My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's 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

Remixing the Chamber Ambient Music of Christina Vantzou

Steve Hauschildt reworks "Stereoscope"

Christina Vantzou’s first three solo albums of chamber ambient music are numbered, like Led Zeppelin’s before hers. There is Nº1, Nº2, and Nº3, the most recent of which was released late last year. Naturally the collection of remixes is seen as an iteration, not a release unto itself. Its title: 3.5. She’s assembled a great crew to rework the originals, and the first track, Steve Hauschildt’s take on her “Sterepscope,” was posted a few days ago as a promotion. Other participants in 3.5 include Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (aka Lichens), Loscil, John Also Bennett, Tara Jane O’Neil, the Sight Below, CORIN, and Francesco Donadello. Bennett played all the synthesizers on Nº3, Vantzou told me when I interviewed her last year (“The Bell Jar Filter”). Bennett and Loscil also contributed to the Nº2 Remixes collection, and Loscil was also on the Nº1 Remixes album. If the original “Stereoscope” was quiet and unassuming, with a glitchy undercurrent that suggested rain on a living-room window, then Hauschildt’s rendition is full-on orchestral. (You can stream the original at youtube.com for comparison.)

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/platform. The album will be available as of March 18 at christinavantzou.bandcamp.com. More from Vantzou at christinavantzou.com.

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The One-Key Piano

And how Google Android explains itself in music

This one is certainly tailor made for the course I teach about the role of sound in the media landscape, which focuses often throughout its 15-week run on the way things — organizations, people, services — express themselves through sound. There’s a recent Android operating system TV commercial from Google in which pianist Ji-Yong Kim plays a piece of music, the third movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, on a grand piano, and then alternates between a standard grand piano and a grand piano set up so that each key plays the same note. The “joke” in the ad is a tweak at the perceived uniformity of Apple’s product line. The tagline is “Be together. Not the same.”

One unintended consequence of the advertisement is the rising awareness that there’s an audience out there for such an uber-minimalist music in which rhythm is the closest expression evident to something that approximates melody. The video has had almost one million views since it was posted on February 15. The one-note piano approach, dubbed the Monotune, is now the subject of a 10-track album, available for free from Google Play (play.google.com). Oddly, the Moonlight Sonata doesn’t appear to be on the album, which includes “Three Blind Mice,” “Claire du Lune,” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” All the compositions seem to be, like the Moonlight Sonata, in the public domain.

While the Monotune album is an entertaining peek into the one-note tweak on familiar music, the real pleasure in the TV ad is how it moves back and forth between the extroverted and muted performances. Perhaps a follow-up collection will attempt to capture that quality.

There’s a making-of interview, posted the same day as the Monotune commercial, of how the one-key effect was accomplished. The short version: you can’t tune an entire piano to one note. You have to shorten many of the strings first. There’s a great moment at 1:43 when pianist Kim responds the first time he hears the peculiar responsiveness of the stunted piano:

Found via androidpolice.com.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0214: Microtonal Errata

The Assignment: Bring to the fore the distinction between two specific microtones.

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Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.com and at disquiet.com/junto, a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership in the Junto is open: just join and participate. There’s no pressure to do every project. It’s weekly so that you know it’s there, every Thursday through Monday, when you have the time.

Tracks will be added to this playlist for the duration of the project:

This project was posted shortly after noon, California time, on Thursday, February 4, 2016, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, February 8, 2016.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0214: Microtonal Errata
The Assignment: Bring to the fore the distinction between two specific microtones.

Background: There’s a typo in the bible of microtones. The bible in question is Alain Danielou’s 1958 book Tableau Comparatif des Intervalles Musicaux. As reported recently by composer and critic Kyle Gann, “On the right-hand bottom corner of page 48, the interval listed as 569/512 should actually be 567/512.” We’re going to explore the sonic distinction between those two microtones.

Step 1: Choose a pitch and record three things: (a) a base pitch, (b) the mistaken microtone (569/512), and (c) the correct microtone (567/512). Here’s an example: Start with your base pitch (e.g., A440). To get the mistaken microtone, multiply the base pitch frequency by 567/512 (that is, raise the base pitch by one semitone plus 77.6 cents). To get the corrected microtone, multiply the base pitch by 569/512 (that is, one semitone plus 82.7 cents). For reference, here’s a handy conversion tool:

http://www.sengpielaudio.com/calculator-centsratio.htm

Step 2: Record a short piece of music employing the three tones (a, b, and c) from Step 1. Other tones are also welcome, certainly. The only request is that the emphasis in your piece should be on those three tones. The goal of the short piece should be to explore the distinction between the mistaken and correct microtones. Try this: Imagine someone reading about the errata in the Danielou book said, “What’s the big deal?” Your piece should, to the extent possible, answer that question in sound by shedding light on the gap between the two microtones.

Step 3: Upload your completed track to the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.

Step 4: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 5: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Deadline: This project was posted in the mid-afternoon, California time, on Thursday, February 4, 2016, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, February 8, 2016.

Length: The length is up to you, though between 1 minute and 2 minutes is recommended.

Upload: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud, only upload one track for this project, and be sure to include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Title/Tag: When adding your track to the Disquiet Junto group on Soundcloud.com, please in the title to your track include the term “disquiet0214-microtonalerrata.” Also use “disquiet0214-microtonalerrata” as a tag for your track.

Download: It is preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

Linking: When posting the track, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 214th weekly Disquiet Junto project (“The Assignment: Bring to the fore the distinction between two specific microtones”) at:

http://disquiet.com/0214

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

http://disquiet.com/junto/

Join the Disquiet Junto at:

Subscribe to project announcements here:

http://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Disquiet Junto general discussion takes place at:

http://disquiet.com/forums/

The image associated with this project is from Alain Danielou’s 1958 book Tableau Comparatif des Intervalles Musicaux, found via Kyle Gann. Major thanks to Ethan Hein (ethanhein.com) for helping word the project assignment.

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La Voix Humaine

Cocteau, Poulenc, Duval, and technological art of the telephone

Denise-Duval-2

Denise Duval sang passionately about broken telephone connections, about the way our technology can mimic, taint, and amplify human connections. She died a week ago, on January 25, the New York Times reported today.

A French soprano born in 1921, Duval is best known for her work with the composer Francis Poulenc. Foremost among the pair’s collaborations is the opera La Voix Humaine, based on the play by Jean Cocteau. La Voix Humaine is high on the list of essential viewing and listening if you’re interested in art informed by technologically mediated human interaction.

The opera tells the story of the end of a love affair. Expertly constructed, it unfolds as one half of a phone conversation. The other half takes place on the far end of the phone line, unheard by the audience. The woman is Elle, and Duval was the first to perform the role. There’s a filmed version of Duval’s performance, directed by Dominique Delouche, which uses another technology, television, to emphasize the creative constraints inherent in Cocteau’s vision: a woman, alone in a room, trying to navigate a failed love — and her own faltering psyche — using failing technology.

I spent a chunk of last year working on — and failing at — an extended essay about the intersection of art and technology that just never ended up going where I’d hoped it would. Only toward the end of the writing process, before I put it away half-finished, did I finally switch from wondering about the relationship between the artist and the technology and, instead, began to focus on the audience’s experience of technology. At that point I’d blown too much time and just couldn’t dedicate myself to it anymore, though I hope to get back to it at some point.

This morning, having read the news of Duval’s death over coffee, I was reminded of the centrality of that telephone in La Voix Humaine, not just to Elle, but to the audience of both the play and the opera. The play was first performed in 1930, the opera in 1958. By 1970, when Delouche’s filmed version was broadcast on television in France, the phone was long since not just an everyday but essential part of life. To witness Elle’s story in 1930 must have been a very different thing than in 1970, from the perspective of an audience’s experience of the phone as a lifeline. There is something very J.G. Ballard about La Voix Humaine, as if it’s taking place amid the narrative of his novel High Rise, like Elle lives in an apartment whose door the book’s narrator never happens to knock on.

Nicholas Muni

Eventually La Voix Humaine did leave the boudoir. For example, a staging by the Cincinnati Opera’s Nicholas Muni in 2003 re-situated Elle (soprano Catherine Malfitano, above) as the survivor of a car accident. We witness Elle wandering around the wreck while she tries to communicate with her former lover. The wreck isn’t merely a contrivance to switch to a cellphone. It’s part of the original story that Elle reveals her attempted suicide. In the Muni depiction, the scene of the accident serves as both setting and evidence. Of course, switching to cellphone in 2003 also made sense because the phone needed to cut off once in awhile, something far more common then — and today — on a cellphone than on a landline.

The lingering lesson of La Voix Humaine may be that if you’re making technological art, ask yourself if you are reflecting on the means by which that technology is infused in the lives of its audience.

The Delouche version with Duval is on YouTube in four parts. The image up top was colorized (and found at tutti-magazine.fr). The original is in black and white.

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Also on YouTube is an Ingrid Bergman (above) version of the play, from 1967.

And to bring things back around to electronic music, there’s an audio-only version of the play done for the BBC by Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, that was first broadcast back in 1998. It stars Harriet Walter, best known these days as Lady Shackleton on Downton Abbey and as the doctor who briefly but memorably tends to Chewbacca in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Human Voice is an important transitional work for Rimbaud, as it employs techniques he developed when making music to accompany cellphone conversations captured on scanners (hence his moniker), but applies them to prerecorded dialogue — or, in this case, monologue.

This first appeared in the February 2, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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“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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