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Monthly Archives: March 2004

BBC Interview Streams

The BBC’s website(s) is/are so enormous, so maze-like in their multimedia sprawl, that finding anything requires the navigational equivalent of a Freedom of Information subpoena. In any case, the Mixing It radio show, filed under “World & New,” located somewhere beneath the Radio3 subsubsubpage, hosts several 2003 interviews of note, including Warp Records electronic act Plaid (click here) and ambient progenitor Brian Eno (click here). Click through those links, or enter the maze at its main gate, bbc.co.uk, and see what you stumble upon. If you find anything more of interest, be sure to report back.

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Motion MP3s

Speaking of musician Chris Coode (see yesterday’s Downstream entry on the fall of the house of 8bitrecs.com), his latest album under the Motion moniker, Every Action, is out on 12k Records, the label headed by Taylor Deupree. The 12k.com website has uploaded two minute-long-ish segments from Every Action, which are less electro-acoustic than they are electro-organic, sounding like the first burbling emissions of some newborn digital lifeform, just these warm, blippy sounds struggling lightly for coherence, surrounded by a warm, if synthetic, blanket. (The 12k “sounds” page is here, and for the moment the Motion files, “Untitled” and “Moken Edit,” are the top two in what has become a long list.) Any MP3 player with repeat and crossfade can sew these stereo files into more extended listening than the cumulative length of the individual tracks.

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Digital Variations on Harp, Guitar, Flute

If the 17-minute A-side of Colin Andrew Sheffield and James Eck Rippie‘s Variations (Elevator Bath, 2003) seems to shimmer, credit that scintillation at least in part to the source material: this lengthy ambient piece is apparently built from the sounds of a harp, once the mood-setting instrument of courts and kings. Likewise, the vinyl LP’s cut B1 is built upon a guitar, and B2 upon a flute. The album is a half-hour-plus trio of aural-for-aurality’s-sake ruminations on singular instruments. Sheffield and Rippie dig deep into their raw goods, so even when the instruments are less than recognizable post-production, their core sound — their aural aura — remains present in some form. The tone, if not the technique, sings through: the guitar splayed into slowly ringing sine waves, the harp a crystalline surface extending into the distance.

All of the work on Variations was reportedly recorded live with Sheffield on sampler and Rippie on turntables and guitar. Of the three tracks, the least static of the variations is the one that closes the album, the one based on a flute. There’s much more than a flute in that cut — a wash resembles nearby surf, and there’s a downright eerie granularity at times — but it’s the occasional bit of tentative embouchure that grounds the atmospheric goings-on. The flute track, although eight minutes in length, is listed on the sleeve as an “excerpt,” and one can only imagine where it might have gone had it extended into double digits. The guitar piece, at close to ten minutes, ends quite suddenly, just a whisp and then dead air; perhaps the finality is on purpose, but more than likely it’s single bum moment in an otherwise epiphanic live improvisation. It’s also worth mentioning that the Elevator Bath label, which never skimps in its productions, released the album on heavyweight, 180-gram vinyl.

This album review appeared, in slightly different form, in the autumn 2003 issue of e|i magazine.

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Grey Market MP3s

Perhaps there is no such thing as a free MP3. Thorsten Sideboard, who founded the 8bitrecs.com netlabel, got back to London after a recent trip to the U.S., only to find he’d lost his job. Why? Because 8bitrecs.com had participated in Grey Tuesday, the web activist event late last month, in which almost 200 websites around the world made DJ Danger Mouse’s Grey Album available for free download. The Grey Album had become a flashpoint for various copyright issues, including sampling clearances and peer-to-peer filesharing. It melded Jay-Z’s 2003 Black Album and the Beatles’ self-titled 1968 record, ubiquitously known as the White Album, and was made available for free download. EMI, the Beatles’ publisher, sent threatening cease and desist letters to everyone involved, including the numerous Grey Tuesday activists.

Now, 8bitrecs was no generic blog. It was a leader in the netlabel community, offering legal free downloads of MP3 files of electronic music submitted by a wide range of established and up’n’coming musicians, notably Greg Davis, Janek Schaefer and Rothko. It was also, however, hosted on the server of Sideboard’s employer. Make that ex-employer.

“My ex-employer didn’t kill 8bitrecs straight away,” he says. “I can still upload HTML pages, but basically they took down the software running the streams, and I no longer had access to the database, so I couldn’t upload new artists and tracks. I’m also pretty sure they were going to start charging me bandwidth.” (Thanks to the exigencies of Google’s cache function, some of that 8bitrecs material is still available, however temporarily.)

Sideboard’s loss is ours as well, though he’s looking on the bright side: “It feels more like an opportunity to focus more on Highpoint Lowlife, which I’ve always felt I have lacked the time to fully devote to, so hopefully something good will come of it.”

Highpoint Lowlife is Sideboard’s proper record label (website at highpointlowlife.com), which just released its seventh album, titled, with unintentional irony, White Label (by Recon, aka Chris Coode, better known for his work as Motion). He’s also on track for the next three Highpoint releases: Rashamon’s Tomorrow, People; Marshall Watson’s The Time Was Later Than He Expected and, for its 10th album, Some Paths Lead Back Again, a compilation of Scottish electronica, featuring tracks by Daigoro, Izu, Rose and Sandy, Accrual, Bovine Life, the Village Orchestra and others, organized by the Marcia Blaine School for Girls.

Although 8bitrecs.com has hung the “closed” sign, Highpoint is hosting a select number of free MP3 song files (no streams). Among the most recent is a highly recommended pair by Fisk Industries (you were probably wondering how, exactly, this little news report worked as an entry in Disquiet’s Downstream series — now you know). “Earth Algorithm” samples a line from the sci-fi sequel 2010 (“I’m completely operational and all my circuits are functioning perfectly”) and then, for almost six and a half minutes, artfully takes the phrase apart, layering its syllables and sibilants through a steady haze of downtempo techno. You’ll be amazed how solid a rhythm can be constructed from Hal 9000’s stutter. (Speaking of 2001/2010 samples, there’s a page full of ’em here.) Fisk’s “The Way We Found Each Other” is decidedly more upbeat, the sort of bouncy yet bittersweet, keyboard-driven piece that the Cure used to traffic in, before it became a guitar band.

Sideboard meanwhile has announced a legit new MP3 venture, making Highpoint’s albums available for sale as downloads at the invisible-sound.com webstore.

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Bryars Stream

The BBC’s Hear & Now radio program has been posting segments of an interview with composer Gavin Bryars. The first three parts (of a total four) are up now (here). The primary focus of the conversation is Bryars’ new work, From Egil’s Saga, which involves using technology to reproduce architectural acoustics — “a hallway, a vestibule, and so on” — and which he calls “ambisonics” and credits in part to composer Alvin Lucier. “I’m not terribly interested in extraordinary digital trickery,” says Bryars, who layered murky sounds in his Sinking of the Titanic and looped a hobo’s prayer for Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. In the interview, he talks about his devotion to a particular type of pencil, his use of the Sibelius score-production software, and his penchant for putting jokes into his written music. (In a related link, critic and composer Kyle Gann, on his PostClassic blog [here], has been discussing Sibelius, which he uses in his composition. “No one seems to be monitoring the impact of notation software on composing,” he writes, “and it is sure to be vast — and homogenizing.”) The BBC webpage suggests that the fourth and final segment of the Bryars interview will be uploaded on April 8. It also includes links to two interviews with Bryars from 2003.

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