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

Monthly Archives: November 2005

Tangents (4’33”, Konono, Dylan)

Quick Links and News: (1) Perhaps inevitably, a podcast of silence, for John Cage‘s MP3 player (silentpodcast.com). … (2) Among Time magazine’s list of the best inventions of 2005: the Turtle Dance, a little plastic toy that, among other things, bleeps out a bit of Mozart and, more of interest, “can remember and mimic a rhythmic pattern of up to 15 clicks” (time.com). … (3) The exhibit “Visual Music,” shown this year at the MOCA in L.A. and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and curated by Kerry Brougher, Judith Zilczer, Jeremy Strick and Ari Wiseman, was recognized as “Best Exhibition of Time Based Art” in this year’s awards from the U.S. chapter of the International Association of Art Critics (calendarlive.com). … (4) Homemade musical instruments, including a “dollar-store echo/reverb,” variations on the kalimba and more (ehhs.cmich.edu/~dhavlena), (5) instructions on how to make automated instruments, like a player piano (logosfoundation.org), and (6) a forum for instrument makers (mimf.com), with an area for experimental instruments (all three via makezine.com). … (7) Electronica origami: make one of two paper model Moog synthesizers for your favorite action figure (PDF1, PDF2; via musicthing.blogspot.com). … (8) Google has gone live with Google Base, but don’t try to create a database of netlabels; the word “netlabel” registers as misspelled (base.google.com). … (9) Re-watching The Last Waltz, Martin Scorcese‘s 1978 documentary/concert film about the Band, on DVD, you can’t help but notice how much Garth Hudson looks like Arvo Part, especially thanks to his proggy keyboard solos toward the end.

… Good Reads: (1) A Times of London report on a Brian Eno performance in Beijing, China, composed for 16 CD players with a park frequented by tai chi practitioners in mind: “Everybody makes music for younger people, but I wanted to make music for old people” (timesonline.co.uk): “Fu Yangsheng, a gatekeeper for the nearby Divine Kitchen, where the imperial instruments of sacrifice were stored, was entranced. He squatted out in the chilly late autumn sun to listen. ‘Is this music? I don’t understand it, but it sounds really nice,’ he said.” … (2) Douglas Wolk writing in the New York Times today on the Sublime Frequencies record label, headed by Sun City GirlsAlan Bishop and filmmaker Hisham Mayet: “They specialize in content and techniques that would make old-school academic ethnomusicologists run screaming: radio collages, pop tunes from street vendors’ cassettes, and anthologies that are explicitly products of their compilers’ subjective experience” (nytimes.com). … (3) Earlier this week, Will Hermes writing in the NYT about junk-tronic band Konono No. 1, led by Mawangu Mingiedi, and the effort by musician Vincent Kenis to locate and record them: “To capture the sound vividly, Mr. Kenis recorded three tracks for each instrument — one miked off the group’s sound system, one from the Fender amplifiers that Mr. Kenis brought along, and one directly from the instrument — and blended them” (nytimes.com; thanks for the tip, Rob). … (4) Lengthy conversation with Russell Mills (who designed the covers to such albums as Brian Eno‘s Apollo, David Sylvian‘s Gone to Earth and Nine Inch NailsThe Downward Spiral, not to mention the jackets to books by David Toop) about his art, his music, and his sound art at allaboutjazz.com.

… Select New Releases: A few releases of note this coming week: From 4AD, (1) a Cocteau Twins box (Lullabies to Violaine: Singles and Extended Plays 1982-1996), reportedly a complete set of singles and EPs from the 4AD and Mercury/Capitol years, and (2) 1980 Forward, a various-artists set on the occasion of the label’s 25th (25th!) anniversary. … (3) Interpol‘s Interpol Remix (Matador) contains four remixes, one by each member of the band. … (4) Instrumental rock band Tristeza‘s A Colores (Better Looking). … More release info at brainwashed.com and icemagazine.com.

… Disquiet Heavy Rotation: (1) Malpractice collects 20 chunks of often formless noise as a kind of primer for Fflint, the CD-R label that has championed its own brand of outsider sound art since the late 1990s. The contents range from rhythmically enticing cues to contorted vocals, from inchoate drones to barely retouched field recordings, from raw feedback to just plain goofy hypnotic weirdness. … (2) The latest Meat Beat Manifesto record, At the Center (Thirsty Ear), finds Jack Dangers — who, for all intents and purposes, is MBM, despite various close collaborators over the years — feeding live jazz instrumentals into his dub-honed, industrial-weaned, sticker-emblazoned mixing board. … (3) My two battery-operated Buddha Machines, by the group FM3, usually playing two different tracks (more info in the November 14 Disquiet Downstream entry).

… Score Keeper: (1) Michael Nyman is attached to Therese Raquin, to be directed by Charlie Stratton. … (2) Angelo Badalamenti is on for Life of Pi (to be directed by Amelie‘s Jean-Pierre Jeunet) and David Lynch‘s upcoming Inland Empire (via imdb.com).

… Quote of the Week:Miles Davis would be accused of something similar,” writes Bob Dylan on the subject of going electric in his autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One, “when he made the album Bitches Brew, a piece of music that didn’t follow the rules of modern jazz, which had been on the verge of breaking into the popular marketplace, until Miles’s record came along and killed its chances.” He continues: “Miles was put down by the jazz community. I couldn’t imagine Miles being too upset.”

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Coil Tribute MP3

The podcasts from brainwashed.com are often like a good college radio show, a string of great songs casually strung together, but occasionally they’re much more, like when they plumb the depths of the record collection of the series’ host, Jon Whitney, or when they focus on the work of a single artist, or related artists. The latest (November 13, MP3) marks the year anniversary of the death of John Balance, the noise artist best known as a founding member of Coil. The file mixes music and interview material for a posthumous tribute. More on Coil at its website, hosted at brainwashed.com/coil.

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Longmo MP3

If you’ve checked out the Buddha Machine and the website of its creators, FM3, then you’ve likely stumbled on the playful “exploded view” of the machine, credited to one Longmo. (More on the Buddha Machine in Monday’s Downstream entry.) Longmo is a musician himself, and his Sanban was recently released on the Leerraum record label. Unlike the mass-produced objet d’sound art that is the Buddha, Sanban is a standard, old-fashioned CD-R, about half an hour in length. The Leerraum website has posted a 10-minute segment (MP3), which is like some wool blanket riddled with little spurs. The blanket is a thick, ruddy expanse of warm noise. The spurs are particles of sound that range from the sorts of beeps that make you think you’ve got new email, to frizzy little stretches of noise, to spazzy gearshifts and garrulous robot chatter. There are also heavily echoed sequences of piano notes that play in between, neither as singular as the blanket, nor as aggressive as the percussive sounds. More info at leerraum.ch and longmo.net.

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One-Bit MP3s

Tristan Perich is a prolific musician who isn’t afraid to think small. His project One Bit Music will soon turn the CD on its head. The album (allowing for a broad definition of “album”) will remove the familiar disc and replace it with a set of circuitry that plays glitchy minimal electronic music, 11 tracks in all. A limited edition of 100 is available at $100 a pop, and a “general” release is expected in January 2006 from Cantaloupe Music, the label associated with the Bang on a Can organzation. Think of One Bit Music as the jewel case at the intersection of sound art, dance music and those cheesy, battery-operated glossy-magazine and greeting-card inserts that play “Jingle Bells.” The innovative device is somewhat similar to the Buddha Machine, a hard-wired, multi-loop player produced this year by the Chinese-American duo FM3 (see yesterday’s Disquiet Downstream entry for more info).

For an advance listen to One Bit Music, three tracks are available for free download, each making the most of the limited range of sounds. “Certain Movement” (MP3) is a briny Morse Code funk, six minutes of brittle little freeze-dried notes playing at counterpoint. “Just Let Go,” a cover of a Fischerspooner song, receives a fun if uneventful arrangement (MP3), a Moebius loop of pop cultural references: a 1970s video game rendition of a contemporary band trying to sound like it’s 1983 all over again; even in Perich’s version, you can’t help but mistake Fischerspooner for Berlin. “Gilgamesh” (MP3), another original, finds a common ground between those two; it’s as poppy as the Fischerspooner cover, but has moments that approach the arid simplicity of “Certain Movement.” Of the three, “Certain Movement” is the keeper.

Perich posts a lot of music on several sites, also including tristanperich.com and sinewavemusic.net. The latter features a highly recommended track, “From Above” (MP3), a fairly jaunty quarter hour of occasionally ebullient minimalism. It manages to layer an increasing number of what sound like keyboard parts without ever gumming up the works.

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Buddha Machine MP3s

The niftiest electronic-music release of 2005 may be neither a traditional commercial recording nor a free download, but something else entirely: a little, battery-operated, plastic device called the Buddha Machine, devised by the duo FM3 (aka Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian). Looking very much like a generic AM radio, it contains a chip with nine loops of ambient sound. It’s reportedly made fans of both Alan Bishop (of Sun City Girls) and Brian Eno, who are said to have purchased ’em by the bushel.

It’s the rare item that receives coverage from both the tech and the music press. engadget.com wrote of the machine, “It’s not a digital audio player,” before clarifying parenthetically, “at least not in the traditional sense.” The folks at the great San Francisco record store Aquarius said, “Oooooh, we got all in a tizzy when we saw this” (aquariusrecords.org). The initial production sold out, but while it’s on back order, you can download for free the nine Buddha Machine MP3s from the “work” page at the FM3 website (fm3.com.cn). In an interview with Disquiet.com, Virant explained, “The nine loops on the website are the same as the loops in the box. These loops, each of which is named after a different Chinese instrument, are taken from earlier FM3 releases or live sets.” Ranging in length from five seconds to eight times that, the MP3s on the site consist of what could be a snapshot of a mournful accordion heard against watery piano (MP3), sad synthesized tones (MP3) and intense shimmering (MP3). Pop ’em into your favorite MP3 player and there you have it: instant Buddha.

Update: A subsequent, full Disquiet.com interview with Virant is available here: “Buddha in the Machine.”

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