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

The Piano Among the Patch Cables

A formidable live ambient performance by Carl Mikael

This video from Carl Mikael’s Cabinet of Curiosities YouTube channel is an exemplary live ambient music performance. The 14-minute piece shows him at his piano, a modular synth to the side, and a laptop visible just beyond that. He begins at the piano, mic’d closely so the physicality of the instrument’s mechanism is almost as present as the intended notes themselves. Especially when listened to through headphones, the sound is very much caught within the piano, deep in its wooden cavern. Shortly thereafter, the external tools, that array of patched synthesizer modules and the software running on his laptop, is heard echoing, looping, and transforming the piano, gentle chords fading softly as they go. As the loops come to the fore, he then returns to the piano, adding notes, sometimes as accompaniment, sometimes as a source of subsequent looping. Rhythms, albeit gentle ones, are introduced. There’s a mechanized beat early on, and later, near the five-minute mark, he taps on the piano to get a wooden percussion sensation. Later still he knocks a glass bottle against the device. There’s an formidable mastery to Mikael’s performance, how he moves back and forth between the old and new music-making tools, as well as the makeshift ones.

It’s the latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.” It was originally posted at YouTube. When I started collecting this playlist, I was looking for videos that manage to display the act of making ambient music — something that is rightly associated, in general, with studio production, but that also has a wide range of live practitioners. I’ve collected many such videos so far, and Mikael’s may be the first to show (almost) all the equipment, and the musician’s face as he makes decisions, and the musician’s hands as he makes his way back and forth from one device to another. It’s a great piece.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • 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

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