Been a few days since the previous Buddha Machine Variation. The camera died, after it had stopped playing nice with audio. And I got a new, smaller synthesizer case (from Pulp Logic, who were super helpful with plotting it out). This is the first time I’ve ever used an expression pedal with my synth, thanks to one of the three tiles in the upper left corner of the box. (“Tiles” being a term for the shorter modules seen top and bottom here, above and below the ER-301 module.) Very simple little patch. Just a proof of concept. The tiny foot (well, hand) pedal is triggering the recording of a microloop (400 or so milliseconds) of the choral audio coming from the Philip Glass 80th-birthday edition of the Buddha Machine. The expression pedal is varying how much we’re hearing the inbound Glass loop, and how much we’re hearing the microloop. If you’re wondering where the Buddha Machine is sending its audio into the synth, there are jacks in the side of the case itself.
For further patch-documentation purposes, here are two shots of the synthesizer:
From within an opening mass of cloudy digital fragments comes a nimble if martial beat. It’s adorned, in time, with squiggly computer noise and a humorously sublimated vocal. The track is titled “Y’all” and it’s by Katie Gately, who’s based in Los Angeles and whose work here comes across like synth pop turned inside out. There are words caught in endless echo-repeats, phrases uttered and forgotten, raw syllables left to their own devices. The voice, which is to say the voice’s comprehensibility, slowly decays over the course of “Y’all,” and it ends up sounding like HAL 9000’s little sister crashing hard after a multi-day bender. What makes the track so great is how it seems like pop music even though it’s almost devoid of a proper song structure (there is something akin to a chorus, but it only occurs twice, and the second time it falls apart quickly). Even better is how the vocal line’s disintegration is treated as part of the music’s overall compositional development, how the words — or lack thereof, as it progresses — function as rhythm, melody, instrument, sound.
The name rawb1 is that of a SoundCloud account that’s a regular on the Stones Throw Beat Battles. The battles are a strong precursor of the Disquiet Junto. Each week a sample is offered up to the members, who then — with a handful of restraints, along the lines of variations on the game of poker — craft an instrumental hip-hop beat out of it. Much of the rawb1 account is a series of these entries, but the most recent track suggests itself as a respite, thanks to its title, “Cigarette Afterwards.” It’s a solid beat, which is to say it is unsolid: there’s a light shift or swagger to its pace, even though its foundation is a repeated sample of a piano, bass, and percussion. The tension, or more to the point the accomplished lack of tension, between affect and process is a key facet of a good beat, There’s also a bit of coital enthusiasm that serves as “Cigarette Afterwards”‘s approximation of a vocal. One of the pleasures of the Beat Battles is listening to instrumental hip-hop continue to become a self-contained force, not music intended for sublimation to a vocalist, but a formed composition unto itself.
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
• February 5, 2020: The first session of the 15-week course I teach at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape.
• April 15, 2020: 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. (Details at oup.com.)
• December 13, 2020: This day marks the 24th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2021: This day marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• 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. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
• At least two live group concerts by Disquiet Junto members in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the works for 2020.
• I have liner notes for a musician's solo album and an essay in a book about an art event due out. I'll announce as the release dates come into focus.
• 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.