No-input mixing is the perpetual-energy machine of electronic music. Maybe more than perpetual energy. Perpetual energy often suggests something simple, like a spinning wheel or a car battery, that has been tricked into running forever. In contrast, no-input mixing suggests one is tapping into a dangerous force. The trick is not to make it run forever, but quite the contrary: to keep it in check. To make something raw and vital be useful and malleable. The sounds are often employed in noise music, or, as in the case of this Fahmi Mursyid video, ambient. In it, Mursyid probes at the noise that the mixer produces, lending a sense of space with a reverb pedal and letting it loop and grow. For all the subtlety of the piece, there is a strong undercurrent, the feeling that it could get out of control very easily. (Fun fact: right click on a YouTube video and a little menu pops up. Then select where it says “loop,” and let it do so.) According to a comment by Mursyid, we’ll hear more of this work soon: “The long version will be out on ‘feedback’ compilation or I will upload it on my Patreon page.”
Every week in the Disquiet Junto, there’s a playlist of the contributing musicians’ tracks. That playlist consists of all the tracks submitted on SoundCloud, and thus it doesn’t relate all the tracks completed, because some folks post tracks elsewhere, including Bandcamp and, in the case of the prolific Jason Richardson, YouTube. Each week, not only does Richardson dependably respond to the current prompt, he does so in the form of a video. This week, he did two videos, one of which was his interpretation of the current project — using nature as your metronome — and the other of which took things a very creative and, for his audience, rewarding step further.
He reached back to a much earlier project. In the April 2016 Junto, the compositional prompt, proposed by Brian Crabtree, developer of the Monome suite of hardware and software music tools, recommended a unique artistic technique: you record the same piece of music several times, and then layer them. The deviations between the versions yields a subtle, cloudy flow. So, in Richardson’s video, not only do we hear him playing the part simultaneously in several takes, we also see the various Richardsons overlapping, as well. And since this includes outtakes culled in favor of the prefered single take, we experience, at the end, when Richardson has to move his gear out of the way to let a guy on his motorcycle get across the bridge.
Up above is the layered version. Here, below, is the single take. What Richardson is up to is, inspired by the current Junto project’s instructions, letting the “feeling of the breeze” on his face inform the pace at which he plays:
I half-joked when Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner) posted this synthesizer cover of Erik Satie’s classic “Gnossienne No 1” to YouTube yesterday that it will, someday, be the theme song to a TV show. Half, because the drama he elicits from the melody is palpable. This is a more full-bodied rendition than a Satie performance usually engages in. It’s not remotely difficult to imagine a showrunner might appreciate the combination of antique composition and only slightly less antique technology (Scanner employed the Buchla Music Easel to record this), and how one works in service of the other. There is so much more going on at any given instant of this piece than would occur in, say, a solo piano rendition. The reverberations of the synthesized tones and the sheer breadth of coloration are remarkable. It’s been over half a century since Wendy Carlos’ classic Switched-On Bach. We’re long overdue for Switched-On Satie.
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.
It’s been almost exactly a year since I posted one of the brief videos of the artist Zimoun’s tactile, economical, kinetic sculptures, sculptures whose impact — humorous, touching, majestic — is so out of proportion with the modest material from which they are constructed. Here’s a new one, posted today. A short video such as this is how Zimoun announces a newly installed work. Its title, as is generally the case for Zimoun, is little more than a list of the components, here “51 prepared dc-motors, 189 m rope, cardboard sticks 30 cm,” followed by the year of production: “2019.” The footage is a view from the Museum of Contemporary Art MAC, Santiago de Chile. And it’s not even 40 seconds long.
Vimeo, unlike YouTube, doesn’t have an easy way to allow for looped, repeated viewing, but you’ll be drawn in and hitting repeat almost for certain. Watch as the tiny cardboard sticks dance around in circles, suspended like the most rudimentary conception of a marionette. Their balletic footsteps suggest Amazonian rainfall: cardboard drops on a cold concrete floor.
Part of the beauty of Zimoun’s videos is how the sound is and isn’t in sync with what we see. The video cuts from one view to another: a closeup, giving us a sense of the mechanisms, a fuller one to give a sense of scale, a room view for sense of scope. Throughout the cardboard raindrops fall.
Video originally posted at vimeo.com. More from Zimoun, who is based in Bern, Switzerland, at zimoun.net.
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
• February 5, 2020: The first session of the 15-week course I teach at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape.
• April 15, 2020: A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming 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.)
• December 13, 2020: This day marks the 24th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2021: This day marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming 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.
• At least two live group concerts by Disquiet Junto members in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the works for 2020.
• I have liner notes for a musician's solo album and an essay in a book about an art event due out. I'll announce as the release dates come into focus.
• The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.