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

Monthly Archives: May 2016

What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt


It’s almost certain that the lower-right button is D, but as for B and C, that’s something of a guessing game. The orientation of buttons on doorbells can be confusing. For example, often in two-level buildings the lower-number address is on the bottom, so the numbers align with the vertical hierarchy of the living quarters. Sometimes the buttons in a four-spot setup like this one will run top/bottom, sometimes left side/right side. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them run clockwise or counterclockwise, but such a scenario is likely out there, given how haphazard many urban-apartment doorbells are. That is all presuming there are actually B, C, and D apartments in the building anymore. Maybe the whole place was taken over and turned into a mini-mansion: living large while hiding in plain, determinedly indistinct sight.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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Alvin Curran Finds His (Dad’s) Trombone

And records a tribute to its weathered tone

Alvin Curran, the composer (b. 1938), lost his dad’s trombone, only to have it relocated decades later. In a New York Times essay this past weekend, “The Trombone Comes Home,” Curran tells the story of the instrument’s role in his childhood education and activities, before he switched to piano and, later still, composition. He also tells the story of its reappearance. The discovery provides an emotional end to the tale:

I let it sit for a few days to acclimatize. The with my wife, Susan, snapping pictures I carefully removed the layers of wrappings one at a time with a kitchen knife — and then opened the latches to reveal an unpolished silent brass corpse inside, smelling exactly the same as it did when I surreptitiously opened that case for the first time some 70 years earlier in Providence.

Included alongside the essay is a nearly two-minute composition by Curran, “The Lost Trombone.” It’s described, succinctly, as follows:

A composition built on a single B flat note played on the recovered trombone by the author, electronically processed and produced with Angelo-Maria Farro.

For unclear reasons the essay itself makes no direct connection to the piece, and in no way gets into its existence, let alone its composition and recording process. It’s a riveting miniature of repetition, the threadbare note echoed and layered, its held tone circling round and round, building if not to an orchestral impact, then at least that of a sizable chamber ensemble. You enter into the weathered tone, much as Curran himself was taken by its accrued meaning and experience:

For me, it was the essence of unabashed musical Americana, its mouthpiece an amalgam of chopped liver, Mom’s tuna salad, kosher hot dogs, kasha and planetary garlic breath fused with silver and steel and a century of house mold.

The audio isn’t embeddable, so you’ll need to click through to the nytimes.com site to listen in full. More from Curran at alvincurran.com.

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Feedback Loops from a Cork, Ireland, Print Shop

Performance documentation from Claire Guerin

Claire Guerin of Cork, Ireland, participated in an eight-hour sound performance called Feedback Loops last month. She’s posted a short (five-minute) snapshot of the proceedings. It’s a brooding, percussion-and-drone segment that is, toward the close, intruded upon by dastardly vocalizing, the dark foreboding utterances of a demonic presence. The event took place on April 17 at the Cork Community Print Shop. There’s additional video and documentation at the event’s Facebook page.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/claire-guerin. More from Guerin at claireguerin.wordpress.com. More on the Guesthouse (“a visual artist-led initiative whose objective is to create a place for production, meeting and cross-practice peer exchange that includes various forms of public discourse and encounter” that she helped found) at theguesthouse.ie. Guerin is part of Queef with Laney Mannion.

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Ambient Forged on Hip-hop Pads

A performance video by Sander van Dijck

The MPC series, from the electronics manufacturer Akai, is best known for its employment in hip-hop, but tools have purposes beyond their initial intention, even beyond their general use. In the hands of Sander van Dijck, of the Netherlands, the beat machine becomes a trigger system for percolating ambient music. This is a performance video not a tutorial, so it doesn’t begin to document the preparation that went into the sounds we hear. The guitar and keyboard in the background hint at some of the origin points, and in addition there are snatches of spoken information that balance the music’s dreaminess with a certain amount of portent. The beauty of a performance video like this is correlating the movement with the sound. So much is happening in the service of such a placid affect, the individual cues eventually lost in the full mix of activity. The track is credited to van Dijck’s Casilofi moniker, and is titled “SNDSKP” (that is, “soundscape”).

It’s the latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.” Entries in the Disquiet Downstream post series are usually of recent vintage but as I’ve been fleshing out the Ambient Performances material I’ve let the time restriction relax; this video is dated almost four years ago, to July 14, 2016, though the image filter suggests it’s from the 1970s.

Video originally posted on youtube.com. More from Sander van Dijck at soundcloud.com/casilofi and casilofi.bandcamp.com.

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The Politics of Doorbells

Privacy, technology, politeness, and caution in the age of Instagram

A friend asked: Has anybody caught you taking pics of their door buzzer? And if you do get caught, how would you explain yourself?

I answered: One person has. I was taking the photo one morning of the buzzer at a generic, undistinguished apartment building. Someone was backing their car out of the multi-tenant garage. The person for some reason got out of their car before it was fully backed out, I think maybe to see if anyone was walking on the sidewalk, and then saw me. Instantly I was asked, quite anxiously, “What do you think you’re doing?” The person was upset. I looked back and said, “I’m taking a picture of the doorbell.” The person instantly calmed and said, “Oh, OK. Thanks. Have a good day.” I have some rules about the doorbells I photograph, and among them are anonymity — not only do I never post photos that show clearly evident names, I don’t even take photos of doorbells that have identifiable names clearly on them. The second rule is addresses. If the full address is on it, I don’t take the picture. Those two rules alone keep at bay a lot of the interpersonal weirdness (the perceived invasion of privacy in taking a picture of something that by definition is fully public). I’m also pretty careful that no one is watching when I do it. That morning when the driver got upset with me was a bad call on my part. The garage door was already open. I should have seen that coming.

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