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

Monthly Archives: November 2007

tangents / Sound Art (Vitiello, Roden, RareBeasts …)

Recent Items from the World of Sound Art: (1) Open call for entries for the Zeppelin Sound Festival, sponsored by the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. The premise for the festival: “There are many kinds of deafness. This year’s Zeppelin Sound Art Festival will focus on those that are barely noticeable, slowly and steadily undermining our hearing. We like to listen to noise and work with it, but we are aware that some noises often inoculate in us a sort of ‘mental deafness’”(sonoscop.net, via elsa4sound.blogspot.com). Due date is February 15, 2008; performance will occur the monthly following.

(2) Happening right now in Taipei, through December 2: Openplay is the name of a sound and otherwise digital-arts festival (dac.tw/daf07, via taipeitimes.com). Participants include the Canadian audio-video performance team Skoltz_Kolgen and Valentina Vuksic, the latter of whose entry is as follows (related image to left, borrowed from the festival’s website):

Her presentation, Harddisko, uses defective hard disks collected from different PC shops, companies and institutions. Each of the 16 hard drives has the casing removed, with a special sound pickup mounted on the drive’s read head and connected to a sound mixer. As soon as the drive is powered, an initialization procedure begins with the head moving in a specific pattern and sounds are generated. These patterns vary with the disk’s manufacturer, model, production series, firmware version and history. The result can be compared to an orchestra of various instruments, with the artist playing the role of the conductor, but instead of directing the music with a baton, she uses a simple on-off command to supply or stop power, and perform fantastic electronic pieces according to the score-like procedures of the computer program interwoven with the richly textured mechanical movement and rhythm.

(3) Interview at flyingcircusproject.blogspot.com with Chinese sound artist Yuen Chee Wai: “I want to break out of the gallery framing.”

(4) The Lora Reynolds Gallery in Austin, Texas, just wrapped up, on November 17, a show of work by Steve Roden and Stephen Vitiello, titled Reverberations and curated by Regine Basha. The gallery’s website (lorareynolds.com) has an archived presentation of information about and images from the show, though no sounds. Among the pieces were Vitiello’s “The Butterfly Collector (Speaker/Book)” (2007), pictured to the left (image from the website), and Roden’s “lines and spaces” (2006), which consisted of “two 12-inch portable turntables with internal amps, two single sided 12-inch records.” Another Roden piece in the show, “Another, Another Green World,” consisted of 14 ceramic sculptures with wood bases, inspired by the Brian Eno album Another Green World.

(5) Review in Miami Herald of The Killing Machine, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller‘s exhibit at the Miami Art Museum and the Freedom Tower: “Inspired by cinema, radio, theater, and the literature of classic storytellers like Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges, the installations weave their own narrative, using audio and video to evoke a range of feelings and speak to social issues” (miamiherald.com, miamiartmuseum.org). The exhibit runs from October 21, 2007, through January 20, 2008.

(6) An interview with Cardiff and Miller at transition.turbulence.org, home of the excellent Networked Music Review. Says Cardiff: “George turns on music when he gets up in the morning and I hardly ever listen to music”¦until it’s martini time that is.” And Miller, on David Lynch: “The way he uses sound ”¦ that scene in Mulholland Drive where the singer seems to be singing, then the microphone falls over but the sound keeps going. I think we try to play with creepy, strange, mysterious moods in similar ways.”

(7) The website etsy.com is largely home to homemade, small-batch prints, clothing, knitware and the like. However, a virtual shop called RareBeasts, out of Canberra, Australia, is selling hand-crafted sound devices, including a random music generator called the Orb of Sound (etsy.com, youtube.com; image at left, from webstore), a two-fisted thing called the SwoofTronic Pi that lets you “change the frequency and duration of a basic sound wave using your thumbs to control light sensors” (etsy.com, youtube.com), a digital synthesizer called the SwoofTronic 2000 Sound Designer (etsy.com), and the reportedly un-flute-like FluteTronic 8-Bit (etsy.com, youtube.com). Check out the full set at rarebeasts.etsy.com. (Thanks for the tip, Rob.)

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Tom Moody’s 8bit MP3s (and Other Media)

The artist Tom Moody applies the same lo-fi, lo-tech tools to visuals as he does to sound, an approach generally described as “8bit.” Even when he is using acrylics instead of software like MS Paintbrush, he ports over the pared down geometries and limited color palettes of early digital media, sometimes including the pixel patterning. Much as Agnes Martin would restrict herself to rarefied grids, and Robert Ryman himself to a stark white canvas, Moody works within the confines of such time-honored devices as the animated GIF and the Korg Electribe Groovebox.

Two recent music files on his website provide a back beat to his modus operandi. “Song 8 (Blip)” sounds like a rave for pixel characters (MP3, tommoody.us) while “Reggaedrome II” employs the genre’s dubby rhythms and then layers in tentative effects; the latter, he explains in the post, were an attempt to convey “students learning to scratch” (MP3, tommoody.us). For the sake of audio-visual comparison, the image above is Moody’s digitally produced “sketch_a4 (dutch remix)” — click through to see the full-size original on his site.

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tangents (Ballard, netlabels, DS …)

News, Quick Links, Good Reads: (1) Generative music-maker Kenneth Kirschner is the subject of a new interview up at tokafi.com: “[Q:] Your music is electronically processed to a large extent. Why then, are you still interested in the piano as a basis? [A:] I think piano is often for me the clearest and most direct way to get across a harmonic or emotional idea.” … (2) Interview with Cousin Silas on his two albums of music inspired by J.G. Ballard, Ballard Landscapes and Ballard Landscapes 2: “I’ve never really considered Ballard or [Brian] Eno as thinkers. To me one writes incredibly atmospheric music, the other writes incredibly atmospheric fiction” (ballardian.com, via blissout.blogspot.com). … (3) Paul Simon talks about his work with Brian Eno and Philip Glass on one of the 26 tracks in the new “iTunes Originals” collection, a mix of new recordings, spoken reminiscences and classic tracks from Simon and from Simon and Garfunkel (apple.com).

(4) The “audioTagger” project at moolab.net lets you geocode a sound sample sent to the website via email from your cellphone (see image at left). The result is a map of the sounds, sorted by city. … (5) There’s a promising “coming soon” message at the website cybersonica.tv, which the originating organization, cybersonica.org, says will host audio and video from its past festivals. … (6) Other Music, the great Manhattan record store, has added a blog to complement its (DRM-free) online store. This link goes to a breakdown of its store’s various features: othermusic.com/wp. (7) The Wire, the excellent British music magazine, has relaunched its website: thewire.co.uk.

(8) The netlabel Surreal Madrid (surrealmadrid.net) has, after 15 freely downloadable releases, put out a proper 12″, Kill the Headliners!!!, with music by Floex, MMtm, Karaoke Tundra, Zavoloka and Luke Warm. … (9) And the great Lisbon-based netlabel Test Tube has collected its first 75 releases on one DVD-R (testtube.monocromatica.com). That’s over 400 songs and over40 hours of music. … (10) The netlabel Dark Winter has an open call (through December 15) for holiday-themed music, specifically “dark ambient holiday tracks” (darkwinter.com). … (11) Peter Rojas, founder of engadget.com, has launched “a network of ad-supported online record labels and blogs offering completely free music streams and downloads from emerging and established artists”: rcrdlbl.com.

(12) A program called DScratch (gorgull.googlepages.com) is “a little audio manipulation software running on [the Nintendo] DS which ables you to play with an existing .wav file or recorded audio sample; you can pitch it, scratch it, rewind, mute and apply effects on it. Moreover, DScratch sends MIDI through wifi connection, which ables you to control external applications, like VJing software as I do, and can be motion-controlled.” The image to the left is a screenshot of a demo video up on youtube.com (the-palm-sound.blogspot.com) … (13) A homemade gramophone, built from LEGO Mindstorms (josepino.com, via engadget.com and hackedgadgets.com). … (14) Another sonic weapon, the Police Rumbler (engadget.com).

(15) New Yorker music critic Alex Ross has posted brief soundclips for a selection of musical works mentioned in his recent book, The Rest Is Noise (therestisnoise.com). … (16) The pandora.com Internet radio service has added classical music to its repertoire (downloadsquad.com, blog.pandora.com). … (17) Another entry in the soul-sides.com blog’s occasional “Who Flipped It Best?” feature, which compares various rap productions that utilize the same sample. The raw material this time? “Nautilus” by fusion figure Bob James. The end results? Tracks from Lord Shafiyq (“My Mic Is On Fire,” 1987), Main Source (“Live at the BBQ,” produced by Large Professor, 1991) and Ghostface Killah (“Daytona 500,” produced by RZA, 1996).

(18) On his blog earlier this month, writer William Gibson posted a photo of some seals by the shore and wrote, simply, “In their mating season, they sound like motorcycles” (williamgibsonbooks.com).

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Command-Line Disquiet.com Searches: Yubnub “DQ”

There is now a disquiet.com-specific command for yubnub.org, “a (social) command line for the web.”The command “dq”in yubnub now searches the entire disquiet.com website. More detailed info on the specific command at yubnub.org.

As I mentioned when I created a previous yubnub command, “bpm” (see disquiet.com back on August 13, 2006), yubnub is, not unlike Tivo and RSS, so useful that it’s difficult to describe. Just imagine being able to do routine tasks, most of them search-based, from a single webpage (or, better yet, a search box in your browser).

How does it work? For example, entering “dq monolake” into yubnub brings up all posts on disquiet.com that include mention of Monolake. Better yet, for those seeking MP3s, “dq mp3 monolake” will bring up all mentions of “Monolake” and “MP3” — most of which are Disquiet Downstream entries of free MP3s available by Monolake.

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Douglas Gordon’s TV Installation at SFMOMA (San Francisco)

The title to Douglas Gordon‘s exhibit currently at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art — Pretty Much Every Film and Video Work from about 1992 until Now — could mistakenly give the impression that it’s a single compression, a montage, of elements of various moving-image works by various creators from the past five years.

In fact, the works in question are all Gordon’s own, and they’re displayed (as shown, above, in an image from the sfmoma.org website’s exhibition page), not as a constant stream but as an installation, a darkened and nearly silent room full of monitors of varying sizes, some equipped with headphones.

Of course, a sizable percentage of Gordon’s work is built from elements of pre-existing films, like the one where he sets two copies of the famous “You talkin’ to me” scene from Taxi Driver beside each other as mirror images, so it appears that Robert De Niro (as Travis Bickle) is talking to himself, not that he wasn’t already.

But Gordon’s film memory reaches much further back than 1992, deep into the film noir of the 1940s. And the audio part of the audio-visual pairing plays a substantial role in his work, which is why much of his productivity overlaps with sound art. Music and sound are often on his mind, as many of the works in the exhibit evidence, the following in particular. Douglas Gordon: Pretty Much Every Film and Video Work from about 1992 until Now runs Saturday, October 27, 2007, through Sunday, February 24, 2008.

  • “Feature Film” (1999): This is, for me, having just visited SFMOMA this holiday weekend, the highlight of the Douglas Gordon show. The soundtrack to the piece is Bernard Herrmann’s score to the Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo, but the image is not of the film itself. It’s a carefully edited series of close-ups of the hands and face of James Conlon as he conducts the score — thus, we hear the music that accompanies tensions with which we are all familiar, but the images are entirely removed from any sense of horror. That the Conlon clips match the familiar music so well further removes the score from its original context. The work finds a strong corollary in Manon de Boer’s Bartók video, “Perfect Sound” (2006), currently at P.S.1 in Queens, and which I wrote about earlier this week (disquiet.com). In “Perfect Sound,” we hear a violinist playing a Bartók piece, but only the video clip of the performance divulges that the recording was, in fact, stitched together from several run-throughs. Much video art takes the sound component for granted. Both “Feature Film” and “Perfect Sound” take it as their subject.
  • “Bootleg (Big Mouth)” (1995): This consists of slowed-down concert footage of the Smiths, silent. It complements Gordon’s “Feature Film” by focusing the audience on half of the original; pop stars rendered mute often look like they’re in intense pain.
  • “Bootleg (Cramped)” (1996): Slowed-down concert footage of the Cramps, silent.
  • “Bootleg (Stoned)” (1996): Slowed-down concert footage of the Rolling Stones, silent.
  • “24 hour Psycho” (1993): Gordon has slowed down the 110-minute film until it takes a little over 24 hours to play in full. It brings to mind Andy Warhol’s 1964 eight-hour film Empire State Building (footage of which serves as raw material for another Gordon work on display here), and also recent slowed-down performance pieces, such as Leif Inge’s “9 Beet Stretch,” which stretches Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 until it takes a full day to hear in its entirety.
  • “Douglas Gordon Sings ‘The Best of Lou Reed & the Velvet Underground’ (for Bas Jan Ader)'” (1993) — similar to the Phil Collins’s work “The World Won’t Listen” (2005), in which people in Turkey are heard singing along with recordings of the Smiths, a parallel emphasized by the “Bootleg (Big Mouth)” mentioned above. The Bas Jan Ader of the title is an early Dutch conceptual artist.
  • “Remote Viewing 13.05.94 (Horror Movie)” (1995): The background of a brief scene from the 1945 film Leave Her to Heaven has been separated from its original context and set on loop. The image is of a row boat afloat in a river; the sound is reportedly of radio static. For some reason, despite the role of sound in this piece, the monitor at SFMOMA was not equipped with headphones.

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