These two short videos from Berlin-based musician Hainbach explore mangled ambience thanks to a handy new device that benefited from an especially popular Kickstarter campaign. The gadget in question is the KOMA Field Kit, and it serves as an entry point into various less typical sonic sources, including physical connections like solenoids and DC motors, as well as the far more ethereal electromagnetic pickup. The latter is employed in the first of these videos, “David Dreams | Tape, Field Kit, OP1, Phashi.” Watch as that little hand-held sensor is moved from one device to the next, the unique nature of its detection lending an otherworldly timbre to Hainbach’s drones. “Nevada in My Dreams | Tapeloop, Fieldkit, OP1” is even slower and doomier than “David Dreams,” with bits of radio noise shooting through like sliver glimpses of alternate worlds. Hainbach’s YouTube channel is a great source of electronic music using a variety of instruments, which he details in the notes associated with the videos. This pair investigates how two very different airborne signals can contribute to the texture of recordings.
Sonic Illusion: “[W]hat we imagine hearing can change what we see” is the layperson’s summary of an investigation by Christopher C. Berger & H. Henrik Ehrsson (“The Content of Imagined Sounds Changes Visual Motion Perception in the Cross-Bounce Illusion”) noted in Nature. The article lays out various experiments involving response bias and auditory imagery. (I’m immediately drawn to wonder just how much, in turn, we can attribute to the role sound informs our experience of narratives and places.)
Stonehenge Simulation: Rupert Till of the University of Huddersfield has created a virtual experience of what Stonehenge might have been like “with all the stones in place,” writes David Sillito for the BBC. “He has now developed an app which will help people blot out the sounds – including those made by tourists, and cars on the nearby A303 – and go back to the soundscape of 3,000 years ago.” (The project brings to mind Bassel Khartabil’s work on revisiting the ancient city of Palmyra.)
Avian Few: Birds thought long ago to have gone extinct, having disappeared from their native England, live on in New Zealand. “By comparing recordings of yellowhammer accents in both countries scientists were able to hear how the birds’ song might have sounded in the UK 150 years ago,” reports Georgia Brown in the Guardian. (Via Tim Prebble)
Good Lick: According to the postal service of Greenland, only 10 to 15 albums of music are released each year by citizens of the island nation: “The bestselling of these are issued in a number of 5,000. copies. Rather impressing in at country of only 56,000 inhabitants.” So it is that the post office has released music-themed stamps, ranging from “drum song” to accordion music. (Via Michael Rhode)
Audio UI: That cool hockey puck that comes with Microsoft’s Surface Studio may have gotten old quickly: As Juli Clover reports at MacRumors.com, Adobe is working on voice-enabled search and editing of images.
Dust Up: Artist Nina Katchadourian has produced a sound tour of the MoMA in Manhattan in which she details the battle against dust at the venerable museum. As Aruna D’Souza writes at 4columns.org, two years of research yielded a 30-minute recording with numerous stops, among them “the main lobby, a closet holding air purifiers, the soaring atrium, the helicopter that hangs on the second floor, a window ledge.”
Theater Geeks: Putting aside the Wired article’s clickbait title suggestion of autonomously created large-scale buildings, Liz Stinson writes up the marvel that is the Elbphilharmonie. That’s a new theater in Hamburg, Germany, and its acoustic panelling was produced with hyper-detail computer aid: “No two panels absorb or scatter sound waves alike, but together they create a balanced reverberation across the entire auditorium.” The architecture firm of Herzog and De Meuron collaborated with acoustics expert Yasuhisa Toyota on the project.
Primate Directive: Researchers have found that human and baboon voices have far more in common than was previously believed to be the case, writes Colin Barras for the New Scientist. JoÃ«l Fagot (Aix-Marseille University) and Louis-Jen BoÃ« (Grenoble Alps University) have identified previously unrecognized vowels among 1,300 baboon subjects.
# FADE OUT
Recent deaths of note.
RIP, musician Tommy Allsup (b. 1931), who lost the coin toss that would have put him in Holly/Valens/Bopper’s plane
I have a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 for the next few weeks. I don’t think I’m going to keep it, but I may yet switch from my MacBook Air to the Surface Pro 5 when that device comes out, supposedly later this quarter (early 2017). This video is simply a glimpse at how the touch screen works for music, specifically in this case how the Aalto synth, from Madrona Labs, works. Aalto is running here from within Ableton Live. The sound quality is poor because I’m just using my phone for both the video and the audio.
The short version is that the screen is great for this sort of software, something with lots of virtual knobs and patch cords and buttons intended for touchpad/cursor use. Aalto is fine with a keyboard and trackpad, but it’s even better with the touch screen. (Less great was finding an angle that would allow me to play the instrument and yet have the screen fairly visible. This is the best I could manage. I’m not much of a videographer. I annotated the video using iMovie. My iMovie skills are pretty limited, so forgive the junior-grade typography.)
The main thing that happens once you start using a synth like Aalto with a touch screen is that things that aren’t touchable, such as the shape of an envelope, suggest themselves as touchable. Perhaps software will become more touchable as time proceeds, with some features only available on touch screens. As a friend said elsewhere, once some things are touchable, you want everything to be touchable.
“Philip Glass + Buddha Machine. Jan 2017.” That single line of news popped up on Philip Glass’ Facebook feed two evenings ago, and simultaneously on the news page of Glass’ website, philipglass.com, and then an hour or so later on Buddha Machine’s own Facebook page.
What it means isn’t exactly clear. The base impression is there’s a forthcoming Buddha Machine featuring sounds from Philip Glass. Then again, it could be something richer still. Monolake, aka Berlin-based musician Robert Henke has, among others, done a full album of Buddha Machine remixes. Perhaps Glass has composed a piece with the Buddha Machine as an automaton collaborator.
Buddha Machine is the work of the duo FM3, which consists of Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian å¼ è. The first one was released in 2005. The device is a small looping machine. It contains brief bits of music that play on repeat. Here’s a run through the sounds:
On the first device the only controls were on/off and switching between tracks. Later editions in the Buddha Machine line added the ability to change the pace, and thus the pitch, of the track. This would be one among the many celebrations of Philip Glass’ imminent 80th birthday. He was born on January 31, 1937.
This wouldn’t be the first Buddha Machine collaboration. They worked with Throbbing Gristle to produce the noise box named Gristleism back in 2009:
The third Buddha Machine, released in 2010, featured performances on the guqin string instrument by Wu Na å³å¨œ. And there was the Buddha Machine Secret Edition, produced for a French spa back in 2007 and 2008. In addition to the spa, there have been five official Buddha Machines. Glass is himself a gregarious composer whose numerous collaborations include work with Aphex Twin, R. Carlos Nakai, Richard Serra, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Simon, and Suzanne Vega.
You can hear the influence of Glass’ minimalism on the Buddha Machine, from the overall core function of looping, to the timbre and tonality of some of the tracks. The very first Buddha Machine’s second track, “Zheng – ç®,” in particular bears resemblance to the mediative arpeggios-as-reverb quality of many Glass compositions:
There’s little if any other information currently circulating, aside from a reply that the folks behind Buddha Machine made to one of the Facebook comments. In regard to certain desired characteristics of the forthcoming Buddha Machine item, they replied: “We have changed factories so I hope the new unit meets your desires.”
While on the topic, at the top of my wishlist for future Buddha Machines is that they are CV-controlled, so that the volume, speed/pitch, and track can be triggered by my modular synthesizer. This video of a hacked Buddha Machine by Leicester, U.K.”“based Stu Smith provides a proof of concept:
Here, in turn, is a room full of Buddha Machines, six in all:
This layering of multiple Buddha Machines has made the device a favorite of musicians who engage in generative music, in compositions that change over time as the result of artfully calibrated systems. Among the earliest major proponents of the Buddha Machine was Brian Eno, who reportedly bought numerous of the first edition. Eno today announced this his forthcoming album, Reflection, due out on January 1, 2017, on the Warp label, will also be available as a generative iOS app (more at brian-eno.net) that he developed with Peter Chilvers. Eno’s previous generative music apps, also made with Chilvers, include Bloom and Scape.
(Thanks for the alert, Eric Vincent Guilmette and Michelle Milligan.)
Update (2016.12.20): The device is now available for pre-order at bleep.com and boomkat.com. Bleep says, “Set for release on his 80th Birthday, the new machine features variations on piano, organ and voice, and is sure to be possibly the most minimal, yet hypnotic entry on the Buddha machine yet.” Boomkat says, ” brand new Buddha Machine made in collaboration with Philip Glass, released to commemorate his’ 80th Birthday on 31st January 2017. Seven loops of distinctive and hypnotic works by Philip Glass featuring piano, organ & voice. Significantly improved sound quality and built in speaker as well as headphone output.” There appears to be no pitch/speed control on this one.
• October 13, 2016: This day marks the start of the 250th weekly Disquiet Junto project.
• November 16, 2016: I'll be sharing the mic at Adobe Books in San Francisco with my fellow 33 1/3 author Evie Nagy for an evening hosted, from 7pm to 10pm, by Marc Kate (facebook.com).
• December 1, 2016: A likely speaking engagement. Details to come.
• December 13, 2016: This day marks the 20th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 5, 2017: This day marks the 5th 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 can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.