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

tag: video

Speaker Cone and Seed Pod

Documenting Marcus Fischer's "Multiples" installation

Awhile back I began collating a YouTube playlist of live ambient performances. The assortment, now numbering well over 100, quickly took shape as a collection of videos in which the techniques of the performer were evident to the viewer. The idea was to locate and celebrate instances of the action required by the performer to accomplish the seeming inaction — the stasis, the aesthetic limbo, the attenuated sonic pause — that so much ambient music telegraphs.

In time, the definition of “performance” expanded — well, it didn’t so much “expand” as that the word’s interior features became more detailed. Nothing as the playlist of included videos proceeded contradicted earlier interpretations of “live performance.”

This video, from an installation by Marcus Fischer, pushes the definition further, while staying true to the initial curatorial impulse. The audio is one take, while the video is a collation of elements. In other circumstances, that disconnect might be an issue, but here it makes perfect sense. The installation, titled “Multiples,” was set up at Variform in Portland, Oregon, last month, in a show curated by Patricia Wolf. The core of it is an array of naked speaker cones, each containing fragile little seed pods. The speakers both emanate sound and, as a result of the vibrations resulting from that sound, rattle the seed pods, each a tiny, nature-made maraca. We hear both the melty drone of the music and the waves of percussion that accompany it, and we experience the correlation between the two.

The causality between visual and sonic instance is less necessary here than in other sorts of live performance, because what we’re witnessing is more a system at work than a performance. If you watch a video of a train and hear audio of a train, even if the two weren’t sourced at the same time, you get that they are both simply moments in a much larger system, something that couldn’t be documented in full. Likewise, here we get the high-fidelity rendering of the audio, and the glimpses of the various facets that make it run.

As the video shows, there is still more at work than those speakers, including the reel-to-reel machine on which the audio is unspooling, and at least one additional seedpod hanging midair, still affixed to a branch, not to mention the full geometry of the work, which sets a visual stage for the sounds we are hearing. Above the speaker array is a series of parallel fluorescent bulbs, a grow-room aesthetic suggesting artificial light for artificial life.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at Fischer’s YouTube channel. More from him at mapmap.ch. I’m proud to have worked with Fischer on the sound design and score to the science fiction short Youth. He will be exhibiting in the Whitney Biennial this year, from May 17 through Sept 22.

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Guitar Learning: First Shift

An attempt at phase shifts with ambient guitar loops

This short video is of two simple loopers that are ever so slightly out of sync. By the point at which the video begins, both of the loopers had accrued several layers of audio, all of it culled from an electric guitar. Some of the audio is shared between the two loopers, and some is unique to each separately. The starting point of each of the two loops is signaled when the given looper’s light briefly blinks. Shortly after the midpoint of this recording, the two loops can be seen to come into sync, and to then proceed to drift apart — to shift, to phase — again.

The looper used here is the original Ditto from TC Electronic (due to its popularity, several variations on the Ditto followed). I bought my first one used a few years ago, and have always enjoyed how simple yet effective its controls are. Despite having just one button and one knob, the Ditto comes with a manual that is nearly a dozen pages long, because different combinations of button clicks cause different processes. When I found another inexpensive secondhand Ditto, I picked it up just this afternoon with the express purpose of exploring asynchronous loops such as this one.

Video originally posted at my youtube.com channel.

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46 Seconds in Heaven

Amid a recent Zimoun work

A new glimpse of an installation piece by the artist Zimoun is always a cause for attention. His work often achieves a mix — a contrast, more to the point — of sizable dimensions and aesthetic intimacy. This balance is thanks to his frequent combination of inexpensive materials and the lulling repetition of speedy mechanical activities. The effect, as witnessed here, is a robot lullaby at an industrial scale.

This work, a video document of which appeared in the past week, consists of “99 prepared dc-motors, felt balls, 297 m steel wire, 2018” (such is, in effect, the title of the work — a plainness that matches the materials). The result is a mix of fierce geometry and sympathetic droning, of rapid motion amid an otherwise static field.

The vertical lines are like grid-minded painter Agnes Martin paying tribute to Richard Lippold’s wire sculptures. The base is like the structure of one of Bruce Nauman’s fluorescent bulbs — which emit their own drone byproduct — repurposed as a support mechanism. The video lasts just 46 seconds, seen from various angles. It’s intriguing to consider whether the audio perfectly matches the image, or if it even matters, given the mechanical nature of the proceedings and the extremely narrow — imperceptible, likely — range of variation therein. And then you hit repeat.

Video originally posted at Zimoun’s Vimeo account. More from Zimoun at www.zimoun.net.

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The Evel Knievel of Tape Loops

Amulets lets a tape un-spool to its death.

Like the old Evel Knievel stunts of long-ago prime-time television broadcasts — well, sort of — the experimental musician Amulets announced in advance that today he would let un-spool, live on YouTube, a cassette tape that would, a bit like in the Mission: Impossible episodes that aired around the same time Knievel was jumping big rigs, self-destruct. (Or perhaps a bit like the old Saturday Night Live skit, also from that era, in which a lobster’s fate hung in the balance.)

The Amulets tape — more specifically a tape-loop, a few mere seconds of sound going round and round — would be encased in a device jury-rigged to slowly “erode” the material on which the sound was recorded.

When the video first aired (I did, indeed, tune in live, though it’s now archived for repeat viewing, round and round), there was drama to the slow-moving affair: Just how degraded would the audio get? (Pretty darn.) Would it be recognizable half an hour or forty five minutes into the process? (Yes, actually.) Would it snap before the full, planned hour of decay had played out? (Quite surprisingly: nope!) What does happen is that the sound falls apart in stages, so slowly that it’s only really recognizable when one compares and contrasts snippets five to ten seconds apart. Fortunately for the curious, even when streaming live, YouTube’s embedded player allowed you to back up to earlier in the recording, and then return to the current, live moment.

In a separate video, the process behind the loop scenario is revealed. Turns out it’s the same challenge that the musician Hainbach responded to last week (see: “Sandpaper Is a Form of Change.”) Making this sort of an answer song.

Like the cassette tape technology itself, what with its newfound revival in recent years, the cassette that Amulets experimented with proved indefatigable. Writes Amulets of the process, “Through a lot of trial and error I was able to design a self-destructive, self-contained cassette that not only eroded the magnetic tape, but could also be reused and reloaded with different loops for continued future experiments.” Here’s to the sequel!

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at the YouTube channel of Amulets, aka Randall Taylor of Portland, Oregon. More from Amulets/Taylor at amuletsmusic.com and amulets.bandcamp.com.

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We Don’t Need the Human Touch

The drum machines can dance — or at least sway — well enough on their own.

One possible definition of — or, perhaps, alternative phrase for — the increasingly employed term “generative” would be “Look, Mom, no hands.” That’s the route that many modular synthesizer videos follow: using various techniques that coax machines to be led by what seems to be their own initiative, devoid of any evidence of human touch. The result is work in which a machine’s lights are signs of life, in which no hands ever enter the picture’s frame. The absence of a human in “Koto Ward” by Chanse Macabre is signaled by the cars passing in the distance. There are people to be seen, or at least sensed, but they are far away, locked in other machines, and moving considerably more quickly than the music this placid machine has elected to emit. The gentle, rhythmic plucking of “Koto Ward” challenges the ear to listen for repetitions in the patterns, to find a moment where the loop begins again. That moment never comes, such are the slight variations that keep the bobbing, gently percussive apparatus moving in such a convincingly improvisatory, lifelike manner.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at YouTube. More from Chanse Macabre, based in Houston, Texas, at chansemacabre.bandcamp.com and instagram.com/chanse.macabre.

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