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.
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tag: video

An Aphex Twin Syro Cover on Piano

One of Josh Cohen's latest transcriptions

Perhaps Aphex Twin will follow Brian Eno’s recent lead and, as with Eno’s Reflection album, revisit if momentarily the art of long-form ambient recording. Since returning to action in 2014 with a birthday blimp, a well-received full-length (Syro), a live DJ set in the U.S., and a massive SoundCloud presence, among other activities, Aphex Twin hasn’t released much ambient music. On the recent Cheetah EP (2016), there were two short tracks, 27 and 37 seconds each, “CHEETA1b ms800” and “CHEETA2 ms800,” both segments of synthesizer drones that seemed like test runs of film-score sound design. Syro ended with “aisatasana [102],” a beautiful, plaintive solo piano piece that in its hushed quietude balanced the often frenetic beatcraft of the rest of the record. That’s about it.

Josh Cohen has built something of a YouTube following for his piano covers, and now he’s brought his powers to bear on the Syro closer. The song is lovely in its initial form, and unlike Cohen’s other covers (of Radiohead in particular, but also Beck and Father John Misty, among others), what he’s covering is essentially the original, rather than an 88-key reduction of the original. It’s an appropriately sensitive rendition, gentle and considered, reflective and tentative. You can see it in his hands in the video, how they pause between segments. I’m reminded of videos of instrumental hip-hop production on the Akai MPC, where you can see people crafting beats and tapping or, in their muscles, counting out the moments they want to leave silent. In the Aphex Twin piece as in those beats, the silence is part of the beauty; in the videos, the inaction is part of the performance. (The main thing the Cohen cover dispenses with is the sonic capaciousness of the original, how the recordings seems to take place in a large room, and how that dimensionality renders Aphex Twin’s playing softer than it might have sounded otherwise.)

There’s a telling back and forth in the video’s running comments. One individual, who appears to be the person who requested the cover in the first place, says, “The pacing on this song seems difficult to master. I imagine it’s tempting to rush through many of the long rests.” Cohen replies: “This is true. It’s very tempting to play the next phrase, however I’m actually counting in between phrases – it’s not just random silence. For some reason, I find the rests really challenging.”

Video originally posted at Cohen’s YouTube page. More from him at joshcohenmusic.com. Found via the We Are the Music Makers message board. Cohen lives in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia.

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Surface Pro 4 Meets a Soft Synth

A little video about touch screen music software

I have a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 for the next few weeks. I don’t think I’m going to keep it, but I may yet switch from my MacBook Air to the Surface Pro 5 when that device comes out, supposedly later this quarter (early 2017). This video is simply a glimpse at how the touch screen works for music, specifically in this case how the Aalto synth, from Madrona Labs, works. Aalto is running here from within Ableton Live. The sound quality is poor because I’m just using my phone for both the video and the audio.

The short version is that the screen is great for this sort of software, something with lots of virtual knobs and patch cords and buttons intended for touchpad/cursor use. Aalto is fine with a keyboard and trackpad, but it’s even better with the touch screen. (Less great was finding an angle that would allow me to play the instrument and yet have the screen fairly visible. This is the best I could manage. I’m not much of a videographer. I annotated the video using iMovie. My iMovie skills are pretty limited, so forgive the junior-grade typography.)

The main thing that happens once you start using a synth like Aalto with a touch screen is that things that aren’t touchable, such as the shape of an envelope, suggest themselves as touchable. Perhaps software will become more touchable as time proceeds, with some features only available on touch screens. As a friend said elsewhere, once some things are touchable, you want everything to be touchable.

Shortly after I posted the video, Randy Jones of Madrona Labs took note of it and said interface adjustments were possible: “Nice. Yes, I could probably do something with those envelope areas.”

In related news, late last year I started this modest subreddit for Surface Pro audio discussion: reddit.com/r/winSurfaceMusic.

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Buchla Music Easel Video for the New Year

A live performance by Tokyo-based Ozashiki Techno

This extended, 15-minute piece of synthesizer space music is the latest video I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.” The Japan-based musician who goes by Ozashiki Techno is using the Buchla Music Easel in a live setting. The delicate balance of power between player and played is in evidence. A synthesizer session on something like the Buchla unfolds as much by instruction and cycles as it does by touch, and thus Ozashiki’s occasional intrusion into its space to adjust a fader or flip a switch or attend to a key occurs with the listener’s understanding that if no such motion was made, the Easel would likely persist in making music nonetheless. Ozashiki is there as much to guide as to play, to nudge and shift. The piece proceeds from filmic drones to beading percussives to wispy intonations. It’s the 19th in a series of live Buchla Easel recordings that began back in mid-September 2014. For Ozashiki, the video was a way to end the year; for viewers and listeners, it will be a way to start a new one.

Track originally posted at Ozashiki’s youtube.com channel. More from Ozashiki, who is based in Tokyo, at twitter.com/ozashikitechno.

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The Tape Machine

An Ondes Magnétique in action

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The OM-1 Ondes Magnétique is an elegant little box that uses fluctuations in cassette tape speed to effect otherworldly yet melodic material. This video shows SineRider putting it to use. The layering effect is the result of the OM-1 being played through a “triple delay,” meaning each sequence is heard several times, providing its own gentle, hazy backdrop as it gathers and fades. It’s the latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.”

For reference, here’s a demo video showing the device put to use on flute, vocal, and other source audio:

Track originally posted at SineRide’s YouTube channel. More from SineRider, aka Devin Powers of Norwood, Massachussets, at sinerider.bandcamp.com, soundcloud.com/sinerider, and twitter.com/SineRider. More on the Ondes Magnétique at ondemagnetique.com. The device is the work of Scott Campbell, who is based in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Hour-Long William Basinski Video

Recorded live at MoMA PS1 in March 2016

Last week I posted a tremendous hour-long set of Grouper, aka Liz Harris, performing live. That performance was part of a double bill at MoMA PS1 in New York City on March 20, 2016. The other name on the marquee was William Basinski, famed for his use of tape loops toward otherworldly, time-altering effect. That Basinksi video, just under an hour in length, is also on YouTube. Hidden in shadows, aside from dark blue silhouettes and sparkly projections, a wool-capped Basinksi works through shuddering ambient textures in super slow motion, waves upon waves of protracted glisten.

Video originally posted on the Boiler Room YouTube channel. More from Basinski at mmlxii.com.

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