The latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances” is a six-minute video of ambient music on an instrument not largely associated with ambient music: the Korg Electribe EMX1. The EMX1’s combination of drum machine, sequencer, and synthesizer has made it a dance-music favorite. Midera, instead, does away with beats and processes the EMX1’s tones and textures significantly with another instrument, the Eventide Space, a reverb effects unit. In the video, it’s the EMX1 being handled by Midera throughout, though the Eventide, offscreen, is arguably doing much of the heavy lifting — or, in this aesthetic realm, the light lifting. “It’s all in the Eventide Space,” Midera tells one commenter on YouTube, but clarifies in response to another: “The Space is doing a lot of the work, but the simplicity of the EMX makes it fun to write tracks like this.” It’s a flowing performance, threadbare wave forms ebbing from one to another, Midera occasionally adding a bit of drama with some modulation here or a touch of glitchy flare there, all of which has rightly earned the track several comparisons to Vangelis’ Blade Runner score.
The track’s title mixes a cold date stamp with an ambiguous sentiment, and in turn “160515T01 the saddest morning glory” summons up a series of overlapping textural source segments. These include plucked string instruments and pulsing drones and some deeply echoing woodwind and sequences of held notes, among other aural delicacies. Those held notes, like the overall piece, travel at too slow a rate to be considered collectively as a melody, as of a piece. They’re parts, not wholes. The whole here is more experiential than developmental, less a matter of something that changes as it goes and more a matter of some things that illuminate each other through proximity. A seemingly rote drone gains rhythm when contrasted with an even more placid tonal companion; a semi-prominent rhythmic element recedes when faced with a more capacious contrast. Recorded by Leonardo Rosado, “160515T01 the saddest morning glory” is slow and subtle, evenly paced and emotionally remote, and utterly beautiful.
The chapel bell at Fort Ross, founded by Russians in 1812 safely between Mexican and British outposts on the coast of California north of Bodega Bay. It has a sweet tone, and you can almost see the thick, slow-moving waveforms as it fades to silence over time. But be on your guard while taking photographs, as some pre-adolescent may lean in and ring it like it’s an Olympic event just when your eardrum is most susceptible to intense pain.
Earlier this month I put together an hour-long set for the excellent Resonance arts broadcast network (aka resonancefm.com). That set has now been archived at
mixcloud.com by Fari Bradley, the Resonance presenter who invited me to do it. There are thorough details on what plays in the set in the initial post here. The music is, in order of appearance, by Vladimir Conch, Cullen Miller, Erika Nesse, Julsy, Marcus Fischer, Stabilo (Speaker Gain Teardrop), North Americans, Yasuo Akai, nystada, Bassling, William Boldenreck, Scanner Darkly, ToÃ n, and R Beny.
Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media
• I was on Vivian Host's Peak Time show (on Red Bull Radio) on March 11 to extol the timeless virtues of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and related works. You can listen to a recording here: redbullradio.com.
• My latest article is a review in the March issue of The Wire magazine of the week-long Recombinant Festival (held in San Francisco), whose performance highlights included Herman Kolgen, Rrose, and Electric Indigo.
• March 22, 2019: I'm giving a talk at noon on Friday at the Algorithmic Art Assembly, two days of events (Friday and Saturday) in San Francisco: aaassembly.org. The talk is titled "The Woodshed Is a Black Box" and this is its description in the program: "How a rules-based system formed, shapes, and fuels the long-running online music community known as the Disquiet Junto."
• May 7, 2019: This day sees the release of Rob Walker's book The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday (Knopf), which has entries about the Disquiet Junto.
• May 22, 2019: Final day of the semester of the 15-week "Sounds of Brands" course I teach once a year at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I post occasional updates here. Follow the tag #sounds-of-brands.
• December 13, 2019: This day marks the 23rd anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2020: This day marks the 8th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto.
• A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell.
• The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.
• 0376 / Pi Filling / The Assignment: Celebrate Pi Day.
• 0375 / Despite Yourself / The Assignment: Make a piece of music that sounds as unlike you as you can accomplish.
• 0374 / Glitch Glitch / The Assignment: what happens when you glitch something that's been glitched?
• 0373 / Copernican Music / The Assignment: Record a piece of music intended for an alien species.
• 0372 / Honeymoon Phase / The Assignment: Record a piece of music with (only) your most recently obtained instrument or music/sound tool.