Kingdom Come Ingram Marshall (ECM) The album contains three pieces, the most noteworthy of which is “Hymnodic Delays,” a series of settings that contemporary-classical composer Marshall did for a spare vocal quartet who sing centuries-old New England hymns. The hymns would be beautiful enough on their own, but Marshall, who has long been a proponent of experimenting with sound technology, employs digital delays, which lend a warm, church-like reverb to the voices. Just about everything that any individual member of the quartet sings is repeated several times, making the group sound significantly larger than it is, and lending a ghostly aura to everything they utter.
Cinemascope Monolake (ML/I) Each of the songs on Cinemascope, by the German act Monolake, begins as one might expect a normal pop song to begin. In Monolake’s case, the sounds aren’t the humble strummings of an alt.country tune, but the deep house beats of an electronica single. When lyrics fail to arrive, the background comes into the foreground. With its subdued rhythms and rudimentary palette, Cinemascope recalls the drive-by-night techno of Underworld and the antiseptic throb of Richie Hawtin. Monolake explores familiar elements of pop music in a manner that sheds new light. Two standout tracks are “Alpenrausch,” which mimics a simple hip-hop drum loop, and “Ionized,” which must be the most extreme reduction of the Bo Diddley beat ever recorded. If you appreciate the Diddley beat as one of pop music’s great spices, then you must sample this highly condensed rendition.
Hard Again Scott Tuma (Truckstop) Scott Tuma’s Hard Again has been compared with the work of John Fahey, as has the music of his former band, Souled American — all of which is true enough, but not necessarily helpful because Fahey’s music, a philosophical brand of Americana, is criminally underheard. Fahey passed away just shy of his 62nd birthday, a few months before Hard Again‘s release, and there’s been no more-fitting tribute. It’s an album virtually free of vocals, capturing all the beauty of country and folk music without ever dangling a true hook, let alone a verse or a chorus. This is, to use the word twice in a single column, attenuated music—music featuring familiar instruments (guitar, bass and the drums of Jim White, best known as a member of the instrumental rock act Dirty Three) and familiar techniques (experimental overdubbing, for example), but the result is mysterious and beautiful.
A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure Matmos (Matador) The duo Matmos confronts criticism that electronica is “cold” and “inhuman” by employing source material that emanates from the body: samples from plastic surgery-the snap of cracking bones, the glurp of extruded fat. But even without that background information, the resulting record still bubbles with life.
Supermogadon Marumari (Carpark) Shimmering, midtempo lounge music. Perfect for fans of Mouse and Mars’ early records, with their “Muzak of the future” sheen.
Vespertine Bjork (Elektra) A siren of the Information Age, Bjork continues to explore the potential of new digital forms of expression, without letting go of the desire to record memorable songs. For Vespertine she tapped one of the most inventive electronic duos, Matmos, to assist in the album’s production.
Bodily Functions Herbert (K7) The title of Herbert’s 2001 album suggests samples of inopportune human sounds (as does Matmos’s 2001 album, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure), and there is a bit of that here, but the subject of the title has likely more to do with dancing and lovemaking. Either of those activities would benefit from this background music, as long as you don’t mind the occasional vocal intruding on your privacy. The album is a wide-ranging collection of subdued music, from what sounds like light jazz fusion, were it not for the insurgence of pixelated sounds, to a kind of sedate house music. What makes the album a triumph is Herbert’s ability to make the range of songs work together as a whole, and to bring conceptual detail-mindedness to areas of electronic music that often favor function over form and content.
Since I Left You The Avalanches (Sire/Modular) There’s a genre, or a club of sorts, consisting of bands who recycle our favorite music for us — music we love but don’t recognize, because their samples mangle it so; music we would have loved, but didn’t have much of a chance previously, because it’s so obscure. The term for this for music for a long time was “big beat,” because the result of the manipulations were often set atop a heavy-handed, dance-floor-ready rhythm. There were the Propellerheads, the Chemical Brothers, the Neptunes, not to mention Fatboy Slim. And, then came the Avalanches, whose full-length debut is an engrossing, pop-minded collage of old and new, with the emphasis on the borrowed.
Electric Ladyland Clickhop Version 1.0 Various artists (Mille Plateaux) Not exactly the K-Tel of electronic music, the adventurous Mille Plateaux label has built a reputation for compilations comprised of the most with-it composers and performers. This edition, a two-CD set, includes music by DJ Spooky, kid606, Jetone, Andreas Tilliander, Din, Frank Bretschneider, Vladislav Delay and members of Laub and Anti-Pop Consortium, among others. The music collected here suggests an application of rigorous experimentation to the more populist sounds of hip-hop and breakbeat music.
Masses Spring Heel Jack (Thirsty Ear) The record label Thirsty Ear is home to a large number of free and otherwise avant-garde jazz musicians. For this album, the label enlisted one of its non-jazz acts, the British electronic duo Spring Heel Jack, to collaborate with its jazz roster. The result is a set of challenging listening that may sit midway between industrial-environmental music (lots of space, a strong arrhythmic tendency, an emphasis on texture) and European free improvisation (group play, non-traditional use of instruments, alternately strident and meditative sounds), but it’s so so distant from either of those realms that it has, in essence, staked out territory all its own. Participants include saxophonist Tim Berne, pianist Matthew Shipp, trumpeter Roy Campbell, viola player Mat Maneri, drummer Guillermo E. Brown, and saxophonist Evan Parker. The album is the first in an intended cross-cultural imprint for Thisty Ear, called Blue Series Continuum.
Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media
• February 5, 2020: The first session of the 15-week course I teach at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape.
• April 15, 2020: A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)
• December 13, 2020: This day marks the 24th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2021: This day marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
• At least two live group concerts by Disquiet Junto members in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the works for 2020.
• I have liner notes for a musician's solo album and an essay in a book about an art event due out. I'll announce as the release dates come into focus.
• 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, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).
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Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.
• 0465 / You Thank / The Assignment: Make a piece of music for someone or something for which you feel thankful.
• 0464 / Blanket Song / The Assignment: Play over a song, and then remove the original.
• 0463 / Making the Gradient / The Assignment: Make a piece of music inspired by the concept of a gradient.
• 0462 / Vade in Pace / The Assignment: Write a short piece of music that gets slower and slower as it proceeds.
• 0461 / Goldilocks Zone / The Assignment: Navigate a sonic space between the hospitable and the inhospitable.
And there is a complete list of past projects, 465 consecutive weeks to date.
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