My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: voice

Unleash Your Personal Drones

A tape release from Austin, Texas–based Amulets — motivated by motivational tapes.

Part of the beauty of cassette releases is when they tap into the design energy — the tactile experience, the cultural legacy — of the object itself. As Ted Laderas wrote to the New York Times late last year in a letter to the editor, the cassette continues to offer something beyond mere nostalgia: “The cost of manufacturing vinyl and CDs is prohibitive for musicians who sell small numbers of albums. While not ideal, tape is easy to manufacture and easy to personalize, and provides small-time musicians with a viable way of sharing our music that our fans are willing to buy.”

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Sure, the tape cassette was once a dominant pop-music medium, and yes it has long since faded from mainstream commercial employment, but in addition the pop music market it was the foundation of late-night infomercials that promised a fast-forward education in business, real estate, language — and self-knowledge. The Austin, Texas–based Amulets (aka Randall Taylor) feeds on this association with his new album, Personal Power. Its seven tracks, with titles like “Self-Sabotage” and “The Power of Focus,” are built from the source audio of motivational tapes, specifically those of Tony Robbins, the audio of Amulets replacing the original text spoken by Tobbins. Personal Power was released on June 28, just a few days after participants in one of Robbins’ “firewalks” were reportedly treated for second- and third-degree burns.

Short bursts of speaking flesh out some of the tracks, referring to the side of the tape the listener is on, and welcoming the audience to the realm of self-actualization. The music itself is deeply droning, occasionally giving hints of guitar and loops, and generally enjoying the warpy loveliness of tape-based composition. There’s a certain cultural bleed at work here, a certain irony, in that for all his “business” aura, Robbins is a creature of what’s often called the “new age” movement. The music of the new-age movement, in turn, overlaps with and bears certain aesthetic and structural parallels with exactly the sort of music that Amulets is up to, namely a meditative music that can serve as background for activities and focus on introspection.

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Amulets’ creative repurposing of the source material isn’t restricted to the sound and the tape cassettes. Even the “notes/study guide,” as he described them, are part of the project. No doubt the limited edition, a total of 20, was determined by the availability of the originals. If you miss out on the physical cassettes, the audio will still be available for download.

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Album originally posted at amulets.bandcamp.com. More from Amulets at amuletsmusic.com. (Chart via businessinsider.com.)

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Space Age Surveillance Thrills

Courtesy of the new album from Italy-based Sonologyst

There’s much to recommend the new Sonologyst album, starting off with its evocative title, Silencers – the conspiracy theory dossiers. That colorful language may set a high bar for sonic surveillance thrills, but the album delivers, especially with its final track, “NASA Secret Tapes.”

Barely two minutes in length, “NASA Secret Tapes” loops snippets of space-age chatter with sonar swells. It’s a testament to those swells — which ring like massive bells pitched high, their tones extending unnaturally relative to their frigid timbre — that the track would be just as effective minus the “This is Houston. Say again?” dialogue, flavorful as it is in its retro flourish. Those tones are endlessly listenable. Sonologyst artfully tweaks them, turning the background ambience into something with subtle rhythmic purpose.

The “NASA Secret Tapes” track is up top, and here’s the full album:

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/sonologyst. Full album at sonologyst.bandcamp.com. More from Sonologyst, who’s based in Italy, at twitter.com/sonologyst.

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Kelli Cain and Brian Crabtree of Monome (Live Video)

Recorded in San Francisco earlier this year.

It’s not common to post the same audio here twice, but I’m making an exception for the half-hour concert by Kelli Cain and Brian Crabtree, developers of the Monome grid music interface. Back in March I linked to the SoundCloud file of the live performance (“What the Creators of the Monome Sound Like as Live Performers”), and updated that page in April when a higher grade recording went up. But now there’s full, affectionately edited video of the set. It’s at vimeo.com. I attended the concert, which was held at a small shop, Better, out on Balboa Street in San Francisco’s Richmond District, and in the review I mention in particular this social component of Crabtree’s employment of handheld shakers: “He’d shake one for awhile, and then pass it to someone in the audience to continue the pattern. Each person became an extension of what Crabtree had started, but then altered it a little, whether through the conscious decision to contribute a musical idea, or simply because their sense of rhythm differed from his.” That occurs about two minutes into this footage.

The video was shot by the Mill Valley, California–based duo Fabián Aguirre and Maya Pisciotto, who go by theunderstory.co. More on Better at betterforliving.co. More on the Monome, Cain, and Crabtree at monome.org.

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Sarah Davachi on Old Synthesizers and New Ways of Listening

As a guest on Marc Kate's excellent Why We Listen podcast

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So, on Monday I wrote about the drones of Valiska. On Tuesday I wrote about the old-school synthesizer explorations of Sarah Davachi, focusing on her new album, Dominions. After posting that piece, I came to learn that the two musicians, coincidentally, know each other and are, in fact, playing a show together on May 5. On Wednesday I (purposefully) wrote about one of the musicians also playing a set on that same bill. And on Thursday I learned that Davachi is the guest on the latest edition, #36, of the Why We Listen podcast — furthering the coincidence factor, because I was the guest on #35.

The podcast is hosted by musician Marc Kate, who listens to and discusses three (or so) pieces of music with each guest. It’s a genius format to focus the podcast listener’s attention on Kate’s subject, because we listen to him listen. Davachi brought with her Dennis Wilson’s “Mexico,” James Tenney’s “Critical Band,” and John Frusciante’s “Untitled #11” and “Untitled #12.” In addition to talking about the pieces, Davachi talks about her own performance and compositional work. Subjects include moving from piano to synthesizer, working at a musical instrument museum, and bringing her “fidelity standards” down. There’s a great moment when she talks about how ambient music makes listeners uncomfortable because they don’t know — lost in the timeless-ness of it, in contrast with the attention-deficit nature of much pop culture — “what to do with their hands.”

The podcast is available at whywelisten.wordpress.com and on iTunes at apple.com. This link goes to the MP3 for direct download. More from Sarah Davachi, who is based in Montréal, Québec, at sarahdavachi.com.

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The Sixteen-Millimeter Fractal

A work of percussive wordplay by Erika Nesse

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I wrote about Erika Nesse’s fractal music about a month ago (“A Nautilus of Percussive Expressivity”), and she just posted this week another example that’s well worth a listen. Titled “You Can Wish It All Away,” the short piece, not even two full minutes in length, takes tiny snippets of source audio, in this case a woman speaking, and renders from them a slowly evolving rhythmic flurry. Slivers of syllables — not whole verbal sounds but mere bits of them, so even the softest vowel can serve as a plosive thanks to a hard truncation — become an ever-changing fantasy of computer-generated beatcraft.

Two moments seem to suggest that the piece isn’t directly the result of a computer using fractals to break and reformat the source, but that Nesse herself plays a role in the work’s composition — that she is using the fractal algorithm as a source for musical development, much as the algorithm itself is using the original source audio. The first of these moments appears at about the one-minute mark, when the previously furious mix of layered sounds gives way to a harshly minimalist, staccato metric. The second is at the end, when the original sample audio is heard in full, revealing itself as a line from an early episode of The Twilight Zone: “If I wish hard enough, I can wish it all away.” That’s the main character, a former film star, speaking in the episode titled “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine.”

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/conversationswithrocks. More from Nesse, who’s based in Boston, at conversationswithrocks.tumblr.com and erikanesse.bandcamp.com. Film clip screenshot via youtu.be.

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