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Monthly Archives: September 2016

Introducing Tinycastles

Featuring Lyndsie Alguire and Thomas Boucher of Montreal

This 10-minute piece, “Vines,” which grows from a simple mix of field recordings and a madrigal-like electric guitar line to a majestic, orchestral drone, is a first taste of Tinycastles. Tinycastles, based in Montreal, is the duo of Lyndsie Alguire and Thomas Boucher. The track is an expansive sprawl. That early electric guitar has a classical flavor to it, and it is soon joined by ethereal vocals and sparkling synthesizer. It builds and builds, but only in spaciousness, never in momentum, and never in heft. The more complex it gets, the larger it gets — almost as if the duo had challenged themselves to keep its density a near constant.

For a sense of what Alguire is like solo, here’s her lovely and brief ambient piece “When the Roads Meet,” which has the heavenly feel of “Vines,” but filtered to a raspy, lo-fi effect.

Tracks originally posted on SoundCloud (“Vines,” “When the Roads Meet”). (The SoundCloud page for Tinycastles lists Thomas as Thomas Boucher, but Facebook discussions about the group list him as Thomas Swyer.)

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What Sound Looks Like

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


The city’s doorways are littered with antiquated doorbells, with replacement devices glued next to faulty equipment, with buttons rubbed hollow and faceplates cracked from years of abuse, stained by the elements. What you don’t see very often is a button, like this one, busted to its core, splayed like a fetal pig in a science lab, split like a child’s toy after an especially hyperactive birthday party. In a city with more than its share of lackluster doorbells, this one is still an outlier, the button itself missing entirely, the spring-like ribbon of metal twisted beyond use, the inner casing rusted. This device is devoid of any evidence of social interaction, all the more so when taken in the broader context of the entry: the flaked paint, the cracked seams, the rusting gate. And yet there is, still, something admirable about those twin screws, with their broad, flat faces and sizable gaps. They look tight, sturdy, stalwart. The doorbell may be beyond repair, and the doorway may suggest that no one cares enough to even try, but the screws are formidable: What’s left of this doorbell will be hanging around for some time to come.

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

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This Week in Sound: Chernobyl Bird Detection +

Data loss + sports foul + Marvel temp tracks + academic formats + the sound of Tinder

A lightly annotated clipping service:

Windup Bird: Why not participate in the Bird Audio Detection challenge, currently underway thanks to the Machine Listening Lab of Queen Mary University of London in collaboration with the IEEE Signal Processing Society. “Detecting bird sounds in audio is an important task for automatic wildlife monitoring,” states the announcement post, which among other things introduces the concept of “automatic wildlife monitoring.” The deadline for participation is December, and there are two datasets — one of them from Chernobyl.

Kept Soundly: During a test run of a “fire suppression system” intended to keep safe the data systems of a Romanian bank, the extremely loud sound of gas canisters letting loose caused enough vibration to reportedly damage the bank’s hard drives, writes Andrada Fiscutean at Vice’s Motherboard.
(via Braulio Agnese)

No Love: A follow-up to last week’s piece about the tennis stadium where a newly installed roof kept out the rain but pumped up the volume: this time around it’s a tennis match during which, per the Associated Press, “a loud noise from a malfunctioning sound system interrupted a key point, resulting in a do-over.”
(via @BellyFullOfStar)

Excelsior, or Not: As Alexander Lu writes at comicsbeat.com, the current Marvel cinematic universe is peculiarly void of memorable scores. He looks into why, emphasizing the role of temp tracks. This isn’t the case with the Netflix TV series; the upcoming Luke Cage looks like it’s going to use hip-hop to maximum effect, thanks no doubt to Cheo Hodari Coker, a former music critic who also worked on the show Southland. Southland, famously, didn’t have a score at all, but it used the appearance of everyday music, like from passing cars and block parties, quite well. Perhaps things will improve when there’s a Dazzler movie. Or a Banshee one. Natalie Zutter weighed in the next day on the subject at tor.com.
(via Eric Searleman of the great superheronovels.com)

Paper Formats: Kristine Samson and Sanne Krogh Grogh have proposed a new academic format, the Audio Paper, “as appropriate for academic presentations.”

The Sound of Swiping: Tinder, the dating app, got a makeover in July. Mark Wilson at Fast Company Design reports on how the audio branding agency Listen gave it its own sounds, the app having previously relied on “stock sounds in the iOS library.”

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the September 16, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound”email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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The Sonic Signatures of the Modular Synthesizer

Weighing in for Hannes Pasqualini's investigation

I first came into contact with Hannes Pasqualini, the Italy-based artist and designer, back in 2010. He contributed a small illustration for a Disquiet series about sonic visualization called Sketches of Sound. He drew a beautiful, detailed, psychedelic rendering of a tree sprouting musical parts. These days Hannes develops designs for actual musical instruments (see his papernoise.net portfolio) and writes about modular synthesizers (at horizontalpitch.com). He’s a very sensible, curious person, and he was intrigued recently by an offhand comment about a new instrument sounding “very modular” — that is, as in “reminiscent of a modular synthesizer.” Hannes dove into the question about whether modular synths have a sonic signature, asking folks like Enrico Cosimi, Joseph Fraioli (aka Datach’i), Olivier Gillet, Tim Prebble, Robin Rimbaud, Ben “DivKid”Wilson, and the guy who made the “very modular” comment in the first place, Richard Devine. I was pleased to be asked by Hannes to weigh in, which I did as follows:

Big picture I’d say my hope is you can’t always recognize a modular synthesizer when listening, because it is so varied in what it can accomplish. Modular synths are so rich with potential, it feels weird to use a word like “it”to encapsulate them. Especially when you get all those digital modules going — not just digital oscillators, but more complicated units like sequencers and so forth — it might arguably be indistinguishable from music you’d make on an iPad or a laptop. In addition, some of the most interesting work done with modulars sees them as part of a larger whole, combining them with software CV and with virtual modules, with Monomes, and serving as processing units for guitar, voice, and other external sources. Anyhow, to get back around to your question — and putting aside obvious things like specific modules with recognizable sonic signatures — I’d say that modular synths lend themselves particularly to a kind of exploratory, less-controlled experimental approach. This sort of approach reveals itself while the performance is going on: you start off in one place and end up in another. When I hear a hint of the weird that develops within the flow of a piece, it pricks up my ear and makes me wonder: modular?

His full piece, with everyone else’s far more informed comments, is at horizontalpitch.com.

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the September 16, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound”email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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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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  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

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