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

Proto-Electronic MP3s

George Antheil (1900-1959) was the self-styled Bad Boy of Music. That’s no mere quip later foisted back on him as a nickname; it was the title of his autobiography. To electronic listeners, Antheil is best known as a practitoner of classical composition during the age of mechanization, doing work with player pianos and motors and other unexpected sound sources.

In his continuing process of uploading archival radio broadcasts from KPFA to the Internet Archive, aka archive.org, Charles Amirkanian has posted a three-part Antheil segment, originally broadcast in 1970 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the composer’s birth. None of the instruments are electric, or even motorized, but you can hear aspects of both the lacey Debussyian impressionism and the worldly noise that came into its own during this period, and that prefigured what we later came to think of as ambient. The three-part set (MP3, MP3, MP3) was uploaded on October 4 to the Other Minds catalog at archive.org.

Already up at the website was a half-hour KPFA documentary on Antheil, originally broadcast in 1980 (archive.org, MP3), with more details on his futurist insights and exploits, and some funny anecdotes about wandering around Paris’ red-light district with Igor Stravinsky.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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