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tag: live performance

Duets with the Golden Gate Bridge

Nate Mercereau becomes one with the hum

Perhaps you’ve heard the news about the how the Golden Gate Bridge here in San Francisco, where I live, has taken to singing. Repairs to the bridge led to a unique teachable moment about the physics of sound: high winds cause it to drone mellifluously (or annoyingly, according to some locals, though not me) all around the city. The drone is hard to capture because, by definition, it happens when the winds are themselves making noise. The bridge also sounds different depending on where you are. I’ve posted footage from my backyard, not that my cellphone captured anything remotely like what it is like to stand there. It is truly alien, the thermin of the gods.

Much as nature abhors a vacuum, alien music abhors isolation. And thus the Golden Gate Bridge has drawn to it some local musicians. This isn’t the first track I’ve heard in which someone tries to play along with the bridge, but it’s certainly among the most beautiful. Nate Mercereau, as I learned in a news story in yesterday’s issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, has recorded a four-song EP, Duets, on which he plays live along with the bridge. There’s also a video, shown up above, in which he sits perched in the Marin Headlands with the bridge in the background. As Mercereau told the Chronicle’s Aidin Vaziri, “It’s the largest wind instrument in the world right now.”

The video opens with an extended sequence of the bridge on its own. Nearly a minute passes before Mercereau, eventually seated on a stool behind a battery of pedals, begins to intone slow, aching tones that meld beautifully with the bridge itself. He is careful to keep the playing subtle, quiet. It never threatens to overcome the bridge. Instead, it flows in and out of the underlying hum.

The playing on the Duets EP pushes a little further. On “Duet 1,” the guitar sounds at times almost like a flute. On “Duet 2,” a more full-bodied part suggests some hybrid of violin and saxophone. On “Duet 4,” Mercereau posits drones that sit in contrast with the main source audio. Throughout, the bridge just sings on. Perhaps when Mercereau is done, another musician will take his seat on that stool.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine live performance of ambient music. Video originally posted at youtube.com. More from Mercereau at howsorecords.com, instagram.com/natemercereau, and twitter.com/natemercereau.

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A Truly Ethereal Chorus

Robin (Scanner) Rimbaud on the radio as an instrument


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. That observation is central to the article I wrote for The Wire about musical instruments featuring radio reception as part of their design. The article covers a wide range, including dedicated synthesizer modules, like the ADDAC102 (from the Lisbon, Portugal, company ADDAC) and the 272e (from the storied San Francisco Bay Area firm Bucha), and other devices, such as the Polyend Tracker (out of Poland) and the KOMA Field Kit (from Berlin), that include radio amid a broader range of tools, with varying degrees of integration.

In the latter camp is the OP-1, from Stockholm-based Teenage Engineering, one of whose founders, Jens Rudberg, I interviewed for the article, along with representatives of all four other firms listed above. While the collective experience of these designers was important to the research, so too was the work of musicians who employ the tools. I spoke with numerous in the process of working on the story, and quoted three in the piece, including Thomas Dimuzio, King Britt, and Robin Rimbaud, who is best known as Scanner, for his early work with another sort of radio: police-band conversations snatched from the ether.

In the context of a wide-ranging back and forth via email on the topic of radio and synthesizers, Rimbaud shared the above video as an example of his work. He said the live set began with him “randomly skipping through the frequencies until I found something in real time that felt like it might work.” What he stumbled upon was the haunting group vocalizing heard at the start of the piece. “It was a choral work on a classical radio station,” explained Rimbaud. “I then looped it and began playing across it live too.”

He continued: “As with my earlier use of the radio scanner in my works I especially enjoy the unexpected and letting these sources take me in a direction I might never expect, using radio frequencies in the ether, these indiscriminate signals that I just pull down in real time and improvise around. It could simply be a voice or a harmony, but every opportunity can never be predicted and keeps an element at risk on the surface level which has always been important to me.”

There’s a lot more material in my conversation with Scanner, and with everyone else listed above, than made it into the article. I want to find time soon to get more of it posted here on Disquiet.com, to supplement the article in The Wire.

The video was recorded on March 23, 2019, at Iklectik London and originally posted at Scanner’s YouTube channel. More at scannerdot.com.

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A Swell Drone Day Swell

Happenings from May 29, 2021


Drone Day takes place each May, at the initiation of Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan, who came up with the idea in the first place (more at droneday.org). This year, Drone Day took place on the 29th of the month, this past Saturday. Material from that widely distributed event is now popping up on SoundCloud and other services. One favorite of mine is this video by Zachary Wilson, who combines deep, shining swells with rough textures.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine live performance of ambient music. Video originally posted at YouTube.

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Current Favorites: David Shea, Anne Guthrie, Tuesday Drones

Heavy rotation, lightly annotated

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. I hope to write more about some of these in the future, but didn’t want to delay sharing them.

▰ David Shea’s Live in Blackwood is a remarkable concert document, a performance recorded in nature and making the most of the environmental sound in which it is ensconced. Shea himself is first heard before he’s seen, his course whistle collaborating with birdsong. He them enters the camera’s view from behind bushes. Each phase of this series of sets, almost 37 minutes in total length, mixes varying instrumentation with different video approaches, such as a hovering drone shot while he plays a series of multicolored bowls that sound like massive tuning forks, and a forest walk while he combines samples, gongs, and field recordings. (I found this via a mention by Lawrence English.)


▰ On Gyropedie, Anne Guthrie elegantly combines field recordings, electronics, and instrumentation, notably her French horn, in a gestural, almost fleeting manner, finding common ground between the materials in fragmentary form.


▰ Compelling, rusty, serrated drone by the musician best know as/for Tuesday Night Machines, performed on an intriguing setup from the inexpensive synthesizer manufacturer AE Modular.


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Rhodes + Synth

From Minneapolis-based Midera


Beautiful, nearly 12-minute live performance by Minneapolis-based Midera, playing Rhodes piano along with another bit of old-school hardware, the Sequential Prophet 10. Not surprisingly, the latter provides the lush, sustained pads, while the Rhodes provides a simple solo that occasionally emerges when the waves of the Prophet ease. According to the accompanying note, this is a sideways view because the other camera failed to record. Arguably the placidity of a single vantage is to the production’s benefit, even if it was achieved by accident.

More from Midera at mideraartist.wordpress.com

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  • about

  • 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

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    December 13, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
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    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.

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