Pumpkin Up the Volume (MP3)

Sampling the seasonal squash

A belated Halloween treat, but since Thanksgiving is still almost a month away, there’s plenty of time for creative reuse of pumpkin — not just pies, but gurgling ambient-electronic tracks whose sonic source material is the squash itself. According to the brief liner note accompanying “Dreams from Sleeping in a Pumpkin” by Average Alien, “All those rumbling sounds are made in and on a pumpkin.” There is rumbling, a viscous burbly undercurrent, and all manner of knocking. Around this time every year, it’s worth noting that any music can be scary music — that scary is about context and association, not some Newtonian sonic law of synthesizer effects and timpani. It’s also worth noting, apparently, that not all Halloween music even need be scary.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/average-alien. Average Alien is the British-based musician Allan Brugg, more on whom at twitter.com/alien_artifex.

What Sandy Sounded Like

First-hand field recordings of the nasty storm via SoundCloud

The storm we’ve come to call Sandy hit the East Coast of the United States last night, and this morning I found myself looking at photos of the Victoria Secrets lingerie model (and Transformers threequel actress) Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. This was because my anxious pre-dawn searches on Twitter for updates regarding my hometown of Huntington, Long Island, were apparently yielding nothing of particular value. I live in San Francisco, and Huntington felt very far away.

I’d come, the night prior, to lean on Twitter for Sandy news because that first-hand reportage — the photos and brief summary statements — had provided a superior sense of what was going on than did the professional news reporting, which seemed, appropriately, to be more about what was happening in the sky (forecast) and less about what was happening on the street (aftermath). Or, more to the point: Twitter was showing me what was happening in the lives of people I care about who happened to be posting on Twitter; it (along with Facebook) provided a glimpse of certainty in a haze of geographically diffuse generalities. But when it came to my family, which isn’t on Twitter, suddenly the metaphorical picture got fuzzy, news on Huntington proving to be difficult to come by in any specific and meaningful way. (As this morning has proceeded, more Huntington-specific material has begun to be prioritized on the Twitter; Sandy has, fortunately, pushed Rosie back to the dark side of the search return.)

And then I did what I do every morning, which was to fire up SoundCloud, and to listen to what’s in my queue. The latest Disquiet Junto project ended last night at 11:59pm, and there were almost two dozen tracks to check out. But something else, something more pressing, was in the listening queue, as well: sounds of last night’s storm. SoundCloud is currently, forgive the description, flooded with sounds of the storm, and they are informative in their own way. Photos and text provide a sense of what people choose to focus on, choose to document, while sound gives a sense of something beyond their control. A lot of this has to do with the nature of the medium: one takes a photo and writes text, generally speaking, after something occurs. But audio recording is more like video, in that you elect at some point to hit record, but you have no idea what is going to occur from that moment on — will a tree fall, a siren roar, or will nothing of note happen? And video still suggests the individual has elected to point the lens in a direction, while audio is less directed — you hit record, and wait.

Particularly harrowing is this low-fidelity recording of the wind in Harlem, posted by HarlemGal. Every time it kicks into high gear, there’s the sense that it might not let up, even when there’s the relief that it does:

Lefteri Koutsoulidakis posted an eerie bit recorded in Astoria, where the sound of the storm is framed by some sort of fritzy whir, like a flourescent bulb on overdrive:

Electronic musicians, needless to say, were among the posters. This is Devin Underwood (aka Specta Ciera) recording the wind from Cambridge, Massachusetts:

This is from the accomplished field-recording individual Michael Raphael, aka Sepulchra, outta Brooklyn:

And for an ongoing sense of the storm, check out the efforts of Manolo Espinosa, who is described as SoundCloud’s “Head of Audio … focused on spoken audio and sounds.” He has been maintaining a set of these Sandy field recordings:

(Photo up top of the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, from the Facebook page of timeofdayfilms.com.)

The Drone’s Self-Definition MP3)

Vapor Lanes shows how a drone defines itself by its un-drone-ness

The word “drone” suggests a certain amount of stasis, an amount fairly beyond the ordinary experience of an everyday listener, a stasis employed through static, both figuratively, in the form of something that barely can be felt to move, and literally, in that white noise is often its substance, is often its effect. Drones appear alien to ears used to the structures provided by rhythm, melody, and harmony. But once you recognize those structures as just that, as structures, then you come to hear them everywhere, including in music that appears to refute them — music such as that encapsulated by the term “drone.” Vapor Lanes‘ “Matchbox Twenty” is such a drone, and like many drones it pushes at its drone-ness, pushes away from drone-ness, in its own manner. The odd thing about drones is that they are often defined by that effort that they make to be more than drone, more than what might be considered mere drone. In any case, here that effort is akin to the revving of an engine, moments when the drone seems to speed up, to get unforeseen momentum underway as it moves ahead, for even in its static form it has a sense of motion. The sole bit of framing information of consequence is a single tag associated with the track. The tag is a word, and the word is “oneiric,” which is to say dream-like.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/vaporlanes. The musician is based in Chicago, Illinois.

1:13 of Rattle, No Hum (MP3)

A spare beat from Virginia

It’s a short piece, a mere beat, really, barely a minute. It’s a rhythmic utterance, a rattle with an occasional flare-up. There’s a jittery sound, like a pair of dice being rolled in cupped hands, or a spray-paint can being shaken in advance of some mercenary street artistry, the potential evidence muffled by an oversized coat. It’s “Vncertainty” by Glia, the Virginia-based musician, and in this presumably unfinished form (it’s described in the accompanying note as a “warm up beat”) it serves less as a full listening experience than as something hinting at prospects, and also submitting itself for repeat listens, for looping, for the repetition that is, as we know well, a form of change. It’s worth listening for those changes, for the depth to be perceived between the downbeats, for the way the flares suggest sparks on a rail, for the tonal quality of each percussive element. It may just be a warm up beat, but sometimes practice is perfect.

More on Glia at mitaminelab.com and emetece.net.

Everyday Ambient Music (MP3)

In praise of the lightly augmented field recording

The term “ambient music” by definition, in our post”“John Cage world, is broad enough to include such a simple, unadorned thing as a quiet raw field recording of daily life — sounds that are loose and transparent enough to pass as background on second listen. That’s the “ambient” part of the equation. The “music” part would be the basic act of framing such a recording as a composition through the election to stop and start the tape at some point, and to subsequently make it available.

But why stop there? Then there is the next stage of field recording, that which is lightly augmented, so lightly that the emendations are nearly invisible. Take, for example, the lovely “Chun,” by Mola CL, which combines rudimentary elements (“Field recording, frog caller, bass guitar, buddha machine, tuning forks, sample,” reads the full text of the accompanying liner note) into something considerably less than the sum of those parts. It’s all small-bore sounds, elegant slices of everyday life and additional noisebits that are barely louder, barely more resonant or intrinsically memorable, than the jingle of change in one’s pocket. And yet the composite takes on the aspect of a sonic hologram, of pieces frozen in space, listened to as time passes as if one is moving around it and observing from various vantages. Just wonderful. It’s listed by Mola CL as a work in progress, but it sounds complete to these ears.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/mola-cl. Mola CL is Chase Lynn of High Wycombe, Britain.