The ever-inventive Lullatone share a gizmo that’s part turntable, part children’s toy, and all manner of delight — or what Lullatone call “ambient amateur hour” in the best possible way. The device, what the Lullatone duo have named their Perpetual Melody Machine, has four bells rotating, evenly spaced, with a suspended ball bouncing between them. It’s like a wind chime benefiting from the equivalent of a most consistent wind, yet nonetheless retaining the sense of chance that gives chimes their nature-like quality.
Using simple editing techniques, the initial video is doubled, then doubled again, slowed and and reversed, resulting in variations of combinations of layers. It’s to Lullatone’s credit that not only are the individual variations entirely enjoyable, but the whole thing, almost seven minutes long, is edited together into one seamless stretch of musical economy, right up to the very end, when Shawn James Seymour, half of Lullatone (the other half being Yoshimi Tomida), reaches a hand in from off-screen, hits the off button on the turntable, and brings the spinning to a close.
Writes Seymour of the Perpetual Melody Machine’s development two decades back:
The pendulum-like swing of the mallet was kind of a nod to the minimalist music of Steve Reich and Kousugi Takehisa, with the way ideas are sometimes better than finished products like John Cage, and the somnolent spinning of Alexander Calder (I had to use a thesaurus to find a good word that started with s), mixed with the playful experimentation in the “Useless Machines” of Bruno Munari.
That is, indeed, a cassette player in the foreground. It’s been modded in a couple ways, the key one here being that the speed of the playback can be manipulated electronically. Specifically, the sort of control voltage that works between synthesizer modules can be applied externally to the speed of the cassette. In this case, a slow waveform is increasing and reducing (back and forth, pendulum-like) the pace of the cassette playback, lending it that slurry, warbling quality. (Note the long, pink cable that plugs into cassette player.)
The recorded sequence itself is a Buddha Machine as sampled, sequenced, and played by Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator (PO-33 K.O.). I recorded that PO-33 K.O. sequence onto the tape, and then rewound the tape and played it back as controlled by the control voltage (CV) output of the synthesizer (seen in the background). This is the first patch I’ve tried out with the CV cassette player, which I received on Friday in the mail and have been eager to give a test run.
The slow wave form, an LFO (low-frequency oscillation), is from a Batumi (by Xaoc), its highs and lows compacted by the SPO (by WMD / SSF). SPO stands for Scaler / Polarizer / Offset Generator. The cassette player mod is by the awesome Chester Winowiecki, of Whitehall, Michigan. (The other mod is it can take an audio line in. The standard device only used its own microphone.) I shared some photos of the tape cassette player a few days ago: “Cassette Bent.”
About five minutes passed between me thinking, “I’m gonna take a break from picking up new music gadgets for a while” and someone online offering up hand-modded, circuit-bent cassette recorders that can change speed with CV input. This just arrived. (Not DIY. SEDIT: someone else did it themselves.)
And new inputs (one for CV, the other to add audio-in, versus the preexisting microphone) require new labels:
Being shut in for the majority of 2020 had some benefits, one of them being that for the first time since I founded this website at the tail end of 1996, I managed to write a post every single day. On some days I posted more than once, yielding a total of 478 posts over the course of the leap year’s 366 days (479 posts counting this one, come to think of it). The months of March and May were my most prolific, with 52 posts each, and July was my least (with 32).
Using Google Analytics, I sorted out the 10 most read posts of the year:
A highly sensitive microphone called the Geofón: “designed for seismic measurements, it can be used with regular field recording equipment to capture very faint vibrations in various materials and even soil.”
Often, the most beautiful sounds are all around us. We just have to learn to pay attention to them. Sometimes, however, to access these sounds, we must listen in ways our ears alone can’t accomplish. Case in point, this recording of a transformer station from Robert Cole Rizzi. Rizzi’s three-minute track is an atmospheric tour de force. It combines the inherent buzzing of the transformer with the sound of the structure itself vibrating, plus sonic evidence of the presence of electromagnetic radiation. Writes Rizzi, “You can hear a low rumble I believe is the current running through the wires and fog condensing into drops hitting the thinner zigzag beams of the mast as they fall.”
To access this depth of sonic experience, Rizzi employs the Geofon, or what I described as “the landlubber’s hydrophone in a post earlier this year. The electromagnetic information comes courtesy of another device, called the Priezor. Both are from the company LOM.
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
Upcoming • December 13, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com. • December 28, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation. • January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
Recent • July 28, 2021: This day marked the 500th consecutive weekly project in the Disquiet Junto music community. • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the 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.)
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.
Background 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.
• 0511 / Freeze Tag / The Assignment: Consider freezing (and thawing) as a metaphor for music production. • 0510 / Cold Turkey / The Assignment: Record one last track with a piece of music equipment before passing it on. • 0509 / The Long Detail / The Assignment: Create a piece of music with moments from a preexisting track. • 0508 / Germane Shepard / The Assignment: Use the Shepard tone to create a piece of music. • 0507 / In DD's Key of C / The Assignment: Make music with 10 acoustic instrument samples all in a shared key.