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: rock

Cues: Rdio, Spotify; Writing Sound; Producer Reducer

Ambient playlists, a new Resonance podcast, Rick Rubin, and more

This Is Rdio Disquiet: I’ve started a pair of ambient stations/playlists at rdio.com and spotify.com, for any folks who subscribe to those services. These are in addition to the three setlists-by-accrual “Disquiet Carousels” over at SoundCloud.com.

If a Setlist Plays in the Forest: Olivia Solon at wired.co.uk reports on a project involving a radio transmitter deep in a Scottish forest by name of Galloway. The music will play for 24 hours. “Those who want to hear it,” writes Solon, ” will have to head to the forest. There will be no repeats and the files will be deleted after they are played.” The music will include work by Severed Heads, The Herbaliser, Scanner and Stephen Vitiello, Dave Clark, Imogen Heap, and Richard X. The koan-probing DJs are Stuart McLean (aka Frenchbloke) and Robbie Coleman and Jo Hodges, the latter two of whom are artists in resident at Galloway Forest.

Daniela Cascella and Salomé Voegelin have created a new broadcast series, titled Ora, about “Writing Sound” for Resonance104.5FM in England. After the program(me)s are heard on radio, they’ll pop up on the resonancefm.com website. The first one aired Thursday, June 27, 2013, with a rebroadcast scheduled today, June 29, after which it’ll pop up on the Resonance site. Here’s a description:

Writing Sound voices the relationship between listening, hearing, talking and writing – it puts forward a language that is part of the listening practice and challenges the nominal relationship between sound and words, naming and reference. It is language as the production of words, the material of language, in response to the material of sound, that invites listening as a material process also to uncover in language the process of listening, rather the source of what is being heard.

◼ Excellent interview with producer Rick Rubin (LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash) at thedailybeast.com, especially in terms of his focus on simplicity. His emphasis on less being more is virtually required reading for anyone participating in this week’s Disquiet Junto project, which is based on subtraction-as-composition. Here is Rubin replying to an informedly leading question from interviewer Andrew Romano:

Q: So you don’t believe that, say, a great melody is necessarily part of a great song?

A: No, no. I think one of the things that really drew me to hip-hop was how you could get to this very minimal essence of a song—to a point where many people wouldn’t call it a song. My first credit was “Reduced by Rick Rubin.” That was on LL Cool J’s debut album, Radio. The goal was to be just vocals, a drum machine, and a little scratching. There’s very little going on.

Decade of SoundWalk: July 1 is the final day for proposals to participate in the 10th annual soundwalk.org sound art festival in Long Beach, California. Last year I ran a panel discussion at SoundWalk, and the whole event was a blast.

Also tagged , , , / / Leave a comment ]

Cues: Deaf Gaming, Twang Bar Noise, Tank Preservation, …

Plus: a 30-part sound documentary on BBC, the history of Celluloid Records, and more

Deaf Gaming: Interesting anecdote from a recent gamasutra.com piece on the late video game creator Kenji Eno, written by Brandon Sheffield. The “Eno” in this is, of course, Kenji (not Brian), and the Saturn is the Sega game console from the mid-1990s:

“For his next game, Sega wanted to make it an exclusive — whatever it was. Eno had recently met with some sight-impaired folks who liked to play action games, and he asked himself, “What if you made a game that the blind and the sighted could play equally?” So he created the game Real Sound, which is an audio-only retail game, and made Sega promise that if he made the game exclusive to them, they would donate 1,000 Saturns to blind people, and he would supply 1,000 copies of the game. Again, this was an unusual idea for 1996, but he felt the stagnancy of the industry, and went to great lengths to shake it up.”

Surround Sound: The Tank is a 60’ x 30′ vessel — a “rusted steel water tank” in the words of its caretaker, Bruce Odland, who has made use of its inherent 40-second reverb since 1976. He’s set up a kickstarter.com campaign to ensure its future use:

The campaign ends March 31, 2013. More on the project at kickstarter.com. (Thanks for the tip go to Joshua Izenberg, whose film Slomo just won the Documentary Short prize among the Short Film Jury Awards at the 2013 SXSW festival. Jeremiah Moore, the sound designer on Slomo, is apparently also involved in this Tank project.)

Electretymologies: There’s a hair’s-breadth matter of word choice in today’s “playlist” by Jon Pareles in the New York Times. In a single column he reviews six records. For SuunsImages du Futur he mentions “the repeating synthesizer tones of early electro.” For How to Destroy AngelsWelcome Oblivion he mentions both “dank electronic sounds” and how “the electronics mostly give way to the acoustic.” And for Draco Rosa’s Vida he mentions “dipping into new wave, Caribbean styles, electronica and, at the end, hard-rock blasts.” The emphasis is mine. Those are four distinct terms, all variations on a core root prefix, all used in close proximity: electro, electronic, electronics, and electronica.

Twang Bar Theory: This is pretty great. Over at youtube.com, Adrian Belew (King Crimson, Talking Heads, Nine Inch Nails) as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival back in 2011, discussing the “history and future of guitar noise”:

The event opened with a guitar solo, to set the tone, as it were, for the event, and there’s a third section as well.

Docusound Platform: Promotional video for the site docusound.org, “a platform for producing and distributing audio documentaries”:

Sonifying Auckland: Sound designer Tim Prebble, along with filmmaker Denise Batchelor, is a 2013 artist in residence of the Auckland regional parks system. Details at scoop.co.nz. Here is description from the announcement: “He’ll record local native birdcalls, slow the recordings to allow notation and then ‘play with this as the DNA of music’, embellishing and orchestrating it. On completion, his music will be played at a local venue and a CD, tentatively called The Bird Song Preludes, will be available after his residency.” More from Prebble at musicofsound.co.nz.

Celluloid Heroes: The first of two parts of a documentary about Celluloid Records, over at youtube.com, featuring among others Bill Laswell, DXT (formerly Grand Mixer DST), and label founder Jean Karakos:

Re-scanning: Great interview at thequietus.com with Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, about his range of activities. He goes project by project, talking about his early work with the technology from which he took his name (“The scanner was connected directly into a tape deck the whole time. This was ’91, ’92, this was anticipating an idea of the internet, there was no access to this kind of networked world that we’re so comfortable with today. These voices and accessing them suddenly took you into a very private place that you could never otherwise be in.”), collaborating with filmmaker Derek Jarman and artist Mike Kelley, and “re-soundtrack[ing]” the final two minutes of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse, and much more.

In Brief: There’s a 30-part audio documentary titled Noise: A Human History being presented starting tomorrow, March 18, on BBC 4 by David Hendy of the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex: bbc.co.uk (via bl.uk). ¶ The palmsounds.net provides a brief overview of a talk Rob Thomas (of Reality Jockey) gave in London about mobile music. ¶ In the Field: The Art of Field Recording is a new book containing interviews with artists whose work employs field recordings. Among those are Andrea Polli, Christina Kubisch, Francisco López, Hildegard Westerkamp, Jez Riley French, and Lasse-Marc Riek. (Thanks for the tip, John Kannenberg.) ¶ “Why Do People Use ‘Nope’ Even Though ‘No’ Is Shorter?” (at slate.com, via Quora). The short version is that “no” may have half as many letters but the hard stop at the end of “nope” arguably makes it more succinct. The author, Marc Ettlinger, has other theories as well, including an informative bit on “sound symbolism.” ¶ Robert Henke, aka Monolake, is coming to the San Francisco Bay Area as a visiting instructor at CCRMA, the computer music department at Stanford University. In a warm-welcome gesture, the department made the page announcing his course look just like a page from Henke’s own monolake.de website. ¶ That White House petition to make unlocking cellphones legal, mentioned here recently, has gained President Obama’s support. ¶ The 62nd Disquiet Junto project had 44 participants, each making music from three sine waves. ¶ Here’s a recording of Steve Reich’s “Radio Rewrite,” his new adaptation of Radiohead’s “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” and “Everything in Its Right Place”: youtube.com. (Note, it’s audio only. Found via the indispensable rgable.typepad.com.)

Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , / / Leave a comment ]

The Song, Not the Singer

Celebrating the asynchronous chorus of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

20121222-hallelujahThere’s a new book out about the song “Hallelujah,” Alan Light’s The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah.” The song was written and initially performed by Leonard Cohen, but it is best known for its other renditions, most notably the late Jeff Buckley’s, itself founded on the arrangement of an earlier version by John Cale of the Velvet Underground. In more recent years, the song has become ubiquitous, appearing regularly in the background of TV dramas and the foreground of singing competitions. As someone currently at work on a book about an album, I was intrigued by the idea of a book simply about a single song. My college alumni magazine asked me to review it (the book’s author is a fellow alum, in fact a classmate). There are many lessons to be taken from the book, key among them something I focus on in the review’s final paragraph:

[S]tudents of the changing role of copyright in our post-Internet age will find much to learn from the song’s ascent. In Light’s informed opinion, it is precisely the absence of a singular, definitive, canonical recording that has left “Hallelujah” up for grabs, free for wide appropriation…

In the piece, I refer to the fans of the song as the “sizable ‘Hallelujah’ chorus.” In an earlier draft, I reserved that inevitable play on words for a different purpose: to consider the collective singers of the song as an asynchronous chorus, each previous rendition echoing in the background of one’s memory as a new version is heard.

The book is recommended reading. My sole misgiving about it is its focus on lyrics at the neglect of music. This is particularly odd for a song whose lyrics include their own note structure — “It goes like this / The fourth, the fifth / The minor fall, the major lift” — and is all the more ironic, given that the song includes this line: “but you don’t really care for music, do you?”

Read the full review: “The Song, Not the Singer”

Also tagged / / Comment: 1 ]

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Update

Rock has slowly had to come to grips with losing its most-favored-genre status.

When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in early October produced the shortlist for this year’s inductees, the list was worth investigating for its technological orientation. Rock in recent years has developed a complicated relationship with technology, as I outlined in an article last week on the website of The Atlantic, a consideration of the forthcoming documentary film directed by Dave Grohl about a defunct recording studio, Sound City. Rock has slowly had to come to grips with losing its most-favored-genre status. It now sits alongside country, hip-hop, dance, pop, and other genres, and is increasingly the provenance of musicians who see it primarily as an antiquated, if venerated, form, not as a crucible for artistic progress.

In turn the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has broadened its sense of what “rock and roll” means. When the Hall of Fame announced its shortlist, I broke it into four categories. There were the electronically sympathetic (N.W.A, Public Enemy, Donna Summer, Chic), the fellow travelers known as prog rock (Rush, Deep Purple, Procol Harum), a group whose contemporary fame can be traced in large part to a revival thanks to widespread sampling of their work (the Meters), and six acts for whom any electronic affiliation would be tough to trace (the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Albert King, the Marvelletes, and Randy Newman). Of the final six inductees announced this morning, a full half come from that list of acts unburdened by strong electronic sensibility (Heart, Albert King, Randy Newman), Rush was selected to represent prog rock, and two acts were chosen from the “electronically sympathetic” crew: Public Enemy and Donna Summer.

The two producers due for awards this year are Lou Adler (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Carole King’s Tapestry) and Quincy Jones (who’s produced everyone from Ray Charles to Michael Jackson), both of whom turn 80 in 2013. At this rate, it will be another 15 years before Brian Eno is voted in.

All in all, it’s a less-rock-heavy list than I might have imagined, commendably so. It’s a list one might have had a hard time foreseeing in the hall’s early years. Of course, the Hall of Fame’s first inductees were named way back in 1986. The institution has had more than a quarter of a century to catch up with the early years. Now it must wrestle with the recent past — and, by extension, the present.

More on this year’s and past inductees at rockhall.com/inductees.

Tag: / Leave a comment ]

Sieve-Fisted Compositions

Chris Lawhorn edited the Fugazi discography down to a concentrated album-length study of rhythm and tension.

It’s a fierce object, many-layered yet taut as could be. It’s a dense field made of raw materials so rarefied that even in combination the resulting effect is singular, tensile. The album in question is Fugazi Edits, for which Chris Lawhorn took the extensive discography of the hardcore band Fugazi and combined multiple songs into new hybrid compositions. The opening track combines parts of five Fugazi songs (“Nice New Outfit,” “Greed,” “Walken’s Syndrome,” “Facet Squared,” “No Surprise”) and every other one of the album’s 22 cuts combines four. The album was produced with the approval of Fugazi and was released yesterday, October 30.

With perhaps a few minuscule, split-second exceptions, Lawhorn focused entirely on the instrumental portions of the Fugazi songs, just the tight rhythmic play of bass, guitar, and drums. Among other things, lyrics would have made the specifics of the songs self-evident, while the played passages are aggressively restructured to make the most of parallels and contrasts. The songs on Fugazi Edits range from momentum-charged ragers to extended surveys of tone and other sonic nuances. The result isn’t just a reconsideration of Fugazi’s work, but a valuable document of music-making in the early 21st century, a moment when matters are splendidly confused in regard to tensions between copyright and originality, between fan fiction and homage, between consumption and production.

In an extended back’n’forth email correspondence in advance of the album’s release, Lawhorn talked about the pleasures of cutting things up, about the varying density of the resulting material, and about pondering with Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye the discrepancy between the words “edit” and “remix.” What follows is a lightly edited transcript of this email discussion:

The full album is streaming on SoundCloud at Lawhorn’s account.

More on the record at chrislawhorn.com.

Marc Weidenbaum: Which of these tracks came most immediately to you, which was the most difficult, and why?

Chris Lawhorn: As for the most difficult, it’s tough to say. There was a whole stretch in the middle of production wherein I’d gone through all the main ideas with which I’d come to the project — and had to start pushing into new territory. So, that was tricky. But, it also led to some of the most challenging, adventurous mixes.

As for the most immediate, it was probably the final track on the album. It was one of the last ones I did. It fell into place really easily. And it had the right … arc, for lack of a better term, to close the album.

Weidenbaum: Which track exemplifies “the main ideas” with which you had “come to the project” and how would you describe those ideas?

Lawhorn: If any track gets close, it’s the last one. That’s probably got the best mix of quiet stuff, experiments, and riffs.

Weidenbaum: I may be mistaken, but even though the album is built from instrumental parts, I’d swear I can hear bits of vocal in the opening track, “Nice New Outfit – Greed – Walken’s Syndrome – Facet Squared – No Surprise.” Are there fragments of vocal in there, or am I hearing my memory of the song?

There is one track, I can’t remember which, that I think there might be a vocal in the mix. It’s just a little burst — I’m not sure if it’s a person or feedback. But, it’s buried in the mix — and I notice it every other time I listen to the album. But, I’ve not noticed anything in the opening track.

Weidenbaum: Can you take one track and talk through the production process? This is as much a matter of technique and process as it is of technology.

Lawhorn: They were all different, really. And, I was trying to approach each one from a different angle. Having said that, I used [the software package] Ableton Live throughout. And one of the things you can do there is move individual beats forward or back a bit. It’s ideal for music made by live musicians — because even the tightest band will have some idiosyncrasies. In the context of a single song, that’s not really an issue. But, if you’re layering passages of one song over another, you’re effectively making the band jam with themselves. Usually, that’s a bit of a train wreck. So, you can use Ableton to move bits and pieces — even a single snare hit — around so that everyone stays in time. In a club, you’d use that to transition between two songs seamlessly. Here, it’s the same principle. But, instead of one track giving way to another — the tracks all come and go.

Weidenbaum: How did you decide which segments to combine? Were the tracks largely planned in advance, or did you mix and match and experiment?

Lawhorn: A lot of it had to do with tempo. Namely, if you mix a fast song with a slow one — and force them into the same tempo — it changes the pitch of the music. You can use effects to mask this or override that. But, I wanted the album to have a somewhat coherent feel. So, I tried to group the tracks with other songs from the same tempo range.

Weidenbaum: Was it a conceptual challenge to try to use each song once, and to make sure you used every song on every record? What exactly was your selection process?

Lawhorn: Honestly, I just needed a way to make the project finite. With access to the whole discography, there are an infinite number of variables on each track. So, for me, the easiest way to make that manageable was to use every song — but not on more than one track. Technically, there are still infinite possibilities. But, it gave me a limitation set within which I could work.

Weidenbaum: You mentioned “effects” in a way that suggests you avoided them. What tools did you allow and not allow yourself when putting this music into effect? And in particular, what tools did you consider employing and then decide against?

Lawhorn: Originally, I didn’t think I’d use any effects at all — as I didn’t want to fiddle with their sound too much. But, I ended up using them to highlight elements that might otherwise get lost in the mix, and to shake things up a bit — as I started to feel like I’d gone as far as I could with just sampling and editing. I didn’t, though, add any new elements — no beats, no synths, etc.

Weidenbaum: I was wondering which track is the most dense with material?

Lawhorn: Track eight — the one built around “Last Chance for a Slow Dance” — is probably the densest. It might not sound that way, as it’s got a fair amount of dead space. It also sounds like it’s got a ton of effects on it. But, it was made almost entirely by layering very small samples over each other.

Weidenbaum: Did the music end up sounding like you’d expect it to sound, or did it take you in an unexpected direction?

Lawhorn: More or less. I had no idea each track would sound like, as I started it. But, I was trying to make something that was straightforward some of the time and experimental some of the time — not unlike a Fugazi album.

Weidenbaum: I like that assessment of the Fugazi approach: sometimes straightforward, sometimes experimental. What appeals to me about this record is its success is based in what long appealed to me about the band, which was its rhythmic intensity and the beauty in its sonic material, even putting aside the band’s ethos, its collective songwriting skills. What did you learn about the band’s music given all the time you spent studying it and working with it?

Lawhorn: I noticed a lot of little things — insofar as the way tracks were panned. I’ve probably spent more time listening to Fugazi on a stereo than with headphones. So, this gave me a chance to hear the songs more closely — without any distractions. Just me and headphones and samples for weeks on end.

Weidenbaum: How did you get this opportunity? Did you know members of Fugazi? Did you submit rough examples of what you intended to do?

Lawhorn: I’d been the resident DJ at Marie Claire magazine. And, when that wrapped up, I was trying to decide what to do next. I’d had something like this in mind for awhile, so I got in touch with Ian, made him a demo, and went from there.

Weidenbaum: What does that entail, being resident DJ for Marie Claire?

Lawhorn: Mostly writing — about what songs are popular in the club and what ones are good for working out. Things like that.

Weidenbaum: Whose idea was the charities, and how were they decided upon?

Lawhorn: The band was very generous — in letting me use their music and all. So, giving away the profit seemed like an easy way to both pass on that generosity on and simplify the accounting.

Weidenbaum: What’s going on in the album cover? What was the source material?

Lawhorn: It’s a picture of the band, digitally rearranged.

Weidenbaum: You were in a band, Cataract Falls, that you’ve rightly described as being “admittedly Fugazi-influenced.” I’m really intrigued by the extent to which when bands first form, they are in many ways, perhaps self-consciously, a kind of cover band, maybe a meta-cover band, in that they’re working on subsuming a whole lot of influences. Can you compare your experience playing in a Fugazi-influenced band and making these “edits”?

Lawhorn: I’m not sure how much of Fugazi crept into the sound of Cataract Falls. But, they were huge influence on the way we did things. Ethical stuff aside, I just didn’t realize how much of this stuff you could do yourself until Damian [Hade] — who started Cataract Falls and went on to play in Dead Letter Auction — started loaning me Fugazi albums and telling me about them. Prior to that, I think I was just writing songs and dreaming about getting a record deal. But, after I started listening to Fugazi and reading about them — I started buying recording gear, booking tours, and putting out CDs. None of this went very well. Everything lost money. But, it was an education. And, after about a decade of that, things started turning around.

Also, on a more practical, musical basis — the last half of the Cataract Falls album is all edits, field recordings, remixes, isolated tracks. It’s stuff with which I’d been fiddling, after the album was done, trying to add some kind of context to the music. And, all of that cutting and pasting was a precursor to the DJing I eventually started and, in turn, this album.

Weidenbaum: You’ve mentioned that this project let you explore two areas of interest at once: the music of that post-hardcore era and the cutting and pasting of sound inherent in hip-hop. What parallels do you hear between those two areas?

Lawhorn: There are lots of parallels you can draw — culturally, sonically, etc. But, mostly, I just like cutting things up and rearranging them. I like the sound of things overlapping. I don’t know why this is.

Weidenbaum: I’m intrigued by this idea of an “edit,” in contrast with a “remix.” I have my sense of what you’re getting at, but please describe it in your own words.

Lawhorn: Originally, I’d planned on calling the album Fugazi Remixes. And, Ian — from Fugazi — pointed out that they weren’t really remixes — in the sense that I wasn’t taking the original tracks and remixing them. It’s a fair point. So, after discussing a few other titles, I picked Fugazi Edits.

Weidenbaum: Can you think of precedents for this sort of work? Were any on your mind? I think a bit of the way the Who’s music was refined for the opening themes of the CSI shows, which use elements of Who songs, and more recently of the way Daft Punk edited Junior Kimbrough for a recent Yves Saint Laurent fashion show. I think of a lot of things, but I wonder if anything was on your mind in this regard?.

Lawhorn: I can’t really think of anything. I’m sure there are other cases where folks have done stuff like this. But, I’m just not aware of them. So, rather than a single album inspiring me, it’s probably just the convergence of a bunch of disparate experiences playing in Cataract Falls, making a rap album, listening to Brian Eno albums in college.

Also tagged / / Comments: 10 ]