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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
• February 6, 2019: First day of the new semester of the 15-week "Sounds of Brands" course I teach once a year at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.
• March 22, 2019: I'm giving a talk at the Algorithmic Art Assembly, two days of events in San Francisco: aaassembly.org.
• December 13, 2019: This day marks the 23rd anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2020: This day marks the 8th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto.
• Ongoing: The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It has been translated into Spanish, and is due out soon in Japanese, as well. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.
The Disquiet Junto is an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making space in which restraints are used as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto. There is an FAQ. ... These are the 5 most recent weekly projects: