New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • Disquiet.com F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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Monthly Archives: January 2018

Snakes & Oscillators

A glimpse at a video-game music interface by Jon Davies

A post shared by Jon Davies (@jonpauldavies) on

Just to follow up yesterday’s post of an Instagram video depicting a tiny robot band playing artfully arranged instrumental music, here’s another solid example of the miniature musical-technological (a slightly more humane appellation than “music-technology”) wonders found on the social network.

As you listen to the clip, a brief synthesized melody is being modulated in real time, the sound warping at the whim of a controller. The familiar shape of the x/y control pad is viewable in the lower right hand corner of the illuminated grid device. What it controls is this snake, familiar from video games like Centipede, the early-1980s classic. The snake can be aimed at a little stationary reward, whose consumption by the snake ushers in a new phase of the melody, which appears to move up the register a step at a time, or something along those lines.

The rules of this game-composition aren’t entirely clear, but it does appear that while you can aim the snake to hit that reward light right on the schedule that the rhythm suggests, you can also delay doing so, letting the standing melody extend for awhile. It’s nice to imagine how an audience in a live setting would get engaged in such a performance, becoming aware of the process and enjoying the occasions of delayed gratification as the snake takes its time to consume its prey. It’s also interesting to think how the scenario can train a player to keep time, or adeptly veer from it, along the lines of Guitar Hero and other so-called rhythm games.

Video found via a post by Scanner Darkly on the llllllll.co boards. Software by Jon Davies, on whose Instagram account the clip was published. The device is the open-source Monome Grid controller (more at monome.org). Davies says the code will soon be shared publicly, for those who want to play along at home.

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Let’s Get Physical

A new device, a new human-machine connection, new music from Marcus Fischer

A post shared by marcus fischer (@marcusfischer) on

The notions of YouTube celebrities and Instagram influencers are indisputably up for debate. What isn’t is that both sites, along with other social media platforms, are rich with bits of sound and music, art and culture, design ingenuity and technological innovation, that exist primarily on those platforms and that are, for all intents and purposes, in existence because of those platforms. It’s an article for another time that YouTube and SoundCloud and Instagram, among other spots, are where I get the sense that I once upon a time got from crate digging — that’s before I even knew it was called crate digging and I was just a kid in a record store buying specific records because I recognized one name in the liner notes from another record I liked — and then listened to that new (to me) record, listening through it for some element I might find tantalizing, and then following that element to other recorded destinations on my next trip to the record store. That act of tracking took days or weeks to complete a cycle in the pre-internet era, and has long since come to happen so often — so fluidly, so subconsciously — within a few minutes that we don’t even remember what we clicked on that got us eventually to the bit of sound/music/art that has now enraptured us.

Now, that’s all back story, because I know what got me to Marcus Fischer’s test video of a new music-making device. I’ve followed his work for a long time, and gotten to know him, and even worked with him a bit, and I marvel at the subtlety and emotion of his music, and at the visual acuity he brings to how it is presented. This Instagram video is a short segment in which he employs a new device called the Automat, from the company Dadamachines, that allows someone to impact physical objects with the same sort of MIDI data that was designed to sort of go in the opposite direction — MIDI was what let keyboards and other gadgets communicate their instructions (which note, what velocity, how hard, what sequence) to a digital device, as well as for those digital devices to communicate with each other. Here, information on a computer uses MIDI to send instructions via Automat to bang on a drum, or shake a rattle, or wallop a xylophone.

In Fischer’s hands, this isn’t merely a proof of concept. It’s an lovely micro-composition that explores how different devices will respond to the mechanical instructions, and that pushes at the intention of the tools, seeing how rapid-fire triggers will cause elegant chaos. There’s a balance in the finished work that is best exemplified by the way that final bell tone is let to ring out and decay, how this is physical music being played out in human time in the physical world. I’m avoiding the word “real” throughout that previous sentence so as not to get sidetracked by ponderings about hierarchies of experience or expression. What I want to do is draw attention to, and express admiration for, the way this little video presents an artistic pursuit in such an enjoyable, memorable, and artfully encapsulated manner.

Video originally posted at instagram.com More from Marcus Fischer at mapmap.ch. His latest solo album is Loss, which came out on the 12k label last year. He also contributed, in his words, “granular processing + modular synth drones” to a song, “Dream on Mount Tam,” on the deluxe edition of Calexico’s most recent album, The Thread That Keeps Us. More on the Dadamachines Automat at dadamachines.com and at the kickstarter.com page where it was funded.

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Lindsay Duncanson’s Looped Vocalese

Down by the river, iPad in hand

Much of Lindsay Duncanson’s work up on Soundcloud employs voice as its primary sound source. There are gurgles and drones, thick densities of tone and sudden, glottal explosions among the myriad examples Duncanson has posted. At one moment the voice is a calming presence, and at another it is a fierce, antagonist. In both such situations the lack of actual verbal language serves different purposes, either prelapsarian in its bliss, or suggesting a mental rupture that has short-circuited rational thought.

One standout track of Duncanson’s combines looped bits of mouth noise with that of a brook — accomplished, judging by the accompanying photo and tags, on the popular Loopy app. This is the rare track amid this SoundCloud collection that has no harshness to it, no veering from calm to tension or splutter. Titled “StreamSound,” it combines a sweet melody, the sort of thing one might find oneself having been humming unconsciously, with the delicate, percussive noise of the waterway. The vocal tones build slowly, a held note, like a warm sine wave, underneath childlike snippets. The closest it gets to the harshness of many of the other tracks is when brook’s burbles, toward the end, are emphasized for their thump-like qualities, and then when the voice impersonates a flying insect, darting this way and that.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/productofboy. More from Duncanson, who is based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom, at noizechoir.net (a partnership with Marek Gabrysch) and at productofboy.net.

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Adding Without Overwhelming

Modus Pony layers into Joseph Branciforte and my asynchronous duet.

One interesting side effect of the current Disquiet Junto project is an enjoyment of the extreme panning involved. The current project is the third in a sequence. In the majority of the pieces, the initial track was panned hard left, meaning you pretty much only hear it in the left speaker or headphone. The second track, which was added to the first to form a duet, was panned hard right, and then the track that completed the trio — in the third project in the sequence — was placed center.

While not every piece in the projects — there have been about 50 each of the first two weeks — has necessarily followed those precise instructions, the majority have, including this great track by Modus Pony, who has done me the great honor of adding to the piece that Joseph Branciforte did last week, a piece that was itself built upon a bit of slow-poke guitar glitch that I’d posted the first week of this project sequence.

To listen to Modus Pony’s entry is to not only hear a perfectly understated addition (he’s on bass, to my heavily processed electric guitar and Branciforte’s Fender Rhodes) that matches the tone of the first two pieces, both separately and in combination. He managed to add his own voice, and yet maintain what had preceded his arrival. As a result of the stereo separation, you really hear the parts as if the trio of players is right in front of you.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/moduspony. More from Modus Pony, aka Matt Ackerman, who is based in Los Angeles, California, at moduspony.bandcamp.com, twitter.com/moduS_ponY, and moduspony.com.

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A Little Imaginary Proto-Techno

Tribal music before and after technology, from Certain Creatures

The recent Certain Creatures album takes its title, as did its predecessor, from a mystical term with Sanskrit origins. Back in 2015, it was Vipassana (on the Styles Upon Styles label). This time around it’s Nasadiya Sukta (Mysteries of the Deep), or the Hymn of Creation. Like a lot of origin myths, the new album, released the first week of January 2018, is at its most mysterious, at its most amorphous, at its most singular, when it first begins — before reality emerges, before reality sets in.

The opening track on Nasadiya Sukta, “Cross Star Woman,” starts with thuddy gongs that usher in a dark, wet sonic space, deep with echoes that, as the track proceeds, push at distant, unseen contours. A chanting vocal, a muffled bit of finger percussion, and slow, syncopated beats slowly consume that gong. A door opens and closes and opens again. Perhaps it’s one door, perhaps several down a long corridor. Maybe it’s a trick of mirrors, and it’s the same door over and over. (There’s also a plinky IDM nod to Selected Ambient Works-era Aphex twin as the track comes to a close.)

Only in retrospect, over the course of the full album, does the techno-primitivism of that first track become evident. In subsequent pieces, the analog sounds of doors, percussion, and voice give way to more industrialized alternatives. “Nyau Dust” has a similar ghostly-noise backdrop to “Cross Star Woman,” but introduce far more synthesized effects, all throbby synths and digital snares. “Golden Circle” layers in a modulating keyboard part and the carefully plotted drama-via-layers of club music. All the subsequent tracks, from the thriller-cinema pacing of “We Live Inside a Dream” to the squelchy dub of “Tachyon,” trace a not dissimilar pattern to “Cross Star Woman” but do so with a more evidently synthesized vocabulary, often as much techno, at times with synth-pop flavoring. To go back and listen to “Cross Star Woman” after taking in the album in full is to hear that opening track as a kind of pre-historical techno, an imagined tribal ceremony before the fall.

Certain Creatures is Brooklyn-based musician Oliver Chapoy, formerly of Warm Ghost and Saxon Shore. He’s also played with the metal band Shai Hulud. Album available at certaincreatures.bandcamp.com. More at certaincreatures.com and mysteriesofthedeep.mx.

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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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