Year-End Catch-Up MP3s

It’s pointless to try to close a year of Disquiet Downstream entries with a bang. When you traffic in understated music, as this site has for eight years, what are you going to do? Break ranks by linking to a high-decibel field recording of explosives, and scare everyone away? Well, maybe. But in light of yesterday’s entry (here), which touched on how the World Wide Web helps illuminate the connections between dispersed artists, the last day of 2004 seems like a good opportunity to check back in on, if not tie off, a small handful of loose ends:

1. Back in March (here), the Ninja Tune label announced a contest in which you could remix the raw materials from which the Wroclaw, Poland-based group Skalpel produced its song “Break In,” a cinematic mix of fusoid jazz and electronic exotica from their self-titled debut album. The “Break In” elements consisted of 27 bits and pieces, ranging from drum tracks to background noise. The label chose a winner from over a hundred entries, and posted it, along with three runners-up and seven short-listed entrants. The champions, a duo consisting of Jeff Bruce Hay and Rob Quickenden, emphasized the loungey atmosphere of the original. All 11 winners, plus the original track, are downloadable at

2. Speaking of music competitions, it’s been a while since checking in with the crew and, especially, its Iron Chef of Music challenges. The most recent one, dating from October 22, features Logreybeam, Colongib, Noah and Relative Q mixing up some wacky-robot clips by music-for-kids innovator Bruce Haack. Check ’em out Also available: results of an October 9 contest based on Robocop and an August 8 contest built from a Lord of the Rings trailer.

3. For a long time, Keith Fullerton Whitman (aka Hrvatski) put up monthly free MP3 files of his music on his site, and many of them were Downstream entries. Earlier this year he pretty much stopped, in favor of a cool “radio” tool that, at last count, featured 75 streaming tracks. This doesn’t mean, though, that KFW downloads are gone for good. In November, for instance, the British music magazine The Wire posted on its download page ( a delicate, nearly 20-minute solo “guitar/computer” performance recorded at the Adventures in Modern Music festival held in Chicago this past September.

4. One subject of the December 8 entry (here), William Fowler Collins, is, like many electronic musicians, also a graphic designer. He just announced the launch of the website he produced for an acclaimed San Francisco Bay area musical figure, John Bischoff: Bischoff’s new web home includes four segments from his Aperture CD (on the 23Five label), each of which investigates the trebly upper reaches of the ear’s capacity for sound, with internecine clicking and whirring.

OK, that should cover it for 2004. I want to take the opportunity to thank everyone for their correspondence, their listening suggestions and their general feedback on the website. See you next year — or, that is, in less than 12 hours.

Six Deep MP3s

There’s a six-degrees quality to sleuthing for MP3s across the web. That’s six degrees of separation, not Six Degrees the record label. Sure, there are the standard sources for free music, among them: established record labels (Ninja Tune, Matador, etc.), netlabels (Kikapu, Stasisfield, etc.), copyright-enlightened musicians (Scanner and Matmos come to mind immediately) and the grey- and black-market mp3blogs and so-called ipodcasts, which generally post other people’s music as a kind of cultural commentary.

But far more prevalent are the caches maintained by independent, under-recognized musicians, people who post their own music and, in the process, link to colleagues who do the same. As a result, one can move from musical act to musical act, bedroom label to bedroom label, across a web of relationships that is simply and foremost a natural flowering of the sort that so-called social-network applications (Friendster, etc.), perhaps futilely, attempt to literalize. This week is one such example: Monday started with a new set of tracks from Christopher Willits (here), a laptop+guitar musician who noted the MP3s’ availability in his recent email newsletter. One of those tracks was sourced from a compilation that included an unfamiliar name, Sebastien Roux, a bit of searching for whom yielded Tuesday’s Downstream entry (here). That led, in turn, to another compilation on another label, and another unfamiliar name: an artist called Deep. Understand, of course, that for every link that yields MP3 gold, there are a half dozen searches that go nowhere and an equal number that go nowhere of interest.

As for Deep, like Willits he uses tools from rock’n’roll to make rich ambient-leaning music. On his webpage, hosted by the Dhyana record label (here), he’s posted six files. The meatiest chunk is an opaquely titled track, “Deep on ‘Flache und Raum’ (Prion Music 2003),” that makes a fantastic 20-minute voyage between the earthy digital ambience of Muslimgauze and the sludge metal of bands like Earth and SunnO))) — it’s as if you’re listening to a time-lapse recording of rebar warping slowly over a century. The shorter pieces include: the molasses-slow “8 Basses,” which may very well be that, but if so they’re playing it tighter than a fleet of Blue Angels fighter pilots; “Concombreak,” which exposes the true density of “8 Basses” by focusing on a mere two, whose lightly reverberating interplay recalls the spacious minimalism of Andy Summers’ early post-pop recordings; “Downhill,” which ups the pop quotient with a rhythm out of the Cure’s best work; “Kfz,” which pots down the pop and up the noise; and a “Sasha Mueller” remix that’s a fine bit of minimal techno done up with stroboscopic stereo effect. Download them here.

Best CDs of 2004

What a difference a year makes. As anyone who’s checked in on occasionally during 2004 knows, my listening this year has been focused largely on music released free and legally via the web, whether by netlabels or by individual artists, as highlighted in the daily Downstream entries. Last year at this time, I listed 15 favorite full-length recordings, so deep did the shelves seem with strong CDs. This year, the shelves are more packed than ever, but frankly, there were no individual releases that stuck the way last year’s Disquiet chart toppers did (those by Kid Koala and Boxhead Ensemble).

In 2004, new records by many old favorites, like Squarepusher (Ultravisitor), Beastie Boys (To the 5 Boroughs), John Adams (On the Transmigration of Souls) and DJ Krush (Jaku), albeit very fine in their own right, didn’t demand concerted, continued, curious listening. Admittedly, no single netlabel release seemed to hold its own against these, though two on the Stasisfield label, John Kannenberg‘s Four Painters and RaemusStream Studies, certainly came close; the gap is narrowing quickly. Still, there was a bounty of good work. What the following 10 albums (well, 11 actually) have in common is not only that they made for regular repeated listening, but they were also the albums that came to mind often when other records were playing. Consider these listed in alphabetical order:

William Basinski The Disintegration Loops (2062) There’s a whole lot of loss sewn into this lengthy, dark ambient series by Basinski, who was impelled to produce it after viewing the World Trade Center collapse from nearby Brooklyn. Four heavy sets.

Bjork Medulla (Elektra) Her conceits often threaten to overwhelm her music, as initially seems to occur here, on an album constructed almost entirely from the human voice, most notably her own, which is one of the most powerful and distinct in contemporary music. Then you realize that the sense of being overwhelmed has less to do with the impact of the plan, the big idea that fuels the album, than it does with the intensity of its musical production, the sheer emotional force of her relentless effort.

Greg Davis Curling Pond Woods (Carpark) and Somnia (Kranky) With his debut full-length, Arbor, also on Carpark (2002), Greg Davis helped define the contours of a folk realm for electronic music, drawing in traditions of the ’60s folk resurgence, a predilection that benefited from his academic training in composition. With Curling Pond Woods, Davis defied expectations in many ways, primarily because the ’60s folk-pop elements became more defined, not less. With covers of the Incredible String Band and the Beach Boys, and echoes of much psychedelia, he joined the tradition rather than merely sampling it. Somnia, on Kranky, takes a more drone-oriented approach, but it’s no less compelling for its relative formlessness.

Fennesz Venice (Touch) Christian Fennesz can build small cities from things as slight as glitches, hum and over-amplified guitar, and this album collects a dozen examples of his soundcraft: the orchestral depth of “The Point of It All”; the vibrant chaos of “The Stone of Impermanence,” with a melody buried deep in its core; the buzzing liveliness of “Circassian.” One highlight is “Transit,” a vocal track featuring singer David Sylvian (following up Fennesz’s work on Sylvian’s Blemish from last year); it’s like a Wim Wenders film condensed to under five minutes.

Iron & Wine Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop) The slocore band Iron & Wine is ambient by association, like Low before it, and Galaxie 500 before Low. When you perform your songs at this pace, and with this trenchantly naked a production style, you draw attention to moments (bits of instrumental fragility, aching little tears in vocal lines) that are generally lost in the all-too-familiar churn of verse-chorus-verse.

Jóhann Jóhannsson Virthulegu Forsetar (Touch) Easily one of the most compelling composers working today, ushering a dense hush from dozens of instrumental players working in unison. A must for those who appreciate the gravitas of Arvo Part and Gavin Bryars.

Medeski Martin & Wood End of the World Party: Just in Case (Dig) (Blue Note) There’s something beyond enlightened about the way the jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood explore together, and in their diverse independent projects, the depth of the groove — something downright righteous. This set is, as they say, knee deep in the pocket, and its electronic stamp of approval comes courtesy of its intense production, thanks to John King, better known as half of the Dust Brothers (masterminds behind the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, Beck’s Odelay).

Savath & Savalas Apropa’t (Warp) Of all the pop estuaries that feed into and out of electronic music, from noise to classical minimalism to Muzak, few have the fortitude of tropicalia. Though the singer (Eva Puyeulo Muns) and songs on this album are Catalonian, the feel is often pure Ipanema. Muns’ partner in Savath & Savalas is Scott Herren, best known for his downtempo hip-hop, recorded under the Prefuse 73 pseudonym. There’s a sweep and breadth to their collaboration that much electronica lacks, and an intimacy and attention to intricate production details that virtually all pop-vocal recordings ignore. Just listen to “Ultimo Tren,” how an extended field recording works into a drum pattern, and you’ll be hooked.

Secret Frequency Crew Forest of the Echo Downs (Schematic) Like high-end footwear, music that appears cutting edge one night often seems anachronistic the next day. The sort of album that the Secret Frequency Crew produced this year fits in nicely with the sort of downtempo, hip-hop-extracted electronica that Funki Porcini, RJD2, Tommy Guerrero and others have foisted… well, for years. Still, it’s rife with enough rhythmic and melodic inventions to keep the Patent Office staff up late.

Craig Taborn Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear) A fine melding of contemporary jazz and digital performance/production, bringing the kind of rhythmically challenging melodies we expect from Ornette Coleman together with the noir-influenced electronics of Cinematic Orchestra. In a year when records by Tim Berne (Souls Saved Hear), John Zorn (many in the “50th Birthday Celebration” series), Arto Lindsay (Salt) and Marc Ribot (a central guest on the MMW album also mentioned in this list) recalled why the Knitting Factory club in lower Manhattan was such a central location for new music in the late 1980s, this record made you feel like you were still there.

THE YEAR IN REVIEW, BRIEFLY: Worth listening to alongside MMW’s End of the World Party and Taborn’s Junk Magic is guitarist Bill Frisell‘s Unspeakable, easily his best electric solo album, which is too interesting to explore in depth in this space. Suffice to say, though, that producer Hal Willner‘s contribution of turntable and sampling deserves some more attention. Also, Mylab by Mylab, aka Tucker Martine, Wayne Horvitz and a bunch of formidable guests (Frisell, Skerik, Danny Barnes and others). Oh, and The Turntable Sessions: Volume 1 from the Amulet label, run by MMW’s drummer, Billy Martin. Oh, and Chief Excel (of Blackalicious) grafting together Fela Kuti tracks on Underground Spiritual Game. Yeah, it’s a deep well. One major disappointment in this realm: hip-hop DJ El-P‘s High Water, among the Thirsty Ear label’s latest efforts to remix outward-bound instrumentalists (in this case: Roy Campbell, Daniel Carter, William Parker, Matthew Shipp and others); El-P is, simply, far too reticent to participate actively in the proceedings. On the flipside, to hear one of jazz-tronica’s canonical works done straight, listen to Miles Davis‘ “In a Silent Way” revisited on Don Byron‘s Ivey-Divey.

The stunning and ongoing wave of (often artist-driven) improvements in digital media and technology hasn’t only given birth to new music; it’s helped keep progenitors going, both by drawing bringing a new audience to the work of the early mavericks, and preserving their groundbreaking work on CD. It was a year rich with new or old music from such elemental figures as, among others: Alvin Curran (Canti Illuminati, Maritime Rights, Our Ur, ABO, Lost Marbles, etc.) James Tenney (Postal Pieces), Harry Partch (lots of stuff) and Tod Dockstader (with David Lee Meyers on Pond, a new work built almost entirely from frogsong). Almost a retro act at this stage, one highlight was Loop Orchestra‘s Not Overtly Orchestral (Quecksilber), which needs to be heard to be believed. The Loop Orchestra creates lush aviaries of texture with nothing but reel-to-reel tape loops. Imagine if Tape Music Center cofounder Pauline Oliveros were to coax a DJ team, say the X-Ecutioners or the Skratch Piklz, out of their comfort zone and into the Twilight Zone.

If selecting albums of the year is silly, then doing a parallel list of singles is downright ludicrous, (1) in part because of the sheer number of songs released each year, (2) in part because the “single” barely exists at a time when (2.1) major record labels have all but forsaken ’em and (2.2) iTunes, and similar online digital-music retailers have turned all songs into singles, and (3) in part because the list of favorites just keeps changing, but come New Year’s Eve, here are the pop-oriented hits in heavy rotation: Beastie Boys‘s “Ch-Ch-Check It Out” (hip-hop production as classic rock), Crystal Method‘s “Weapons of Mass Distortion” (with Wes Borland on guitar — what Limp Bizkit may have sounded like, had Fred Durst left the band once upon a time instead of Borland), Eminem‘s “Just Lose It” (relative to the somewhat disappointing new album, Encore, this is more like nostalgia for his preview full-lengths), Fabolous‘ “Breathe” (crystalline in its momentum and production), Iron & Wine‘s “Passing Afternoon” (from the full length, see above), Skalpel‘s “1958” (Ninja Tune’s Polish extraction), Squarepusher‘s “Venus” (some rhythms never die), Josh Todd‘s “Blast” (pure pop metal, but as addictive as it is urgent), Usher ft Lil Jon and Ludacris‘ “Yeah!” (see “Breathe”), Snoop Dogg ft Pharrell‘s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” (the antidote to “Yeah!” — laid back as all get out).

And, as always, much of the year’s best sounds and soundscapes were buried behind and beneath the scenes of major motion pictures. Of particular note were the scores to: Ocean’s 12 (David Holmes), The Bourne Supremacy (John Powell — the orchestra is entirely analog, but it has the same delicacy, and the same rhythmic juts, as his techno-laced theme for the remade Italian Job), Zatoichi (Keiichi Suzuki), Hero (Tan Dun), Wicker Park (Cliff Martinez — the movie was beautifully shot and pretty crappy otherwise, but it’s worth noting that Jóhann Jóhannsson had a track in the film, yet it’s on neither the pop-song CD or the score CD), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Jon Brion) and The Motorcycle Diaries (Gustavo Santaolalla).

Global Eavesdrop MP3s

Signals abound that it’s vacation time. Email and voicemail have diminished. TV’s on perpetual repeats, with the exception of the news, which the past few days has been catastrophic, and will continue to be so in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunamis. (The New York Times has a list of charities here.) Need a break yourself? Visit the site’s One-Minute Vacation page (here). Just about every Monday, site creator Aaron Ximm posts a new 60-second clip from a different contributor, an unedited eavesdrop somewhere in the world. Often as not the locales are exotic, but it’s amazing how the clarity of a Minidisc recording can make the most familiar sound seem exotic, or at least mysterious.

The past two months have been particularly rich ones for One-Minute Vacations, and those nine tracks (five in November, four in December) seem, thanks to shared sound elements, to suggest specific sequences, were you to listen to them as a suite. It’s the audio equivalent of one those package tours your grandparents take (“Seven European cities in six nights!”), but with more leg room… and more head room:

In an Italian church (the Nov. 22 entry, credited to Etienne Noiseau), murmured voices and the creaking of pews make for a shadowy texture above an electric guitar line, only to be lost in the ringing of call-to-mass bells. … On an atoll called Makundu (Dec. 20, Adriano Zanni), the bounce of a volleyball is pure percussion, no more or less than the wind against the microphone. … More wind in the San Francisco Mission District (Nov. 15, Jay Thomas), and the familiar sound of a structure bending like old bones (well, familiar especially to those haunted by Stephen Vitiello’s recording of the World Trade Center swaying), with a car serving the same coda-like role of the bells in Italy. … Those cars come to the foreground in Achen, Germany, until the recorder moves into a stairwell (Nov. 8, Michiel d Boer). … Having taken shelter, it’s just rain and thunder (Nov. 1, Steb M. Fitzroy), which is more than enough, though a distant plane lends a long, centering tone. … The plane comes into the foreground in London (Nov. 29, James aka Catskin Royale) — two planes, in fact; the flying machines date from WWII, but the sound was recorded earlier in the month. … Trade one flying machine for another with a rapturous bit of birdsong (Dec. 6, John Hartog); Messaien would be jealous. … More birds, but far less idyllic, as cars run overhead like restless ghosts (Dec. 13, Grant Finlay). … And then comes, according to the brief description on the quietamerican site, some 15,000 superballs bouncing in a Denver warehouse, as loud as the other entries are quiet — a curatorial equivalent of fireworks, since it’s One-Minute Vacation’s closing entry for 2004 (Dec. 27, Todd Novosad).

Field Music MP3

The Field Muzick record label has produced two CDs thus far, the first of which, Music Out of Open Windows, collected 10 acts working along a single theme: “field recordings mixed with music / vice versa.” Among the album’s artists were Andrea Marutti, Fragmatist (aka Ryuta Noguchi) and Dronaement, the latter of whom also created the label’s second release, My Open Window. In any case, to supplement the first release, one of its artists, Sebastien Roux, posted two files on the Field Muzick site, one a delectably fragile mix that lives up to the album’s billing, a light mesh of real-world sounds and haze-level synthesized audio. The other is a deep, nearly subaudible drone with an occasional beat like the pulse of a sloth deep in hibernation. Label website at, Music Out of Open Windows page here. (There’s also a streambox on the Field Muzick site, here, that plays a couple of minutes of each Open Windows track.)