New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • Disquiet.com F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

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David Wingo’s New Mayans M.C. Theme

New season, new era, new drone rock


I’ve been enjoying the new season of Mayans M.C., the first following the exit of co-creator Kurt Sutter. The fourth episode aired last night. The show continues under the stewardship of Elgin James, its other co-creator. Part of the new tone is due to the arrival of composer David Wingo, replacing Bob Thiele Jr. That new tone is set from the start by the new opening credits, which have gotten attention for their political imagery, not just the real-world source material, but the historic scope.

Wingo’s theme music is just as big a shift from the earlier seasons. Gone is the song co-written by Thiele and Sutter, sung initially by Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, and then the second season by Diana Gameros. In its place, Wingo has crafted a compact, moody instrumental track that lingers just below 70BPM. It’s all atmosphere, built from layered guitar parts, moaning group background vocals, and plenty of percussive elements, all rendered as slow-burn drone rock. While not quite as diffuse as, say, the ambient folk and country of groups like Boxhead Ensemble or SUSS (the latter of whose Gary Leib died last week), it sits well alongside them.

Wingo’s name wasn’t immediately familiar to me, but as it turns out, I’ve heard a lot of his music in the past. He composed material for Soundtracker, the excellent documentary on field recording artist and acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, co-author of the book One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Quest to Preserve Quiet. We discuss material from Soundtracker most semesters I teach my “Sounds of Brands / Brands of Sounds” course. He also wrote music for Manic, the (pre-500 Days of Summer) pairing of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel that made excellent use of some Aphex Twin music, as I wrote about in my book on Selected Ambient Works Volume 2, for which I interviewed its director, Jordan Melamed. Wingo has worked on the scores for Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults, Barry, Mud, The Report, and numerous other productions, dating back to David Gordon Green’s 2000 debut feature film, George Washington. He also led the Austin, Texas, band Ola Podrida.

More from Wingo at david-wingo.com.

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Aphex Twin on Nylon

Simon Farintosh talks about arranging classic tracks like “Avril 14th” and “Alberto Balsalm” for classical guitar.

Almost three years ago, back in April 2018, Simon Farintosh posted a two-minute video of himself performing an Aphex Twin song in his own arrangement for classical guitar. The video was 10 days late. That is, it was posted on April 24, 10 days after April 14, the date from which the song in question, “Avril 14th,” takes its title.

Since then, Farintosh has more than made up for that slight delay. In a little more than half a year, he has posted to YouTube one by one a half dozen live video performances of Aphex Twin tracks, including an updated version of “Avril 14th” (see above), mixed in with what might be expected from a classical guitarist (Bach, Scriabin, Villa-Lobos), plus more modern works by Philip Glass, Thelonious Monk, and Nils Frahm, and even “In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song)” from David Lynch’s Eraserhead (humorously, Farintosh opted to do this last one in black and white).

The additional contemporary material gives some aesthetic context for what Farintosh is up to. I was intrigued by his Aphex Twin project and sent him an email. He had mentioned online that he was collecting the six pieces into an EP, and replied to my email with an advance copy. I spent time listening to the tracks and comparing them with the source material. I grew interested in the decision-making entailed in Farintosh’s effort, and we agreed to do the interview that appears below.

There is no shortage of Aphex Twin covers, from post-classical ensembles like Alarm Will Sound to adventurous jazz groups like the Bad Plus to countless amateur piano and guitar players who post videos of their homemade performances. I wrote about several of these in my book on the album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Few have the sustained attention to detail that Farintosh’s exhibit. As he explained, “I think that in a sense, every transcription is a cover. … The reverse is not true, however.” (There’s quite a bit in the book about the correlation of the music of Aphex Twin, aka Richard D. James, and classical music, so I won’t go over it in this brief introduction.)

“Arranging electronic music for guitar is similar arranging orchestral music,” he told me our back and forth, “as there are so many moving parts and subtleties within the textures.” Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview, which took place over email. Farintosh, who is currently pursuing his doctorate in music at the University of Toronto, talks about learning difficult time signatures, what tracks didn’t make the cut, keeping in mind that pianos are a kind of percussion instrument, and branching out into his own electronic music.

Update: The album is now on streaming services, as of February 5, 2020, including Spotify and YouTube Music.

Marc Weidenbaum: How did this project come to be?

Simon Farintosh: I arranged “Avril 14th” back in 2018 as an encore piece to use in concerts. Upon uploading a recording to YouTube, I quickly became inundated with requests for tabs and sheet music. This outpouring of interest encouraged me, so I invested in better recording equipment and began to work on “Kesson Daslef” and “Flim.” Before I knew it, I had the better part of a digital release arranged and recorded.

Weidenbaum: I believe that you were born in 1995, the year “Alberto Balsalm,” one of the tracks you perform here, was released. How did you become exposed to Aphex Twin’s music?

Farintosh: I don’t remember exactly when I discovered Aphex Twin, but the music has been with me for a long time. The song “Rhubarb” was definitely my gateway to playing Aphex Twin. I’ve had bad insomnia for a while, and I used to listen to this track for up to an hour on repeat in an effort to fall asleep. I quickly became entranced by the more cacophonous side of Aphex Twin, as well, and listened to the album Drukqs in its entirety many times. As a classically trained musician, I was extremely impressed by the harmonic and rhythmic ingenuity of Aphex Twin’s music. His synthesis of the minimalist classical aesthetic with modern hip-hop elements bridged two seemingly disparate worlds, and helped me imagine the nylon string guitar in a non-classical setting.

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A Work Tailor-Made

A twin in art

A friend forwarded a story by Michael O’Donnell about the Aubrey-Maturin books of novelist Patrick O’Brian. The article, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal last week, opens, “I don’t know anyone but me who’s got a work of art that was tailor-made for him.” My friend wanted to know if the friends to whom he forwarded the article had a work they felt was tailor-made for them.

O’Donnell goes on: “Not tailor-made in the sense that the author or artist made a personal gift of it: I’m not referring to dedicatees. Nor do I mean favorites. Everyone has favorites. I mean stumbling across a film or novel that is pitched so finely to your particular sensibilities that encountering it is like discovering a twin sibling. You understand that it will be a part of your life from that point onward. The closest I’ve come to meeting another person who’s had this eerie good fortune was my grandfather, whose love for the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff was extraordinary to behold. He would sit in his rocking chair and close his eyes as the sound washed over him. From the expression on his face, you would almost think he was in pain. But those who knew him well understood that the look was rapture.”

I gave it some thought. Earlier in life this would have been an easier question to answer, an immediate one. At various stages of life I would have answered instantly: the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; or Brian Eno’s album Thursday Afternoon; or Dennis Potter’s TV mini-series The Singing Detective; or Don DeLillo’s novel Mao II; or J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin; or Terence Davies’ film Distant Voices, Still Lives; or the Latin Playboys’ debut album (the album I pitched to the 33 1/3 series before I pitched Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II); or Fernando Pessoa’s prose collection The Book of Disquiet (yeah, yeah, which translation?); or Janet Cardiff’s 40 Part Motet sound-art installation; or DJ Krush’s album Kakusei.

Short version: I don’t think I have one. I’m a serial obsessive art monogamist (SOAM for short). Right now the closest I could get is the Agnes Martin room at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Which of course, due to the pandemic, feels quite far away, even though it’s just across town.

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Buddha Machine Variations No. 31 (Narrowed Divide)

A series of focused experiments

One thing that occurred to me as I’ve reached the end of a full month of daily Buddha Machine Variations is that I am accessing a familiarity with the source recordings that has only one direct comparison for me, which is the year I spent daily listening to and writing about one of my favorite albums of all time, Selected Ambient Works Volume II by Aphex Twin. As I searched for a Buddha Machine loop for today’s exercise, I realized that as I clicked through the options, I knew what would be next: Not only were the individual loops familiar as a friend’s voice on the phone, so too were the loops’ relative proximity to each other. And as I listened to the audio as it was being processed, I adjusted the various options in accordance with the specific loop’s qualities. And when I thought back on how this patch came together, I realized the decisions about what kind of processing to engage in were rooted in the source material. That point is distinct from where I began 31 days ago, when the audio was more of a discreet object, and the processing a discreet application. The divide between them has narrowed.

In any case, this piece has four subsidiary parts. I’ll describe them in brief, one channel of the mixer at a time, from left to right. Channel one is the straight audio out of the Buddha Machine, but with a slight variation on the delay, lending it a warble quality (delay via the ER-301). Channel two is the same unadulterated audio, its volume increasing and decreasing thanks to a slow, shallow wave (courtesy of the o_C module, running the Hemisphere firmware). Channel three is a narrow band of the FXDf-derived audio (from the source loop), put through a slight, static delay (in the ER-301). And channel four is another narrow band of the FXDf-derived audio, set on a little loop that is constantly overwriting itself. The loop is a little over two seconds long, and the trigger for the recording is going at a different pace, so over time the audio that is heard in this loop changes. (The loop kicks in at 1:05, when I connect a cable from the Batumi to the ER-301.) Beyond that, it’s all just me manipulating the various channels, based on my understanding and appreciation of the source loop, its melodic qualities, and the stages that comprise its structure.

There was no entry yesterday because after I recorded it last night I realized there was an issue with the audio, so I waited until today to re-record it. In the process I changed the patch, adding some elements.

For further patch-documentation purposes, here are two shots of the synthesizer:

And the settings on the Ornament and Crime module, the screen of which had gone dark while the video was being shot:

Video originally posted at youtube.com/disquiet. There’s also a video playlist of the Buddha Machine Variations.

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Live Coding “Avril 14th”

Aphex Twin fan Lil Data trades the piano keyboard for a computer keyboard

It’s April 14, which is just another day on the calendar, unless you’re an Aphex Twin fan. If you’re an Aphex Twin fan, then today is like your other favorite holiday, and your birthday, and an idealized version of Record Store Day all wrapped up in one. It’s the day when musicians celebrate the Aphex Twin song that takes its name from this date, “Avril 14th” (off the 2001 album Drukqs), and do their thing to and with it. Today there were numerous versions, as always, but the one that stole my heart was this live-coding version by Lil Data, who committed it in the open-source language TidalCycles. Screenshot above. Click through to Lil Data’s Instagram or Twitter accounts to witness it in all its monospace beauty as Lil Data brings the song to life one typed character at a time. “Avril 14th” is a solo piano piece, and it’s always a pleasure to watch the attention performers pay to it, such as Josh Cohen, whose YouTube video has racked up well over 300,000 views since it debuted in January 2017, and Kelly Moran (a Warp labelmate of Aphex Twin’s), who posted a version to Twitter today. But watching as Lil Data trades a piano keyboard for a computer one is next level. And in the opens-source spirit of the software, Lil Data posted the code-cum-transcription on GitHub. More on TidalCycles at tidalcycles.org. In the days leading up to April/Avril 14, Aphex Twin rebooted his soundcloud.com/user18081971 account (the seemingly generic name is, in fact, his birthday, August 18, 1971) and began posting new music, including a beautiful ambient piece, “qu1”:

Major thanks to twitter.com/rbxbex for having hipped me to Lil Data.

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