Perhaps testing the outer limits of the definition of the word “performance,” this short video from Hainbach has been added to my YouTube playlist of fine live ambient sets. The inclusion can be attributed to its combination of beauty and function. The beauty relates, beyond the elegant visual setting, to a sequence of lulling passages, to layers of momentary drones and shimmery effects, unsettling loops and beatific surface noise, fantastical stereo play and naturalist field recordings. The function comes from the occasional intrusion of Hainbach’s hand, as he raises the prominence of an element, or plays a motif on the device’s keyboard. In a brief accompanying note, Hainbach sets the scene, and attributes some of the sonic source material: “Recorded on the beach the Lighthouse Festival in Porec, in between soundcheck and my performance on the beautiful modular floor there. You can hear birds from Brno, voices from Prague and the sea.”
This seven-minute performance video by State Azure focuses tight on a few modules in a larger synthesizer rig. There is no mess of spaghetti wires. There is a limited set of blinking lights. There is a single hand adjusting knobs on a single device. The accompanying liner note references some on-screen technical details, some off-screen support equipment, and some minor post-production activity. Otherwise, “Starfall,” as the track is called, is just this: a blissfully thin expanse of near-static time, a live ambient performance in which a seeming hush is nudged into the foreground and left to sway slowly this way and that, to pause for a moment, to let little details linger. It’s the music of a planetarium after hours. The lights are simply from the music equipment, not the stars, and those are more than enough.
Kat Estacio is a member of Pantayo, an all-women Filipino ensemble that explores kulintang. Kulintang is a Southeast Asian musical form involving numerous gongs, and it has a cultural presence in the Philippines. Estacio, who is based in Toronto, also performs her own music solo, some of which can be heard in a live performance from this time last year titled I Made a Mess. It’s comprised of three live recordings from the Toronto venue the Music Gallery, which I only had a chance to visit once, well over a decade ago, but I’ve kept track of ever since. The first piece, “Debris Kiss (Movement 1 & 2),” is a splendid thing, insinuating light percussion intonations amid a tonal field of high-pitched drones. The result is ceremonial and contemplative.
I’ve been keeping a playlist of live ambient performances for awhile. Several things interest me about live ambient music. The main matter is the tension between action and stasis. Ambient music often aspires to a sense of time standing still, a time apart from time. Live performance to some degree or another, whether on stage or in a home-filmed video, aspires to some extent to express activity: something happened, and it is documented here. Two short segments comprise this elegant video by Bryan Noll. The switchover happens around the 1:40 mark of the 3:09-long clip. In both segments the same small number of synthesizer modules imparts a mix of artificially conceived plucked strings and shooting-star tones that fly through, making for whiz-bang chamber music. As Noll (who also goes by Lightbath) explains in the comments, there is some additional technology offscreen, in particular a keyboard on which he is playing the chords. At times throughout you see one or both hands enter the close-up shot to move a knob or a lever, a common activity in synthesizer performance that introduces adjustment as something between conducting and performing.
This track is archival, but it also serves as a current, potent little reminder of what’s going on at bassist-producer Bill Laswell’s quickly expanding Bandcamp page. The track dates from 1993, recorded the year prior for Japanese drummer Hideo Yamaki’s album Shadow Run. It popped up today on Laswell’s Bandcamp outpost. Like many Laswell productions, Shadow Run appears under an individual’s name, but that name stands in for a wide swath of favorite session players, among them Foday Musa Suso (kora, vocals), Bernie Worrell (organ), Toshinori Kondo (trumpet), and Laswell himself. And, on this track, the great Ginger Baker. The track, “Hoisasa,” is a duo of Baker and Yamaki going at their kits, sometimes in swinging unison, often in swaggering counterpoint. It’s a force of nature collaboration. Two other releases under Yamaki’s name also appear on Laswell’s page, both duos with Laswell himself.
• January 2, 2018: This day marks the 6th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto.
• February 7, 2018: Start of the semester for the course I teach on the role of sound in the media landscape at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.
• December 13, 2018: This day marked the 22nd anniversary of Disquiet.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.
• 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.
The Disquiet Junto is an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making space in which restraints are used as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto. There is an FAQ. ... These are the 5 most recent weekly projects: