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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: live-performance

Benediction for a Synthesizer Kit

From Michigan-based Orbital Patterns

If you follow YouTube musicians’ live recordings, you get a sense of their gear, and even occasionally register changes: new additions, sudden absences, swapped-out arrangements. Heck, even changes to the draperies and a new paint job. Sometimes such evolutions are announced in the form of “first patch” sessions or mini-tutorials of hard-won tips. Less frequently you’re alerted in advance, as is the case with this benediction from Michigan-based musician Orbital Patterns. A new central processing unit for his synthesizer is due imminently, and this video is, apparently, his last set with the current setup. It’s a beautiful, sprawling mix of melodic patterning and peculiar noises, elegiac drones and sonic coarseness, at once cinematic in its breadth, and at others as personal as a closely mic’d hush.

Video originally posted at More from Orbitan Patterns, aka Abdul Allums, who is based in Rochester Hills, Michigan, at

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Listening to “King Lear”

Thanks to the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

If you study insults, then “King Lear” is an endless resource. If you study sound, there’s still some solid material.

. . .

“the murmuring surge,
That on the unnumber’d idle pebbles chafes,
Cannot be heard so high.”

This moment (for sound-studies types) in Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is from when Edgar (in disguise) is tricking dear old (and horrifically blinded) dad Gloucester from jumping off a cliff.

The cliff isn’t actually there, of course. After the avoided jump, the two try to listen in the opposite direction, which is to say up. Edgar, who has convinced Gloucester that they have indeed jumped but by chance survived, reports:

“the shrill-gorged lark so far
Cannot be seen or heard”

And then King Lear shows up, as does a gentleman. The observational tables are turned when Edgar asks, “Do you hear aught, sir, of a battle toward?”

And the Gentleman replies:

“Most sure and vulgar: every one hears that,
Which can distinguish sound.”

It’s a beautiful turnaround.

. . .

If Shakespeare is even remotely your thing, take advantage of the rare benefit of Covid-19, which is that the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival has been presenting “King Lear” online for free, due to social distancing concerns, and that those shows are available worldwide to anyone with internet. The thing is, they’re only available live, and as of this writing, only three performances remain. They stream at The way the troupe makes use of Zoom, the platform on which they perform, is amazing. Each actor is alone is her/his/their room, against a green screen, speaking their lines live, the individuals then combined against a background image as if on stage together. I watched last Sunday, and was blown away, not just by the work, but by the ingenuity.

. . .

One more sonic observation: because all the actors are performing on their lonesome, each spoken voice appears from within its own room tone. Each voice carries with it the space in which that voice is enunciating. Each actor is subject to a different echo, a different hum. They’re all on the same virtual stage, but they’re all in very different rooms. The strange ever-shifting background sound, the way each voice has its own contours, its own dimensions, makes a perfect match for the slightly low-resolution shapes that each human form takes on screen, as their features blur into the shared virtual background. Per chance the image on the festival’s website, at, is from the scene described above. That’s, from left to right, Yohana Ansari-Thomas as Edgar, Phil Lowery as Gloucester, and Jessica Powell as Lear.

. . .

There are three more shows on the calendar: Sunday, September 20, at 4pm; Saturday, September 26, at 7pm; and Sunday, September 27, at 4pm.

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Putting TikTok to Unintended Use

An ambient piano quartet by Lullatone's Shawn James Seymour

In this sweet little video demonstration, Shawn James Seymour (half of the husband-wife duo Lullatone, along with Yoshimi Yomida) shows how he used the TikTok video social-media app — in particular it’s feature-not-a-bug looping mode — to make a simple ambient track out of piano loops. He set all the loops, four total, to different lengths, and then let them play out on repeat, so that the notes overlap in different combinations. This “criss-cross” is, as he notes in one of a sequence of cards he displays by hand during the video (those hands colliding elegantly with the ones visible in all four of the devices laid out across the table), along the lines of how Brian Eno composed Music for Airports.

Last year, the influential and crafty artist Christian Marclay teamed with Snapchat, another social-media network, for an exhibit that mined user data to create all manner of sound art projects (see: The scale and scope of what Seymour is up to is, of course, quite more modest in comparison, but it also uses the app itself to achieve its goals. As Seymour says (well, displays on a card), inspirationally, in the video: “twisting technology to make something new is usually more fun than just browsing on it.”

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended fine live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at the Lullatone YouTube channel. More from Lullatone at

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Compact Device, Spacious Sound

A live performance by State Azure

You needn’t know anything about the intricacies of synthesizer design to appreciate the performance that Star Azure ekes out of this compact setup. The small assortment of devices yields a spacious and constantly shifting range of sounds, and the constant presence of the musician’s hands adjusting settings makes the scale clear. The track’s title, “Fermi’s Paradox,” relates to the search for extraterrestrial life, which here can be said to map to the subtle contrast between the deep droning backing music, and the patterns of more singular bleeps and beeps that are charted across it.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended fine live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at YouTube. More from State Azure at

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SineRider, Off-Screen and On

A live ambient performance

There are several key factors in the ongoing playlist I maintain on YouTube of fine live performances of ambient music. There are three, in fact, and the very first is: “I’m only including recordings I’d listen to without video.” As something like test evidence, I came upon this piece, “Peat Moss” by Sine Rider, today on SoundCloud, and it turns out it’s the audio from one of his performance videos. It’s a warbly drone, like someone left the melody out to dry over night and hadn’t considered the damage that the morning dew might do. Except it didn’t do damage. It rendered the melody ever more fragile, and ever more beautiful for that fragility. And here’s the original video:

Track originally posted at More from SineRider, aka Devin Powers of Norwood, Massachusetts, at and

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