You can almost see the clouds break when Heymun’s video gets underway. Her small synthesizer emits massive clouds of cello and other unidentified strings, plus vast choruses of consonant-free singing. Those clouds are artificial, needless to say, and gloriously so. They are striated digitally, and they flow according to algorithmic winds.
The medium of perfect sound forever, the compact disc, is here explored for its textural details. One might think that the CD, its data secure(ish) within layers of clear plastic and bright metal, is distinct from, say, vinyl LPs and cassette tapes, both of which have their well-known reproductive shortcomings. LP and tape surface qualities, the wear and tear, are an implicit part of the bargain. But the CD is different. Debates about its fidelity have to do with high-grain digital verisimilitude, not with background noise (even if the glitch genre/effect did derive in part from the sound of failing CDs).
But this video performance locates something different. By using a CD, at the opening of “we will finally lost in heavy fog,” as a means to play a violin, musician Dong Zhou (born in Shanghai, China, and based in Hamburg, Germany) gets at its hard materials, at the clipped corner of it sharp edge. She then proceeds to use other tools, including a pair of bows, what appears to be a rubber band, and an unidentified if certainly suggestive green object. Furthermore, she begins to process the sounds, so by the six-minute mark, when the green item is employed, she’s also using her laptop to echo and lightly yet radically transform the source audio.
Opening with the scattery noise associated with wind on an exposed microphone, before fading into what appears to be backward-masked strings, “Found in the Fog” is the first video of the year from Orbital Patterns (aka Michigan-based Abdul Allums). The camera moves around his studio as the piece plays, a glimpse of a synthesizer here, a standalone music-computer there, a guitar pedal, a laptop. (Also, note that at least one of the modules heard, visible at the two-minute mark, is from the Instruō company, whose founder was the subject of an interview I posted last weekend.) It all comes together with Allums’ trademark seesawing ease, a loping quality that is as mellow as it is mysterious, as casual as it is reclusive.
The full performance begins in earnest at the two-minute mark, but I recommend starting at the beginning. This is an ambient set, veering into the realm of space music, from the Amsterdam-based Little Ambient Machine channel on YouTube. I’m posting it as a follow-up to my interview, this past weekend, with the founder of the Instruō manufacturer of synthesizer modules, Jason Lim, who talked about how the company, based in Glasgow, ported its physical modules for use as virtual ones on computers (using the free VCV Rack software). The reason I chose this Little Ambient Machine video is it centers on a module called the Cš-L, a voltage-controlled oscillator from Instruo, as its primary audio source. This means that, for the most part, all the other cables connecting, directly and indirectly, to it are creating variations and treatments on its sounds. In addition, those first two minutes provide a glimpse, with annotation, of how the patch itself came together. (The Cš-L is the module clearly labeled “Instruō,” the sole here with a black faceplate, one module in from the lower left.)
The Touch label has posted this gorgeous, nine-minute footage of Claire M Singer performing an incredibly slow, and incredibly moving, performance on an organ at Union Chapel, London. It was recorded December 12, 2020. The organ dates from 1877. The piece’s overtones are so rich, you might think you hear Singer herself singing along. It starts quiet as can be, and builds from there, from a devotional whisper to a heavenly scream.
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.