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.
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.
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:
• 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.