Tangents: Remixing/Rewording, Cellular Sculpture, Bitrate Guidelines, …

Recommended reading, news, and so forth elsewhere:

Rewarding Rewording: The site Translation Telephone, at translation-telephone.com, pulls an Alvin Lucier / “I Am Sitting in a Room Listening” on words. In Lucier’s landmark work, the sound of a recording is heard to disintegrate as a phrase is read aloud in a room, and then a recording of that is played in the room, and then a recording of that recording is played, and so on. In Translation Telephone, you type in a phrase, and watch it cycle from one language to the next. For example, here’s a paragraph from a Disquiet post a few days ago:

The remix takes many forms. Music is remixed, but so too are videos, photographs, words, recipes, buildings, ideas. The remix is a means by which the past is made vibrant. It is the means by which the certitude of any form of documentation is probed and prodded until it loses its illusion of integrity.
And here is how it turned out, after going from English to Macedonian to Hebrew and back to English, with 18 additional languages at various stages in between:
Love is in many ways. The Sound of Music Mixer. But he added, video, photos, graphics, love the structure, how to live. This document is credibility
If a good mantra is a universal one, then Disquiet.com’s — “Just sitting here, listening” — holds up OK. After cycling through Bulgarian, Hindi, and 18 others languages, it came out “Just sit and listen,” which is, arguably, an improvement. Of course there are differences between Lucier’s piece and Translation Telephone, in particular that Lucier’s disintegration algorithm does double duty to provide a sense of the contours of the room in which it is recorded. If there were a parallel in Translation Telephone, what would it be? (Thanks to Paolo Salvagione for the tip. He called it an example of “rewording.”)

Bowl Alone: The intersection of physics and spirituality is a not uncommon one. This video accompanied a brief piece at io9.com that discussed how physicists were exploring the unique properties of Tibetan bowls, which are a popular tool for experimental musicians, especially those interested in the drone.

Max/R.I.P.: Belatedly, an excellent interview with famed computer-music legend Max Matthews done by Geeta Dayal just weeks before his death: frieze.com. Dayal is the author of the 33 1/3 book on Brian Eno‘s Another Green World. When she was prepping for the Matthews interview, she asked, via Twitter, if anyone had any questions for him. (Matthews is synonymous with electronic music, because his first name is part of the name of the popular software Max/MSP.) I’d seen him speak at CCRMA at Stanford several years ago, and had wanted to ask him about the multi-channel mixer he had reportedly built for John Cage‘s 1964 performance of Atlas Eclipticalis with the New York Philharmonic, then under the direction of Leonard Bernstein. Dayal did indeed ask the question, for which I am eternally thankful. This is just an excerpt from her Frieze piece:

GD: Didn’t you build a 50-channel mixer in 1964, for the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein? For a performance of John Cage’s Atlas Eclipticalis? MM: [Laughs] Yes, it would have been in the 1960s, because Cage and Jim Tenney were the two conductors; they ran the mixer. The mixer did have roughly 50 input channels, one for each pair of musicians at a given music stand. It was an octopus of wires, and they all came into these two consoles with a lot of knobs to adjust the volumes, and to direct the sound to one or more of about a dozen loudspeakers which were positioned around Avery Fisher Hall. Cage wrote the music for the performers, and he and Tenney ran the mixer during the performance. Even by Cage’s fairly generous standards, it wasn’t what he had hoped for. He added a piano portion, and I forgot the name of his pianist to the piece [David Tudor], and my judgment was that Bernstein stayed as far away as he could get; he couldn’t stand it. And I was just as happy to have him stay away, to tell you the truth. GD: Did you and Bernstein not get along? MM: We didn’t get close enough to not get along. But if we had gotten any closer, I would have quit the project. The instruments did not have contact microphones on them, and of course you don’t want to put a contact microphone on a Stradivarius. I’d encouraged the musicians to bring their second violins, or any old violin, instead of their best violins. I arranged the contact mics to be on parts of the instrument that aren’t permanent, like the bridge, and had gone through quite a bit of trouble to be sure that the contact microphones could be put on the instruments without damaging the instruments. I think most of the instrumentalists didn’t have any trouble with that. So I was really mad at Bernstein when he came in one morning and told the instrumentalists that if they didn’t want to use the mics, they didn’t have to. I think most of them went ahead and used the mics. And Bernstein didn’t come back again. It was a concert series, about four or five nights of this piece, that it was played. Anyhow, it was fun to work with Cage, and it was fun to work with the orchestra, and it was fun to build this rather large mixer.

Board Game: There is something really beautiful about motion frozen, like fast-frame stills of bats in flight and of water drops hitting solid surfaces. And then there are Jeff Cook‘s wood sculptures based on cellular automata, like those in John Conway‘s influential “Game of Life” (via boingboing.net‘s David Pescovitz):

They’re on display at the gallery Chalk (chalkla.com) in Los Angeles through July. More photos from the opening at the gallery’s facebook.com account.

Kick It? Yes You Can: Two worthy musical Kickstarter campaigns, both from New Orleans: There’s the new Chef Menteur album, and a musical house. On the latter: “A growing group of local and national sound artists are working towards interactive instruments that can be built into its walls and floorboards so that visitors can bring the house to life through their touch.”

The Sound of Pixels: During dinner with a friend recently, talk turned, as it occasionally does, to the process of taking one’s physical audio recordings and converting them to MP3s. We discussed various subjects: the reasonable legal right to download files of albums you have already purchased, those scary stickers on old promotional LPs you bought used that say they remain the property of the record company, and, inevitably, the proper bitrate. Certainly not 128kbps, but 192? 320? And should it be MP3? OGG? FLAC? I said I usually rip mine at 320, but I have this lingering fear that a decade from now standard audio equipment will be upgraded in a manner that will make our 320kbps MP3s sound the way that our old VHS cassettes look on fancy new HD TVs. The momentary look of anxiety on his face was straight out of a John Carpenter movie.

Navel Browsing: I need to do a better job of tracking comments I make on other people’s sites. Here are two from excellent newmusicbox.org: A piece by Colin Holter takes apart a quote widely attributed to Duke Ellington (that there are only two types of music: good and bad), and while Ellington did say it, he didn’t mean by it what Holter says it means, and I tried to correct the record. Also, in a separate piece, Frank J. Otieri asks, “What is the sound of music-less music?” and I suggest that the answer is held in a study of phonography, or the art of field recordings.

Archives Anonymous: The great ubu.com site now has a landing page for all its electronic-music goods: ubu.com/emr (via Chris Power, of twitter.com/chrisjohnpower)

App Swap: The remarkable app Reactable appears to be the first major port of a general-interest (i.e., not framed as a next-gen instrument) generative-sound app from iOS to Android: reactable.com.

Playing Defense: Reports on “sonic warfare” generally discuss snazzy new weaponry, but there is recent news of an “acoustic ‘cloaking device'”: bbc.co.uk.

Truly Representing: Diego Bernal is the new City Council member representing District 1 in San Antonio, Texas. This is, indeed, the same Diego Bernal who remixed the Atlanta-based Fourth Ward Afro-Klezmer Orchestra‘s “Ose Shalom” last December for the tabletmag.com Hanukkah remix compilation I produced. Major congrats, man. Do your city proud.

2 thoughts on “Tangents: Remixing/Rewording, Cellular Sculpture, Bitrate Guidelines, …

  1. Funny, I came across Jeff Cook’s wooden sculpture only last week, following a recommendation from a friend. You’ve captured the essence of CA images with your analogy of ‘frozen motion’, Marc. CA images like Cook’s have much in common with sequential images of motion, such as Muybridge’s photographs of galloping horses, or Marcel Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending a Staircase. It’s easy to forget about the dynamic aspects of CA when looking at static images (but that’s often the best way to perceive the pertinent features of the systems).

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