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: saw2for33third

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.

Tag: / Leave a comment ]

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.

Also tagged , , / / Leave a comment ]

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.

Also tagged , , / / Leave a comment ]

Zines Then and Now

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt

You do anything for long enough, you live through transitions. Generally these are revealed to you in hindsight, when a recollection is distinct enough from the current moment for the shifts, the fissures, to have come into focus. Sometimes, though, you experience these transitions in real time.

I have probably told this story before, but it’s a short one, so I’ll give it another go. Not long after I started, back in 1989, working for the Tower Records retail chain, we were visited at the company’s home office, in West Sacramento, by representatives of one of the country’s major music labels. Shifts were happening in the record industry, not just generic business pressures like consolidation, marked by mergers and acquisitions of record labels, but also key among the threats such familiar terms to us denizens of the 21st century as mobile, video, and technology.

However, those words didn’t mean in 1990, when the visit occurred, what they mean now. Mobile meant the prevalence of the Walkman and its ilk, and the perceived accompanying rise in home taping. Video meant MTV, and the oversize influence of a single network. Technology meant the compact disc, which was enticing music fans to buy their entire record collections all over again, to the point that even long sedate classical labels were becoming cash cows.

Wherever there are that many threats, there must be others, and it was these unknowns that were on the minds of our visitors that day.

As they toured our office and spoke with our senior staff — I was a junior editor on Tower’s music magazine, Pulse!, mostly handling its letters page and the Desert Island Discs lists from readers, when not imploring my coworkers to let me cover musicians in the orbit of the Knitting Factory — our visitors inquired about what we were listening to, and how we had come to discover it.

I wasn’t surprised, decades later, when researching my book on Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, to learn from Clive Gabriel, who signed Aphex Twin to the publisher Chrysalis, that Gabriel himself had come to Chrysalis’ attention thanks to his writing for British music magazines. It may seem a catch-22 that a label would look to a music critic for hints at the future, since by definition much of the music being written about would already be on a label. But that isn’t always the case, and even when it is, the myopia of big labels can make them blind to the wide field of smaller ones.

In any case, I found the perspective of the visitors fascinating. I lingered in the open area of the Pulse! offices to listen in. And at some point I heard one of our visitors begin to put forward a question in a tentative tone. “Do you,” it was asked, “read … zines?” I put the ellipsis there because there was a definite pause, as if someone were testing out a newly learned term from a foreign language. What I can’t do except through comparison is note that the word was pronounced in a dramatic and sudden hush, much like the mother of Ally Sheedy’s character says “cancer” at the dinner table in the movie St. Elmo’s Fire. And what I can’t do except through description is to note that the word wasn’t pronounced “zines” as in the third syllable of “magazines,” from which the term emerged, but as “zines” with the “i” like “eye,” which is to say, a word so alien that its source and meaning were truly obscure to the person speaking it.

There’s far more to be said about zines at the start of the final decade of the 20th century, but not right now. I will note it was especially appropriate that day for the visitors to have asked this question because, unbeknownst to them, just one building away from ours was the Tower warehouse, where a vast zine distribution project was underway thanks to the vision of an employee named Doug Biggert.

I remember this visit as if it happened yesterday, even though it was three decades ago, and I am remembering it right now because just this weekend I received a package containing two zines: the first and second issues of Deft Esoterica, a project by Claude Aldous, of Canton, a city in upstate New York. I’ve been enjoying reading them, but I had to put down the stapled pieces of 8.5×11″ paper to get my memories typed out because they were distracting me from what was on the page.

Also tagged , / / Leave a comment ]

Retail Opportunism

Someone at this snack food company likes the work of Aphex Twin.

Tag: / Leave a comment ]