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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Church Organ as Drone Progenitor (MP3)

Drone music may have its greatest progenitor in the pipe organ, and Arturas BumÅ¡teinas explores that lineage in “Shadow (of Shadows).” Recorded in late 2010 in Warsaw, Poland, at St. John’s Cathedral in a performance by organist Algirdas Biveinis, the work is a slow build of extended tones. It is as much an experiment, however, in spatial recording as it is in slomo drone rock. The end result is a mixdown of multi-channel recording, including one external to the cathedral. “The piece,” we’re told, “was recorded with several portable recorders placed around the area of church, one extra microphone was placed outside the church to record the sounds of crows flying above the roofs.” One would hope that outside device also captured the muffled sound of the organ as heard through the church’s dense walls (MP3).

[audio:|titles=”Shadow (of Shadows)”|artists=Arturas BumÅ¡teinas]

Layered in during post-production are bits of human speech, a “random female voice fragment” from YouTube, and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.”There’s also what appears, at about the half-hour mark, the sudden intrusion of what may be a tourist’s voice. The real ghost, however, may be of the political variety. Apparently the origin of the composition is as “a harmonic analysis of Soviet Lithuania’s (1940-1990) anthem.” Hence the work’s title; a brief liner note likens the piece to “a shadow of another shadow.”

Track originally posted as part of the Crónicaster series at

It’s worth noting that the previous entry in the Crónicaster series, this one by Luis Marte, was also recorded in a cathedral.

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Reanimating a Medium: Radio

Caught the second of three nights of the 14th annual Activating the Medium festival yesterday evening. The theme of this year’s festival is “radio,” and last night the medium felt active, if posthumously so. Appropriate for a medium that perennially seems to be further supplanted by newer and newer technology, there was a sense of a requiem to the proceedings. Sample-based music, which provided the basis for three of the night’s four sets, picked at its remains like a scavenger. And a body picked at aggressively can give the impression of life.

After almost a decade and a half, one would hope for a larger audience than was present. The room at the Lab, in San Francisco’s Mission District, was full — but it’s not an especially large floor. Still, the audience was engaged. With the exception of a handful of members who left during especially noisy passages, the house remained full for four sets and nearly three hours straight of abstract, often difficult listening.

Thomas Carnacki opened. Carnacki a meta-pseudonym (an existing fictional character adopted as a pseudonym), borrowed by Gregory Scharpen, who is based in nearby Berkeley. It’s a metaphysical one, as well, in that the name originated as a supernatural detective invented by author William Hope Hodgson. Scharpen’s resemblance to a mix of Alan Moore (who, it’s worth noting, has himself adopted Carnacki in his work) and Lenin is disrupted only when he smiles, which is quite often, especially when the quartet he directs (including Jesse Burson, James Kaiser, and Gregory Hagan) gains momentum. Collectively they have the air of a seance, in part because of their humble formal wear, and in part because the music they make is of the haunted-house school, found voices sublimated in rough noise.

Robert Piotrowicz, who coming from Poland was the festival’s most exotic participant, spoke at length before his set, but too quietly and at too quick a pace for much of the audience to get his meaning. His work was more pixelated than the rest of the evening’s offerings. With echoes of Alva Noto and Ryoji Ikeda, he built an initial grid of singular, atomic sounds, and then bred them into an increasing storm of activity. It was during his set that some members of the audience, one by one, made their hasty exit, forced out by the sound. The scene at the back of the room brought to mind the fainting police cadets in the opening credits of the old TV show Quincy, M.E. (Piotrowicz arrived from the Communikey festival in Boulder, which I wrote about last week.)

Ensemble Economique is economical indeed, as it consists of just one person, Brian Pyle, who hails from further upstate, Arcata in Humboldt County. His work drew from radio “interval music,” which he has described as “basically the signature tune of a radio station when they sign-on and sign-off.” The result was a kind of free-form exotica, bits of varied songs, some vocal, many not, sewn together. Elements were repeated and distended, which transformed the bits of composition into a new composition. It was in three movements, he announced at the start, but their divisions weren’t necessarily strictly discernible. If any piece this evening suggested itself as a finished work, due for repeated listening as a fixed recording, it was this one. Its mix of eclecticism and melodic concision, of orchestral sensibility and musique-concrète technique, brought to mind the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, one of whose purposes was the creation of internal tunes.

The concert closed with a sampling tour-de-force by San Francisco’s Wobbly (aka Jon Leidecker), who only half-jokingly collapsed to the floor when he was done. Few musicians make sampling as visceral as does Wobbly, whose material was by far the most rhythmic of the evening. He started strong, no announcement, no description, with many in the audience still standing. After some initial noises, he rotated a variety of pre-existing sound, triggering and sometimes introducing his own melodic elements. One of the pleasures of watching Wobbly live is, as is often said of some actors, watching his mind work, which is to say watching how his facial expressions hint at the decisions he’s making as the piece, as the performance, proceeds.

A show earlier in the month, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, co-presented with SFCinematheque, featured Richard Garet and Allison Holt, the latter in collaboration wit Jim Haynes who is part of 23five, the sponsoring body. Tonight, back at the Lab, will be Gregg Kowalsky, Vertonen, Byron Westbrook, and Zachary James Watkins.

More on 23five, the organization that runs Activating the Medium, at and, which also has details on a broadcast component to this year’s festival. More the musicians at,, and (I failed to locate a page for Scharpen.)

(Photo courtesy of user Shannes, via Creative Commons.)

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Past Week at

  • Morning sounds: baby rattle, hard drive, fan, typing, electric toothbrush (aka salle-de-bain didgeridoo). #
  • My iTunes email alert for this week: John Cage and Royce da 5'9". Not bad. #sentience #algorithmic #curation #
  • It's exciting, and exciting in part because it is rare, to hear live gadget/laptop music that doesn't end on a slow fadeout. #
  • Present & accounted for. RT @_TheLab_ Tonight: Wobbly, Robert Piotrowicz (Poland), Ensemble Economique, Thomas Carnacki #
  • Mariachi thumbing his bass, its sound almost inaudible amid din of chatter and drone of HVAC, in a Mission taqueria. #
  • Fave track of the week: "Lost Words" off John Zorn's Nova Express (Medeski, Wollesen, Dunn, Baron) #
  • Read more »
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The Literal and Metaphorical Low Level Hum (MP3)

The Chicago-based radio show the Radius followed up its Art of Failure episode with one focused on the work of C.R. Kasprzyk, which notches back from failure to mere stasis. Titled “07.13.10b,” and nearly a dozen minutes in length, the piece is a suite of hums and buzzes that, as Radius describes it, takes as its source and subject “the mundane portions of our lives”:

These sounds, primarily the electromagnetic fields produced by computers, printers, TV’s, cars, electricity poles, coffee makers, etc., acknowledge the (in)visible place technology has in today’s society. Through close observation of this environment, the music strives for a nonlinear form; an immersion of moments found in daily life that might otherwise go unnoticed.

The result is both survey and tapestry. The individual parts are, with close attention, reminiscent of everyday life, the literal low level hum that gives voices to the metaphorical low level hum of daily activity: the buzz that serves as backdrop to the living room when the TV and stereo are off and the rest of the household is asleep, the fuzzy noise that fills the gap between buses at an urban intersection with more than its share of telephone poles, the nearly subaural undulations that emanate from the restaurant kitchen as closing time nears. But this isn’t just a catalog of field recordings. It’s elegantly arranged in a manner that plays the sounds against each other, setting pairs of quiet moments in stark contrast in a way that highlights their intrinsic differences.

Track originally posted at and the radio broadcast’s site, More on Kasprzyk, a doctoral candidate at Bowling Green State University, at

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A New Front in Folk’s Velvet Revolution (MP3)

The dreamy folk of Evils, by Plusplus, takes a strange turn on “Swimmer,” the seventh of the album’s eleven tracks. What had been all closely mic’d guitar, with rare but welcome dips into odd verbal intrusions, opens with artful drear, a blur of not so idle static, a machine getting its engines in gear on a cold night. The acoustic guitar seeps in, eventually taking the central spot to which it has become accustomed on this collection, but that opening threat remains (MP3). It is heard as Roches-style hushed glossolalia harmonizing, albeit buried deep in the mix and channeling a cicada-like buzz. It’s heard as a very light, Theremin-ish whizzing. Plusplus are part of folk’s velvet electronic revolution. This is music that challenges various notions of folk, notably the one that hears folk as an entrenched, pre-digital realm.

[audio:| titles=”Swimmer”|artists=Plusplus]

Get the release, which came out March 21, for free at

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