: six originals and three remixes, one each by Taho, Mateo Murphy and Jeff Bennett. It was uploaded to the Thinnerism website (thinnerism.com) on Tuesday, October 27, and is located here.

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Franco-Japanese Video

Wondering what Daft Punk, the French electronic group, has been up to? They’ve collaborated with longtime anime figure Leji Matsumoto on feature-length release, Interstella 5555, due out on DVD on November 18. The film is subtitled “The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.” It premiered this year at the Cannes Film Festival, and has been exhibited at ResFest, the touring film festival, which has an emphasis on desktop production and electronic music. Three rocket-fueled, funkified clips (partial synopsis: kids in band fight off mysterious costumed evil-doers) from the film are viewable on its promotional site (here).

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Quote of the Week: Battle Sounds

From a review of Saira Shah‘s Afghanistan memoir, The Storyteller’s Daughter:

[S]he is disturbed by the Taliban commander, met on leave in Pakistan, who tapes the sound of battles he has fought “so that I can play them later for relaxation and so that my name will live forever”
New York Times Book Review, Sunday, October 26 (nytimes.com).

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Venezuelan Glitch MP3s

The online label Microbio’s (microbiorecords.net) latest release provides not only free MP3 files, recorded at a high level of data integrity (224kbps), but also a nifty free CD sleeve, in color, ready to be downloaded and printed (in the common AdobeAcrobat PDF file format). Even if the listener doesn’t choose to print the image, many MP3 players (hardware and soft) include the option to catalog an album cover right along with the music files. The latest Microbio release is Conjunto, a three-track EP credited to Mendigo, born Renzo Peressi, a Venezuela-based musician who also records as UVA, Poloto and Krotos. The EP’s individual tracks explore what’s generally referred to as “glitch” music — sounds that are mere microsonic irritants. The music involves melodies that are less suggested by the musician than they are inferred by the listener’s brain, which is striving to make sense of the organized flow of barely disguised static. He uses those steady beats to chart a course through a thick sonic undergrowth (the metaphor would be apt even without the record label’s life-sciences moniker, or the little biographical tidbit of Peressi’s having lived in an Andes mountain town, Mérida). It’s a deep aural atmosphere constructed entirely of buzzes and hums, rings and whirs, the overheard chattering classes of some unseen bug world underfoot. Much of the music has a palpable high-wire tension to it, though as a soundtrack it would best serve activities filmed at a cellular level, as blood clots or amoebas cleave themselves. Soon after the start of the title track, he breaks away from the haze for an extended bit of percussive play, the little beats like highly receptive, and cautious, antennae. The album, Microbio’s 12th so far, is located on the site’s “releases” page (here). Further information on Peressi is available on his Poloto MP3.com page (here).

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