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

Monthly Archives: February 2011

A Techno Suite (MP3)

For all the invigorating monotony and sound-design immersion of techno, the best moments in a given track often occur at the opening instant. That suggestion isn’t to disregard the rapturous glories of Zen stasis and of tectonic-shift micro-development inherent in the best techo. But that opening moment of a track is when a crevice opens, and vapor trails of what might yet happen waft up. Soon enough the beat kicks in and it’s more or less easy to extrapolate what’s to come, but for that moment it’s generally a small array of noises that are yet to settle into an organized whole. If music is organized sound, then for that moment, it’s still sound. (Making such a distinction has gotten me into trouble in the past, so perhaps paraphrasing Edgard Varèse will inoculate me.) The great title track off Norw Y by Inteam (aka Zwickau, Germany’s Florian Willuhn) is no exception (MP3). Enticing bits of pin-drop percussion and pneumatic pulsing soon give way to a dubby holding pattern. What follows, though, turns out to be more diverse than much techo; it’s a veritable suite, especially when what seems to be a taut snatch of accordion appears midway. Willuhn manages to introduce such surprises throughout, and each time the introduction of a new sound reinvigorates the track, as if it’s starting anew. For a moment, it’s just sound — strange, enticing sound — and then, an instant later, it’s formalized into music.

[audio:http://media.sonicsquirrel.net/auflegware/alw043/1.ALW043_Inteam-Norw_y.mp3|titles=”Norw Y”|artists=Inteam]

There are four tracks in all on Norw Y, available for free from the auflegware.de netlabel.

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An Ambient Collaboration (MP3s)

Unlike a lot of collaborations by ambient musicians, the recent dual effort by Devin Underwood and Marcus Fischer sounds, in fact, like more than one person is doing the work. In general, ambient music is about the sublime: maximum effort for minimum impact, a surface of almost ignorable refinement masking all manner of activity buried deep below. Individual ambient musicians strive to make something that is both worthy of attention and capable of being relegated to the backdrop. Two musicians working together in an ambient mode need to find a balance without so forsaking their individual voices that the fact of the collaboration becomes almost a distraction from the singularity of the finished work.

Which brings us to Correspond, the Underwood-Fischer collaboration, five tracks that mix a songless haziness with sharp fragments and a deep sense of longing. The choices the duo make are unusual, like the muffled discontent evident in the half-heard speaking voice that enters in toward the end of the opening track, “Wind,” and the zithery and flute-like instruments that peek out of the tremulous cloud formation that is “Contrails and Mountains.” Foghorn resounding and watery samples conflict artfully with the title of “Snow on the Streets.” In “Crystal Radio,” what seems like true classical ambient music — this textured sonic muslin un-spooled by the yard — gets occasional breaks, tiny nanoscale fissures into the otherwise contemplative bliss.

Highly recommended, all the way through. It’s streaming at distancerecordings.com, and available as a Zip archive of MP3 files or the larger, “lossless” FLAC files. More on Fischer at unrecnow.com and Underwood at spectaciera.com.

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Sketches of Sound 11: Leela Corman

This is the 11th sequential monthly occurrence of a little Disquiet.com project called “Sketches of Sound”: inviting illustrators to sketch something sound-related. I post the drawing as the background of my Twitter account, twitter.com/disquiet, and then share a bit of information about the illustrator back on Disquiet.com. Call it “curating Twitter.”

The above mizmar was drawn for me by Leela Corman. Writes Corman of her object, “It’s a commonly used instrument in Egypt and across the Middle East, Balkans, and Central Asia. In Turkey it’s called the zurna, in some other Arab countries mijwiz, and in other places sorna or sornay.”

Leela Corman is a cartoonist, illustrator, New York native, and professional Egyptian-style dancer. She has illustrated books on subjects ranging from the history of the skirt to urban gardening, has traveled and studied dance in Turkey and Egypt, has performed solo and with many dance companies, and was recently lucky enough to be able to learn and perform two choreographies by the great master Mahmoud Reda, with Ranya Renée and Company. She is currently working on a graphic novel, Unterzakhn, which will be published in 2012 by Schocken/Pantheon, and is the mother of the most fabulous 14-month-old in the universe. More of Corman: art (leelacorman.com), dancing (bellydancewithleela.com), Facebook art and dance, and twitter.com/LeelaOfNewYork

Corman, like several other “Sketches of Sound” participants, contributed to the magazine Pulse! when I edited the comics there.

The previous “Sketches of Sound” contributors were, in alphabetical order, Brian Biggs, Warren Craghead III, Dylan Horrocks, Megan Kelso, Minty Lewis, Natalia Ludmila, Darko Macan, Justin Orr, Hannes Pasqualini, and Thorsten Sideb0ard.

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Insects & Artifice (MP3)

The track is titled “What Insects Dream Of,” but at least as it starts, those insects may not yet have dozed off. They’re heard clearly, a minor, buzzy infestation. Perhaps they’re snoring. Soon enough, though, a hazy drone comes to provide a backdrop: insect and artifice, natural noise and synthetic noise. And not long after, the artifice gets noticeably more melodic and deliberately rhythmic. At this point, it’s safe to say that our chitinous friends are deep asleep.

So, what do they dream of? Apparently the soundtracks of Bebe and Louis Barron and the warped records of Kid Koala. Based on this recording, insects dream of taking their natural sounds and making something human-musical out of it: elegant percussion, a veneer of impressionist tones, a hint at something narrative-like, programmatic.

The piece is by Matt Dean, who is based out of San Francisco. It was originally posted at soundcloud.com/sfmattyd. More from Dean at twitter.com/chromasonic.

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Oulipo and the Love of Constraint (MP3)

Consider this a love letter to a love letter. I’m increasingly certain that my favorite single track of recorded music from 2010 was “Homage to Jack Vanarsky” by Garth Knox, off his album on the netlabel SHSK’H (shskh.com), Solo Viola d’Amore. Despite the album’s title, this particular track is, technically, not a solo viola work. It’s a duet for Knox’s viola and a small mechanical device. The device was created by artist Vanarksy, a sculptor who was Knox’s late father-in-law. It makes a distinct creaking sound, like metal coming occasionally into contact with wood. As the device makes this sound, for close to eight minutes straight, Knox’s viola glides in and out (MP3).

[audio:http://www.shskh.com/uploads/648vol5_track5.mp3|titles=””Homage to Jack Vanarsky”|artists=Garth Knox]

Knox was, for most of the 1990s, a member of the Arditti Quartet, which speaks to his technical and interpretative skill, and to his comfort in the realm of experimental contemporary composition. In this homage, which he wrote, you can almost hear Knox limiting, damping, that virtuosity so as not to overwhelm his mechanical collaborator.

As the piece proceeds, Knox’s viola traces the sounds of the machine, listening to its drone and whir, paying attention to its tonality, registering its key and meter, and treating all of that as his sonic equal. Rather than be overwhelmed, the mechanical device comes into its own as a participant in the duet, repetition bringing into focus its special sound, its slightly off rhythm, and other minute yet unique characteristics. If you accept that the viola is, itself, a gadget, albeit a highly developed one, then a kind of romance comes to light, bringing to mind the one between two robots in the film WALL-E: one rusty and beleaguered, the other elegant and refined.

Writes Knox of the piece in a brief entry in the album’s liner notes:

My father-in-law and friend, Jack Vanarsky, made beautiful moving sculptures which had little motors inside. Like the one we hear on this track, they make gently purring noises, and I wanted to make a piece based on these sounds, as a homage to Jack, who died unexpectedly in February 2009.

I don’t know a lot about Vanarsky, but I have read that he was an active participant in Oupeinpo, which applied to painting the same sort of constraints-based approach that writer Raymond Queneau and others developed in the 1960s under the name Oulipo (which has also engendered Oubapo, which applies the same mode to the creation of comics). This small bit of biography further reinforces the sense in which Vanarsky’s device can be heard to set boundaries within which Knox composed and performed.

Get the full release, eight tracks in all, at shskh.com. More on Knox at garthknox.org.

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