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Monthly Archives: October 2003

Truly Minimal MP3

Steve Reich, the minimalist composer, has his own website, at stevereich.com. And since the website’s launch, it has featured, on its multimedia page, a single MP3. It’s no meager offering. It’s a live recording of the world premiere, from April 24, 1976, of his Music for 18 Musicians. Not the entire piece, mind you, but a good stretch, just over 12 minutes in length. The file has been compressed to the lo-fidelity rate of 64kbps (most people rip their MP3s at a minimum of twice that level), so it is less than six megabytes large. This is the sort of sound that makes audiophiles take to the streets wearing nothing but noise-reduction headphones and “The End Is Nigh” sandwich boards. Still, the track is more than clear enough for listeners to appreciate the work’s effervescent grid of beading counterpoint. And it’s in stereo. The file may even have its own unique pleasures; fans of the muted sounds of minimal techno and deep house will probably feel right at home. Here’s to hoping that if more people download the Music for 18 Musicians MP3, the Reich site will post some additional sound clips. Currently featured on the site is extensive information on Reich’s most recent CD/DVD, the technologically themed Three Tales, including an overview of the work, interviews, performance dates and its complete libretto, among whose “characters” are such Internet Age luminaries as Jaron Lanier, who coined the term “virtual reality”; Ray Kurzweil, synthesizer-maker and futurist; and Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems.

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Polish MP3

For inclusion in Disquiet’s Downstream department, the Polish label Vivo has graciously uploaded two full-length MP3 tracks, one from each of its two most recent albums. “Daygan” is the first track on Amir Baghiri‘s new album, Yalda, and it’s something of an overture for the full recording, which is a trance-like amalgam of Middle Eastern percussion and atmosphere (information here: vivo.pl/amirbaghiri; track here). This particular track is more driving, more visceral, than others on Yalda, but there are tastes (drops of water, distant wails) of the gauze-like musical elements that have their own moments in the sun on the full-length recording. And the track “Zenzo” comes from the Zenial – Reworked album, a record that features remixes of music by Zenial (courtesy of KK Null and Zbigniew Karkowski, among others), and new works by Zenial himself (information here: vivo.pl/zenial; track here). This is an unremixed work, a slowly swelling piece featuring an eerily nattering vocal sample and a sonic halo of anxiety. Special thanks to label owner Janusz Leszczyñski, who runs Vivo from the city of Zambrow. (For more on Vivo Records, see the current issue of e|i magazine — ei-mag.com –  for which I wrote an overview of the label. The article is reprinted on the Vivo site, here.)

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Iron Chef MP3s

DJing has always had its fair share of gamesmanship and combat, from reggae dubplate soundclashes, to hip-hop battles, to remix one-upmanship, to the more recent explosion of live laptop jams. Enter the Kracfive label’s Iron Chef of Music contest. As of this writing, the first seven such events are represented on the Kracfive website (here: kracfive.com/ironchef; follow the link to “old battles”); an eighth is said due for upload shortly. If you’ve ever caught the Iron Chef television show (broadcast on the FoodTV network in the United States), you already know what’s in store: chefs face off to make the best meal, with some specific, and often odd, ingredient tossed in, like honey, or cuttlefish, or yogurt. Kracfive has adopted that conceit for digital remixes. Here are the rules for Iron Chef of Music, as posted in the site’s F.A.Q.: “contestants sample [assigned] objects for 2 minutes. Each contestant is given 2 hours to build the best song from these special ingredients, trying to beat all of their opponents. … Songs are collected, played for everyone, and voted on. The winner is the new or reigning champion!”

Kracfive has held seven Iron Chef of Music battles so far this year, using such ingredients as a song by the late great jazz musician Charles Mingus (“Half Mast Inhibition”) and the theme to MacGyver, the Reagan-era television show. The best place to start may be the most recent, recorded on July 24, 2003. The source material? “Ice & Dice,” the sounds of ice cubes rattling in a glass, and dice being rolled. Seven contestants participated, and the results of their mixes, along with the original sound source, are all available for download on the Kracfive site’s Iron Chef of Music page (again, here: kracfive.com/ironchef). An act named Kettel (reportedly a late entrant) embraces the clicky, and creates a happy-sad little instrumental that might be at home on Sesame Street. Ten and Tracer’s version similarly hews to a steady beat, but the sounds are more spare, more minimal techno than cartoon ditty. In contrast, Empty Head’s take on the ice, especially its first half, which is willfully beat-less and un-centered, suggests the ice cubes were steeped in a glass of Scotch. To be clear, the Iron Chef of Music project is not producing easy listening, even when the contest is based on a Shania Twain song — it’s more Kid606 than, say, P. Diddy — but it’s still rewarding to hear the familiar not only remixed, but done so under a time constraint, and with the added influence of friendly competition.

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Streaming Plastik

Plastikman, born Richie Hawtin, is one of the great techno minimalists of North America. His new album is titled Closer, and he has posted the entire thing online in streaming mode (here). Closer is the first new Plastikman full-length since Consumed, which was released in 1998. The record is marked by extended horror-soundtrack synthesizer ambience, and by lagging beats that, in jazz parlance, truly swing. Several of the album’s 10 tracks allow voices to intrude on Plastikman’s characteristically insular sound world. Hawtin is quoted in the accompanying liner notes: “How the hell did I go from being an instrumental, electronic artist to recording vocals?” The page also includes a nearly 10-minute audio-video sequence of Hawtin talking about the album and about his own musical life — about his dad’s “big white headphones” and reel-to-reel setup. The Closer tracks and the interview are available as Windows Media or Real Audio files, in lo-, mid- and broadband hi-fi. The album was released commercially this past Tuesday.

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Time-Limited MP3s

Today’s MP3 listing is something of a Disquiet.com exclusive. Saul Stokes, a San Francisco Bay area electronic musician, made available earlier this week a five-file batch of MP3s that document his solo ambient-electronic performance from just a month ago, on September 19, at the San Francisco Musicians Union Hall (Local No. 6), south of Market Street. He initially distributed the link (here) via his email list, but has subsequently agreed to let Disquiet.com share the URL with its readers. The page isn’t even linked to from Stokes’ homepage (saulstokes.com). Note: this link is only assured to work through Saturday, October 25. After Saturday, you may get lucky, or the link for these files (again, here) may simply have been wiped clean. Why? Because the tracks will be given a commercial release as an album, titled Radiate, by dataObscura, a CDR sub-label of the Holland/Canada transatlantic label Databloem Records (databloem.com).

The concert, which I attended, started with a strong laptop set by Foundry Records head Michael Bentley (aka eM). Stokes followed with a set on his homemade equipment, enhanced with a running video by Scott Pagano. Pagano develops computerized systems that create generative images, visuals that fluidly meld multiple sources and often have the look of a dreamy, abstract ride through a desolate metropolis, or perhaps a time-lapse sequence of fantastic urban transformations. Stokes’ restrained, shadow-toned performance, which involved several devices of his own invention, including a wand-like trigger apparatus, ran continuously for close to an hour. He has subsequently edited it into a five-track suite, and the divisions highlight the unique properties of each segment — my favorite is its closing, and most emphatic, entry, “Hard Landing” (file). One trademark of Stokes’ music is the sequences of loosely repeated figures, somewhere between a melody and a percussive motif; despite their loop-like presence, these were in fact performed live by hand. By the way, Stokes’ video artist, Pagano, has his own website (neither-field.com), so if you have enough processing power on your computer, you can listen to the Stokes files, watch the Pagano video clips, and recreate the September 19 Musicians Union show at the privacy of your own desk.

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