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: June 2010

Daniel Hopkins aka Landcrash MP3

The echoes go on for some time, taking even the sharpest sound and repeating it into a trail of hushed reverberations. This is “Corporation Street” by Daniel Hopkins, who records as Landcrash. The track mixes repeated, individual instrumental riffs and the restrained noise of what appear to be light field recordings into something nearly transparent — it’s so simple that it easily becomes invisible to the ear. At close to six minutes in length, it could be looped end to end, and the only sense of it having started anew would be how it gets darker and deeper as it goes on.

There’s a lovely gentility to Hopkins’ approach to reverb, how the brief mirrored repetitions manage to embrace the tight elasticity inherent in the approach, yet do so without sacrificing the lilting potential of the ever so slow fade.

Original track at soundcloud.com/landcrash. More on Landcrash/Hopkins at myspace.com/landcrash and landcrash.co.uk.

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Black Tie, White Noise: San Francisco Symphony & Other Institutional Culture (2010-2011 Season)

Another season, another puzzle. Each year when the San Francisco Symphony announces its forthcoming concert schedule, my conviction is reinforced: among the many reasons that classical music has trouble enticing new listeners is because the promotional materials associated with it speak primarily to those who are already fluent in the culture of the orchestra, not only its music but its bureaucracy — these organizations pitch to the choir, as it were.

The 58-page SFS mailer that arrived in May requires a dungeon master, or at least a seasoned concert attendee, to navigate it. And sticking to tradition, prominence is reserved for information on pricey calender-based multiple-date subscriptions, while actual concert-specific detail about most of what will actually be heard is rendered in minuscule type with less-than-helpful descriptions. Lou Harrison‘s “Parade,” for example, is the “San Francisco native’s colorful fanfare,” while Villa-Lobos‘ “Ciranda das sete notas” is “all affable charm” — try making as $100-plus-decision based on that intel. Of course, the Symphony is not alone in its unintentional obfuscation, though it is arguably the worst offender among its class local to San Francisco, where I live.

The emphasis placed by cultural institutions on the whole idea of a concert season seems increasingly anachronistic. The presumption of spectacle speaks more to the institutions’ views of their own centrality than it does to the reality of cultural life in an area as vibrant as this one. There’s something to the tone of these announcements that makes it seem like life doesn’t really start until September or October, and thus I wonder whether symphony orchestras and their like will ever fully acknowledge that life is year-round. Institutional culture has much yet to learn from the television industry, which has grown increasingly flexible as the years have passed, most notably with its adoption of a true year-round schedule. (And in the meanwhile, the subscription model in particular is overripe for reevaluation — on the one hand, it’s perceived as the best way to lock ticket-buyers in to the system, but on the other it clearly isn’t sufficient to sustain these organizations, which depend on corporate sponsorship and other charitable donations.)

In any case, below is a rough outline of contemporary highlights of four major institutional culture organizations in the San Francisco area for the 2010-2011 season. These are, truly, highlights, and they are not intended to suggest that fans of ambient/electronic music have nothing to get out of a Mahler performance; it’s just an attempt to pinpoint some of the more adventurous work coming our way. If I left out anything promising, don’t hesitate to let me know. I don’t list the San Francisco Opera, because it’s all fairly standard repertoire this year, though a full Ring Cycle is on the schedule. Events about which I am particularly enthusiastic have been underlined for emphasis.

1. San Francisco Symphony Highlights: Lou Harrison’s “Parade” (September 25, 2010), John Adams‘ El Niño (December 3-4, 2010), Adams’ “Harmonielehre” and Henry Cowell‘s “Synchrony” (December 10-11, 2010), Valentin Silvestrov‘s “Elegie” (January 7-9, 2011), Avner Dorman‘s “Uriah” (January 28, 2011), Morton Feldman‘s “Rothko Chapel” (February 25-26, 2011), Christopher Rouse‘s “The Infernal Machine” (April 29-30, 2011). More info at sfsymphony.org.

2. Cal Performances: Merce Cunningham Dance Company, on its “Legacy Tour,” includes “Pond Way,” music by Brian Eno; “Sounddance,” music by David Tudor; and “Roaratorio,” music by John Cage (March 3-5, 2011). Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s program includes “Deep Down Dos,” music by Mason Bates (October 29-30, 2010). Scharoun Ensemble Berlin‘s program includes new work by UC Berkeley faculty member Ken Ãœeno (March 6, 2011). Kremerata Baltica‘s program includes work by Michael Nyman and Arvo Pärt (October 31, 2010). Nicolas Hodges will perform Karlheinz Stockhausen‘s “Klavierstück X” (December 12, 2010). Ensemble Zellig‘s all-contemporary program is comprised of work by Edmund Campion, Philippe Leroux, Don Freund, Gerald Shapiro, and Zellig member Thierry Pécou (November 7, 2010). Campion’s “Ondoyants et divers” is part of Les Percussions de Strasbourg‘s “The Evolution of Writing for Percussion,” which also features Edgard Varèse‘s “Ionisation,” Philippe Manoury‘s “Le Livre des claviers,” Raphaël Cendo‘s “Refontes,” and Yoshihisa Taira‘s “Hiérophonie V” (March 13, 2011). “New work” by Dawn Upshaw in collaboration with Peter Sellars (June 16, 2011. Critic Alex Ross will speak (October 14, 2010). More at calperfs.berkeley.edu.

3. San Francisco Jazz Festival Highlights: Henry Threadgill’s Zooid (October 3, 2010), James Carter with John Medeski (October 21, 2010), Steve Lehman Octet (October 28, 2010), and the Miles Davis-inspired “Bitches Brew Revisited” featuring DJ Logic and James Blood Ulmer (October 29, 2010). More info at sfjazz.org.

4. San Francisco Performances Highlights: Doug Garone and Dancers (whose Chapters from a Broken Novel features music by David Van Tieghem). And Dance (a revisited 1979 work by Lucinda Childs, choreography; Philip Glass, music; and Sol LeWitt, film: Thursday through Saturday, April 28-30, 2010). Also there are the Bad Plus (December 4, 2010), and Turtle Island String Quartet, who will be performing with Mike Marshall (mandolin) and Cyrus Chestnut (piano) — any chance we could get some of the group’s score to the film A Shock to the System on the program (December 10, 2010)? Also, Olivier Messiaen‘s “Théme et Variations” is on the February 10, 2011, program featuring Daniel Hope (violin) and Jeffrey Kahane (piano), and George “Bad Boy of Music” Antheil‘s Violin Sonata No. 1 is on the February 19, 2011, program featuring Hilary Hahn (violin) and Valentina Lisitsa (piano). More info at performances.org.

(Night view of Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall by Kenneth Lu: flickr.com.)

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Image of the Week: Liquid Architecture 2010

The above image is a photo of “Manifon,” a work of art (“helmets, watertanks, netting [2010]”) by Rown McNaught. It was included as part of the exhibit The Sound Playground, a group exhibit coordinated by Bus Projects and Craft Victoria, and curated by Amelia Douglas and Nella Themelios. Douglas and Themelios commissioned various Melbourne, Australia, artists to create instruments (plus “sound sculptures and sonic installations”) that would be performed as well as displayed. The other artists include Ros Bandt and Albert Mishriki, Rod Cooper, and Emma Lashmar:

“Rod Cooper presents a new series of ”˜sonic portraits’ in which items of clothing cast in concrete become the armature for the aural conjuring of well known personalities in the Australian sound scene. Emma Lashmar offers an exquisite glass installation designed to be bowed and played percussively. Ros Bandt and Albert Mishriki’s original music-boxes place the focus on disguise and gesture in the generation of sound, whilst Rowan McNaught’s interactive Manifon offers a new take on an ancient instrument.”

There has been an explosion of sound-related art in recent years, and it’s coming from all directions — artists making sound, musicians making art, curators staking out territory in the Venn Diagram overlap thereof. McNaught’s contraption seems like a smartly put together readymade, and its apparent dual function (both as sculpture and as instrument) speaks to the challenge that artists find themselves faced with. Especially since the “Manifon” seems intended to be banged on, somewhere there may be a gallerist asking at what point the performance decreases the work’s potential valuation. More power to McNaught for apparently not being concerned with such things.

The exhibit runs July 6 through 17, and is part of the 11th annual Liquid Architecture sound festival (liquidarchitecture.org.au). More at busprojects.com.au, craftvic.org.au, and fortyfivedownstairs.com.

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Quote of the Week: Dog Bark as Auditory Motif

Rosecrans Baldwin, author of the forthcoming novel You Lost Me There and founder of themorningnews.org, takes notes as he reads. One of the things he catalogs is the sound of dogs barking — not in the world around him but in the world of the novels themselves. The appearance of these dogs, or at least the sound of these dogs, often serves as a kind of aside, a scene-setting, remoteness-instilling notation along the lines of mentioning inclement weather. Which is to say, it’s a cliche, a cliche he digs into in a recent slate.com essay, titled “‘Somewhere a Dog Barked.'”

Baldwin has located barking dogs in the work of authors not often associated with cliche, among them Richard Ford (from Independence Day: “From the linden tree shade, Kristy hears something in the afternoon breeze — a dog barking somewhere, my son in our car. She turns and looks toward me, puzzled”) and Tobias Wolff (from Old School: “During our worst dreams we are assured by a dog barking somewhere, a refrigerator motor kicking on, that we will soon wake to true life”), not to mention Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Penn Warren, Monica Ali, and Robert Bolaño.

The regularity of these barking dogs — this “auditory motif,” as Baldwin puts it — in fiction has not endeared them to him. He writes,

“For all we know, these dogs are off-camera sound machines set to woof.”

He allows they could be a kind of author-to-author wink, but ultimately he seems to think they signify laziness: “These howls are empty and cheap-and I’ll float the opinion that publishers should collar them.” At the end of his essay, he reports a realization on the part of a friend, also a novelist, who discovered that he had unconsciously put just such a dog in his own book: “But the dog then appears a few lines later, so he does exist,” the friend wrote, by way of explanation. “That’s all I ask,” says Baldwin.

In general, the element of a heard-but-not-seen sound seems promising in fiction, but Baldwin’s data-mining is tough to argue with. Presumably his “That’s all I ask” guideline has less to do with a concern for auditory motifs in fiction in general, and more to do with leashing this particular one to the story itself.

(Illustration by Rob Donnelly for slate.com.)

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Past Week at Twitter.com/Disquiet

  • Plane passing close to midnight. Very glad to be on the ground. #
  • Do all the great Neptunes productions follow the cadence of Sean Combs/Hitmen/LL Cool's "Phenomenon"? #
  • RIP, Tony Peluso (b. ca. 1950) who went from Carpenters guitarist to Motown producer to Gustavo Santaolalla collaborator: http://is.gd/cUNmd #
  • Once again astounded by how loud vacuum cleaner is. Easily the loudest object in this house, aside from potential inherent in stereo system. #
  • Is there a web site that estimates how long before a device is released and Levenger needlessly wraps it in leather? #
  • Enough helicopters circling in downtown SF to qualify as a flock. #
  • Feel bad that when the From address in an email is in Cyrillic, I immediately assume it's spam. #
  • As midnight approaches, nothing but a couple of hard drives — so much more quiet than morning. #
  • The @dropbox iOS app, as of version 1.2, "Exports doc[s]…into third-party iPad apps." Sounds promising. #
  • Realizing I still get MJ Cole and BJ Cole mixed up. #
  • Thanks to Minty Lewis / @mintylewis for drawing my new Twitter background. More info at http://is.gd/cQeEl #
  • Automatic Robert Ryman: construction-site tagging "removed" with large white painted-over rectangle. #
  • Automatic Nam June Paik: two massive old RCA televisions stacked high, screens facing in against the street-corner garbage bin. #
  • Automatic John Cage: rings of coffee cup stains on the back of my notebook. #
  • Switching (temporarily) from ear-canal buds to standard, loose-fitting earbuds is (literally) an ear-opening experience. The bus is loud. #
  • Fire up your boomboxes, San Franciscans. Unsilent Night”“style group soundscape event today at 7pm at Yerba Buena Gardens: http://is.gd/cNNA2 #
  • It really isn't a meme until there's a dance remix. #
  • Sad to learn the label Highpoint Lowlife is closing but excited for new graphic novel project by its founder, @sideb0ard — via @earslend #
  • One of those mornings when the passing bus, rattling along singlemindedly, sounds like something from 100 or so years ago. #
  • RIP, Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim (b, 1931): arnenordheim.com #
  • Haul from @issuesshop in Oakland: new issues of Neural, Shook, & Music Works, plus How to Wreck a Nice Beach. #
  • One nice thing about interviewing musicians is they generally know how to speak into a microphone properly. #
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