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.

Lightbath’s Percussive Reverberations

A bit of what Emily Sprague praised in the Sound + Process podcast

In her interview as part of the Sound + Process podcast, Emily Sprague mentioned two musicians as inspirations for her, one of them being Lightbath, aka Bryan Noll. She was speaking in particular about Lightbath’s videos, in the context of videos with a certain aesthetic that she found comforting if rare — which is to say, not all 4/4, not techno, not noisey, not songy, not purely noodling; instead: soft, ambient, and ever so slightly melodic. She doesn’t specifically say those things; that’s an aesthetic triangulation on my part based on what Sprague’s music often sounds like, and what Lightbath and the other musician whose videos she mentioned, R Beny, are generally up to.

This track, while quite rhythmic, is a good example of Lightbath in action. Titled “Forgiveness,” it has a very organic sounding percussive undercurrent. The beat brings to mind African talking drums, above which sharp, plucked notes slowly fill the audio spectrum with extended reverberations. I’ve posted the audio, from SoundCloud, up top, and the video below to encourage giving it a listen before watching the piece unfold. Like many modular performances, there is far less going on than we actually hear. With notable exceptions, of course, modular performance is often more a matter of coaxing, nudging, and shifting than it is of what we have come to traditionally think of as “playing.” That sedate composerly presence isn’t always reflected in the sound, but it certainly is here.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/lightbath. More from Lightbath/Noll at lightbath.com and twitter.com/lightbath.

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Olga Palomäki Makes Sonic Spaces for Dark Stories

A work of ever-shifting sound design by the Helsinki-based musician

Olga Palomäki’s piercing, churning, often frightening “Groundwork” transforms everyday noise into something bracing and enigmatic. It’s urban cacophony rendered as a hyperreal installation. It’s echoes in which the original source audio is entirely lost to the hall of sonic mirrors. What for a moment is just rain on a heavily trafficked street is suddenly a warped blanket of strangeness. The humming of a tunnel is suddenly a zombie chorus. Industrial clanging proceeds as the sense of scale sways from skyscraper cladding to slide-door rattling. The end effect is prime cinema for the ear, not necessarily telling stories, but laying out the scene for countless ones. It lacks the metronomic pulse of minimal techno, the nihilism of overt noise music, and the utility of a generic sound design cue. It’s its own thing, its own unnerving place, its own richly detailed setting.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/olgapalomaki. More from Palomäki, who is based in Helsinki, Finland, at olgapalomaki.net and vimeo.com.

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What Sound Looks Like

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


Used record stores have their own logic, both fluid and impenetrable.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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Don’t Listen So Much as Submerge

A brief aquatic setting by Sweden-based Pythagora

Part squishy aquarium gurgle, part off-kilter rhythmic patterning, part droney melodic quaver, “Nord” by Pythagora is a brief glimpse at a synthetic sound world. Its component parts are so distinct from each other that the finished piece feels more like sound design than like a musical composition, in that it seems more about setting a sense of place than about expressing a narrative — which, come to think of it, is a fine alternate definition of ambient music. Now, virtually any music can be said to suggest a place, whether through direct or indirect association, through genre or lyrical content. What makes a piece like “Nord” ambient is its emphasis on place and mood above all else. (Presumably it is part of a larger construction, because it ends quite suddenly.) There is no development, per se, though some elements do appear to shift in relative importance. What there is is a depth that situates the listener amid the composition. You don’t listen so much as you submerge.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/pythagora. Pythagora is Dan Henry Pålsson of Malmö, Sweden.

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The Self-Education of Synthesist Emily Sprague

A great podcast interview on Sound + Process

Emily Sprague patches her modular synthesizer, sets it running, and checks in on it hours, even days, later to figure out where the generative invention has meandered and matured, what strange familiar-yet-unfamiliar music it’s gotten up to. She initiated her relatively recent self-education by mainlining module manuals and studying the videos of a handful of people (notably Lightbath and r beny) whose aesthetic and approach appealed to her (i.e., largely ambient, if gently melodic, and lacking a fixed rhythm). She says she likes tap tempo, for the organic feel, and certain filters, for their ability to self-oscillate. She began to share videos of her own work in part to replenish the well from which she’d drawn, and also out of an awareness that modular synths are a male-dominated thing.

Here’s an early such video, from May 2016:

And here’s a gentle, burbling track from about a year ago:

These are just some of the things we learn in the excellent eighth episode of the Sound + Process podcast hosted by Dan Derks. Interspersed in the podcast are demos of the music that will appear on her forthcoming solo modular synth album. Sprague, who also is part of the folk-pop band Florist, talks about gaining fluency with patching by buying and selling modules, seeing what works for her and what doesn’t, and how warm and welcoming the synth community, in particular on the llllllll.co (also known as Lines) message board, has proved to be.

And after listening to Sprague speak for an hour, you also can check out some of her band Florist’s music, and hear that same voice sing. This track is “What I Wanted to Hold,” off the forthcoming Florist album If Blue Could Be Happiness, which is to be released on September 29, 2017:

More from Emily Sprague at soundcloud.com/mlesprg and twitter.com/emyspraguemusic, and her YouTube channel. Subscribe to the Sound + Process podcast via iTunes or RSS.

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