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The Psychic Ambience of the Holidays (MP3)

The polar extremes of the holiday season are remarkable for their seeming incongruity, perhaps most notably in terms of psychic ambience: on the one hand, a manic consumerism; on the other, a sense of reflection and hushed anticipation. Guy Birkin ponders the latter by taking existing seasonal recordings, a pair of them, and forming from them something new, something singular.

Both of his chosen source documents are explicitly seasonal. There’s a church choir and there’s a brass band. The congregation sings “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and the band plays “Once in Royal David’s City.” The choir is accompanied by a pipe organ. The brass band, on the other hand, is accompanied by various externalities: that recording was made from a distance and is infused with everyday noise. The resulting work, which Birkin titled “Christmas Ambience,” is very much an extended take on the latter approach to sound, in which context seems to submerge text, yet where the result is an aura with more meaning, more feeling, than the text might have ever had on its lonesome. It’s a slow, solemn piece, yet it seems to glisten in its seeming stasis:

Bikrin also provided some explanation for how he accomplished his piece:

The recordings were pitch-shifted and stretched with FFT, then layered together and the process repeated. The original version of this track was over 18 minutes long, but the most interesting section was its beginning in which the choral and brass sounds are barely audible above the background noise. It took quite a lot of work to simplify the track and concentrate only on the most ambiguous sounds.

Track originally posted for free streaming and download at soundcloud.com/notl. More on Birkin at twitter.com/guybirkin and aestheticcomplexity.wordpress.com.

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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