If you were to just hear — rather than also watch — this track by the artist known as Amulets, you might wonder about the little clickety clacks that occur six times, first at five seconds in, then at half a minute in, and then at just past the minute-and-a-half marker, and then again in quicker succession, within 30 seconds of each other, toward the track’s end. These clicks, sharp and fragile, appear amid and yet apart from the otherwise wooly-lush six minutes of music. What’s occurring is the start and stop of cassette tapes being placed into a trio of multi-track player-recorders. Those tapes are the source and the receiver of the echoing, excellently lo-fidelity, gently crackling music. The tapes are both producing and layering the audio, hence the slow yet discernible buildup as it progresses. Since these are four-track recorders, the result is a dozen component parts, twelve separate loops being manipulated in real time.
If you’ve listened to the second episode of the Disquietude podcast, then you’ve heard a piece by Scanner recorded during his residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation on Captiva Island in Florida. This video was also recorded during that residency, and it shows Scanner doing a performance that occurred at the close of the extended visit, when he and the rest of his cohort presented some of what they had been up to. In this case many of the source audio segments in Scanner’s piece were things he’d recorded in Florida during the residency. You can hear surf and birds in the mix, along with a singsong mix of waveforms. The use of found materials seems appropriate, given the Rauschenberg’s artistic legacy. Scanner describes it a bit at his website:
Something I found surprising and fascinating about my stay was how it altered my listening habits. Whilst working on my new book I found that much of the music I would ordinarily listen to seemed wrong for the location. With nature in its rawest form all around, with osprey, vultures, dolphins, manatees, racoons, woodpeckers surrounding me, it was a challenge to find other music that might work.
The opening roar of this excerpt of a recording suggests a crowd going wild, not so much at a concert as at a vuvuzela-filled soccer stadium. In this case, the stadium is a stately gothic structure, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago, and the ecstatic noise is coming from its E.M. Skinner pipe organ, in an original piece of music by Olivia Block. Advance notice of the performance, which was recorded live on April 21, 2017, described it as something that “straddles the line between musical composition and sound installation.” The installation aspect is in part related to how Block’s use of the organ explores the contours of the space, and also how speakers distributed throughout the building suggest that attendees wander amid the sound to hear it from different vantages. The work, as reproduced in this stereo document, moves from recognizable organ tones to fantasms of eager, treble-piercing waves. Live performances are difficult to reproduce, spatially informed ones all the more so. This recording, by Alex Inglesian, gives us a sense of the work’s breadth and impact.
These two short videos from Berlin-based musician Hainbach explore mangled ambience thanks to a handy new device that benefited from an especially popular Kickstarter campaign. The gadget in question is the KOMA Field Kit, and it serves as an entry point into various less typical sonic sources, including physical connections like solenoids and DC motors, as well as the far more ethereal electromagnetic pickup. The latter is employed in the first of these videos, “David Dreams | Tape, Field Kit, OP1, Phashi.” Watch as that little hand-held sensor is moved from one device to the next, the unique nature of its detection lending an otherworldly timbre to Hainbach’s drones. “Nevada in My Dreams | Tapeloop, Fieldkit, OP1” is even slower and doomier than “David Dreams,” with bits of radio noise shooting through like sliver glimpses of alternate worlds. Hainbach’s YouTube channel is a great source of electronic music using a variety of instruments, which he details in the notes associated with the videos. This pair investigates how two very different airborne signals can contribute to the texture of recordings.
Following perhaps intentionally on the warm reception received by that recent posting of a three-part video showing Gavin Bryars’ Sinking of the Titanic being performed live at the Big Ears festival, we now have the other half of that very same record album, the first from Brian Eno’s Obscure label back in 1975. This is the ensemble Psappha on October 12, 2016, at the RNCM Theatre in Manchester, U.K., conducted by Clark Rundell. (The group’s general manager and artistic director is Tim Williams.) The work is “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet,” which takes the melody inherent in a creaky recording of a homeless man singing a hymn in a painfully sweet and wavering rendition and renders it in a gentle, sensitive setting that suggests a heavenly chorus if not outright beatification. Emphasizing the group’s attentiveness is how serenely they sit for the four full minutes before they actually join the nameless singer, whose verse is heard as a recording to which they eventually play along.
Video originally posted at the ensemble’s YouTube channel. More from Psappha, presumbably named for the Xenakis composition, at psappha.com.
• October 13, 2016: This day marks the start of the 250th weekly Disquiet Junto project.
• November 16, 2016: I'll be sharing the mic at Adobe Books in San Francisco with my fellow 33 1/3 author Evie Nagy for an evening hosted, from 7pm to 10pm, by Marc Kate (facebook.com).
• December 1, 2016: A likely speaking engagement. Details to come.
• December 13, 2016: This day marks the 20th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 5, 2017: This day marks the 5th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto.
• Ongoing: 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.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.