No music journalist covers the expanded guitar quite like Michael Ross, who writes regularly at his guitarmoderne.com website about performers currently pushing the six-string (and twelve- and eight- …) beyond its traditional territories. A mutual favorite of Ross’ and mine is the Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset, who is perhaps best known for his work alongside trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, though Aarset is long into his own deserved recognition for work as a leader, collaborator, and soloist.
About a month ago, Ross singled out video of a trio date Aarset had played in Prague, which led me, as usual, down a rabbit hole orchestrated by the guitarist’s penchant for highly reverberant spaciousness.
One highlight was a trio of live solo performances recorded in Istanbul, Turkey, back in February of 2015. Part one includes some discussion of his techniques, and part two is a song-like treat, packed with sharp contrasts, and rich with held tones reminiscent of Robert Fripp’s soloing. The highlight is part three (embedded up above), in which Aarset slowly layers a rhythm, and noise of his scraped and plucked strings, before venturing into deep explorations of various modes, his lush chords lingering like smoke.
This elegant, beautiful video tracks from various angles a test drive by one member of the act Lullatone on a newly acquired reverb pedal. As the sun sets, the pedal is put through its initial paces, segments played on a keyboard and then through the reverb, all set to layer as loops. Those individual layers are barely distinguishable from each other, so peacefully do they accrue as a singular, solitary spaciousness. At times the high notes bring to mind Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois’ production for U2. Throughout, both the video and the performance it documents are marvels of simplicity.
It’s called experimental music, so of course when the musician is truly just experimenting, some of their best sounds might come out — truly experimenting, in that they are fiddling about with newly acquired equipment: pairing devices, exploring signal flows, turning knobs and touching buttons to see what they might hear. That’s the case with Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, who today uploaded to his YouTube channel a case study of two gadgets employed in tandem. What those little things, each barely the size of a human hand, emit in concert with each other is dense clouds of atmospheric intensity.
The main device is a Tetrax from Ciat-Lonbarde, created by the ingenious instrument designer Peter Blasser. It’s being heard through an effects pedal called the Eventide H9. In the comments accompanying the video, Scanner engages with his listeners and talks about coming up to speed on the Tetrax, and mentions that he’s working on a soundtrack.
The British electronic duo Autechre appears to have uploaded some 444 videos to YouTube over the course of 2018, beginning in January. As such a sentence is often followed up: evidence surfaced to this effect on the Autechre board at Reddit in the past day. The full playing time is in excess of 13 hours. There are also discussions going on at watmm.com, a forum focusing in large part on artists from the Warp record label, home to both Autechre and Aphex Twin, among others.
The Autechre videos are linked to from the period at the end of the sentence “THIS STORE IS OPERATED BY BLEEP STORES ON BEHALF OF AUTECHRE.” on the About page at autechre.bleepstores.com. While the earliest of the videos date back to the start of the year, it is not clear when the link embedded in that period went live. (And, yes, there is a unique pleasure to typing the sentence “it is not clear when the link embedded in that period went live.”)
Each video displays an array of colors going through some sort of transformation, accompanied by a rush of fomenting drones. There appears to be a strong correlation between sound and image, suggesting there is a direct connection, perhaps the images and sounds sharing a single source, or one being the impetus for the other.
All the images seem to be reflectively bisected at the horizontal midpoint. The result brings to mind a neural network’s combination of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s horizon-view ocean photography and Brian Eno’s colorful light installations. As is the case with many an internet Easter Egg hunt, the communal scrambling to make sense of the ambiguous material is reminiscent of the mysterious Russian video footage at the heart of William Gibson’s 2003 novel, Pattern Recognition.
A substantial number of the 444 Autechre videos are brief, under a minute, though some are quite longer. Of the first ten, all but two are under a minute. However, continue deeper into the playlist mix and number 24, the longest in the set, is 7:10. One of the Reddit members posted a “Handy Dandy Sortable” Google spreadsheet, which among other things helps identify that of the 444 videos, 278 have a running time of a minute or longer.
The expansive playlist caps a busy year for Autechre, which consists of Rob Brown and Sean Booth. They released a massive box set, NTS Sessions 1-4, collecting an online residency they produced in April, and earlier this week shared production files of their own making for various pieces of widely used musical technology from the companies Elektron, Nord, and Akai (see: factmag.com).
Major thanks to Matt Nish-Lapidus for having drawn my attention to it. View the playlist at the hidden YouTube channel. Interestingly, if you back up from the playlist to the account, attributed not to Autechre but to XH HX, none of the material, neither the videos nor the playlist, are viewable.
Updates:(1) Additional thread at watmm.com, focusing on the visuals in the context of other “ae_store eastre egg” (ae being a common shorthand for Autechre). (2) A website, 444.frm.space/scans, of scans from the 444 videos.
Updates:(3) I am reminded that “444” was the title of the final track off Incunabula, the Autechre album released in November 1993, or 25 years ago this month.
“Ghost Line” is a thoroughly compelling audio-video performance by Sideband (Lainie Fefferman, Jascha Narveson, Seth Cluett, and Mika Godbole) of music by Jeff Snyder, from Snyder’s forthcoming album, Concerning the Nature of Things. The album is due on November 9th on the Carrier Records label, with one preview track, the title cut, already up on Snyder’s Bandcamp page. But the real way to experience “Ghost Line” arguably isn’t the audio on its own; it’s the audio as a component of the video (on vimeo.com). In most music videos, the video part of the equation is either a complement (whether a narrative or just associative imagery) or a document (of the performance, whether simulated or live). In the case of “Ghost Line,” the 12-minute video is, quite literally, both performance and score. And while the images may tend toward abstraction, those abstractions directly inform the music we hear.
In Snyder’s creation, each of the members of Sideband creates sound by adjusting aspects of one of four parallel frames. Each individual is seen within their frame, sometimes rendered as through x-ray specs, sometimes as if colored in during one of Andy Warhol’s more flamboyant phases (say, circa his album covers for Billy Squier and the Rolling Stones). At times the figures disappear entirely, replaced by raster concoctions straight out of a Ryoji Ikeda installation. Throughout, the music is heard to draw directly from the consequences of those images: alternately strident and subtle, buzzy and tonal.
A brief liner note clarifies the goings-on:
Ghost Line … uses webcams as instruments, with the pixel data from the cameras interpreted as audio waveforms. The performers alter the sound by moving within the frame, or by processing the video stream (altering the x and y resolution, adjusting the focus, or changing the speed or direction of the image scan). Resonant just-tuned sonorities devolve into aggressive clusters of noise, producing a masterful mix of patient harmonic changes and dense, frenetic timbral shifts.
Snyder’s previous album was to Sunspots, performed by him on vintage Buchla synthesizers equipment. Concerning the Nature of Things is concert music, performed by a variety of ensembles. It’s available at jeffsnyder.bandcamp.com. Snyder is based in Princeton, New Jersey.
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
• I was on Vivian Host's Peak Time show (on Red Bull Radio) on March 11 to extol the timeless virtues of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and related works. You can listen to a recording here: redbullradio.com.
• My latest article is a review in the March issue of The Wire magazine of the week-long Recombinant Festival (held in San Francisco), whose performance highlights included Herman Kolgen, Rrose, and Electric Indigo.
• March 22, 2019: I'm giving a talk at noon on Friday at the Algorithmic Art Assembly, two days of events (Friday and Saturday) in San Francisco: aaassembly.org. The talk is titled "The Woodshed Is a Black Box" and this is its description in the program: "How a rules-based system formed, shapes, and fuels the long-running online music community known as the Disquiet Junto."
• May 7, 2019: This day sees the release of Rob Walker's book The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday (Knopf), which has entries about the Disquiet Junto.
• May 22, 2019: Final day of the semester of the 15-week "Sounds of Brands" course I teach once a year at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I post occasional updates here. Follow the tag #sounds-of-brands.
• December 13, 2019: This day marks the 23rd anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2020: This day marks the 8th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
Disquiet Junto Project 0375: Despite Yourself
• 0375 / Despite Yourself / The Assignment: Make a piece of music that sounds as unlike you as you can accomplish.
• 0374 / Glitch Glitch / The Assignment: what happens when you glitch something that's been glitched?
• 0373 / Copernican Music / The Assignment: Record a piece of music intended for an alien species.
• 0372 / Honeymoon Phase / The Assignment: Record a piece of music with (only) your most recently obtained instrument or music/sound tool.
• 0371 / Concrete Ambience / The Assignment: What could concrete wallpaper music sound like?