Demos of apps by musicians are a great way to explore both their unintended consequences and their inherent strictures. In contrast with promotional videos, which generally show the app used by someone with advanced knowledge of its inner workings, initial demos by new adapters have a more hands-on feel, with the general sense of someone coming to grips with adapting something to their own musical style and performance workflow. What follows is one of Dean Terry’s demo runs through the iSEM app, which as its name suggests is an iOS adaptation of the 1974 Oberheim SEM synthesizer. He’s an especially good reference point. Not only is he familiar with the original, he has two of them in his studio.
Here are his notes on the piece, which has a steady, downtempo, stepwise flavor:
Quick test of the iSEM iOS app. This is a first patch with some live parameter noodling, driven by the built in arpeggiator. Single take, one track.
I have two actual SEMs in the studio. I think comparing is missing the point so I made something that took advantage of what this iOS app does best, which is modulation and polyphony. The best part is the 8 voice programmer which allows you to modify the sound for each of of 8 steps, which you can hear clearly in this test recording (except I’m only using 5 steps).
Recording notes: This is not exactly what the app sounds like raw. It was recorded via the ipad analog outs into outboard studio preamps, eqs, and a stereo compressor. It was then sent through a few mix bus eq’s and compressors in Protools. This is how I treat all iPad apps and other digital sources and it helps make them more vibrant and analog-like.
Described by the musician as “noodling,” what it is is the sound of an iPad in the service of sonic exploration, from ominous footsteps through pulsating synthesis to dispersed beats. It was apparently recorded on a trio of apps: the multitrack tool Auria, the synthesizer Alchemy, and one named Sequence. Here’s to more noodling.
The recent San Francisco MusicTech Summit held, on May 28, a panel on “The Future of Music Creation Tools,” featuring Daniel Walton of app developer Retronyms, Sam Valenti of the Ghostly label and new Drip.FM platform, sound designer Dot Bustelo, and musician Dweezil Zappa. The panel was moderated by Billboard magazine writer David Downs. The panelists come at it from various, complementary directions, from iOS apps to guitar gear to distribution platforms, and there’s a heavy emphasis on practical applications, which in this heady field can be usefully grounding.
Â¶ Deaf Gaming: Interesting anecdote from a recent gamasutra.com piece on the late video game creator Kenji Eno, written by Brandon Sheffield. The “Eno” in this is, of course, Kenji (not Brian), and the Saturn is the Sega game console from the mid-1990s:
“For his next game, Sega wanted to make it an exclusive — whatever it was. Eno had recently met with some sight-impaired folks who liked to play action games, and he asked himself, “What if you made a game that the blind and the sighted could play equally?” So he created the game Real Sound, which is an audio-only retail game, and made Sega promise that if he made the game exclusive to them, they would donate 1,000 Saturns to blind people, and he would supply 1,000 copies of the game. Again, this was an unusual idea for 1996, but he felt the stagnancy of the industry, and went to great lengths to shake it up.”
Surround Sound: The Tank is a 60’ x 30′ vessel —Â a “rusted steel water tank” in the words of its caretaker, Bruce Odland, who has made use of its inherent 40-second reverb since 1976. He’s set up a kickstarter.com campaign to ensure its future use:
The campaign ends March 31, 2013. More on the project at kickstarter.com. (Thanks for the tip go to Joshua Izenberg, whose filmSlomo just won the Documentary Short prize among the Short Film Jury Awards at the 2013 SXSW festival. Jeremiah Moore, the sound designer on Slomo, is apparently also involved in this Tank project.)
Â¶ Electretymologies: There’s a hair’s-breadth matter of word choice in today’s “playlist” by Jon Pareles in the New York Times. In a single column he reviews six records. For Suuns’ Images du Futur he mentions “the repeating synthesizer tones of early electro.” For How to Destroy Angels’ Welcome Oblivion he mentions both “dank electronic sounds” and how “the electronics mostly give way to the acoustic.” And for Draco Rosa’s Vida he mentions “dipping into new wave, Caribbean styles, electronica and, at the end, hard-rock blasts.” The emphasis is mine. Those are four distinct terms, all variations on a core root prefix, all used in close proximity: electro, electronic, electronics, and electronica.
Â¶ Twang Bar Theory: This is pretty great. Over at youtube.com, Adrian Belew (King Crimson, Talking Heads, Nine Inch Nails) as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival back in 2011, discussing the “history and future of guitar noise”:
Â¶ Docusound Platform: Promotional video for the site docusound.org, “a platform for producing and distributing audio documentaries”:
Â¶ Sonifying Auckland: Sound designer Tim Prebble, along with filmmaker Denise Batchelor, is a 2013 artist in residence of the Auckland regional parks system. Details at scoop.co.nz. Here is description from the announcement: “He’ll record local native birdcalls, slow the recordings to allow notation and then ”˜play with this as the DNA of music’, embellishing and orchestrating it. On completion, his music will be played at a local venue and a CD, tentatively called The Bird Song Preludes, will be available after his residency.” More from Prebble at musicofsound.co.nz.
Â¶ Celluloid Heroes: The first of two parts of a documentary about Celluloid Records, over at youtube.com, featuring among others Bill Laswell, DXT (formerly Grand Mixer DST), and label founder Jean Karakos:
Â¶ Re-scanning: Great interview at thequietus.com with Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, about his range of activities. He goes project by project, talking about his early work with the technology from which he took his name (“The scanner was connected directly into a tape deck the whole time. This was ’91, ’92, this was anticipating an idea of the internet, there was no access to this kind of networked world that we’re so comfortable with today. These voices and accessing them suddenly took you into a very private place that you could never otherwise be in.”), collaborating with filmmaker Derek Jarman and artist Mike Kelley, and “re-soundtrack[ing]” the final two minutes of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse, and much more.
Â¶ In Brief: There’s a 30-part audio documentary titled Noise: A Human History being presented starting tomorrow, March 18, on BBC 4 by David Hendy of the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex: bbc.co.uk (via bl.uk). Â¶ The palmsounds.net provides a brief overview of a talk Rob Thomas (of Reality Jockey) gave in London about mobile music. Â¶ In the Field: The Art of Field Recording is a new book containing interviews with artists whose work employs field recordings. Among those are Andrea Polli, Christina Kubisch, Francisco LÃ³pez, Hildegard Westerkamp, Jez Riley French, and Lasse-Marc Riek. (Thanks for the tip, John Kannenberg.) Â¶ “Why Do People Use ”˜Nope’ Even Though ”˜No’ Is Shorter?” (at slate.com, via Quora). The short version is that “no” may have half as many letters but the hard stop at the end of “nope” arguably makes it more succinct. The author, Marc Ettlinger, has other theories as well, including an informative bit on “sound symbolism.” Â¶ Robert Henke, aka Monolake, is coming to the San Francisco Bay Area as a visiting instructor at CCRMA, the computer music department at Stanford University. In a warm-welcome gesture, the department made the page announcing his course look just like a page from Henke’s own monolake.de website. Â¶ That White House petition to make unlocking cellphones legal, mentioned here recently, has gained President Obama’s support. Â¶ The 62nd Disquiet Junto project had 44 participants, each making music from three sine waves. Â¶ Here’s a recording of Steve Reich’s “Radio Rewrite,” his new adaptation of Radiohead’s “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” and “Everything in Its Right Place”: youtube.com. (Note, it’s audio only. Found via the indispensable rgable.typepad.com.)
The app called Vine facilitates the easy production of six-second audio-video clips. It has managed to locate an entertaining parallel between tweets and animated gifs, between short outbursts of self-expression and the hypnotic splendor inherent in repetition.
My first Vine post (I’m @disquiet on Vine) was of a 7″ single playing on a turntable, specifically a 7″ that was a compilation of locked grooves, short loops in which the record needle gets stuck and plays forever. The length of the loop and length of the video do not quite match, and the seam is all too evident, but it was a fun experiment, especially because it used an old nifty bit of loopy pop culture to test out a new nifty bit of loopy pop culture:
(The compilation 7″ in question was released in 1993 on RRRecords. It features pieces by Big City Orchestra, Controlled Bleeding, Randy Greif, Jim O’Rourke, Gregory Whitehead, and 95 other contributors. View the full track list at discogs.com. There’s a picture of it at deadformat.net.)
Matthew Barlow has posted several items on Vine that are musical in nature — that is, they emphasize the audio as equal to if not over the visual. That is in contrast with the majority of Vine posts, in which the sound is often just the ambient noise of whatever happens to have been going on when the video was shot. Note that outside of the Vine app itself, Vine loops come up muted, requiring the listener-viewer to opt to turn up the volume. One example of Barlow’s exploration of Vine’s sonic potential is this bit of wind chime, which can be thought of as an especially early version of endlessly looping music, though of course its structural complexity makes those sounds more varied that a locked groove. When looped to six circular seconds, the distinction becomes less meaningful. Barlow ingeniously uses multiple seams between short segments of clips of the wind chime to make the overall length of the clip less self-evident than it would have been with a straight single shot:
The core of Barlow’s Vine experiments have tended to focus on a balance of visual and drone. He’s tagged them many things, including #lofi and #loop and #experimental, but foremost is the neologism #vrone. It is a useful term, not only because it suggests a new form, but because the word #drone on Vine is mostly of small flying objects.
Here is an example of his efforts:
And here is another:
Better yet, use vineviewer.co to pull up the results of the #vrone hashtag, and listen to (as of this writing) three of Barlow’s pieces playing simultaneously.
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
• I pondered the word "orchestral" in my liner notes for the excellent new album Uprooted from Rotterdam-based Michel Banabila, released April 9, 2019.
• I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Darwin Grosse for his excellent, longrunning podcast, Art + Music + Technology, and the episode went live on April 7, 2019: artmusictech.libsyn.com.
• I gave the opening talk on March 22, 2019, at the inaugural Algorithmic Art Assembly in San Francisco. I'll post a summary here soon, but for the time being, there's a great overview of the event at the website of cycling74.com, written by Tom Hall.
• I was on Vivian Host's Peak Time show (on Red Bull Radio) on March 11 to extol the timeless virtues of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and related works. You can listen to a recording here: redbullradio.com.
• May 7, 2019: This day sees the release of Rob Walker's book The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday (Knopf), which has entries about the Disquiet Junto.
• May 22, 2019: Final day of the semester of the 15-week "Sounds of Brands" course I teach once a year at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I post occasional updates here. Follow the tag #sounds-of-brands.
• December 13, 2019: This day marks the 23rd anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2020: This day marks the 8th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto.
• A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen.
• 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.
• 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.
• 0381 / Shared System / The Assignment: make music using a free software synth assembled by Scanner.
• 0380 / Ears Only / The Assignment: Record a piece of music for an audience of one.
• 0379 / Open Studios / The Assignment: Share a track, get feedback, and give feedback.
• 0378 / Blue(tooth) Haze / The Assignment: Experiment with the sonic qualities of a failing signal.
• 0377 / Algorithms Assemble / The Assignment: Have fun with rules applied to scales, in coordination with the Algorithmic Art Assembly.