My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

tag: live-performance

The Systems Music of Marcus Fischer

An automated ambient performance for synthesizer, guitar, and tape loop.

Music that slowly develops as it proceeds is often described as “generative,” due to the way that development is autonomous, and the way we as humans have a tendency to attribute sentience to things that seem to act under their own guidance. Another useful rubric might be “systems music,” which is to say music that is the result of some combination of technological apparatuses working in tandem free of the continued presence of human agency. This “systems music” consideration puts aside, or at least lessens, the emphasis on an organic functionality, and looks instead at the functions, at the congruent parts and the whole that they constitute.

In the case of this video, that combination consists of guitar, tape loop, and modular synthesizer, the modular synthesizer being itself a system, a collection of interconnected devices. This is the work of Marcus Fischer, whose music often sits at the intersection of performance and installation, happening and recording, technology and sculpture.

The music here is a digital guitar loop, 11 seconds long if you want to keep pace at home, which is then being lent an echo thanks to that large reel-to-reel machine. The birdsong is a separate digital audio source, and all of it is being filtered, per the brief note accompanying the video. The music is sing-song, warbling, at time pushing well past the edges of what would commonly be thought of as audio fidelity, and in the process pushing into a whole new sensibility where artifacts are surfaced and left to be considered for all their newfound sonic loveliness.

Fischer’s mix of loops and tonalities, textures and reference points has no firm structure. It’s simply and elegantly a sequence of elements transforming as they proceed. This is music that is the end product of a system set up and then left, quite literally, to its own devices.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. The video originally posted to Marcus Fischer’s new youtube.com channel, which launched in mid-December of last year and currently has five segments, all worth taking in. Fischer is based in Portland, Oregon. More from him at twitter.com/marcus_fischer, marcus-fischer.bandcamp.com, and mapmap.ch. I should mention that Fischer was the composer on a science fiction film, Youth, for which I was the music supervisor and, with him, co-sound designer.

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Building on “Fever Pitch”

Joseph Branciforte has created a duet by adding to a track I recorded.

The Disquiet Junto has been going on since the first week of January 2012, and though I have moderated the Junto from the start, and we’re currently on the 316th consecutive weekly project, and the mailing list has over 1,200 subscribers from around the world, I myself have participated less than a handful of times, most recently this past week, for project 0315.

I hadn’t recorded the piece of music, “Fever Pitch,” as part of Junto 0315 initially. I recorded “Fever Pitch,” in fact, for an entirely different weekly music project series, one called Weekly Beats. When I subsequently recognized that the simple track, just a guitar line filtered by a modular synthesizer, fit the constraints of Junto project 0315, I posted it for that as well. There is a lot of cross-pollination among only compositional series. For example, I wrote a poem for the great Naviar Haiku series on the occasion of its 40th weekly project, and some people have cross-posted pieces of music between Naviar and Junto, which share a bit of the same roster in general, and we have collaborated once or twice.

In any case, the point of project 0315, “First Chair,” was for musicians to make short pieces of music that would serve as one third of a trio, with the idea that in the following weeks other musicians would, in turn, flesh out the trio. It’s an exercise in asynchronous collaboration, which is a central theme of all Junto projects. The sequence originating with Junto 0315 is simply a reinforcement through emphais of that concept.

Well, as part of Junto 0316, which is currently ongoing and will close at 11:59pm on Monday night, a Brooklyn-based musician named Joseph Branciforte did me a great honor. He added a second part to “Fever Pitch,” which he simply titled after the day he recorded it, “January 18, 2018.” It’s a marvel of simpatico consideration, his Fender Rhodes, coaxed by some effects pedals, filling in the blanks left by my guitar. I’ve been fiddling with a modular synthesizer since 2014, when I started to assemble one after marveling at a performance by Marcus Fischer at Powell’s Books in Portland at an event for my then just published book on Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, part of the Bloomsbury 33 1/3 series. Since last July, when I started taking guitar lessons weekly, my synthesizer has gotten less attention, but I recently got into using the synth as an oversized effects pedal, which is how this piece came about.

All of which is to say, I’m writing this evening to thank Branciforte for the great pleasure his piece — that is, his piece and my piece in tandem — has brought me. There is a misunderstanding that music critics are frustrated musicians. I’m in no way a frustrated musician. I have such low expectations for what I might accomplish musically, that learning guitar and synthesizer is just as sequence of pleasurable discoveries fed by curiosity and reinforced by the steady pace of practice.

As I write this, there are already 21 tracks by almost as many musicians in the 0316 Junto, “El Segundo,” some others of which have also built on my “Fever Pitch.” I’m just beginning to work my way through the accumulating duets, and listening for the space they leave for what will soon be trios.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/joseph-branciforte. More from Joseph Branciforte, who is based in Brooklyn, New York, at josephbranciforte.com, twitter.com/josbranciforte, YouTube, and instagram.com/josephbranciforte.

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Ann Annie Makes Tape Loops Blossom

In this new performance video

If you follow Ann Annie’s music, then you may recognize the little tape cassette to the left of the deck in the new performance video “Blossom.” Just over a week ago, a couple dismembered Maxell tape cassettes — also pink in accent color — were visible in one of Annie’s Instagram photos, with a “feelin loopy” caption. Today the music that resulted has appeared.

feelin loopy /

A post shared by ann annie (@annnannie) on

The product of that whimsy is now evident in this footage, almost seven minutes of exceptional sonic transformation, as the tape loop is mixed with dense oscillations, all of which is shifted, looped, glitched, and warped. There are terse bell tones and effluent white noise, lens-flare grace notes and ecstatic birdsong to “Blossom,” which true to its name expands as it proceeds — what starts as loose and gentle gets more chaotic and rambunctious as time passes. The beauty of the video isn’t merely the color and framing, but how active Annie’s left hand is, adjusting settings on various synthesizer modules, tweaking the balance of the tape deck, and lending a conductor-like visual narration to the piece.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted on Ann Annie’s YouTube channel. More from Ann Annie at instagram.com/annnannie, facebook.com/modularanne, and annannie.bandcamp.com.

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The Color of a Sequence

A brief Buchla synthesizer study from Andreas Tilliander

This short droning synthesizer piece from Andreas Tilliander, aka Repeatle, is largely autonomous, much like the video I shared a few days ago. Early on in it, you see a hand come into sight and click a couple switches on the Buchla synthesizer interface, but after that it’s entirely the Buchla’s show, up until the very end when the hand returns. We have a knob’s eye view for the length of the composition, all rows of faders, banks of switches, and distant cables.

The thing about synthesizer autonomy is that all the activity is happening underneath the hood, as oscillators and filters and other facets of the collective instrument collectively make the drones and pulses, textures and tones, come to life. The primary external signal comes in the form of a few colored lights, in different colors, which align with aspects of the patch as the piece unfolds. On first listen, you might just take in the shuddering noise machinations, but upon repeat it’s worth keeping an eye on those lights and sensing how their pace and strength, how that coordination or lack thereof, can be mapped to shifts in the overarching sound.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at youtube.com. More from Tilliander/Repeatle, who is based in Stockholm, Sweden, at repeatle.com, soundcloud.com/tilliander, and twitter.com/tilliander. And here’s an interview I did with him back in 2002: “Click It”.

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“Fever Pitch”

A guitar + modular track I recorded today for Weekly Beats and the Disquiet Junto

For the second week in a row, I’ve participated in Weekly Beats. Whether I make it the remaining 50 is yet to be seen, but I’ve enjoyed it so far. Unlike the Disquiet Junto, the weekly music composition prompt series I’ve moderated since 2012, there is no set theme in Weekly Beats. There are optional themes, but the main idea is simply to encourage making music as a way to learn to make music, along with the support that comes from other people doing so at the same time, and commenting on each other’s work. (I also submitted it to the Disquiet Junto for this week’s project, which is to produce something that will become part of a trio co-composed asynchronously by other participants.)

My second Weekly Beats track is, like the first, an attempt to combine electric guitar and modular synthesizer. The glitchy under beat is a bit of trigger sequencer, along with the byproduct glitches inherent in the looper. The main guitar line is heard with various aspects of the audio spectrum being modulated by medium-paced LFOs, and being sent through the looper for additional effects, all echoes and stutter. And then at the end a snippet of a chord is sent through a different looper, providing a simulated tape-loop fade-out. There’s more going on, like the primary guitar line being put through a filter, but that’s the gist of it.

And here is a photo of the synthesizer patch employed in this piece:

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