This is the first episode of the Disquietude podcast of ambient electronic music. All six tracks of music are featured with the permission of the individual artists. The first episode started online first at SoundCloud, Mixcloud, and YouTube and then made it into iTunes and Stitcher. There’s also an RSS link, should you need it.
Below is the structure of the episode with time codes for the tracks:
00:00 theme and intro
02:05 Brian Hendricksen’s “2.10.2017″
04:32 Carl Mikael Björk’s “Live Looping Improv w/ Piano and Erica Synths Varishape & Wavetable”
18:08 Erika Nesse’s “Circle”
21:30 Marcus Fischer’s “170211 – Dual Deck Piano Loop (RRR)”
28:56 Sarah Davachi’s “Ghosts and All”
37:21 Mark Rushton’s “Severe Thunderstorm Warning Sirens”
What follows is a rough transcript of the spoken material in the podcast, as well as links to the artists whose work is included:
00:00 theme and intro
Welcome to the Disquietude podcast.
This is the first episode, and thus it’s something of an experiment.
The goal of the Disquietude podcast is to collect adventurous work in the field of ambient electronic music, music that explores the intersection of sound, art, and technology. This is all music that captured my imagination, and I hope that it appeals to your imagination as well.
What follows are six ambient electronic recordings by six different musicians.
They are all reproduced here with the permission of the individual artists.
The sequence begins with a short drone by Brian Hendricksen, followed by an extended piece, approximately 13 minutes long, for piano by Carl Mikael Björk. Björk modifies the piano with his modular synthesizer as the performance unfolds. Then comes another short, drone-like piece, though a bit more antic than was the Henricksen; this one is by Erika Nesse, and it is constructed from fragments of her own voice. Her drone is followed by another piece for modified piano, in this case a new track by Marcus Fischer using dual reel-to-reel tape recorders. Then comes “Ghosts and All” by Sarah Davachi; the song is from her album Vergers, which was released in November 2016. And the sequence of six pieces closes with a field recording by Mark Rushton, more on which after the music has all played. With the exception of Davachi’s piece, none of these have been released commercially.
All the music heard here is instrumental, which is to say there is no prominent vocal part, and thus it’s suitable for background listening. It’s all ambient, which is to say it’s also suitable for close, concentrated listening. That dual sense of potential uses, both inattentive and attentive, both background and foreground, is the hallmark of fine ambient music.
My name is Marc Weidenbaum, and I’m the host of the podcast.
And now, on to the music — after which I’ll explore the sounds in a bit more detail, with information on the musicians and observations about their recordings. Thank you.
Thanks for having listened to the six tracks in this episode of the Disquietude podcast. If you just wanted 40 minutes or so of background music, you might want to stop listening now. However, if you’re interested in learning a bit more about the tracks and the musicians who recorded them, I’m going to talk about it all for a little while. Of course, if you’re just here for the music, feel free to hit stop and wait for the next Disquietude podcast, which should appear in about a month. You can also learn more about the material in this episode of the Disquietude podcast at disquiet.com/podcast0001.
I’m going to work through the tracks in the sequence they were played.
Brian Hendricksen’s piece is titled “2.10.2017,” presumably the date it was recorded. The track is a useful reminder that ambient music isn’t inherently gaseous by nature, even if ambient music’s reputation is generally hazy, ephemeral, misty. As his elegant recording exemplifies, ambient music can be just as textural as it might be ethereal. His track is a smidgen under two and a half minutes in length, and throughout it rotates sandpaper particulates this way and that. The volume swells to bring sounds into the foreground. Tiny rattles suggest the workings of myriad infinitesimal gears. It’s the sonic evidence of dust being produced. It’s the noise pollution of Whoville. Hendricksen is based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and he originally posted this track to his SoundCloud account.
Brian Hendricksen’s track was originally posted at soundcloud.com/bhendricksen.
The piano piece by Carl Mikael Björk is from his superb YouTube channel, which is called Cabinet of Curiosities. He’s based in Malmö, Sweden. The video shows him at his piano, a modular synth to the side, and a laptop visible just beyond that. He begins at the piano, mic’d closely so the physicality of the instrument’s mechanism is almost as present as the intended notes themselves. Especially when listened to through headphones, the sound is very much caught within the piano, deep in its wooden cavern. Shortly thereafter, the external tools, that array of patched synthesizer modules and the software running on his laptop, is heard echoing, looping, and transforming the piano, gentle chords fading softly as they go. As the loops come to the fore, he then returns to the piano, adding notes, sometimes as accompaniment, sometimes as a source of subsequent looping. Rhythms, albeit gentle ones, are introduced. There’s a mechanized beat early on, and later, near the five-minute mark, he taps on the piano to get a wooden percussion sensation. Later still he knocks a glass bottle against the device. There’s a formidable mastery to his performance, how he moves back and forth between the old and new music-making tools, as well as the makeshift ones. I keep a running YouTube playlist of fine live performances of ambient music. This is one of the best examples I’ve come upon, in that it shows almost all the equipment he uses; you can learn a lot just watching his face as he makes decisions, as well as his hands as he makes his way back and forth from one device to another.
Carl Mikael Björk’s video was originally posted at YouTube.
The “circle” that serves as the title to Erika Nesse’s piece is extracted from a classic hymn, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” The track is the sound of her voice broken into tiny pieces and run through her unique fractal processing software. Fractals are often associated with visual imagery, like the lizard chains of M.C. Escher or the structure of snowflakes as exposed under a microscope. Her software, which she calls the Fractal Music Machine, applies fractal thinking to a time-based media — to music.
As listeners we aren’t as conscious of the fractal patterns in a track like “Circle” as we are in, say, the fractal aspects of an MC Escher etching, or, to borrow one of Nesse’s favorite examples, how the branch of a fern shares a structural similarity with the fern’s leaf. That doesn’t really matter, though: Fractals aren’t useful simply because they are recognizable. They’re useful because they provide a means toward Nesse’s end; their utilization explains why a track like “Circle” can feel both repetitive and organic at the same time. // This isn’t the only time Nesse has used “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” as the root material for one of her fractal endeavors. On her SoundCloud page there’s another piece, titled “Broken,” in which the source recording of her singing the song is more self-evident; she wills the classic to be broken, and then challenges it to reassemble itself. How much of that reassembly takes place in the music and how much takes place in the listener’s imagination is the question that lingers. Nesse is based in Boston, Massachusetts.
Marcus Fischer, who is based in Portland, Oregon, recorded his piano piece while in Florida this past month as part of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation artists in residence program on Captiva Island. For his six-week stay he worked in a massive, white, brightly lit studio. He had with him many of his musical tools, including a synthesizer, guitar, and a pair of ancient Nagra reel-to-reel tape machines — as well as a grand piano. On his Instagram page throughout his stay he posted numerous images, many featuring lengthy tape loops that were as much acts of minimalist sculpture as they were musical actions. Often the loops reached high up the ceiling. He also posted elegant stagings of Rauschenberg’s own objects, from the foundation’s collection. // One of the most striking images was of Fischer’s two reel-to-reel machines laying on the floor with a single tape loop running between them, like two simple robots playing a sonic Jacob’s Ladder. As it turned out, when I asked if he had a segment from his stay to include in this podcast, Fischer shared with me the audio of that very same piece. He explained that he recorded the piano to tape and then played it back on the two decks, creating what he described as “a kind of duet.” The piece is beautiful in its plaintive, sedate way — the room’s spacious, stately, ghostly echo as much a part of it as the piano. He mentioned that it might get a proper commercial release some day, in a slightly different form.
Sarah Davachi’s track, Ghosts and All, is from her album Vergers, which was released in late November 2016. The entire album was recorded using an antique synthesizer, the EMS Synthi 100, which dates from the early 1970s. In addition, violin and her own voice are layered into the work. Davachi has explained in interviews that the first time she ever used the Synthi 100, it was was a particularly storied machine: the very same one that Russian composer Eduard Artemyev used when recording the score to Stalker, the classic 1979 science fiction film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. The Synthi heard here is a different machine, but the same make and model as in Stalker. One of the beautiful things about Davachi’s work is how she doesn’t use devices to the ends that they are associated with. A lot of archival electronic equipment is used to evoke the sounds of their original era. Davachi explores this instrument with her own aesthetic, emphasizing a tonal, droning quality. The piece gains heft and density and volume as it proceeds, but it’s a slow boil. Only when listening through a second time does it become clear how much the seemingly static piece actually develops as it goes. Davachi is based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Mark Rushton’s track is the one piece in this episode of the Disquietude podcast that is not music, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. It’s an field recording, a document of everyday sound, which he taped from his porch in Iowa City. He told me via email that it was recorded on March 6, 2017, during severe thunderstorms, which were anticipated by public warning sirens we’re hearing here. If you’re admire the ambient music of Brian Eno or Loscil or William Basinski, you can be forgiven for having thought this was in fact a formal composition. It bears significant resemblance to Brian Eno’s album Thursday Afternoon, which I think of as a high watermark for ambient music. I was transfixed when I first listened to Rushton’s piece, how the layering of sirens heard from various distances mingle and merge into this elegant tonal … well, not composition, per se, not necessarily in the musical sense of the term, but an assemblage, or a composition in the photographic sense of the word: selected and framed.
More from Mark Rushton at markrushton.com.
And this brings to an end this first episode of the Disquietude podcast. I want to thank all the musicians who approved the inclusion of their recordings. Thanks as well the many Disquiet Junto participants who provided input, in particular Mark Rushton and Jimmy Kipple, and to Erik Davis, of the Expanding Mind podcast, who promised me that as I progressed with my own podcast I’d have fun playing with the format. Thanks to Brian Scott of Boon Design for help designing the logo, and to Max La Rivière-Hedrick of Futureprüf for technical support. (Thanks as well to Lee Rosevere, who weighed in after the voiceover was recorded.)
The opening and closing theme music of the Disquietude podcast is by Jimmy Kipple, who’s based in England, acting on some vague directions I provided. Kipple has his own podcast, which is called “patzr radio.” The voice heard in the theme is that of the musician Paula Daunt, who is currently living in Japan. She’s saying the word “disquiet” in Portuguese. I won’t mangle it by trying to say it myself here. Her speech is a nod to the late Futurist poet Fernando Pessoa, whose Book of Disquiet provided the name of my long-running website, Disquiet.com, back in 1996 when I first launched it.
You can learn more about the material in this episode of the Disquietude podcast at disquiet.com/podcast0001.
Thanks for listening.