A weekly(ish) answer to the question “What have you been listening to lately?” It’s lightly annotated because I don’t like re-posting material without providing some context. In the interest of conversation, let me know what you’re listening to in the comments below. Just please don’t promote your own work (or that of your label/client). This isn’t the right venue. (Just use email.)
I admit that if I’m not careful, this could end up being a new Jeannine Schulz album and a new Orbital Patterns video every week (I say that in the hopes that they discover each other’s music and team up). But so be it. My listening is my listening.
▰ Orbital Patterns welcomes a new sequencer into his synthesizer rig, and the result is a super slow melody that’s part jazz sermon, part illbient atmosphere:
▰ Glistening, blippy, pop-leaning instrumental piece performed live by S. B. Arweiler.
▰ The highly talented Jeannine Schulz has been releasing a steady stream of music at a pace in inverse proportion with how slow and placid is the music itself. Much of that has been on her own Bandcamp page, but last week the label Stereoscenic, of Cleveland, Ohio, announced Ground . The Gentle, 10 tracks available for pre-order as a CD, but already streaming in full. Start with the aptly named “Heaven-Sent,” all cautious chords and dirty-windshield textures.
Bandcamp’s occasional Friday fire sale — when the company passes its share of profits straight on to the musicians and labels that are its lifeblood — is about to come to an end. Its conclusion is, as I type this, about two hours away on a long day in what has been one of the longest and strangest weeks of a long and strange year. Stranger than strange. “Strange” suggests “interesting if perhaps from a distance,” whereas this is a year from which one wants to gain substantial distance. Until such times, music that takes advantage of long time periods, music suitable to the long present, is a valuable thing. Sarah Davachi is expert in such things. As a “supplement” to Cantus, Descant, her recent two-CD set of contemporary music for the organ, one dating back to 1479, she has announced another collection, Figures in Open Air, a half dozen — presumably lengthy, given the release is also on two CDs — live performances. One track is up as a preview, “Diaphonia Basilica,” recorded on the 1954 Casavant Frères pipe organ at the Église du Gesù in Montreal, Canada. The liner notes mention the presence, as well, of cellist Marianna Houle and French horn player Pietro Amato. Listen closely, and certainly that explains the sheer depth of the dense vertical tonalities that comprise the track. But you could also miss them entirely, so tightly do they align with the organ’s breathy embrace. I’m fairly certain I was at the March 2018 concert during which another of the tracks was recorded, at the Lab in San Francisco. Of course, there are in essence no live concerts right now, due to the pandemic. In fact, this live album was released, Davachi explained yesterday on Facebook, “in lieu of the touring” she had planned later this year. This year being the long year. The long year that necessitates music for the long present. Music like “Diaphonia Basilica.”
The combination of archaic reel-to-reel tape and contemporary synthesizers is a not uncommon one, especially on synth YouTube, where “composition” sometimes means visual components as much as it does sonic ones. The bond between such elements as these two isn’t entirely a matter of chance, or even of individual predilections. The design of contemporary synthesizers such as the modules depicted here often embraces the tactile and the eccentric, both qualities shared by the old tape technology. Furthermore, the give and take of tape, especially when looped and loosely slung as in this short piece by Takeyuki Hakozaki, provides a contrast to the voltage-controlled systematization offered by synthesizers. In Hakozaki’s piece, a melody is pinched and pulled from a cycle of squelchy tones, while an bed of bubbly percussion keeps things roiling.
This is my weekly(ish) answer to the question “What have you been listening to lately?” It’s lightly annotated because I don’t like re-posting material without providing some context. In the interest of conversation, let me know what you’re listening to in the comments below. Just please don’t promote your own work (or that of your label/client). This isn’t the right venue. (Just use email.)
There’s always chatter about how various streaming services size up next to each other, and how services like Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and YouTube, among others, fit into the mix. The fact is, a good amount of my “discovery” happens on Instagram, so this entry in the weekly Current Listens series focuses on some examples. Now, Instagram videos tend to be short. You have click through to IGTV to see longer versions, which I only do on occasion. My listening/viewing experience tends more toward seeing bits of performance clips in a row, and then heading over to the respective musician’s longer-form work elsewhere. These three artists, from up and down the West Coast, are among my numerous favorites.
▰ The musician who goes by Scanner Darkly is a Jedi knight of firmware upgrades and modular-synthesizer ingenuity.This here is a piano phase work in the style of Steve Reich. Scanner Darkly is based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
This is another great set from the Uganda-based synth musician Afrorack, aka Brian Bamanya. It has a more limited sonic palette and more intricately rhythmic intent that the live performance I mentioned earlier this month, and those two aspects serve each other well. The frequently crossing patterns sound like steel percussion, and the slight tweaks of pitch bring to mind hand drums. Those subtle contrasts set the stage for how the individual pieces rotate through the set. Check out the 9:30 mark as an off beat is introduced and then slowly takes over. I listened to all 30 minutes of this several times in a row this afternoon.
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
• February 5, 2020: The first session of the 15-week course I teach at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape.
• April 15, 2020: A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming 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.)
• December 13, 2020: This day marks the 24th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2021: This day marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming 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.
• At least two live group concerts by Disquiet Junto members in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the works for 2020.
• I have liner notes for a musician's solo album and an essay in a book about an art event due out. I'll announce as the release dates come into focus.
• 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.
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.