My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Blur of Music Discovery

And the video work of the third act on a Calgary synthesizer bill

I’ve written a bit about my confusion regarding the continued fortitude of the word “discovery” as it relates to automated, generally algorithm-derived music recommendations on streaming services. My sense is that the primary beneficiary of “discovery” is less the individuals that hear the music than the companies vying for those individuals’ attention, and not so much for their attention as, far more neutrally, their presence on the given service. There’s a difference between attention and competitive benefit. Apple Music doesn’t really care much if you’re really listening closely; it just cares that you’re using Apple Music and not using Spotify or Deezer or Google Play Music or another service.

There’s a long-running quip about how “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” but in fact writing about music is, as it relates to many people’s listening habits, more like writing about wallpaper, or writing about perfume, or writing about lighting, or writing about something else that describes a largely inattentive, passive presence in one’s life, something more akin to casual cultural affinity than to strong feelings, let alone to matters of art.

In any case, this comes to mind because yesterday I wrote about Dominions, the phenomenal new album of synthesis by Sarah Davachi, and the day prior I wrote about “Loop1,” a track of restrained drones by Valiska (aka Krzysztof Sujata). What I didn’t realize until after I posted the Davachi write-up is that Davachi and Valiska know each other — and in fact are playing a concert together on May 5 at a place called Good Luck Bar in Calgary, Canada. Now, I know for a fact that the Davachi has been in my to-write-about bookmark folder for awhile, so it wasn’t simply a matter of having written about “Loop1” by Valiska, I then happened upon Davachi. And I’ve written about Valiksa, a longtime Junto participant, at least as long ago as 2012, so neither was it a matter of my Davachi listening having introduced me to him. In any case, I have no idea how this coincidence occurred, but the blur gets, innocently, at the myriad ways that musicians connect with each other and with audiences, leading to awareness that can be difficult to trace back, even if your browser’s cache and history remain intact. The pair’s music has little in common, and yet there is this association.

Perhaps the two posts in a row simply is a coincidence, but today’s post isn’t. When I mentioned the pairing on Twitter I got a reply from the third act on the Good Luck Bar bill, a duo called SH-2000, which consists of Barnaby Bennett and Patrick Whitten. It was Bennet who wrote to me (“maybe you can write about us in SH-2000 to round out the bill coverage? ;)”). They have a recent album out, Shhh (2015) that’s available for stream and purchase. Be sure, as well, to check out this video, titled “Oblique Quantumization,” by Bennett (and M. Geddes Gengras). It randomly plays through a variety of brief combinations of blippy synthesis and test-pattern visuals. The combination is quite hallucinogenic, at times disturbing, in a Saturday-morning pre-cartoon surveillance-state sort of way, and at other times quite elegant and entrancing:

More on the video at barnabybennett.snack.ws. More from Bennett at soundcloud.com/barnaby-bennett.

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The Synthesis of Sarah Davachi

As heard on her phenomenal new album, Dominions

sarahdavachi

Sarah Davachi’s phenomenal new album, Dominions, was recorded largely on old-model synthesizers and something known as the Orchestron, an instrument from the 1970s that plays from a library of sounds that are stored as an optical recording. The album’s five tracks explore various territories, among the more sedate being the churchly “Ordinal,” in which held chords shift to an indeterminate meter as various notes are introduce and removed. “Burgundy” begins in a similar space, its burgeoning atmospheric drone resembling early Terry Riley or La Monte Young, but as it proceeds it gets more and more busy, coming to sound like a symphony of car horns. It’s as if the listener first hears it from afar, several blocks away, and then slowly approaches, and by approaching comes to understand the chaos that was mistaken, from a distance, as calm.

The opening piece, “Feeler,” has the sound of truncated vocal snippets, the extended vowel given texture by the endless tiny appearances of a seam where the end of the sample meets with the start of it replaying. Beneath this is a layer of texture, maybe tape, maybe vinyl, maybe just the room in which it was recorded. Like “Burgundy” it gains mass and detail as it moves forward. Those are just three of the tracks of Dominion’s five. The whole thing is quite strong.

Album available at sarahdavachi.bandcamp.com. More from Sarah Davachi, who is based in Montréal, Québec, at sarahdavachi.com.

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The Sonic Artifacts of Threshold Breach

"Loop1" by Valiska of Calgary, Canada

Valiska is Krzysztof Sujata of Calgary, Canada, and “Loop1” is a gentle, restrained drone. It is part synthesizer, and seemingly part vocalized, and it grows with intensity until it risks being shattered. It ends where it starts, a floating whir, not unlike one of Robert Fripp’s tape loops filigrees, but in between it goes from gentle to lush to dense to the point where the tension frays the sounds themselves. At around three and a half minutes into the nearly six-minute run the repeated melodic line is superimposed with static, with noisy scintillate, with strong feedback. It’s as if the loop tools have been pushed passed their capacity, and we experience that threshold breach as a series of sonic artifacts. The noise subsides in time for the gentle aspect of the loop to re-emerge, but it sounds different now, the noise having receded but its memory coloring how the subsequent the quietness is experienced.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/valiska. More from Valiska at valiska.com and twitter.com/TheValiska.

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The Pure Data of Svetlana Maraš

One minute to stream, and software to run for free

svetlanamaras

You have to click through to the blog of Svetlana MaraÅ¡ to hear her recent piece “Nymphae,” but don’t mistake that non-embeddable scenario for the work of someone who’s overly concerned about proprietorship. Maras, who is based in Belgrade, Serbia, has more than one SoundCloud page, and posts audio frequently. For “Nymphae,” not only has she uploaded the entrancing, minute-long sample of fractured glistening to stream, she’s also posted for free download the underlying tools anyone can use to accomplish the same sonic ends. Well, anyone with a copy of Pd (Pure data, a “real-time graphical dataflow programming environment,” itself freely downloadable), and the skills to employ it. The tools come in the form of a patch, which looks like this:

svetlanamaras-pd

She describes the project as follows:

Nymphaea is one in a set of 7 works made under the title Ethereal Information. These works are Pure data patches, and they are generative sound works functioning by the rules of partially fixed algorithms. Each of the patches leaves the space for user’s input that will influence certain aspects of the work. Patches can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution license, as part of other works, in installations, galleries, public spaces or wherever you find them suitable. These works are highly minimalistic. They praise the simplicity of production and effectiveness of realization. They are to be appreciated for their audible but as well visual content that is in this case the structural element of the work that reveals work’s internal characteristics.

More from MaraÅ¡ at svetlanamaras.com. I wrote about her work previously in February 2015, regarding sound design she’d been working on for a film that never saw completion. That audio is still online. The image up top is from an interview with MaraÅ¡ by Theresa Beyer, published in 2014 at norient.com. Pure data is available at puredata.info.

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The Intention of Pace

When ambient music sets your heart pacing

The question of whether or not ambient music can include beats obscures an arguably deeper question about effect. That question: Can music that sets one’s heart pacing, even if the sounds themselves are largely beat-less, still be considered ambient? On a track titled “Tourbillon,” Suss Müsik tests those circumscriptions, at least for the first minute or so, which is pure haze, but a sheer haze that is pitched high and given an intense sense of forward motion — a suggested motion that is confirmed soon after, when a pulsing, phasing piano line takes over. It’s blissful as the clouds, certainly, but those clouds pass in quick succession. You’re aloft, true, but will you ever come down? Then again, would you even want to, if this is the experience? The title of the track, which comes from clockmaking, is the French word for whirlwind.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/suss-musik. More from Suss Müsik at sussmusik.com.

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