This short documentary video about the making of the video game Resident Evil 7: Biohazard explores the use of musique concrÃ¨te to achieve the game developers’ pursuit of a horror aesthetic. The 8-minute profile interviews various participants in the game’s production from a variety of sound roles, including audio director, composers, and music production supervisors.
It’s interesting to observe their collective decision and their experience of moving away from traditional game music — which is generally electronic but also usually employs recognizably musical instrumentation or reference points — to work drawn entirely from recorded audio.
Video originally posted at Vimeo. More on the video game, which was released back in January, at residentevil7.com. An album of the music was also released in January: sumthing.com.
These two short videos from Berlin-based musician Hainbach explore mangled ambience thanks to a handy new device that benefited from an especially popular Kickstarter campaign. The gadget in question is the KOMA Field Kit, and it serves as an entry point into various less typical sonic sources, including physical connections like solenoids and DC motors, as well as the far more ethereal electromagnetic pickup. The latter is employed in the first of these videos, “David Dreams | Tape, Field Kit, OP1, Phashi.” Watch as that little hand-held sensor is moved from one device to the next, the unique nature of its detection lending an otherworldly timbre to Hainbach’s drones. “Nevada in My Dreams | Tapeloop, Fieldkit, OP1” is even slower and doomier than “David Dreams,” with bits of radio noise shooting through like sliver glimpses of alternate worlds. Hainbach’s YouTube channel is a great source of electronic music using a variety of instruments, which he details in the notes associated with the videos. This pair investigates how two very different airborne signals can contribute to the texture of recordings.
Following perhaps intentionally on the warm reception received by that recent posting of a three-part video showing Gavin Bryars’ Sinking of the Titanic being performed live at the Big Ears festival, we now have the other half of that very same record album, the first from Brian Eno’s Obscure label back in 1975. This is the ensemble Psappha on October 12, 2016, at the RNCM Theatre in Manchester, U.K., conducted by Clark Rundell. (The group’s general manager and artistic director is Tim Williams.) The work is “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet,” which takes the melody inherent in a creaky recording of a homeless man singing a hymn in a painfully sweet and wavering rendition and renders it in a gentle, sensitive setting that suggests a heavenly chorus if not outright beatification. Emphasizing the group’s attentiveness is how serenely they sit for the four full minutes before they actually join the nameless singer, whose verse is heard as a recording to which they eventually play along.
Video originally posted at the ensemble’s YouTube channel. More from Psappha, presumbably named for the Xenakis composition, at psappha.com.
Gavin Bryars’ Sinking of the Titanic was the very first release on Brian Eno’s mid-1970s record label, Obscure Records. The album, from 1975, also included “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet,” which became better known in the subsequent decades than the title composition, in part perhaps because its structure — a minimalist work built on a fragment of a homeless man’s singing — bears resemblance to the decade older “It’s Gonna Rain” by Steve Reich, and later certainly because of a celebrity reworking when Bryars re-recorded it with Tom Waits performing the vocal. Sinking of the Titanic is a very different work from “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.” It’s a slow-motion chamber performance in which the ensemble performs an act of veritable theater, the piece intended to suggest the sound of a band playing as the ship goes down. This three-part video was apparently shot at the recent Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, on March 26, 2017, a Sunday. The videos are from the excellent account of Seijin Lee, who has access to an incredible and ever expanding catalog of live shows. I created the little playlist so the three parts can be easily viewed in sequence.
When Daniel Lanois released Goodbye to Language last year, he brought background to foreground. He made a full-length album flush with the gentle, rootsy, sing-song ambience that had informed decades of high-profile production work he’d done for the likes of Bob Dylan and U2, among others, and in turn connected that work back to his early ambient recordings with Brian Eno, notably Ambient 4: On Land and Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks.
Goodbye to Language was easily one of the finest electronic albums of 2016, and also of Lanois’ extensive career. The mix of guitar, pedal steel, and various electronic processing techniques yielded a classic ambient record, which is to say one that is just as beautiful played loud as it is at low, wallpaper-music levels.
The resulting question was, what comes next? Because what comes next will further define what Goodbye to Language was all about. On the one hand, the album can be read as a standalone recording, like Lou Reed’s Hudson River Wind Meditations or Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, records that (to varying degrees) bear little resemblance to the majority of the artists’ broader catalog of work. On the other, it could be considered a formal statement of where Lanois is headed.
Over the past few weeks, it’s become clear that Lanois has no plans to leave that gorgeous sound behind. Three weeks ago he posted a pair of live videos of alternate versions of two tracks off Goodbye to Language, intimate fish-eye “basement mix” takes recorded in his Toronto studio. They’re the first two tracks off the album, “Low Sudden” and “Time On,” so perhaps he’s going to revisit the full set. Better yet, today he posted “Night,” a murky live performance video of him in collaboration with a fellow plugged-in Canadian, the electronica figure Venetian Snares (aka Aaron Funk), an old-school drum’n’bass character with an extensive discography of albums, EPs, and remixes. The video begins with nearly three minutes of Lanois piping his guitar into looping, glistening fragments. And then the beat arrives.
The video provides premonitions as Funk’s role, as he begins fiddling with his battery of synth equipment. He appears with a mid-tempo barrage of rhythmic exertion. On the one hand it’s everything Lanois’ music isn’t; on the other, Funk’s focus on beat for beat’s sake closely parallels Lanois’ own attention to tone. They are both polar opposites and consummate peers. Funk’s beats proceed to fill Lanois’ space, and to frame it, at time dropping out to lend focus to the guitarist’s presence. Here’s to hoping there are more such collaborations to come. If Lanois is sticking to Canadians, I’ll put my vote in for Loscil, Kid Koala, and Sarah Davachi. (According to the Venetian Snares account on Twitter, this is an outtake from an album they’re making together.)
• October 13, 2016: This day marks the start of the 250th weekly Disquiet Junto project.
• November 16, 2016: I'll be sharing the mic at Adobe Books in San Francisco with my fellow 33 1/3 author Evie Nagy for an evening hosted, from 7pm to 10pm, by Marc Kate (facebook.com).
• December 1, 2016: A likely speaking engagement. Details to come.
• December 13, 2016: This day marks the 20th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 5, 2017: This day marks the 5th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto.
• 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.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.