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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Disquiet Junto Project 0004: “Remixing Marcus Fischer”

The Assignment: Rework a track from a 365-day project that inspired Junto's creation

The fourth Disquiet Junto project returned to the shared sample — or in this case, 10 shared samples.

Marcus Fischer, the accomplished musician based in Portland, Oregon, generously agreed to provide the constituent parts of one of the tracks off his latest album, Collected Dust, which was released this month on the Tench record label. The track, “Nearly There,” was the second-to-last entry in a year-long daily creative project he undertook from January 2009 through 2010.

Fischer’s music is elegant and elegiac, and its gentleness belies its complexity. As the project began, it was clear that it would be interesting to see how people worked with the material. How much would they make it their own, or how much would they attempt to extend what they perceived Fischer had begun. There was, at a psychological level, the additional awareness that individual who was the source of the sounds was active on Soundcloud and would, almost certainly, be checking in. That proved to be the case in one particularly unexpected way — but before we get to that, here are the instructions that were provided to Junto members:

“Nearly There” is a track off Marcus Fischer’s new album, Collected Dust, released this month on the Tench label.

Fischer has provided 10 constituent parts of the track in the following downloadable Zip file:

http://mapmap.ch/disquiet/junto_MFischer.zip/

Each participating Junto member will contribute an individual remix of the track, using as much or as little of the original as they choose.

Title: Your track should be titled “Nearly There (Disquiet0004-mfischer TBD Remix)” where the “TBD” is between one and three words of your choosing. (It could, for example, be your name or a descriptive phrase.)

Tag: Please associate the tag “disquiet0004-mfischer” with the file.

Source Material (i): No, you don’t have to use every file that Fischer has provided, just as many as you would like.

Source Material (ii): Yes, you can add sounds beyond those provided.

Length: The length of your remix is up to you, but under 10 minutes seems wise. For reference, the original track is a little over six minutes long.

Download: As always, you don’t have to set your track for download, but it would be preferable.

License: Per an agreement with Fischer and with Tench, any track submitted for this Junto should be associated with the following Creative Commons license with your track: “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0).”

Information: When you post the track, please include these three links:

http://mapmap.ch/ http://www.tenchrec.com/TCH05.html/ http://soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto/

Additional Background:

The track “Nearly There” is not just an example of Marcus Fischer’s Collected Dust album. It originally appeared as the penultimate entry in the 365-day creative project he presented online, and material from it was part of the final entry in that same year-long series. That marathon creative experiment of Fischer’s was a big influence on the development of the Disquiet Junto, this idea of setting a significant challenge to oneself as a means to stoke creative output. “Nearly There” was recorded on “lapharp + ebow looped using the monome 128 w/ the wonderful MLRv application,” explains Fischer. The two tracks, for the curious, can be heard here:

http://unrecnow.com/dust/2374/ http://unrecnow.com/dust/2380/

And there’s more information on Collected Dust at the Tench website:

http://www.tenchrec.com/TCH05.html/

As the project’s deadline neared, Fischer himself joined in, remixing his own music:

In addition, there was a pleasant surprise when the accomplished sound artist Stephen Vitiello participated. He has exhibited at MASS MoCA, The High Line, The Project, the Bienale of Sydney, the Whitney Biennial, and PS 1/MoMA, and released music on such labels as 12k, New Albion, and Sub Rosa.

The fourth Junto led to a great conversation, in the project’s Discussion tab, about what exactly a “remix” is. It started off with a query from Brian Biggs, aka dance-robot-dance.

In the process, Ted James posted this audio piece as a response. It opens with him talking about what a remix is, until his talking becomes source material for a beat:

The assignment was made late in the day on Thursday, January 26, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, January 30, as the deadline.

View a search return for all the entries: disquiet0004-mfischer. As of this writing, there are 59 tracks associated with the tag.

Visit, listen to, and consider joining the group at soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto.

A full list of Junto projects is housed on Disquiet.com.

(Image adapted from the photo that accompanied the version of “Nearly There” that appeared on Marcus Fischer’s unrecnow.com website as his 365-day project was reaching its end.)

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Disquiet Junto Project 0003: “The Expanded Glass Harp”

The Assignment: Pay tribute to Benjamin Franklin and his armonica

Each assignment in the ongoing Disquiet Junto series of projects serves several purposes. The underlying purpose of these initial ones is to help define what, exactly, the Junto is all about.

Certainly it is about the use of constraints to stoke creativity. That is the Junto’s stated purpose. But one constraint was to be avoided from the start: the Junto is not a sample-of-the-week endeavor. And thus, at the risk of being met with mass disinclination, the third project was designed to test some boundaries. It required the participants to record a live performance. This meant no post-production, which is something of an anomaly in a realm of music-making that, oftentimes, takes place entirely in a creative zone that would be considered “post-production.” Despite some initial concerns on my part about potentially limiting turnout, almost three dozen musicians uploaded finished tracks.

These were the instructions:

This project is in honor of Benjamin Franklin, after whose Junto Society our little group was named.

In an effort to expand and refine the glass harp, Franklin developed his own lathe-like glass harmonica, which he called the “armonica.” Marie Antoinette took lessons on it and Beethoven composed for it, but Franklin’s invention proved expensive and fragile, and it had a limited lifetime. And it may have given its frequent users lead poisoning.

You are not being asked to build a Franklin armonica. But like Franklin, we are going to expand on the glass harp. In our case, we are going to do so digitally.

You’re being asked to use the more common instrument, the glass harp. That involves the familiar “rubbing the top of a wine glass that has water in it” approach:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass_harp

The Junto assignment is to record a live performance on the glass harp, and to employ live processing in the performance. There should be no post-production. And there is no length limit for the piece, though I would suggest that anything over 15 minutes may limit the size of your potential audience.

We could just as easily — more easily, really — used samples of glass harps and harmonicas as pre-made building sonic blocks for the piece. But the goal was to be true to Franklin, whose Junto lent its name to our collective endeavor. Franklin was as famous for his inventions and scientific inquiries as he was for his role in the development of the United States government. (An inveterate constructor of organizations — not just of his Junto, but of fire departments, militia, schools, and lending libraries — it’s quite possible to see the U.S.A. as the largest club he helped invent. Our ambitions are not so large.) And since the armonica was developed by him as an instrument for live performance, it seemed only right to use the glass harp in a live setting. (Just as a side note: the title of the piece was inspired by the concept of “expanded cinema.”)

Here, for further background, is an excerpt on the armonica from the Benjamin Franklin biography written by Walter Isaacson:

The assignment was made late in the day on Thursday, January 19, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, January 23, as the deadline.

View a search return for all the entries: disquiet0003-glass. As of this writing, there are 35 tracks associated with the tag.

Visit, listen to, and consider joining the group at soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto.

A full list of Junto projects is housed on Disquiet.com.

(The images up top are from the tracks contributed, going clockwise from upper left, by: Matthew Barlow, Mark Rushton, Brian Biggs, and Ted Laderas)

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Disquiet Junto Project 0002: “Duet for Fog Horn & Train Whistle”

The Assignment: Work with two shared samples, inspired by Ingram Marshall

The first Disquiet Junto Project could very well have been its last. Who knew if anyone, let alone almost five dozen musicians, would respond to an assignment like “Please record the sound of an ice cube rattling in a glass, and make something of it”?

When just that happened, when 58 different musicians participated, the question was what came next. First came an email announcement list, so that rather than having to check the Info tab on the Junto’s Soundcloud.com page, members of the Junto could have each assignment delivered to their inbox (if you’re interested in being added to the list, send a request to [email protected]). Then came an FAQ, which is housed on the Info tab. And then, with some consideration, came the second assignment.

The first assignment had asked the participating musicians to produce their own samples, in this case of the sound of ice in a glass. For the second assignment, the more traditional approach of using a shared sample was employed. But instead of one sample, there were two. These are the instructions to the second assignment:

Create an original piece of music under five minutes in length utilizing just these two samples:

Fog Horn: http://www.freesound.org/people/schaarsen/sounds/69663/

Train Whistle: http://www.freesound.org/people/ecodios/sounds/119963/

You can only use those two samples, and you can do whatever you want with them.

Deadline for finished tracks is midnight (wherever you are) on Monday, January 16.

When posting your finished track on Soundcloud, be sure the include the following two sentences, in order to abide by the Creative Commons license:

Fog horn sample by Schaarsen: http://www.freesound.org/people/schaarsen/sounds/69663/

Train whistle sample by Ecodios: http://www.freesound.org/people/ecodios/sounds/119963/

The suggestion of a fog horn sample was not a surprise to anyone who had spent more than a day or two observing my twitter.com/disquiet feed. I live in the Richmond District of San Francisco, where we are serenaded, when the climate is right, by deep fog horns that sound like Zeus left his phone on vibrate (and dozens of other haze-induced similes). Fans of contemporary classical music will associate that sound with the field recordings that form the basis for the Fog Tropes of composer Ingram Marshall, and Marshall’s masterwork was indeed very much an inspiration for this project. As for the train, it had no particular consequence sonically, except that the sample I located seemed aesthetically compatible with the fog horn sample. Instead, the train was intended as a cultural contrast, the implied rhythm suggesting rock’n’roll against the classical element of the fog horn. None of this was described in the assignment. It merely informed the dimensions of the project as it was being developed in advance of its announcement. No, the real crux of the assignment is this portion of the instruction: “You can only use those two samples.” If all the participants were to share the same source material, then the real challenge was to see how they would make that source material their own, and how better — in the spirit of constraint — than to limit their palette to that source material?

The assignment was made late in the day on Thursday, January 12, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, January 16, as the deadline.

View a search return for all the entries: disquiet0002-duet. As of this writing, there are 50 tracks associated with the tag.

Visit, listen to, and consider joining the group at soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto.

A full list of Junto projects is housed on Disquiet.com.

(Oddly apt photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/j33pman/5245441632. It was attached to the Junto entry “Bumpy Ride” by Doug Laustsen, aka douglownote.)

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Disquiet Junto Project 0001: “Ice Cubes in a Glass”

The Assignment: The Alkaholiks and Erik Satie inspire the first project

The first Disquiet Junto project was launched on the first Thursday of 2012, January 5. I had no idea if anyone would participate. In the end, 58 different musicians each uploaded, as directed, a single track in response to the assignment: “Please record the sound of an ice cube rattling in a glass, and make something of it.”

The significant majority of them made their tracks available for free download. They posted them in the Disquiet Junto group on Soundcloud.com, and used the tag “disquiet0001-ice” to distinguish their entry: including it in the file’s title and adding it as a tag. Soundcloud is a great service, but it doesn’t allow set creation within groups, so the only way to easily access the files associated with a given Junto project is by searching for a tag. I’m looking into ways to collect the files related to a specific Junto project, but in the meanwhile a search return is the best method.

The idea of using an ice cube in the glass had several points of inspiration. For one thing, given the long-running precedent of the Stones Throw Records Beat Battles, which meet once a week and use a shared sample as the starting point for competition, there was reason to distinguish the project; requesting that Junto members create their own sample, rather than employ the same exact source material, seemed like a good way to accomplish that. But, in a nod to the Beat Battles, I wanted a touch of hip-hop, and the sound of ice cubes heard in the Alkaholiks’ classic “Hip Hop Drunkies,” produced by E-Swift and Marley Marl, has long been a personal favorite (the song, which features a cameo by Ol’ Dirty Bastard, is from the 1997 album Likwidation; the instrumental is on youtube.com). In addition, the contact-mic experiments of musician Joe Colley came to mind. And, of course, there is Erik Satie’s furniture music, which is classical music’s strong precursor to what we now call ambient music: what could be a more casual everyday domestic sound than ice clinking in a glass?

The deadline was set for the following Monday, January 9, at midnight. In subsequent Junto projects the deadline would be moved back a minute, to 11:59pm, since some people weren’t sure if “midnight Monday” meant the midnight with which Monday began or with which it ended. Given that simple assignments are at the heart of the Junto, the fact that something as basic as “midnight Monday” was up for interpretation was an important lesson unto itself.

View a search return for all the entries: disquiet0001-ice.

Visit, listen to, and consider joining the group at soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto.

A full list of Junto projects is housed on Disquiet.com.

(Image of ice cubes in a glass comes from “Mystic Cubes,” the Junto entry by Mystified.)

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La Alquimia de los Sueños / The Alchemy of Dreams

Remedios Varo: A study in surrealist sound, scent, taste, and tale

The Spanish-born painter Remedios Varo (1908-1963) depicted surreal visions in which the mythological and the quotidian intertwined in enchanting ways. She created fascinating documentation of her explorations of the terrestrial and the otherworldly, a place where sight and sound, scent and taste, sense and fantasy collaborated and contrasted toward a tantalizingly ephemeral end.

This month I had the pleasure of concluding work on a project with Julio César Morales and Max La Rivière-Hedrick that celebrated various facets of Varos’ work and life. Titled La Alquimia de los Sueños (which translates as The Alchemy of Dreams), it was commissioned by the gallery Frey Norris in San Francisco to coincide with an extraordinary Varo exhibit running there through February 25. The project took the form of a dinner, a kind of meal-as-art, held at Engine 43 in San Francisco’s Excelsior neighborhood. There were six courses, each associated with a different magical spell and drawing on the surrealist recipes that Varo had created with her close friend, Leonora Carrington. There’s a January 29 story about the event at nytimes.com (“Break Brick, Break Bread, Break the Mold”).

I. The Sound of Dreams

As for my role, among other things I had the pleasure of interviewing Mexico-born sound artist and musician Guillermo Galindo, who lives in San Francisco, about his participation in the project. As seen up top, in a pair of photos by Andria Lo, he performed at the dinner — not only his own mix of sounds, but also deep shuddering bass lines that drew from Varo’s interest in resonance and vibration. What follows is an excerpt of the full interview, “The Sound of Dreams,” which can be read at engine43.org:

Weidenbaum: Regarding the relationship between Tarot and the collective unconscious, can you talk a bit about specifically the role of sound in dreams?

Galindo: I have found that for most people it is difficult to remember the sound, or sounds, of their dreams. Most people, including me, have an easier time remembering music: music that accompanies the dream, music that is played by someone or, in my case, composition ideas that appear by themselves or performed by myself or someone else. As in real life, dream components have sounds: an explosion, someone walking in high heels, the sound of the rain etc. Having said this, I do think that sounds have their own significance in dreams — a significance not necessarily attached to the visual or narrative elements of a specific dream. In other words, I believe that sounds in dreams do have their own specific symbology.

Weidenbaum: Are there parallels between food and sound you’d like to discuss?

Galindo: I had a Chinese music student who, in order to reconnect to her homeland memories, recorded the sound of herself cooking of Chinese dishes, which she would cook one day each month. Then she would present random photographs of the dishes with the audio of the cooking sounds. Different foods have different textures of sound when one cooks them. This provides information about their physical nature and about the chemical reaction that they have when mixed over the fire with other elements. I think that the purest and most enjoyable “food”sound is the sound of water. I think that the sound of the water falling into a glass is a vital element when enjoying a good drink of water, not to mention the “clink”of the wine glasses, the sound of silverware, or the sound of clay, wooden, or ceramic plates and bowls.

And this is a screenshot that Galindo provided to me of the software setup he utilized when playing live, in addition to a pair of Kaoss Pads and at least four iPods. (It is of higher quality than the casual camera shot I posted on Twitter the night of the event.)

Here, from a post-event summary, is a list of the sounds he developed for each of the courses:

0. XECATL (simulated gigantic ice flutes) independent white noise frequency bands oscillating randomly in chaos.

  1. Introduction of 50 Hz.low frequency modulated by 260 Hz. and 2.5 Hz. LFO simultaneously resulting in sudden architectural shaking.

  2. Harmonic content evolving from Erik Satie’s Gnossienne #1 as if reproduced by echoing crystal feathers.

  3. Multiplication of Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater as if sang by a bleeding heart.

  4. Intermittent triple drone in Eb and recurring patchy electric glitches emanating from pure electricity controlled by light boxes. Agustin Lara’s Veracruz emerges from the minuscule speaker of a transistor radio.

  5. Modulated low frequency enters the 20 Hz realm as if entering subsonic levels. Low frequency joins polyrhythmic mass reaching a climax buildup made of electronic glitches and samples of heavy metal distorted guitars doubled with baritone sax reaching 120 bpm plus tempos. The sonic storm breaks into total silence.

II. A Brief Fiction

In addition, I served as managing editor on the project, working with the various participants on their written contributions. And I wrote a short story, “Sitting for a Dream,” that is an imaginary scenario inspired by the fact that Mexico City cardiologist Dr. Ignacio Chávez commissioned what yielded the 1957 Varo portrait “Retrato del doctor Ignacio Chávez.”This is an excerpt from the story:

She took his hand in hers and silently led him through several chambers, each its own little world. One was dark and painted like a jungle. Another was covered, walls and ceiling, in billowing cotton tarps that filtered the daylight. He entered the final chamber by himself. Varo stood on the far side, directly opposite the doorway through which he had just walked. She, too, wore a lab coat, her hair pulled back. The room was almost empty. In the center there was a medium-size wooden frame suspended from the ceiling by pulleys. On either side facing the frame was a single chair. He walked toward the frame, and as he approached, so did Varo. He realized she was mimicking him, but not in a rude way. If anything, it was flattering to be the subject of such attention. He walked toward the closer of the two chairs. She approached the other, copying his gait, adjusting her posture to match his.

When they reached their chairs, they both sat down, looking at each other through the frame, as if at a painting. She gave him a little smile, which he acknowledged by removing his hat. In turn, she pulled from her coat pocket a deck of cards. She selected one card, seemingly at random, and turned it toward him. It showed an old sage with a stick, and below it, in English, was written “The Hermit.”She then pulled another card, this one in Spanish. It read “El Corazon.”It was his turn to smile. He recognized it from the lotería. The next card was “La Pera,”and he recalled the tree from the ill-fated mural she had proposed. She saw the recognition in his face, and her shoulders relaxed. Then his shoulders relaxed. Somehow, he found himself now imitating her, unintentionally but naturally. Varo reached under her chair and lifted a small goblet. Taking the hint, Dr. Chavez did the same. Again, he found himself mimicking her — how simply she had cast her spell.

This is the painting that inspired the story, which is readable in full at engine43.org:

III. Notes on Scent

One especially fascinating element of the event was smell. Each course was accompanied by a scent developed by Mirjana Blankenship (of captainblankenship.com), and these scents built one upon the previous as the evening proceeded. The terms for these elements of a collective scent, I learned from Blankenship, are musical: they are “notes.” The deepest is the “base” note, and then there are “heart” and “top” notes above, and they all “decay” over time, much as a struck chord might. The explanation reminded me of an essay by Brian Eno from the magazine Details back in 1992 (“Scents and Sensibility”), in which he described the parallels and intersections between his experiments in smell and sound. Blankenship’s scents (presented in the elegant bottles shown below) were not to be experienced in their own olfactory anechoic chamber. Quite the contrary, they were selected and constructed to mix with the scents inherent in the meal, including the rich smoke that emanated from the hearth in which meat was roasted, and the burnt sugar that resulted from pistachio pralines made on site just moments before they were served (see the very bottom of this post). By intending to mingle rather than command attention, Blankenship’s scents were like the famed “furniture music” of Erik Satie that is understood as a strong precursor of ambient music — sounds that Galindo included in his performance.

More on the exhibit and the gallery at freynorris.com. There’s a wide range of coverage of the La Alquimia de los Sueños event at engine43.org.

I previously participated in A Sors, a project the duo developed, with Norma Listman, for the Warhol Initiative.

(Photos by Andria Lo of andrialo.com.)

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