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: software

Putting TikTok to Unintended Use

An ambient piano quartet by Lullatone's Shawn James Seymour

In this sweet little video demonstration, Shawn James Seymour (half of the husband-wife duo Lullatone, along with Yoshimi Yomida) shows how he used the TikTok video social-media app — in particular it’s feature-not-a-bug looping mode — to make a simple ambient track out of piano loops. He set all the loops, four total, to different lengths, and then let them play out on repeat, so that the notes overlap in different combinations. This “criss-cross” is, as he notes in one of a sequence of cards he displays by hand during the video (those hands colliding elegantly with the ones visible in all four of the devices laid out across the table), along the lines of how Brian Eno composed Music for Airports.

Last year, the influential and crafty artist Christian Marclay teamed with Snapchat, another social-media network, for an exhibit that mined user data to create all manner of sound art projects (see: latimes.com). The scale and scope of what Seymour is up to is, of course, quite more modest in comparison, but it also uses the app itself to achieve its goals. As Seymour says (well, displays on a card), inspirationally, in the video: “twisting technology to make something new is usually more fun than just browsing on it.”

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended fine live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at the Lullatone YouTube channel. More from Lullatone at lullatone.com.

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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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Listened to While Listening

The annals of music publicity

I receive three PR emails for music recordings. Which of these would I be least likely to check out?

  1. A link to an audio stream.

  2. A downloadable press kit with audio files.

  3. A link that first alerts me that my email and IP address will be saved, processed, and forwarded to the “product owner.”

Understand that there are days when I get hundreds of such emails.

For the record, it’s #3: I see no need to grant approval for email and IP address alignment and tracking simply to listen to an advance recording. (Even if it is one of my favorite musicians — and experience has shown that in such rare cases, an email request from me will allow me to bypass the digital protections because, ultimately, the publicist is glad to have found someone interested.)

Once upon a time, bushels of CDs arrived, at great expense, the cost put on the artist, onerously and not always transparently. Now, today, when sending a digital file costs virtually nothing, there is, in some PR corners, a need perceived to track the personal information of the listener. Or, in the best of circumstances, an anonymized data cluster showing generalized habits.

I suppose that this way the PR agency can report data back to the artist, but the data doesn’t register the varied interest of people who simply opt out because such tracking is just an even more invasive branch of DRM (digital rights management, the thing you don’t have to concern yourself with if you download music from Bandcamp or SoundCloud).

The resulting data doesn’t even matter because PR doesn’t exist to tell artists whether or not (anonymous?) individuals are listening to the work. The PR exists to help the musicians get the word out. Anything to the contrary is specious at best, and counterproductive at worst. One needn’t be listened to while listening.

If as a recipient of such PR requests, you refuse such tracking, you get a word sent back the other direction: These practices are invasive and unnecessary. I’d rather wait until the music is out and be, heaven forbid, “late.” And the fact is, there’s plenty (vastly more) to listen to that isn’t secreted behind a veil of invasive protection. That’s where I’ll spend my listening time.

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Graphic Notation x Visual Code

Software-based music from Fahmi Mursyid, who is based in Indonesia

There is a tradition of graphic notation, in which images are read as musical scores, whether or not that’s actually the intended case of the original source — contrast, for example, the beautiful designs of an Iannis Xenakis’ orchestration (below) with the found scores of Christian Marclay (further below).

There is, as well, the growing range of software tools that are, in effect, visual programming languages for sound. They allow the user/composer/coder to create systems — virtual instruments — that then emit audio both planned and discovered, intended and by chance.

In turn, when an implementation of a visual programming language reaches a certain synchrony with the music it produces, the visual can be said to serve double duty: both as virtual instrument and, in effect, as graphically notated score.

This is certainly the case with the vibrant hodge podge, shown up at the top of this post, that constitutes “Generative Music with Modular Synth in Pure Data,” by musician Fahmi Mursyid. As its title suggests, it’s a generative piece (one that produces music that might differ over time) in Pure Data (a programming language originated by Miller Puckette). Listen and watch here (and if you are a Patreon supporter of Mursyid’s, the original post for the track on YouTube includes a link to the Pure Data patch, which you can download, listen to in real time, and tweak as you like).

More on Pure Data at puredata.info. More from Fahmi Mursyid, who is based in Indonesia, at ideologikal.bandcamp.com. (I don’t usually write about the same musician twice in a week, but this piece is quite different from the feedback drone of Mursyid’s I wrote about on Tuesday.)

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Closer to the Code

Closer to the source

Each year, my listening seems to get a little closer to the source. This habit, this tendency, goes back to my earliest music explorations. Enamored of a given album in my teens and early 20s, I’d track down music by the individual players on it. In part this pursuit was to expand my horizons, but in part, especially I recognize in retrospect, this was to narrow them; I had the sense that if I gained a comprehension of the individual player’s sound, I’d better understand their contribution to the initial album that seeded my interest.

Fast forward to 2020, and much of my listening is to sketches, to rough drafts, to works-in-progress that people post to SoundCloud and, increasingly, to YouTube of the most inchoate of musical inventions. In the case of this video, it is Nathan Wheeler documenting his participation in a coding circle. (That’s a social, mutual-improvement scenario adopted online from the classic sewing circle, in which people gather to do solitary creative work in a communal situation. The sewing circle was an influence on the Disquiet Junto, as well.) The circle in which Wheeler is participating originated on the excellent llllllll.co music community. Members were given about a month and a half to write a script for a shared hardware device — the details don’t matter, but if it’s of interest, click through above to llllllll.co and learn more — based on a few guidelines. These amount to a provided set of audio samples, and some broadly defined parameters: volume, brightness, density, “evolve,” and a switching between “worlds” (switching that the accompanying visuals are then intended to represent distinctly). The project is titled “drone in three worlds.”

Understanding those briefest of guidelines is more that sufficient to interpret the video, in which the worlds are depicted as eclipse-like, a receding perspective, and a rapid starfield. If you have more interest, you can read the llllllll.co discussion, and click through to the the GitHub repositories where the source code of the various project responses will be stored. GitHub being where, according to my lifelong trajectory as described above, much of my listening will likely being taking place within a few more years.

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