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

When It’s Oscillator vs Guitar, the Listener Wins (MP3)

The soundcloud.com page of Chicago-based musician Nicholas Davis is an assortment of self-contained sonic types. There are welcome urban field recordings of the city’s celebrated trains. There is wonderfully strange exotic folk-drone music. And there are, among other emerging categories of musical adventure, various short improvisations filed under the promising section header “Oscillator vs Guitar.” There are, as of this writing, five of these match-ups in total. And given that the opening one includes the word “tuning” and the closing one the word “outro,” it’s safe to listen to them under the assumption that they comprise a whole, and should be listened to in sequence. (They are numbered 1 through 5.) That said, they differ widely, even though each is indeed a mix of guitar improvisations and the presence of noise from what one presumes is an oscillator.

The exercises provide a good example of a moment when the meaningfulness of the waveforms that are intrinsic to the Soundcloud site can be called into question. A track like “Oscillator vs Guitar pt4” seems, by gauging its fairly blockish waveform, likely to be less antic than, say, the more vibrant and varied “Oscillator vs Guitar pt3.” The opposite proves to be the case. No close reading of number 3 in the series would prepare the listener for the way the opening oscillator gives way to light figurations that, while angular and active, nonetheless comprise an overall meditative and monastic whole. Number 4, by contrast, is certainly static, but its stasis is woven from anxiety.

The guitar and oscillator series might be read as a series of duets for man and machine, or of a guitarist utilizing the oscillator as a kind of tonal metronome, a drone-keeper that sets a very slow pace.

Track originally posted for free streaming and download at soundcloud.com/passerby. They were all recorded live on October 31 of this year, and are listed as “rehearsals.”

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • 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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