My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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Monthly Archives: January 2010

Quote of the Week: What Is and Isn’t Repertoire

From an interview with Robert Carl, author of Terry Riley’s In C (Oxford Press, 2009):

I think there’s a subtle but a real difference, though, between the repertoire and In C. In C has an open instrumentation and an open duration. And as a consequence of the kind of accordion structure it has, where it can expand or contract, the relationships between the modules are also different from performance to performance, even though the sequence always remains the same. Every time someone decides to perform it, every time someone decides to record it, it’s a new version, maybe a new realization. Maybe we should be using the word realization instead of interpretation, because interpretation suggests a 19th-century ideal of a score which is a fixed artifact that one is supposed to realize as close as possible to the text. But with In C, you can only get so close and then like a magnet you bounce off it.

The distinction is an interesting one, and from reading the interview, it’s clear that Carl is no dogmatist. He’s not making a stark distinction here that he’ll then defend to the hilt. He’s pointing out, in his word, the subtle distinction between what is understood to be “repertoire” and what Riley’s In C proved to be. This is a distinction between works whose depiction in standard musical notation is fairly fixed, and those works, such as Riley’s, that are fluid, in that they depend as much if not more on instructions/procedures as on musical notes. The score for In C, for example, if half notation (53 short melodic segments) and half “Performing Directions” (including such ambiguous koans as “If for some reason a pattern can’t be played, the performer should omit it and go on”).

In complimenting several renditions of In C that he thinks are particularly successful, Carl says, “For me, I like the works that take off from it and actually make truly new pieces, but that’s just my taste.”

The full interview, conducted by Frank J. Oteri, appears at The full score of In C is available for free download at PDF.

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Past Week at

  • Please Retweet and Sign this Petition 'Make Apple allow audio file sharing for music apps' – #
  • Oh, if you purchase budget earbuds with "extended bass support," that means you end up having to use the reduced-bass setting on your iPod. #
  • Currently playing in the kitchen: Chamber Trio for Drip Coffee, Cooling Stainless Steel Kettle, and Fluorescent Bulb (Adagissimo). #
  • Starting to get "All Summer in a Day"/"The Long Rain" feeling. When home not sure background noise is precipitation or radio/TV on static. #
  • I'd really like to hear a Cake song remixed by Giuseppe Ielasi, especially based on "03" off his Aix album. #
  • My Village Voice Pazz & Jop ballot: Same as my year-end top 10 but you can click thru to see who also liked the albums. #
  • Does the rain amplify or otherwise funnel the sound of sirens, or is there just that much emergency activity during a downpour? #
  • Bought new, inexpensive earbuds (with mic). Cord is fabric, like from old lamp or iron. Thus flexible; less prone than plastic to cracking. #
  • Major thunder over San Francisco — thick, deep Ten Commandments thunder. #
  • Definite incongruity between the birdsong-based field recordings playing inside, and the bird-less, rain-ready skies outside. #
  • Belated RIP, musician Walter J. Carpenter (b. 1982), aka wwcarpen, aka aghost, passed away November 2009. Legacy site: #
  • Found iPhone. Went to Apple store to get it back to its owner. Genius-bar guy says, "Sure you don't wanna keep it? Goes for a lot on eBay." #
  • Bill Fontana environmental sound-art piece at @sfmoma today — but will the free admission make it too difficult to get in? #
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The Instrumental Pop of the Brothers Fallen (MP3s)

“All flutters, bumps and whispers by Fallen” — that phrase is the only hint at what’s inside the album Feathers, released late in December as a free download on the Resting Bell label by the duo Fallen, which consists of brothers Andrew and Richard Fryer, who are from the south of England, and their small collection of bedroom music-making tools. The phrase appears on the back cover of Feathers, like an epitaph — an association made all the stronger by the image behind it, of leaves in varying states of decay.

[audio:|titles=”Feathers”|artists=Fallen] [audio:|titles=”Iron Bark”|artists=Fallen] [audio:|titles=”Clung to the Wreckage”|artists=Fallen]

The head-nodding rhythm of the opening (and title) track sounds like crushed cotton dancing among steam pipes, its soft tones bounce amid slow pounds of percussion. It has all the structure of mechanized pop, but at a tempo that is better suited to film or TV use than to radio. Which is very much in its favor (MP3).

Even better is “Iron Bark,” which for some time gives the impression that it doesn’t quite know where it’s going. It moves between synth and electric piano before introducing all manner of oddities: a brief double-time drum pattern, warped vocal snippets, broken beats. Ultimately it’s classic homemade electronic pop: music in which the composition is more a matter of layers being added than of complex melodic or thematic development. The accrual works here because the elements are hinted at before they are fully introduced. And because they’re all different enough that the additions increase not just overall sonic density but interior contrast (MP3).

“Woven on the Wind,” like the title track, ably mixes soft and hard — not soft and loud, the way the Pixies did, but soft and hard: a main foreground sound that is the sonic equivalent of lush gray flannel, and then these hard poppy beats that slice it to pieces (MP3). You know the rhythm; it’s the auto-pop pneumatic beat of Brian Eno’s collaborations with John Cale and Paul Simon, or of Cornershop at its best.

The other half of Feathers‘s six songs are closer to true pop music, with half-sung lyrics that inevitably relegate the non-vocal music to background.

Get the full release at

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Hall-of-Mirrors Violin MP3

In a traditional symphonic orchestra, the first and second violin are two different instruments played by two different people, and there’s a clear hierarchy between them.

In electronically enhanced music, music that automates group effort through software, the second violin — as well as the third, fourth, and nth violin — is a replica of the first violin, after the first has been transformed by some sort of algorithm. Thea Farhadian, the accomplished violinist, has posted a variety of such improvisations for violin and electronics, the most recent of which dates from last year and features processing by Tom Bickley, who implemented it in the popular Max/MSP software environment.

When the piece begins (MP3), we heard Farhadian’s sonorous violin playing a thin line that has a Gypsy feel and a slow, considered pace. Shortly after the start, a repetition enters in, doubling the sound.

[audio:|titles=”Violin/Electronics Improvisation”|artists=Thea Farhadian & Tom Bickley]

The second violin is quieter than the first, but also recognizably similar. At first it sounds like a simple echo. And then the second line veers away — the moment is jarring, the sonic equivalent of watching someone’s shadow suddenly decide to do its own thing.

And then Bickley’s processing really kicks in. There is rattling and flickering, there is whirring and buzzing, and there are squeaky exaggerations that repeat what Farhadian plays as if showing it reflected in a funhouse mirror.

What makes the increasingly brusque variations work is that they’re rooted in the familiar, unmodified violin. Which is to say, in the end, the relation between first and second violin here isn’t particularly less hierarchical than in a symphony orchestra.

More on Farhadian at

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Sound Art, 90210 (Via 10003)

If you stand on East 1st Street in Manhattan these days, just below 2nd Avenue, you might hear the sounds of Beverly Hills. It might sound like someone’s taking a pee, or you might hear geographically inappropriate birds — you might hear traffic, even when the street is free of it. And you might hear that most emblematic of Los Angeleno sounds: the mechanistic noise of a leaf blower. The sounds emanate from a storefront gallery at 34 East 1st Street. That’s the home of the gallery Audio Visual Arts. Between noon and 6pm from Thursday through Sunday each week, there’s a small speaker outside the gallery that plays Exterior Sounds.

Exterior Sounds is the self-explanatory name of an ongoing series of installations. The latest such sonic installation is by Scott Sherk, head of the art department at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Sherk’s exhibit takes the equally self-explanatory title “23 Fountains of Beverly Hills.” It consists of brief segments of audio recorded at water fountains in the famed Los Angeles neighborhood. (The audio has been made available for a broader audience by the netlabel MP3.)

[audio:|titles=”23 Fountains of Beverly Hills”|artists=Scott Sherk]

The sound in Sherk’s piece isn’t just of fountains — or of leaf blowers. Listen carefully, and you’ll hear voices, cars (there’s an especially fine moment when the white-noise rush of traffic is supplemented by the electronic ping of a truck backing up), footsteps, even what sounds like Frank Sinatra singing from someone’s nearby stereo.

If field recording is like photography, then the manner in which a photographer frames reality within the rectangle of an image provides a model for how a field recordist — or, to use a term gaining favor, a phonographer — frames the sound of the world captured on a recording device. In Sherk’s “23 Fountains of Beverly Hills” that framing comes in several forms. As with any field recordings the frame is primarily a matter of when a track begins and when it ends — that is to say, what sonic document of the real world is determined to be of sufficient value to be culled and presented to an audience. It’s an example of curation as art production.

Sherk’s effort here includes additional acts of framing. There is the bite-sized nature of those 23 fountains, each heard in its own brief segment. Then there is the piece’s title, which can be read as ironic, but needn’t be. And then, in Manhattan’s East Village, at the AVA storefront (pictured below), there is the physical context: the experience of a listener standing in one urban environment but hearing another.

More information at the website of Audio Visual Arts,, from which the above photo is borrowed. “23 Fountains of Beverly Hills” runs through February 5, 2010; it opened on January 15. More on Sherk at

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