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.

Instagr/am/bient: After Party

This space will be used to occasionally collect information about Instagr/am/bient: 25 Sonic Postcards, following its launch at 6:03pm Pacific Time on Wednesday, December 28. Within 48 hours, it had been listened to over 4,000 times on soundcloud.com and downloaded over 500 times at archive.org.

Coverage:

Peggy Nelson at hilobrow.com wrote a considered, thoughtful piece about the project on the last day of the year. It opens:

Imagine receiving a postcard in the mail. Ok, back up: remember the mail? Remember postcards? Right, now imagine them. On one side, an image: a faraway place, an iconic sign, people smiling, a sunset. Perhaps someone has even scribbled on it, adding their own moustaches, thought bubbles, or other postal graffiti. “Having a wonderful time,” it inevitably says, “wish you were here.” Or, does it? Turning it over, ostensibly to read, you find instead that it — sings.

¶ Boing Boing’s David Pescovitz at called it a “lovely collection”: boingboing.net. One of the commenters correctly guessed the subject of the cover photo. Another compared a track to the music from this video game: visitproteus.com.

¶ One of the more unexpected outcomes of the Instagr/am/bient project: being listed as an example of what Soundcloud.com is all about in coverage of the company’s new round of venture-capital funding: readwriteweb.com

¶ The mothership, instagram.com, mentioned it under “Around the Community” in its The Week in Instagram section.

¶ Over at coveringterrain.wordpress.com, the project is described by Jim Gerlach in a context alongside the Seattle Art Museum’s Record Store listening room (seattleartmuseum.org) and Stelios Manousakis’ network-art exhibit at the Jack Straw Media Gallery (jackstraw.org).

¶ Now this is crowd sourcing: A listener named Jon Dowland made a revised version of the archive.org edition of Instagr/am/bient to upgrade the quality of the embedded images: archive.org. Update: more on his process at his site, jmtd.net.

¶ Among the places the project has also been discussed, leaving aside numerous passing mentions on Twitter and elsewhere: at synthtopia.com (on its facebook.com page, Synthtopia called it a “must download”), at the message boards of elektron-users.com, at hubski.com (where the idea of adding lyrics was talked about), and at freemusicarchive.org.

Posts by Participants:

Linda Aubry Bullock, at shadowselves.net, writes of her contributions to the compilation:

‘My Instagram was used for Track 12; the music, “Some Found Things”, is by Warren Craghead III. My track is #21, called “Near Cedar”. The photograph was taken by Christopher Bissonnette. My Instagram was taken in early 2011 in Jamaica Plain, MA at a service station late one evening. The piece that I composed for “Near Cedar” was a recording of traffic (as I waited near Cedar Street) combined with a processed vocal track. I imagined the lighter patterns at the center of the photograph as periods in time, and in the composition they’re the repetition of the door chime of the bus. The vocal track in the background was inspired by the dark areas of the photo. In another track I filtered the sound of the bus brakes, which corresponds to the horizontal white area at the top of the image. I recorded the traffic and bus using the iProRecorder app on my iPhone, and the voice element consisted of several heavily processed tracks, using VoiceLive Touch. I used Audacity for the final mix.’

Warren Craghead III wrote at craghead.tumblr.com:

I was sneaky and turned in a manipulated drawing, not a photo, but since this is mostly what I post in instagram it made sense. My drawing is from a photo I saw online of a battle in Libya earlier this year. … Christopher Bissonette made a wonderful sound piece for it (listen here). I got a great and evocative image from Linda Aubrey Bullock to make my sound piece from. … I’m not a musician but I have become fascinated with field recordings and manipulated sound over the part few years. … I’ve especially liked, and drawn from, the work of Aaron Ximm aka Quiet American. He does a great job of keeping a strong connection to the recorded sound while still composing and creating something new and alive; something to rival the original field recording. I’ve been making simple field recordings and posting them at SoundCloud (my kids playing, a train, some animals). Doing these documentations seemed like drawing in my sketchbook to me – to remember, to aestheticize a little, to try to make something out of them. For instag/am/bient I looked at the image I was given of a car side mirror, ice/rain and weird light and went out looking for sounds to record that could work with the photo. I ended up with some rain and car sounds, a hum of a powerline and some other mechanical rumbles I found by walking around my neighborhood late at night. I sometimes go on “drawing safaris” and this felt like that. SNEAKY. I smashed all the sound together and tried to “compose” it. Weirdly, doing that felt natural – like making comics or books. In comics and music there’s a pace and composition over time and that I got. I might be fooling myself, but I think I understood at least the basics of it from all the drawing work I’ve made.

¶ Over at his jonmonteverde.com site, Jon Monteverde (aka XYZR_KX) wrote, in part:

I received a photo (taken by Earsmack, seen below) and in response, I composed a new track called “Fly” under the XYZR_KX moniker. Equipment used: a Commodore 128 with Cynthcart for the main pad sound, a circuit bent Danelectro BLT Slap Echo guitar pedal used as a sound generator for the low rumbling noise near the end, an iPhone running Voice Memo to record the field sound, and a MacBook running Ableton Live for edit and mix. The picture of a streaking object in the open sky brought to my mind the idea of flying; the sounds evoke the human dream of flight from the perspective of our earthbound state, looking up. In addition, I wanted to hint at a contrast between how effortless flying can seem in nature, and the enormous energy expenditure required to actually put people in the air. “Fly,” in the insect sense, is also a pun on the cicadas in the field recording.

Oootini (born Aidan Reilly) posted at europalanding.wordpress.com:

William Gibson said recently that science fiction is a way of examining the present without having to cope with the reality of looking directly at it. I think Instagram is a bit like this. Except with Instagram we’re not really looking at or thinking about reality. We’re looking at what today might look like if we found it in a beaten up shoebox full of old photographs in the attic. My assigned image … was taken by Jon Monteverde. It seemed to suggest that cool shivering excitement one feels when offered a vista of a city in the hazy early morning. With this in mind, I built a song around a blackbirds call recorded at dawn from a rooftop in Madrid, Spain kindly provided by Dobroide at freesound.org. Another recording of morning traffic heard from my bedroom window in Dublin, Ireland was also placed very low in the mix, reduced almost to the bare hiss of white noise. The bell and synth sounds that duel (duet?) with the blackbird come from the amazing Aalto synth created by Madrona Labs. On top of these sounds various gauzy digital layers were heaped: a digital guitar pedal called the el Capistan that emulates the sound and warmth of old tape delays, a VST called the Glue that mimics the sound of SSL buss compressors, and other such wonders of the modern age. Brave new simulacra of venerable old tools. Stephen Quinn mastered the track at his Analog Heart studio.

¶ Over at his benjamindauer.tumblr.com site, Benjamin Dauer went into depth regarding process, from a technical and creative standpoint:

Equipment Used: Teenage Engineering OP-1 synth, Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo, Cordoba GKStudio Nylon String Guitar, Tape Recorder, TLAudio Fat Track, MacBook Pro Inspiration: When I received my ‘assignment’ for this project I knew immediately what I wanted to do. This image makes me feel as though I have arrived early for a performance/presentation of some kind. Not being allowed into the main space just yet, I enjoy the angle of peering around a corner, over a stack of chairs, and seeing/hearing someone talking. I tried to capture some of this feeling in my track – the faint sound of someone’s voice, muted guitar and pads as if musicians were warming up, and other environmental noises. I hope it gives the sense of subdued excitement or anticipation one gets when they’re waiting at a show.

Ted James Butler, who records as Ted James, posted background information on his track at his betteroffted.tedjames.info site:

I contributed a short piece titled “You’re Trying to Focus, but it’s Too Far Away” which featured various field-recordings and my Harvestman modular synthesizer. In “You’re Trying to Focus, but it’s Too Far Away”, I depict the blurred portion of the image through a “musical” theme that never quite resolves. Like the image, this piece is also framed by field (street, in this case) recordings. Raindrops, footsteps, creaky doors and wind are easy to pick out, yet the brunt of the track highlights the inferred. A mental picture that is never quite clear.

¶ At twitter.com/earsmack, Joe Zobkiw, aka earsmack, shared a shot of his software patch (in Max), and explained (via email) “It was then manipulated in the Elektron Octatrack before a final fretless bass melody was added”:

Jonny Butler, who records as J Butler, provided some background at his site, j-butler.com:

On ‘Sundown’ I used field recordings of fire layered with a series of drones and an electric piano. The drones were created by a lapharp with contact mic, the Exs24 in Logic (using the very basic sine tones in the default patch), and the deep sound was created from a recording I made of a metal bowl.

Smyth, aka Jared Smyth, posted at his site, uprlip.com, a photo of the old-school tape loop setup he used to achieve his piece, and he wrote by way of explanation in a follow-up email: “my whole track was assembled from 1/2″ open reel loops containing digitally pre-processed loops. pretty fun. and the parallels to instagram photography just don’t end.” Also included in the post is a one-minute excerpt of the work-in-progress.

Mark Rushton wrote, at markrushton.com, about how he used an outdated (“$20″) iPhone to take his picture, which served as the source inspiration for Benjamin Dauer’s “In Reference to Time.” Rushton’s musical composition was based on a photo by Oootini. He drew on his own experience with flotation tanks:

I wanted the overall sound you hear to have that same feeling one gets while floating in relatively calm water. It also had to be a total composition. The piece had to have some travel in it. I also like the idea of the music creating an out-of-body experience when it comes to the viewer/listener relationship.

¶ The OO-Ray, aka Ted Laderas, at his 15people.net site, talks about the visual inspiration provided by Naoyuki Sasanami’s photo:

This photo, with its silhouettes and shadows, inspired me to use more discrete transformations such as digital editing and pitch shifting in my piece. The main phrase in the piece is a digitally edited and pitch shifted piano figure, highlighted with several cello tracks treated with a mixture of overdrive and reverberation. Looking at the photo reminds me of those moments right after waking where everything is out of focus and reality snaps into place after a second. I tried to recreate an extended recreation of that transition from dream state to reality, when sunlight floods the room and the day starts anew.

Evan Cordes posted, at flickr.com, video footage of his Pd (or Pure Data) software while he was working on his track:

And over at his pheezy.com site, Cordes explained a bit more about his compositional process:

The New New Chromelodeon II’s are programmed in Pure Data (Pd) after Harry Partch’s specifications in Genesis Of A New Music. The traffic is recorded from a rooftop in Emeryville, CA. The Instagram photo is read by Pd and each byte of the image file translates to one of the eighty-eight keys on the New New Chromelodeon II. Two recordings at different, relational tempos are made of the sequence of keys played according to the image file. A three-minute- long sequence is taken from each of these recordings and mixed with the sound of traffic.

¶ At the boondesign.com blog, graphic designer Brian Scott (who designed the PDF booklet, including the set’s cover and back cover, and who contributed his own Instagram photo as the cover shot), wrote about the design process:

Instagram has become one of my daily rituals, a way of sharing moments with friends and documenting my obsessions: typography, food, architecture. The immediacy and restrictions are part of Instagram’s inherent charm. … Via Twitter, Weidenbaum invited 25 musicians to create “sonic postcards” that are in fact musical responses to each other’s Instagram photos. The resulting recordings are moody and addictive, much like Instagram itself. Regarding our process, we had the benefit of designing while listening to the music, and while we debated many cover options before selecting the HWY 101 split overpass, the feeling of driving at night while musically intoxicated may have influenced our thinking.

Keep an eye on this page for future post-release coverage of Instagr/am/bient. And get the full set for free at disquiet.com and soundcloud.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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