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

Yo La Tengo Summon the Now

On a new single

The Terry Riley force is strong with this new Yo La Tengo single. Bearing the title “James and Ira demonstrate mysticism and some confusion holds (Monday),” it’s the famed indie-rock band in full meditative mode. It’s a flowing drone that has the raga quality of early Riley. If you’d said this is something off the new Laraaji album, it’d make sense, what with the echoey, zithery goings-on — except of course, the new Laraaji record is solo piano. So while that early ambient musician is revisiting the purpose of songs, this song-making band is exploring spaciousness, formlessness, song-less-ness.

Well, not song-less, so much as pre-song, proto-song, nascent song. As member Ira Kaplan explains in an accompanying note on the track’s Bandcamp release page: “If you’ve spent any time hanging out with us at our rehearsal space in Hoboken — that pretty much covers none of you — you’ve heard us playing formlessly (he said, trying to sidestep the word ‘improvising’). Most of the songs we’ve written in the last 25 years have begun that way, but often we do it for no other reason than to push away the outside world.” So, what this is is the space in which a song might occur, the raw stuff from which a song might arise. Sidestepping the word “improvising” feels like a solid step. This doesn’t sound like improvising so much as it does like three people finding common tonal ground, and upon finding it, holding onto it for as long as feels right, and not a moment longer.

“James set up one microphone in the middle of the room in case we stumbled on something useful for the future,” writes Ira (the James is fellow member James McNew). “Instead we decided to release something we did right now.” This is the sound of right now. Or it was yesterday, when it came out. We’re not currently inhabiting a now worth celebrating, and yet yesterday’s now was splendid — is splendid. Here’s to more of such a now, while the broader, untenable now persists.

The song’s release coincided with the launch of Yo La Tengo’s Bandcamp page. Track originally posted at More from Yo La Tengo at

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • […] ▰ The Sounds of the Sounds of Science is a full album of instrumentals from the acclaimed indie rock band Yo La Tengo. The pieces were composed to accompany aquatic documentary shorts by the filmmaker Jean Painlevé (1902-1989). The music is more rock-like but no less atmospheric than the experimental tracks the band released earlier this year. […]

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website 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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