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.
▰ The Turkish musician Büşra Kayıkçı is the latest musician featured in the excellent Project XII series from Deutsche Grammophon. Her new single, “Bring the Light,” is a propulsive, athletic take on Philip Glass’ arpeggio-heavy minimalism. Listen for how she carves out space for individual notes amid the flurry. It’s tremendous.
▰ There’s not much in the way of liner notes for That Which Remains, a new EP by Circuitghost, but over on the llllllll.co message board, it’s explained to be remnants from a previous EP, All That We Lost. It’s a beautiful amalgam of small sounds in which textures are put to percolating, rhythmic use.
▰ This 2017 collaboration between the Quiet Club, an Irish collective, and Stephen Vitiello, the American sound artist, just popped up on Bandcamp. Titled Black Iris, it’s an ever-changing assortment of sound objects, from bells to scifi wiggles, borrowed audio narrative to dramatic creaking, footsteps to feedback, just to name a few, improvised live.
Another post in acknowledgement of the small bits of music that pop up on Instagram over the course of the week and are enchanting on loop. Instagram doesn’t particularly lend itself to the playlist treatment I do on YouTube.
▰ This is Sarah Belle Reid, based in Los Angeles, California, excerpted from a livestream concert, combining her flugelhorn with software and hardware synthesis:
▰ This is exactly the sort of lovingly sodden, deeply nostalgia-laden synthesis listeners of Orbital Patterns’ music have come to expect. He’s based in Rochester Hills, Michigan, and is one of my favorite modular synthesizer wizards:
A bit more about how that YouTube playlist I’ve been doing of fine live ambient music performances originated:
It started with me trying to watch tutorials of music tech I was interested in, and the music in such tutorial videos being often not to my liking. I have a hard time listening to music I have a hard time listening to. Time and again, I’d see someone in concert use a piece of equipment, or discuss it in a BBS, and then I’d want to learn more. And then I’d find I’d need to listen through unbearable music in the tutorial to try to get to the technique, to the technology, to the instrument.
Over time, tutorial videos began to surface that I didn’t find hard to listen to. I also got better (somewhat) at dealing with the music in most tutorial videos. In the process, I came to notice a subset of performance videos that while not tutorials still shed light on process. Those videos all had something specific in common: while listening to this ambient music being performed, you got glimpses, and sometimes a full-frontal view, of the performance itself. Even with super quiet, near-static sound, the eye and ear correlated action and result. As of today, there are 203 videos in the playlist.
I remember during college watching a VHS tape of a King Crimson concert. Every time Robert Fripp, the band’s leader and guitarist, performed a solo, the video went psychedelic, obscuring the performance, the director clearly having no sense of what the audience was interested in. That stuck with me. These ambient videos are the opposite. In the videos I’ve focused my attention on, the image is more than decoration, more than a narrative or abstract decoration for (or complement to) the given track. Instead, the video was the music, was in sync with the music. This was valuable to me: informative and heartening (good combo).
By no means am I suggesting performance videos are a higher plane of music activity, for obvious reasons, among them:
There’s a big audience for the music that many tutorials use. (I’m just not part of that audience.)
Video needn’t document technique. (I’m just focused on the ones that do.)
The studio is itself an instrument. (Live sets aren’t the be-all and end-all.)
The music I’m talking about, ambient music, tends to embrace and explore stasis. Watching video of stasis in action (yeah, stasis in action) is itself a form of exploration, providing a rough map to elusive territory, a loose timeline to something that aspires to timelessness.
Anyhow, it was a slow process, coming to this playlist — it originated with a disgruntled disinterest in one sort of cultural activity, which led to awareness of another sort. Even when I first started noting these live performance videos of ambient music, I didn’t fully sense the commonality.
I also admit it was also an act of encouragement, collating such a video playlist. If I made such a thing, maybe more people would make such videos.
This is a solid example of the sort of videos I’ve been collating in my YouTube playlist of fine live ambient recordings. The equipment is in full view, and the actions in the video correlate with the generally subtle though sometimes not inconsiderable alterations to the pulsing drone as it proceeds. This video isn’t a tutorial. There are no instructions, just two hands enacting manipulations, turning knobs, clicking buttons. In addition, as the music plays, the ear’s sense of interior activity can find consonance with the eye’s attention to the pace of the various lights, providing clues as to which parts of the assembled tools align with what aspects of the music. The track takes its title (“Eurorack ambient drone featuring Morphagene, C4RBN, Magneto, DLD and FX-aid”) from the form of the music and the equipment employed (a bit like old-school classical music, such as Bach’s Partita in A minor for solo flute).
This is the latest video I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine live performance of ambient music. Video by Little Ambient Machines, based in Amsterdam, and posted today at YouTube.
There are numerous small-brew synthesizers in production currently, each with its own approach, in terms of how individual pieces of equipment operate, and what functions are explored, as well as the make-up of their own communities, who share their creations and provide feedback to the manufacturers, which in turn often yields new equipment. This is a short video displaying the drone capacities from the AE Modular line from Tangible Waves, which originated as a Kickstarter and has expanded into a wide range of small, affordable (the most expensive two are €74.00 and €87.00, while most are half that amount), mix-and-match modules. The source module heard here, the Drone38, contains 18 oscillators in a trio of sets containing a half dozen each. They’re modulated by hand, both the oscillator sets themselves, in terms of tuning, and the relative volume of the signals, plus various effects, in the DroneX mixer. This is a short demonstration from the 5th Volt channel on YouTube.
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
• July 28, 2021: This day marks the start of the 500th consecutive weekly project in the Disquiet Junto music community.
• December 13, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
• January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th 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.
• A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the 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.)
• 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.
• 0494 / Insect Menagerie / The Assignment: Record a 20-second clip of the sounds of an insect that you yourself have invented.
• 0493 / AudioCorrect / The Assignment: Think about the utility and the useful failures inherent in autocorrect and apply this to your music.
• 0492 / Kintsugi Rework / The Assignment: Employ the Japanese technique of mending broken ceramics as a metaphor for remixing.
• 0491 / Footsteps Sequencer / The Assignment: Compose a piece of music structured upon a walk through your home.
• 0490 / In Conversation / The Assignment: Compose a piece of music structured like dialog. Full Index