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

When a Beat Is Temporary

A track from Cologne-based Sonae

Steady rhythm comes easily in our time of widely available digital music technology. As a result of that ready availability, rhythm’s purpose — its origin, its impetus — is something whose exploration can distinguish a recording. A steady beat can be as comfortable for a musician as for an audience. Pushing at that sense of comfort — questioning it, pondering its power — can lend a sense of intentionality to recordings that they might lack otherwise. For example, while a lot of music takes a 4/4 beat for granted, other music tests its familiar metrics, toying with the ear’s expectations.

In “I Started Wearing Black” by the Cologne-based musician Sonae, three full minutes, nearly half the track, proceed through rumbly white noise scritchy scratch before a proper beat appears. Her track begins, that is, where many close: with the looped-groove crackle at the end of a vinyl record, albeit here expanded into a kind of sonic installation. And then, fairly suddenly, the track pounds its way quickly into the foreground at 120 bpm, and continues for two minutes. Yet even throughout its extended moment, the beat feels formed from the muted noises that preceded it. For all its mathematical certainty, it is still remote, muffled, cautious. And then, just as suddenly, it gives way to a mix of ringing tone and vinyl crackle. The beat, usually the undergirding of a recording, is here merely a memory.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/monikaenterprise, the account of Berlin-based Monika Enterprise record label. More from Sonae at sonaemusic.net.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • 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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