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.
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Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Drone for Drone Skeptics, Perhaps (MP3)

Drone skepticism is understandable. Drones sound similar to each other, like clouds look similar to each other. To discern one drone from another drone is an exercise to some extent. Perhaps that exercise is as meaningful or as meaningless as is the act of distinguishing clouds, or architectural columns, or hemlines, or glasses of a favorite beverage, or anything else that attracts one’s attention. What distinguishes a drone from those other things — for there is, to anyone who focuses on any one of those other things, or any other such things, something that distinguishes them — is that it is unlikely to draw attention. It doesn’t attract attention, the drone. It rewards attention, perhaps even requires attention.

A drone isn’t a song, not in the traditional sense. Perhaps the drone’s title, along with the brief liner note that occasionally accompanies a drone, is its lyric. Is a sad song about a dead friend the same song without the lyric? Is a drone any less meaningful if it gains meaning from the context the drone’s maker provides for it? Is a drone a song without a lyric, or is it a piece of program music, following a narrative that its audience agrees upon, even though it goes unspoken, unsung.

The Hairy Giant recorded this following drone (MP3):

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The Hairy Giant’s drone is titled “Awake Room,” which appears to relate to the Giant’s impetus, which is described, in part, as follows:

This rather short piece of ambience creates the atmosphere of just waking up early one morning and catching a burst of orange light pouring through your window from the rising sun. Deep in the distance, the familiar sounds of lawnmowers and yard maintenance lull you back to sleep as you ponder the pleasant day that lay ahead.

This drone, indeed, follows that course. It suggests the sun slowly gaining power. It suggests the buzz of domestic labor. It perhaps even employs sonic artifacts of chores in its raw material — sounds recorded in one’s yard and transformed into art back inside one’s house. “Awake Room” is a thick burr of noise, but a slow one, neither uniform nor momentous. It may tell a story. It may encapsulte memories. It may aspire to describe a state of mind. But it is, first and foremost, a drone.

Track originally posted at archive.org. Discography for the Hairy Giant, reportedly based in New Jersey, at discogs.com.

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That Most Minimal of Minimal Technos (MP3)

The four tracks that comprise The Nail House of Yang Wu by the Beige Channel have the thorough muffle of the most minimal of minimal technos. It’s like minimal techno heard through a thick wall, which is saying something since minimal techno at its best, circa the Chain Reaction label’s early work, always sounded like techno heard from several floors below street level, filtered through grime (the substance, not the genre), malaise, and urban substructure. (It’s possible that the name Beige Channel is a nod to the influential Chain Reaction act Basic Channel.) Much of Yang Wu sounds like the raw materials of electronic music, scraps of audio set on loop for reflection and consideration, and as a result for display. The fourth and final track, though, is a proper song, at least by minimal techno standards — it’s a single track of remote dub, resembling a delicate clang resounding amid toxic murk (MP3).

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The album takes its name from an incident in Hong Kong, when the owners of a small house refused to let it be torn down to make way for a larger construction project. The below photo, which accompanies the Beige Channel album, comes from a 2007 article at atimes.com covering the situation. It provides a helpful visual emblem for the music’s aesthetic, in that the excavation exposes the substructure.

More on Beige Channel, aka Michael Farley, at thebeigechannel.com. Tracks originally posted at the stasisfield.com netlabel.

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Sketches of Sound 17: Caesar Meadows

Since April 2010, Disquiet.com has hosted a monthly project called “Sketches of Sound,” in which illustrators, most of them comics artists, are invited to draw a sound-related object. I post the drawing as the background of my Twitter account, twitter.com/disquiet, and then share a bit of information about the illustrator back on Disquiet.com. Call it “curating Twitter.”

The 17th entry features this drawing by Caesar Meadows, a New Orleans cartoonist who has been self-publishing his own comics for the last 20 years. He’s also had his strips published regularly in a couple of free monthly local magazines, Where Y’at and Antigravity, during this past decade. Since 1999, he’s been reformatting the strips as 1″ x 1.25″ micro-comix which he sells in plastic capsule gumball machines around town. “I also enjoy giving out special edition micro-comix to folks I meet on Mardi Gras day as I marvel and meander in costume through the festive crowds,” says Meadows. He’s been part of on-going jam comic drawing collective called “dafa FUNGUS” since 1998. His latest project is “FEAST yer eyes,” an annual New Orleans illustration and comix newspaper anthology that he edits. The second issue was just published this past July.

I became friends with Caesar during the four years I lived in New Orleans (1999-2003), and I’m very happy to see his line drawing on the site. More on him and his art at jigsawjct.com, feastcomic.com, and twitter.com/jigsawjct.

The previous “Sketches of Sound” contributors were, in alphabetical order, Jesse Baggs, Brian Biggs, Leela Corman, Warren Craghead III, Owen Freeman, S.L. Gallant, Brian Hagen, Dylan Horrocks, Megan Kelso, Minty Lewis, Natalia Ludmila, Darko Macan, Justin Orr, Hannes Pasqualini, Thorsten Sideb0ard, and Gustavo Alberto Garcia Vaca.

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Shards of Softness (MP3)

Over at his soundcloud.com/saffronslumber page, the musician who goes by Saffron Slumber put up a track titled “Blind Sower, Reaper.” Slumber is Kevin Stephens of Portland, Oregon, and he traffics in a spare brand of ambient music, one that often has more grit than that of his peers.

One of his Soundcloud listeners, a Boston-based musician named John Ryan, who goes by Would-be Messiahs, made an astute observation about “Blind Sower, Reaper,” and by extension about Stephens’ music in general. On the “Blind Sower, Reaper” track’s page, Ryan posted this comment: “despite the underlying intensity, there’s a wonderful tranquility in the music that is completely at odds with my sounds, which may be why I love your compositions so much… as always, beautiful.” And he’s right. While much ambient music celebrates the ethereal, there’s a tension in Stephens’ — in Saffron Slumber’s — that finds a willfully uneasy truce between placid presentation and rough textures.

An additional thing makes the track tick: the way it regularly changes modes, the way it plays out like a piece of footage spliced together from found pieces. The work may be comprised of softness, but it’s shards of softness, and those shards have hard edges. Each element may be lovely, but the flicker from one to the next lends it a sense of, for lack of a better word, disquiet.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/saffronslumber. More on Slumber/Stephens at embermusic.com and at twitter.com/saffronslumber.

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Past Week at Twitter.com/Disquiet

  • RIP, Jack J. Hayes (b. 1919), longtime screen composer (Virginian), orchestrator (Incredibles), conductor (Taxi Driver) http://t.co/cZYa4jV #
  • Completed The Gate, currently playing OASIS, looking forward to T'Rain. #
  • Heard from @banabila after writing about his vocal cut-up work. Added some information about his process to the post: http://t.co/2IuvlIk #
  • Assuming it's a coincidence there's an Another Earth ad on the @nytimes page with a Budd Hopkins obituary. #
  • Alphas may be the most sound-oriented TV drama this side of Fringe. #
  • Wondering when all the moralizing pundits who blast rap- and rave-associated violence will start slamming professional sports. #
  • Parsing 2000-plus emails accumulated during my two-week break. Fighting impulse for another PR-corrective tweet. #
  • Read more »
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