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Monthly Archives: May 2006

Laptop Forum

What do we talk about when we talk about “laptop music”? Over at newmusicbox.org, there is now an open thread for discussion of “laptop music,” spun off from the article I published there last week Wednesday: “Serial Port: A Brief History of Laptop Music.” The piece focuses on six major cultural precursors of laptop music: (1) musique concrete, (2) serialism, (3) analog synthesizers, (4) hip-hop, (5) the “recording studio as instrument” and (6) the “advance of the personal computer.” Eight laptop musicians are singled out for recognition, in alphabetical order: Taylor Deupree, Fennesz, Kid 606, Monolake, Ikue Mori, Scanner, Carl Stone and Keith Fullerton Whitman. The article is here and the discussion page is here.

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Centerless Remix MP3s

While on the subject of remixes: there’s nothing with quite the free feeling as a series of remixes of something entirely unfamiliar. Listening to the wide variety of treatments of Matthew Rozeik‘s “Oh Lord Please Give Me Another Brain,” a free download of 11 tracks courtesy of highpointlowlife.com (ZIP), is to be reminded throughout that you’ve likely never heard the original. So who knows, really, if the industrial bone machine that undergirds the Maps and Diagrams version is closer or further from the base set than the hazy, spoken-word-flecked edit by Richie Phoe. In fact, if you’re into it, you can stream the original at cactusisland.net (it’s on the Cactus Island-released album Stop, Look, Wave), and it proves to be more fragile and fractured than anything here. Of the 11 revisions, you can hear substantial chunks of the original in the revision by DBMG-RAF.

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Bush of Scanner Remix MP3

There’s something understandably derivative about the remix. It is, by definition, a secondary object. Even though the word “mix” would be sufficiently descriptive, the “re” just, well, reinforces this sense that it’s a subsidiary development. At a communal-remix website like the one set up to celebrate the rerelease of David Byrne and Brian Eno‘s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, bush-of-ghosts.com/remix, this class distinction is even more intrinsic to what’s going on. The downloadable original tracks were recorded by two super-famous musicians. The uploaded ones were produced by people named Chickenfeed and Asbestos.

That needn’t be the case. When the magazine Future Music hosted a contest to remix a song by Wagon Christ, the winner was his friend, Aphex Twin, who entered under the pseudonym Tahnaiya Russell (see digitalmusicmag.blogspot.com). More recently, the BBC commissioned the globe-trotting, laptop-enabled musician Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, to remix the Byrne/Eno matter, and interviewed him on the subject. The mix, which Scanner titled “Front Row” (for the name of the BBC show), is available for free via rapidshare.de. (That system is a bit complicated, and the following link may work more efficiently, albeit it at about half the fidelity: MP3.)

The interview is temporarily available at the BBC site (bbc.co.uk), but Radio 4 only archives most of its program(me)s for a week, so today may be the last day to listen to it, as it was originally broadcast on Tuesday, May 23. In the interview, Scanner refers to himself as a “reductioninst,” a description borne out by “Front Row,” which revels in light percussion and a minimal electric-keyboard tone. (The Scanner conversation is well-programmed between an interview with Paul Simon, on the subject of his latest album, Surprise, which was recorded in collaboration with Eno, and the sort of thing you only could experience on radio: a walking tour of the Underground Gallery at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in West Yorksire.)

And as with Aphex’s entry into the Wagon Christ contest, Scanner is a full-fledged participant. His remix is in the Bush of Ghosts site’s database. In the site’s whimsically qualitative index, “Front Row” is listed toward the high end of menacing/comforting and abstract/familiar, and the low end of empty/full and spare/dense. Sounds about right.

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Kitundu’s Laptop

A recent performance by Kronos Quartet played a central role in a story I published last week, at newmusicbox.org, on the history of “laptop music.” Three laptops were involved in the performance: one played by a member of Matmos in that duo’s piece with Kronos at the end of the second set; one employed by Kronos’ sound engineer/designer, Scott Fraser; and one by Walter Kitundu, the composer and instrument maker who performed with Kronos at the end of the first set.

In the article, I noted: “if Matmos’s use of the laptop best epitomized the aural fact of laptop music, Kitundu’s came closer to an audience’s experience of laptop music: you had no idea what he doing.”

Well, to help clarify things significantly, Kitundu sent me an informative email this evening, and he gave me permission to post it here:

“Just thought I’d demystify my laptop’s role during the Kronos piece at YBCA. I was using software that allowed me to play MP3s with a record on my Phonokora. The digital files were often versions of Kronos’ interpretations of Mingus collages that I’d assembled with turntables. They learned these elements and recorded them using their traditional instruments, and I reused them via the turntable to create some of the atmospheric sound of the piece, and to respond to what they played live during certain sections of the composition. (Mingus 3 or 4 times removed.) The Phonokora now has a USB crossfader… I was interested in mixing the old with the new, strings and bytes, naural/digital — seeing how refiltering ideas repeatedly via the process would affect the outcome. The composition was about memory (of a loved one passed on) and this was a concrete way to examine how memory transforms over time and through experience.”

Thanks very much, Walter.

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Bush of Ghosts Remix MP3s

The Bush of Ghosts remix site seems to be working better than it had recently been. You can, on the Listen page, pick the Filter format, choose from a range of subjective-aesthetic continuums, and then map the songs as they appear on that multi-dimensional stylistic grid. For example, a grid with familiar/abstract on the X axis and slow/fast on the Y axis will yield a field of individual tracks that align according to those constraints. Bzalt‘s “What People Think” (MP3) appears further along the abstract line than Tonk‘s “Negen” (MP3), though both are at about the same pace. The relevant data appears to be in order, and both tracks are recommended. Tonk is concerned with lending a bit of a sturdy backbeat to some familiar Ghosts elements, like the whorl of a native vocalist and the ecstatic scatter of percussion; Bzalt, meanwhile, creates a rich spacious zone that uses the original material more for its texture than for its text. New tracks are being added daily, all built from the multi-track elements of two songs off David Byrne and Brian Eno‘s 1981 album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which was recently re-released. Check ’em out at bush-of-ghosts.com/remix.

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