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

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tag: live performance

Live: Branciforte, Bleckmann, and Gomberg

A concert from May 15, 2019

Finally got to see Joseph Branciforte perform live last week for the first time, having admired his music for several years now. He is on tour with Theo Bleckmann, supporting their forthcoming collaborative album, LP1, which as the title suggests is the first of something, in this case the first from a new record label, Greyfade, founded by Branciforte. The duo performed on Wednesday, May 15, at the Center for New Music at the edge of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, with Billy Gomberg opening up. Branciforte and Bleckmann are based in New York City, and Gomberg moved to San Francisco from New York last year.

Branciforte, an accomplished producer and musician, worked with sounds manipulated by and triggered from his laptop, yielding small percussive motives and gentle washes. Bleckmann has recorded for ECM, Winter & Winter, and other labels, and his past collaborators include Laurie Anderson, Phil Kline, and Meredith Monk. He was very much the focus of the performance, a charismatic singer in a polka-dot shirt who channeled the evident power of his voice into tiny, soft gestures that he looped and transformed with a small battery of devices on an adjacent table. Together they filled the room with often fiercely quiet and delicate material, playing straight through for about 45 minutes.

Gomberg opened the evening with a set on his economically sized modular synthesizer rig. He explained to the audience at the start of the show that the apartment building in which he lives has had renovations going on, and that the work has caused a lot of noise, noise he has in turn been filtering into his own work. In this case that meant the sounds of construction and the muffled conversations, in Spanish, of workers, which he slowly subsumed, the voices giving way over time to modestly scaled melodic pursuits. The transitions were so subtle that you had to think back to recall where your ear had been. There was an introspection to the piece that suggested someone making mental space for themselves amid the persistent cacophony.

More from Bleckmann at theobleckmann.com, Branciforte at josephbranciforte.com, Gomberg at fraufraulein.com, and the Greyfade label at greyfade.com.

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Junto Event in Montréal on June 23

Une Rencontre de Juntos at Cabaret Berlin

More details as it approaches, but there’s a special Disquiet Junto live event taking place in Montréal, Quebec, on Sunday, June 23. Various members of the Junto are meeting up in the city that weekend (several local, others traveling for the event), hanging out, and on Sunday performing at Cabaret Berlin (cabaretberlin.ca). There’s a more detailed entry on Cabaret Berlin’s Facebook page. The participants include: New Tendencies (aka Matt Nish-Lapidus), Electric Kitchen (aka Mark Lentczner), and the duo of Simon Demeule and Maxime Giard. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to make it, but in some ways it’s all the more exciting for me when Junto events occur that I’m not directly involved in. That said, I do hope I can make it.

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Speaker Cone and Seed Pod

Documenting Marcus Fischer's "Multiples" installation

Awhile back I began collating a YouTube playlist of live ambient performances. The assortment, now numbering well over 100, quickly took shape as a collection of videos in which the techniques of the performer were evident to the viewer. The idea was to locate and celebrate instances of the action required by the performer to accomplish the seeming inaction — the stasis, the aesthetic limbo, the attenuated sonic pause — that so much ambient music telegraphs.

In time, the definition of “performance” expanded — well, it didn’t so much “expand” as that the word’s interior features became more detailed. Nothing as the playlist of included videos proceeded contradicted earlier interpretations of “live performance.”

This video, from an installation by Marcus Fischer, pushes the definition further, while staying true to the initial curatorial impulse. The audio is one take, while the video is a collation of elements. In other circumstances, that disconnect might be an issue, but here it makes perfect sense. The installation, titled “Multiples,” was set up at Variform in Portland, Oregon, last month, in a show curated by Patricia Wolf. The core of it is an array of naked speaker cones, each containing fragile little seed pods. The speakers both emanate sound and, as a result of the vibrations resulting from that sound, rattle the seed pods, each a tiny, nature-made maraca. We hear both the melty drone of the music and the waves of percussion that accompany it, and we experience the correlation between the two.

The causality between visual and sonic instance is less necessary here than in other sorts of live performance, because what we’re witnessing is more a system at work than a performance. If you watch a video of a train and hear audio of a train, even if the two weren’t sourced at the same time, you get that they are both simply moments in a much larger system, something that couldn’t be documented in full. Likewise, here we get the high-fidelity rendering of the audio, and the glimpses of the various facets that make it run.

As the video shows, there is still more at work than those speakers, including the reel-to-reel machine on which the audio is unspooling, and at least one additional seedpod hanging midair, still affixed to a branch, not to mention the full geometry of the work, which sets a visual stage for the sounds we are hearing. Above the speaker array is a series of parallel fluorescent bulbs, a grow-room aesthetic suggesting artificial light for artificial life.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at Fischer’s YouTube channel. More from him at mapmap.ch. I’m proud to have worked with Fischer on the sound design and score to the science fiction short Youth. He will be exhibiting in the Whitney Biennial this year, from May 17 through Sept 22.

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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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