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

Monthly Archives: February 2007

Minimal Techno MP3s

It begins cinematically, with a heartbeat, some typewriter keys, the distant crack of lightning and a small amount of rain. Or maybe that’s a car revving, its gears shifting, followed by the crackle of fire. It’s all sound, so you lend your own mental images to help find your way, much as the track in question, “Sullen City,” the opening piece to Layborn‘s five-song Rubik, eventually introduces a hard, if limber, rhythm to lend structure to the looping swell that’s been rising in the background (MP3). Nothing like a simple back beat to locate the tempo of a seemingly organic sine wave. Rubik falls squarely in what’s called minimal techno. It’s about the beat the way certain films are about place and certain novels are about ideas, in both cases rather than being about character. It’s all background, even when it veers into the foreground, as with the percussive chatter of “A Pin in the Sky” (MP3) or more of that field-recording drama, again rain, on “Solitary Drive” (MP3). The balletic torque of an undertone in “Wires and Whispers Came” (only available if you download the complete, archived files: ZIP) brings to mind Peter Gabriel’s Passion, his score to Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, while at its most minimal, on the closing, the sonic matter is nothing but tiny slivers of static masquerading as drums. More info on the website of the releasing netlabel, archipel.cc.

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T.S. Eliot Remix MP3

A 30-minute segment of a piece that Janek Schaefer performed one month ago, on January 20, as part of the Sound:Space sonic arts symposium in England, has been uploaded as the latest entry in the Gene Pool Podcast series of the Digital Media Centre. It achieves its meta state through simple means. A man’s voice is heard so that each phrase is spoken first into one ear, then the other, and perhaps a third. That the man is saying things like “present in time future” and “what might have been is an abstraction” and, ultimately, “footfalls echo in the memory” gives the repetitions additional meaning. The poem, of course, is T.S. Eliot‘s “Burnt Norton.” In time, an additional element is introduced, chiming background synthesis that nestles the stanzas (MP3).

For a more raw take on this layering, download the version on Schaefer’s audioh.com website (MP3). In that edit, which is just over three minutes, nothing is heard but the voice, playing out thanks to three separate tone arms on his single, ingenious Tri-Phonic Turntable. More info at sound-space.info and digitalmediacentre.org. Full text of Eliot’s poem, if you weren’t encouraged to memorize it during school, at tristan.icom43.net.

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Field Recording MP3

You come home from a holiday, your camera loaded with images, and after one or two key shots are sent to relatives, and a handful more are uploaded to some image-sharing website, the whole bunch are consigned to the dustless bin of your external harddrive. Now, say you travel with a microphone instead of a camera. What do you do with those field recordings? If you’re Scott Taylor, and you’re just back home in London from December 2006 trips to Thailand and New Zealand, you take that raw material and mix into a lengthy artificial environment as rich as the canopy you’re sampling, all that insect and bird life matched by piping digital synthesis (MP3). Titled Silver, this 25-minute piece is the 22nd entry in the Touch label’s TouchRadio series. More on Taylor, who runs the label Lapilli (home to Francisco Lopez and Daniel Menche, lapilli.org), and co-runs the label Sijis (sijis.com), at his myspace.com page. More info on the TouchRadio series at touchradio.org.uk.

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Saturday Sound Art

Dropped by three exhibits yesterday, all of which inadvertently commented on the still awkward status of sound art in galleries.

Blackbird Space, in the city’s steadily gentrifying Dogpatch neighborhood, is a single, inviting cinder block room in the lower level of a small compound of residences, just up the street from the good soul food restaurant Hard Knox. A group show titled “Pause” is running for one month, through February 27, having previously shown at Factory Model in Miami last December as part of the Art Basel festival. Around a dozen artists are represented in “Pause,” with one sound art component: Roddy Schrock‘s small, two-speaker installation, which he’s described as “grunts, groans, pops, fizzes, and shimmering delicate waterfalls of metallic noise” (fundamentallysound.org), which sums it up well. The sounds were generally small and dry, and it would have been interesting to hear how they worked in a more populated room. The exhibit was co-curated by Christopher Culver, director of Factory Model, and Blackbird Space proprietor Rebecca Miller. More info at blackbirdspace.com and factorymodel.org.

Over at SF Camerawork are two separate exhibits. These days, when images are set in motion there is usually sound involved, but the three videos currently being screened here are really just traditional, if artful, documentaries. Jenni Olson‘s The Joy of Life pits narration against shots of San Francisco; Natalie Zimmerman‘s Islands shows actors attempting to summon tears as part of a casting call; and Jem Cohen‘s Chain, the most impressive of the three, portrays the parallel stories of two young women: one homeless, the other traveling the United States for a Japanese company; one barely a ghost on the commercial landscape, the other an agent of commerce. The videos, collectively titled “Traces of life on the thin film of longing,” are showing through February 24.

Also at SF Camerawork through the 24th is a collaboration between Alexander Mouton and Christian J. Faur titled Ethereal Landscapes, consisting of a small book, a set of headphones, a computer monitor and, connecting them all, a hand scanner, the sort of thing a cashier might use. Each page of the book has on it a photo and a zebra code; scan it, and a mix of sound and image appear on the monitor. The projected images and sounds vary from documentarian to abstract, from raw to manipulated. I saw images from science and nature, and heard noises that often go unheard. Reportedly the system shows different images depending on the time of day. The full video is streaming at Mouton’s site, unseenproductions.net. More info at sfcamerawork.org.

Two galleries, three exhibits, lots of sound, but also evidence of an art form still finding its place. Though Schrock’s name is in the “Pause” catalog, he, unlike the visual artists, doesn’t get a page to himself. The sound of the three films at SF Camerawork overlapped because they were being shown simultaneously in one large room; there was some attempt, in the Zimmerman, to focus the audio with a hemispheric speaker system above the viewing bench, but most of the voices were muffled. And the Mouton-Faur, which was intended to blur the lines between book, video and sound by emphasizing interactivity, also reinforced why those media are so compelling when exerienced individually, no accessories required.

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Animated I-Hop MP3s

There’s nothing inherently funny about instrumental hip-hop, but that didn’t stop the Stones Throw label from hooking up with Adult Swim, the Cartoon Network block, to post a free compilation, Chrome Children 2. Amid the blaxsploitation soul and word-drunk rap are several studio concoctions, including three from Madlib, two credited to his Beat Konducta moniker, the video-game-stylin’ title cut (MP3) and the fuzzy blips of “Selah’s Children” (MP3), plus a space jam credited to the Jazzistics (aka Marcus, Martin and Malcolm produced by Yesterdays New Quintet, all of who are, by some accounts, producer Madlib flying solo), with UFO keys and free horn blurts above a steadily swinging jazz kit (MP3). Also in there, the sampled funk of J.Rocc‘s “Bubbha’s Dance,” which shows how a ratty horn break can become a percussion tool through proper editing (MP3) and a purposefully sloppy faux-live living-room jam by James Pants (MP3). Electronica fans take note: two of the album’s vocal cuts were produced by Four Tet (aka Kieran Hebden), who’s so busy he makes Prefuse 73 look like a slacker: radio-ready “Happy Now?” by Aloe Blacc (MP3) and the more underground (i.e., blippy and half-spoken) “Money Motivated Movements” by Guilty Simpson (MP3). Get it all at stonesthrow.com.

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