New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

Monthly Archives: August 2004

Sun-Kissed MP3

One of the beautiful things about electronic music that’s derived from conceptual art is that it provides its own readymade metaphors. In other words, in the absence of traditional musical form, we have the musician’s m.o. to lend sense to something that is otherwise abstract. Case in point, Retina Burn, the new, half-hour long piece by Andrea Polli, available as of last month as a free download from the Stasisfield netlabel. Polli’s work — 27-plus minutes of low-level interference and broken whirs — takes as its source “soundwaves generated by the sun.” Polli then manipulates this sonic information, transforming it with what she’s termed “intuitive ocusonics,” or computer-aided musical interfaces that track eye movement. Why does she choose to shape the sound with her eyes, and not with fingers on a keyboard, or on a six-string? Conceptually, Polli’s point is self-apparent: by manipulating sound from the sun with her eyes, she’s doing what we otherwise must not, which is to look directly at the sun. What’s interesting, though, is that the resulting sound art, as heard on the overtly slow Retina Burn, doesn’t suggest the scorching, brilliant center of our solar system (although the crackles do bring it to mind) so much as it sounds like data being processed meticulously in the name of science: pristine data sets published for peer evaluation. The Stasisfield label’s sixth release this year, Retina Burn is available here. More on New York-based musician Polli at her webpage, here.

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Techno Exotica MP3 Set

While there is much on r_garcia‘s four-song Travel by Light Rail MP3 EP (available for free from the Kikapu netlabel) that leans heavily on the sort of techno-exotica that seemed brave and new when Aphex Twin first recorded such things — the tick tock beats, rubberized and distended; the disarming, Casio-style melodies; the light echoes of dub; the ironically canned nature of some of the rhythms — there are more than enough moments of pop splendidness to warrant its download. Here are two: on “Runk,” which is a kind of willfully rudimentary Balkan slice of techno, it’s how the piece funnels down into a simple, repetitive sequence, and how your brain isn’t quite sure which beat is the down beat; on the title cut, it’s the opening sequence, in which the plaintive beacon tone is set against a pneumatic thump. The Kikapu label’s 70th release, Travel by Light Rail is available here. More on Florida-based musician garcia at his webpage, here.

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The Mixing It radio show on the BBC (homepage here) is one of the network’s best, at least as experimental electronic music is concerned. Today’s broadcast (yes, today’s — ah, the immediacy of the Internet; it’s already archived in streaming form) opened with a track of Spring Heel Jack’s recent Sweetness of the Water (Thirsty Ear), and eventually wended its way around to a brief interview with Bjork (see yesterday’s Downstream entry on her upcoming, vocal-heavy Medulla album, here), talking about choir arrangements, remixing, and so forth, and filled out with examples off the new record, featuring such collaborators as Robert Wyatt, Valgeir Sigurdsson, Gregory Purnhagen, Mark Bell and, indeed, Matmos. Also featured this week, tracks by Opto (Carsten Nicolai and Thomas Knak, divining ambience from a found cassette tape), Mum (Bjork’s fellow Icelandic natives) and others.

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Björk Stream-Box

Björk is one of ambient/electronica’s great fellow travelers. She’s a pop vocalist at home with the avant-garde, and her work demands to be heard alongside leading digital lights in both realms, through sheer force of aesthetic will (those favored barren audioscapes of hers, which one can’t help but compare with visions of her native Iceland) and conspicuous collaboration (notably with Matmos, whose feverishly curious studio concoctions helped fuel her Vespertine album and tour). And she accomplishes all this despite the fact that as a singer she’s a caretaker of an instrument whose absence is one of the few commonalities among most ambient and electronic music. Even as the guitar has become a standard-issue tool for laptop performer-composers, the voice remains a strange (and strangely rare) thing in the digital world — something more likely to be cut up (witness the tentative flirtations with vocals by Amon Tobin or Prefuse 73), or willfully unprofessional (check out Greg Davis singing altogether casually on his recent Curling Pond Woods), or strictly documentarian (Scanner’s found conversations come to mind), if it’s present at all.

Nonetheless, Björk’s forthcoming album, Medulla, is reportedly her most definitively vocal (advance promotional materials describe it as “an almost completely a capella landscape”), consisting largely of her own voice, and that of such guests as an Inuit throat singer, a full choir, and several human beatboxers, including Rahzel of the hip-hop group the Roots. Though the record doesn’t arrive until the end of the month, a virtual jukebox with one full track (“Who Is It”) and samples of the rest is up in various locations on the web (try here, or her own website “Who Is It” opens with a characteristically trenchant Björk yelp, soon joined by a second and third trademark Björk vocal tic, until they’ve layered so thick that the shifting tones bead tremulously. The featured segments of other Medulla tracks run the gamut of vocalese, among them: “Submarine,” which sounds like a detuned Beach Boys close harmony; “Desired Constellation,” with its half-spoken part settling above a field of microsonic ring tones; “Oceania,” which features some jittery vocoding; and “Triumph of the Heart,” which has a chugging human-beatbox backdrop, and brings to mind the multitrack vocals of Todd Rundgren’s 1988 A Capella album and (why deny it?) Bobby McFerrin.

Björk has always had a way with the web, and the Medulla streambox includes an interesting innovation: an invitation to apply to host it on your own website — you can share the love, and the burden of bandwidth.

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Industrial Ambience MP3 EP

Since the Downstream “free music” department on debuted, in October 2003, there have been some 140 or so individual entries. They’ve ranged from single downloadable MP3 files to entire streaming live performances, from tidy EPs to extended DJ gigs. And somehow, during all that time, the work of the netlabel has gone unrecognized, despite the fact its most recent release, Violet‘s three-track Electrolux, is by (most) appearances its 31st. (The label’s numbering system is a little unclear, since release number 26, attributed to the late Muslimgauze, and number 10, co-credited to Francisco Lopez and Andrey Kiritchenko, are still listed under “upcoming.”)

In any case, this unfortunate website oversight is easily enough rectified, since Electrolux‘s three tracks, each between about 14 and 17 minutes in length, are eminently recommendable: long stretches of free-form, song-less, sounds-for-sounds’-sakeness — not so much a swarm of drones as a care package of industrial ambience. Now, a lot of modern electronic music gets described offhandedly as next-generation campfire tunes, given the homespun quality that so much laptop-derived work exudes — not to mention the general electronica emphasis on musical rudiments like beats, and the popularity these days of sampled acoustic guitar — but so much of Electrolux (which lacks beats and guitar) truly sounds like spare parts left out in the open, if not to burn then at least to rust. Hence the Violet EP’s fibrous sonics, numb chimes, bent metal, chilling distant hums and, on the opening track, moan of a wounded beast. Violet is a pseudonym for Jeff Surak, who runs the Zeromoon label (more on that at a later date). Download the Electrolux set here, and learn more about Violet on the Zeromoon website, here.

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