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

Monthly Archives: September 2005

24-Hours MP3

Think time’s flying by? Give a listen to a recent experiment by musician Marcus Obst, and then ask the question again. A few days ago, Obst placed a microphone by his window and taped the world going by for 24 straight hours. He then compressed the 24 hours to just under 24 minutes, and pitched down the sound so it doesn’t sound like a Chipmunks marathon or, for that matter, a tape set on fast forward. It’s nothing like the former, and far more than the latter. The resulting MP3 (“24h in 24 Minutes and Less”) has the vibrant flutter of low-key electronic music, and none of the sonic garbage one might expect from such a simple experiment in field-recording-based sound generation. In fact, it’s quite seamless and elegant. As with much conceptual art, the file benefits a bit from the listener knowing the system that produced it; once aware of Obst’s conceit, one would be hard put to not picture time-lapse images of insects and flowers. He describes how he accomplished the project on his website, fieldmuzick.net. The file is downloadable at freesound.iua.upf.edu. Oh, and don’t worry. It’s only 28MB.

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Tangents (soundscaps, Auster, Kurzweil)

Quick Links and News: (1) The MacArthur (so-called “genius”) grants were awarded this past week, among the recipients UC San Diego history professor Emily Thompson, “an interdisciplinary scholar whose work focuses on the often-overlooked subject of sound and fills an important gap in contemporary American history, reaching into domains as diverse as urban design and cinema studies” (macfdn.org). From her webpage at the UCSD website: “Her research explores the cultural history of sound, music, noise, and listening, and focuses on how these phenomena and activities intersect with technologies like the phonograph, motion pictures, and architecture.” Her book The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933 was published by MIT in 2002. Her Music Quarterly article “Machines, Music and the Quest for Fidelity: Marketing the Edison Phonograph in America, 1877-1925” inspired Tone Test, a chamber opera by Nicholas Brooke that premiered at the Lincoln Center Festival in July 2004 (operaprojects.org/tonetest.htm). Author Jonathan Lethem, whose fiction and non-fiction have both referenced Brian Eno, also won a MacArthur. … (2) William Thompson helped pay for his degree in music by joining the National Guard. Deployed in Iraq, he is composing music on his Apple laptop and uploading it to the web at wativ.com. (Thanks to Rob for the tip.). … (3) NPR on the military’s sonic weaponry (npr.org), plus (4) a science-art project using sound and other factors to conduce parapsychological phenomena (haque.co.uk), both via boingboing.net. … (5) Sound performances with fluorescent light bulbs (at createdigitalmusic.com). … (6) The Internet Archive, at archive.org, which contains a massive collection of freely downloadable netlabel releases, has reorganized its homepage, emphasizing four key categories, two of which are the live concert archive and the general audio archive. … (7) Highlights from the upcoming season at the Miller Theatre in New York: George Antheil‘s Dream ballet (October 7); Alarm Will Sound‘s John Adams retrospective (December 3); a Gyorgy Ligeti festival (various dates), which will include a cadenza by John Zorn; a Giacinto Scelsi 100th-birthday celebration (November 4); Magnus Lindberg (March 24); and an evening focused on African and European musical exchanges, featuring work by Kevin Volans, Iannis Xenakis, Steve Reich and others (January 21). More info at millertheatre.com. … (8) Six members of Roxy Music are pictured on the cover of The Thrill of It All, David Buckley‘s band biography published earlier this year; Brian Eno is not among them. (Thanks to Eric for the tip.) … (9) The state of music education, courtesy of Kyle Gann (artsjournal.com/postclassic): “Yesterday I started to tell a class about this Greek composer named Iannis Xenakis, and someone piped up, ‘You mean Yanni?’ Whew.”

… Good Reads: (1) What’s Matthew Herbert up to? Sampling cancer (mg.co.za). … (2) An overview of the Decibel Fest in Seattle (thestranger.com). … (3) An overview of the Washington, D.C., area’s experimental scene (washingtonpost.com), covering, among others, Scott Allison, Pete Blasser and Mikroknytes. (Thanks to Mike for the tip.) … (4) Bob Moog spoke with the magazine Robotspeak (robotspeakmagazine.com) about making theremins as a kid, people who he felt pushed the envelope of his namesake synthesizer, and the downside of analog electronics.

… Select New Releases: A few new releases of note this week: (1) Are You (Variations) from minimalist Steve Reich (Nonesuch). … (2) Some websites suggest that Robert Pollard‘s soundtrack to the new Steven Soderbergh movie, Bubble (Recordhead), is due out Tuesday, though others list it as an October release. … (3) Vladislav Delay‘s The Four Quarters (Huume).

… Keeping Score: (1) Philip Glass is reportedly scoring The Inner Life of Martin Frost, a film to be directed by author Paul Auster. … (2) David Holmes (Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven) has scored The War Within, about a suicide bomber, directed by Joseph Catelo. … (3) Raz Mesinai has scored Sorry, Haters, a post-9/11 drama starring Robin Wright Penn. … (4) Gustalvo Santaolalla (The Motorcycle Diaries) is attached to North Country, about the first sexual harassment case in the United States.

… Disquiet Heavy Rotation: (1) Due out October 10, Christopher Bissonnette‘s stellar Periphery (Kranky) is acoustic-derived ambient music, built from recordings of piano and orchestra. … (2) Steve Reich‘s Are You (Variations) (Nonesuch) includes his usual, excellent mallet-driven minimalism, plus a piece for eight cellos, performed by one cellist to taped accompaniment. … (3) The Disquiet Downstream entry of the week was Pestopan‘s tasty “Bon Appetit,” for sampled guitar, turntable and beats (link).

… Quote of the Week: The quote of the week was an extended silence. Ray Kurzweil, the keyboard inventor and deep-futurist, was lecturing Friday evening at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco, as part of the Long Now Foundation’s free series. The subject was that of Kurzweil’s new book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, how change occurs over time at an exponential, rather than merely linear, rate. In an apparent attempt to emulate the topic at hand, he spoke rapidfire throughout, spewing streams of data about human evolution and technological adoption and what it means when the two meet up. In the Q&A session at the close of his talk, a question from Stewart Brand brought Kurzweil to a sudden, silent, uncharacterisic halt. The question was, What does Kurzweil think should remain slow?

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One-Minute Vacation MP3s

If you know the end of a story before it occurs, that’s called “tragedy.” If you’ve heard a raw field recording — not just heard, but paid close attention to one — many times, then eventually the sequence of sounds takes on a familiarity, a kind of de facto structure that might as well be called “music.” Each week Aaron Ximm posts on his website, quietamerican.org, sonic snapshots from around the globe. His One-Minute Vacation series collects unedited field recordings by volunteer Alan Lomaxes of the quotidian, an ever-expanding crew (MiniDiscs and harddrive recorders in hand) who document the sounds of today.

Sometimes musical elements are self-evident. Of the past eight weekly One-Minute Vacation entries, the majority have music inherent in them already, including a jig in an lrish bar (MP3); the mild cacophony of a video-game parlor, complete with a robotic lead vocal in the form of a someone (or -thing) reading bingo numbers (MP3); organ practice at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London (MP3); and a muffled orchestra heard above a torrent of Parisian fireworks that provide a kind of abstract machine beat, at least until the Bastille Day applause kicks in (MP3). The latter, arrhythmic to the point of distraction, is the sort of thing that British rapper Dizzee Rascal could get behind.

Fireworks provide a more subdued, but perhaps more threatening, background in a track of birds on Alcatraz reacting to the distant man-made thunder (MP3) — and, marking the contrast of humans’ impact on the environment, there’s a separate track of birds, noticeably more idyllic, recorded in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (MP3).

One track begins just after an orchestral performance in Bavaria, Germany, so no music is documented, but we do overhear people discussing the performance, itself a kind of recording (MP3), and I’d swear one of the speakers is a host from the BBC’s Hear and Now radio program.

Regulars to the One-Minute Vacation series, which is updated most Mondays, often try to listen to a track prior to reading the brief accompanying description, just to enjoy whatever abstraction is implicit therein, before letting the text cement the sounds. The wind chimes offered up on August 8 (MP3) are deceivingly self-explanatory. As it turns out, this is the first One-Minute Vacation recorded in an artificial world. The chimes were a computer simulation inside Second Life, the popular MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) — which helps explain why, toward the end of the track, some typing can be heard.

More info on the One-Minute Vacation series, and tons more files, at quietamerican.org/vacation.html.

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Guitronic MP3

The netlabel iD.EOLOGY, based out of Germany, celebrated its second anniversary with its 25th release, Never Mind the Industry … Here’s iD.EOLOGY. It’s packed with 14 mostly German-language takes on rap, dub and other electronically enabled indie-pop, and one excellent studio-concocted instrumental. Pestopan‘s brief “Bon Appetit” (MP3), a completely satisfying track despite its less than two minutes of running time, opens with a rough guitar part. Of course, in this context, the conflicting elements that follow aren’t entirely unexpected: a well-placed swish of turntable, a loping beat, and eventually a deep thud of rave-style bass. It all adds up to the sort of rhythmic Rube Goldberg constructions that stream from the studios of the Neptunes and Prefuse 73, and makes a fine companion to Mark Rushton’s “Sunday Drift,” from Tuesday’s Disquiet Downstream entry (link). More info at ideology.de.

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Mark Rushton MP3s

With its snatch of acoustic guitar providing an earthy, if distinctly computer-enabled, rhythm, “Sunday Drift” (MP3) couldn’t surprise more if it took a sudden pause for a glorious break of fog-splitting shimmer — which is exactly what it does. A free download off Mark Rushton‘s recent Hum and Drift album, the song uses that self-evident contrast (between pedestrian folksiness and heavenly aura) to its advantage, overlaying ’em for effect but playing them against each other as well. Also recommended is “Translucent” (MP3), an amorphous expanse of industrial noise, replete with the sound of approaching trains, light hiss and a pervasive unease. More info at markrushton.com.

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