New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • Disquiet.com F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

Monthly Archives: January 2012

Tangents: Action Painting, Oscar 2012, Nano-Ear, ….

Bits of news, quick links, passing observations

Analog Screensaver: “What does music look like?”is the question that lead to a recent art project by Martin Klimas (viewable in a lightly annotated slideshow at nytimes.com). In Klimas’ work, paint is jettisoned by a speaker cone that responds to particular pieces of music. The images viewable at the Times site include pieces by Kraftwerk, Miles Davis, and Paul Hindemith. Above is an image resulting from “Music for 18 Musicians” by Steve Reich. The association of sound and image here is interesting, but the project is arguably more interesting as an example of common digital functionality, in this case screensaver sonic visualizers, brought into the analog world. (Tip from Mike Rhode, comicsdc.blogspot.com.)

The Bource Supremacy: Oscar 2012 nominations were announced today, and the ones in the “Music (Original Score)” category seem to serve as a retrograde industry analgesic to the groundbreaking win last year by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for their work on The Social Network. John Williams, whose name is synonymous with old-school, was nominated for not one but two films (The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse). Howard Shore was nominated for Hugo (like Tintin, an animated film). The remaining two scores are Ludovic Bource‘s for The Artist and Alberto Iglesias‘ for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Not only are all five scores orchestral (or large-scale chamber), but as if to emphasize their old-schoolness they’re all associated with movies that take place in the past. (Iglesias also did Steven Soderbergh’s two-part Che, which means he has become the go-to composer for Cold War atmospherics.) The moribund aura hovering around this sort of antiquated approach is emphasized by the nomination of just two songs in the “Music (Original Song)” category. The caption to this situation is: The Academy didn’t get excited about much this year. Fortunately, Drive and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (two of the year’s most sonically conscious films) were acknowledged in, respectively, the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing categories. Full list at oscar.go.com. I’ll be posting my favorite scores of 2011 shortly.

Pedal Power: Yes, there is “A Blog about Hand-Made, Analog Effects Pedals.” The name says it all. Well, the site’s subtitle does. The name of the site, blog.8302.net, is a little more opaque, and according to its author, Barcelona-based Arturo Castillo, the four-digit number signifies nothing in particular. Typical posts feature such language as “Quite often I get asked about the difference between overdrive, fuzz and distortion,” or pay homage to filmmakers (note the last 30 seconds of a video posted in earlier this month). As the videos on his site, as well as his descriptions of pedals, might suggest, Castillo recognizes the equipment as tools for sonic invention unto themselves as much as for traditional employment in the service of guitars. If you prefer your pedal coverage in tidy bursts, Castillo is also at twitter.com/8302net. The pedal blog parallels Castillo’s online shop at, you guessed it, shop.8302.net.

Unmute the Commute: “If an escalator was lubricated to within an inch of its sonic life, it would have much less of one,” writes Peggy Nelson at hilobrow.com. She’s pondering the ramifications and cultural context of a piece by Chris Richards at washingtonpost.com in which he pays close attention to the sounds of public transportation, and in the process interviews Emily Thompson, author of the indispensable book The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933. Richards’ stated and implicit question (“Could this be music?”) is one that is almost frustrating in its obviousness. The affirmative answer is self-evident to, certainly, the majority of readers of this site, and Richards himself cites, of course, the now almost ancient if not fully canonized teachings of John Cage. And yet the question still, in a paper as widely read as the Post, seems to need to be stated as some sort of fresh observation yet to become conventional wisdom. What event, what milestone, would — will — move us beyond having this question repeated? (The New York Times tread on this terrain last year in its “Arts of Summer” coverage.) Nelson, for her part, brings admirable philosophical force to the discussion: “For a thing to function is for it to be in use. And in its use is its constant failure. And in that failure are gaps that force different activity, and allow for different perspective. This is true for cities as well as escalators. And for music. And for us.”

Fantastic Voyage 2012: The sciencemag.org website reports that a “nano-ear” is being developed that “can detect sound a million times fainter than the threshold for human hearing.” This falls under the category of “acoustic microscopy.” The creative and diagnostic potentials are mind-boggling. What confuses me is that I haven’t seen the development mentioned on several bioacoustics and field-recording lists to which I subscribe. It may be just a result of an interesting needle of information being lost in a news-feed haystack, but I wonder if there’s an unfortunate myopia in those areas that focuses on sonic observation of the more immediately visible world. (Tip from Paolo Salvavione, salvagione.com.)

Is “Free” a Gender?: First at actsofsilence.com and then at uncertainform.com, fellow free-culture traveller David Nemeth ponders the statistical gender patterns inherent in electronic music. He quotes Tara Rodgers’ book Pink Noises: Women on Elec­tronic Music and Sound (“Another artist remarked that her entree into the world of elec­tronic music felt as if she had landed on a planet where some­thing had hap­pened to make all the women disappear”) and documents the numerous incongruities. In brief: there are a lot more men than women represented in the free/netlabel scene. In the process, Nemeth notes that one of my recent projects, the Instagr/am/bient compilation, has but one woman among its 25 participants. I fully agree with Nemeth that it’s unfortunate, and as Rodgers suggests, even eerie, the extent to which it appears that men outnumber women in electronic music, and in the free-music subset of electronic music. In his follow-up post, Nemeth says he has decided to cover one female artist a week at minimum henceforth. I’ll just note two things at this stage of the discussion: first, that the next major Disquiet.com curatorial project, due for release shortly, has three women among its eight (or nine, depending on how you count them) contributors: Kate Carr, Paula Daunt, and Marielle V. Jakobsons; second, that the majority of music I write about is made by people with willfully peculiar monikers, and it’s only late in the process of reading up on them as artists that I learn who is behind that moniker and if it’s a man or a woman.

Digital Commerce Watch: In a promising development, the record label Stonesthrow now offers a $10/month subscription fee for digital versions of “all” its releases. It’s a pretty solid deal: 320kbps MP3s, no DRM, month-to-month billing, and apparently some set of “exclusive” materials: stonesthrow.com.

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The Long Listen (MP3)

Free MP3: French duo's extended improvisation

The so-called “long read” is a symptom of our time. It isn’t called the “considered read,” because anything, long or short, can be read with determination and attention. And it isn’t called the “long write,” because for one thing short pieces can take longer to write than do long ones, and for another phrases like “long read” are more likely to take root as common utterance if they flatter the audience.

In any case, the concept of a long read begs the question, What is a “long listen”? Arguably, the thing doesn’t exist — at least not as a willfully anomalous media form. Long-format is the longstanding format for music, in the mode of the full-length recording. Even if the “album” is fading in favor of individual songs, the fact remains that the majority of those songs are still being released as part of a larger parcel. Most singles are still tails trying, in vain perhaps, to wag a full-length dog. In other words, while long reads stand out as peculiar objects in our written-soundbite time, music continues to appear on the market in a manner that is inherently time-consumptive.

And that’s speaking of commercial music. In experimental improvisational music, the long performance is the norm. Pieces often veer toward the realm of an hour in length, in order to give the musicians space to get lost in. Take Crash Duo, a French duo, whose “Crash au Pôle” recently appeared on the netlabel Amplified Music Pollution, which is based in Guadalajara, México. It’s a sprawling work, moving from spare techno dread, through guitar-drenched reverb, to freeform space of broken radio signals, to folktronic reverie (MP3). It’s to the piece’s credit that it manages to both retain a certain dub flavor throughout, and still wander through impressively varied subsections. Crash Duo consists of Orléans-based Ayato, who plays “prepared guitar, cassettes, turntable, sanza,” and Paris-based Anton Mobin, who plays “prepared chamber, tape head, cassettes, radio, axololt,” and whose name looks like a play on Amon Tobin.

[audio:http://www.archive.org/download/amp104/CRASH_DUO_crash_au_pole.mp3|titles=”Crash au Pôle”|artists=Crash Duo]

Track originally posted at archive.org and amp-recs.com. More on Crash Duo at crashduo.blogspot.com, on Ayato at ayato-sn1984.blogspot.com, and on Mobin at antonmobin.blogspot.com.

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‘The Search Engine’ Is Complete

Free MP3: Ninja Tune stalwart on his redeployment

The Search Engine is the first album from Strictly Kev, Ninja Tune regular (and the label’s art director), in over a decade. Recording as DJ Food, Kev welcomed guests Matt Johnson (The The) and J.G. Thirwell (Foetus), among others, to the project. In an extensive podcast interview, hosted by the label, he talked about the intersection of sampling and songwriting. “The phrase ‘keep it real’ in hip-hop just makes me despair,” he said, expressing no interest in sonic reality and everything in a studio-production basis for the manipulation of sound and for the construction of tunes (the file is available not as an MP3 but as a sizable M4A). He also discusses the complexity of working under the name DJ Food, since it has been used by various people over the course of the history of Ninja Tune Records. And there’s plenty of music from the record. More on his Search Engine album at ninjatune.net. And while on the subject, here’s an interview with DJ Food from back in 1997, when that name was employed not by Kev but by Ninja’s Patrick Carpenter: “Anatomy of a Remix.”

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Crosstown Traffic (MP3)

Free MP3s: A cellist serenades the AM airwaves

A traffic report intrudes on Joe Merolla‘s solo cello performance. The intrusion is expected. Merolla’s piece bears the title “Sinfonia di Violoncello e AM Radio,” which of course in Italian means that it’s a work for cello and AM Radio. The fact that the title is in Italian lends it a certain futurist je ne say quoi, appropriate to the work’s embrace of everyday noise and its grounding in classical music. The discordance of the cello part seems play various roles here. It is, at its core, an aesthetic decision, a form of playing that distinguishes the material from the traditional repertoire through an embrace of noise, noise being the calling card of futurism. (The word “traditional” is employed here with some trepidation. At this point, there’s enough of an avant-garde history that it serves as its own tradition.) It’s also a reflection of the noise of the radio. And the cello appears to move amid the radio, responding to unexpected surfacings. In any case, the traffic announcement is an especially welcome element here, because it serves as a kind of chance play-by-play for the work itself, which is focused on intersections and crisscrosses.

Tracks posted at freemusicarchive.org.

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Past Week at Twitter.com/Disquiet

  • 9 "expanded glass harp" tracks now in http://t.co/anQFre9l. Latest are Chicago's @otologist San Jose's @CompMusicBlog Brisbane's Greg Hooper #
  • Jan 21 = Instagr/am/bient Track 21 = @orangecookie's "Near Cedar," based on an @instagram by @c_bissonnette: http://t.co/Dx2996Sq #
  • Nicely put. RT @stringbot: @disquiet I like the challenge of trying to keep it from getting boring. #
  • I'd say fade in/out's kosher. RT @stringbot: Recorded 40 minutes of improv but since I'm not allowed to edit I have to cull the best bits. #
  • Crazy rainy night in San Francisco, watching my 16-month-old. Listening to "expanded glass harp" music in the Junto; thanks to all involved! #
  • Looking forward to it RT @ben_carey: uploading my first @disquiet #junto track: glass harmonica processed live using my derivations software #
  • I can't fully recommend Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but I can recommend seeing it on a rainy day. #
  • To use FileZilla for FTP on a Mac is to be reminded that OS X is just as littered with human-unreadable gibberish files as is Windows. #
  • When I miss my old laptop, I just use my Macbook Air in the kitchen while the dishwasher is running. #
  • Read more »
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