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.

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6 Things That Might Make the Great Soundcloud.com Even Greater

Soundcloud.com provides one the strongest infrastructures, if not the strongest, for communities of musicians and their listeners on the Internet. It’s a place where people share music they’ve made, listen to other people’s music, comment, make purchases, and collaborate.

And the service keeps getting stronger. It recently teamed with Tumblr for a smooth means of presenting Soundcloud material on the microblogging service, and the Soundcloud “app gallery” features an expanding number of tools that make use of its generous API.

The efforts are apparently working, because Soundcloud is more popular than ever. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal last month, the service has over five million members, and fourth fifths of them signed up in the past year.

But bigger isn’t a sure thing. The recent sale of MySpace for a fraction of its highest market valuation is evidence that rapid growth even in a field as ubiquitous as music can go terribly wrong.

From a user-interface standpoint, nothing in particular is wrong with Soundcloud, certainly not yet, though there is a low-level sense of feature creep. Much like the personal-organization tool Evernote, Soundcloud is a device-spanning and software-spanning service (computer, phone, browser, app, etc.) that defined itself early on by its simplicity, but that has over time become more complicated, more rich in tools.

Despite which, below are suggestions for six additional things that could make the great Soundcloud even greater. Heck, there’s a chance that one or more of the ideas below already exist and I just haven’t come upon them because the Soundcloud interface’s sublime cleanness masks its underlying complexities — that is, because I didn’t look closely enough. But I write this as a heavy Soundcloud user, and one who if anything wants to use Soundcloud even more:

1. GROUPING GROUPIES: Let Soundcloud users create subsets of the users they follow.

Social Sorting: The Soundcloud following/followers interface already has a settings option (see upper right), so Grouping Groupies would be an iterative change

I follow 288 accounts on Soundcloud as of this writing, and the “Incoming tracks” feed in the site’s Dashboard is not the most effective way to experience them. It would be nice to be able to create subgroups so that I could observe the incoming tracks based on categories I myself create: close friends, people whom I correlate with certain genres (noise, field recordings, minimal techno), people who live in a particular area (Tokyo, San Francisco, etc.), fellow listeners (folks who rarely if ever actually post music), record labels, netlabels, etc. There are pros and cons to this suggestion. On Twitter, for example, it’s not uncommon for people to follow everyone who follows them and to then employ Twitter Lists as a means to keep track of the select few they actually want to keep tabs on. That approach undermines Twitter’s internal workings by muddying its ability to sense who is really communicating with whom. (Fully scaled, everyone would just follow everyone, and then use a List to sort, and that’s untenable.) But even if you stick to the social contract of only following people you’re interested in, groupings would simply let the listener organize his or her listening habits, rather than stick one’s ear in the direction of a fire hose. (There are precedents in Soundcloud for this: The Following/Followers interface has a settings option. There is a Contact Lists option under People. And there are Groups, which function like clubs of like-minded people.)

2. FEED SMARTER: Make the Dashboard’s “Incoming tracks” feed work algorithmically, rather than just chronologically.

For a service that is enjoyed by, and by all appearances coded by, people who use advanced computer systems as a platform for creativity, the main Soundcloud feed is somewhat antiquated. It just shows the most recent tracks by accounts you follow. There should be options to view the feed algorithmically, in addition to the standard “show me what’s new” approach. The algorithmic feed serves a similar role to the “Grouping Groupies” mode mentioned above, and they work together: the algorithmic feeds learn from the user-collated groups, as well as from user habits. (Facebook is, of course, a poster child for not employing algorithmic feeds, but the failures of Facebook’s feeds are a failure of implementation, not of the overall idea.)

3. BUSK DIGITALLY: Allow listeners to tip musicians.

Case Open: There’s already a tradition of the guitar case doubling as a tip jar. Soundcloud can provide its musician-users with a virtual guitar case.

Music commerce isn’t dead. It’s just found new places to do business. On Soundcloud, for example, people have the opportunity to pay to download tracks they have already been able to stream in full. There’s a lesson for Soundcloud to learn from Kickstarter.com, just on the far opposite end of the transaction chronology. The traditional record-buying mode was that the consumer purchased an album after it had been produced and manufactured. The Kickstarter mode varies from project to project, but generally speaking it involves the consumer participating as benefactor, contributing funds before the recording has been manufactured, often before it has even been recorded. There’s space on the other end of this continuum: Soundcloud could let users show their appreciation after hearing music by providing a “tip jar.” And the musicians could determine how this music would be spent. For example, a musician could use it, in a Kickstarter-like campaign mode, to gain funds to pay for a particular Soundcloud upgrade (somewhat modeled on the MMORPG system, in which gamers have the option to purchase items to help them make their way in a free gaming environment). Or it could be funneled into a bank account or PayPal account. Or into a Soundcloud account, that they could they use to re-disperse the funds to other Soundcloud users. Who knows, perhaps the funds could even — to come full circle — be used to start a Kickstarter project to pay for a collectively agreed upon development project based on the Soundcloud API.

4. GET PERSONAL: Facilitate visual individualization of user pages.

Spine Tingling: Dave Muller’s affectionate paintings of the narrowest portion of a vinyl LP cover show just how much information and personality can be packed into a small space.

Give users, especially those who post their own music, some opportunity to make their pages feel more like their personal pages. This needn’t get all MySpace/Geocities, not some out-of-control, custom-HTML visual nightmare. The utilitarian, orange-highlighted interface of Soundcloud stands in stark, willful contrast to MySpace’s mistakes, and rightly so. But a little personalization could go a long way. There are at least two reasons to do this. For musicians, it would make their pages feel even more like their home. For listeners, it would help orient them: Am I on a Soundcloud-generated list page, or am I on a page overseen by a human? If the answer is “human,” then let me, as a listener, feel it. It wouldn’t take much, perhaps just a thin bar, reminiscent of the spine from an album or CD. That would be more than sufficient to set the scene. (As shown above, Dave Muller’s affectionate paintings of worn LP spines were something of an inspiration to this idea.)

5. CHARGE ME: Give listeners a reason and an opportunity to pay a subscription fee.

Soundcloud doesn’t participate in “Pay to Play,” but sometimes it can feel that way. “Pay to Play” was, and perhaps remains, the means by which some live-music venues require acts to cough up a fee to play the stage, with the understanding the bands will get a slice of the door and the bar. Since Soundcloud primarily offers premium services aimed at musicians, it’s essentially charging musicians for the opportunity to reach an audience. That’s fine; the Internet has done a topsy-turvy with many industries, many former business norms. (At a highly scaled level, this would be along the lines of Hulu ditching its subscription fee and somehow charging the networks whose shows are its content.) However, there must be some means by which Soundcloud could provide additional services to listeners that listeners would be willing to pay for. And just to be clear: this isn’t a suggestion that Soundcloud take some currently free capabilities and turn them into paid-only features. It’s about coming up with new things listeners would appreciate. Perhaps a virtual hard drive for downloads? Perhaps a private MP3 player where one can upload ones own collection of recordings, along the lines of other recent cloud-based music lockers? Perhaps a blogging service, or the ability to host “radio stations” of material selected by the listener?

6. MOVE BEYOND: Staying true to your URL means expanding beyond music.

Soundcloud.com is called Soundcloud.com for a reason. It is not just about music. Music is, as the saying goes, just organized sound. There are already activities on Soundcloud that are not traditionally considered “music,” such as field recordings and spoken word. Tools should be developed to let people use Soundcloud readily for non-music purposes. For example, as a (private) audio journal, perhaps one that hooks up with Google for voice-recognition translation of those recordings into typed words.

(Photo of guitarist from flickr.com thanks to Creative Commons license.)

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Luciano Berio, Crate Digger

Luciano Berio, like many classical composers, regularly absorbed pre-existing compositions into his own compositions, blurring the line between tribute and authorship. One of the most expansive of his interpolative works is Sinfonia, which dates from the late 1960s, and which I wrote a brief essay about for publication earlier today at newmusicbox.org: “Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia, Generational Perspectives, and the Fluid Nature of Copyright in a Classical Context.”

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Sinfonia recently, because, as I explain in the essay, the piece had come to triangulate two different personal interests that I’d previously thought of more in parallel. The work is both a successful foray by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic into experimental contemporary music during the 1960s, and a precursor to the sample-based music that is so commonplace in our current time. Sinfonia draws into its whole various material borrowed from, among others, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Alban Berg, Maurice Ravel, Samuel Beckett, and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

The newmusicbox.org essay isn’t about Berio so much as it’s about our understanding of Berio thanks to the work of the late academic David Osmond-Smith, who made Berio a key focus of his life’s output. The essay came out of a reading of Osmond-Smith’s 1991 career-survey book, Berio, and in advance of a reading of his 1985 book, Playing on Words, which is wholly dedicated to Sinfonia. What’s fascinating about the 1991 book is how it is, I argue, impossible to imagine being written today, because it not for a moment takes into consideration the broader cultural ramifications of Berio’s acts of appropriation, nor does it even touch on the process by which permission for those works was gained.

Now I’m slowly making my way through Playing on Words, the name of which sells short both the book and Sinfonia, because the Berio work doesn’t just play on words, but on melodies and other compositional aspects of the source material. Still, the title does do the job of making clear that both types of material are, in effect, “texts.”

One note from Playing on Words — a footnote, in fact. On page 39, Osmond-Smith states of Sinfonia‘s second movement that “Berio wrote the movement while on holiday in Sicily, and therefore relied upon the few scores that he had with him, those that happened to be available from Catania public library, and his own memory in order to establish a suitable range.” This notion of what’s readily available as a creative constraint is fascinating, in part because it is in contrast with what Osmond-Smith doesn’t appear to probe, which is the creative constraint posed by works Berio desired to adopt but couldn’t obtain permissions for — but also because the image of Berio making of what he could find in the Catania library brings to mind the image of the hip-hop crate digger, making use of what vinyl happens to be available.

I’ll likely summarize some thoughts on Playing on Words when I’ve fully consumed it. In the meanwhile, the Berio/Osmond-Smith essay is here: “Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia, Generational Perspectives, and the Fluid Nature of Copyright in a Classical Context.”

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If You’re Thinking of Starting a Netlabel …

If you’re thinking of starting a netlabel, don’t let anyone stop you. The movement — it does feel like we’re far along enough to call netlabels a “movement,” and have been for some time — continues to build. But for all its cultural momentum, perhaps because of that momentum, there’s no clear template for how netlabels function, not beyond the shared idea of delivering freely downloadable music with the permission of the artists involved.

Netlabels function in various ways: as standalone websites, as subdomains of prominent services (.soundcloud.com, .bandcamp.com, .blogspot.com), as side projects of traditional record labels, as thinly disguised podcasts, as fly-by-night operations, as slick enterprises with all the procedural rigor assumed of commercial businesses. The absence of consistency is a good thing, at the heart of the movement’s vibrancy. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to learn from all the netlabels that came before yours.

As a longtime listener to and observer of netlabel music, I propose the following to serve as an initial checklist while you get your HTML, CSS, RSS, and release schedule in order. Feel free to question these suggestions, and to add your own, in the comments section below. I’ll update this list accordingly:

☐  Have a dedicated URL. No hosting service is forever.

☐  Have an RSS feed. And if you make a conscious decision not to, please explain why. The absence of RSS feeds on numerous netlabels is one of the great mysteries of the field.

☐  Allow for streaming in addition to downloading of your individual tracks. Don’t assume that just because you’re giving music away that anyone actually wants to possess it. Allow each song to find its own audience, and to bring that audience back to the album.

☐  Consider making your netlabel singles-only. There aren’t anywhere near as many singles-oriented netlabels as there are album-oriented netlabels. The disparity suggests that album-oriented netlabels are easier to maintain. Challenge yourself and your musicians to whittle their releases down to an individual, singular statement.

☐  Allow for downloading of the complete album as a set (that is, when you ignore the previous instruction and proceed with an album-centric approach). It’s a hassle to download each track individually.

☐  Have a “look,” a consistent visual approach, even if what’s consistent is that every release is drastically different than what preceded it.

☐  Don’t model your releases on traditional record-industry releases. Look to television, movies, animation, comics, newspapers, magazines, radio, and other serial media for models, lessons, inspiration.

☐  Don’t be afraid to try to charge money. Give the releases away free, certainly, but consider a “pay what you will” interface (in which zero is one option among many), make snazzy limited-edition physical objects, add a donation/tip link.

☐  Make your site HTML5-friendly. If you don’t know what that last sentence means, there’s a good chance the rapidly expanding cultural consumption taking place on the iPad and iPhone is passing you by.

☐  Include with each release a brief text document containing key information (personnel, location, date, instrumentation, perhaps even a descriptive statement of intent on the part of the musicians).

☐  Link from the release’s page to artist information (biography, discography, web presence, etc.).

☐  Make each release memorable, not just sonically and visually, but how you describe it, how you promote it.

☐  Consider multiple services for file hosting. When archive.org (or sonicsquirrel.net) goes down, you don’t want your audience to have to make a conscious decision to try to remember to try again later.

☐  Consider your copyright options. Read up on Creative Commons, and perhaps follow the lead of a netlabel that you admire.

☐  Don’t put out too much or too little music. Don’t leave your audience wondering if you’ve ceased existing, and don’t overwhelm them.

☐  Tags, not genres. Repeat: tags, not genres.

☐  Don’t be louder than your music. You aren’t going to convince anyone to like, let alone listen to, your latest release by over-promising on its transcendent genius. Just be factual, and the audience for those facts will find it.

☐  Develop a sense of community among your netlabel’s contributing artists. Have them remix each other, and let those remixes lead one artist’s audience to check out another artist’s album. Combine like-minded tracks into themed samplers. Provoke collaborations.

☐  Don’t be insular: develop a sense of community with other netlabels.

☐  Consider having a secondary RSS feed to function as a proper podcast, perhaps with the full album or select tracks sewn into a continuous whole, with opening and closing thematic music for consistency, perhaps even little interview segments.

☐  Surprise people. Break all these suggested rules in creative ways.

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Sounds from an Exhibition (MP3)

The sound artist John Kannenberg asked me to write an introduction to his forthcoming album, A Sound Map of the Egyptian Museum, due for release on April 22 on the label 3leaves, run by Ákos Garai. The album is an hour-long assemblage of field recordings that Kannenberg made in and around the main museum in Cairo. It is drawn from the same material that comprised his tribute to slain musician Ahmed Basiony, which I wrote about shortly after his death earlier this year. Though the raw materials are just that, straight-to-the-mic audio of people talking and moving amid the structures that define the museum, and of the ambient sound of that space, Kannenberg’s finished work is a thoughtful and thought-provoking edit, in which abstract and representational audio is sequenced with a sense of narrative and the hallmarks of sonic composition.

This is my text:

“Reflections and Transformations” Fifteen minutes into John Kannenberg’s extended, hour-long sound map of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the setting subsumes the sound. More to the point, the setting becomes the sound. His sound map is constructed from field recordings he made in and around the museum, and the museum at that moment moves from structure to participant, from frame to portrait, from context to subject. Voices had been heard up until that point, a rumbling and slow-moving pack of adult humans, but those voices are suddenly transformed, dramatically, at the quarter hour. The rapturous transformation is, presumably, the result of the architecture. The human voices are no longer discernible as such, and instead congeal into a chaotic frenzy as their sound is reflected off some hard, high, voluminous ceiling. Something about that ceiling, arched and closed in by thick walls, absent of anything with absorptive characteristics, no fabric or wood, shoots the collected voices around like balls in a pachinko game, all the sound scattering and intersecting with such speed that it becomes a single thick blur of noise, resplendent noise. That description of cause and effect is entirely conjecture, of course. The recording is solely audio, and we do not know for certain what we are hearing. We don’t know how many people, if they’re adults, or what the characteristics of their environment is at that moment. Much as a passing bus can be mistaken in our own daily life for a child’s cry, we do not know exactly what these sounds are, or what is transforming them. It is a fact that the shape and constituent parts of a building will enact changes on the sounds emitted within it — but it is no less true that our knowledge of the place frames how our ears and brains perceive the sounds, lends them meaning, fills in the considerable gaps in our factual knowledge. This hour-long montage of field recordings is an illusion of reality, an illusion during which Kannenberg plays with our imaginations. The key word above may not be “transformation” or “architecture,” but “reflected.” It’s a word we’re more likely to associate with light than with sound, and thus is the perfect fulcrum point for Kannenberg’s art, the art of the phonographer actively challenging the photographer for the primacy of the senses.

The label website provides a brief excerpt of the final work, and while it doesn’t showcase the manner in which Kannenberg produced a fictional reality in sound, it does provide a glimpse at what he worked with: a docent speaking of ancient kings, murmurings, water, foot traffic (MP3).

[audio:http://www.3leaves-label.com/files/cairo_excerpt.mp3|titles=”A Sound Map of the Egyptian Museum (Excerpt)”|artists=John Kannenberg]

It sets the stage for the finished release, in which those and similar fragments are woven into a considered whole.

More on Kannenberg’s Egyptian album at 3leaves-label.com.

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Best of 2010: 10 Best Netlabel/Free/CC Releases

There seemed to be more music than ever this past year — commercial and free alike. In order to make a list of best free music, it’s helpful to narrow the field a little. Not everything below is from a netlabel, but the netlabel spirit infuses it — that is to say, this is all music intended by the musicians for free distribution. Much of it is associated with the Creative Commons and all is selected from this site’s Downstream department during 2010.

Listen Up: The Estonian hangar in which Thomas Ankersmit recorded his live performance

To constrain the field, to make it knowable, this list is limited to recordings that are “of the web.”The following were not considered for inclusion: individual promotional tracks (and excerpts) posted from existing or forthcoming commercial albums (special “mixes”were considered for inclusion, as were situations in which entire commercial albums were made available for free download, as in “choose your price” scenarios in which zero is an accepted amount), downloads that were placed online for a stated limited period of time, audio that is streaming-only, and dated archival material (work that would be considered a “reissue” in the commercial world, such as the majority of what is housed at ubu.com). Also not considered for inclusion were tracks whose links have subsequently gone offline. (An intelligent case has been made that there is no such thing as “streaming” — that all audio is downloaded, in that it is at some point resident on your computer. However, for the purposes of this list, the focus is music that is fully intended to be downloaded.)

All of which is to say, everything on this list is of recent vintage and is available to download, for free, right now.

These 10 are listed here in the reverse chronological order in which they appeared on Disquiet.com. Given the fluid nature of publication, attribution, and collation on the Internet, I cannot be certain that these audio files first appeared online in 2010, but many if not all of them did. And if some of them are older than that, at least this mention might gain them a new audience. Click through to each original Downstream entry for more information, and to the release’s source to get the tracks.

1. Site-Specific Estonian Deep Listening: Based on a recent recording by Berlin/Amsterdam-based saxophonist Thomas Ankersmit, he can be added to the list of Deep Listening devotees. Earlier this year in the Estoian city of Tallinn, he filled a reverberant, abandoned seaplane hangar with echo upon echo of his solo horn. The performance was captured (not just as audio, but in the color photos) by John Grzinich on May 29 of this year. Downstream: October 8, 2010.

2. Halls of Silence: John Kannenberg visited 11 of the world’s best-known museums, and all we got was 11 blank tapes. Well, not really — what we get is recordings of silence, each 4’33” in length. That’s silence with an implied capital S, silence as in John Cage’s framing of unacknowledged sound, the background noise of real life. Each track — from the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing to the Van Gogh Museum in the Amsterdam — contains 4’33” of uninterrupted, unedited semi-silence (“unmanipulated phonography,” as the liner note puts it). And with a sly nod, the collection ends at that bastion of popular noise, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Downstream: October 1, 2010.

3. Where Drone and Orchestration Meet: Saiph‘s Diffusion limns that space where electronic drone and classical orchestration meet. There is no doubt, in “Einsames Element,” that those are, indeed, tremulous strings amid the woodsy percussion, even if the strings are playing a role more likely to be handed to a synthesizer these days. And even on repeat listen, the knowledge of those traditional, symphonic materials doesn’t make it any more clear what, exactly, is the source of the light gusher of white noise, the fizzy wonder with which begins “Der Letzte Mensch.” Saiph’s melding of these elements puts guesswork aside, in favor of a contemplation of the inherent narrative, as when after-dark ambience, brush fire, footsteps, and horror-show voices collide late in “Mensch” for a truly filmic enterprise. Downstream: August 12, 2010

4. A Netlabel Retrospective: The variety on Elisa Luu‘s recent release, The Time of Waiting, from the netlabel known playfully as La Bèl, is enough to suggest less an album than a reel — less a collection of interrelated music than a set whose lack of self-evident correlation serves the primary purpose of expressing the wide range of which Luu is capable. And to that end, it more than succeeds. There are playful beats, distorted as if through a watery mirror. There is quasi-orchestral extravagance, shot through with a theremin-like lead. But if one track must be selected, the keeper is the set’s opener, “r735,” which has four distinct elements that balance each other perfectly. Downstream: July 19, 2010

5. A Solar Salute: There are 25 tracks on the compilation One Minute for the Sun, each 60 seconds in length, and each paying tribute, in one manner or another, to that great blinding fireball in the sky. Sublamp, a woozy, deep drone, offers thick bass-heavy undercurrents, while Koutaro Fukui’s track, which directly precedes it, is a watery burble, like a dozen frogs gargling before bedtime. A lot of the tracks traffic in a certain gauzy ambience, but the best of them disrupt it, like so many rays piercing a cloud. Downstream: July 15, 2010

6. When Ennio Met Primo: Texas-based lawyer-cum-beatmaker (and, more recently, San Antonio City Council candidate) Diego Bernal returned with Besides …, nearly a dozen tracks of downtempo, hip-hop-infused, crate-digging goodness. Lightly strummed guitar at the opening of “A Long Second” suggests some regional flavor, as flanging light noise and a raspy drum kit kick in, followed by wisps of r&b horns that sound more like memories than like samples. “Blue Neon,” a particular favorite, makes the most of a back beat, a hi-hat, a vocal call-out, and some sour organ playing. The music is the like some secret side-project team-up between Ennio Morricone and DJ Premiere, mixing atmospheric melodrama and rough beats. Downstream: April 8, 2010

7. Electronic Free Improvisation: If only there were a thin line between electronic music and European free improvisation. Instead, there’s more of thick, broad line — a gulf at times, really — between digitally processed music and the rich culture of abstract ensemble play. It’s a gulf occasionally, and increasingly, bridged by individuals like Ikue Mori and bands like Diatribes. The latter, consisting of d’incise (laptop & treatments, objects, percussions) and Cyril Bondi (drums, percussions), recently teamed up with the trio HKM+ (Ludger Hennig: laptop & software instruments; Christof Knoche: bass clarinet, live electronics; and Markus Markowski: prepared guitar, laptop & software instruments) and three other musicians: Piero SK (saxophones, metal clarinet), Robert Rehnig (laptop & software instruments), and Johannes Sienknecht (laptop & software instruments). The result is spectacular. Downstream: April 5, 2010

8. A Jazz/Hip-Hop Rematch: The feedback loop between jazz and hip-hop takes another enticing spin in the work of the Chicago quartet Spinach Prince. As heard on its recent self-titled album, the group has come up with a highly potent recipe that mixes jazz touches (trap-set rhythms, meandering woodwinds, instrumental soloing) and the basic building blocks of old-school beat-making (samples of found vocals, emphasis on texture, tight metric loops). Downstream: March 22, 2010

9. The Dark Side of Fusion: The murky and atmospheric noise-jazz of Leandro Ramirez‘s album jaja sh represents the dark side of fusion. His loosely strung instruments play rough, sour chords and single-note riffs in a manner that traces its mode back to that of Ornette Coleman, the great jazz saxophonist. Even though there’s no saxophone heard here, there’s something in the way Ramirez’s melodies seem to move backwards, as if feeling their way up a creaky staircase, that brings to mind Coleman’s more outward-bound experimentation. Downstream: January 27, 2010

10. Every Photograph Has Multiple Soundtracks, Don’t It: As part of a new experimental series (titled simply Synaesthesia — i.e., the confusion of senses) at his musicofsound.co.nz site, Tim Prebble asks his readers to compose works that are suggested by a given image. Three audio segments were uploaded when I first wrote about the music inspired by a photograph shot at Tanah Lot in Bali. Martin’s is a dirgey drone supplemented by echoed vocals and a slow, noisey rhythm. The track by üav works in bell tones and kettle-style drums and otherworldly halos of sound. And a piece by ccu is more fragile and closely mic’d than the other two, a mix of taut ringing sounds (perhaps from a kalimna) and rough surface texture.

Play Bali: The photo that Tim Prebble challenged musicians to provide a score to

All three, especially when heard with Prebble’s photograph in mind, suggest rituals at dawn or dusk. A fourth track was added after I first wrote about the series. This year-end acknowledgment is as much for Prebble’s assignment-based project overall as it is for this particular episode thereof (it dates from very late 2009). The series is currently up to its ninth edition. Downstream: January 7, 2010

And three others:

¶ WHY?Arcka‘s 26-track Exhibits A-Z compilation of experimental break beats was still a work in progress when I listed it, last year, as one of 2009’s best. This year, he completed it: arckatron.bandcamp.com.

¶ This easily ranks as one of my favorite releases of the year, but since I was directly associated with it even if entirely uninvolved in its creation, I took it out of the running for the ten best: Soothing Sounds for Baby: luvsound.org.

¶ Every year there is at least one track that I listen to repeatedly yet never manage to write about. I will at some point sum up what is great, in my estimation, about “Homage to Jack Vanarsky,” a duet for viola and motorized gadget on the album Solo Viola d’Amore by Garth Knox (volume 5 at shskh.com), but until then, just go give it a listen.

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