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

Monthly Archives: January 2005

Verdant Ambient Album

Bedroom musicians honing ambient textile music on their sticker-emblazoned laptops often listen back to the masterpieces of Brian Eno and wonder how, exactly, especially during those distant pre-PowerBook times, he achieved the levels of aural thoroughness and opacity, clarity and haze, texture and gloss that are the hallmarks of his work. They comfort themselves with the thought that perhaps the alchemical secret is just a matter of the surface noise from the tape on which it was all archaically recorded. Those same musicians won’t find much comfort in a new album by one of their contemporaries, Lomov, aka Axel Bergk. Holzwege, just out on the Autoplate netlabel, as of January 18, 2005, produces a realm of sound as dense as the philosophical Heidegger fable from which it reportedly takes its name. The full recording, eight tracks total, over one hour from end to end, has the sway and pulse of beat-oriented music, but those beats are steady and dispersed enough to be rendered close to invisible, mere ripples in the fabric, itself a lush pile built of tattered layers. Lomov virtually slows the metronome to the point that the music becomes an unmapped, verdant space unto itself, broken on rare occasion by splints of illumination. Really stunning stuff. Download the album from its autoplate.org page, complete with cover art. More on Lomov at lomov.gmxhome.de, and take time to check out the lovely, tree-lined video linked to from his site’s “snd” page.

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Elegant MP3, Generative Bonus

The design of New York-based composer Kenneth Kirschner‘s eponymous website couldn’t be more elegant. It simply presents a horizontal, chronological chart of his work, subdivided into increments of between two and five years. On the far left is a piece dated July 18, 1989. Currently the rightmost point along this line is dated November 18, 2004. In between are about 50 other downloadable recordings, and a couple of surprises. The November 18 entry (download MP3) is five minutes of light sound that fades in and out, music that appears and disappears with the regularity of a flattened sine wave but that, while it’s audible, engages with the tonal richness of considered composition. What is heard consists almost entirely of held notes, with their own detailed texture and ever-shifting envelope: gossamer on first impression, sawblade in retrospect. On the first, even the fifth, listen, those intermittent silences are disorienting. Has the piece ended, has it even begun, is something of import occurring amid the inevitable background noise? Hearing the cycle of sound and no-sound pass, one is tempted to visualize the unfolding piece across a strip not unlike the website’s timeline.

As for those surprises: Also deserving a listen is a unique piece, dated August 26 of last year, that is only available as an audio stream. This isn’t due to some sudden tightfistedness on Kirschner’s part. The work is computer-generated, in the standard multimedia format Flash (programming by Craig Swann of crash!media). Its exact mechanics are unclear, but once you hit the play button in the center of your web browser, a series of musical elements proceeds in random manner: moments reminiscent of the November 18 piece, spare piano chords that recall, by no coincidence, John Cage’s chance-informed works. Kirschner mentions that it will play forever, and it definitely benefits from an extended listen. (Another indeterminate/streaming entry is also online, dated about a month prior: July 29.) Adding to the computer’s temporary aura as a performer unto itself, when you hit the stop button the piece takes a short while to end. Explains Kirschner: “the piece will finish all of the currently playing segments and then stop.” He adds, “to stop playback immediately, simply close or leave the web page.” But why spoil a good denouement? Spend some time at kennethkirschner.com.

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Live Loscil MP3s

So, is Loscil a minimal melodicist or a melodic minimalist? Is the contrast just a matter of vice-versa wordplay, or is there something distinct about someone who keeps melodies threadbare, almost monotone, with an emphasis on repetition, and someone else who employs the tools of minimalism (texture, stasis) but infuses them with a sensibility that’s a stone’s throw from a proper song? It’s no coincidence, for example, that Michael Stipe, of the rock band R.E.M., has listed work by Estonian composer Arvo Part (Tabula Rasa) among his favorites; Stipe falls easily into the former category, while Part occupies the latter. The construction of such a continuum came to mind while listening to four free MP3s by Loscil (aka Scott Morgan, of Vancouver, BC) posted on kranky.net, the website of Kranky Records, which has released three albums by him: First Narrows (2004), Submers (2002) and Triple Point (2001). The cuts, for which there’s little in the way of explanatory text, were taken from a set that Loscil did on Canada’s CBC Radio. They are low-key electronic affairs, more loungey than abstract, with a touch of traditional instrumentation: the layers of elegant guitar that mark “Umbra,” the Chet Atkins-simple line that adorns “Emma,” the mix of stroked six-string and what seems to be electric piano under which “Sickbay” churns along, and “First Narrows,” with the most lonesome guitar part of them all. Check them out on Kranky’s news page, at kranky.net/new.html. And visit Loscil’s website at loscil.com. (There’s a page on CBC’s website, here, with a mention of the session, dated July 6, 2004, plus a pair of photos of Morgan with two other musicians, which explains the tracks’ depth, but there’s not much additional information, and the page’s link to a stream of the performance isn’t functioning.)

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DJ Food Mashup

The Disquiet Downstream focuses on recordings posted by musicians online for intended download. Occasionally a demonstratively law-flouting set, like DJ Danger Mouse’s matchmaking between Jay-Z and the Beatles, last year’s Grey Album, vaults itself into the near-public domain through sheer force of ubiquity. By Danger Mouse’s concise litigious standards, Ninja Tune Records stalwart DJ Food‘s new Raiding the 20th Century is a veritable Bleak House of mashups, an hour of copyright-teasing snippets sewn together with a blend of Christian Marclay’s sense of pop-culture curation, an FM radio promo’s interest in keeping your attention, and an NPR afternoon forum on intellectual property. Listen in as Dizzee Rascal fades into the Beastie Boys, not long after the 20th Century Fox drum roll starts things going and Roy Orbison returns from the dead for evenly paced moans. According to Food’s website, djfood.org, the mix’s unwitting lineup includes concrete-music figures (Alvin Lucier, John Cage, Pierre Schaeffer, Steve Reich), pop-music ones (Kylie Minogue, S Club 7, Destiny’s Child, Missy Elliott) and those who bridge the gap (Negativland, Beatles, Jon Oswald, Grandmaster Flash, Invisbl Skratch Piklz).

DJ Food is a name up for grabs at the Ninja Tune offices, and it’s been used by Ninja’s founders (Coldcut’s Jonathan More and Matt Black) and by Patrick Carpenter, among others. On Raiding, it’s Strictly Kev calling the shots, with chunks of spoken word by William S. Burroughs, and by Art of Noise veteran Paul Morley, talking about the subject at hand in excerpts from his recent book, Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City. The DJ Food site removed the track after download requests overloaded its server. Now the file is floating about the Internet, all 72,552 kilobytes of it. Two places to start looking are entroporium.com (entry, file) and seibuone.com (entry, file). An earlier, and somewhat less sizable, version of the track remains up on djfood.org’s info page (here), along with a PDF of the track listing, though that’s somewhat less than helpful, since it consists largely of remixes, and not of the remixes’ contents.

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D12 Logic MP3s

The vast depths of archive.org‘s holdings are difficult to come to grips with. Even putting the public-domain text and video material aside, there seems to be enough music by the Grateful Dead alone to play for a good year straight, and there’s more like the Dead in that corridor of the archive than anything else — more jam bands, more riff rock, more psychedelic noodling. Not, as they say, there’s anything wrong with that. When you’re pleased by recordings that resemble a century-old radiator on overdrive, it’s tough to go complaining about what someone else calls music.

All of which said, it’s initially hard to find much electronic music in the archive’s live holdings, in part because of the abundance of Dead acolytes, and in part because of the site’s search engine, which prioritizes “mediatype” and other categories over genre. (On the other hand, its netlabel directory serves as a backup for many notable electronica free-music concerns, including 8bitrecs, Monotonik, Nishi and Thinner.) Still, search and you shall find. For example, a search for “DJ” in archive’s live holdings yields over 250 results, among them a July 7, 2002, concert featuring the New Orleans ensemble Dirty Dozen Brass Band with New York turntablist DJ Logic sitting in for two songs (“Africa,” “We Got Robbed”). It may be electronic by association, but it’s a great document of an unusual collaboration (one Logic spoke about at length earlier that year in a Disquiet.com interview, “Sonic Anomaly”).

Oh, and as if finding the concert wasn’t tough enough, you’ll discover that it’s only downloadable as a “flac” file — which is a mix of good and bad news. The good news is, “flac” is a high-quality, so-called “lossless” format; the bad is, it’s enormous (94Mb for 15 minutes of audio, the length of the “Africa” track alone). Check out the full set here.

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