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

Ambience and Beats from the Grand Canonical Ensemble (MP3s)

Despite a name that suggests otherwise, the Grand Canonical Ensemble makes modest linear music that sounds like one person working concertedly at a laptop.

Apparently hailing from Cardiff and Manchester in the UK, it released a three-song, pay-as-you-will EP at the very start of the year, available at grandcanonicalensemble.bandcamp.com (and pay-as-you-will includes paying nothing, which is why this is being listed in the Downstream section, but don’t let that deter you from slipping them a few euros).

Titled Saying Goodbye, it comes highly recommended, and all but the title cut should appeal to regular Disquiet listeners (that the title one being fairly deep in pop territory).

 

 

In fact, this post was written right around the same time yesterday’s was (“Offworld-weary”), and shortly after yesterday’s went live, a reader rightly critiqued it for positing a clearcut distinction between music and sound design. Part of what that error in judgement was based on was a rumination on the first track on this record, and what distinguished it as seeming less, for lack of a better rubric, Downstream-y than the other two. It comes down to it putting its melodic content far ahead of its sonic content; it comes across far more like a fun little rendition of a song than as a piece for which the sonic material is its core concern. It isn’t technologically mediated sound; it’s a technologically reproduced song. (That distinction, by the way, is why not much so-called electro-pop pops up on Disquiet.com.)

Pop music that has a central, strong melodic component — a riff for example, a verse-chorus-verse mode, a sung lyric — isn’t by any means unwelcome in this site’s coverage, but it’s the rare non-hip-hop/r&b track or non-new-weird-folk track that ends up sounding really conscious of its sonic material, conscious of how it is shaped technologically, conscious of how sound is a component unto itself. Hip-hop (and much modern r&b production) uses a studio-based cut’n’paste method that emphasizes its artificiality; such sampling is a populist manifestation of musique concrete. New-weird-folk, at its most mantra-like, tends to feature melodies that dissolve into something ethereal, more background than foreground, more sound than song (a distinction that I was going for yesterday, when I mistakenly and erroneously conflated “song” and “music”). That was a very long (and at this stage somewhat of a sketch of a) digression. Thanks for bearing with me.

Now, back to the scheduled Grand Canonical Ensemble coverage: “Months Pass” is a drowsy synthesized hum, with hints at vocal source material — likely an aural illusion, but there’s something in the frictionless end result that makes a rough randomness at its origin seem plausible. And “Summer Clothes” has a momentum that seems to contradict itself, artfully. On the one hand there is a pitter-patter beat that will have your head tipping side to side within seconds (it’s a bit like an especially upbeat Ryuichi Sakamoto movie-score cue), but it plays against this slow, blunted, underlying beat that sounds less like an alternate rhythmic element and more like a melody striving to make itself heard.

Tracks originally posted at grandcanonicalensemble.bandcamp.com. More on Grand Canonical Ensemble at gce.tumblr.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • 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

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