My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: live performance

The Evel Knievel of Tape Loops

Amulets lets a tape un-spool to its death.

Like the old Evel Knievel stunts of long-ago prime-time television broadcasts — well, sort of — the experimental musician Amulets announced in advance that today he would let un-spool, live on YouTube, a cassette tape that would, a bit like in the Mission: Impossible episodes that aired around the same time Knievel was jumping big rigs, self-destruct. (Or perhaps a bit like the old Saturday Night Live skit, also from that era, in which a lobster’s fate hung in the balance.)

The Amulets tape — more specifically a tape-loop, a few mere seconds of sound going round and round — would be encased in a device jury-rigged to slowly “erode” the material on which the sound was recorded.

When the video first aired (I did, indeed, tune in live, though it’s now archived for repeat viewing, round and round), there was drama to the slow-moving affair: Just how degraded would the audio get? (Pretty darn.) Would it be recognizable half an hour or forty five minutes into the process? (Yes, actually.) Would it snap before the full, planned hour of decay had played out? (Quite surprisingly: nope!) What does happen is that the sound falls apart in stages, so slowly that it’s only really recognizable when one compares and contrasts snippets five to ten seconds apart. Fortunately for the curious, even when streaming live, YouTube’s embedded player allowed you to back up to earlier in the recording, and then return to the current, live moment.

In a separate video, the process behind the loop scenario is revealed. Turns out it’s the same challenge that the musician Hainbach responded to last week (see: “Sandpaper Is a Form of Change.”) Making this sort of an answer song.

Like the cassette tape technology itself, what with its newfound revival in recent years, the cassette that Amulets experimented with proved indefatigable. Writes Amulets of the process, “Through a lot of trial and error I was able to design a self-destructive, self-contained cassette that not only eroded the magnetic tape, but could also be reused and reloaded with different loops for continued future experiments.” Here’s to the sequel!

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at the YouTube channel of Amulets, aka Randall Taylor of Portland, Oregon. More from Amulets/Taylor at amuletsmusic.com and amulets.bandcamp.com.

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My First Article for The Wire

A review of the Recombinant Festival from late last year, now in the March issue

If you like abstract electronic and other non-popular musics, you likely know this typeface in this weight and set at this column width. I’m excited to have been published in The Wire for the first time (the magazine previously had a nice write-up of the Disquiet Junto, and reviewed my book on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II). It’s a full-page review of the excellent Recombinant Festival (in San Francisco at Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, with satellite operations at the Lab and a gallery called Ohio). Highlights included Herman Kolgen, Rrose, Electric Indigo, Semiconductor, and the audio-visual duo of Drew McDowall and Florence To. (It’s in the March issue, with Stephen Malkmus of Pavement on the cover.)

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We Don’t Need the Human Touch

The drum machines can dance — or at least sway — well enough on their own.

One possible definition of — or, perhaps, alternative phrase for — the increasingly employed term “generative” would be “Look, Mom, no hands.” That’s the route that many modular synthesizer videos follow: using various techniques that coax machines to be led by what seems to be their own initiative, devoid of any evidence of human touch. The result is work in which a machine’s lights are signs of life, in which no hands ever enter the picture’s frame. The absence of a human in “Koto Ward” by Chanse Macabre is signaled by the cars passing in the distance. There are people to be seen, or at least sensed, but they are far away, locked in other machines, and moving considerably more quickly than the music this placid machine has elected to emit. The gentle, rhythmic plucking of “Koto Ward” challenges the ear to listen for repetitions in the patterns, to find a moment where the loop begins again. That moment never comes, such are the slight variations that keep the bobbing, gently percussive apparatus moving in such a convincingly improvisatory, lifelike manner.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at YouTube. More from Chanse Macabre, based in Houston, Texas, at chansemacabre.bandcamp.com and instagram.com/chanse.macabre.

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Joe Colley’s Human-Scale Noise

A live performance from late 2018

Joe Colley (sometimes also known as Crawl Unit) is a master of human-scale noise. His noise is rarely of the industrial scope that so many bands aspire to. He probes and proposes intimate spaces, rather than massive ones — substructures rather than infrastructures. Which isn’t to suggest his noises are quiet. As evidenced by this recording — live from last October at the Lausanne Underground Film & Music Festival — his exploration of desktop devices yields all manner of abrasive aesthetics.

Video originally posted at youtube.com. More on the festival at 2018.luff.ch.

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Sandpaper Is a Form of Change

The sound of tape loops as they slowly fall apart over an extended period of time

Repetition may be, as Brian Eno famously put it, a form of change, but so too is slow deterioration as a result of sharp edges and rough surfaces. The latter is the process employed by the musician Hainbach in “Three Tape Loops Destructing Over Three Hours.” (It’s actually close to three and a half hours.) The source audio is piano that Hainbach recorded himself. In the extended video, the resulting tape recordings are seen and heard to slowly come apart as they are exposed to various knife blades and sandpaper. Soft tones give way to serrated noise. The ear hears continuity amid the destruction, as the abbrasive texture itself becomes a sonic element in the mix.

It’s worth noting that the project began as a challenge from Simon the Magpie, whose curse-laden, manic proposal is about as distinct from Hainbach’s sedate, reflective pace as could be imagined.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at Hainbach’s YouTube channel.

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