Mitzvah for an MP3

When, thanks to an MP3 file posted at the Internet Archive, Paul Zukofsky‘s rendition of “Mitzvah for the Dead (for Violin and Tape),” by composer Michael Sahl, is heard, some 37 years after its broadcast on KPFA-FM, the experience is doubly nostalgic.

First, there is the matter of the time that has passed since a young Charles Amirkhanian, heard introducing the work here, was coaching listeners about the ins and outs of (so-called) new music on his radio show — a role he still plays, of course, through the Other Minds performance series, as well as related Internet downloads and audiostreams.

Second, there is the Eastern European tinge to Sahl’s writing for violin, those sour notes and that modal vibe that together suggest gypsy or Ashkenazi ritual. What isn’t nostalgia-inducing at all is how Sahl interpolates collage and found sounds into his work, from what seem like snippets of analog synthesizers and radio broadcasts, to cut-ups of marching bands that bring to mind the work of Charles Ives.

For the broadcast, which Amirkhanian has posted as part of the Other Minds section at the Internet Archive (, MP3), Sahl’s work is paired with “Violin Phase” by Steve Reich, also performed by Zukofsky; it’s a characteristically bracing work, in which electronically mediated layers of snatches of riffs are played against each other, finding variation of timbre, tone and tempo in a highly constrained compositional environment. The result is as vibrant as it is economic, with happy accidents of rhythmic coincidence that surprise on every listen.

Aghost’s “Break Beep” MP3

Is “Break Beep” the title of Aghost‘s latest free download (MP3) from the collective? Or is it the name of the nascent genre that the track aspires to exemplify, evangelize and propagate? Perhaps both. A mix of snare-happy percussion and blippy, fizzy melodic fragments, for all of its 2:17 running time the piece swells and dips to a head-nodding groove until, in the closing moment, it upticks to weekend-techno thump. More on Aghost

Tokyo Sound Diary, May 2007

While visiting Tokyo for 10 days in late May of this year, I kept a “sound diary.” I didn’t record sounds, except, so to speak, with my pen and with a digital camera.

1. The Tokyo Dome roller coaster sounds exactly like there’s a military jet flying overhead. I wonder if it has speakers playing a recording of a jet, or if it just happens to sound like that.

2. A photo of the entrance to the Loop-Line gallery and performance venue, near Sendagaya Station:

Loop-Line gallery entrance

3. In the Suidobashi district of Tokyo, the sound of the crosswalk signal, a two-beat motif that is all attack and no denouement, sounds exactly the same when you’re on the street, surrounded by traffic, and when you’re 20 floors up in a hotel room, the world otherwise muffled by bedding, sheets, plate glass and so much distance. Continue reading “Tokyo Sound Diary, May 2007”

Tangents (air-conditioners, cactus, polygamy)

Quote of the Week: The eminent comics artist Ben Katchor writes and draws a single-page comic for the last page of each issue of the magazine Metropolis. The July/August 2007 entry, “Peabald’s Field Guide to the Air-Conditioners of North America,” imagines a couple whose hunt is disturbed by birds: “Damn those cerulean warblers! I can’t hear the compressor kick in!” (Update: The piece is archived on the magazine’s website, Thanks to Chris Boone of for having located Katchor’s “Peabald” strip online.)

News, Quick Links, Good Reads: Philip Glass did a solo piano riff on Paul Simon‘s “Sounds of Silence” during a June 27, 2007, broadcast of the event honoring Simon, who was being awarded the first ever Gershwin prize from the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, there was an unrelated voice-over during much of it. Now that Glass has arranged both Brian Eno (the Low symphony) and Simon, perhaps he can take a hand to their collaboration, the album Surprise. More info at

… The Tate Museum in London has been commissioning tributes by contemporary musicians for individual works in its holdings (Chemical Brothers on Jacob Epstein‘s “Torso in Metal from ‘The Rock Drill'”; Graham Coxon on Franz Kline‘s “Meryon”). Now it’s holding a competition for entries. The due date is August 31, 2007 ( … In related news, the Tate St. Ives current exhibit based on the life of Beach Boys lead songwriter Brian Wilson, If Everybody Had an Ocean, is up through September 23 — curated by Alex Farquharson and organized in association with CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux. Included are works by John Cage, Joe Goode, Kaz Oshiro, Raymond Pettibon, Ed Ruscha and others (

… David Byrne‘s score may be the best thing about the the HBO series Big Love. His participation is as central as is that of any actor in the polygamy melodrama, drawing on his kitsch instincts (think True Stories) but also his ear for chamber music (think his Knee Plays). Those Americana sounds match the setting and the small-ensemble orchestrations mirror the family-drama plotting. And on at least one occasion, his plaintive voice has been heard in the mix.

Survival Research Labs needs about two and a quarter million to relocate its headquarters (

… Clippings from the New York Times: A profile of Matmos in electro-acoustic collaboration with So Percussion and bio-tech collaboration with a cactus ( and a subsequent concert review by Bernard Holland that was anything but effusive ( The next day, Holland considered how written (manuscript) versus recorded (piano roll) evidence of Debussy‘s music differ ( … The A Point in Space Is a Place for an Argument exhibit at David Zwirner through August 10 includes “Gordon Matta-Clark’s inchoate idea of a musical score” ( … Composer Joseph Bertolozzi is working on a composition that uses the Franklin D. Roosevelt Mid-Hudson Bridge as the instrument (article:; composer homepage:; sound sample … R. Luke Dubois, of Freight Elevator Quartet, filmed performance artist Lián Amaris Sifuentes‘s 72-hour date-prep piece (;; … The location of video artist Jeremy Blake has been unknown since July 17, when his companion, Theresa Duncan, was found to have committed suicide in her Manhattan apartment ( … Today, the “Consumed” column ( by Rob Walker (, is about the the duo FM3‘s mass-market sound-art fetish object, the Buddha Machine (“Although the American audience for meditative, low-action, experimental music performances is small, its appreciation for little plastic objects is robust”). And as the Times might put it, the piece mentions this website. (Thanks, Rob!)

… Notes recently culled from Jowan Sebastian has created a Game Boy drum machine that controls solenoids (, … Super Mario subwoofer ( and Super Mario musical Tesla coil ( … Yamaha’s Bodibeat matches music to your pulse (; DJ biofeedback beckons. … David Hockney blames the rise of digital music players, saying that the iPod in particular has caused a “decline in visual awareness” and, more specifically, “fallow period of painting.” Wonder what he thinks of sound art ( … A watch with BPM counter ( … Talking paper ( … Thermoacoustics ( … Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student Zane Van Dusen has a new take on head-banging — as a musical interface ( … Jess Hoefs‘ Beat Blocks uses wooden cubes as a MIDI interface ( … Yann Seznec has created a loop machine for the Nintendo Wii ( … Finger Beats (

… And via Watch out, Palm OS; now we’re making music with Windows Mobile ( … is a search engine for sounds ( … matches soundscapes to Google Maps and Google Earth ( … And the perfect gift for the entrepreneur who doesn’t have everything: a CD of background noise that makes it sound like your home office is bigger and busier than it is (

Decoding Symphony Subcriptions

No wonder subscriptions for classical seasons are graying. Surveying the 2007/2008 subscription-calendar circular for the San Francisco Symphony ( makes doing your taxes look like child’s play. It also confirms that, at least from a marketing standpoint, regular symphony-going remains systemically as much about a social calendar as it does a cultural one, if not more so.

Of the included four-part instructions on “How to Read This Chart,”* it’s not until the fourth and final step that it’s suggested that the program of a particular concert (the music being performed) might play a role in the customer’s decision-making. (And the summaries of the pieces don’t help much, for that matter. Composer Chen Yi is “a Chinese woman who is on the cutting edge,” Mendelsshon‘s Violin Concerto in E minor is “one of the most popular ever written in the repertory” and Saint-Saëns‘ Symphony No. 3 is, simply, a “thriller.”)

Still, there’s a great season ahead, with many highlights concentrated in early 2008: Iannis XenakisA I’lle de Goree (with Bach and Schubert), January 17 – 19; Olivier Messiaen‘s L’Ascension paired with Gustav Mahler‘s Symphony No. 1 (which has an exceptionally ambient opening half minute or so), January 24 – 26; and György Ligeti‘s site-specific San Francisco Polyphony (with Bartók and Dvořák), February 7 – 9. There’s also a full program of Charles Ives‘ music, November 15 – 17. Among the living composers with work being performed this season are Mark-Anthony Turnage (June 5, 7) and Magnus Lindberg (June 19 – 21), neither of whom are strangers to electronic textures.

* "How to Read This Chart: 1. Choose the day of the week that works best for you to come to the symphony; 2. Find the group columns listing series on that day; 3. Glance down a column to find which dates are in a particular series; 4. Look across the row from each date for concert details."