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Monthly Archives: December 2015

Northern Darks

Music and sound Norwegians make come winter, including Geir Jenssen (aka Biosphere)

Island Life: Map of Senja, Norway, home to the musician Biosphere

Island Life: Map of Senja, Norway, home to the musician Biosphere

Starting off in “the cultural hub of the Arctic Circle,”British broadcaster Petroc Trelawny reports on the sounds of deep, dark, sun-less winter — music of Tromsø, Norway, including its local ballet, orchestra, and a church choir known as Arctic Voices; the traditional vocal style of yoik (which a Norwegian student of mine did a report on last semester); and, most pertinent for this site’s coverage, the efforts of Geir Jenssen, aka Biosphere, to use the sound of frozen lakes and other natural regional resources as source recordings for his music. Jenssen’s segment, recorded on the island of Senja where he lives, begins at 26:30 and runs for a tad over 12 minutes. Jenssen discusses how at the right time of year, the ice on a frozen lake can serve like the skin of a drum — the effect is also known as “singing ice.” It sounds at times, as well, like the reverberation of long thick metal cable. He is also recorded playing a (reportedly bright orange) vuvuzela to test the deep echo of one of the spaces he and Trelawny explore. Now I’d really like to hear what Jenssen could make of yoik and that choir.

There’s no embeddable player, but the broadcast is available for download and streaming at bbc.co.uk. More from Jennsen at biosphere. (Several people drew my attention to this BBC broadcast. Many thanks.)

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Music for Doorbells

Liner notes I wrote for the new Jeff Kolar album

pan095

Jeff Kolar’s new album, on the Panospria label, is all about doorbells. Titled Doorbell, it’s a series of recordings he made — music for doorbells — that follows up an earlier exploration he made of the smoke alarm. I wrote the liner notes for Doorbell, which is a free download:

“Welcome Music”

For whom does the doorbell toll? On the one hand, it is an alert for the inhabitant of a building. The bell rings, and that ring lets the inhabitant know that a delivery, a friend, a colleague, or some other visitor has arrived. On the other hand, the bell is a confirmation for the visitors that their presence has, in fact, been registered.

The doorbell is, thus, both ringtone and ringback simultaneously. The doorbell’s ringtone is, to some extent, the choice of the inhabitant, though the number of people who ever elect to fine-tune their doorbell’s sound is likely quite small. The ringback — “a sound made by a cellular phone that is heard by a person who is calling that phone while waiting for the call to be connected”— is a muted version of the doorbell. It is the doorbell heard through the door, shaped by the resonance of the hall in which it first resounds.

It took the artist Jeff Kolar, an obsessive sonic explorer, not only to fine-tune his doorbell sounds, but to record them himself. Kolar’s body of work is steeped in noise so quotidian that it is effectively ignored by, if not inaudible to, most people. Many doorbells can trace their tones back to bells and chimes. Kolar, instead, used a Yamaha organ to construct his dozen rings. The results range from mantra-like beading drones, to haunted-house chords, to swelling wah-wah, to subtle stepwise waveforms.

Kolar’s doorbells first took shape as actual doorbells, hung on a gallery wall, waiting for visitors to trigger them. Only later were they collected as recordings for anyone to stream, download, even — if they have the maker bug — to install at the entrance to their own homes and businesses. As such, the work builds on Kolar’s previous efforts with blissfully mundane aural subjects, such as his study of the fierce sonic textures of smoke detectors. That piece, like his doorbells, began in a gallery and was later documented as a record album. The doorbells also share a kinship with Kolar’s ongoing engagement with that most ubiquitous and ephemeral of sonic mediums: radio waves.

The sounds of Kolar’s doorbells have many inherent associations, but the organ, with its explicit churchly stature, seems to nudge forward one association in particular: the arrival of an evangelical missionary dead-set on sharing salvation.

Marc Weidenbaum
San Francisco
October 2015

Kolar provides a bit more information in the accompanying note:

Doorbell is permanently installed as a ringable doorbell system outside of the Urban Gray Ballroom in Greensboro, North Carolina. Each of the twelve Doorbell tracks are designed to loop continuously. This project was produced for the “Museum as Instrument” residency curated by Shannon Stratton and Joe Jeffers at Elsewhere Museum in July 2015.

Album originally posted on December 10, 2015, at archive.org, and then at soundcloud.com/jeffkolar. The surreal cover art is by Aleia Murawski. More from Kolar at jeffkolar.us.

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Glitch Is Doing Fine

Thanks to next-generation work like this piece by Encym

Glitch is doing fine, thanks. Certainly the once rarified, formerly left-field approach to isolating and celebrating errors intrinsic to digital media has long since gone mainstream, gone from sound experiment to plugin, gone from exotic ear-worm to everyday background music. But there’s plenty of life left in the pursuit of sounds that break upon impact, sounds whose impact is in the breaking, in the loveliness implicit in fracture lines. “Suturv0,” posted on the “overflow” account of London-based Encym, isn’t glitch by immediate association. Sure there are digital stutters and microsonic breakbeats, but it is far more than that: thudding drums that go nowhere slowly, circuit-breaker ambience that teases with your earbuds, water-drop percussion that doubles back on itself. All those things here have their own unique brokenness to them, collectively making for a denser kind of glitch.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/encym-soundtracks. More from Encym at encym.tumblr.com, twitter.com/encym_, and instagram.com/encym_.

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“Sketch for Electric Guitar, Laptop & Electromagnetic Interference”

By the Helsinki-based A Companion of Owls

There are sharply plucked guitar strings and a combination of echoes — glitchy snaps, high-pitched synthesized tones, occasionally with a touch of Morse code to them, and the guitar itself playing a complementary line. This is the elegant “Sketch for Electric Guitar, Laptop & Electromagnetic Interference” by A Companion of Owls, aka Stephen Stamper of Helsinki, Finland. In a brief accompanying note he explains in slightly greater detail than the track’s title: “Sketch for single coil pickup electric guitar, monophonic pitch tracking sine wave oscillator, three randomly reversible audio buffers and electromagnetic interference.” The real beauty in the piece may be the pauses, the waiting, the time during which something is held before something else appears — it adds drama, intensity, and narrative to sounds that are quite simple unto themselves.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/a-companion-of-owls. More from Stamper at bitsnibblesbytes.wordpress.com and companionofowls.tumblr.com.

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A Taste of The Revenant

Music by Sakamoto, Noto, and Dessner

Certainly, gauging by the initial promotional track, “Killing Hawk,” Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, and Bryce Dessner’s music for The Revenant will be enthralling, just as gravitas-laden and epic as the forthcoming film looks to be. “Killing Hawk” balances an extended, slow-mo orchestral string section with what appears to be a digitally stretched version of the same audio, the backdrop a horizon’s-edge figment of generalized noise. It’s stunning, especially when a kind of ferrite pixie stick scatter appears, perhaps paralleling rampant birds in flight on screen. We won’t know until the film debuts, in about a week (December 25). Sadly, according to factmag.com, the score won’t be eligible for an Oscar (Sakamoto won for The Last Emperor back in 1987), because three composers are involved.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/milanrecords.

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