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Tennis for the Blind

Thanks to the imagination of Håkan Lidbo

The always inventive Håkan Lidbo has conjured up a proposed tennis “game concept” for the blind and vision-impaired. The game, called Invisiball (note the double l), is played in a highly prepared physical space, one in which sounds simulate the presence of a physical ball. That is, the sounds don’t help locate a ball in physical space. The sounds are the ball, simulating travel within three-dimensional space.

Lidbo explains in detail:

InvisiBall is a game concept for two persons. It’s a game played in a dark room, on a court with loudspeakers in the 4 corners, blindfolded or by blind people. The ball is represented by a tone, mimicking earthly gravity. If the racket, that plays a tone depending on it’s position in height, hit the ball at the right pitch, depth and left/right-orientation, it will fly back to the other player. The referee is a musical robot voice that also keep track of the score – and the whole game is built around music that change with the score between the players. With some training the players can serve, return, smash or lob the “ball” – and even bounce it on the ground. As the ball is invisible the game has a 3d visual interface for the audience. The game serves a training tool for those who have to adapt to a life without eye sight, due to illness or accident – and for us who can see, better understanding the challenges and possibilities of training our hearing sense.

Sound and sports are on people’s minds right now due to the attempts by various professional leagues, including Major League Baseball, to provide some verisimilutude of live, in-person events when the pandemic has required severe restrictions. Baseball is going cross-platform by employing sounds from an official, long-running video game series, MLB The Show. (The game’s title is interesting in this context, suggesting an awareness that baseball is, in fact, a show, long before it was, aside from some cardboard cut-out audience members, only a show.) A player on the Milwaukee Brewers has commented that “pure silence was tough for some guys” before sounds were added.

In Lidbo’s Invisiball, however, sound isn’t merely a backdrop that serves a utility purpose. Sound is the game, the framing conceit, the underlying structure, and the focus of the players’ attention. Lidbo collaborated with Magnus Frenning and Jonatan Liljedahl, who developed and programmed Invisiball, and by “young blind swedes.” It was supported by the PTS Innovation Prize (which aims “to promote digital inclusion”).

Video published to Lidbo’s YouTube channel. More from him and about Invisiball at hakanlidbo.com. Last month I wrote about his “hat for social distancing.”

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A Hat for Social Distancing

The Corona Hat from the thrifty and ingenius Håkan Lidbo

The sounds of footsteps, birdsong, and occasional beeps accompany Håkan Lidbo as he walks around Stockholm, Sweden, in this video he posted on May 31. The beeps aren’t a soundtrack, any more than are the other heard elements. The beeps are the result of proximity alerts courtesy of the Corona Hat he’s seen wearing. The hat, Lidbo’s own invention, looks like what might have happened had Devo been given control of the CDC back in January. Costing less than 20 euros, it’s constructed from a parking sensors and a globe. Lidbo has a very specific recommendation for powering it: “rechargeable robot vacuum cleaner batteries.” He notes in the accompanying explanatory text that Sweden has not been enforcing lockdown. The hat appears to be his informed precaution.

Major thanks to Michael Calore of Wired for drawing my attention to the video. I’m sad to say I lost track of Lidbo for more than a decade. According to the disquiet.com archive search, I first wrote about his music back in early 2004, but haven’t since mid-2009. According to the massive navigation at his own website, he’s been up to an enormous amount in the intervening years. Plenty to dig into.

More on the Corona Hat at hakanlidbo.com/coronahat. Video originally posted at youtube.com. Moe from Lidbo at hakanlidbo.com.

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RichVomDorf Beat & Remixes (MP3s)

Perhaps it’s the simplest tracks that lend themselves best to remixing. Take “Momento A” by RichVomDorf. It’s a single song that serves as the cornerstone of a six-track release on the broque.de netlabel. It’s pretty much just horns and percussion — and, at first, just percussion: a subtle, minimal-techno beat played out on what at each stage reveals itself more and more to have been acoustic instruments (MP3). (It also, toward the end, veers gently toward chaos.) The horns, layered on top like icing, are an electronically addled bunch, soft, wispy, slightly slurred. Once upon a time, this might have been called acid jazz.

Then come the remixes. George Neufeld literalizes the beat (MP3), turning it into a more standardized 4/4, and seemingly running the whole thing through a flanging effect that softens it into a lounge-ready track. Versions by Håkan Lidbo (MP3) and Pseudónimo (MP3) — as well as what appears to be a group effort, credited to Tampopo Noodleking, Granlab & Tend (MP3) — likewise emphasize the downbeat, though the Tampopo edit approaches some of the light chaos of the original.

The EP closes with a sort of sequel, “Momento B,” also by RichVomDorf, which follows the more standard techno sounds of the remix, but comes close to returning to the sparseness that got the whole thing started, especially with a horn line that could have been ripped from a second-line parade for a beloved robot (MP3).

[audio:http://web0.pv220.ncsrv.de/music/brq54_richvomdorf_-_momento_ep/brq54_richvomdorf_-_momento_ep_-_01_momento_a.mp3|titles=”Momento A”|artists=RichVomDorf] [audio:http://web0.pv220.ncsrv.de/music/brq54_richvomdorf_-_momento_ep/brq54_richvomdorf_-_momento_ep_-_05_momento_pseudonimo_rebuild.mp3|titles=”Momento – Pseudónimo Rebuild”|artists=RichVomDorf (Pseudónimo Mix)]

The originating track and, for contrast, the Pseudónimo mix are streaming above. Visit broque.de to check out the full set.

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Bip Player

The Marseille, France-based Bip-Hop label may have lent a name to a generation of computer-enthusiast musicians (bip) with a taste for the rhythms of post-rap pop music (hop). Or it may have borrowed a bit of vogue wordplay already in common use. In either case, the company’s extensive various-artists Bip-Hop Generation compilation series has done much to catalog and evangelize the movement, and its individual full-length releases have been consistently cogent and thoughtfully presented, thanks to the oversight of Philippe Petit, the label’s founder, and a musician in his own right. The label has provided a home to Wang Inc., Andrew Duke, Angel, Twine, Scanner and others.

Bip-Hop Generation: Volume 6, released in late 2002, collects tracks by a global assortment of musicians, not one of whom had ever recorded a full-length album for the label. So this is anything but a Bip-Hop sampler. What it is is a bip-hop sampler, from the attenuated fractures of Alejandra & Aeron (U.S. and Spain, respectively), to the mix of cut-up vocals and stately soundtracks of Scanner (England), to the cavernous dub of Bittonic (Germany), to the evocative rhythmic variations of Ilso Väisänen (Finland), to the chaotic mélanges of the trio Battery Operated (Canada), to the only slightly adulterated industrial noise of Angel (a Finish/German duo, one half of which is Väisänen).

Where the Bip-Hop label’s Generation series aims to “document” the scene, its more recent Reciprocess + / vs series lends some participatory analysis. The series’ first edition pairs Komet (aka Frank Bretschneider) and Bovine Life (aka Chris Dooks) on a 17-track set that presents music by each of the musicians, plus collaborations and tag-team remixes. The CD booklet includes essays by and about the participants, although its topsy-turvy design may require a dose of Dramamine (if the text aims to illuminate, the text treatment unproductively obfuscates). Bretschneider is heard in a series of three exemplary bits of trebly percussive whimsy and one deeper, darker track whose beat keeps getting upset. Dooks’ work is less rhythmically succinct, more wide-ranging, as heard on his seven tracks here, from the droning “Platuex” to the backward-masked “Behind.” On the basis of the six remaining remixes and collaborative tracks, the listener will be amazed that Bretschneider and Dooks never met; they traded MP3 files long-distance. (Reciprocess doesn’t just examine collaboration; it is a collaboration, between Bip-Hop and the Fällt labels, which co-released the set. The second album in the series teamed Stephan Matthieu with Douglas Benford.)

Angel’s nr.1 – nr. 10 is the work of a formal duo — not two musicians (a la the Reciprocess collection) experimenting with parallel processes, but two musicians dedicated to making their partnership go the distance. The two are Ilso Väisänen (half of a familiar duo, Pan Sonic) and Dirk Dresselhaus (who records solo as Schneiderâ„¢). If their record, which ranges from the near-silent ambience of its opening track to the full-on full-body noise of its sixth, has a single hallmark, it is a rich acoustic-ness — for example, how that sixth track, and the voluble eighth as well, feel very much of the physical world, not a genie summoned in Intel boxes. That physicality is also evident on the album’s closing track, where sounds fluctuate like loose electricity and plucked strings.

Andrew Duke is a DJ in both the contemporary and traditional meanings of the word. He makes music and spins for live audiences, but he also hosts an electronica radio show from Halifax, Canada. Sprung is his first non-self-released album, and it has the signal broadmindedness of someone who listens widely. Few would immediately associate the record’s dank, clubby opening track (“Hell Yeah”), which echoes both late new-wave goth and early hip-hop’s rudimentary syncopations, with the song that follows, an exercise in minimalist counterpoint titled “Phamakoi,” or either of those with the terror-laden dub that, with the occasional touch of glitch, commands most of the remainder of the collection.

Has any genre shown less reticence than electronica to embrace its adolescent past? Hip-hop records are more likely to praise the “old school” than to sample it, and the good cheer and fledgling awkwardness of early rock’n’roll has only recently become fashionable among guitar bands. But for many electronic musicians, the question is: Why use an Apple G4 when a Casio will do? Wang Inc.’s Risotto in 4/4 is utterly enamored with the bleepy early days of electronic music: the mechanically funky beat of Trio (hear the synthesized melodica and oompah of “Clear a Space for the King”), goofy Vocoder vocals (“Voice to Your Sponsor,” “Say, Do, Kiss”), and coldly synthesized strings (a la Angelo Badalamenti, on “Sprinking Time”). Few heeded Phil Spector’s “Back to Mono” call, but Wang (aka Bartolomeo Sailer) happily makes due with the 8-bit, even when 64-bit is readily available.

Other essential albums from Bip-Hop include its two Tonne sets — Soundtoys 2 x 12, which includes fully functional audio-games, plus music by Scanner, Hakan Lidbo and Si-cut.db, and Sound Polaroids, an installation collaboration with Scanner that draws on sourced audio from various cities, including London, Milan, Manhattan, Tokyo and Montreal — and Twine’s songful yet glitchy Recorder.

This article appeared, in slightly different form, in the 2003 issue of e|i magazine.

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Swedish Techno MP3 EP

Given that it’s Mardi Gras today, one might be on the lookout for a whistle-capped street anthem. One could do worse than Håkan Lidbo‘s “Ultrachrome,” even though it’s more Berlin Love Parade than New Orleans Krewe spectacle. “Ultrachrome” is the title track of a five-song EP from the textone.org netlabel, and it’s a solid piece of minimal techno, more Plastikman than Monolake, its minimalism played out more in terms of rhythm than atmosphere; the cut’s hook is a ragged little whistle that toots every other measure.

As for the rest of the set, “Hypocrites” mixes in the bleeps of cute computer yapping, “Mass Reduced” goes deep into horror-soundtrack territory, “Froken Ur” skips the odd beat to disorienting effect, and “Ektoplasma” brings it home with a casual swing and hovering sound effects that linger like obedient robots. Ultrachrome is textone’s 12th release; it’s available for free download here. Lidbo is a prolific Stockholm, Sweden-based musician whose work has been included in the Clicks & Cuts series by the Force Inc. label.

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