“North Wind” is a live ambient music performance on modular synthesizer by Ann Annie. The track is built largely around the sound of a simulated plucked instrument. The strumming and tuning of that plucking bring to mind in particular a Japanese koto, though the overall sci-fi feel of “North Wind” makes that more along the lines of a koto as depicted in some majestic futuristic cybernetic Ghost in the Shell anime. It is echoed, in Annie’s machine, to infinity, or looped back on itself. At times fragments of momentary string sounds flit into glitchy motifs, and at others they nearly evaporate as they become gaseous effects. Throughout, Annie’s tracksuit-covered arms manipulate the synthesizer. For those playing along at home, generously detailed patch notes provide some background on the equipment employed.
It was a pleasure this week to have been featured as the guest on the great Podular Modcast, which as its name suggests is a podcast about modular synthesizers. The Podular Modcast is hosted by Tim Held and Ian Price. Price wasn’t available when the episode was recorded, but he does appear early on in the segment, telling a touching story about Aphex Twin, a subject that then leads into Held interviewing me about my Aphex Twin book, Selected Ambient Works Volume II (33 1/3, Bloomsbury), and announcing that it has been licensed for translation and publication in Japan, something I just learned this past week. I spent five years at a manga company bringing Japanese books (comics and novels, and related titles) to America, so it’s nice to send one back.
Held and I then talk about modular synthesizers, how I got into accruing (assembling? agglomerating?) one myself, after witnessing Marcus Fischer perform live in Portland when I did an Aphex Twin reading there back in 2014. We discussed the tactile as well as visual feedback of modular synthesis, and other topics. I had a great time speaking with Held. You can listen with the above embedded audio player, or at podularmodcast.fireside.fm.
A week ago, Darren Harper posted the results of one of his synthesizer patches online. The audio track, bearing a timestamp for a title, “~4/23/18,” is soft matter infused with abrasions and occasionally launching peaks of sound from its core. At nearly eight minutes in length, it is like the scientific surveillance of some newly discovered utopian microsonic world, Whoville via R. Murray Schafer. A brief technical explanation is provided by Harper, those occasional peaks characterized thusly: “new bits and pieces pop up throughout.” The depiction is for participants of synthesis more than for observers, and it belies the environmental simulacrum of the achievement.
A week later, Harper revisited his patch, and found another environment entirely. This follow-up track, “~4/30/18 (4/23 redeux),” is even softer than the original, and it seems to look up and outward where the other looked down and in. Those “bits and pieces” are largely gone, replaced with lens flare grace notes amid a huge floating zone. It is, as Harper writes briefly, a “more spacious version.” That is an understatement.
This brief Instagram clip from Betty Hammer — aka Liesl Hazelton — shows her performing electric guitar, in the background, through an array of synthesizer modules, in the foreground. That depth of field serves as well to describe the music. You can see her hands playing the guitar, but by the time it reachers your ear those modules have done a lot to the source audio, pushing it from a simple plucked string to something more like a Caribbean steel drum played at the very far end of a long metal corridor. Meanwhile the synth is deploying its own snare beat, the pace evident in the soft red light that is as large as Hammer’s hand.
Bidding farewell to the great Ursula K. Le Guin. I was so young when I read her the first time, I didn’t know about genre conventions. My imagination was pretty close to a clean slate. I simply recognized the transition as I entered into another world, and I never fully returned.
• December 13, 2018: This day marks the 22nd anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• Ongoing: 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.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.
The Disquiet Junto is an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making space in which restraints are used as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto. There is an FAQ. ... These are the 5 most recent weekly projects: