Arve Henriksen’s album Towards Language (Rune Grammofon) came out just over five years ago. It’s an essential catalog item for the growing library of what has come to be called “ambient jazz” — what used to be, when there was far less of this stuff, simply thought of as “music in the tradition of Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way.” The lush-yet-minimalist record teamed the Norwegian trumpeter with his countrymen Jan Bang and Erik Honoré (who have worked with numerous electronically mediated trumpeters, including Jon Hassell and Nils Petter Molvær).
Here is Towards Language on YouTube. You should start at the beginning, but if you’re looking for a key track, I recommend “Hibernal.”
And once you’ve gotten it under your skin, check out this live performance, which turns the trio into a quartet with the addition of guitarist Eivind Aarset:
This is a photo I took on Wednesday evening, September 14, in Golden Gate Park, not far from where I live in San Francisco’s Richmond District. The occasion was the premiere of Fall and Fly, a new piece of music composed by Benjamin Gribble for a dozen pianos. The funny thing is that after the performance, several people I spoke with said the same thing. They’d assumed in advance, as had I, that the pianos would surround the audience: that we’d walk amid a landscape of keyboards and hear different things depending on our location. Instead, the pianos were grouped together in an arc, forming what felt like, in effect, one single 1,056-key instrument.
I shot this image just before the piece began. For the performance, its composer took a seat at the first piano on the left (the one fully in view above the hat that’s on top of a tripod). Gary Kamiya, Agneta Falk, and Rebecca Solnit spoke at the opening, though the sound system was such that depending on where you sat, you might not have heard much of what they said. From today, the 16th, through the 20th, the same dozen pianos will be placed throughout the Botanical Garden, and anyone can walk up and play a bit. There are also some scheduled events. Details at sfbg.org/flowerpiano. It’s a mixed blessing that this weekend there is much-needed rain in the local weather forecast.
The local movie theater, the Balboa, has great film programming, including VHS screenings, archival goodness, themed festivals, and animation, plus current blockbusters. And on top of all that, it’s hosting concerts these days, including the electronic goodness that is Resonant Frequencies (details: resfreq.live).
Tobias Reber informed me this morning — or this evening, that is, in Bern, Switzerland, where Reber is based — that today marks the 30th anniversary of John Cage’s death, which occurred on August 12, 1992. The comment, via Facebook, came on the occasion of a project we’re currently undertaking, the third in a sequence of music prompts for Musikfestival Bern. This marks the fourth consecutive year of the Disquiet Junto’s collaboration with the festival, thanks to Reber’s invitation. As it turns out, the project currently underway is built on Cage (details at disquiet.com/0554). It takes a chord from a Cage composition and asks contributors to create drones based on that chord. The project began yesterday, the 11th, and will continue through this coming Monday, the 15th.
As always with Junto projects, which I’ve now been moderating for over a decade, the sheer variety of approaches by musicians has been inspiring. One participant built a system in the Pure Data coding language, while another used a different instrument for each note in the chord, and someone else played it on the beautiful Hyve touch synthsizer. The tracks are appearing one at a time on a llllllll.co discussion thread.
Cage’s death is also on my mind because I’ve been re-reading his conversations with Morton Feldman that were collected in the essential MusikTexte book Radio Happenings, a portion of which inspired another Musikfestival Bern project a few weeks ago.
It’s been a while since I thought about the one time I saw Cage in person, which must have been not long before he passed away. He sat just in front of me in the audience at a Bang on a Can Marathon performance by Margaret Leng Tan of some of his work. I could swear it was toy piano music being played, but a review by Edward Rothstein that year — the year Cage turned 80 — says it was a regular piano (see: nytimes.com). This would have been at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan. If memory serves, I was sitting with the late K. Robert Schwarz, who died of AIDS in 1999 and had written for me when I was an editor at Tower Records’ Pulse! magazine. Also, if I’m not mistaken, Tan sat with Cage in the audience up until it was time to perform. And Cage, quite sweetly, drifted off to sleep during her performance.
Like last week’s round-up, this post is a reminder of some of the inspiring music housed at Instagram. It’s also the latest in a series of occasional answers to a frequent question: “What have you been listening to lately?” These are annotated, albeit lightly, because I don’t like reposting material without providing some context. I hope to write more about these in the future, but didn’t want to delay sharing them.
▰ Tuscany, Italy-based Federico Chiesa, who goes by Oora (“pronounced like Aura”), at instagram.com/ooramusic, shared a live sequence of tender, lush synthesizer mood music.
▰ Sarah Belle Reid (instagram.com/sarahbellereid), based in Los Angeles, does incredible things with her horn, processed live by racks of synthesizer modules. As she explains, “I am constantly exploring ways to add breath and organic motion into my synth patches, looking for ways to make my oscillators blend with and play off of my trumpet more, and so on.”
▰ Thinking too much about the potential for something akin to a proper “metaverse” can diminish the melding of physical and virtual already in full flower. This video by Prague-based Digiklvb (instagram.com/digiklvb) combines the synthesizer seen in real life with an overlayed image that is produced by the same system. Yes, these don’t appear in the “real world” as such, except through post-production editing, but I think the increasing prominence of such combinations is a glimpse into how musicians like Digiklvb experience such work as they produce it.
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, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com. • January 6, 2023: This day marked the 11th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
Recent • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier). • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly (aaassembly.org) at Gray Area (grayarea.org). • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation. • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community. • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of 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.)
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.