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.

tag: classical

Office/Bus Playlist

Also a test run toward a year-end top 10.

What’s on repeat, in estimated relative order of frequency.

  • Loscil’s Sea Island (Kranky, 2014): Gentle beeps and light burrs, so much happening from so little. I was asked, on Twitter, what this sounded like when I was just three tracks in, and I replied: “like a rainy day after the Singularity.” Many days of listening later, it still does.

  • Stafford Bawler, Obfusc, and Grigori’s Monument Valley (Original Soundtrack) (ustwogames, 2014): The score to the beautiful “casual” game is the perfect backdrop for a game that is itself only slightly more active than wallpaper.

  • Gavin Bryars Ensemble’s The Sinking of the Titanic (Recorded Live on 2012 Centenary Tour) (GB Records, 2014): A live performance of a work that always felt like a studio concoction. Listen as a band continues its performance even after the ship goes down.

  • Grouper’s Ruins (Kranky, 2014): Haunting, at times willfully unintelligible, dirges.

  • Michel Banabila and Oene van Geel’s Music for Viola and Electronics (Tapu, 2014): A lovely duet for complementary toolsets, one analog, the other digital. It’s to the album’s credit that it isn’t always clear where one of those ends and the other begins. One track, “Dondergod,” gets a bit intense, in a European free improvisation sort of way, but the rest is elegant as could be.

This post first appeared in the Disquiet email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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Alarm Will Tag

A #dense #textural work by Jay Lin with the heart of a swarm

In a compact parallel to micro-fiction, liner notes have not so much gone away as been reduced to bare essentials. Liner notes more often than not these days take the form of a complementary blog post, or a brief text accompanying a track posted online, or — in the perhaps most constrained format — just a series of tags. Such is often the case with Alarm Will Sound, the highly regarded chamber ensemble, which regularly posts performances it does of works outside the standard chamber literature. Not that standard chamber repertoire is its modus operandi. This is the group that made its name initially with an album of Aphex Twin covers. The group’s SoundCloud page gives a false impression of its activity. The “spotlight” section up top focuses on music released about a year ago, if not longer. But down below more recent items pop up, including “Half-Glimpsed” by composer Jay Lin. It was posted just today. Recorded live at the Mizzou International Composers Festival on July 27, 2013, it is primarily built around a frenetic series of organized cacophonies. Even the quieter moments early on are antic, with strings and horns playing against each other in a swarm-like manner: individually at their own pace, but collectively forming something spacious and very much alive. And for context, there is just that datestamp and this brief collection of tags:

#sinfonietta
#noise
#textural
#dense
#contemporary classical
#chamber orchestra

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/alarm-will-sound.

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Vicky Chow’s Piano Is a Machine

A work by Adam Basanta

Vicky Chow performs the 20-minute “This Machine Breathes to the Rhythms of Its Own Heartbeat,” a recent composition by Adam Basanta. Basanta’s website describes the work a being “for solo piano, electronics, and two surface transducers.” What that description lacks is mention of the voice with which the piece begins — a monologue that serves as the contemporary classical equivalent of the sort of procedural introduction to an episode of a show like Dragnet or, more recently, Southland. It lays out the facts, which have the plainspoken quality of the piece’s title, with limited emotion, a distance that lends the everyday a peculiar level of depth and intensity, of foreboding. The music then does those suggested qualities full justice. “This machine will not communicate. All it knows to do is turn on and off. This machine does not operate according to our timescale,” and so on. From there a mix of droning feedback and rarified piano figures alternate, the former no doubt originating in the latter. The result is an exploration of vibrant mechanical activity, from the white noise of strong feedback to the snare-drum-like rattle of open chords to isolated keys that echo like pin drops.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/vicky-chow. More from Basanta at adambasanta.com. More from Chow at vickychow.com.

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What Is Julia Mazawa Reworking?

Glitch chamber music from Oakland, California

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Glitch isn’t inherently entropic. Glitch may sound like things falling apart, but in capable hands it can also sound like things coming together. In more neutral terms, glitch may be considered a means of taking stock of something by considering as its underlying structure not the work itself but the reciprocal connection between the work and the medium on which it was recorded and reproduced. “Mere Anarchy” is the title of Julia Mazawa’s gracefully broken bit of chamber music, a piece heard as embedded in vinyl and then looped in small fragments thanks to digital technology. In Mazawa’s piece, the sounds heard being reworked are not unlike a memory playing over and over in one’s head, slowly reassembling after some extended period of disregard. Tiny flecks of strings are looped, at first a few seconds of alternating moments, then a more extended excerpt, then just after the eight-minute mark a separate violin, pitched higher and more foregrounded. The format of the memory is vinyl, evident in the scratchy surface noise that, with each repetition, takes on the semblance of a percussive element. Mawawa performs a kind of ecstatic exploratory surgery on the original, never quite revealing it, but laying the parts bare and reveling in their inherent qualities. I had it in mind to send Mazawa an email asking her to help identify the source material, but decided to first see if anyone reading this might recognize it.

Track originally posted for streaming at soundcloud.com/juliamazawa. Mazawa, who is based in Oakland, California, opened the final night of the recent San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, and has a piece in the “Sonic Frame” installation that I developed for the 45th-anniversary exhibit Momentum: an experiment in the unexpected, which opened October 2, 2014, and runs at the San Jose Museum of Art through February 22, 2015.

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Morton Feldman, Crate Dug

A beat built from the composer's "Triadic Memories"

An instrumental hip-hop beat crafted from a snatch of “Triadic Memories” by the late composer Morton Feldman, who is beloved for his extended and extravagantly silent music? Why yes, thank you. This is “Memory” by Bstep. It’s barely a minute in length and takes a single, five-note segment — a splinter, really — of Feldman’s celebrated solo piano work, and then lays it above a spare metric pulse. The added beat is so spare, so old-school, it might have been something that Feldman, who died in 1987, heard during a visit to Manhattan for a concert premiere in his later years. What makes “Memory” work is how it teases out of that final note of the five-note figure a thin wisp of sound that then lingers over the beat like a fog.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/benstepner. More from Bstep, aka Ben Stepner, at twitter.com/bstepbeatz.

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