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.
This Helicopter Quartet isn’t four Stockhausen-annointed violinists in their own individual whirlybirds. This Helicopter Quartet is two musicians — Chrissie Caulfield on violin and Michael Capstick on guitar, and he appears to play a theremin app on a smartphone toward the end of this video — along with a floor full of guitar pedals. The pedals more than fill out the billing, though the duo together strive to eke out as subtle a space as possible. This piece is called “Quiet,” appropriate for a work that for all its myriad constituent parts sounds like one person working alone with a limited toolset, if not a limited palette. It’s all slow, arching tones, looped and layered, the seesaw of a slow lapping of water against a pier, the mood as calm as the deepest recesses of the night.
Oberlin’s TIMARA school has exactly one video on its YouTube page, and it was uploaded this past week. What it shows is the early synthesizer the Alles Machine, named for Hal Alles, who built the instrument while at Bell Labs in the 1970s. Computer music pioneer Max Matthews also contributed to the Alles Machine’s development. The video is a performance from 2016 by TIMARA undergraduate Judy Jackson.
The Alles Machine has been in TIMARA’s collection since the early 1980s. This is from a TIMARA blog post on January 30, 2017: “[T]he instrument was donated to the TIMARA Department, although it was barely functioning and lay dormant till recently. TIMARA engineer, John Talbert, has repurposed the machine for future generations of TIMARA composers.” Talbert is one of the half dozen faculty at TIMARA, which stands for Technology in Music and Related Arts, and counts among its alumni the classical critic and composer Kyle Gann, electronic musician Bob Ostertag, and playful digital-media artist Cory Arcangel.
The original deployment of the Alles Machine involved a Digital Equipment Corporation’s LSI-11, a sibling of the PDP-11. An article from a 1983 publication of the International Computer Music Association by Talbert and his TIMARA colleague Gary Nelson describes (see: umich.edu) how Max Matthews visited Oberlin during the 1979-1980 school year, and that led to the TIMARA acquisition of the Alles Machine. Nelson and Talbert traveled to Bell Labs in June 1980: “After several weeks of asking questions and taking notes,” they write, “we gathered up technical documentation, circuit diagrams, and the machine itself and headed back to Ohio to begin a challenging but rewarding period of what the seal of Oberlin College calls ‘learning and labor.'” (And if you want to go wayback, here’s a PDF of the 1979 PDP-11 Processor Handbook.)
It’s unclear when and for how long the Alles was mothballed, presumably decades, but a 2016 document from Talbert, linked to from the TIMARA site, details how the Alles Machine was recently disconnected from the antiquated LSI-11 and now functions thanks to a Mac Mini (“loaded with programs such such as the MPIDE Programming Environment, Max/MSP and Steim’s junXion”). Here’s a shot of the Max/MSP interface:
Jackson is a senior at Oberlin, where she is pursuing dual majors, one of them in computer science, the other at TIMARA. Her performance with the refurbished Alles Machine opens with brittle static, the white noise of a failing radio signal from which slowly emerges random, more softly tonal elements, which in turn give way to a warping sing wave. Jackson proceeds to work with these elements, eventually ushering in ever more raucous waveforms. It may be my imagination, but she appears to have opted for an outfit that resembles the one worn by Laurie Spiegel in this widely viewed video of a 1977 Alles Machine performance:
• 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.