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

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.

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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