My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

downstream

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We Don’t Need the Human Touch

The drum machines can dance — or at least sway — well enough on their own.

One possible definition of — or, perhaps, alternative phrase for — the increasingly employed term “generative” would be “Look, Mom, no hands.” That’s the route that many modular synthesizer videos follow: using various techniques that coax machines to be led by what seems to be their own initiative, devoid of any evidence of human touch. The result is work in which a machine’s lights are signs of life, in which no hands ever enter the picture’s frame. The absence of a human in “Koto Ward” by Chanse Macabre is signaled by the cars passing in the distance. There are people to be seen, or at least sensed, but they are far away, locked in other machines, and moving considerably more quickly than the music this placid machine has elected to emit. The gentle, rhythmic plucking of “Koto Ward” challenges the ear to listen for repetitions in the patterns, to find a moment where the loop begins again. That moment never comes, such are the slight variations that keep the bobbing, gently percussive apparatus moving in such a convincingly improvisatory, lifelike manner.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at YouTube. More from Chanse Macabre, based in Houston, Texas, at chansemacabre.bandcamp.com and instagram.com/chanse.macabre.

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Joe Colley’s Human-Scale Noise

A live performance from late 2018

Joe Colley (sometimes also known as Crawl Unit) is a master of human-scale noise. His noise is rarely of the industrial scope that so many bands aspire to. He probes and proposes intimate spaces, rather than massive ones — substructures rather than infrastructures. Which isn’t to suggest his noises are quiet. As evidenced by this recording — live from last October at the Lausanne Underground Film & Music Festival — his exploration of desktop devices yields all manner of abrasive aesthetics.

Video originally posted at youtube.com. More on the festival at 2018.luff.ch.

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Fridman Études

Stephen Vitiello and Taylor Deupree performing live at the start of the year

The Fridman Gallery in Manhattan has recently uploaded a host of videos to Vimeo from its New Ear Festival, which ran in early January of this year. It had a great lineup, including Mary Lucier, Susie Ibarra, a workshop with the New York Theremin Society, and a screening of the documentary Milford Graves Full Mantis, about the accomplished percussionist. One highlight is a duo performance by frequent collaborators Stephen Vitiello and Taylor Deupree. The half-hour set is built around the pair’s modular synthesizers, though it also leaves room at the opening for Vitiello’s electric guitar, a mix of long dreamy lines and anxious, muted plucking. The marvel of the performance is the ambient nature of their effort, which is to say: their collaboration is, in effect, purposefully less than the sum of its parts. The work is focused on nuance, on slight variations of tonality and layering. Gorgeous stuff.

Video originally posted at vimeo.com. More on the Fridman at fridmangallery.com.

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Guitar Learning: Maybe (A minor on EBow)

A chord in individually held guitar lines

This is the first attempt I’ve made to record something with my newly obtained EBow. It’s also about ten minutes into my first attempt to even use the EBow. The electric bow employs a magnetic field to strum individual strings for you, which explains the gorgeous and limitlessly held tones it is capable of. Here I layered three notes, one by one, from a single chord, an A minor, and then put a separate note on top of that — the device was so new to me, I didn’t even pay attention to what the fourth note was; I just listened for something that sounded complementary. The accrual process isn’t evident in this recording. I didn’t hit record until the chord was accomplished.

I did this all in a Ditto Looper, recording directly from my amplifier into my cellphone. I used Adobe Audition to limit the higher frequencies in the audio, and to introduce a fade-in and a fade-out. The track’s title is “Maybe” (adapted from the first two letters each from “EBow” and “A minor — E, B, A, M — backward).

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/disquiet.

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Sandpaper Is a Form of Change

The sound of tape loops as they slowly fall apart over an extended period of time

Repetition may be, as Brian Eno famously put it, a form of change, but so too is slow deterioration as a result of sharp edges and rough surfaces. The latter is the process employed by the musician Hainbach in “Three Tape Loops Destructing Over Three Hours.” (It’s actually close to three and a half hours.) The source audio is piano that Hainbach recorded himself. In the extended video, the resulting tape recordings are seen and heard to slowly come apart as they are exposed to various knife blades and sandpaper. Soft tones give way to serrated noise. The ear hears continuity amid the destruction, as the abbrasive texture itself becomes a sonic element in the mix.

It’s worth noting that the project began as a challenge from Simon the Magpie, whose curse-laden, manic proposal is about as distinct from Hainbach’s sedate, reflective pace as could be imagined.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at Hainbach’s YouTube channel.

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