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

tag: turntablism

Hip-Hop Forensics & Sampling Genealogy

Kudos to Ethan Hein for an impressive act of hip-hop forensics and sampling genealogy. His excavation of DJ Premier‘s production of Nas‘ song “Nas Is Like” includes this handy flowchart of all the constituent samples:

Many of those samples, as Hein notes, had appeared in earlier Nas songs — this includes samples of Nas’ own voice — which makes Premier’s production a meta-level project, and confirms why his name is uttered alongside not only the Bomb Squad but also the likes of Teo Macero and Bill Laswell.

As Heim puts it,

Any sample-based song carries a dense web of associations, and I love the complexity that gets introduced when people sample themselves, or when they sample tracks containing samples, or best of all, both. ‘Nas Is Like’ has a complex family tree, a set of allusions to allusions to allusions. This is as it should be. Fundamentally, all music is built of reshuffled bits of other music. Hip-hop makes this fact an explicit part of the music’s message, and that’s the biggest reason why I love it.

Heim collects all his “sample maps” at flickr.com. While many have to deal with the “sample and sampled” nature of the Nas piece, some map out from ur-texts like Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks”:

And other Hein maps track various samples employed by a single musician, in the following case the rapper Common. Writes Hein in the caption for this photo on Flickr, “There are a lot of Kanye West productions here, which means a lot of samples. The map is nowhere near exhaustive for reasons of space, I limited it to songs using more than one sample”:

There are numerous resources for sampling information, notably the song-specific pages at wikipedia.org (click through for a more prosaic description of “Nas Is Like”), the rap-oriented whosampled.com, the more broadly defined secondhandsongs.com, which calls itself a “cover songs database,” and the-breaks.com. But none of that crowd-accrued data has the gravity of Hein’s post (which, of course, draws from those sources as raw material); his effort includes audio and video of various parts of the song, and commentary about the structure of the piece, as well as the nature of hip-hop and, more broadly, composition. As he writes in a related post, “What works the best in music, as in biology, is a minor mutation on an existing successful replicator.”

Read the full piece, originally posted in late August, at ethanhein.com.

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Images of the Week: Vinyl-CD Hybrid

Via makezine.com comes news of this ingenious hybrid of a CD and a 5″ vinyl single:

The delightful item is the brainstorm of musician Jeff Mills, a storied Detroit techno DJ. It serves as the medium for his recent, science-fiction-themed effort, The Occurrence — Sleeper Wakes. It’s useful to read the Mills hybrid as an attempt to reconcile techno with the future. The vinyl album and the CD are quickly losing ground to tools like the MP3 mixer, as well as the virtual turntables of Serato. Techno long associated itself with a semi-dystopian future, and as the future comes into view, the likely absence from it of physically embodied music seems both a confirmation of the genre’s most dire predictions, and a warning of its own potentially limited cultural lifespan.

More on the release at axisrecords.com. (Mills was one of the participants in a group show that I had a small sound-art piece in at the gallery Crewest in downtown Los Angeles in April 2009: disquiet.com.)

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Tangents: Cassette Noise, Bubblegum Pop, Soundwalks, …

Recommended reading, news, and so forth elsewhere:

Life After Transducers: Interview by Federico Placidi with sound artist and composer Agostino Di Scipio at usoproject.blogspot.com. He imagines a possible life cycle of electronic/electric music:

FP: What would happen to your works if one day there were no more possibility to perform it in a socially shared space? Where could it migrate, and how could it reconfigure itself? AdS: If one day there were no more transducers (I mean microphones, loudspeakers, the tympanic membrane of human ear, even the skin maybe”¦) acting as interfaces between air pressure waves and nervous-electrical measures, my work and the work of a lot of other people would stop existing, it would cease. Fine so! It happened so many times in history. The music of the British virginalists, a few centuries ago, disappeared because of the extinction of their very instrument (the virginale, existing in several fashions across Europe). Then, just like it happens today with Renaissance music, at some point so-called ‘philologically informed’ interpretative approaches would be proposed, and these older technologies would be revived and again built.

Bubblegum Pop Art: Steve Roden collects sound effects from gum-wrapper comics at inbetweennoise.blogspot.com. The gallery is both touching, in how the onomatopoeia play out, and funny, in how odd some of the word choices are:

Memory Is a Mixtape Blessing: Gino Robair on the cassette tape (at emusician.com/robairreport):

Yes, there’s hiss — you can’t miss it. More importantly, there is a combination of wow, flutter, and crunchiness that warmed my heart. All the worst things about the cassette format as a playback medium were the best things for this new release in terms of sound quality. Although the live performance was from ’09, it sounded as if it was recorded in the ’50s — in a good way. I have yet to find a plug-in that does lo-fi like this.

Ear of the Beholder: Inclusion of a sound artist in shortlist for Turner prize seen as a kind of recognition for the artistic element, sound, often overlooked by short-sighted critics, according to John Kieffer (at guardian.co.uk):

More importantly, perhaps, sound art can be as much to do with the act of listening as it is with making the work. Many of us now live in a world of visual and auditory overload. We happily make do with a pixelated version of music on our MP3 players, and end up hearing things we do not want to. We tolerate buildings and public spaces that look OK, but sound terrible. We eat and shop in places where music and noise are calibrated just short of inducing hysteria. We stick our fingers in our ears when trains screech on dirty tracks. For those of us who live under flight paths or in hectic, noise-filled cities, the recent cloud of volcanic ash brought with it something astonishing ”“ the revelation of hearing the sound of birds and insects for the first time.

Return Policy: A project by Christian Marclay for Peter Norton‘s annual family Christmas project is going for over one grand at abebooks.com:

All That Glitters …: I’d really like to know what this book, at awfullibrarybooks.wordpress.com, contains (thanks for the tip, Eric):

Sound-Walkabout: The Heide Museum of Modern Art in Bulleen, Australia is hosting this Sunday Touch at a Distance, a day of “music, installations and soundwalks,” curated by Ben Byrne: “Alan Lamb will set up some of his infinite music machines, Matt Chaumont will contribute a large scale installation producing sub-bass frequencies you feel rather than hear and Philip Samartzis will present recordings from his recent trip to Antarctica. Meanwhile, Anthony Magen will lead the development of a program of soundwalks that visitors will be able to take around the property”: melb.blogspot.com. The “soundwalk” seems to be a dark-horse term, increasingly likely to gain popular acceptance and usage before “sound art” does.

And in Brief: Technologically, this is an upgrade, but it’s not hard to see the addition of a microphone for DJ Hero 2 to, implicitly, downgrade the element of turtnablism: engadget.com. … A museum of musical instruments in Phoenix, Arizona (nytimes.com). … Interview with sound artist Zimoun at everydaylistening.com: “Q: What sound would you like to wake up to? A: I enjoy a lot the very tiny click sounds which our very old heating system is producing when the radiator is getting warm. Very beautiful and always different.”

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Kid Koala’s “Moon River” (MP3)

Belatedly and apologetically, an important download announcement: get your browser over to ninjatunexx.com, where the MP3 giveaway of the week — in celebration of the Ninja Tune label’s 20th anniversary — is “Moon River,” as reconsidered by turntable expressionist Kid Koala (aka Eric San). The song is only available for about another eight hours, and (free) registration is required for access (which is why there’s no streaming version or direct link here).

Koala takes the original, as sung by Audrey Hepburn, and burnishes its antiquated affect — the glossy, gauzy dreaminess of Hollywood theme songs past — by using turntable effects to mimic the cavernous echo of early recording equipment. By emphasizing the fragility, the malleability, of the vinyl, he celebrates the illusions at the heart of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the movie that the song made famous (and vice versa). His is the lightest of touches, barely skimming the surface of the original, just reworking it at times, nudging it — less a remix than a massage.

Remember, only eight hours to go for this, the latest in Ninja’s weekly celebratory free giveaways. By breakfast (at least here in San Francisco), it’ll be gone. More information at kidkoala.com, including news of recording he’s done for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the film version of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series.

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Images of the Week: The Physical Virtual Turntable

Attention to Martin Skelly‘s “Playlist Player” has apparently swamped his website. In the meanwhile, photos in addition to these are at Skelly’s flickr.com set.

Via iso50.com, this is Skelly on how it functions:

“There are two parts to the design: the player, and the record box containing five different coloured covers. Once the playlists are chosen and synced to the player with a memory stick, the user customises the outside of the sleeve with artwork of their choice. It could be photos of a memorable night or person or typed and hand drawn tracklists. Once the record is placed on the player, the music begins and the outer ring of lights illuminates. As the playlists plays rings of light visible through the translucent record move towards the centre of the disc, like a needle tracking on a record. These lights represent time and not the number of tracks, meaning your music must be enjoyed from start to finish with no distractions like the temptation to skip tracks, fast forward or rewind.”

It’s sort of like the turntable equivalent of a sensaround flight-training simulation, in that it virtualizes a physical activity as a kind of memory aid. Note that it simulates not only the act of placing the album on the turntable, but also the necessity of playing the album all the way through. Now, the latter is not entirely faithful to the turntable experience — we all eventually get pretty good at noting the blank spaces that signal the moment between songs, but still it’s a fascinating attempt to reflect on past media-consumption habits.

There’s a great discussion thread about Skelly’s invention going on now at iso50.com.

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  • about

  • 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

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    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
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    • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier).
    • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly (aaassembly.org) at Gray Area (grayarea.org).
    • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
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    • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the 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.
    • A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the 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.)

  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

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