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

A Furious Stasis

The tension between action and inaction

If yesterday’s video in this series was an exercise is extreme stasis, today’s marks a contrast. In yesterday’s, a hand occasionally appeared from the bottom of the screen to ever so slightly adjust the relative volume of four inbound cassette tapes, all in the pursuit of an ambient drone whose ethereal qualities occasionally betrayed a more complex, a rougher, texture than at first made itself apparent.

In today’s, the musician Dustmotes works furiously to nudge and transition a hovering tone, occasionally inserting new swells and the rare percussive element. Overall the music is no less subtle than yesterday’s, but this toolkit requires numerous controls to be tweaked and attended to in order to achieve Dustmotes’ goal. (Interestingly, for comparison’s sake, the musical instrument used here, the Elektron Digitone, is the same as was used to produce the audio on the cassette tapes in yesterday’s piece.) This tension between that activity and simplicity, between action and inaction, is exactly the sort of thing that my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music was created to document and explore.

Video originally published at YouTube.

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Tapes in Concert

A live performance that is largely hands-off

It begins, as do all worthwhile cassette tape experiences, with a click, and a hard one at that. This video captures the recording of an ambient performance that consists of multiple tapes being layered in real time, their relative volumes adjusted each occasion that a hand briefly enters the screen from below. The sounds are frayed and angelic, weary and ethereal, testing the ear’s alertness to fissures in the mist. There are four different audio sources, lending different elements to the overall ensemble.

When I first started compiling such examples of recommended live performances of ambient music found on YouTube, the intention was (and remains) to share examples of the tools and skills required, and to investigate the tension between action (the musician’s effort) and inaction (the sonic stasis to which so much ambient music aspires). Needless to say, the light touch in this piece by the Glasgow-based musician who goes by Blicero represents an extreme in terms of inactivity on the part of the performer. Then again, missing is the effort that went into recording the original loops, testing the balances in advance, and doing post-production.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally published at YouTube.

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Guitar Learning: First Shift

An attempt at phase shifts with ambient guitar loops

This short video is of two simple loopers that are ever so slightly out of sync. By the point at which the video begins, both of the loopers had accrued several layers of audio, all of it culled from an electric guitar. Some of the audio is shared between the two loopers, and some is unique to each separately. The starting point of each of the two loops is signaled when the given looper’s light briefly blinks. Shortly after the midpoint of this recording, the two loops can be seen to come into sync, and to then proceed to drift apart — to shift, to phase — again.

The looper used here is the original Ditto from TC Electronic (due to its popularity, several variations on the Ditto followed). I bought my first one used a few years ago, and have always enjoyed how simple yet effective its controls are. Despite having just one button and one knob, the Ditto comes with a manual that is nearly a dozen pages long, because different combinations of button clicks cause different processes. When I found another inexpensive secondhand Ditto, I picked it up just this afternoon with the express purpose of exploring asynchronous loops such as this one.

Video originally posted at my youtube.com channel.

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Algorithmic Art Assembly

I'll be giving a talk at this two-day event in San Francisco on March 22

My friend Thorsten Sideb0ard is hosting Algorithmic Art Assembly, a new event in San Francisco on March 22nd and 23rd this year, “focused on algorithmic tools and processes.” I’ll be doing a little talk on the 22nd, which is a Friday.

Speakers include: Windy Chien, Jon Leidecker (aka Wobbly), Julia Litman-Cleper, Adam Roberts (Google Magenta), Olivia Jack; Mark Fell (a Q&A), Spacefiller, Elizabeth Wilson, M Eiffler, Adam Florin, Yotam Mann & Sarah Rothberg — and me. Performances include: Kindohm, Algobabez, Renick Bell, Spatial, Digital Selves, Wobbly, Can Ince; Mark Fell, W00dy, TVO, Shatter Pattern, William Fields, Sebastian Camens, Spednar. Here’s a bit more from the website, aaassembly.org:

Algorithmic Art Assembly is a brand new two day conference and music festival, showcasing a diverse range of artists who are using algorithmic tools and processes in their works. From live coding visuals and music at algoraves, to virtual reality, gaming, augmented tooling, generative music composition, or knot tying, this event celebrates artists abusing algorithms for the aesthetics.

Daytime talks will present speakers introducing and demonstrating their art, in an informal and relaxed setting, (very much inspired by Dorkbot).

Each day will feature one workshop in an intimate setting, creating an opportunity for you to learn how to create live coded music using two of the main platforms, SuperCollider and TidalCycles. Workshops are limited in space, with reservation required – details to come.

Evening performances will be heavily based upon the algorave format, in which the dancefloor is accompanied by a look behind the veil, with several artists projecting a livestream of their code on screen. Performers will play energetic sets back to back, with minimal switch-over time.”

It was a new year, so I cleaned up my bio a bit. Here’s how it reads currently:

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 that explore creative constraints. A former editor of Tower Records’ music magazines, Weidenbaum is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and has written for Nature, Boing Boing, Pitchfork, Downbeat, NewMusicBox, Art Practical, The Atlantic online, and numerous other periodicals. Weidenbaum’s sonic consultancy has ranged from mobile GPS apps to coffee-shop sound design, comics editing for Red Bull Music Academy, and music supervision for two films (the documentary The Children Next Door, scored by Taylor Deupree, and the science fiction short Youth, scored by Marcus Fischer). Weidenbaum has exhibited sound art at galleries in Dubai, Los Angeles, and Manhattan, as well as at the San Jose Museum of Art, and teaches a course on the role of sound in branding at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Weidenbaum has commissioned and curated sound/music projects that have featured original works by Kate Carr, Marielle V Jakobsons, John Kannenberg, Steve Roden, Scanner, Roddy Schrock, Robert Thomas, and Stephen Vitiello, among many others. Raised in New York, Weidenbaum lives in San Francisco.

More on the Algorithmic Art Assembly at aaassembly.org. The event will take place, both days, at Gray Area Foundation for the Arts grayarea.org.

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Ambient Yule Log

An Unsilent Night you can let unspool at home

Just this past Saturday night I participated in the annual caroling event known as Unsilent Night. Created by composer Phil Kline for a downtown Manhattan performance back in 1992, the work now occurs in numerous cities all around the globe. More than 40 Unsilent Nights are scheduled this year, according to the list at unsilentnight.com. Here in San Francisco, it’s been running annually since 2002 (one year prior to my moving back after four years in New Orleans).

How Unsilent Night functions is as follows. Kline created four complementary ambient-chamber compositions, which collectively comprise the work. Everyone who showed up for Unsilent Night with a boombox used to be handed a cassette tape with a random one of the four parts. At the appointed moment, everyone would hit play, and the various tracks, all slightly out of sync, and resounding from devices of varying sound quality, would produce a kind of robot choir.

Now, in the age of ubiquitous audio equipment, people can use cassettes, but more likely they’ve download one of the tracks to their phones. The underlying concept of Unsilent Night remains the same. If anything has changed in the decades since Unsilent Night began it is (1) the fidelity of the recordings has increased and (2) the procession begins and ends with the ceremonious sound of Bluetooth speakers engaging and disengaging.

All of which came to mind when the excellent Burbank, California, music equipment shop Perfect Circuit posted a video yesterday of the seasonal audio installation currently running in its showroom. What it is is a bunch of boomboxes with droning, glistening loops of varying lengths. The video runs for 15 minutes, occasionally focusing in on a bit of motion, like a reel spinning slowly, or a counter ticking up one digit after another. If it weren’t for the company’s sonic logo at the video’s opening, it would be eminently loopable, an ambient Yule log.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally published at YouTube.

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