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Steve Roden Found-Music MP3

The Los Angeles-based sound artist Steve Roden isn’t just a master of quiet music, the coiner of the related term “lowercase sound,” and a thoughtful and meticulous visual artist.

He is also a flea-market regular. Roden is a major diver into the literal dustbin — make that the dumpster — of history. And a few days ago he posted a snapshot of one of his more recent finds, pictured here to the left. It’s a small plastic record album that he found inside another album he’d come upon (inbetweennoise.blogspot.com):

i found this strange 6 inch thin plastic 78 stuffed inside the paper sleeve of a regular 78 a few days ago. like one of those russian wooden dolls, where a smaller version is hiding within the larger, i had no idea it was living there. although the “label” is similar to the “canary records” standard 78’s that i have, i have no idea when this is from, but probably 1940’s based on the plastic.
He also posted a short recording of the work, a martial tune that’s been warped by time and the elements and is now heard beneath a fuzzy blanket of static (MP3). In other words, it has a lot in common with Roden’s own music. He writes:
it’s the kind of song you might see in an [filmmaker Yasujiro] ozu film when older men get together, talk about grade school, drink sake and eventually fall into song.

because the surface of the disc is a bit wobbly, the band sounds slightly out of tune (or perhaps, more so than they did already). the whole thing feels a bit like a micro-version of gavin bryars “jesus blood never fails me” (the original version on the obscure label LP, which is one of my favorite recordings of all time…

Listening to the MP3 on repeat, as Roden suggests, made me think about how art, especially contemporary art, is often about framing the familiar, lending it a new or otherwise unexpected context that expresses the insight and perspective of the artist. The use of “readymades,” or found objects, in art still attracts derision from some regular museum-goers, yet the practice is a close corollary to one of the most traditional of fine-art forms, “still life” painting — or, as it is termed in French, in a peculiar reversal that’s fascinating, “nature morte” painting. In this Roden MP3, the ghosts are with us, and they’re singing.

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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