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:
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
This living room concert features nearly a quarter hour of Jen Kutler eking a fantasia of droning metallic forms out of a stationary guitar. There are many alternative guitar practices, from playing with your teeth to preparing it, à la a Cageian piano, with paper clips and other small objects. In many ways, an electric guitar can be said to always be prepared, in that it is almost always having its signal routed through various effects pedals. In contrast with a piano, an electric guitar is almost never heard unaltered. For all the perceived rawness and realness of, say, a rock’n’roll guitar solo, that sound is heavily technologically mediated. Kutler’s performance has all the force of a great rock statement, all the roil and ecstasy, but it pursues it without the familiar, orienting substrata of rhythm or melody.
There’s something illustrative about how Kutler situates her guitar. It’s on a guitar stand, at rest. A lot of noise guitarists take a lap-steel approach, holding it sideways. Others telegraph the meditative quality of meter-less sound by placing it flat on the floor, a six-string savasana. Others lay it on a desk amid various cables and effects, akin to a synthesizer or a keyboard. Those horizontal approaches can be read as contrasts to the normal positions: over one’s knee or suspended by a strap. The horizontal positioning matches the ambient/noise approach to sound, that we’re not hearing a song, but instead a song inside out, the material of a song, the sounds not the tune. We’re listening to music from a perpendicular angle. In Kutler’s hands those sounds are akin to a Harry Bertoia sculpture, of thick metal rods swaying amid the very noise they are emanating.
Kutler works with her own homebrew music technology, such as these MIDI-enabled umbrella and sewing machine:
The prolific Boiler Room electronic-music content generation feed machine is often full of fish-eye views of sweaty DJs, but it veers at times down less beat-intensive corridors. This here is a nearly hour-long set of Grouper, aka Liz Harris, performing against a backdrop of footage by filmmaker Paul Clipson. It’s breathy stuff, her voice layered with keyboards, mere snippets of atmosphere given minutes to loop on end, the whole thing like veils giving hints of veils giving hints of veils. It’s all intonation and gauze, but the seeming softness belies a deeper tension. Much ambient music sounds — and is — peaceful, but there’s a tensile quality to Grouper’s music, like just past the threadbare scrim is something tough as nails, an unknowable intensity. The video gives glimpses of her at the mixing board, her fingers lightly adjusting signals, keeping certainty just out of reach.
The above video is a recent piece by R Beny, whose new album, Full Blossom of the Evening, I wrote about late last month (“This Is Glisten”). That record has a prominent string presence, as does this track. In the discussion that — politely and enthusiastically, unlike many public discussion spaces — accompanies the video, Beny mentions that the source of the sound isn’t a guitar but, in fact, one of the synthesizer modules. “It’s the second module you see: ‘Rings,” he explains in response to a viewer’s question, “that is able to produce those guitars and other string type instruments.” He’s referring to the second module in from the left. That tone is heard here as a fairly realistic element, a largely single-line melody that traverses, deep in a lightly warbly echo, an increasingly static-lined zone. The harshness of that latter, low-fidelity noise provides a contrasting atmosphere to the gentle tones of the guitar-like material. Beny is a master of deceptively simple music whose quietude is matched by its attention to detail and its emotional richness, and this live performance is a fine example of what he’s capable of. If this piece strikes your fancy, another live performance featuring the guitar-like module is his “Spring in Blue”:
• 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.