A weekly(ish) answer to the question “What have you been listening to lately?” It’s lightly annotated because I don’t like re-posting material without providing some context. I hope to write more about some of these in the future, but didn’t want to delay sharing them.
▰ Jostijn Ligtvoet’s “Twilight and Fire” combines live cello with synthesizer accompaniment, the blinking lights matching his four strings drone for drone.
▰ I caught Chiho Oka’s set during the recent No Bounds Festival event (a livestream), hosted by algorave figure Alex McLean, and several of the pieces she performed then are on her forthcoming album, Manipulating Automated Manipulated Automation. The record isn’t due out until February 28, but four tracks are already streaming, and they evidence the combination of rigor, humor, and pathos she brings to her work.
▰ Omri Cohen’s Meditation Spores is deep-synthesis ambient, brimming with digital artifice, and vibrant in its doleful melodic lines and tonal processing.
I do this manually each week, collating the tweets I made at twitter.com/disquiet (which I think of as my public notebook) that I want to keep track of. For the most part, this means ones I initiated, not ones in which I directly responded to someone. I sometimes tweak them a bit here. Some tweets pop up on Disquiet.com sooner than I get around to collating them, so I leave them out of the weekly round-up. It’s usually personally informative to revisit the previous week of thinking out loud, especially these days, when a week can feel both like a year and like nothing whatsoever has happened or changed.
▰ Yes, I’m enjoying the new Mick Herron novel, Slough House (seventh in the Slow Horses series).
▰ Close-up of the speaker grate on the back of a battery-operated alarm clock. The speaker grate is 7 millimeters in diameter. (Insert grating joke here.)
▰ As someone who lived in New Orleans for four years, I appreciate that Mutable Instruments released a new module named Beads on Fat Tuesday.
▰ Today in guitar class pentatonic education. (Jeff Rona joked in reply: “A potentially great companion to my upcoming book ‘5 Things I Like About the Pentatonic Scale'”)
▰ Alternately alarmed and amused by (while also trying to focus on some still hazy metaphorical meaning to) the idea that it is mid-February 2021 and my phone claims to not recognize this word
▰ Nothing says “frictionless user experience” like a button that reads “Sign up with SAML SSO”
▰ 8:12am sounds: hour and a half in, the house still creaking as it warms; mechanical whir in the distance; interior echo of something a neighbor has dropped; white noise of cars passing in opposite directions (clearly one ignored the stop sign); hum of refrigerator two rooms away
▰ That moment when you’re using an online tool to sign something and the automated signature looks like Ralph Steadman scribbled it while under the weather
▰ “Random method generates the same numbers” is my kinda first thread to read on a music message board in the morning over coffee
▰ Today I learned that the modernist squiggle that’s always featured on the cover of the journal Perspectives of New Music was a scribble by Igor Stravinsky. (And they all look like Alexander Girard sketches to me.)
▰ Favorite Yoko Ono factoid: she was apparently Kobo Abe’s translator the first time he visited America. Happy 88th birthday to her.
▰ The new TV series Debris (starting March 1, at least in the U.S.) looks like someone sneaked in at night and asked me while I was sleeping what I wanna watch once a week. Which means that like Counterpart, Intelligence (the one with Ian Tracey), and Travelers it’ll have a short run. Maybe it’ll last as long as Fringe, which it most resembles.
▰ Just proofread some liner notes I wrote. Very excited for when this physical object is released into the world.
Almost three years ago, back in April 2018, Simon Farintosh posted a two-minute video of himself performing an Aphex Twin song in his own arrangement for classical guitar. The video was 10 days late. That is, it was posted on April 24, 10 days after April 14, the date from which the song in question, “Avril 14th,” takes its title.
Since then, Farintosh has more than made up for that slight delay. In a little more than half a year, he has posted to YouTube one by one a half dozen live video performances of Aphex Twin tracks, including an updated version of “Avril 14th” (see above), mixed in with what might be expected from a classical guitarist (Bach, Scriabin, Villa-Lobos), plus more modern works by Philip Glass, Thelonious Monk, and Nils Frahm, and even “In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song)” from David Lynch’s Eraserhead (humorously, Farintosh opted to do this last one in black and white).
The additional contemporary material gives some aesthetic context for what Farintosh is up to. I was intrigued by his Aphex Twin project and sent him an email. He had mentioned online that he was collecting the six pieces into an EP, and replied to my email with an advance copy. I spent time listening to the tracks and comparing them with the source material. I grew interested in the decision-making entailed in Farintosh’s effort, and we agreed to do the interview that appears below.
There is no shortage of Aphex Twin covers, from post-classical ensembles like Alarm Will Sound to adventurous jazz groups like the Bad Plus to countless amateur piano and guitar players who post videos of their homemade performances. I wrote about several of these in my book on the album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Few have the sustained attention to detail that Farintosh’s exhibit. As he explained, “I think that in a sense, every transcription is a cover. … The reverse is not true, however.” (There’s quite a bit in the book about the correlation of the music of Aphex Twin, aka Richard D. James, and classical music, so I won’t go over it in this brief introduction.)
“Arranging electronic music for guitar is similar arranging orchestral music,” he told me our back and forth, “as there are so many moving parts and subtleties within the textures.”
Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview, which took place over email. Farintosh, who is currently pursuing his doctorate in music at the University of Toronto, talks about learning difficult time signatures, what tracks didn’t make the cut, keeping in mind that pianos are a kind of percussion instrument, and branching out into his own electronic music.
Update: The album is now on streaming services, as of February 5, 2020, including Spotify and YouTube Music.
Marc Weidenbaum: How did this project come to be?
Simon Farintosh: I arranged “Avril 14th” back in 2018 as an encore piece to use in concerts. Upon uploading a recording to YouTube, I quickly became inundated with requests for tabs and sheet music. This outpouring of interest encouraged me, so I invested in better recording equipment and began to work on “Kesson Daslef” and “Flim.” Before I knew it, I had the better part of a digital release arranged and recorded.
Weidenbaum: I believe that you were born in 1995, the year “Alberto Balsalm,” one of the tracks you perform here, was released. How did you become exposed to Aphex Twin’s music?
Farintosh: I don’t remember exactly when I discovered Aphex Twin, but the music has been with me for a long time. The song “Rhubarb” was definitely my gateway to playing Aphex Twin. I’ve had bad insomnia for a while, and I used to listen to this track for up to an hour on repeat in an effort to fall asleep. I quickly became entranced by the more cacophonous side of Aphex Twin, as well, and listened to the album Drukqs in its entirety many times. As a classically trained musician, I was extremely impressed by the harmonic and rhythmic ingenuity of Aphex Twin’s music. His synthesis of the minimalist classical aesthetic with modern hip-hop elements bridged two seemingly disparate worlds, and helped me imagine the nylon string guitar in a non-classical setting.
If the sonorous spaciousness of this track by Christian Carrière has a heavenly resonance to it, there’s a specific reason for that impression. Not only was the audio recorded at a church, but the recording process entailed exploring the characteristics of that space itself. The location is in Montréal, Québec, at the Église Sacré Coeur, which is approaching its 150th anniversary. Carrière explained to me via email that his project originated in 2019 as a consideration of “the acoustics of sacred spaces,” the plan being to use, as he described it, “the pure tones generated by my polyphonic no-input console.”
A no-input console is one in which the sound emitted is nothing but the inherent noise fed back through the console itself, resulting in unique, often alien-seeming tonalities, such as the ones heard here. Carrière has been at this a long time. Here’s a video, dating back nearly a decade, of him performing some of “Fratres” by Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer, using a no-input mixer:
The tones heard in “Sacred Acoustics T004” are externalized in the heart of the Église Sacré Coeur on a system of speakers, and then the sound is recorded, capturing the echoing effect that the architecture gives shape to. Explains Carrière, “The idea was to tune the tones of the console to the resonant frequencies of a given space, thus emphasizing — and playing with — its inherent acoustical properties.” The sounds are glorious, pulsing and swelling and sinuous like an otherworldly choir.
A weekly(ish) answer to the question “What have you been listening to lately?” It’s lightly annotated because I don’t like re-posting material without providing some context. I hope to write more about some of these in the future, but didn’t want to delay sharing them. (This weekly feature was previously titled Current Listens. The name’s been updated for clarity’s sake.)
▰ Sola is Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti performing a three-part piece by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir. If hyper-attenuated, ghostly strings are your thing (they are mine), this is ideal listening. As a bonus (and a model for other labels), the three tracks are followed by seven containing a conversation between composer and performer. Releaed on the New Focus Recordings label.
▰ Solo live performance by Raffael Seyfried for piano, complemented and transformed by synthesizer. The track is titled “Haptic,” and it is recommended you watch as he touches the equipment throughout.
▰ A fine synthesizer piece, titled “Frozenfir.” A lot of current synth material can over rely on plucked and warped sounds, but this performance by Ambalek, who has quickly become a personal favorite, strikes a smart balance.
▰ Due out in mid-March, the upcoming Devin Sarno album, Evocation, offers welters of noise and a brief expanse of ether in its two preview tracks.
▰ Also spending a lot of time with two pieces I wrote about in a bit more detail this past week, both solo live synthesizer performances, one by Orbital Patterns and the other by Electric Kitchen.
Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media
• July 28, 2021: This day marks the start of the 500th consecutive weekly project in the Disquiet Junto music community.
• December 13, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
• January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
• A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)
• 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.
Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.