Just yesterday, the musician Hainbach released a short video, barely five minutes long, of a noise-informed, texture-rich ambient performance. The instrumentation on this is simple: cassette playback, which Hainbach controls four channels on, and an effects unit. The piece develops in two primary ways: as the relative levels of those channels are adjusted, and as the various effects are put into effect.
A loop of murky, sodden, melting melody, seemingly on piano, is warped beneath the distressed qualities of the tape on which it was first recorded. Wafts of white noise, much like the flapping of a flag in the wind, surround that piano, while other lines slowly make themselves present, notably an echoing rhythm.
In the expanding realm of live synthesizer performance videos, even the more informed among us sometimes can’t see the ensemble forest for the module trees. Despite the assembly of knobs and cables in this video, uploaded by State Azure, the activity is limited to just two pieces of equipment packed into a tidy little box in the foreground, two little modules designed for the manipulation of sound. The slight twists and adjustments on State Azure’s part align in various ways with interstellar spaciousness, wind chime chill, and dusty static, though by no means are all the correlations self-evident. There’s an understandable disconnect between how something so small can make something so vast, something so compact can make something so internally varied and vibrant. But still, watching those manipulations unfold in no way diminishes the elegance of what transpires sonically. It’s a graceful series of maneuvers that direct the sounds from start to end.
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.
• December 13, 2018: This day marks 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: