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tag: classical

“Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds”

A string quartet by Anna Höstman

When you think string quartet, certainly you think about creepy flying life forms in Africa that feed of the tears of other flying life forms. That is the scenario that informs Anna Höstman’s tensile and invigorating string quartet “Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds.” Premiered on November 14 of last year, the work is as slow and steady as you might expect of something that preys on things far larger than itself. The work moves from slow sawing to angular, intense slashing. At 15 minutes, it produces an impression of the scenario that is thick with drama. Certainly there is an intensity in the brief moments of fierce action, but the real beauty comes from the patience, both in the composition and the performance, to layer textured, paper-thin lines atop one another for extended periods of anxious near-silence.

Look closely at this image (from newscientist.com) and you’ll see the moth’s dagger-like nose stuck into a bird’s eyelid:

moth02

Here’s an extreme closeup, from the National Institutes of Health (nih.gov), that provides eerie detail of the moth’s sharp nose:

moth01

A brief program note by Deborah MacKenzie provides further background:

Scientists have recently revealed that a species of moth in the Kirindy forest of Madagascar drinks tears from the eyes of birds. Birds can usually fly away from these predators, but not while sleeping. The Madagascan moths were observed on the necks of sleeping magpie robins and Newtonia birds, with the tip of their proboscises inserted under the bird’s eyelid, drinking avidly. Sleeping birds have two eyelids, both closed. So instead of the soft, straw-like mouthparts found on tear-drinking moths elsewhere, the Madagascan moth has a proboscis “shaped like an ancient harpoon,” with hooks and barbs. It is inserted under the eyelid where the barbs are used to anchor it in place. The team does not yet know whether the insect spits out an anaesthetic to dull the irritation. They also want to investigate whether, like their counterparts elsewhere, the Madagascan tear-drinkers are all males who get most of their nutrition from the tears.

The piece by Höstman brings to mind another recent work of chamber music that has its basis in the dark corners of the natural sciences, “Euphorbia,” composed by Ylva Lund Bergner, heard in a performance by the Curious Chamber Players. Her piece’s name, and mood, come from a deadly plant in Denmark.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/annacomposer. More on Höstman at annahostman.net. More on Quatour Bozzini at quatuorbozzini.ca. More on the moth at newscientist.com.

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This Week in Sound: Microtonal Errata + Party Lines

+ applbums + old music

A lightly annotated clipping service:

Horse Bests Other Horse: News came this week that old music outsold new music for the first time in recorded history — or, in this case, recorded recorded history. Adam Puglsey lays out the situation at chartattack.com. Of course, as he also writes: “Keep in mind that these stats don’t include album streams, but regardless, it’s a significant turning point.” Which is to say, this may be like saying one breed of horse outsold another breed of horse for the first time after the introduction of the automobile.

The History of the Phone Is the Future of the Phone: Speaking of ahistoricism and technology, at medium.com, Peter Rojas talks about a new phone service called Unmute. It’s an app for conducting phone calls, with one added feature: “anyone can listen in on the calls. In fact, having a conversation in public is the whole point of Unmute, which is why we find it so compelling as a product.” This future-tech platform is vaguely reminiscent of what was, before the advent of widespread individual-household phone service, called a party line. Older baby boomers and their parents can recall apartment buildings and rural regions alike having shared lines. Pick up the phone at the wrong — or, depending on your predilections, right — moment and you get not only an earful of local gossip, but you can participate, as well. More on Unmute, which unlike party lines will provide an MP3 at the end of the call, at onunmute.com.

The Tantalizing Promise of the Applbum: Apps have been the new albums — the “applbum,” perhaps — for awhile now, and though the hybrid isn’t exactly a fulfilled promise, it continues to bear fruit. Adrift, the blissful and expertly glacial generative ambient experience by Loscil (aka Scott Morgan), was released for iOS late last year, and in a (sadly) rare instance of platform equity it popped up this week in an Android version. Well, not directly Android. It’s not in the Google Play Android app store, but in Amazon’s app bazaar. I asked Loscil/Morgan why via Twitter, and he explained that the Android max size was 100 megabytes (“i can’t afford the dev cost of adding expansion packs”), while Amazon has no app-size cap. The size is due to the app’s expansive sonic content that yields its generative (i.e., ever-changing) listening experience. … Meanwhile, Massive Attack has released a new album … that is, app, titled Fantom, that is billed as a sensory experience. Presumably “sensory” implies “interactive,” since music is itself sensory and “interactive” is simply a term that may have outlived its utility before that utility had actually been realized. The thefantom.co site explains: “The remixes reflect your movement and balance, the time of day or night, your location and your surroundings as captured by your device’s camera.” At the moment the link to the iTunes store isn’t yielding the app, but Tom Fenwick at motherboard.vice.com has some in-depth coverage, including the fact that one of the developers is Rob Thomas. The article doesn’t mention this, but Thomas is the former Chief Creative Office of Reality Jockey, where he helped develop the app RJDJ, which used a unique “scenes” scenario to alter in real time the sounds your phone or iPod picked up. RJDJ led, in turn, to several other apps, including ones associated with Christopher Nolan films, such as Inception. More from Thomas himself at soundcloud.com/dizzybanjo.

Nanonews about Microtones: In 1958, Alain Danielou published Tableau Comparatif des Intervalles Musicaux, which to an outsider (whether or not they speak French) might look like a codebook out of The X-Files or the Conet Project. What it is is an encyclopedia of microtones — in Gann’s description, “of all even marginally significant intervals within an octave.” A keen-eyed correspondent of Gann’s recently noticed an error: “On the right-hand bottom corner of page 48, the interval listed as 569/512 should actually be 567/512, as 3 to the 4th power times 7 is, of course, 567.” Here is the evidence:

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As mistakes in tonal esoterica go, Gann notes, this one actually has some currency: “this is one of the intervals used in The Well-Tuned Piano” (one of La Monte Young’s great works). Gann, whose long-ago Village Voice music criticism was essential reading for me and many others back in the day, blogs at artsjournal.com/postclassic, where this notice first appeared. His Danielou article includes a link to a complete PDF of the Tableau book.

This first appeared in the January 26, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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Satie, This Time with Feeling

And at a slower pace — thanks to Hey Exit

If you know the piece coming is “Gymnopedie No. 1,” then the second that first note hits you have a sense of what’s up ahead. When the track doesn’t actually fulfill the second note of your solo-piano clairvoyance, your brain fills in the blank, and the blanks that follow immediately upon it. You hear “Gymnopedie” even if it isn’t playing.

In fact, in this reworking of the Satie classic, the song is playing, just transformed in two ways. First of all, it is slowed considerably. The roughly six-minute piece is extended to 10 times its original length. Second, this isn’t one “Gymnopedie” but about 60 “Gymnopedies.” It’s the track “Every Recording of Gymnopedie 1” by Brendan Landis, who initially stretched every rendition of the piece he could find to an equal length, yielding a slightly out of sync, phase-shifting rendition, halfway between Steve Reich and Brian Eno.

The initial “Every Recording of Gymnopedie 1” gained quite a following in the past week. When I first wrote about it it had about 2,000 listens on SoundCloud. As of this writing it has just over 50,000 listens. Following up the initial post I wrote a second appreciation, looking at how Satie himself as preordained the Landis reworking, and touched on a precedent by artist Sean Dack, who developed a gallery installation, a la Janet Cardiff, that played individual versions on freestanding speakers.

This new, half-hour piece by Landis has a stronger similarity to the Dack than did his earlier piece, because the Dack likewise employed extensive time-stretching. The strings of the piano take on gargantuan capacity, like one of Ellen Fullman’s long-stringed instruments. Being inside this piece — “being inside” inside describes the consumption process much more closely than does, say, “listening” — reveals the off-sync qualities of the original in a manner like shards being shed in rapturous slow motion.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/hey-exit. More from Hey Exit at heyexit.com, heyexit.bandcamp.com, and twitter.com/slownames.

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How Erik Satie Foresaw Brendan Landis’ Excavation of His “Gymnopedie No. 1”

And how Sean Dack intervened in between, back in 2011

There are influences, and there are precedents. Influences are generally things that one senses as having helped shaped one’s world view. Precedents are often recognized afterward as having foretold, to some small or great degree, efforts that came later. Precedents can serve as akin to influences when their scope is such that even if the influenced isn’t ever directly aware of the original work, that work resulted in a cascade such that a chain of influence is essentially undoubtable, even if it’s only evident in retrospect. There’s plenty of illustrated work, for example, that resembles Rube Goldberg’s complex drawings of unnecessarily complicated inventions designed to achieve a specific end result, yet was done by artists who might only have ever witnessed Goldberg’s specific kind of genius thirdhand. In a way, discussion of influence and precedent is its own Rube Goldberg apparatus: a complicated means by which to say, simply, “This has happened before.”

Satie is often credited as a strong precursor — a precedent — of ambient music due to his exploration of stasis and repetition. This is to say that Brendan Landis’ “Every Recording of Gymnopedie 1,” which has experienced a flurry of attention this past week, can trace its existence back to early Satie works. This parallel distinguishes Landis’ effort — which overlays reportedly 60 different takes of “Gymnopedie 1” end to end — from many other supercut-style pop-culture reworkings. In other words, we might learn something about the form of every Star Wars film played simultaneously or every episode of the TV series MAS*H played simultaneously, but it’s a stretch to suggest that the mashup treatment is intrinsic to those two subjects’ original aesthetic.

Landis, to the contrary, can point to the ambient legacy of “Gymnopedie 1,” to the egoless quality of Satie’s famous “Musique d’Ameublement” (music intended to merge with, to disappear into, the expected sounds of a dinner party), and especially to the composer’s “Vexations,” in which a single musical phrase is repeated 840 times. Landis’ technologically enabled reworking of Satie might take “Vexations” as its strongest precedent: Satie played one thing many times to hear the differences; Landis played many versions of one thing at the same time to hear the differences.

Here, for reference, is a complete performance, almost 10 hours in length, of Nicolas Horvath performing “Vexations” live at the Conservatoire de Musique in Lagny-sur-Marne, France, on June 26, 2011:

Here is Landis’ versions(s) of “Gymnopedie 1.” It had about 2,000 or so listens when I first wrote about it, on January 15. As of this writing it has just shy of 30,000 listens:

Just a day before the Horvath “Vexations” performance, a show closed by coincidence halfway across the world at the Fitzroy Gallery in Manhattan. The exhibit, 21st Century Dub Dub, which was up for almost two months, showcased the artist Sean Dack, who is based in New York. There was only one piece in 21st Century Dub Dub, but as Walt Whitman wrote, it contained multitudes. Titled “Version/Variation,” the piece took 26 different takes on the same Satie piece as Landis, “Gymnopedie 1,” and played them simultaneously. One key difference is that Dack opted to play them not at their original speed but slowed down significantly, so each was just over 70 minutes long — “the total length of a commercially available compact disc,” as described in a program note at the gallery’s website, fitzroygallery.com. In a nod to Janet Cardiff’s monumental “The Forty-Part Motet,” in which each vocal line is played on its own freestanding speaker, the Dack Satie piece has each individual recording playing on a different speaker, thus allowing the listener to walk around and amid the piece, to experience it as frozen music, an architecture of sound.

Here, for reference, is footage of a Cardiff/Motet installation:

The Dack video (shown up at the top of this post) has been online for over a year, since September 10, 2014, but as of today still has fewer than 50 views. It deserves to be more widely heard, though it goes without saying that its strongest effect would be in person, in full multi-speaker surround sound. I want to thank a commenter to my previous piece on Landis (who records and performs under the name Hey Exit), “Every* Recording of Erik Satie’s ‘Gymnopedie 1’ Played at the Same Time,” for having brought the earlier Dack Satie piece to my attention.

The video of “Version/Variation” originally posted at youtube.com. More from Sean Dack at seandack.net. This May 17 will mark the 150th anniversary of Erik Satie’s birth. Perhaps an exhibit this year will show both the Landis and the Dack, and other work inspired by Satie.

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Every* Recording of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie 1″ Played at the Same Time

A sound experiment in opulent minimalism by Brendan Landis

Minimalism can be luxurious, an opulence of absence. Brendan Landis, who records as Hey Exit, has found an opulent minimalism by taking some of the most spare music ever, Erik Satie’s classic “Gymnopedie 1,” and maximizing its presence through simultaneous repetition. What he’s done is taken multiple renditions of the piece (“Every Recording of Gymnopedie 1” is the reworking’s title) and layered them atop one another. There’s a joke about being hit by either a ton of bricks or a ton of pillows, and how either way it’s a ton — at some point weight trumps texture. Landis’ experiment reveals that amassed pillowy music doesn’t gather in density so much as exaggerate its inherent properties: a cloud becomes the sky.

To adjust the varying lengths, Landis took the longest piece as the norm and stretched the others to match it. Stretching is, along with supercuts (like the one of every time Metallica’s singer says “yeah” in a song) or the layering of related videos (like Michael Bell-Smith’s version of the first 12 chapters of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet), a popular means by which pop-culture audiences examine the objects of their affection. In supercuts, you can marvel at the mastery or mundanity of repeated elements. In the layered videos, you can note structures, tempos, and other commonalities. A major stretched-audio milestone was an 800% extension of a Justin Bieber track. This gained a lot of notoriety for turning the rakish pop figure into an angel — the thing being, you can stretch just about anything and eventually it becomes angelic. Arguably the key benefit of exaggerated stretching is getting inside the tonality of a piece, witnessing it as architecture: frozen music amid which you can wander.

Landis here uses stretching in a much more functional manner. By matching the start and end of the source recordings, he draws attention to variations in tempo and phrasing. By combining so many Saties in one place he honors the work by bringing an orchestral gravitas to a solo piano piece. At the same time, he also manages to put it off at a distance. “Every Recording of Gymnopedie 1” sounds like nothing so much as one person playing it at the far end of a very long hallway lined with glass — an opulent hall perhaps — the echoes triggering echoes triggering echoes.

The track was originally posted at soundcloud.com/hey-exit, found thanks to Gretchen Jude. More from Hey Exit, aka Brendan Landis of Brooklyn (I met him when he was living in San Francisco and performing with Erik Schoster) at heyexit.com.

*Let’s take Landis’ word for it.

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