This rapturous quartet, “Intangible Landscapes” by composer Yaz Lancaster, moves from stately restraint to operatic dramatics over the course of its meticulously plotted 12-plus minutes. At the composition’s opening, it might appear to be a latter-day Morton Feldman piece, a slow piano pulse (courtesy of Jixue Yang) under-girding crosshatched woodwinds (flute, Joshua A. Weinberg; bass clarinet, Tyler Neidermeyer) and Lancaster’s own violin.
But as it goes, it grows. The clarinet and piano gather steam, and collude to emphasize the emboldened pacing. The ensemble itself seems to double in size as the volume increases and the parts cease leaving generous space for each other. Particularly potent is the feedback-like noise emanating from one of the woodwinds around the 10-minute mark.
The three musicians joining composer Lancaster go by the name Apply Triangle, according to whose Facebook page “is an electroacoustic trio consisting of flutes, clarinets, piano, and electronics, performing works for any combination of these instruments that utilize pre-recorded sound, live processing, or electronic instruments.”
City governments and health departments are calling for the postponement of “non-essential” public gatherings. Festivals are being cancelled left and right. Even if the current COVID-19 health alerts come to an end along one of the less dire projected timelines, the toll has already begun to hit numerous musicians. And not just musicians, but those who work in their proximity — promoters, publicists, roadies, techs, vendors, venue employees, and on and on. To discuss the arts isn’t to look askance at the death, grief, and discomfort of those directly affected by this year’s coronavirus. It’s simply to consider and brace for broader consequences.
Buying an album here and there will be a nice gesture, but even if you spend the equivalent of a festival pass on Bandcamp or Bleep, you won’t — short of some unprecedented groundswell of mass communal action — begin to have the same economic impact you’d have had were the cancelled events to occur. Festivals and concerts are scaled in a way that digital media, online merchandise, and, of course, streaming can’t begin to compare with financially. This is a calamity a decade or more in the making; as the perceived monetary value of recorded music has dropped, the importance of live performances has become all the more central not just to musicians’ income but to their promotional efforts. There is, it’s worth noting, a particular irony here for electronic music, which was born of the idea of the studio as a musical instrument — for as deep and rewarding as that may be as an artistic pursuit, you generally have to leave the studio these days to afford it in the first place.
All of which is to say, this is a good time to pay attention to the musicians whose work you admire and want to support. Check out the Patreon and equivalent of the ones who have such accounts, and keep an eye out for what others do to try to fill the void left by diminishing concert performance opportunities. I’m hopeful that the moment’s necessity will mother innovative alternatives. A suite of pay-per-view variants feels more than a little dystopian, so if you do come across creative means by which musicians reach across enforced “social distance,” please do let me know.
You can play this video in lots of contexts. You can play it on your phone, or your laptop, maybe in a little side window, or real big. You can project it to a screen. Or you can play it on a tablet. I recommend tablet. The reason I recommend tablet, specifically iPad, is this video was performed in the software called Samplr on an iPad. To play the video on an iPad is to play it on the same device where the music was performed and recorded — in situ, as it were. (The Samplr app recently received an update for the first time in something like half a decade. It had continued to work fine, but its developer finally modernized it, resulting in a deserved resurgence of popularity, resulting in videos like this one.) Here the sampling app is put to ambient purposes. As the musician Haik works through the samples, you can track the correlation between actions and sounds.
There are periods of time when, for one reason or another, my listening focuses on an individual musician. Twice last week and, now, today, where my listening has settled is on the work of Fahmi Mursyid. I receive a lot of correspondence about music from publicists and musicians, and I balance the inbound recordings with what I myself come across online. To my mind, the feeds on my Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and YouTube accounts are just as valid as — if not more so than — the queries in my inbox. This live performance video shows Mursyid layering tones and sequences on his portable synthesizer. There’s a light, exploratory quality, in part because the song has a childlike aspect to it, and in part because the music sounds like the score to footage of an unmanned research vessel headed out to the great unknowns of deep space. All of Mursyid’s YouTube videos are explorations of a sort, pursuing sounds on a variety of devices and software applications. Highly recommended to add to your YouTube feed.
There are many great murals across the city of San Francisco. The one dearest to me, by far, is what I think of as the Coit Tower of graffiti. Shown here is but one view of the ongoing communally decorated staircase to the Luggage Store Gallery on Market Street, just up from Sixth Street. Regulars in the local electronic and experimental music communities know the Luggage Store Gallery as the location of the great weekly Luggage Store Creative Music Series (listings: outsound.org), which convenes each Thursday around 8pm. This shot, looking down toward the front entrance, doesn’t do justice to the full surround experience of the festooned and vertiginous staircase. It’s best experienced between the two sets any given Thursday when you’re coming back from one of the nearby markets with a beverage.
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.
• 0445 / Aare Tribute / The Assignment: Read maps of a river as a graphic score.
• 0444 / Bot Ensemble / The Assignment: Make music as directed by the great twitter.com/InstrumentBot account.
• 0443 / In Two Landscapes / The Assignment: Take two different field recordings and combine them to make one track, as in a mash-up.
• 0442 / One Sentence / The Assignment: Make music that explores the shape, tone, cadence, and content of a favorite section of prose or poetry.
• 0441 / Three Stones / The Assignment: Make music that explores territory sonically.