Trumpeter Ron Miles died yesterday at age 58. He played with a lot of my favorite musicians, including drummer Ginger Baker and clarinetist Ben Goldberg, and released at least a dozen albums of his own. I first experienced Miles when he was a member of the quartet of another favorite of mine, guitarist Bill Frisell. (Like Frisell, Miles was raised in Denver, Colorado.)
Frisell’s mid-1990s group, which also featured Eyvind Kang (violin) and Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), debuted with the 1996 album Quartet. The record is rich with arch instrumentals that explore noir atmospherics and hint at the electronically mediated Americana of Frisell’s work to come. It consists primarily of music composed for film and TV, including a Gary Larson Far Side special.
Miles’ trumpet, his voice, could achieve a tonal peacefulness, a poise and composure, that was all his own. He could also engage in a playful, communal, musical banter in whatever band he was part of. The above video is a live performance, apparently in Ljubljana, Slovenia, from the year after the release of Quartet. Just last September, Miles headlined at the Village Vanguard in Manhattan when it reopened after the pandemic lockdown. And now he is dead, due to a rare blood disorder. He will be missed.
Norwegian musician Eivind Aarset opens this piece for his quartet (featuring bassist Auden Erlien and two credited drummers, Wetle Holte and Erland Dahlen, though one of them, Holte, only spends some of the time drumming) with syrupy held notes, Aarset’s electric guitar’s tone extended beyond the instrument’s inherent, unmediated possibilities. Delays that slowly fade keep notes in play, clock-like pings becoming whisps, strums becoming halos. There seems to be a precognition of this early on: right at the start, it’s as if another performance is layered under this one, if you listen closely — perhaps bleed from a nearby room, perhaps an intended substrate, perhaps a bit of something caught in the digital buffer of one of those tools arrayed in front of Aarset. A drummer’s soft-ended sticks provide muted thumps amid brush strokes. The bassist plots the contours. Though credited in the video with drums, Holte is clearly up to something else, playing what appears to be a lap steel or pedal steel guitar. It’s a stately performance: jazz more concerned with tonality than with melodic excursion; pop more interested in sonic potential of phrases than in the rigor of repeated verse and chorus. Which is to say, it is Eivind Aarset through and through.
This is an early-on trial run of a new mixer pedal I got. The pedal, the large green one in the center, provides for parallel processing of a single inbound signal. There is a send and return for each of the three channels. Each channel also has an EQ control, which allows for you to further refine which subset of the original signal is sent. I don’t employ the EQ here. Here I’m just using two of the mixer’s three channels, both going to loopers. Before one of the two loopers gets the signal, it first goes through an effects pedal. That’s the set-up.
The signal is just an electric guitar, being played with an EBow. The effects loop, the one on the left, has two layers of a random pitch feature, which makes it sound like a sample and hold patch from a synthesizer. The looper on the right is receiving the signal straight from the EBow-played guitar. I used the volume knob on the guitar to fade in and out of the swell.
All the loops were recorded and running before I recorded the video, which is why the EBow is laying there on the ground. The audio is coming from a small amplifier just to the right of the pedals. I wanted to try a more complicated set-up, but it’s been a long week and I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. More to the point, I did try a far more complicated set-up, with two additional effects pedals and a third looper, but it got to be too much. I’ll build up to it.
And that about covers what is heard and seen here. The mixer is the Electro-Harmonix Tri Parallel Mixer. The two loopers are Dittos from TC Electronic. The effects pedal is the Tensor from Red Panda. Video recorded on my phone, an iPhone 13 Pro, which clearly I’m simply holding in my hands.
Jason Richardson, a longtime and prolific member of the Disquiet Junto community, posted this great short appreciation:
Here’s a lightly edited transcript of the short video:
The Disquiet Junto offers three aspects that I think are quite important.
The first is a direction, because Brian Eno had the idea that any creative project needed to outline the constraints, and this helps focus in on what you’re going to achieve.
The second is a timeframe. Duke Ellington famously said, “I don’t need time, I need a deadline,” and that’s my feeling that, particularly in the past when I wasn’t working: having a deadline really helped focus and make things happen.
The third part is the community, because you do get that feedback from people, but you also get to see how other people approach the project, and that expands your creative horizons.
I’m really grateful for the Disquiet Junto being part of my life and creative practice.
It’s Jamuary, which, if you take note of the switch from “n” to “m” in the month, helps explain why YouTube is even more jam-packed with uploaded music tracks than usual. Like National Novel Writing Month (which takes place each November) or the somewhat lesser-known February Album Writing Month (which helpfully follows on the creative sparks of Jamuary’s heels), but more performative, more in-the-moment, Jamuary is a celebration of musical activity to kick off each new year. Jamuary is, in many ways, what is best about hashtag culture — about the way a communal rallying cry can provide an asynchronous-but-coherent sense of dispersed collaborative experience.
By way of example, there’s this reworking of various samples by the musician who goes by Keurslager Kurt. Piano and other sounds are layered, filtered, looped, and otherwise tweaked on the Digitakt (from the Gothenburg, Sweden, company Elektron) over the course of six minutes. Kurt credits another musician, Oscillator Sink, for having introduced the technique employed. (Also credited is the source of the piano sample: the Leo Svirsky album River Without Banks.) Oscillator Sink explains in his own tutorial that what he’s doing is using the Digitakt for — rather than the standard triggering of beat samples on a clock — “manipulating an ongoing sonic event.” That approach lends both the Oscillator Sink and Keurslager Kurt pieces an ambient quality, one that emphasizes stasis and texture rather than rhythm and percussion.
This is the first video I’ve added this year to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine live ambient performances. Video originally published at YouTube. More from Keurslager Kurt, who is based in Belgium, at keurslagerkurt.bandcamp.com and at tindie.com, which has a collection of synthesizer kits for the AE Modular system, including a take on the excellent Sloth, originally created by Non-Linear Circuits.
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
Upcoming • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com. • January 6, 2023: This day marked the 11th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
Recent • 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. • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community. • 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.)
Background 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.