Björn Bommersheim posted this seven-minute synthesizer performance, which he describes as a “self generative eurorack modular patch,” which is to say it’s an instrument that plays itself. This isn’t to say the synth is entirely self-sufficient. Putting aside the necessity of someone (Bommersheim, that is) to conceive of and implement the patch —
“patch” meaning the various connections between various modules, and the various settings of those modules — there are numerous instances throughout “Chtou | Eurorack Ambient Soundscape” when the author is physically present. Bommersheim is seen adjusting knobs early on to set the piece in motion, and moving up and down between the levels of modules to nudge the piece in a desired direction at various instances. For the duration of the sedate, welcomingly distracting performance, rich swells of cloudy waveforms come and go, and whispy, playful, slurpy smaller tones make themselves heard.
I’ve been keeping a playlist of live ambient performances for awhile. Several things interest me about live ambient music. The main matter is the tension between action and stasis. Ambient music often aspires to a sense of time standing still, a time apart from time. Live performance to some degree or another, whether on stage or in a home-filmed video, aspires to some extent to express activity: something happened, and it is documented here. Two short segments comprise this elegant video by Bryan Noll. The switchover happens around the 1:40 mark of the 3:09-long clip. In both segments the same small number of synthesizer modules imparts a mix of artificially conceived plucked strings and shooting-star tones that fly through, making for whiz-bang chamber music. As Noll (who also goes by Lightbath) explains in the comments, there is some additional technology offscreen, in particular a keyboard on which he is playing the chords. At times throughout you see one or both hands enter the close-up shot to move a knob or a lever, a common activity in synthesizer performance that introduces adjustment as something between conducting and performing.
It’s saying something when the wafts of stage smoke evidence more motion than does the performer. Such is, on this occasion, the painstaking, thoughtful, and introspective work of Sarah Davachi. This solemnly paced video went live late last year, coincident with the November 25, 2016, release of Davachi’s excellent Vergers album on the Important Records label, and yet it’s had oddly few viewings, at least according to YouTube’s accounting. It’s a gorgeous performance. The first half is an encompassing drone, settling into a heavy mid-range and dense with a slow boil of quarter-step commotion. Then enters what sounds like a patiently bowed violin, given to layering, its steadiness allowing for exploration of its gracefully bleak textures.
In related news, Davachi has been filling out her back catalog. Two EPs that predate Vergers appeared on her Bandcamp today: Qualities of Bodies Permanent and neustadt / altstadt EP, both dating from March 2015.
Update (February 16, 2017): I got a note from Rick of Shasta Cults that the Important Records video had previously been posted on the Shasta YouTube channel, and that it was shot “at Kunstencentrum Vooruit, Eastern Dayz festival in Ghent.”
Gregory White is producing lovely videos of his modular synthesis work, mixing closeups of his patched devices with images from his domestic world.
There’s snowfall on suburban streets, bird feeders, and the like at the start and end of “Midwinter Rings + Chord,” giving us a sense of his mood and of his setting. These parallel aesthetics — the hush of the muffled region, the low-level hum of his music — suggest a bleed between environment and production, between world and worldview.
For “Chord + Clouds + Batumi” (the nouns in his titles all come from the names of synthesizer modules), the synthesizer is set up outdoors. The snow has stopped, though it’s still layering on the ground. The birds aren’t just pictured. They’re heard in the mix — perhaps not sampled by White’s instrument, which is going about slow chordal movement, but part of the finished track nonetheless.
Mira Calix has listed the track as “free download for a limited period.” It’s the latest in a series of single tracks that have been filling out her “portal” on the bleepstores.com website. The longtime Warp label roster member and prominent IDMer-turned-sound-artist is at miracalixportal.bleepstores.com. The track was announced on Twitter back on February 2 with an image that combined hostage-demand typography and epileptic-antagonizing flashing. Despite all of which, it’s an elegant piece for varied strings: bowed here, plucked there, stuttering like a rope connected a boat to a pier, aching like a sine wave jutting into the audio spectrum. It could be the score to a contemporary film noir, with all its nuanced tension and romantic scene-setting. What it is is a piece for contemporary dance, as Calix writes in the accompanying note:
metamorphosis i was originally composed for matt clark’s, director of united visual artists, video artwork as part of the 3 scène project commissioned by benjamin milliepied for paris opera in 2016. the video art work, titled metamorphosis, features ballerina eve grinsztajn, and my soundtrack; musicians oliver coates and daniel pioro. i have worked extensively with matt and uva over the years, it’s always a pleasure and truly collaborative process. often you write music to picture or vice a versa, but with this project it was a real back and forth. i set the tempo and wrote the bassline, which matt an the uva used during the initial filming of the dancer to capture her movements. while they were then processing and editing that material, i wrote the rest of the piece, bringing oliver and daniel into record the final score. the entire process taking around 3 months.
• October 13, 2016: This day marks the start of the 250th weekly Disquiet Junto project.
• November 16, 2016: I'll be sharing the mic at Adobe Books in San Francisco with my fellow 33 1/3 author Evie Nagy for an evening hosted, from 7pm to 10pm, by Marc Kate (facebook.com).
• December 1, 2016: A likely speaking engagement. Details to come.
• December 13, 2016: This day marks the 20th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 5, 2017: This day marks the 5th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto.
• 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: disquiet.com/junto.
• 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.