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Listening to art.
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tag: video

A Furious Stasis

The tension between action and inaction

If yesterday’s video in this series was an exercise is extreme stasis, today’s marks a contrast. In yesterday’s, a hand occasionally appeared from the bottom of the screen to ever so slightly adjust the relative volume of four inbound cassette tapes, all in the pursuit of an ambient drone whose ethereal qualities occasionally betrayed a more complex, a rougher, texture than at first made itself apparent.

In today’s, the musician Dustmotes works furiously to nudge and transition a hovering tone, occasionally inserting new swells and the rare percussive element. Overall the music is no less subtle than yesterday’s, but this toolkit requires numerous controls to be tweaked and attended to in order to achieve Dustmotes’ goal. (Interestingly, for comparison’s sake, the musical instrument used here, the Elektron Digitone, is the same as was used to produce the audio on the cassette tapes in yesterday’s piece.) This tension between that activity and simplicity, between action and inaction, is exactly the sort of thing that my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music was created to document and explore.

Video originally published at YouTube.

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Tapes in Concert

A live performance that is largely hands-off

It begins, as do all worthwhile cassette tape experiences, with a click, and a hard one at that. This video captures the recording of an ambient performance that consists of multiple tapes being layered in real time, their relative volumes adjusted each occasion that a hand briefly enters the screen from below. The sounds are frayed and angelic, weary and ethereal, testing the ear’s alertness to fissures in the mist. There are four different audio sources, lending different elements to the overall ensemble.

When I first started compiling such examples of recommended live performances of ambient music found on YouTube, the intention was (and remains) to share examples of the tools and skills required, and to investigate the tension between action (the musician’s effort) and inaction (the sonic stasis to which so much ambient music aspires). Needless to say, the light touch in this piece by the Glasgow-based musician who goes by Blicero represents an extreme in terms of inactivity on the part of the performer. Then again, missing is the effort that went into recording the original loops, testing the balances in advance, and doing post-production.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally published at YouTube.

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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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