“I’m trying to make a version of me in this software,” Brian Eno tells the BBC’s Spencer Kelly in a half-hour video from the broadcaster’s Click show. The ambient godfather is giving Kelly a tour of his studio, displaying how he constructs his light installations, his sculptures made of small speakers, and his software-based music. We see the dark backroom where he’s transitioned from cathode ray tubes to LEDs, and his ceiling-high bookshelves, 65 percent of which he estimates have science as their subject. Kelly, whose BBC reporting focus is technology, pushes Eno to confirm himself as something of a scientist, which Eno agrees to do.
Broadcasting is an odd thing. Kelly needs to ask a generalist’s questions, even though it’s clear he must know quite a bit more than he’s actually acknowledging knowledge of. They get around to “those cards,” which leads to a bit of a history lesson about how Roxy Music’s limited budget inspired Eno to get some best practices in order, which in turn became the Oblique Strategies deck. He also spends an extended bit making generative drum beats, and gives us a flip through old notebooks. Somewhere people with high-definition monitors are making and trading screenshots, no doubt.
There’s also fodder for an incredibly subtle animated GIF around the 18:23 mark, when Eno, his head emerging from a thick, collared overshirt like that of a tortoise, juts back and forth along to a semi-randomized rhythm he’s just implemented.
This short documentary video about the making of the video game Resident Evil 7: Biohazard explores the use of musique concrète to achieve the game developers’ pursuit of a horror aesthetic. The 8-minute profile interviews various participants in the game’s production from a variety of sound roles, including audio director, composers, and music production supervisors.
Says one member of the team: “We talked about this whole musique concréte style. So using voices became part of the score, and we gave them instructions like pretend, you know, you’ve got a plastic bag over your head and you’re asphyxiating. Pretend you’re drowing; make a sound like that. By the end it got a little bit weird: you know, you’re a zombie cow and you’re dying.”
It’s interesting to observe their collective decision and their experience of moving away from traditional game music — which is generally electronic but also usually employs recognizably musical instrumentation or reference points — to work drawn entirely from recorded audio.
Video originally posted at Vimeo. More on the video game, which was released back in January, at residentevil7.com. An album of the music was also released in January: sumthing.com.
These two short videos from Berlin-based musician Hainbach explore mangled ambience thanks to a handy new device that benefited from an especially popular Kickstarter campaign. The gadget in question is the KOMA Field Kit, and it serves as an entry point into various less typical sonic sources, including physical connections like solenoids and DC motors, as well as the far more ethereal electromagnetic pickup. The latter is employed in the first of these videos, “David Dreams | Tape, Field Kit, OP1, Phashi.” Watch as that little hand-held sensor is moved from one device to the next, the unique nature of its detection lending an otherworldly timbre to Hainbach’s drones. “Nevada in My Dreams | Tapeloop, Fieldkit, OP1” is even slower and doomier than “David Dreams,” with bits of radio noise shooting through like sliver glimpses of alternate worlds. Hainbach’s YouTube channel is a great source of electronic music using a variety of instruments, which he details in the notes associated with the videos. This pair investigates how two very different airborne signals can contribute to the texture of recordings.
Following perhaps intentionally on the warm reception received by that recent posting of a three-part video showing Gavin Bryars’ Sinking of the Titanic being performed live at the Big Ears festival, we now have the other half of that very same record album, the first from Brian Eno’s Obscure label back in 1975. This is the ensemble Psappha on October 12, 2016, at the RNCM Theatre in Manchester, U.K., conducted by Clark Rundell. (The group’s general manager and artistic director is Tim Williams.) The work is “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet,” which takes the melody inherent in a creaky recording of a homeless man singing a hymn in a painfully sweet and wavering rendition and renders it in a gentle, sensitive setting that suggests a heavenly chorus if not outright beatification. Emphasizing the group’s attentiveness is how serenely they sit for the four full minutes before they actually join the nameless singer, whose verse is heard as a recording to which they eventually play along.
Video originally posted at the ensemble’s YouTube channel. More from Psappha, presumbably named for the Xenakis composition, at psappha.com.
Gavin Bryars’ Sinking of the Titanic was the very first release on Brian Eno’s mid-1970s record label, Obscure Records. The album, from 1975, also included “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet,” which became better known in the subsequent decades than the title composition, in part perhaps because its structure — a minimalist work built on a fragment of a homeless man’s singing — bears resemblance to the decade older “It’s Gonna Rain” by Steve Reich, and later certainly because of a celebrity reworking when Bryars re-recorded it with Tom Waits performing the vocal. Sinking of the Titanic is a very different work from “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.” It’s a slow-motion chamber performance in which the ensemble performs an act of veritable theater, the piece intended to suggest the sound of a band playing as the ship goes down. This three-part video was apparently shot at the recent Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, on March 26, 2017, a Sunday. The videos are from the excellent account of Seijin Lee, who has access to an incredible and ever expanding catalog of live shows. I created the little playlist so the three parts can be easily viewed in sequence.
• 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.