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

Anna Höstman Goes Dark

Exploring the aphotic zone with the Red Shift Ensemble

Don’t judge a track by its waveform.

Certainly, if there are hard edges evenly spaced, then expect something with a beat. To sort out the pace, your imagination must factor the number of perceived units to the track’s length. And still you might be wildly off.

And if the waveform varies widely, ranging from short snatches of excited activity to long swaths of even keel, the best you can do is to expect the unexpected.

The waveform for “Blind” by Anna Höstman, a composer based in Victoria, British Columbia, suggests itself as a series of swells, vertiginous ones by the looks of it. To a degree that turns out to be, upon listening, the case, but just barely. While “Blind” does move from slow pulse to slow pulse, the heights are quite subdued, the string-instrument equivalent of someone humming inwardly to themselves, lost in their own thoughts. The result is serene tinged by tension, as played here by Red Shift Ensemble, a string quartet consisting of cello, violin, viola, and double bass. The combination of cello and double bass lends the music its depth, its rich lower end (contrast Red Shift with a traditional string quartet, which would have no bass, and a pair of violinists). Listening to the variation in “Blind,” to the subtle steps of tonal development, is quite rewarding.

In a brief liner note, the composer explains that the track is inspired by the aphotic zone, or the darkest depths of bodies of water, where light doesn’t penetrate. The performance was the piece’s debut, December 16, 2019, at the Pyatt in Vancouver. The musicians are Laine Longton (cello), Sarah Kwok (violin), Parmela Attariwala (viola), and Mark Haney (double bass). Also per the liner note, the piece was performed by Red Shift in “complete darkness.” Listen to the recording as the audience did: lights out.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/annacomposer. More from Anna Höstman at annahostman.net.

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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