Field recordist Mike Hallenbeck knows that the sounds documented by phonographers — by those who tape and collect the noises of the natural and the built worlds — are both unique and interchangeable. He knows that a car horn in one country is just that country’s version of what is heard, however slightly differently, in numerous, in countless, other countries. And he also knows that despite that interchangeability, in fact because of it, each car horn is all the more special. As he jokes in the liner notes to his recent album, Just Before Diwali – Field Recordings from North India, “The art of field recording needs another recording of trucks in the street like I need a hole in my head, but I found this particular sonic situation valuable.”
This situation in question is the Karol Baugh district of Delhi, and the recording was made on a trip during which Hallenbeck taped the dozen tracks that comprise Just Before Diwali, which was captured all around North India. The traffic that resounds here (MP3) is just as rambunctious as one might imagine — a mix of rough bells, heavy tires, mumbling motors, and barking exhaust systems. And to the ears of someone who has never been to India, its most distinguishing factor is the melody (really less the melody than the key) hinted at in the intonations of bleeping horns.
Perhaps the term “mixtape” hasn’t fully outlived its suffix. There’s been a small flurry of cassette-only releases in recent months, what with the Odd Nosdam split tape on Sanity Muffin (which makes its home page on myspace — at myspace.com/sanitymuffin — another technology prematurely reported dead), and the launch of the cassette-only label Tapeworm, with initial release by Philip Jeck, Stephen O’Malley, and Simon Fisher Turner, among others (tapeworm.org.uk).
And then there is the tape-ography — that is, the typography in tape form — of Ankara, Turkey-based artist Ersinhan Ersin. It’s an inspiring collection that makes the most of the fragile mechanisms at the core of tapes, the stark differences between the hard plastic gears and the slender ribbons:
listened to my 18-month-old daughter hone her pitch and tempo to sing along perfectly with a bleating car alarm. Childhood in the city…!
There’s scientific evidence that some birds follow highways, the way they once followed waterways (cell.com). So, it’s no surprise in a world increasingly permeated by electronic sound, that baby’s first word might, in fact, be “Beep.”
You’d never know the source material of “Tanger at Night” is “resampled klezmer,” as the song’s composer, NQ, describes it. Unless, of course, you peer deep into the track’s dark, horror-cue intensity and recall that klezmer is the party music of a historically displaced people.
NQ is Cologne-based Nils Quak, whose “Tanger” is the latest “Single of the Week” over at luvsound.org/singles (MP3). The song opens with eerily shimmering chimes, pulsing like lights reflected on rough water, and slowly raises and lowers its intensity for upwards of four minutes, before fading out into an extended windswept denouement of chance noises.
[audio:http://ia301509.us.archive.org/3/items/luvs017/tanger_at_night.mp3|titles=”Tanger at Night”|artists=Nils Quak]
Writes Quak of the piece’s construction:
“It’s a two bar klezmer loop i found on a flexi disc. I made a couple of versions of it and automated their levels with a lorenz attractor driven lfo. the outcoming piece was played back into my appartment and recorded with a cheap iphone recording software over and over again, drowning the entire piece in ambient noise, room resonances and the noise and errors of shitty software converters and microphones.”
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
• February 5, 2020: The first session of the 15-week course I teach at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape.
• April 15, 2020: A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)
• December 13, 2020: This day marks the 24th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2021: This day marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
• At least two live group concerts by Disquiet Junto members in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the works for 2020.
• I have liner notes for a musician's solo album and an essay in a book about an art event due out. I'll announce as the release dates come into focus.
• The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.
• 0424 / Fluctuating Rhythm / The Assignment: Employ nature as your conductor.
• 0423 / Hold Noise / The Assignment: Record music intended to sound just as garbled as the hold music on a phone call.
• 0422 / Chapter Cascade / The Assignment: Make a piece of music made up of tiny alternating parts.
• 0421 / Marquee Ghosts / The Assignment: What sounds haunt a discarded movie theater in the middle of the night?
• 0420 / Luna Tick / The Assignment: Make music that proceeds according to the phases of the moon, in celebration of Lunar New Year.