New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • Disquiet.com F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

tag: live performance

Revisiting Some Texture

Part of my ongoing live ambient performance playlist

Listen through the shimmer. Listen through the held tones, and the bell tones, and the swelling notes. Listen past the asynchronous patterning and the resulting chance chordal play. Listen instead for the frictives, the less sinuous textural elements, the way vinyl surface noise (or its approximate) moves across the stereo field. Listen for the clatter, and how it lends a sense of scale to the sonic space. Then listen to the more tonal material, and how the presence of the less inherently sedative elements bring out textures in the seemingly texture-less.

I don’t think I’ve re-upped a recording in a while, but I just love this piece, so having written about it back in April, I wanted to mention it again. This video is part of my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine live ambient performances. Video originally posted to YouTube by the talented Jae Ryan.

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The Art of Drones

A document of three Takeyuki Hakozaki installations

What Comes After is the perfect title for a collection of tracks that are, themselves, the sonic byproduct of art installations. The installation was the thing; the audio is a memory. A set of those memories is what came after. Each of the three tracks is a recording of roughly seven minutes taken from one of three different set-ups that artist Takeyuki Hakozaki had at the HAKO Gallery in Chiba, Japan, earlier this year, back in mid-February. (I’ve been to Chiba several times to attend the annual Shonen Jump festival, but I’ve never been to an art gallery in the city, which is outside Tokyo.) One of Hakozaki’s pieces involves several electric guitars resonating thanks to electric fans. Another involves audio tape rubbing against guitar strings. The third use a synthesizer to process tape loops. Each recording takes the form of a drone. Each is marked by different elements, and throughout you can hear voices here and there (if you speak Japanese, which I can’t, you might be able to make out some of what is spoken). “Air” is symphonic in scope, the overtones so rich I’d swear I can hear a choir chanting amid the resonances. Magnetic” is rough and raucous, albeit in slow motion. “Complex” is like a shoegazer track, subtler than “Air,” less frictive than “Magnetic.”

If you scroll back through the gallery’s instagram.com/hako_chiba account, you can find documentation of the first (circulator, “Air”), shown above, second (loops, “Magnetic”), and third (synthesizer, “Complex”) projects.

More on HAKO at h-a-k-o.com. More from Takeyuki Hakozaki at signflax.com and instagram.com/t.hakozaki. The audio was mastered by Taylor Deupree (of 12k Records).

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Immersive Cinema and Ghost Ship Anniversary

A review I wrote for The Wire of the 2019 Recombinant festival

Recombinant Festival
Various venues, San Francisco, US

Like many major cities, San Francisco is haunted by numerous defunct cinemas, left behind by technological and cultural shifts. These buildings linger as decrepit shells, occasionally refurbished as anything from batting cages to video game arcades and non-profit offices. Hollywood has fully divested; all that remain are the marquees.

One such theater, the former Grand in the city’s Mission District, was revived in 2014 as the latest home to Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. It has since become a key location at the contested intersection of tech and the arts by hosting concerts, coding workshops, and occasionally actual films.


Rrose is the center of attention.

Gray Area coordinates with two neighborhood galleries for the week-long Recombinant festival, founded by longtime immersive-cinema impresario Naut Humon, co-founder of Asphodel Records. Events range from sonic abstraction to trenchant dance music, the one constant a massive six by 12 meter screen in Gray Area’s seatless main hall. The satellite installations are expressly audiovisual: Ulf Langheinrich’s NIL, a stroboscopic barrage at the Ohio gallery, coaxes retinas toward altered states with vibrant color fields, while Earthworks, a multiscreen sprawl at the Lab, quivers and gurgles with amoeboid correlations to seismic data, a creation of Superconductor, aka the duo of Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt.

Each performer at Recombinant either embraces or evades the massive screen’s presence. Aïsha Devi bled images onto adjacent walls, challenging the surface’s dominion, her music a joyous torrent of cyber-spiritual extroversion. When musicians such as Hiro Kone, pushing out downtempo beats, and Marcus Schmickler, emanating artful noise, treat the screen as an afterthought, the relative absence feels intentionally spartan.

Most acts employ the vast canvas as a synchronized backdrop to sonic activities, like Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS on opening night, his cyclopean industrial momentum a score to journeys through environmental footage reminiscent of his color-coded album covers. Electric Indigo make a strong impression with what might be called sound-design techno, the screen occasionally reorienting to a dramatic beat. In the lobby, additional installations explored color-sound alignment, including therapeutic simulations from Li Alin and Craig Dorety.


Herman Kolgen mid-flight

The festival highlight is Herman Kolgen, who for two nights took over the hall, moving from large screen to stage to intimate set-ups. He commands the room, shifting attention as he roams from station to station. The show opened with accompaniment by William Winant and Antonio Gennaro on percussion, performing a sleek rendering of Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” to video of tragic locomotives (some damaged miniatures, others exploded CGI renderings). Kolgen’s “Isotopp” is a showstopping marvel, as he coaxes a corona-like glass circle into states of electrostatic ecstasy, and the audience along with it. Another highlight is Rrose, who the night before, courtesy of heavily protected floor cabling, performed a set of fierce, terse techno.


Drew McDowall and Florence To in their time machine

Recombinant’s final night coincides with the second anniversary of the Ghost Ship fire, which killed 36 people at a warehouse concert in nearby Oakland. Early in the evening, two acts — ichael Gendreau and the aptly named Infrasound — pay homage by pushing low-frequency audio to ceiling-rattling effect. Drew McDowall and Florence To closed the festival with Coil’s waveform-maximalist work Time Machines. To’s low-res images providing limited illumination, the dense and shuddering music served as a proper memorial, alternately numbing and euphoric.

There’s some additional context in a post I made when I first announced the article’s publication. This was my first article published in The Wire. I took all the above photos. None of them accompanied the article. I’m just fond of them, and while the one of Rrose isn’t great, it really captures for me my experience of the highly memorable moment.

This article I wrote originally appeared in the March 2019 issue (number 421) of The Wire.

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Kenneth Goldsmith by way of PDQ Bach, and More

An early (April 2020) pandemic livestream review I wrote for The Wire

Happy Valley Band + Erin Demastes + Repairer of Reputations
Various locations/Twitch

The valley in the name of Happy Valley Band is for Silicon Valley. The happy today, April 18, 2020, is nominal, due to widespread Covid induced seclusion. Happy Valley Band, an AI-arbitered experiment, is headlining a live stream that features noises from Erin Demastes and synth flashbacks from Ryan Page, the latter performing as Repairer of Reputations. The live stream phenomenon, like the coronavirus itself, is still novel.

The concert, held by the experimental promoter Indexical, occurs on Twitch, a platform for watching other people play video games. The Twitch website is correspondingly colorful and antic. For those less engaged in gamer culture, it can also be confusing. Like a waiter missing the hint that you have no interest beyond the club’s minimum drink requirement, Twitch often pesters you about ways to level up, mystifyingly so.

Demastes’ opening set is brightly illuminated, and otherwise a stark contrast to the manic framing of Twitch’s interface. On screen, color fields shift slightly and meaningfully. She is patiently engaged in microsound, in closely miking textiles and other materials. Her audio is at first quiet, so much so that latecomers keep entering the Twitch chat room to ask if the sound is even on. It is. (One good thing about Twitch concerts is that musicians and audience can silence crowd chatter with a click.)

As the volume rises, more sounds are heard as she probes and amplifies things seen through a microscope. These are as curiosity-invoking as they are abrasive. An after-show interview sheds additional light. Demastes lists her tools. These include beads, Styrofoam, and corkboard (that “gross brown stuff,” she reminds us), as well as a Slinky, a lobster fork, and a doorstop.

Happy Valley Band go second. Like the audience, the group’s members have assembled, far and wide, from the comfort of private spaces. They appear in the all too familiar virtual-conference grid of torsos. David Kant, the band’s leader, sets a self-mocking tone: “We’re going to be here for the next … too long, destroying your favorite songs.” What Happy Valley do is play music as heard through artificial intelligence. The musicians — including Kant on tenor sax, Mustafa Walker on bass, Alexander Dupuis on guitar, and Pauline Kim on violin, among too many members to list here — play notation produced by software that listens to pop classics and spits out what the algorithms observe. The Happy Valley Band are Kenneth Goldsmith by way of PDQ Bach: cultural plundering in the service of joking forensic dismemberment. They churn through hits like Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” and James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” Much as synthesizers have an easier time inferring pitch from woodwinds than from multi-timbral instruments, the barebones nature of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” yields the least frantic results of the show: the chords are anything but standard, but do leave space for the ear to focus on individual elements. The bombast of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” however, yields frenzied mush.

Like Demastes, Page performs work where visuals and sounds are inseparable. Throughout his set, the screen fills with ancient cathode-ray images, snatches of what seems like a VHS tape of a forgotten Roger Corman horror flick. The occasional narration reads like the script to a text adventure (“You open the door. … As you enter, you are sure this is your house”). The eeriest thing, nonetheless, is just how period-perfect are the synth-score cues that Page plays to accompany the footage.

There’s some additional context in a post I made when I first announced the article’s publication (“This is the first freelance concert review I have ever written on the same device on which I witnessed the concert”).

This article I wrote originally appeared in the July 2020 issue (number 437) of The Wire.

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The Radio as Musical Instrument

An article I wrote for a special 2021 issue of The Wire


The OP-1 from Teenage Engineering

In 2011, six decades to the year after John Cage’s Imaginary Landscape No 4 instructed two dozen performers at Columbia University to use radios as instruments, a small Swedish company named Teenage Engineering released a portable music-making device. With the OP-1, radio went from being used as an instrument to being part of an instrument. An FM receiver was among the OP-1’s feature set, alongside a keyboard, synthesizer engines, sequencers and a digital record mode that borrowed its user interface from old-school cassette tapes. (Which wasn’t entirely unprecedented. In the 1980s, Casio released a piece of Frankengear called the CK-500, which combined two cassette decks and a radio with a four-octave keyboard. It went precisely nowhere.)

The design of the tidily integrated OP-1 earned a spot in the permanent holdings of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, meaning it’s in the same collection as various Cage drawings, including the graphic notation Score Without Parts (40 Drawings By Thoreau). “It felt natural,” says Teenage Engineering co-founder Jens Rudberg via Zoom. “Because to make music it helps to have inspiration, so you can sample from the OP-1’s microphone, or what you’re playing, or you can tune into whatever radio stations are around you.”


The ADDAC102

Something must have been in the air in 2011. Two other notable instruments with radios debuted that same year. San Francisco Bay Area synth legend Don Buchla debuted the 272e Polyphonic Tuner in 2011 at NAMM, the massive Southern California trade fair. The 272e module, released commercially the following year, includes four separately tunable FM receivers. Also in 2011, ADDAC Systems, based in Lisbon, Portugal, launched the ADDAC102 module, which, like Buchla’s, provided the ability to alter FM tuning via control voltage, the electrical impulses by which synthesizers send and receive instructions for things like volume, pitch and pace.

Joel Davel, who worked on the 272e with Buchla, says the device took half a decade to complete: “In particular, Cage’s Imaginary Landscape No 4 was motivation to have at least a quad radio module.” Davel himself uses the module: “It was while playing with Don in 2011 in Mexico City that I learned of Steve Jobs’s death over Mexican radio through the 272e.”

Among 272e enthusiasts is San Francisco electronic musician Thomas Dimuzio, who tells a funny story about radio’s adoption by synthesizer designers. In spring 2007, two years after Bob Moog’s death, his namesake company announced the MoogerFooger MF/FM. Its advertising read: “Actually captures radio signals, routes them through electronic wizardry.” Dimuzio and a friend excitedly called the Moog offices, only for the receptionist to reminded them it was April Fool’s Day.


The radio function on the Tracker from Polyend

Four years later, come 2011, a radio instrument was no longer a joke. And a decade on, there are still more gadgets purpose-built for adding radio to musicians’ kits. Even as conventional broadcast radio is on the decline with the rise of streaming services, it is experiencing unprecedented utility as a tool for making music, rekindling a legacy of radio experimentation that runs through Cage, Keith Rowe, Holger Czukay, Christina Kubisch, John Duncan and many others. Polyend’s Tracker instrument, a grid device with a generous screen, includes an FM radio, which company founder Piotr Raczyński used in late 2019 on vacation: “I went to Egypt with my preproduction unit, and I grabbed samples from religious radio. I love those samples. They opened a totally new window for my music.”


A view of the Tracker from Polyend

Teenage Engineering’s co-founder Rudberg agrees: “When you’re somewhere else, it’s easy to find something to sample because it’s different. It’s easier to do something new.”

Several recent radio devices are, like ADDAC’s, in the Eurorack format. These include the ST Modular Radio and the Tesseract Modular’s Low Coast, the latter of which looks like it was yanked from a car dashboard. Another, the KOMA Field Kit – Electro Acoustic Workstation, was initially funded on Kickstarter by nearly a third of a million euros in 2017, and includes not just FM but AM and the enduringly popular zone of shortwave, too. KOMA was founded in 2011 (there’s that year again) by Christian Zollner and Wouter Jaspers. Speaking from its Berlin office, Zollner talks about the personal influence of the annual event Klangwolke, which translates as Sound Cloud, in his native Linz, Austria: “Ever since I was a kid, every civilian is supposed to put their radio in their window. Pieces play, and as you go around the city, you go through this sound cloud.”

Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner is synonymous with radio music thanks to his sampling efforts in the early 1990s, and credits the tool with maintaining tension in his performances. As part of a lengthy email correspondence, he writes: “I enjoy letting these sources take me in a direction I might never expect, using indiscriminate signals that I just pull down in real time and improvise around.” Rimbaud’s sense of chance aligns with the indeterminacy Cage sought in composition, much as the employment of control voltages connects with the role of process in his work.


The Field Kit – Electro Acoustic Workstation from KOMA

American musician King Britt in turn credits Scanner with having opened his ears to the textural qualities of radio. Britt identifies the KOMA as his instrument of choice. Speaking after teaching a UC San Diego course, he tells me about recording his 2005 album Sister Gertrude Morgan. “Tim Motzer and I were in the studio. His guitar was super loud and his amp started picking up radio signals, including this organ part that was in the same key we were playing in. I immediately hit record, and we worked it into the song.”

The lesson being: you don’t even need a radio in your instrument for radio to get in your instrument.


The 272e from Buchla


The fictional MoogerFooger MF/FM

There are widely available videos of most if not all of these devices in action, including the Arradio, ST Modular, OP-1, Buchla 272e, and ADDAC102. When this article first came out, I wrote a bit about a Scanner (Robin Rimbaud) performance using radio.

This article I wrote originally appeared in the July 2021 issue (number 449) of The Wire. It was titled “Received Wisdom” and had the subhead “The mercurial sound of the radio dial has led a new generation of instrument makers to tap into the airwaves.”

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