February 13, 2014, is the official release date for my 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin's 1994 album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

Monthly Archives: December 2009

Past Week at Twitter.com/Disquiet

  • I'm not a list-maker by nature, but there's something satisfyingly reflective about summarizing your favorite music of the past year. #
  • Morning listening: Steve Reid and Four Tet live via Red Bull Music Academy: http://is.gd/5yXmE #
  • Watching Avatar was like playing Metal Slug inside one of Roger Dean's album covers for Yes. #
  • Just noticed during The Education that the movie-soundtrack arm of Universal has an inspired URL: themusicfrom.com. #
  • Not only are hummingbirds loud, they click like Geiger counters. #
  • Headed to Unsilent Night at Dolores Park in San Francisco. I'll say this for MP3s: my iPod + speaker setup is a lot lighter than a boombox. #
[ / Leave a comment ]

Quote of the Week: The Annotation of Sampling

From Primus Luta‘s site, avanturb.com, the opening graphs of his thinking on sampling:

Within a western music theory context, the transcription of music is one of the first steps to analyzing a form relative to the history of music. Once the form has been transcribed it can be dragged through the theoretical ringer required for validation as a ‘serious music’. While the practicality of this is debatable, especially when it comes to simply listening to the music, for better or for worse it is a standard that has been upheld for centuries now. Where forms do not conform to this standard, they can easily be dismissed. Such is the case for sample based hip-hop, which has not only been dismissed, but for many is not even considered musical. This classification has contributed to sampling being delegated to the legal realm where very little musical consideration is taken into account in rulings. But what if you could notate sampling? That was one of the questions I sought to answer through the Heads project. It was my belief that if there were a means of notating samples one could distinguish the musical contribution of the sampling artist from the sampled artist and as such determine a more equitable way of dealing with samples for both parties.

That’s just the start of a lengthy treatise on sampling, based in large part on Luta’s ongoing experiments in making music on the Monome. More on his Heads Project in an earlier post (at avanturb.com).

[ Tags: , / Leave a comment ]

Best of 2009: 10 Commercial Ambient/Electronic Albums

Each year, around this time, I post a look back at the music released in the previous 12 months. And each year, I go on in some way about the absurdity and futility of such an effort, but it’s still something I continue to do, so rather than open with a sense of false disparagement, I’m just going to dive right into the lists.

Part 1/3: These are, to my ears, the 10 best commercial full-length recordings of 2009. They appear here in alphabetical order, as an iPod might list them.

I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence that so many of the albums listed this year have chamber-music instrumentation at their heart (Ensemble Modern having submitted to the collective will of Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto, not to mention albums focused on the violin of Darwinsbitch and cello of Hildur Gudnadóttir), as well as other examples of formal traditional conceptions of musicianship (Jon Hassell’s trumpet, the alt-country kits of Scott Tuma and Mike Weis, the occasional guitar in Chihei Hatakeyama’s work). In fact, of the 10 albums singled out here, only 4 are electronic in the purist’s sense: the ambient techno of Tim Hecker, the longform sound oddity that is the Village Orchestra’s Highpoint Lowlife release, the disintegrating tonal structures of William Basinski, and Hatakeyama’s melody-teasing ambience. Sitting halfway between those two groups is Oh No’s album, Dr. No’s Ethiopium, which was built on traditional instruments, albeit as samples (the studio from materials recorded by pop and rock bands in Ethiopia in the 1960s and 1970s).

1. Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto
UTP
(Raster-Noton)
To hear Alva Noto (aka Carsten Nicolai, alvanoto.com) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (sitesakamoto.com) collaborate is to hear two extreme temperaments tempered: Noto’s mechanical precision given warmth, Sakamoto’s often lush romanticism reduced to its blueprint. Noto is an ultra-minimalist member of the Raster-Noton record label’s roster; he’s a musician with a penchant for white noise and stark, even whiter spaces. Sakamoto is the Japanese electronica legend, veteran of Yellow Magic Orchestra and composer of the scores to numerous films, among them Tony Takitani and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Together they went to work on the sounds of the classical group Ensemble Modern, an effort captured on UTP
, which combines CD and longform DVD.

2. Chihei Hatakeyama
Saunter
(Room40)
Chihei Hatakeyama (chihei.org) makes what at some point might be called classical electronica — music made from wisps of sound, occasionally including richly emotive if compositionally elegant melodic materials, sometimes filtering those materials with an ear toward the way simple glitches can reveal hidden sounds in familiar sources — and then, sometimes, he just revels in drones for their own sake, in these deep tones that emerge like organic creatures slowly stirring to life.

3. Darwinsbitch
Ore
(Digitalis)
Darwinsbitch is Marielle V. Jakobsons (myspace.com/darwinsbitch, mariplasma.com): violinist and sound-mangler. As heard on Ore, this means slow, drawn-out drones that over time give way to folk-like plucking; and ever so mournful sawing through soft fields of tone; as well as ever-thickening loops that never show their seams; and, to top it all off, dirges that achieve an almost monastic gravitas.

4. Hildur Gudnadóttir
Without Sinking
(Touch)
More often heard in collaboration (with Múm, Throbbing Gristle, and Pan Sonic, among others), cellist Hildur Gudnadóttir (hildurness.com) here oversees 10 interrelated chamber compositions — all in a funereal mode, the layering and sonic processing never overshadowing the conventional timbres of the instrumentation. Participants include Skúli Sverrisson (bass, processors), Jóhann Jóhannsson (organs,processors), and Guðni Franzson (clarinet, bass clarinet).

5. Jon Hassell
ECM
(2062)
The electronically mediated trumpeter Jon Hassell (jonhassell.com), who long ago foresaw the melding of third-world source material and next-world technology, returns with his best album in years — on first listen, the depth of the ensemble playing is entrancing to the point of distraction, but in time the forest gives way to the trees, to the little fissure-like moments, a fairly sizable array of grace notes, that decorate the album, little computer glitches, sprightly sparks, and momentary dubby echoes that decorate the groove-less grooves.

6. Oh No
Dr. No’s Ethiopium
(Stones Throw)
There was a lot of talk this year about whether or not rap is dead. Rap may be, but hip-hop sure isn’t — there’s more great beatmaking than ever, and more of it than ever is seeping into the avant-garde. Oh No (aka Californian native Michael Jackson, brother of producer Madlib myspace.com/ohnodisrupt) has, for Dr. No’s Ethiopoum, used hip-hop as the blender into which he’s thrown numerous samples of Ethiopian pop music from the 1960s and 1970s. Hip-hop is the foundation here for sometimes giddily slapdash and sometimes chin-strokingly detail-minded investigations of the grooves of an earlier generation. The album was also the source of an unexpected and pleasant surprise this year: it was made available as a digital download in advance of the CD’s release, and when the CD was finally put out, the album had mysteriously doubled in size, to 36 tracks from an initial 18.

7. Scott Tuma and Mike Weis
Taradiddle
(Digitalis)
There’s an alternate universe, somewhere — one in which the proto-alt-country band Souled American was Nirvana, and Scott Tuma (mindspring.com), one of the group’s guitarists, its equivalent of Dave Grohl, the figure who eventually went his own musical way and struck gold over and over and over. In our universe, Souled American pops up occasionally as a name-check by Jonathan Lethem (as in Chronic City, his recent novel about alternate cultural universes), and Tuma creates small, fragile works of abstracted Americana, sometimes under his own name, sometimes as a member of the Boxhead Ensemble. Taradiddle, recorded in collaboration with Mike Weis (of the group Zelienople, myspace.com/zelienople), was initially released as limited edition vinyl, but is now available as a download from various services, including boomkat.com.

8. Tim Hecker
An Imaginary Country
(Kranky)
Even as field recordings, copyleft sampling, classical instrumentation, and handcrafted instrumentation come to comprise much of electronic music, there’s still plenty of raw synthesis put to the use of pop-minded producers out there. Case in point the almost absurdly beautiful An Imaginary Country by Tim Hecker (sunblind.net). Its lush ambience strives for rave-like proportions. Not everything here is maximalist static; there’s also plenty of squelchy downtempo (“Pond Life”) and bereft 21st-centry choral music (“Utropics”).

9. The Village Orchestra
I Can Hear the Sirens Singing Again
(Highpoint Lowlife)
Between Jim O’Rourke’s nearly 40-minute The Visitor (a pop melange that may be the best album Jon Brion never recorded) and this album by the Village Orchestra (aka Ruaridh Law, myspace.com/thevillageorchestra), clocking in at nearly an hour, it’s quite likely that the single-track album is the next rich territory due for musical development — perhaps the next stage of the maturation of the concept album: a collection of scenes (here ranging from zygote dubstep, to arcade techno, to nanoscale field recordings), all sewn into one journey-like whole. If anything’s going to do battle with the attention-deficit-disorder inherent in an MP3 world, it’s unbroken full-length recordings that entice (rather than challenge) you to listen straight through.

10. William Basinksi
92982
(2062)
Slow, lulling ambient pieces by William Basinski (myspace.com/williambasinski), music with the elegant curve of a simple sine wave, the patience of a saint, and the sonic depth of an orchestral arrangement. Ever since the emergence of his Disintegration Loops, he’s become something akin to the Gerhard Richter of contemporary music — creating works that are just out-of-focus enough to compel you to focus on them all the more.

 

The Disquiet.com “Best of 2009″ was published as three separate lists. The other two parts are:

Part 2/3: Best of 2009: Free “Netreleases”

Part 3/3: Best of 2009: iPhone/iPod Touch Music/Sound Apps

[ Tags: , , , , , / Comments: 5 ]

Best of 2009: 10 Free “Netreleases”

Part 2/3: These are, to my ears, the 10 best music releases of 2009 posted to the Internet by musicians with the full expectation that listeners would download them for free:

As I’ve done for the past few years, I am singling out 10 free, legal downloads as my favorites. These are all selected from the 245 entries posted on Disquiet.com in its Downstream department during 2009 (up from around 220 in 2008, and out of a total of about 470-plus posts for the year).

To constrain the field, to make it knowable, this list is limited to recordings that are “of the web.” The following were not considered for inclusion: individual promotional tracks (and excerpts) posted from existing or forthcoming commercial albums (special “mixes” were considered for inclusion, as were situations in which entire commercial albums were made available for free download, as in “choose your price” scenarios in which zero is an accepted amount), downloads that were placed online for a stated limited period of time (like Monolake’s generous “download of the month” series at monolake.de), audio that is streaming-only (such as the ever-growing Other Minds catalog at archive.org), and dated archival material (work that would be considered a “reissue” in the commercial world, such as the majority of what is housed at ubu.com). Also not considered for inclusion were tracks whose links have subsequently gone offline. (An intelligent case has been made that there is no such thing as “streaming” — that all audio is downloaded, in that it is at some point resident on your computer. However, for the purposes of this list, the focus is music that is fully intended to be downloaded.)

All of which is to say, everything on this list is of recent vintage and is available to download, for free, right now.

I may have to reconsider in years to come, but not excluded from consideration were podcasts of original recordings that were first heard on radio broadcast; between the Phoning It In (phoningitin.net) series and the whole resonancefm.com service, just to name two examples, there’s too much fascinating music out there originating on the supposedly dying medium of radio — something special is happening at the overlap of FM and Internet.

Click through to each original Downstream entry for more information, and to the release’s source to get the tracks. These 10 are listed here in the chronological order in which they appeared on Disquiet.com. Given the fluid nature of publication, attribution, and collation on the Internet, I cannot be certain that these audio files first appeared online in 2009, but many if not all of them did. And if some of them are older than that, at least this mention might gain them a new audience.

1. New Old School Hip-Hop: Nineteen tasty tracks built from snatches of melodrama and semi-forgotten pop make up For Corners, from San Antonio, Texas-based Diego Bernal (myspace.com/diegobernalmusic). This is truly old-school hip-hop, with loops shorter than a goldfish’s memory, and beats as taut as a piano wire. Much of it is crowd-pleasing party music, like the reconstituted disco of “Velcro Flow” and the cop-show braggadocio of “Bring It On Home.” But there’s plenty of subtlety here, like the swelling soul of “Fat Sal,” which brings to mind Luke Vibert’s Throbbing Pouch (recorded as Wagon Christ), and the ’80s b-boy celebration that is “MC Rakim Cool Kane and the DJ Furious Boyz Crew,” the title for which suggests much of the source material.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Downstream: February 16, 2009 Full release: antipop.net

2. Bell, Bowl, and Mixer: The Touch Radio podcast took a break from its pure field-recording mode for a proper live performance, and what a performance it is. Recorded last December at the National Pantheon in Lisbon, Portugal, “Book of Hours” captures the intensely dense waves of sound resulting from a combination of bells, bowls, and glasses rung and struck, echoing in the depths of the Pantheon’s massive dome, and further expanded courtesy of what Touch describes as “space multi-channel diffusion and real-time processing.” The performers are Paulo Raposo on said processing, Carlos Santos on “glass and bell,” and João Silva on “crystal bowl.”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Downstream: February 24, 2009 Full release: touchradio.org.uk

3. Serial Music — Serial as in Collaboration: The sound project Relay is neither a game of telephone nor a round of Exquisite Corpse, but it shares with both those formats a mode that emphasizes sequential sharing between individuals that leads to a kind of serial collaboration. Relay begins with an MP3 file, five and a half minutes in length, created by the act Chequerboard. Chequerboard, aka the Irish musician John Lambert (chequerboard.com), then passed the file to a subsequent musician, who in theory and practice took ideas and sounds from the previous work and made a new work out of them. That subsequent piece is then sent on to yet another musician, and so on. All the entries in Relay benefit from detailed explanatory notes written by the individual who created the music. Lambert’s gambit, his piece that got the process rolling, is an imagined tour of a gallery space. His footsteps mark the path, while individual sounds — sampled separately from around the gallery — are dropped in, and slowly a musical passage enters, making the work less of a documentary, and more of a melodic musique-concrete. Subsequent participants include Jimmy Behan, Locsil, Hulk, Polly Fibre, Pierre Bastien, Bibio, and Sunken Foal.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Downstream: March 30, 2009 Full release: modelart.ie/relay

4. String Quartet for Four Turntables: Raz Mesinai’s technologically mediated chamber music work “String Quartet for Four Turntables” is a shifting, elegiac piece that plays with the textures and tenets of classical music. The instrumentation is the standard: two violins, one viola, one cello. But if the individual parts appear to have a subtle yet clearly discernible give, that’s because the performers are not playing in tandem, at least not literally. Mesinai composed the quartet and recorded it, but he produced a separate 12″ LP for each of the four parts, and then manipulated them as a group on a set of turntables.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Downstream: June 30, 2009 Full release: razmesinai.blogspot.com

5. Truly Gloomy Sunday: When Alan Morse Davies slows down pre-existing music, he finds entirely new music buried in the original. His version of the standard “Gloomy Sunday” takes an already downbeat affair, and then turns it into something worthy of a silent movie’s score — the very intersection of melodrama and expressionism. Most of the elements here are recognizable yet transformed, the strings a miasma of dread, the backing vocals a suffocating threat, the lead vocal something Gothic and right out of Bauhaus. The original was reportedly the version by Paul Whiteman with Johnny Hauser, from 1936.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Downstream: July 10, 2009 Full release: alanmorsedavies.wordpress.com

6. Percussive Drones: Six drones comprise Glenn Ryszko‘s album Machine (on the Resting Bell netlabel), but they’re only drones in a very general sense. There is texture, percussion, and even form — yes, form, the seeming antithesis of drone-craft — inherent in these works. Take the fourth track (“Machine 004″ — that’s how they’re all titled, just the number changing, like pieces moving off an assembly line), for example: There’s a lazy sway to its thick warble; it moves like a sine wave doubling as a kid’s swing set on a hot summer day. But this drone, even at just under three minutes, doesn’t merely stick to that. In time, a higher-pitched tone enters, like a distant prayer bell — and the piece’s fadeout is so slow, that it’s not merely a matter of closure; it’s akin to narrative, as each constituent sound slowly disappears.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Downstream: July 13, 2009 Full release: restingbell.net.com

7. Beats at the Exhibition: Long-running Disquiet.com favorite WHY?Arcka (aka Philadelphia-based Shawn Kelly) has been uploading a beat a week over at his arckatron.bandcamp.com base of operations. It’s all part of his Exhibits A – Z project, which as of this writing has hit R. His foundation is hip-hop, but there’s an emphasis on atmosphere on some of the tracks suggests an abstract take on contemporary r&b. Listening to a great WHY?Arcka beat is like watching an expert dealer move cards around a table — he plays your senses against your expectations, with a seeming effortlessness that never fails to yield surprise.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Downstream: July 24, 2009 Downstream: September 1, 2009 Downstream: September 29, 2009 Downstream: November 10, 2009 Full release: arckatron.bandcamp.com

8. Down Under the Tube Station After Midnight: How many field-recording enthusiasts does it take to get a cello through a London manhole? Who cares? What’s important is that they succeeded. The “they” in question was shepherded by radio producer Bruno Rinvolucri, whose Tunnel Vision series from resonancefm.com offered up an ongoing tour of London’s literal underworld this year. For the September 15 edition, he was joined by percussionist Gabriel Humberstone and cellist Ute Kanngiesser. For another, he traveled with guitarist Sammie Joplin. Each episode mixes conversation and documentary recording to evocative effect.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Downstream: August 3, 2009 Downstream: September 21, 2009 Full releases: resonancefm.com

9. Haunting Liz Harris (Grouper) Live: The Phoning It In podcast show, based at KDVS FM in Davis, California (where I had a radio show many years ago), takes a live performance and flows it through one of the great lofi filters of our time: an ordinary phone line. An August set by Liz Harris (aka Grouper) moves steadily from feedback-laden irritants through soft elementary minimalism to its true sweet spot, a rough-hewn, moody shoegazer pop, thick with distorted chamber arrangements and haunting vocals

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Downstream: August 25, 2009 Full release: phoningitin.net

10. Cranking Up the Bone Machine: The sounds on D’incise’s Cendre et Poudre are as precise and brittle as his explanatory note is poetic and image-laden. The record sounds like a version of that hardscrabble aesthetic once described as “bone machine” music by Tom Waits. It’s all rusty metal and clanging springs and bouncing objects and other slowly shuffled ephemera, all fixed in a soundfield against a backdrop of noise, the noise of the lightly brushed surface of a microphone. Among the highlights is the opening track, “Achever la Page à Tourner” (roughly “Complete Page to Turn”). Throughout there is the sense of digital processing, but it is no more in the foreground than that surface noise; it’s merely the equivalent of a digital breeze rattling D’incise’s chimes.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Downstream: December 23, 2009 Full release: antisocial.be

 

The Disquiet.com “Best of 2009″ was published as three separate lists. The other two parts are:

Part 1: Best of 2009: Commercial Ambient/Electronic Albums

Part 3: Best of 2009: iPhone/iPod Touch Music/Sound Apps

[ Tags: , , , / Leave a comment ]

Best of 2009: 10 iPhone/iPod Touch Music/Sound Apps

Part 3/3: These are — to my ears, eyes, and fingers — the 10 best iPhone/iPod Touch apps of 2009 for sound and music manipulation.

This is a new category for Disquiet.com, and likely a short-lived one. Not because the iPod (or, for that matter, the iPhone or iPod Touch, the latter of which is currently my primary MP3 player) is going away any time soon, but because the landscape is likely to get rangier in the very near future — as the Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Palm OS, and various Nokia operating systems come into their own, or at least struggle to. In the meanwhile, the iPhone/Touch has by far the best marketplace for music/sound-based applications, and to play with the best such apps on the iPod is to only get a sense of, a glimpse of, what these tools will evolve into in the years to come — especially if all these rumors of an Apple tablet result in something real. (I’ve spent a lot of time playing with music software such as Ableton Live on my small Fujitsu tablet PC running Microsoft Windows 7, and let me tell you it’s a great experience — you entirely forget you have a laptop in your hands, and the screen interface simply “becomes” the device.)

As for this list below, with one exception I left out apps that don’t make innovative or extensive use of the touch interface (or other aspects of the iPod as a gadget), and (again, with the same exception) I left out apps that are, in truth, just ports of software that’s existed on other platforms previously (hence the paucity of beatmakers and synths below).

In the case of all of the entries below that work on pre-existing audio source material (most notably Touch DJ), they would all be significantly improved if Apple’s iPod family of devices allowed for (1) easier drag-and-drop adding of music to the gadgets and (2) easy access by third-party software developers to the music held in the iTunes library.

Here they are in roughly alphabetical order:

Though some of these were first released in 2008, all saw at least one update in 2009:

1. RjDj (version 0.9.4: apple.com, appspot.com): You’ll note that RjDj is out of alphabetic order with the rest of the entries here. That’s because RjDj is far and away the most extraordinary sound application made for the iPod. It’s also a little hard to describe, because it is so new (sort of how RSS feeds and Tivo were once difficult to describe, and yet eventually became new norms of how we process information). RjDj isn’t software so much as an engine for software — numerous “scenes” have been programmed that are then played within RjDj. Those scenes allow the listener to then listen to generative and reactive music, the best of which actually process the sounds around you in real time. For all the dozens of RjDj scenes with which I’ve experimented (some free, some at a minor expense), my favorite remains one of the free ones that comes with RjDj, called Echolon. In Echolon, every sound that your mic picks up is then echoed around you — left, right, top of head, over and over, as it slowly fades in volume. The experience is exhilarating. There are weeks when almost all of my iPod use is simply playing RjDj, and much of that time is spent in Echolon. William Gibson once wrote, “The Walkman changed the way we understand cities”; well, RjDj has literally changed the way that I walk through the city — I walk toward potential sound sources, such as street musicians and construction sites, on a regular basis (and in a manner that is increasingly subconscious).

2. Bebot (version 1.5: apple.com, appspot.com): Bebot is a cute little multi-touch synth that has found use in live performance by numerous laptop-wielding musicians. In its simplicity, it bears a certain resemblance to near-phenomena, such as Leaf Trombone and Ocarina, both of which have introduced casual (casual perhaps to the point of rote) music-making to a broad audience, and is a strong suggestion that super-simple individualized instruments have a future in a music-tool marketplace increasingly defined by feature-packed apps.

3. Bloom (version 2.01: apple.com, appspot.com) and (jumping ahead alphabetically for the moment) 4. Trope (version 1.0.1: apple.com, appspot.com): Bloom and Trope are two apps developed by ambient godfather Brian Eno and his development partner Peter Chilvers. They’re generative apps that emit ambient tones based on some touch input and scene-setting decision-making on the part of the listener. They’re best thought of less as music applications unto themselves than as Brian Eno music albums released in a manner that allows for some user participation.

5. DopplerPad (version 1.6: apple.com, appspot.com): This is a somewhat complex but highly rewarding loop-based music maker that includes the ability to employ in your performances samples recorded with the iPod, and it involves excellent touch controls.

6. Gliss (version 1.0: apple.com, appspot.com): Gliss is a brand new, and very simple, gestural music-maker. It was released on December 23, and I was immediately taken by its use of drawing on the screen (in addition to the tilt function) to manipulate sound.

7. JR Hexatone (version 1.1: apple.com, appspot.com): A highly original implementation of a beat-oriented music-maker, with an interface so packed with iconographic tools and settings that it’s just dying to be ported to tablet form. (This app makes an interesting study in contrast with the two Brian Eno apps listed above. All three were developed by musicians associated with prog rock — JR Hexatone with Jordan Rudess of the band Dream Theater, whose music I have never enjoyed, but this app is engrossing.)

8. SoundGrid (version 2.0: apple.com, appspot.com): There are a lot of grid-based casual music-making tools on iTunes. It’s quite likely that I haven’t tried them all, but of the ones that I have, SoundGrid is the best — the best internal sounds, the best mix of effects, the best use of touch gestures, and the best approach to multiphonic voicing.

9. SunVox (version 1.4.5: apple.com, appspot.com): On the face of it, SunVox shouldn’t really be on this list. It’s a very complex synthesizer that doesn’t make much of the iPod’s touch interface. However, that complexity comes with purpose — SunVox is fully functional (and while I try not to take price into consideration, it’s also a quarter the price of vaguely similar offerings in the iPhone store, and that’s hard to ignore). And the utilitarian interface also has a purpose: the software’s creator is making SunVox available on numerous OSs, including Windows, Linux, Windows Mobile, and PalmOS — and thus it also deserves extra points for not treating the iTunes Music Store as a walled kingdom.

10. Touch DJ (version 1.0: apple.com, appspot.com): Touch DJ is one of many tools for the iPod that emulate the experience of working two sounds together, whether those sounds were sourced on vinyl or on CD or as digital files. What distinguishes it from the iTunes Music Store competition isn’t just that it’s fully functional (a lot of scratch apps on the iPod are little more than vinyl-emulating sound-effects generators, and a lot of the DJ apps are bare-bones implementations with little sign of intended improvement). What distinguishes it is how it uses visual cues as part of the DJing process — spikes in the sound waves of samples signal that a beat is occurring. (A close second in this DJ caterory is Sonorasaurus, which I’m looking forward to watching develop.)

 

The Disquiet.com “Best of 2009″ was published as three separate lists. The other two parts are:

Part 1: Best of 2009: Commercial Ambient/Electronic Albums

Part 2: Best of 2009: Free “Netreleases”

[ Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , / Comments: 7 ]