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Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
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tag: voice

The Hyperreality of Loraine James

Hang tight and listen to her For You and I from last September

Some things happened in remote correlation with each other this past week or so. One friend noted I don’t write about rhythmic music as much as I used to, back when Photek, and Oval, and Squarepusher were common topics for me. Another, a musician, commented about the delay in releasing tracks required by getting press materials to reviewers who won’t pay attention to albums following a short window after their official release. And, right on schedule — or perhaps off, more to the point — another introduced me to the recordings of Loraine James, the British musician who has received deserved praise for delivering newfound vitality to glitch and IDM.

So even though James’ excellent album For You and I came out last September, it’s by no means too late to board the hyperreal, staccato, stop’n’start blissride her music offers up. Begin with the typewriter techno of “So Scared,” against whose antique percussive samples is pressed an off-kilter, slow-motion wash of muffled noise. Then proceed to the rapid scrubbing of the title track, which flies by like a transit PSA for space elevators. Then take in the syrupy synth chords and rat-a-tat-tat beats of “Scraping My Feet.”

And then start at the beginning and listen straight through. James does things with time that are earmeltingly superb, putting sharply defined beats through the filter ringer, and then pushing what survives up against a sedate vibe that further challenges their fortitude.

Album available at lorainejames.bandcamp.com. More from James, who is based in London, England, at soundcloud.com/lorainejames.

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Not Frozen, but Froze-ish

Stray Wool's granular synthesis

Granular synthesis lends itself to music that is at once majestic and circumspect. By capturing the tiniest slivers of sound and holding them for extended moments, it puts the listener in a place akin to near stasis: not frozen, but froze-ish. It gives your ears the chance to luxuriate, and contemplate, sound as a surrounding expanse. The mingling of experiences, when implemented well, can balance the breadth of a landscape painting with the focus of a haiku. The new album You Were Away by Stray Wool is well implemented in this regard. Its four tracks — some a leisurely five minutes, others nearly twice that length — take their time, and ours, to explore crevices within piano samples and, presumably, other sources. The results range widely between emotional states. The collection opens (“A1”) with what sounds, at times, like fog horns pushed to the breaking point, and ends with platonic ideal of pastoral ambience (“B2”). For all the slow motion, though, it is not without a sense of humor. The penultimate track, “B1,” begins with a sample of what appears to be an ethnographic researcher interviewing a musician who performs Celtic mouth music: “There are no instruments at all?” we hear her ask in amazement. The piece then moves forward like metal being bent by a powerful force, moaning under the pressure. Depends, apparently, on your definition of “instrument.”

Stray Wool is Pedro Figueiredo, a Portuguese musician and software developer. More on the album at his blog, coruscate.xyz. You Were Away was posted at straywool.bandcamp.com.

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“The Time Traveler’s Karaoke”

One night in San Francisco

It is unclear how a piece of paper this old could have the word “Beyonce” printed on it. The page is yellowed and crumpled, bent and faded. The top edge looks burnt. It is something that has seen constant use for more decades than the singer has been alive, let alone performed professionally, or, in the case of this piece of paper, recorded music. The page is a register, a ledger, a list of songs from a tidy little karaoke bar across town.

We had wandered in after dinner. One of my friends apparently knows the host, who has worked here for three dozen years — roughly, I note, since just a few years after Beyonce was born. This timing later occurs to me as curious.

The page is one of many in a narrow, black binder. Each sheet is held in a thin plastic sleeve. We commence looking for a song. None of us intend to sing, but the binder is a compulsory magnet, like a TV playing sports headlines on a restaurant wall, or a couple arguing in a convenience store, or a fender bender on the side of the road: You can’t look away. You, in fact, slow down to observe. You can’t break away. You’re absorbed.

Looking for the song in question — which song doesn’t matter — makes us realize that our brains have begun to hurt. Spending time with these documents has initiated some sort of painful demagnetization. To look for the song is to suppose some organization on the page. The documents imply alphabetization, and when that strategy seems to fail us, we assume the pages are out of order. But that’s not it, either. Within each page, the amassed listings reveal a mishmash of small groups, groups that make sense until a sudden shift occurs with the appearance of a stray song.

The documents look like an Excel spreadsheet, and this produces an additional sense of frustration: If only I could tap at the top of one of these columns and reorganize the way the data is presented. If I could do that, maybe order would be restored. One of my friends takes a more analog approach, asking the proprietor if there is another binder, organized by artist. For the first and only time this evening, we are looked at with something other than a friendly smile. “No,” we are told, and that is all. We have tread on a sore subject.

We return to the page, half expecting it to have changed while we had looked away. Upon closer inspection, the list of songs unravels further, and our brains along with it. Peter Cetera, best known as the singer of the pop band Chicago, didn’t do a version of “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” no matter what this document says. It was a Dead or Alive hit.

That’s right, right? We resort to our phones — we check, half expecting to have no reception inside the bar — to reconcile our pop-culture memories with some third-party source of truth. I’m stuck on the way the song appears on the page, where you can read straight across the line: “You Spin Me Round (Like Peter Cetera.” The lack of a close parenthesis fills me with sudden, palpable, and utterly unfamiliar fear. What if this experience never ends. We have been turned around. What if, like Peter Cetera, we have stumbled into another realm.

The bar’s one television has been quietly but not silently running uniformly wan karaoke videos all evening. At some point the opposite of karaoke music streams from the TV: all vocal, no backing track, and yet equally bland as the soft-focus nature footage and crying young women who populated the previous videos. What is the point of this particular track? Who sings karaoke along with a prerecorded singer?

I then briefly wonder: What if all karaoke-bar music is streaming from an alternate universe, a universe where compressed, largely vocal-free, synthesizer-driven versions are the original hits. What if karaoke bars are crosstime saloons where our respective, independent universes touch. What if the factual and alphabetical fissures in the spreadsheet aren’t errors so much as rifts, rifts initiated when time travelers have unintentionally triggered forks in the very fabric of reality?

We’re asked if we want another round of drinks. We politely decline. The steady flow of free peanuts and pistachios begins to dry up. We take the hint. We pay up and head out into the night, back into our reality. We glance simultaneously at our phones, as if they would register, right alongside the date and time, that we’ve returned to our sliver of the multiverse: 9:34pm, February 7, Earth Prime. We sniff the air and look around. The music of the bar’s TV is inaudible from the street.

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Patricia Wolf, Live

At Holocene in Portland

Between glistening notes and processed field recordings, Patricia Wolf’s voice appears as a series of echoing phrases. The live recording was made at the Holocene in Portland, Oregon, on June 19 of last year. Wolf just added it to her SoundCloud page late last month. While she could easily spend more than the piece’s nearly quarter hour exploring these lush, ethereal spaces, Wolf has more in mind for her listeners. In time, surprisingly abrasive tones appear, rubbery and textured and chaotic, and a thorough contrast to what came before. Amid them, Wolf’s voice persists, no longer an element of comforting ease, and instead a durable, yet no less elegant, opposition to the rising forces.

Track originally posted to soundcloud.com/patriciawolf_music. More from her at instagram.com/patriciawolf_music. The audio was recorded by Glenn Sogge, and the performance photo is by Marcus Fischer.

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Abstraction for Charity

Five pieces by as many artists for a women's shelter in Glasgow, Scotland

The Stochastic Method is a beautiful collection of largely instrumental music with a purpose. The purpose is to raise funds for and awareness of the Ubuntu Women’s Shelter in Glasgow, Scotland. Participating are Paul Michael Henry, Painted in Shadows, Jenn Kirby, Graham Dunning, and Leslie Deere. It was Deere who produced an event at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow this past December that brought the musicians together (details at cca-glasgow.com). The tracks range from Celtic-accented shoegazey lushness (Painted in Shadows) to layers of twitchy noises above lulling tones (Henry). Kirby’s piece has a modern-ecclesiastic quality to it, zither-like instrumentation mixed with pillowy choir. Deere’s is a collage of drones and voices, slipstream artifacts and distant rhythms. Dunning’s begins as a kind of abstract rave music before dissolving into haunting sound design that suggests a forest deep in the night.

Get the release (and give what you can) at fractalmeat.bandcamp.com. More on the Ubuntu shelter at ubuntu-glasgow.org.uk.

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