Back in 2002, the first issue of the short-lived magazine The Ukulele Occasional was published, and in it I had a short piece on Les Paul, widely associated with the development of multi-track recording and of the solid-body electric guitar. At the time, I was living in New Orleans, and he was playing weekly at a club in Manhattan, even though he was nearing age 90. I’d interviewed Les Paul once before, and was hankering for a reason to speak with him again when I stumbled on a bit of history I wanted to flesh out. The magazine was founded by Jason Verlinde, an old colleague from my Tower Records Pulse! magazine days, who went on to found The Fretboard Journal.
The two times I interviewed Les Paul, I was hunting for something that likely never existed. I dreamed that in his multi-track experimentation he had recorded things that were closer to noise music than the accomplished, jazz-tinged pop for which he is best known. Maybe such tapes are buried deep in his archives. But no matter. Speaking with him was always a pleasure. He passed away in 2009.
I’ve been slowly adding old material to this site. The post was uploaded to Disquiet.com on June 27, 2015, but backdated to mid-2002 to match the original publication date. Read the full piece in the archives.
A new album, Electric Verdeland, Vol. 1, is due next month from Grassy Knoll, aka Bob Green. I was asked to say a few words about his music, which I’ve been listening to since his early-1990s recordings for Nettwerk, Antilles/Verve, and Emigre. The full text of his press materials reside at his newly updated thegrassyknollmusic.com site.
Here’s what I wrote:
“There’s a difference between someone having the same records as you and liking them for the same reasons. Back when those records by The Grassy Knoll first came out, it was like someone was hitting pause in the middle of some of the greatest moments in electric-era jazz and just reveling in them for the sheer sonic joy of it. So many musicians and listeners got hooked on the ego inherent in jazz fusion, but Bob Green has always been more focused on its meditative, introspective potential. He has little interest in bravado and showiness; he is more drawn to concentrated, mantra-like electronic explorations, sometimes venturing into ambient territory. At other times, he has formulated proto-mashups, combining familiar elements – he called them ‘adverse ideas’ when I interviewed him – into unexpected, ecstatic congruences.”
◼ 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.
¶ 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 filmSlomo 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 Suuns’ Images du Futur he mentions “the repeating synthesizer tones of early electro.” For How to Destroy Angels’ Welcome 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”:
¶ 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.)
There’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?”
• May 13, 2015: Last spring-semester class meeting of the 15-week course that I teach on the role of sound in the media landscape at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I'll next teach it in spring 2016.
• 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.