On May 21, Chris Herbert opened for Stars of the Lid in at a concert in Birmingham, England, and the very next day he posted a 45-minute MP3 of the set — “I managed to record the indistinct buzzing noises from my laptop,” as he put it on his myspace.com/chrisherbert blog entry. The file is available solely via a generic file-transfer service (sendspace.com, MP3), which means it’s there for a fairly limited, and indeterminate, period of time. As of this writing, all 85 megabytes of it are still online — and it isn’t merely, or even specifically, a collection of “indistinct buzzing noises.” There is buzzing, and crackling, and industrial sound, yes, like the atmosphere of a construction site being shut down for a long weekend. But those sounds are triggered in Herbert’s laptop amidst a series of utterly un-terrestrial atmospheric settings, opening with a haze-of-dawn burst of sparkling energy, through a generously syrupy space of slow undulations, through dank minimal-techno maze, and various other mysterious elsewheres.
Month: May 2008
Cliff Caruthers’s ‘Bug’ Sound Design (San Francisco)
When the SF Playhouse shudders, physically, during its current run of the Tracy Letts play Bug, the source of that mix of noise and physical sensation isn’t the actors wandering around a creaky stage, or the audience shifting in their well-worn seats. It’s the thick buzzing sound that is used, along with the traditional blanketing darkness, to note the transition between scenes. I saw the play, directed by Jon Tracy, this past Friday, and was struck by the production’s use of sound, not just to move from one segment of the tautly told story to the next, but to fill each scene with a sense of place and, true to Bug‘s emphasis on surveillance and paranoia, of foreboding.
The entire play takes place in a single, seedy motel room. It tells the story of the quick and intense bonding of two emotionally damaged individuals: a single woman, whose ex-husband had been released from prison, and a younger man, who reveals deeper levels of paranoia with each confession. The title subject refers to both the insect and the listening device, and to the frightening idea of a combination thereof.
From the circling helicopters, to nearby Latin American techno, to an occasionally used boombox on the motel room floor, to the substandard air-conditioning unit that is so constant in its mechanical whir that it serves double duty as the play’s score, the sound in Bug is as much a part of the production as are the actors and the set. The sound in Bug isn’t just background; in a dramatic sense, it has a narrative agency all its own.
As it turns out, the sound design in the production, which runs through June 14, is by Cliff Caruthers, an accomplished locally based musician who’s performed at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (where he is technical director), the San Francisco Tape Music Festival (where he is co-curator), and 964 Natoma (Aaron Ximm‘s former curatorial venue in San Francisco).
More on the production at sfplayhouse.org.
Image of the Week: Marclay in SF
A detail from a photo documenting a new solo show by Christian Marclay at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco through June 28, 2008:
More info at fraenkelgallery.com.
Quote of the Week: Saving STEIM
Simple astonishment is as best as I can sum up the sensation that accompanied the recent news that a funding crisis has struck the estimable institution STEIM, based in Amsterdam. The following statement opened an appeal for support at the organization’s website, steim.org:
Things are not well at STEIM. We are in the danger of losing our structural funding from the government, based on a review from the advisor board which called us ‘closed and only appealing to a niche audience’. The outlook isn’t exactly bleak, but at the moment our future is unclear.This is the letter that I sent in STEIM’s support:
I write this note in something of a sense of astonishment. To hear that STEIM’s funding is in question came unexpectedly. In the world beyond the institution’s walls — and by “world” I mean the globe in its entirety — STEIM is, to those involved in the pursuit of extending music’s boundaries, synonymous with excellence.
Those five letters can make all the difference on the CV of one of the organization’s fellows — anyone with STEIM experience is seen as having been at the root of the culture, and returned all the wiser to spread the word.
STEIM’s efforts in education, curation, concert promotion and, most importantly, research puts it in the highest order of arts institutions.
It’s been reported that some in the position of judging STEIM’s validity relegate it to a “niche.”
I trust that is a mis-characterization of the concerns of the governing body. The matters that STEIM is focused on — from the digital mediation of information to the role of technology in culture to networked communication — are high on the minds of everyone in business, government, the military, and the arts. The innovations, technological and theoretical, that surface at STEIM have far-reaching implications and applications.
Thank you for providing this opportunity to speak on the organization’s behalf. I truly hope that STEIM’s funding will be continued.
Marc WeidenbaumThe due date for the next stage of STEIM’s appeal is imminent. STEIM needs to collect any letters of support by May 26, which is this coming Monday. A web form has been set up at steim.org to enable supporters to make their voices heard. For further context, the following websites are among those that have raised the alarm about STEIM’s status: createdigitalmusic.com, em411.com, makezine.com, matrixsynth.blogspot.com, musicthing.blogspot.com.
Suite-Like JoÃ£o Ricardo (OCP) MP3
Don’t let the initial softness of JoÃ£o Ricardo‘s new release on the Test Tube netlabel, Stepping Stone, lull you into any sense of comfort. Fissures will strike, and small noises will make themselves known, in rhythmic patterns that are more verbal than metrical, more about the insinuation of life than about effecting momentum.
Those early, subtle swells, given texture from an economical employment of static, eventually make way for a suite-like, long-form, half-hour performance (MP3).Â Later in the piece, alternate techniques will be brought to be bear on string instruments, heard in looping patterns of loosely strung guitar, then smatterings of rough percussion, then dark and claustrophobic scratchy explorations, before closing with an almost soothing (key word: almost) stretch of minimalist sound design.
Stepping Stone is, admirably, a single-song release, which is a format particularly suitable to netlabels, where music is made available for free download and distribution by the musician and releasing organization. The compression of the musical experience into one, individual, standalone track adds to the immediacy of the experience, and thus to the sense of unmediated communication between artist and audience.
Ricardo, recording as OCP (or Operador de Cabine Polivalente), isn’t here just stringing together diverse modes. For example, those loose strings connect to the rough percussion thanks to the manner by which the analog source material fits into the electro-acoustic setting, and the subsequent claustrophobia is impressive precisely because of the exit of the more organic sounds that had appeared earlier. Like any successful suite, this one is marked by narrative intent, one that compels and rewards close listening.
Get additional info at monocromatica.com/netlabel. More on Ricardo at ocp.pt.vu.