Even the casual viewer will understand at the three-minute mark in this live performance video, if not far sooner, that automation has an invisible hand in what’s going on, that in addition to the two visible human hands, which belong to Haik, a musician based in Japan, there are sequences of notes being set in motion. That automation allows the hands to do other things, like tweak settings, or adjust the neighboring reverb pedal to lend a sense of space far out of scale with the modest footprint of the equipment. The keyboard displays admirable range and depth, slowly building contrasting components: rich drones, melting sing-song, lofi lush textures.
I also wanted to mention that I’ve come to enjoy the overhead view employed in this video, and on much of YouTube, or at least music YouTube, including the piece I wrote about here yesterday (“Pop Ambient from Aldo”). The lack of motion keeps a sense of intimacy at bay, but the setup does provide an idealized musician’s-eye-view of the goings-on.
Simple music made with simple tools. The idea might seem obvious, but on YouTube — where many musicians, experienced and new, known and not, share works-in-progress in the form of demos and tutorials — simplicity often isn’t the order of the day. Comprehensiveness is. Here, refreshingly, a single sound source and a single tool for looping combine to let Aldo, a French musician living in London, accumulate and manipulate material. Aside from a thick delay pedal at the end of the chain to lend spaciousness, that is it. The result is a glitching, droning, undulating collection of material prepared in advance and then improvised upon in a live setting. The result is vibrant pop ambient.
I have a new, 650-word piece in The Wire, as the typeface in this little snippet evidences. It’s about the recent San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, all four nights of which I attended over the course of mid-September. The deadline was quite tight, as it’s only October 11 today, the issue has been out for a few days already, and the final night of the concert series was September 15. I really enjoyed the challenge, and the music, which itself was often challenging, ranging from 3D sound environments, to live circuitry, to experimental chamber opera. It was the SFEMF’s 20th anniversary.
In the Wire review, I compare one musician’s work favorably to being inside a trash compactor. I loved that I had to clarify (at my editor’s valuable and perceptive request) that this was a metaphor and the musician wasn’t, in fact, employing a trash compactor.
My article is in the November 2019 issue, the one with Kevin Martin and Stephen O’Malley on the cover.
I caught all three sets this past Thursday night at the Center for New Music here in San Francisco: two duets and one solo performance, all of them focused on the same underlying interaction, specifically the electronic transformation of acoustic sounds.
Above are the headliners, Ted Moore (electronics) and Tom Weeks (saxophone). Moore was visiting from Chicago. The remaining four fifths of the evening’s performers were all local to the area. Take a moment to note how Weeks is playing his saxophone. A lot of what Moore seemed to be doing was matching and approximating Weeks’ own playing style: the brash tones, the stop’n’start phrasing, the gritty timbres. What was all wind and saliva from Weeks was scratchy, urgent white noise from Moore.
Here is half the opening act, William Winant, who performed on various pieces of percussion (including his own cartoonishly rubbery cheeks), with Chris Brown offstage doing the processing of Winant’s sounds. When the show began, Winant walked from the audience up to his drum kit, carrying a glass of water. It seemed very casual, an impression reinforced by his shorts and sneakers. However, as quickly became clear after he began playing, the water wasn’t for him. It was used to soften up and make squeaky a small hand drum he had as part of his kit. Brown’s efforts felt especially effective when they didn’t merely echo or exaggerate Winant’s playing, but regenerated it in high fidelity, as if in some other, totally imaginary space, a zone larger and more formidable than the small room in which the concert was actually physically occurring. In a way, the fact that Brown was not in view improved the work, creating more of a procedural void (a gap of cause and effect) between what Winant was enacting and what we were hearing.
And here is the middle act, Alexandra Buschman-Román, who provided both the acoustic element (a quite powerful voice, here sublimated into whispers and quickly muttered phrases) and the electronic (a noise table packed with sonic gadgetry). I don’t have a shot of it, but one thing Buschman-Román did was to amplify yet muddy her voice by putting the microphone in the fleshy part of her neck, where it meets her jaw. The result was highly unfamiliar, and highly memorable.
“Black Star Study” is a dense, lengthy, tumultuous drone, one occasionally fleshed out with jittery synthesizer fluctuations and the stuttered grunts of something more akin to an unloved catalytic converter. Which is to say, in drone/noise terms, it is fantastic. Dave Seidel perpetrates the live performance in full view, his synthesizers narrowing into the distance on his desk, the bleak intensity of the music only slightly undermined by the sewing machine seen toward the rear of the room. As you listen, pay attention to the layers of grit, the mesh of crunchy distortions that makes your speakers vibrate and your imagination soar.
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
• Autumn, 2019: I'll have a new piece in The Wire.
• December 13, 2019: This day marks the 23rd anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2020: This day marks the 8th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto.
• March 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 0410 / Op Audio / The Assignment: What does the sonic equivalent of Op Art sound like?
• 0409 / Spooky 3.0 / The Assignment: Raise haunting music to the next level.
• 0408 / Fritiniency Tronics / The Assignment: Were "fritiniency" ("the chirruping sound made by birds or insects") a musical genre or technique, what would it sound like?
• 0407 / Dark Pitch / The Assignment: What do you hear between stations on the radio dial during a drive in the middle of night?
• 0406 / Phoneme Home / The Assignment: After a visit to Yellowstone National Park, you send a sonic report back to your planet of origin.