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.

Live Coding the 100th Ambient Performances Video

A hand-typed drone sequence from musician Charlie Kramer

This video, a five-plus-minute exploration of pinging drones by musician Charlie Kramer, marks the 100th video in the ongoing playlist I’ve been maintaining of live performances of ambient music. The entry marks a milestone, and also a deviation, more about which in a moment.

First, a bit about the playlist itself. It began in April of 2016 “A YouTube Playlist of Ambient Performances,” front-loaded with a handful of pieces by such musicians as Andreas Tilliander, Christina Vantzou, Ryuicki Sakamoto, Nils Frahm (as a member of Nonkeen), and Jon Hassell. At the time I started it, I listed the following rules for its existence:

This “Ambient Performances” set is a playlist-in-progress of live performance videos on YouTube of ambient music by a wide variety of musicians using a wide variety of equipment.

Rule #1: I’m only including recordings I’d listen to without video.

Rule #2: I’m only including recordings where the video gives some sense of a correlation between what the musician is doing and what the listener is hearing.

Rule #3: By and large, the new additions to the playlist will simply be, reverse-chronologically, the most recent tracks added, but I’ll be careful to front-load a few choice items at the beginning.

Those rules summarized the filters that lead to video selection, but they don’t touch on the reasoning behind the playlist, nor did the initial post announcing the playlist’s existence. The underlying reasons included, certainly, curiosity on my part about how such music was made, and in particular about the creative tension at work in which effort was required to make music that seemed, by its categorical nature, to eschew the notion of effort — ambient music, that is.

But there was another reason, which was simply that the majority of videos featuring technology I found interesting (tutorials, live sets, peeks inside people’s studios, behind-the-scenes footage) had music I couldn’t stand listening to. This playlist of mine was an attempt to focus on the rare material that satisfied my ears, my eyes, and my imagination.

One hundred videos later, something had been surfacing in my thoughts, which was that while the videos all adhered to the initial rules, they had also come to focus often on mechanisms, along with video production, that was as beautiful as the music itself — synthesizers on fields and beaches, keyboards amid flowers and carefully placed objects. It’s no surprise that musicians who can achieve a certain aesthetic in the sonic realm might also be capable of carrying it over to the visual realm. However, I had come to wonder if I’d fallen for beauty, and if visual beauty had become something of a magnet rather than a mere byproduct of what I was after.

In any case, it was with that in mind that I began to actively pursue less visually compelling videos that still satisfied the rules that launched the playlist, and in the process I came to narrow and lightly edit the rules, since the third one only really applied at launch, yielding this amended list, which still applies to all the videos added to date:

This “Ambient Performances” set is an ongoing playlist-in-progress of live performance videos on YouTube of ambient music by a wide variety of musicians using a wide variety of equipment. There are two rules for it:

Rule #1: I’m only including recordings I’d listen to without video.

Rule #2: I’m only including recordings where the video gives some meaningful sense of a correlation between what the musician is doing and what the listener is hearing.

Note: The list appears in reverse-chronological order, which means that the video listed as #1 is the most recent. When a new video is added, the current #1 becomes #2.

Which brings us to Charlie Kramer’s piece. While all previous videos in this playlist involved physical equipment, with an emphasis on modular synthesizer, Kramer’s recording is a document of live coding — of computer programming as performance practice. The only instrument is his computer, seen here in footage of his screen. What he is doing throughout the piece is manipulating computer code in real time. As with the previous videos in this playlist, there is a direct, informative correlation between what Kramer is doing on screen — we don’t see his hands, but we see keystrokes being entered, and a mouse moving around — and what our ears are taking in. When he fixes some indents, as he does around 1:03 in the video, there is no commensurate change in sound. However, when, later, some integers are changed, we hear variations on what was sounding out previously.

As Kramer explains in the accompanying note, this piece is composed — is coded — in the language Chuck. Each time he hits the Add Shred button at the top of the window in which the Chuck code appears, the current instance of that code begins to be executed: new variables and new commands bringing to life new musical directions. When Kramer does so, a giant green plus sign appears briefly on the screen. That giant green plus a perfect depiction of the connection between precise action and subtle sound that this playlist was intended to explore.

Kramer’s track was recorded as part of the most recent weekly music compositional prompt project in the ongoing Disquiet Junto series. Kramer, who also goes by NorthWoods, posted the video and the code, along with some background on the piece, to the llllllll.co message board, where it’s still available for perusal.

The video is hosted at Kramer’s YouTube channel.

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The Koto of the Future

In a live video performance by Ann Annie

“North Wind” is a live ambient music performance on modular synthesizer by Ann Annie. The track is built largely around the sound of a simulated plucked instrument. The strumming and tuning of that plucking bring to mind in particular a Japanese koto, though the overall sci-fi feel of “North Wind” makes that more along the lines of a koto as depicted in some majestic futuristic cybernetic Ghost in the Shell anime. It is echoed, in Annie’s machine, to infinity, or looped back on itself. At times fragments of momentary string sounds flit into glitchy motifs, and at others they nearly evaporate as they become gaseous effects. Throughout, Annie’s tracksuit-covered arms manipulate the synthesizer. For those playing along at home, generously detailed patch notes provide some background on the equipment employed.

This is among the most recent videos I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at Ann Annie’s youtu.be channel. More from Ann Annie, who is based in Portland, Oregon, at annannie.bandcamp.com.

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Synth by the Water

A live ambient performance by Hainbach

Perhaps testing the outer limits of the definition of the word “performance,” this short video from Hainbach has been added to my YouTube playlist of fine live ambient sets. The inclusion can be attributed to its combination of beauty and function. The beauty relates, beyond the elegant visual setting, to a sequence of lulling passages, to layers of momentary drones and shimmery effects, unsettling loops and beatific surface noise, fantastical stereo play and naturalist field recordings. The function comes from the occasional intrusion of Hainbach’s hand, as he raises the prominence of an element, or plays a motif on the device’s keyboard. In a brief accompanying note, Hainbach sets the scene, and attributes some of the sonic source material: “Recorded on the beach the Lighthouse Festival in Porec, in between soundcheck and my performance on the beautiful modular floor there. You can hear birds from Brno, voices from Prague and the sea.”

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted to Hainbach’s YouTube channel. More from Hainbach at hainbach.bandcamp.com and hainbachmusik.com.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0336: Open Mic

Share a piece of music you're working on in the interest of getting feedback.

Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group, a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership in the Junto is open: just join and participate. (A SoundCloud account is helpful but not required.) There’s no pressure to do every project. It’s weekly so that you know it’s there, every Thursday through Monday, when you have the time.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on Monday, June 11, 2018. This project was posted in the late afternoon, California time, on Thursday, June 7, 2018.

Tracks will be added to the playlist for the duration of the project.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0336: Open Mic
Share a piece of music you’re working on in the interest of getting feedback.

Step 1: Choose a track/composition you’re working on that isn’t quite finished. Share the recording on the Lines forum at llllllll.co (see specific URL below).

Step 2: When posting the track, mention that you’re looking for feedback, and if applicable specify some aspects of the recording you might want feedback on.

Six More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0336” (no spaces or quotation marks) in the name of your track.

Step 2: If your audio-hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to also include the project tag “disquiet0336” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation a project playlist.

Step 3: Upload your track. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your track.

Step 4: Post your track in the following discussion thread at llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0336-open-mic/

Step 5: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 6: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Other Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on Monday, June 11, 2018. This project was posted in the late afternoon, California time, on Thursday, June 7, 2018.

Length: The length of your track is up to you.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0336” in the title of the track, and where applicable (on SoundCloud, for example) as a tag.

Upload: When participating in this project, post one finished track with the project tag, and be sure to include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Download: It is preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

Linking: When posting the track online, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 336th weekly Disquiet Junto project (Disquiet Junto Project 0336: Open Mic / Share a piece of music you’re working on in the interest of getting feedback) at:

https://disquiet.com/0336/

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here:

http://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0336-open-mic/

There’s also a Junto Slack. Send your email address to twitter.com/disquiet to join in.

The image associated with this project is by Gabriel Gilder and used via Flickr thanks to a Creative Commons license:

https://flic.kr/p/ymxsn

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt


This little gadget is the Pisound, which I spent much of yesterday building under the guidance of a far more informed and experienced friend. Its existence is predicated on the Raspberry Pi, an inexpensive bare-bones computer, around $35, that is used widely in education and by tinkerers/makers. The Pisound is a sound card that attaches to the Raspberry Pi and turns it into a full-fledged media device, with an emphasis on high-grade audio processing. The Pisound is capable of serving many purposes, including a networked audio player. What I’m most interested in is its ability to serve as a programmable musical instrument, such as an effects pedal of infinite possibilities. After we got it set up yesterday — the Raspberry Pi organization is based in the U.K., and Pisound arrived from Lithuania — my friend showed me how a single line of code could transform my inbound electric guitar signal into an outbound warble that sounded like we had captured Angelo Badalamenti’s spirit in one tiny little semi-opaque box. Anyhow, yesterday was day one. Actually, the first thing we did, even before the guitar processing, was to drop in one of Fredrik Olofsson’s mini-compositions that come in the form of Twitter-sized bits of SuperCollider code. Makes me want to get a second PiSound and make a music box of generative compositions. I’m looking forward to exploring this thing more as the summer progresses.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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