Let’s close out the week with a new (yes, new) track in the Other Minds catalog at the voluminous Internet Archive, at archive.org. Up as of this evening are seven live entries from this year’s Other Minds festival in San Francisco (the series’ 11th), among them a 20-minute piece by septuagenarian legend Phill Niblock, “Sethwork,” in which he performs on vaguely termed “electronics” along with guitarist Seth Josel, who employs an e-bow to extend his tones to the horizon (yes, the e-bow is the same tool that long ago distinguished the Celtic rock of the band Big Country). “Sethwork” was performed on February 24, 2005, at the city’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The piece is an absolutely beautiful drone, a slowly cycling hum that enacts its epiphanies not as singular peaks but as an extended experience of intense tonality. You could argue that epiphanies are to ambient music what redemption is to literary fiction: a crutch, if not an outright cliche. But work like Niblock’s also suggests that the epiphany is a defining, inherent characteristic of ambient music. Either way, “Sethwork” is deeply imbued with it. (The file is only downloadable via FTP, but the site provides clear instructions; just search for “niblock.” The search also brings up an older entry, a continuous, 45-minute live recording of a record-release party held in 1980 at the New York City venue the Kitchen for Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman,” in which Other Minds guru Charles Amirkhanian interviews Anderson, Niblock and other scenesters. The entry’s archive.org listing advertises, “No splices!”) Oh, and more on the the e-bow at ebow.com.
Another single from another album from Important Records in which the distinguishing characteristic is what the musician listened to prior to recording. Last time (Disquiet Downstream, March 10) it was Play by Larsen, a post-rock band who listened to eminent techno-glitch act Autechre nonstop prior to hitting the record button. Today it’s Merzbow, aka famed noise technician Masami Akita, whose Merzbuddha reportedly reflects a recent obsession with dub. Up at the Important site now, at importantrecords.com (check the “releases” page), are two minutes of industrial rollick, rumbling by on one busted axle.
The San Francisco Art Institute Lecture Hall, up a steep, tree-lined and particularly Hitchcockian street in North Beach, has become a sound-art nexus in a city with more than its fair share of sound-art nexuses (nexi? nexes? nexum?). In the past year or so there, academic Douglas Khan (author of the superb Noise, Water, Meat) has talked about how radio was “discovered” before it was “invented”; artist Steve Roden has limned the commonality between his fragile music and his visual art; filmmaker Walter Murch (The Conversation) has talked about the craft of sound editing. M.C. Schmidt, of the duo Matmos, who is manager of the New Genres Department at SFAI, recently started hosting Thursday-night music events at the institute (among the guests: William Fowler Collins, Bevin Blectum and Thomas Dimuzio), and Saturday he took his series into the lecture hall for a sedate, hour-long set by fragile-sound experts Coelacanth, a collaboration between Loren Chasse and Jim Haynes, their slow-burn and anti-audiophilic noise given a fitting visual complement courtesy of filmmaker Keith Evans. Evans’ images of wiggling paramecium, of bent light and of nature in raw decline gave substance to the remote, intensely delicate sounds produced by Chasse and Haynes, who crouched in the near dark on stage as they performed. Their self-described mission: “operating the tools of an imagined science to explore the various possibilities for sound to originate from traditionally non-musical materials.” If you didn’t make the concert, there are MP3s from all three of Coelacanth’s records up at helenscarsdale.com, the web home of their record label (two each from The Chronograph, 2001; The Glass Sponge, 2003; and Mud Wall, 2004). Evans’ visuals don’t come along with the files. But if you close your eyes, the essence of decay will arrive in its own good time.
The marketing of Moby‘s forthcoming album, Hotel, due out next Tuesday, continues apace. First up was an innovative if unnecessarily amusical medley of samples, featured for free on the iTunes Music Store (Disquiet’s Downstream entry on February 22). With a spoken introduction by Moby himself, that track sounded a bit like the digital-music trend of the moment, the podcast. Now there’s a promotional MP3 up on amazon.com‘s “free downloads” page that takes its cue from a more old-school recording trend: it’s listed as an “Exclusive B-side.” The track is titled “Quiet Pianos,” its release dated February 17, and it’s quickly established itself at the top of the Amazon downloads chart. For all its popularity, or perhaps because of its popularity, the actual act of downloading hasn’t been entirely smooth; some computers end up not with the 6MB file, but with a 5KB placeholder. To get to it, find the “free downloads” tab on the site’s “music” page, or search for “Quiet Pianos.” In related news, moby.com has been redesigned, as Moby noted in his journal yesterday (dateline: Milan).
Just up on the news page at kranky.net, the website of Kranky Records, is an extended live performance by Brent Gutzeit, part of the label’s ongoing “free music” series (previous entries have featured Loscil and PanAmerican). It’s a 19-minute MP3, an extended blend of rust-belt drone, the pace as sedentary as the hum from a distant power station.