Aphex Twin uploaded a fresh batch of new old tracks to his user18081971 SoundCloud account this past week or so, about 20 in all. The activity followed a three-month break. As of this writing, there are 249 items in the account. The flurry coincided with the commercial release of Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-08, under his AFX moniker. He has become quite adept at using free archival music as a means to increase attention to the work he actually puts up for sale. As “experimental” as his commercial music can be, many of the free tracks are more straightforward in their experimentation. That is to say, they are not merely “experimental,” but also “experiments”: they appear to be test runs of equipment and very rough initial sketches of ideas. Many among the recent batch are modular synthesizer experiments, enough of them that he took the time to collate them in a playlist that currently has 11 parts over the course of half an hour. One highlight is the droning mechanics of “Lecce – Voltage Controlled Acoustic Resonators,” which indeed sounds like the industrial noise of a very large machine. The source of the material is, characteristic for ever-ambiguous Aphex Twin, unclear. The track includes a three-word liner note: “custom helmholtz resonators,” and down below in the comments he has a back and forth with someone who suggests it was an actual refrigerator he recorded back in 2011 while he was touring Italy:
And here’s a video of that Italy performance, at a far more frenetic pace than the archival audio:
The track is certainly deeply ambient, whether that ambient is the figurative effort of him in the studio, or the practical matter of everyday background noise framed in a four and a half minute field recording. In either case, I’ve added it to my Selected Ambient Works 3 (beta) playlist, which now numbers 11 pieces and a playing time of nearly an hour.
“Musick to Play in the Dark” is a mini-suite of shifting elements, from Vietnamese singing to antic percussion. It is by Luong Hue Trinh, a Vietnamese national who studied in Japan and has traveled widely. Opening with high-tension strings before the singing kicks in, it slowly becomes a majestic, maximalist work, heavy on hypnotically rhythmic percussion. The beat, heard as if from inside an old alarm clock, has a back and forth sway that creates intricate patterning, especially as it is set against distant pounding and sonic effects.
There’s also video of her performing an excerpt of the piece at the Onion Cellar in Hanoi, making it clear she’s working largely on a laptop from prerecorded field recordings and sampled music:
For some reason, the track page for this live improvisation by Karen Power and John Godfrey isn’t allowing me to embed it here. So, to hear it, head over to Power’s SoundCloud page, at soundcloud.com/karenpower.
Earlier this year, back in January, Power worked with Joyce Majiski on an installation at the Yukon Arts Centre titled Inside the Glacier. Both of the women were part of an Article Circle Residency Program expedition to the Yukon to collect sounds and develop art from them. This recorded performance teamed Power with musician John Godfrey, and together they, through live improvisation, developed a sonic response to the Yukon soundscape that emanated from another room in the gallery where this was all recorded. Their initially tentative plucks and whirs emerge from the winds and watery sounds of the arctic audio documents. At times the sounds are distinct from the sourced audio, but much of the time their playing achieves a naturalistic presence: strange birds in strange weather.
There is a host of images from her arctic trip at karenpower.ie, depicting the use of omnidirectional microphones inside a wooden boat, microphones inside the remains of a locomotive, hydrophones inside icebergs, and much more. Power produced this half-hour documentary, Can You Hear the Arctic?, about her acoustic experience in 2013:
Susanna Caprara works widely under the moniker La Cosa Preziosa, or “the precious thing.” Originally from Italy but living now in Dublin, Ireland, she posts experimental audio work and field recordings to her SoundCloud account. The latter are generally brief segments of daily life. Part of what distinguishes her field recordings is that they often are not pristine documents of specific sounds, but instead snatches of the broader array of sounds in which those sounds are heard. They are frequently messy (in a good way) and lively, more along the lines of diary entries than encyclopedia entries.
A recording of a bagpipes player, for example, entertaining a crowd in front of a department store has nearly as much crowd noise as it does the sound of that slurry, fuzzy bellows instrument, and it is a cause for her reflections (at her soundreflections.org site): “there is a strange excitement in the air, and with all the surrounding shops still closed this man has the full & undivided, freezing-cold audience’s attention.”
Among her most recent uploads is an echoing track made inside the Botanic Gardens in Dublin, abundant with a chatty naturalism, a mix of constructed natural space and bystander conversations. The piece is itself a construction, made from three different spots: “outdoors, by the stream in the rockery, and at the Wittgenstein steps (inside The Palm House greenhouse).” It’s a great example of how field recordings can be as much about memory and experience as they can be about taxonomy and data.
The word “rhythmanalysis” is from the work of Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991), who explored — and forgive my poor paraphrasing, as I’m still learning about the topic — the role of rhythm in the social construction of urban environments. The theme of “rhythmanalysis” provided a structure to an exhibit earlier this year at Simon Fraser University, reflecting on a half century of artistic activity at the school. The exhibit, Through a Window: Visual Art and SFU 1965-2015, was in the Audain Gallery and Teck Gallery at SFU between June 3 and August 1. It is archived on the school’s website and SoundCloud page.
One of the earlier works in the overview is by Emma Hendrix, “Horizon,” dating from 1999. The piece mixes found audio of transportation sounds into a rhythmic excursion: the underlying churn of a bus en route, the beeping of a signal, the enclosed acoustics of vehicular space.
Writes Hendrix of the piece:
The title of this work refers to the imperceptible and unacknowledged loss of the acoustic horizon within the urban sonic environment. Horizon was completed in 1999 in SFU’s Sonic Research Studio using analog tape loops of field recordings taken along the Hastings corridor, bus route #135, between Commercial Drive and SFU’s Burnaby Mountain campus. Soundmarks that comprise this work evoke the university/city commute and the deserted, last bus’ nightly departure from campus.
• December 13, 2015: The 19th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• Ongoing: The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: soundcloud.com.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.