A weekly(ish) answer to the question “What have you been listening to lately?” It’s lightly annotated because I don’t like re-posting material without providing some context. I hope to write more about some of these in the future, but didn’t want to delay sharing them.
▰ “In CV”: not just Terry Riley’s “In C” performed on modular synthesizer, but with a module specifically designed to play it. (via Jason Wehmhoener)
▰ Sarah Davachi has announced Antiphonals for release this coming September. For now there is one track, “Rushes Recede,” overlapping waves giving way to something more expressly gothic and churchly:
▰ I missed the Robin Rimbaud show last weekend, and am digging this 13-minute video excerpt of the full performance: pulsing minimalist beats and haunting voice (or voice-like material). Submerge:
When I posted my two-minute footage of a recent redwood forest hike, I mentioned how YouTube is full of far longer journeys. I wanted to share another example of what I’m talking about. This video (not by me) is an hour straight (with a tiny bit of editing) of a walk at Mount Brunswick in British Columbia. The location is beautiful, and the footage fairly high resolution, as high as 1440, which isn’t 4K but will certainly do. Right from the start, the videographer’s footsteps are plainly evident. When walking, one isn’t quite aware of such sounds, because our brains largely blank them out, as they do any repetitive noise that should be ignored in favor of chance sounds that might provide evidence of danger or other reason for alert, if not alarm. That’s evolution for you. By 15 minutes in, the hiker’s breath makes itself heard, and by halfway through, that panting is almost as loud as the footsteps. While the footage remains breathtaking at times (take a look at the view at 50:01), we’re also plainly aware of the effort required to share it with us — it is breathtaking, quite literally, and anything but blissful. At times, the hiker pauses to look around, and in those moments birds might be heard cawing, but for the most part, the panting and foot stseps are our accompaniment. The video is titled “Mount Brunswick Virtual Hike No Music No Talking,” but of course humans can be present, can be heard, even when they’re not talking. I’m not posting this mention here as a critique of the video. Quite the contrary, it’s absolutely gorgeous, a generous act on the part of the individual who posted it. I am registering it as an interesting aspect of the culture of posting nature walks and, by extension, city hikes — that even when there is no talking, it is not as if the world beyond our own presence simply fills the sonic void.
This is an experiment that occurred to me to undertake as I walked through a forest three hours north of San Francisco. I was in the redwoods the week before this one, staying in a small cabin to mark the start of summer, or something close to the start of summer. Clearly marked hiking trails behind and all around the cabin made for easy ventures out. The lines of these trails crisscrossed each other at junctures useful to gauging and adjusting one’s itinerary. It was hard not to photograph things, so striking was every direction and every stage of one’s depth of field, from the densely layered beauty of the widely varying greenery, to the markings of horseshoes in the dusty trail, to sudden glimpses of the broad ocean, to the occasional bird, though these were more heard than seen.
I am not frequently in the wilderness. When I am at my desk, I frequently have running on a second screen footage from one or another YouTube account, generally someone’s point-of-view wandering through a city, and sometimes amid a more rural environment. This is adjacent viewing, something that provides a vantage on another place, something that feeds the imagination.
While I stood there in the forest looking ahead at the trail, it occurred to me to do the same. I just had my phone with me, and an old one at that. I set it to video mode and took one step after another forward. I was not about to endeavor to document the hour-long meanderings that my favorite YouTube accounts feature. I just wanted a sliver of the moment, a few minutes. Each step took me further along. The sounds of my feet became more evident to me, because I was aware they were being recorded. The forest ahead brought details into focus out of what, moments before, was just a thicket. Eventually, after two and a half minutes, I stopped mid-trail, did a sweep of the area, and stopped recording. And eventually I returned home, home to the city.
The whistle-like presence of a bird, the rough noise of the microphone responding to a slight breeze, the crackle of a dry twig — each element came into greater focus when I had returned to my desk and was viewing the moving image on the same screen where I normally have YouTube running. I confirmed my own wandering as akin to the ones I so often appreciate vicariously. And so I uploaded it, and jotted down these notes. I don’t foresee myself making many of these — there is only so much time for so many pursuits — but it was useful to share my walk, to experience the layering of memory and moment, to put myself in the footsteps of those who do, to aim my lens in a similar direction, to hear my own footsteps as I have heard theirs.
Even as conventional broadcast radio is on the decline with the rise of streaming services, it is experiencing unprecedented utility as a tool for making music. That observation is central to the article I wrote for The Wire about musical instruments featuring radio reception as part of their design. The article covers a wide range, including dedicated synthesizer modules, like the ADDAC102 (from the Lisbon, Portugal, company ADDAC) and the 272e (from the storied San Francisco Bay Area firm Bucha), and other devices, such as the Polyend Tracker (out of Poland) and the KOMA Field Kit (from Berlin), that include radio amid a broader range of tools, with varying degrees of integration.
In the latter camp is the OP-1, from Stockholm-based Teenage Engineering, one of whose founders, Jens Rudberg, I interviewed for the article, along with representatives of all four other firms listed above. While the collective experience of these designers was important to the research, so too was the work of musicians who employ the tools. I spoke with numerous in the process of working on the story, and quoted three in the piece, including Thomas Dimuzio, King Britt, and Robin Rimbaud, who is best known as Scanner, for his early work with another sort of radio: police-band conversations snatched from the ether.
In the context of a wide-ranging back and forth via email on the topic of radio and synthesizers, Rimbaud shared the above video as an example of his work. He said the live set began with him “randomly skipping through the frequencies until I found something in real time that felt like it might work.” What he stumbled upon was the haunting group vocalizing heard at the start of the piece. “It was a choral work on a classical radio station,” explained Rimbaud. “I then looped it and began playing across it live too.”
He continued: “As with my earlier use of the radio scanner in my works I especially enjoy the unexpected and letting these sources take me in a direction I might never expect, using radio frequencies in the ether, these indiscriminate signals that I just pull down in real time and improvise around. It could simply be a voice or a harmony, but every opportunity can never be predicted and keeps an element at risk on the surface level which has always been important to me.”
There’s a lot more material in my conversation with Scanner, and with everyone else listed above, than made it into the article. I want to find time soon to get more of it posted here on Disquiet.com, to supplement the article in The Wire.
The video was recorded on March 23, 2019, at Iklectik London and originally posted at Scanner’s YouTube channel. More at scannerdot.com.
You hear the cars before you see their lights. You hear the footsteps, a deep, constant pulse in contrast with the pointillist rain. You hear the pressurized air, when it comes into view to clean off the lens. You hear a small thudding, somewhere between footsteps and raindrops, this being the sound of the rain hitting, no doubt, an umbrella or a broad-brimmed hat. You look for a reflection, a shadow, to confirm this inference. This is the Rambalac video “Rainy backstreets of Japan at night 5.” Rambalac has nearly half a million viewers on YouTube, admirers of often hour-long, unedited footage of long, winding walks that are, like this one, generally set in Japan. Sound is a byproduct in these videos, a part of the document, but more frame than focus, more color than subject. Still, here the crackling — the sort that always, oddly, sounds more like fire than rain — is very much a centering component. One can be tempted to just watch, and sometimes I do have one of these running, perhaps at quarter speed, on a side monitor as eye candy, but the full audio-visual experience is where it’s at.
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, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com. • December 28, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation. • January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
Recent • July 28, 2021: This day marked the 500th consecutive weekly project in 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.)
Ongoing • 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.
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.
• 0511 / Freeze Tag / The Assignment: Consider freezing (and thawing) as a metaphor for music production. • 0510 / Cold Turkey / The Assignment: Record one last track with a piece of music equipment before passing it on. • 0509 / The Long Detail / The Assignment: Create a piece of music with moments from a preexisting track. • 0508 / Germane Shepard / The Assignment: Use the Shepard tone to create a piece of music. • 0507 / In DD's Key of C / The Assignment: Make music with 10 acoustic instrument samples all in a shared key.