The intrepid Frenchman Yannick Dauby‘s frog recordings are the subject of a recent episode of the Frameworks podcast, dated April 11 of this year. The warm, kitten-like purrs of frog calls are interspersed with spoken descriptions of the experiences of the sound-hunters who tracked down the frogs — amid, from all appearances, thunder, lightning, rain, and no small amount of hiking.
The recordings aren’t all raw field recordings, though. They’re mixed in with electronic compositions built from the frogsong: remixes of nature that build on the rhythms and tones inherent in the otherwise uninterpretable frog conversations (MP3).
The above drawing is by Wan-Shuen Tsai (蔡宛璇). It is part of a recent CD, Songs of the Frogs of Taiwan — Vol. 1, that Dauby released; the booklet is viewable, in full, at calameo.com. Image below from Dauby’s online photo gallery:
This podcast segment was produced by Dauby with Marc and Olivier Namblard. For more on Dauby’s activities, visit kalerne.net, where the photo gallery is housed. More details at archive.org and murmerings.com.
This is an older piece by Thomas Park, who under the name Mystified has recorded a large amount of music, some of which has been featured on Disquiet.com in the past. “Mutescape,” as the piece is titled, dates from February 2006, and it came to my attention as I looked into “acoustemology,” the reduction of “acoustic epistemology” that served as a conceptional framework for the article on the soundscapes of New Orleans by Matt Sakakeeny, featured here this past weekend (disquiet.com). That research led me to the website of Steve Bradley, Associate Professor in the department of Visual Arts of University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who employs student soundwalks as a core part of his pedagogy. (It was Bradley’s website, at umbc.edu, that led me to a concise definition of “acoustemology” by Steven Feld, the man who coined the word, in an interview conducted by Carlos Palombini.)
All of which is to say, Park’s “Mutescape” is a softened urban soundscape — it’s less a soundwalk than it is a midday soundsleepwalk, all the activity of modern city living, with the rough edges smoothed off, and the dynamics reduced until what had been cacophonous has become mellifluous (MP3). If “acoustemology” is a sonic means to know a given place (the way specific sounds and qualities of sound combine to a place-specific sonic gestalt), then “Mutescape” is a kind of artistically applied acoustemology.
Writes Park of the process that led to the piece’s composition:
As I live on a very busy streetcorner, and love the sounds of music and silence, I have wondered from time to time if it would be possible to take the world around me and to ask it to be a little more quiet. Could I mute the street traffic, the dogs barking, and the folks out waiting for the bus?
In “Mutescape”, I took a single field recording of my neighborhood, over 33 minutes long, and subjected it to a series of compressions, eq shifts and effects. My goal was to replace my surroundings with a quieter, dronier version of themselves– perhaps as a sleep aid, a relaxant, or just as an object of interest.
The result, I think, works– the filters and effects emphasize the tonal quality of my sonic environment, and there is a pleasing consistency to the piece. I hope you agree!
“Drone” is not the correct term for the work of Zimoun, the Bern, Switzerland-based artist and musician. But if his rough noises don’t count as drones, what are they?
Zimoun’s primary instruments are entirely of his own making, each a large-scale installation of small mechanical devices — tables lined with whipping little bits of tubing, small sets of fetishistically situated mini-motors. They are architecturally precise and their beauty is forged by that precision. They are achievements in minimalism that share an aesthetic realm with the stark paintings of Robert Ryman, the digital chiaroscuro of Carsten Nicolai, the imposing structures of the architectural firm Morphosis. Exertion in the cause of simplicity: maximum effort for minimal(ist) impact.
The meticulous engineering of Zimoun’s work is a set-up — not an end unto itself, but a staged step toward its end result, an orderly step enacted so as to let chaos flourish. His chaos takes place in close settings, in carefully defined spaces, in systems as thoroughly considered as a laboratory experiment. And the sound emited by them is not an after effect, or an afterthought. It’s a core principal of his practice.
Shown here are three such motion sculptures, captured in short-form video. They’re beautiful to watch, and to listen to.
The recent “97 polysiloxane hoses 3.0mm, compressed air” (2010), shown up top, looks like a gaseous emission from afar, and sounds like steady, insistent rain (vimeo.com).
Softly creaking plastic being ruffled is what “30′000 plastic bags, 16 ventilators” (2010) sounds like, but the simutaneous action across so much surface area ultimately lends it a feel along the lines of some kind of coarse cloud (vimeo.com):
And as for “5 prepared dc-motors on different materials” (2009), the rattling is the result of the motors purposefully being not fully secured, allowing for jittery, uneven motion (vimeo.com):
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Zimoun’s work, especially the recent “97 polysiloxane hoses 3.0mm,” must strike fear in the hearts of those who stay up late contemplating the potential ill side effects of nanotechnology. To watch those myriad plastic ribbons flail is to see no discernible pattern; it is to witness something approaching true randomness — which to say something if not “lifelike,” let along sentient, then surely at least in some way “natural.” The effect is far more realistic than any CGI ocean waves or smoke fumes that I have ever seen in a movie. And if a bunch of tubes from the local hardware store can do this, then what would infinitesimally small particles be capable of?
The word for this wildly variegated effect is “texture.” That is what Zimoun achieves in his work, especially in his work with sound. You could label them “drones,” given their emphasis on monotony and uniformity, but they’re really something else entirely, a sound art that aspires to the state of static.
Here’s a previous Zimoun-focused entry, with still images: disquiet.com. And here’s an interview with Buddha Machine creators FM3, from back in 2005, in which they talk about Zimoun, with whom they collaborated on the album Live 19.06.2004 (Leerraum): disquiet.com.
The looping of musical segments that we take for granted today has many pre-digital precursors, key among them King Crimson founder Robert Fripp, whose homebrew Frippertonics instrument allowed him (and his listeners) to revel in the steady accrual, and dissolution, of layers of recorded sound.
The work Fripp did with that analog, tape-based tool, beginning in the 1970s, is almost entirely associated with the electric guitar. He’d use various techniques to limit the guitar’s attack — the pluck of a string or the strum of a chord — and thus let the guitar tone alone fill the recording, but it was nonetheless the guitar, his primary instrument, emitting the sound. After doing so, he’d then wail virtuosically atop the bed of ambient sound, but there was nothing any less virtuosic — only less showy — about the manner in which he layered those initial “background” pieces.
Up recently at the Fripp website, dgmlive.com, is a recording in which Fripp applies the looping to what is, reportedly, a Roland keyboard (MP3). It provides an opportunity to hear the tape loop in a different setting than usual — same sing-song effect, same harmonious sway, but different tonal flavor:
Here’s a diagram of how Frippertronics functions:
Writes Alex Mundy, a dgmlive.com archivist, of the Roland track:
Found amidst a clutch of unmarked cassettes by the intrepid Mister Stormy, here we have Robert with his trusty Roland keyboard trying out some ideas. Although there’s no indication of a date or location here, what we can be sure of is that the chords and lines being deployed occupy the same luscious melodic richness as the gorgeous title track of Evening Star. Can’t you just hear a yearning guitar solo going over the top of this?
The entry puts the date at January 1, 1980, but Mundy’s note says there’s no certainty regarding when it was taped. The track is currently available for free download, but these free downloads are teasers for the site (“hot tickles” is the dgmlive.com term), after which they go behind a registration firewall. For future reference, here is the file’s permanent URL: dgmlive.com.
The above image is from Erik Tamm’s book Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound (Da Capo Press, 1995), via an essay by Rob Doyle at brunel.ac.uk.
This is what Eyjafjallajökull, the fierce volcano that erupted in Iceland and grounded planes around the world, might have sounded like on a good day (MP3):
That’s not a recording of Eyjafjallajökull itself, but of a different volcano, on Mount Yasur on Tanna Island in Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean, made by sound artist Andreas Bick. Bick writes about his experience on the lip of the volcano as follows:
I had the chance to go to the rim of the volcano for three nights and to stay longer then the tourist crowds who would have spoiled the recordings with their “aahs” and “oohs”. Suffice to say that it was a bone-chilling and mesmerizing experience which is not really carried along with this uncompressed and raw sound recording if heard at normal level – so please turn up the volume for a bigger effect (and imgine the smell of sulfer crawling up your nose)…
During my stay on the island, Mt. Yasur was on a low activity level – the breathing of the volcano almost feels peaceful, like a hyperventilating giant with occasional sighs and coughs.
The recording is a mix of rough wind and occasional eruptions that sound like hard breezes hitting large sheets of plastic, or cold waves breaking against a concrete shoreline.
• May 13, 2015: Last spring-semester class meeting of the 15-week course that I teach on the role of sound in the media landscape at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I'll next teach it in spring 2016.
• December 13, 2015: The 19th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• Ongoing: The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: soundcloud.com.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.