The gentle, childrens-toy sing-song melody that runs through “Glass Marimba / Frog Caller” by Stephen Vitiello has a lullaby vibe, so to speak, even if it’s ever rubbing up against a frog caller, one of those rough wooden instruments that simulates the throaty gargle of its namesake amphibian.
The two instrumental lines are never fully aligned, and that adds to the contrast in melody and texture. It also allows each to highlight the corresponding aspects of its counterpart — the caller bringing out the hard consonance hidden at the heart of the marimba, and the marimba getting the listener’s ear to pay attention to the taut but not non-existent range of the caller.
The music serves as the score to an installation by video artist Pawel Wojtasik, with whom Vitiello has collaborated on several occasions. The piece, titled “At the Still Point,” is currently at the gallery Smack Mellon in Brooklyn (smackmellon.org), where it runs through April 11. A still from the video appears at the top of this post.
Via email, Vitiello explained a bit more about the video, and the sound sources with which he constructed its score:
“It was shot in India. The glass marimba is this instrument built by the Brazilian group Uakti. They make all their own instruments. It’s made from two wooden frames (resonator boxes) and pieces of window glass, which are cut to size, so they’re in the correct pitches. Eder Santos, Brazilian videomaker and friend, asked them to make one for me many years ago instead of paying me for a soundtrack. The frog caller is something they used in the making of the sound design for District 9 and I thought to get one and play with.”
There’s a massive gallery of instruments at the Uakti website, uakti.com.br. The marimbas are filed under “Idiofones” (other categories include Aerofones, Electromecanicos, Cordofones, and Memranaofones).
Just to follow up the portable, electricity-free turntable I noted this past weekend, Steve Roden (artist, musician, and tireless archivist of fascinating music- and sound-related ephemera) points out that the design has been around for many a year:
The squiggly, squirming sounds at the heart of Craque‘s “justBelow” are all too irritable, all too nervous, to ever retreat fully into the background, even though most of the initial ones in question are exactly the sort we train our ears to not pay attention to — the rush of air, little metallic clinking, slight textural roughness.
Heard here in a slowly evolving, nearly 40-minute improvisation, the raw materials (referred to by Craque generically as “electro-acoustic resources”) begin to come out of their hiding. There’s a whirly synth tone, as well as a slow hovering, that brings to mind a Bebe Baron analog UFO sound effect, and much more.
The piece needs to be heard straight through to be fully appreciated for what it is: an ever-shifting, ever-changing testament to transformation.
Katja Rupp is a composer and sound designer living and working in Geneva, Switzerland, where she provides audio for commercial video. But in the age of inexpensive HD, the divide between roles is becoming less and less strict.
One night, she wandered her city with a brand new video camera, a Canon 7D, capturing in the dim light the pace of traffic, the lingering couples, the chance encounters, and the various establishments, both open and closed.
The next morning she put back on her primary hat, and composed this splendid electronic backing audio for the video — emerging from snatches of feedback come elegant pulses and subtle percussion that perfectly capture the aura of an urban enclave when it’s experiencing an enticing lull:
While the audio stands on its own, the full video is available, too. Much as there’s no surprise, based on the score, that she lists James Newtown Howard and David Holmes among her favorite composers, there’s also no small hint of her favorite movie directors, who include Steven Soderbergh, Wong Kar-wai, and Ridley Scott.
Much of the music on Alan Morse Davies‘s recent album, It Is Glorious to Make Electricity for Socialism, will be familiar to readers of this website, because the set is a collection of material he produced throughout last year, some of which was covered here — including his super slo-mo distillation of “Gloomy Sunday” (disquiet.com) and an homage to Icelandic composer JÃ³hann JÃ³hannsson (disquiet.com). At least one of the collected pieces, though, had previously evaded my attention, “Pygmy Polyphonics (Protracted).” The parenthetical gets to the core of Davies’s method. At he puts it in the album’s liner notes with far too much modesty, the piece “is a slowed down field recording of pygmies.” But there are many pre-existing sound recordings, and many speeds at which to slow them down, and the beauty of Davies’s accomplishment lies in how the plaintive indigenous voices are revealed as elegant layerings in his glacial reassessment:
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
• July 28, 2021: This day marks the start of the 500th consecutive weekly project in the Disquiet Junto music community.
• December 13, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
• January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th 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.
• A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the 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.)
• 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.