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Sounding out technology.
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Monthly Archives: November 2018

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s Music for Yoga

And meditation. Check out two tracks in advance of the album's January 2019 release.

The rising synthesizer figure Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith has announced a forthcoming album of purpose-composed recordings, Tides: Music for Meditation and Yoga. The album is due out on January 11, 2019, and is currently available for pre-order on Smith’s Bandcamp page, where two of its nine tracks are already streaming, a total of nearly 10 minutes of music.

Though the album is new, the music is more than half a decade old, recorded back in 2013 at the request of one of Smith’s parents: “it was commissioned by Smith’s mother to accompany her yoga practice,” says the accompanying liner note. The two tracks, “Tides III” and “Tides IV,” both employ, as does the rest of the album, the Buchla Music Easel instrument, the original of which dates back to 1973, almost a decade and a half before Smith was born.

“Tides III” is a gentle, see-sawing piece, with layers of lulling melodic material. “Tides IV” emerges from a whorl of white noise, and cuts the pace of “Tides III” almost in half. Stepwise melodies trace figures up and down, back and forth, while a looming undercurrent comes in and out of focus. While Smith describes the album as ambient, the music is also often delectably dense and always quite present.

Preorder the album at kaitlynaureliasmith.bandcamp.com. More from Smith, who lives in Los Angeles, at kaitlynaureliasmith.com. Found via synthtopia.com.

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Red Noise

Tuning the domestic environment in light of the environment environment

There is an industrial-strength air purifier running in the back of the house. The machine fills the room and the adjacent spaces with a ceaseless stage whisper. This is not the harsh, bristling whir of white noise, but the more rooted whoosh of its feminized alternate, pink noise. It is noise, nonetheless.

This purifier has sat there for years, retained for the occasional days or even weeks when the neighborhood’s plant allergens are particularly heavy in the air. These days, the air itself is heavy and the purifier is running far more often than usual — once all night by mistake, an industrial-music lullaby on repeat. The air is heavy with particulate fallout from the fires that raged some 175 miles to the northeast of where I live.

Today the particulate level — the environmental DEFCON — is registering as red, having nudged up from orange. The color red signifies merely “unhealthy.” Across the bay it has been “very unhealthy,” signified on maps and in advisory alerts by a deep purple. (Cue “Smoke on the Water.”) One level higher is some sort of maroon, meaning “hazardous.” It was deep purple here a few days ago, causing the schools to close, public transportation to be free, and museums to forgo admission fees. If TV is the opiate of the masses, apparently fine art is its vaccine.

Home for me is in San Francisco, not far from the ocean and quite close to the park. The fires were in the town of Paradise, California — the sort of geographic marker that would induce groans in a fictional film of our current narrative, and yet one that triggers as surreal in, well, what appears, through the smog, to be real life.

. . .

There is a second air purifier, borrowed, at the front of the house in the living room, where the windows are of a more recent vintage, but the smell and taste of smoke lingers still. Those pathogens are of external origin. The low-level noise pollution, by contrast, is self-induced.

The house is empty at the moment except for me — me and the twin air purifiers. An album of ambient music, recently released, is playing in the kitchen on a small counter-top speaker. It is a newly purchased “dumb” speaker, which is to say it lacks any AI functionality. This speaker connects in the simplest ways to the internet, and it is not part of the so-called internet of things. It does not reply when I speak. It does not ask questions. It merely channels audio from various devices.

This is today: We process our air, and we seek out products that lack intelligence, the way we want foods lacking in nitrates, un-tinged by antibiotic overflow, their genetic makeup non-modified — unprocessed, in other words.

. . .

I was in a bookstore across town, a rare venture out during the worst of our current health crisis, and having finished drinking a bottle of water, I crumpled up the bottle, folding it into itself like one would roll up a tube of toothpaste, and then capping it, so the re-sealed vacuum would keep it compacted. One of the store’s clerks rushed around the corner of shelves. She looked at me, and then at my hands, and then at me. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought I heard the crackling of fire.”

I was at the bookstore to attend a mid-day concert by a pair of local electronic musicians whose quiet, abstract work often hovered in the realm of white noise. I wondered later if their music had so settled our ears on a subtle palette, that we became, unintentionally, all the more sensitive to intruding noises.

. . .

The house is full of pink noise, byproduct of air purification. For a moment, I forget music is even playing. This is ambient music, music intended — in Brian Eno’s orienting definition — to be of use both in the background and as the subject of focused attention. The current background, however, is challenging the music’s subtleties — swamping them, frankly.

I turn up the volume on the kitchen speaker. I then move to another room. I go back to the kitchen, and turn the speaker up higher, and the music ceases to be the first category of ambient (i.e., background) and does its best to satisfy the demands of the second category (i.e., subject of attention).

The kitchen speaker at this volume reveals sharp pitches amid the album’s seemingly placid tones, or perhaps the music’s sharp pitches reveal the speaker’s shortcomings. The device is new, keeping opportunity for comparison is limited. This whole scenario is new, by which I mean the broader environmental issues.

Either way, an arms race is underway: the pink noise of domestic infrastructure against the sound design of contemporary popular music.

We’ll need new genres of music in our climate-punk future, genres that can conjoin or deflect the presence of the machines that we’ll employ to save us from what our machines have wrought.

The sad fact is that the pink noise seems like it should signify quiet on its own, and yet a pummeling inner momentum has risen to to the noise’s surface. There is an evident, anxious churn to the pink noise that is in contrast with the two devices’ purr-like quality. Perhaps the emotional tension is more contextually based: the presence of the noise having brought to mind the need for the device in the first place. The pink noise is a byproduct of a device to clean the air of the byproducts of fire. Distant fires are made more proximate by our need to adjust to their impact.

If there is a momentum to the purifiers’ noise, could something offset them? Pink noise, like white noise, serves as a mask for sound. The constant randomness of its myriad scatter-shot audible content — sonic particulate, a parallel to the atmospheric particulate the machines are to cancel out — can reduce the sensed presence of other noises. The churn inherent in the noise has no set tempo, but still implies one. Could something grasp that fungible tempo and render it slower? Could something cancel out further the higher register of the noise, much as pink noise reduces the harsh upper level of white noise? Could something carve music from the pink noise itself?

This cultural question is a tiny vestige of a larger discussion underway, a discussion addressing the caustic cycle: industrialization yields environmental consequences, and adjustments are made to counteract or sublimate those consequences, yielding further consequences. The question, of course, is how far one tunes one’s personal environment in light of the environment — the environment environment? — before one has, in effect, tuned out the environment.

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Truly Experimental Music

In a live performance video from Scanner

It’s called experimental music, so of course when the musician is truly just experimenting, some of their best sounds might come out — truly experimenting, in that they are fiddling about with newly acquired equipment: pairing devices, exploring signal flows, turning knobs and touching buttons to see what they might hear. That’s the case with Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, who today uploaded to his YouTube channel a case study of two gadgets employed in tandem. What those little things, each barely the size of a human hand, emit in concert with each other is dense clouds of atmospheric intensity.

The main device is a Tetrax from Ciat-Lonbarde, created by the ingenious instrument designer Peter Blasser. It’s being heard through an effects pedal called the Eventide H9. In the comments accompanying the video, Scanner engages with his listeners and talks about coming up to speed on the Tetrax, and mentions that he’s working on a soundtrack.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at YouTube.com. More from Scanner, who is based in London, at scannerdot.com.

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Stasis Report: August ✚ Fallout 76 ✚ Classic AFX

Five tracks added to the Spotify and Google Play Music ambient playlist as of November 18, 2018

The latest update to my Stasis Report ambient-music playlist on Spotify and Google Play Music. The following five tracks were added on Sunday, November 18.

✚ “Pursuance” by David August, based in Berlin, Germany, off DCXXXIX A.C., released in 2018 on the 99chants label: davidaugust.bandcamp.com.

✚ “Visitation” by Gossamer off Imperishable, a 2018 album (on the Innovative Leisure label) also available in what might be called the Buddha Machine format: a small, battery-operated player with a built-in speaker. Gossamer is Evan Reiner of Los Angeles, California: gossameril.bandcamp.com.

✚ “The Mole Miners” by Inon Zur off the soundtrack to the Fallout 76 video game, released this past week.

✚ “In Absentia” is by Paula Matthusen off the album Matthusen: Pieces for People, released in 2015: innova.mu. A new Matthusen album, Between Systems and Grounds, a collaboration with Olivia Valentine, is due out on November 30 on the Carrier Records label: betweensystemsandgrounds.com.

✚ “Nanou 2” by Aphex Twin off his 2001 album, Drukqs on the Warp label. The song appears on the soundtrack to the new film Beautiful Boy, directed by Felix Van Groeningen.

Some previous Stasis Report tracks were removed to make room for these, keeping the playlist length to roughly two hours. Those retired tracks — from Laraaji, r beny, and the duo of William Basinski and Lawrence English — are now in the Stasis Archives playlist (currently only on Spotify).

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444 (Yes, 444) New Autechre Videos (Updated)

The British electronic duo caps a busy year with a synesthesia-inducing, 13-hour haul on YouTube

The British electronic duo Autechre appears to have uploaded some 444 videos to YouTube over the course of 2018, beginning in January. As such a sentence is often followed up: evidence surfaced to this effect on the Autechre board at Reddit in the past day. The full playing time is in excess of 13 hours. There are also discussions going on at watmm.com, a forum focusing in large part on artists from the Warp record label, home to both Autechre and Aphex Twin, among others.

The Autechre videos are linked to from the period at the end of the sentence “THIS STORE IS OPERATED BY BLEEP STORES ON BEHALF OF AUTECHRE.” on the About page at autechre.bleepstores.com. While the earliest of the videos date back to the start of the year, it is not clear when the link embedded in that period went live. (And, yes, there is a unique pleasure to typing the sentence “it is not clear when the link embedded in that period went live.”)

Each video displays an array of colors going through some sort of transformation, accompanied by a rush of fomenting drones. There appears to be a strong correlation between sound and image, suggesting there is a direct connection, perhaps the images and sounds sharing a single source, or one being the impetus for the other.

All the images seem to be reflectively bisected at the horizontal midpoint. The result brings to mind a neural network’s combination of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s horizon-view ocean photography and Brian Eno’s colorful light installations. As is the case with many an internet Easter Egg hunt, the communal scrambling to make sense of the ambiguous material is reminiscent of the mysterious Russian video footage at the heart of William Gibson’s 2003 novel, Pattern Recognition.

A substantial number of the 444 Autechre videos are brief, under a minute, though some are quite longer. Of the first ten, all but two are under a minute. However, continue deeper into the playlist mix and number 24, the longest in the set, is 7:10. One of the Reddit members posted a “Handy Dandy Sortable” Google spreadsheet, which among other things helps identify that of the 444 videos, 278 have a running time of a minute or longer.

The expansive playlist caps a busy year for Autechre, which consists of Rob Brown and Sean Booth. They released a massive box set, NTS Sessions 1-4, collecting an online residency they produced in April, and earlier this week shared production files of their own making for various pieces of widely used musical technology from the companies Elektron, Nord, and Akai (see: factmag.com).

Major thanks to Matt Nish-Lapidus for having drawn my attention to it. View the playlist at the hidden YouTube channel. Interestingly, if you back up from the playlist to the account, attributed not to Autechre but to XH HX, none of the material, neither the videos nor the playlist, are viewable.

Updates: (1) Additional thread at watmm.com, focusing on the visuals in the context of other “ae_store eastre egg” (ae being a common shorthand for Autechre). (2) A website, 444.frm.space/scans, of scans from the 444 videos.

Updates: (3) I am reminded that “444” was the title of the final track off Incunabula, the Autechre album released in November 1993, or 25 years ago this month.

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