My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

Monthly Archives: July 2011

RIP, Edith Eisler (1925-2011)

A longtime friend passed away on July 18: Edith Eisler, whom I met two decades ago in my capacity as manager of the editorial coverage of classical and related music in the magazines published by Tower Records: Pulse!, Classical Pulse!, and epulse. I use the word “manager” instead of “editor” because my incredible array of freelance writers, most of who came to the magazines thanks to Bob Levine (with whom I co-founded Classical Pulse!), knew far more about the subject at hand than I did at the time, or ever will. Edith was key among them. Chamber music was her specialty.

Edith was a violin teacher and music critic who lived in Manhattan, and she was a constant presence in our pages. I worked at Pulse! from 1989 through 1996, and then continued in a freelance capacity through Pulse!‘s closure in 2002 and epulse’s in 2004. Throughout, Edith was a force of nature. Before her mother’s health began to decline, she attended concerts seemingly nightly, and had thoughtful, considered, often corrective reviews written and submitted before the musicians themselves had gotten a full night’s sleep.

Editing Edith was a remarkable experience for numerous reasons. To begin with, she was the fastest talker I have ever known — she spit syllables like the best rappers could only dream of — and on top of it had the most impeccable written English, the sort of English that perhaps only those for whom it is a second language could manage. (Edith and her mother were from Vienna originally but moved to the U.S. after living in London during World War II, where they witnessed the bombings. Edith’s mother, Sophie, would joke: “We lived in Vienna, Hitler came to Vienna. We went to Czechoslovakia, Hitler came to Czechoslovakia. We moved to London, Hitler’s bombs came to London. He followed us everywhere — he was crazy about us.” Sophie also told stories about seeing Mahler on the streets of their native Vienna in her youth.)

There were times when the only editing Edith’s text required was figuring out that she had meant a “1” when she had typed a lowercase “L” — a habit that persisted long after her late transition from typewriter to computer. Edith wrote so much for the publications, it’s difficult to single out specific work, but I remember fondly working with her on a piece about performance competitions, whose very existence she questioned (I agreed with her on this, and learned much in the process of developing the piece).

Edith was forever intrigued by the editorial efforts amid which her writing was published. The Tower magazines mode was to consider all genres alongside each other, a kind of meta-purism that dispensed with genre purism in favor of a utopian approach that sometimes is termed “big-eared.” Even after classical music was removed from the aggressively eclectic Pulse! magazine and given its own publication, the coverage strove to both challenge longtime listeners and intrigue new ones. Edith was fascinated by the inclusion in the magazine of comics, which I edited, and was quite outspoken about her lack of comprehension of the contemporary music we featured. But there was never a sense of dismissal, just of intense curiosity. I learned enormous amounts from Edith and her writing, in particular how strong opinions can be expressed without the appearance of rudeness.

Edith and I did not speak often in the past decade, usually just once a year, when I would call on her birthday, which happens to be Valentine’s Day. Next Valentine’s Day will be a sad one for everyone who knew her or her work. Rest in peace, Edith — no doubt you are having a strong cup of coffee with Mahler and your dear mother.

(Above images from allthingsstrings.com. The youthful one was, if memory serves, the photo that accompanied a newspaper review of a recital she played shortly after arriving in the United States.)

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Beyond Surveillance Chic (MP3s)

Late last year, the IoNiZeR set Infused Fear made a strong impression with its orchestral samples, its lush beats, and its artisinal dread. It was, in effect, a spy-flick score in search of a deserving spy flick. IoNiZeR characterized that collection, which had seven tracks, as an EP, but refers to his new New Global Disorder, with nine, one of them a remix, as an LP. Either way, the jump from Fear to Disorder, as it were, is an impressive one — in part because despite the continuity of surveillance-chic beats and string-section moodiness, it’s less easily pigeonholed as a would-be thriller score, and in part because those beats and strings are, while still strong, less prevalent.

The latter point is a roundabout way of saying that the transition brings to mind one that Amon Tobin accomplished early in his catalog, when, having perfected the danceable broken beat, he ventured off the drum’n’bass reservation and dove deep into the matters of nuance that respected and rewarded his listeners’ patience. Not that New Global Disorder has gone fully into the realm of the contemporary classical or the avant-electronic. The title cut, for example, sounds like it could serve as the opening credits for a Tom Clancy video game (something Tobin himself has done), but then there’s the hazy murk of “Nothingness,” in which whisps of tension play against echoed strings and various types of subtle percussion (MP3), and “Question Everything,” which not only slows things down further (MP3), but whose title could serve as the ruling dictum for the general sense of investigation that IoNiZeR brings to the whole outing.

[audio:http://www.archive.org/download/DWK097/IoNiZeR_-_06_-_Nothingness.mp3|titles=”Nothingness”|artists=IoNiZeR] [audio:http://www.archive.org/download/DWK097/IoNiZeR_-_07_-_Question_Everything.mp3|titles=”Question Everything”|artists=IoNiZeR]

Get the full release at dustedwax.org. More on IoNiZeR, who is based in Belgium, at his facebook.com and twitter.com pages.

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It’s Not a Soundtrack. It’s a Film-less Film.

The details associated with the latest Crónicaster podcast entry are either tantalizing or frustrating, depending on your point of view. Either way, the track, a lengthy excursion into sound narrative, is a sprawling experience — rough noises, minute tinkering, segments that pass like sequential scenes. As such, it makes for a solid parallel comparison with another songless mix of field recordings and synthesis earlier this week that suggested itself as a soundtrack to a film-less film, Christopher McFall and David Vélez’s Credence. The Crónicaster work is Decay and Structure (Complete Score), credited to Herde Katzen. It’s about a decade old, though the track was only posted in the past month, and Katzen explains, in what appears to be a rough translation: “The basis for this movie were four strange dreams of one man. On a plan, the director in this film intended to have no dialogues, only sound and visuals.” So perhaps there is an actual film to which this is the score, but if so the score appears to involve as much background sound as it does background music (MP3). It’s a work whose approach involves stoking the listener’s imagination to make connections between disparate elements.

[audio:http://download.cronicaelectronica.org/cronicast081.mp3|titles=”Decay and Structure (Complete Score)”|artists=Herde Katzen]

Originally posted at cronicaelectronica.org.

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Past Week at Twitter.com/Disquiet

  • The recently deceased Gene McDaniels' widely sampled Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse: http://t.co/im6uoDn (via @tones) #
  • RIP, singer and songwriter Gene McDaniels (b. 1935), sampled by Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys, Organized Konfusion. #
  • Making apple soda from light slurry left over after making apple sauce for my 11-month-old. #
  • Never been much of a radio listener, music-wise. Pandora/Spotify/Rhapsody feel like radio. Soundcloud/Bandcamp feel like crate-digging. #
  • The appearance of the phrase "Thanks for the add" on any social network is a sure sign of a fatal flaw in the architecture of that network. #
  • Modern glyphs: these few lines mean one carne asada taco and one regular chicken taco at Cancun on Mission http://ow.ly/i/eZDa #415 #
  • .@dpnem Such a hassle. I'm not home, and I have a Soundcloud-sourced MP3 I'd like to listen to on the bus. Shouldn't be this hard. #
  • 1. Waste phone's battery. 2. Bypass iPod sync with slow wifi file manager? 3. Purchase *third* portable music player (e.g., SanDisk)? #oy #
  • Tonight's urban-walk score: Miles Davis' "Shhh/Peaceful" stretched by @Le_Berger 50% longer than original http://t.co/CLFlpuB via @vuzhmusic #
  • Read more »
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A Drone in the Garden (MP3)

There’s no doubt that Soundcloud.com provides an even greater sense of intimacy between audience and musician than MySpace ever did, and that’s saying something. For all of MySpace’s visual annoyances, its allowance for sloppiness was a sign of its virtue, if not a virtue unto itself — the very structurelessness that made MySpace feel like anything goes lead to at least the illusion that anything went. In the end, though, MySpace became about more than just music, and in turn it became more about “the add,” the accrual of followers. (The appearance of the phrase “Thanks for the add” on any social network is a sure sign of a fatal flaw in the architecture of that network.)

With Soundcloud, the site’s utilitarian design — reminiscent of Penguin paperbacks — gives everyone equal visual standing, which leads to a sense not of cold utopian malaise but of solidarity and camaraderie. On MySpace, musicians might have generously posted live recordings and the occasional rough cut, but Soundcloud is rich with earlier-on stages in the creative process: sketches, experiments, one-offs, even lovely errors. To visit the Soundcloud of a favorite musician can, at times, be like visiting the musician’s garden: getting a glimpse at the raw materials from which future concoctions will be made. Case in point, the page of Stephen Vitiello, who just yesterday posted a five-minute drone from a recently obtained oscillator, as heard above. To listen to that drone change shape during the course of its existence is to listen ahead into the future, to get a sense of what new music Vitiello might be working on. If Soundcloud provides a sense of intimacy between musician and audience, it can perhaps best be experienced in an example like this one: when Vitiello eventually does release a commercial recording, or enact an installation, that involves this particular oscillator, his admiring listeners will recognize it, and think back to how Soundcloud created the environment in which it was initially shared.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/stephenvitiello. More on Vitiello at stephenvitiello.com.

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