The picture might seem to be a still image, but if you look to the center right you’ll see the ever so slow comings and goings of soft little red lights — proof of life, as it were — on the module marked A-143-1 Complex Envelope Generator. This stylishly framed video of a modular synth in action first appeared as part of Weekly Beats (weeklybeats.com), a biannual — that is, every other year — series of community challenges to music-makers. The Weekly Beats of 2018 is now in its second week, and this track appeared during the first week, one of a handful of modular outings (I was also among the participants, and hope to keep at it). The piece is by littlescale, who is based in Australia. It’s a remarkable achievement, a slow-paced sequence of drones that warp and throb, shift and develop, as they proceed, all without a single instance of human intervention for the full length of its nearly three-minute duration. Not once does a littlescale hand come into view to coax a knob or switch a setting.
This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. The point of the playlist is to collect documents of people playing very quiet music in real time, in particular ambient music. The playlist serves several purposes, among them to make note of techniques and draw attention to what amounts to a particularly tiny niche in the vast database of online music videos. Another purpose is to explore the tension between ambient music, which generally aspires to a state of stillness or at least an affect of stillness, and performance, which by definition requires some sort of action. In this case the action is all internal, all within the mass of cables and modules. The little red lights are the only evidence of activity, and among the only hints at a correlation between system and sound.