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

Monthly Archives: January 2008

Alireza Mashayekhi Iranian Electronica MP3

The biggest surprise in the music of Alireza Mashayekhi is that it hadn’t long ago planted itself in the sample repositories of illbient, dubstep, and adventurous hip-hop DJs. Last year the Sub Rosa label released Persian Electronic Music: Yesterday and Today 1966-2006, a two-CD collection that focused on Mashayekhi’s recordings and those of Ata Ebtekar aka Sote. A few Mashayekhi tracks are part of a recent podcast from Resonance FM (MP3) and those pieces reveal Mashayekhi, born in 1940, as exactly the sort of musician the collective subconscious of electronic music wished existed. He melds the lessons of 20th-century Western classical forms (especially the emphasis on tonality) with Middle Eastern modal music and digital media. The result is an aural color field blending familiar elements that are rarely heard together. More info at resonancefm.com and at subrosa.net. (Also included in the podcast entry is an interview with artist Anahita Rezvani Paraava.)

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Heavy Circuits

The lo-fi electronic musician Jamie Allen talks about hand-crafted circuitry, digital academe, and the beauty of the square wave.

At the gallery and performance space Galapagos in Brooklyn last summer, I was fortunate to catch a show of electronically mediated music, art, installations, and short films. Among the participants was a musician and tinkerer named Jamie Allen whose set-up was a revelation in its simplicity.

His instrument was a wooden wine crate filled with custom-made circuitry and six joystick-like levers. Allen called his tool circuitMusic, and it emitted a throbbing, old-school sound — the sort of sound that’s often called “feedback laden” when in fact it was more like he was exploring the feedback, simultaneously navigating and lending shape to the noise. (There is additional coverage of the event, including photos, in an August 2007 disquiet.com entry.)

The music got more abstract as his set went on, and Allen’s hand-crafted instrument provided a comforting focus throughout. Each of its six joysticks was paired with a single headlight on the front of the box. That trigger system, in a highly economical manner, provided helpful signals to the audience: visual orientation amid the increasingly self-obscuring sounds. In a world of ever more powerful technology, it was downright inspiring to experience the sort of communication that could be accomplished with a simple on-off switch.

It’s no surprise that Allen’s skills in communication in regard to electronics and electronic music are not limited to stage performances. He’s taught classes in such subjects as “Performing Technology,” “New Interfaces for Musical Expression,” and “Sensor Workshop” at New York University and Pratt Institute. And after finishing up an early-2008 residency at Eyebeam in Manhattan (eyebeam.org), he’s relocating to Newcastle, England, to help start a new Masters program in Digital Arts with Atau Tanaka, formerly of Sony Paris. “The Masters,” he explained via email, “will be held in coordination with the Newcastle Culture Lab, headed up by Sally-Jane Norman.” (More info at ncl.ac.uk/culturelab.)

Allen took time recently to talk about the tool he played at Galapagos, the implications of musicians crafting their own instruments, the intersection of academia and the electronic arts, and the politics of 8bit music, among other things.

Marc Weidenbaum: When I saw you perform at Galapagos in Brooklyn last summer, you used one machine for the performance, and it was something you’d designed yourself. I’m very interested in musical instruments created by musicians. Could you describe what it was and how it functioned?

Jamie Allen: The rig you saw is a piece called “circuitMusic.” It’s really very simple — it’s a set of square waves built with raw electronic components, inside an old wine box. I have a few ways of varying resistances in the circuit — photo-resistors, force-sensitive resistors, and regular old potentiometers. Each of the square waves is coupled to a set of very bright light-emitting diode arrays, such that whenever a new oscillator is thrown in, a light comes on. There are six sound elements, and six lights.

I really started this piece out of a frustration with the possibilities for improvisation in electronic music. I wanted something I could get lost in while performing. I wanted something that wasn’t just moving through a set of presets or known “fields” I had created prior to a show; circuitMusic often surprises me, as does the incredibly positive reaction I get to the simple on/off “visualization” it provides the audience.

Weidenbaum: You’ve taught courses related to electronic music at a variety of schools in and around Manhattan. I imagine these schools each has a different take on music and technology, and I was wondering what you’ve learned about different scholarly takes on the field.

Allen: The often surprising thing about music in academia is that the spectrum of motivations is really broad. There are many communities, viewpoints, conferences, styles, and philosophies represented. Coming to accept this as a cultural reality when I first became involved was a bit of a challenge for me, actually. I come out of playing in bands, in bars, etc., primarily for the rawness and fun of it — the blood-and-sweat school of music. So I came to computer electronic music with a kick-ass “let’s fucking do this thing” kind of motivation. I had a real problem accepting any motivation other than those that were a direct reaction to the lack of relevancy I perceived in the computer and experimental music scene. As is often true, I’ve mellowed out a lot, because, as I am now quite fond of saying, “Hell, it’s only music.”

There are scholars who approach technological, musical, and other creative decisions as a kind of scientific “problem” to be “solved.” There are a lot of people out to do a lot of things so they can be “first” at it. There are also far too many music-technology scholars in higher learning who use academia a kind of hustle or dodge, or to bolster a failing “commercial” music career — whatever that means these days. Read more »

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Arno Steinacher Loop MP3

Another fine example of a netlabel issuing a release that consists of a single track, Arno Steinacher‘s Aauuttooppooiieessiis is a half-hour study of contrasts. Its concentric loops of sound, sometimes pastoral and sometimes industrial, bring to mind the hypnotic chamber compositions of Terry Riley, or a more sonorous take on Philip Glass’s automated riffs (MP3). At the website of the releasing netlabel, luvsound.org, Steinacher explains in detail how the work was constructed. He says, in part:

It consists of several loops with two main origins: instruments and machines, which stand for organic versus anorganic matter. The instrumental parts were all produced with electric guitar, the machine parts were for some part recorded in a factory near Vienna in 1999. Some loops run in parallel in many copies, but each copy differs in tempo and starting point. No situation in this work is repeated, every rhythm that emerges is ephemeric and takes place just one time, although it may be very similar to its neighboured ones, before and after. This ephemeric patterns that just arise at some times in this piece were my focus during the composition process.

One of the surprising results for me was that self-recurrence of machine sounds caused a more organic situation than the guitar-loops, which merely seemed to transform their sonic quality.

The result is a piece of music that, as it moves from loop pairing to loop pairing, takes on a narrative quality. A coda of construction noise balances the surprise of its arrival with the mundaneness of the source material. The slow rise of a curlicue guitar line, a refrain familiar from earlier in the piece, brings with it the comfort of returning home.

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Periskop’s Deep Minimal Techno MP3s

Minimal techno is generally dank and subterranean. But Danny Kreutzfeldt‘s Periskop project takes both those virtues and goes deep with them. How deep? Ocean-deep. The tracks at his kreutzfeldt.dustopper.dk/periskop page are exercises in attenuated beats, casually extended reverb, and immersive atmospherics.

As Kreutzfeldt explained to me in an email, “the idea is to make a netrelease in a perpetual beta state with monotonous dub and submarine aesthetics.” The result, as evidenced by the equally blissfully murky first (MP3) and second (MP3) releases this year, is very promising. Also promising is the structure of the project itself — a musical performance played out as a serial of free individual tracks, issued one at a time, each exploring a fairly narrow swath of musical territory, but exploring that swath with vigor and imagination. The format alone is worth celebrating.

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Text-to-Voice Experiment MP3

There’s a website called vozme.com that takes any typed text and transforms it, almost instantly, into a download-able MP3. The site currently works in English, Italian and Spanish. The following link is a recording of this post: MP3. Why it has a slight Irish accent — “reh-KORD-eng” — I don’t know.

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