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Monthly Archives: February 2005

Nancarrow Biography MP3

Reportedly the first step in breaking an addiction has something to do with owning up to it, so suffice to say my name is Marc W. and I’m hung up on the Internet Archive, specifically its Other Minds catalog, at archive.org. Today’s Disquiet Downstream entry is yet another fine downloadable Other Minds file, a half hour audio documentary on composer Conlon Nancarrow, by writer/producer/narrator Helen Borten and featuring interviews with, among others, Yoko Ono, Kyle Gann, Ursula Oppens and Mako Nancarrow. Nancarrow composed for the player piano, which music historian Artis Wodehouse (misidentified on the site as Ardis) describes as “the first computer.” The documentary is packed with insightful and often humorous anecdotes, including Nancarrow’s dismissal of John Cage’s chance compositions. Borten gives a solid overview of the history of the piano, and of Nancarrow’s aggressive exploration of its potential. The file is only downloadable via FTP, but the site provides clear instructions; just search for “nancarrow place.” … By the way, this year’s Other Minds festival, the 11th, occurs this week, February 24-26, in San Francisco. Included: Michael Nyman, John Luther Adams, Fred Frith, Joan Jeanrenaud, Phill Niblock and more. More info at otherminds.org.

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Toy Piano MP3s

Closing out the week with more archive.org treats from the Other Minds collection: avant-garde piano virtuoso Margaret Leng Tan doing the Beatles‘ “Eleanor Rigby” on a toy piano. Perhaps it’s the lo-fi quality of the recording, but the piece, with its increasingly unstable counterpoint, comes out sounding like a music box or a distant carillon. The file is only downloadable via FTP, but the site provides clear instructions. Search for “tan rigby” in the “Other Minds Archive” section under “Audio” at archive.org. For a more intense player-piano-inspired piece, a search for “tan nancarrow” yields her performing Conlon Nancarrow‘s Three 2-Part Studies on two toy pianos.

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Francis Dhomont MP3

FRANCIS DHOMONT MP3: Another downloadable prize from the Other Minds catalog at the Internet Archive, archive.org: a March 6, 2004, recording of composer Francis Dhomont performing “Les moirures du temp” and “Phonurgie” (a neologism, meaning “fabrication, shaping, creation of sound”) live at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. It was, apparently, done on a 12-speaker surround system, but even in stereo it’s a half hour of tightly shape-shifting sound samples, mixing and diverging in a manner both chaotic and elegant. As Dhomont says of the first piece, “Certain sound types and features — particularly meaningful — are privileged, such as the harmonic timbre, percussion/resonance, accumulation, movement (trajectories, swirling) and contrasts of dynamics: the very things that give sound a texture and that make it shimmer.” The file is only downloadable via FTP, but the site provides clear instructions. Search for “dhomont” in the “Other Minds Archive” section under “Audio” at archive.org.

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Erik Levander MP3s

Genres come and go. And if one ever seemed ripe to go from the get go, it was glitch. Sure, certainly from early on, glitch was something to behold, especially how Markus Popp managed to make the desecration of CDs seem like a fine way to spend a Saturday, how he literalized the extent to which super-fragile ambient music was dependent upon a digital medium and its tabula rasa of silence. Popp also managed to turn those broken fragments into things that, while never melodic in the traditional sense, had the comfort of song.

But how long could it last? How long could the mistakes inherent in digital music continue to sound fresh, how long before they were superseded by new mistakes — maybe a dual-sided 20-gigabyte DVD simply sounds different when it dies?

Well, Erik Levander‘s music suggests glitch has a ways to go before it dies, that’s for sure, at least judging by his late-2004 album, Tonad, on the Neon label. Four Tonad segments on erik.levander.dk twist and twirl in a way that push glitch’s envelope just far enough to suggest the comfy confines of a proper genre. More than anything, Levander has a deep sense of tone, never betraying his work with a preset sound or an undercooked sample. Yet all the familiar flavors are here, from the arachnoid whirs to the aquarium gurgles to the particulate hazes to the way instrumental moments, like bells and plucked strings, are warped back on themselves in a manner that confirms suspicions we had about the nature of those elements, suspicions that only advance audio processing could confirm.

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CCMixter.org MP3 Contest Update

If you’ve been paying attention to the ccmixter.org site’s current remix competition, you’ve no doubt gained respect for the musicians who made tracks available for open-source sampling. Name-brand acts, including Matmos and David Byrne, Chuck D and Dan the Automator, Zap Mama and Danger Mouse, among others, provided original songs to Wired magazine for a CD that helped promote the Creative Commons license. The CC is an alternative to the standard grade copyright, in that it provides what it terms a “spectrum” of rights, ranging from full copyright (all rights reserved) to the public domain. More info, including a helpful desktop comic strip, at creativecommons.org.

The ccmixter.org site upped Wired’s initial ante by providing an Internet community in which fair citizens of the open-source public could transform those tracks into their own personal musical statements. As an exercise in creative rights, it’s been a success; some 126 songs and 187 remixes have been uploaded to ccmixter.org since the contest launched. As an exercise in interface design, it’s also been a success; just check out the page (ccmixter.org/tags) that allows you to browse entries by the “tags” associated with the individual MP3 files, and you’ll have a pleasing visual experience.

However, as a listening experience, the results have been less than stellar. A lot of routine drum’n’bass, a lot of GarageBand rudiments, a lot of third-rate hip-hop and generic lounge-jazz-house background music, a lot of first drafts. Yes, indeed, if you’ve been paying attention to ccmixter.org, you’ve gained a lot of respect for the artists who initially contributed tracks, because the results of the contest, by and large, suggest that making good music is more demanding than many people suspect. Searching for a diamond, let alone a potential gold record, among the entrants is a somewhat thankless task, but here are two good ones:

Henrik‘s “AAA final” is little more than a horn line and a dropkick of a beat, like Steely Dan’s catalog reduced over a low flame, but as a smoky exercise in the placement of downbeat, it’s well worth a listen.

The prolific Gerador Zero uploaded a small stack of efforts, one standout being “rm $x”; it makes Henrik’s jazz minimalism sound fully orchestrated by comparison, and has the lo-fi rasp of early Money Mike. More on GZ at geradorzero.com.

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