New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • Disquiet.com F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

Monthly Archives: February 2009

Portuguese Pop-Minimalist MP3

Technology, we’re told, if it is sufficiently advanced, becomes like a kind of magic. To listen to the piece “That’s OK,” off the recent self-titled album by Tam, is to learn that if the electronics in music production are implemented simply enough, then they come to seem like the origin of some very basic form of life, a small organism slowly entering into existence. Basic doesn’t mean banal; it means rudimentary, in the best sense of the word.

[audio:http://www.variz.org/releases/008/Tam%20-%20That%27s%20OK.mp3|titles=”That’s OK”|artists=Tam (João Santos)]

That is the magic of Tam, a work of pop minimalism on the Variz label (variz.org). The opening of “That’s OK” (MP3) is mere heart beats, pulsing sounds that slowly repeat as they bounce like slow-motion superballs in a dayglo romper room — like heavily cushioned pinballs propelled by velvet-lined bumpers. In time, melodies become apparent, underplayed melodies (what, are you expecting Liberace here?) that have a lulling sensibility matched perfectly by the tones. It’s all musical insinuation and sonic embrace. (The track is one of four on the album, and was made available for free download as a promotion.)

Tam is João Santos, a Porto, Portugal-based musician who in the past has worked with Luís Espinheira as part of the duo TAMDMD. (Whether Espinheira now records as DMD, I cannot confirm.) More on Santos/TAM at variz.org.

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Perchance to Stream

Just a quick update on the introduction of streaming audio to Disquiet.com. Apparently streams are much more popular than I’d even imagined.

In the short time, less than six days, since a new streaming audio service — “Listen?” — was introduced to this website, one of the first two mixtapes/playlists has become the most popular page viewed on the site in the past month. That’d be the series’s second entry, “Guit-ronic Mix: 6 Solo 6-Strings,” which is all guitar-derived quiet noise and glitched-out melodic fragments. The first Listen? entry, “Inaugural Mix: Beats, Drones, Surface Noise, Ether,” is doing well, too. I hope that the websites of the musicians and labels whose music is represented in Listen? are seeing a correlative uptick.

I don’t really look at stats much — much of the music I listen to has, I fear, a fan base that wouldn’t fill my backyard (even if it weren’t raining), so “popularity” is somewhat unrelated to my endeavor. However, in relative terms it can be a useful means to gauge the interest of readers, so as to better serve ’em. Initial sense: Streaming audio? Great. Thematically linked streaming audio? Even better. OK, more to come.

Of course, the reason I launched Listen? here on Disquiet.com wasn’t to test the value (in terms of popularity) of streaming audio as a means to boost traffic. (Streaming audio was also added, in the same time frame, to the weekdaily Downstream entries.) It was because I’d become convinced, in conversation and correspondence with friends, musicians, and so forth, that a playlist or mixtape was another means to accomplish this site’s goal. That goal is to provide context for (“to provide context for” being a polite euphemism for “to promote”) a particular realm of music and sound — summarized for the sake of concision as “ambient/electronic,” but in actuality broadly combining electronically mediated composition and performance, generally meditative audio, and sound-related art.

All of which makes it all the more rewarding and meaningful that the theme-based Listen? entry is doing particularly well. Of course, it may help that the theme in this case is guitar, and not, oh, refrigerators, or glossolalia, or traffic, or the hum of the inner workings of old laptops.

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Vlad Makarov “Multicello” MP3s

The live-music catalog at archive.org is largely the domain of jam bands, home as it is to the collected Grateful Dead performances, and endless reams of Jack Johnson, Tim Reynolds, and others. But democracy is a funny thing, and often the material that is most downloaded (one of the many means by which the Archive parses use of its holdings) is far from immediately groovy or accessible. Listed among the top 10 items downloaded this past week, for example, is Multiplying Real Multicello, a work of analog-delay cello by Vlad Makarov, a Russian free-improv musician. It’s a sprawling, 20-track collection, prime examples being one which envelops like a confluence of bug noise, or whirring, intimidating buzzing (MP3):

[audio:http://www.archive.org/download/ca216_vm/02_306.mp3|titles=”02 – 306″|artists=Vlad Makarov]

And another, which opens with over a minute of something close to analog techno, before Makarov takes to detuning and scraping his instrument (MP3):

[audio:http://www.archive.org/download/ca216_vm/05_243.mp3|titles=”05 – 243″|artists=Vlad Makarov]

Get the full set of 20 pieces, and additional information, at archive.org. More on the performer at myspace.com/vladmakarov and letov.ru/makarov and makvlad.livejournal.com, though the text is mostly in Russian.

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Ambient Twitter (Updated 2009.04.14)

As of October 31, 2009, this post has been supplanted by a “Twitter list” at twitter.com/disquiet/ambient.

The micro-blogging service that is twitter.com has a natural affiliation with ambient music. The sensory awareness that it provides of the goings-on of one’s friends and colleagues — not to mention of intriguing people whom one has never met — is a tacit background process, a tertiary manner of connectivity. Not surprisingly, numerous musicians and labels and other entities participate on Twitter, providing a constant stream of chatter that can be parsed for news, recommended listening, even advice. Messages sent via Twitter are a maximum of 140 characters, which keeps messages brief, and the signal-to-noise ratio relatively high.

Here’s an initial list of links (in no particular order) to the Twitter pages of people (and, in some cases, groups or organizations) broadly associated with ambient/electronic music, though I’m sure there are plenty of others out there. If you have any recommendations of Twitterers not mentioned here, please drop ’em in the comments box below, or shoot me a note via the contact page:

    @1000digiki, @taylordeupree, @sepulchra, @luvsound, @sideb0ard, @usoproject, @ocp_pt_vu, @bathysphere, @pulsewidth, @my_fun, @pedroleitao, @douglasbenford, @zoecello, @brianlavelle, @stuffedspacedog, @rarefrequency, @vagueterrain, @chris_randall, @cdmblogs, @musicthing, @peterkirn, @thewiremagazine, @lampo

Here’s a second batch, as of February 25. Thanks to everyone who submitted suggestions, and who let me know about their own Twitter presence:

    @diatonis, @ambiencellist, @ambienteer, @swayingsmoke, @agentpearson, @psonikadia, @sublamp, @daveseidel, @dherbe, @andrew_levine, @gurdonark, @buddhamachine, @djrupture, @postsilence, @oblique_chirps

Here’s a third batch, as of February 26, including the arts organization Ars Technica and the record label Audiobulb. Thanks, again, for the suggestions:

    @rlainhart, @grhmsthrlnd, @markrushtoncom, @ttoner, @dtauvdiodr, @audiobulb, @neoouija, @emworld, @arstechnica, @blocsonic, @phonaut, @timeblind

This is the fourth batch, as of March 7:

    @tokafi, @raulfuentes, @cjherbert, @miniair, @deadformats, @archaichorizon, @JCLemay, @willits, @rddy, @zeromoon, @quiet, @bleep43, @ambientmusic, @oblaat, @rolandreinke

A fifth batch, as of March 11:

    @dvnt, @justinvaris, @thegreenkingdom, @atomicskunk, @afoisy, @fatcatrecords, @thrilljockey, @theleaflabel, @percussionlab, @kmkrebs, @futuremusicmag, @modularfield, @rekkerd, @dubstep, @emarg0ed

A sixth batch, as of April 14:

    @stasisfield, @janietopangea, @thomasraukamp, @noisician, @kmkrebs, @experimedia, @room40speaks, @fognozzle, @teelanovela, @spectraliquid, @atomicskunk, @brianlavelle, @sheisaway, @thesalesdept,@alec_empire, @trent_reznor, @c_bissonnette, @nobuooo, @hugoverweij, @thegrassyknoll

And, as always, I’m at twitter.com/disquiet, which is mostly sound-related (with occasional lapses into food and software). Below are some random recent tweets I made, repurposed here in reverse chronological order:

    I’d like to hear a remix based on the piano-and-werewolf-screams moment in Dog Soldiers. Almost as happy as when Three 6 Mafia won. Listening to an Odd Nosdam mix, and remembering that the essential step when making chili is freezing for future use. Belatedly, going to see The International. AO Scott wrote about its “dial-tone score.” That’s a compliment, right? But 1st, Tan Tan Noodles. Brian Eno has talked about how he tests his music on the best and worst speakers. Did he test U2’s album for the 96kbps it’s at on MySpace? Twidroid is not working for me. Anyhow, gym: Miles Davis Remixed. Testing an audio plug-in on my WordPress-powered website, Disquiet.com, and hoping not to break everything in the process. Here goes Gym: The score to The International. In this rain, at this quiet hour, the house is one giant kalimba. Just had that “wish I had something to listen to while I’m listening to this” feeling. Just bought ticket for Throbbing Gristle in San Francisco on April 23.

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What Instrumental Hip-Hop Looks Like

Some of the best electronic music is hidden underneath rapping. The instrumental versions of rap singles and albums provide a direct means to access the sonic foundation of those songs — sometimes they’re simply interesting; often they make for excellent listening on their own. From the physical cutting, splicing, and looping of tape that went into Public Enemy’s early work, to the advanced digital production that’s central to the contemporary efforts of Timbaland and Kanye West, just to name a few, there’s an enormous catalog of funk-laden, often deeply abstract studio concoctions out there.

Full-length instrumental hip-hop albums remain something of a rarity, though they’re becoming more commonly available (the retailer fatbeats.com specializes in them, and even releases some on its own record label). Much of my instrumental hip-hop collection is comprised of 12″ singles, which generally include the vocal-free version (and the a cappella) along with the actual song. For those just venturing into this field, producers worth seeking out include Alchemist, Just Blaze, DJ Muggs, and the late J Dilla. Dilla died at age 32 in 2006, and has become something of a martyr for old-school hip-hop production, and more broadly helped elevate the status of the instrumental.

As I’ve accumulated full-length albums in instrumental form, I’ve become fascinated by how the instrumental editions distinguish themselves visually from the original versions. Below are six examples of, in essence, what full-length instrumental hip-hop looks like:

The cover on the left is to the original, commercial release of Pete Rock and CL Smooth‘s The Main Ingredient (1994), their final album as a duo. The cover on the right is a collection of the instrumental versions of The Main Ingredient. Like many full-length hip-hop instrumental albums I’ve collected, the latter is not the most professional-looking item. The typography looks like an internal document from an Eastern European bureaucracy, and the jacket is as generic as white could be. At the risk of sounding naive, it’s quite likely a bootleg, though some independent record retailers have told me that rappers and hip-hop producers are often involved in funneling the instrumentals through other channels, with a DJ consumership in mind, when the labels that released the “proper” version decline to bring out a vocal-free version. The majority of full-length hip-hop instrumentals in my collection, heavy on the DJ Premiere (of Gang Starr) and various Wu Tang endeavors, look like The Main Ingredient.

When albums do get a proper label release, the art is often just affixed with an “Instrumentals” banner. For Dr. Dre‘s 2001 (1999), the “Instrumentals” notice replaces the “Parental Advisory” notice, which makes sense, since it’s the words, not the music, that caused the advisory to be there in the first place. What isn’t clear is why that Matrix-green marijuana leaf was removed at the same time.

One of the many benefits of an instrumental album is that the listener can focus on aural details that are masked when the rapping is present. Sometimes it’s the same case with the album covers, as with Pharcyde‘s debut album, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (1992). The instrumental version divulges that the amusement-park ride depicted on the original cover is a detail of a larger illustration. When Pharcyde’s second album, Labcabincalifornia (1995), was released as an instrumental set, a similar graffiti-style “instrumentals” was scrawled across the original cover, and the group’s suits went from yellow to blue, likely to make a connection to the hue of the prior instrumentals collection. The instrumentals version of Labcabincalifornia retains the “Parental Advisory” notice, which seems odd.

Rapper Black Milk gets extra points for doing up a separate cover for the vocal-free version of Popular Demand (2007), in which he absents himself, along with his massive tour bus, from the proceedings. The shots were taken at the State Theatre in his native Detroit. What’s interesting is that he doesn’t leave behind his drum machine, which is tucked under his arm on the original full-length, since that no doubt is still heard on the instrumental version. He also dispenses with the telephone pole, which brings up the question as to whether it was really there in the first place, or was just drawn in for effect. (Plenty of images of the theater are available via Google, and while there are some trees and poles nearby, there’s doesn’t seem to be anything with that telephone-pole girth.) Furthermore, since Black Milk did much of the album production himself, it arguably wouldn’t have been misleading for him to have stayed in the picture. That’s in contrast with, say, the instrumental version of Common’s album Be, which minus Common’s rapping is, in essence, a solo album by Kanye West, who produced the majority of it.

At present time, this is my favorite cover to an instrumental hip-hop album. The jacket for Jurassic 5‘s Quality Control (2000) shows the rap group sitting on milk crates around a tree stump near a busy intersection. (Presumably the logo carved into the tree is a Photoshop trick — perhaps the stump itself is a prop.) The way the wide-angle lens frames the shot brings to mind Dr. Seuss’s classic story “The Jax” (from The Sneetches and Other Stories), in which freeways are constructed around two stubborn characters whose paths intersect (“In the prairie of Prax”). Anyhow, for the instrumental version of Quality Control, the band vacated the set, leaving behind the milk crates, which does a better job than the Black Milk album to telegraph that even though their voices aren’t present on the album, they are. It’s all the more funny that they left their headphones hanging on the stump.

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