This weblog will no longer be updated. It consists almost
entirely of posts on music recycled from my main blog. I had
hopes that I could maintain it with independent content but
something has to give.
Commencing this month, .mp3s of my own music (and video) will be posted at tommoody.us, a page I created for files that hog space and bandwidth.
Stephen Malinowski has posted streaming vids of his Music Animation Machine, something he developed on his own using DOS programming while the music and graphic worlds continued to change all around him. Fans of Oskar Fischinger (the pioneer, art Deco music animator hired and fired for Disney's Fantasia) and Edward Tufte (the design guru who shows you how to present visual information cleanly and logically) should both be impressed by this project. Compositions by Bach, Beethoven, etc. slowly scroll left to right in a notation that looks like a MIDI editing grid, reduced to a range of basic colors against a black field; the parts playing in the exact present are highlighted in the center. The idea is to give the viewer an intuitive sense of what's happening in music, ostensibly for educational purposes, but I'd say they are basically artworks on the synesthetic frontier, tickling those synapses where musical and visual pleasure responses precisely overlap. Only one of the videos posted is Malinowski's own music, and it hints at creative possibilities for his medium that go beyond just animating the old masters. In the middle of the scroll (somewhere to the right of the screen shot here) occurs a dense Lego-like clump that goes on for just about as long as the ear wants to hear pure Lego, before returning to the tonal main theme. The intentional pushing and pulling between eye and ear-related expectations in a completely intuitively comprehensible way is an area that ought to be explored more. (Hat tip for the link to Cory Arcangel, whose own work deals with similar issues on an aggressive, cinematic scale, and with electro instead of Beethoven.)
I've decided all my music is going to be under a minute now.
"Mister Arkadin" [mp3 removed] (with fadeout) / [mp3 removed] (loop)
Some may snicker at the news that Thomas Dolby has become a high paid ringtone producer: the articles I read dismissed him as a one-hit wonder from the '80s fallen on hard times. Yeah, I guess that's the case if you buy into media-driven, late capitalist notions of success. One could see it differently: that The Golden Age of Wireless (the LP that preceded his hit EP by a year or so) is as original as Bowie's Hunky Dory and will continue to be listened to for its soulful melodies, smart lyrics and innovative synth programming (to the extent the tech is dated it's interestingly dated), and as for the ringtones, assuming they're original compositions, he just found another way for companies to mass-distribute his art. You can hear incipient ringtones all through Golden Age, for example, the opening bars of "Flying North" and "Cloudburst at Shingle Street."
In the '50s, a time of postwar optimism and faith in science, there was Hi-Fi. In the '90s, an era of slackers and diminished expectations, there was Lo-Fi. In the '00s, a time of neanderthal government and outright contempt for the arts, there is Neg-Fi. A watershed moment in the history of art and music--some might say sub-nadir--was reached tonight when this New York noise-rock duo demonstrated its Wireless UFDs (uncontrollable feedback devices) to an audience of 100 or so at Dorkbot-NYC. Walkie talkies from the dollar store have been reinstalled in custom cardboard cases. When placed in proximity to each other and turned on, they make squealing and static noises. And that's about it!
Neg-Fi's cassettes and art objects are available through La Superette, which is currently having a Valentines' Day sale. Also on the Dorkbot program tonight were Aaron Yassin, who digitally assembles plein air photos of architecture into seductive tiled patterns reminiscent of Islamic mosaics and Gothic stained glass, and Jason Freeman, who recently had a piece performed at Carnegie Hall in which an orchestra played notes based on the rate at which concertgoers turned on and off glow sticks. The somber 20th Century classical sounds made by the players, reading from a score digitally translating from the blinking lights, seemed even more sedate considering the stick-waving rave taking place in the audience.
"Jay Jay's Apartment" (cool version) [mp3 removed]
"Jay Jay's Apartment" (nerdy version) [mp3 removed]
A bit slow in getting around to this, but please listen to the marvelous "Rodchenko in My Bauhaus," by Candy Chang [dead link - download was from the Red Antenna site which handles Chang's music]. This lascivious come-on set to a slinky electro beat abounds with visual art and design references, and is possibly the only song you will ever hear that rhymes "Moholy-Nagy" with "love collage," or entices the listener to "put your function in my form." You can check out other music by Chang at her website; songs are available for download from her Typography EP (the instrumentals "Bravo Futura" and "Telegram 41"), and the Impulse Sealer 12" ("My Radio Is So Casual"). I first learned about Chang hearing "Rodchenko" on Red Antenna's New Electric Policy 2 CD (which I play a lot), one of the last things I bought at Throb before it crashed and burned.
It must be said, I don't want New York electro to be over, because it's a great contribution to the world and a quantum leap over the old synthpop and new wave dance music, in that the technology is so much better now, and 20 years' knowledge of how to push amplified sound around makes all the difference. Anyway, sorry for that rant, be sure to check out those Chang instrumentals.
I cut another minute out of "Blues for DG" [mp3 removed], and it's better now, I think. Also, the piano version of "Reel for Omniverters" ain't half bad for a guy playing with three arms: [mp3 removed]. The synth version is here, possibly to be revised with better synths.
Photos from the Wrecking Ball, a twice-monthly "Evening of Electronic Musical Debauchery and Mayhem" in Brooklyn. Top, Heat Sensor, three intense guys with laptops, who've gotten some ink recently working with hiphoppers MF Doom and King Ghidra. All glitchy texture and monotonously elegant looped beats, this was hard to stay focused on, except for occasionally ear-tickling Kruder & Dorfmeisterish atmospherics. Middle photo, Bubblyfish, incorporating 8-bit/gameboy sounds organically into danceable techno. This could be pop music in Europe, and that's meant as a compliment (because I hear they have techno on the radio over there, and not just in car commercials). Her final number--begun and ended with a childlike pecking out of "Good King Wenceslas"--especially shined. Not pictured because the photo was overexposed: Man From Planet Risk's jenghizkhan, the most dissonant and "art," as opposed to arty, entry in the program. He had beats, but also skronky sounds resembling giant uncoiling springs overlapping in reverberating, Stockhausenlike crescendos. Also, like Bubblyfish, some pretty melodies wafting into the mix.
Bubblyfish (and speckly texture on the photo--sorry)
"Reel for Omniverters" [mp3 removed]
A friend commented that he likes the music I wrote for the Macintosh SE better than what I'm doing now, because what I'm doing now is "dance music." I disagree that anything written in the last six months is particularly danceable, although I use a lot of dance tropes because I love it. FWIW, "Reel for Omniverters" is more in the old style of writing, just with newer instruments.
Technical crap: this piece uses Cubase to control three synths, one "outboard" and two virtual. I spent a frustrating week trying to adapt my writing method to the Cubase environment and finally gave up. In Cubase, staff notes are contained within "parts" on a timeline, and you can't cut and paste notes, only parts. Which means constantly moving in and out of the parts to write. So what I did here was write the whole thing for piano in my notation program, which allows one to easily move notes around on any number of staffs, and then saved it as a MIDI file, which I imported into Cubase and used to play the instruments. So, why not just use the notation program to play the synths? Because it's limited to its own (conventional sounding) virtual instruments and its MIDI control isn't very good. Cubase is more compatible with the virtual instrument environment. Because the next step is to eliminate the use of Cubase's "house synths" and import (or control) better sounding ones.
UPDATE: Bonus--piano version [mp3 removed]
Music studio (a work in progress). I have almost everything depicted here and am gradually learning to work it all. I drew this to keep track of all the different cables but it's helping me conceptually. I find I'm not intimidated by Cubase (beginner set); it's just a fancier version of MusicWorks and the notation software I've been using--in fact all the big music and paint programs are just refinements of clunky interfaces from the 80s. I will have to spend some time learning to control the instruments with the sequencer, however. I got some good results with the Sid last night but the MIDI connections are imperfect. Still trying to find a balance between having basic studio competence and doing things "wrong," which can lead to good results. As for the lack of a musical keyboard in this setup: I actually prefer entering notes on an old-fashioned staff, that's a matter of choice. Making music player piano fashion perversely appeals to me and gives me a greater range than playing notes. This is not ambient or noise music I'm making, these songs have tunes, but I am more interested in composing and sound-sculpting than playing; it's posthuman in that sense.
"Blues for DG" [mp3 removed]. This is me tickling the synth ivories and slappin the skins roadhouse blues style. Not really, but it was done in real time bending notes and then edited down. I originally called it Blues for Donald because I was imagining variations on a few notes like his iterations of aluminum cubes out in Marfa, only bluesy, but I changed the title because I hate overt homages to past art and don't want it to be "about" the Judds. "DG" is a complete red herring.
UPDATE: Trimmed about a minute out of this.
My music studio setup from a few months ago. I got the idea of using this particular Photoshop filter for a studio photo from a prog rock musician I admire, whose site is no longer online apparently. A line out from the Mac SE (the screen on the right) goes to the mixing board on the left (note improvised gear rack). Another line out from the PC (floor) also feeds into the mixer, and the audio is then routed back into the PC through the LP recorder box on the floor. The audio out from the PC was the voice of Microsoft Sam reciting numbers in German, gradually slowing down and changing pitch because there wasn't enough memory in the text reader. Beats came off a DIY drum program streaming off the internet. The SE, running MusicWorks, supplied a background jingle. I've recently started using off-the-shelf software and felt I needed to post this to establish my street (Povera) cred. I consider all this visual art, for any curator who thinks I've stopped working. This is why I probably won't apply for a Creative Capital grant: they'd never understand. I'm not sure I do.
Surfing around electronic music links yesterday. Throb.com has vanished. That was the site for a great record store where I bought a lot of vinyl from '99 - '03. Somewhere owner Load Rezenhand has a shop's worth of amazing inventory in storage--if I was rich I'd track him down and buy it all. One of the most helpful people at the store that I found early on was DJ Prozac. Incredibly knowledgeable, with discriminating taste and a strong point of view (until I found this Discogs link I didn't know his name or that he'd made these tracks). His taste was consistently harder, harsher, and more experimental than what I liked but he took pity on me and recommended more of the "beautiful" or seductive electro and tech-house I was looking for. He is friends with artist Meredith Danluck and through her he briefly became electronic music maven of the art stars. (Well, I'm told one relatively famous artist who used a Wolfgang Voigt composition in his work learned about him through Zach.)
Some survivors (more on all this later):
"Pops at 49" [mp3 removed]. Noisy, dirty micro-trance. If it was a car someone would write "wash me" on it. Pops commencing at :49 are pretty jarring but as Pee Wee Herman would say, "I meant to do that" (I think); gratuitous filter sweep at 1:49 takes you to climax, meaning the loud end of the song.
"XP Hardware Failure: Intro and Main Theme" [mp3 removed]
Made this awhile back and never put it up. Inspired by Clown Staples' immortal "Windows Noises," I did what many did on hearing that music--said "I could do that." Of course I couldn't, but it's taken a few months to see the charm in my own klutzy hubris. It's all done--poorly--using the little sndrec32.exe editor lurking in every Windows OS, with some help from Goldwave, a shareware .wav editor. Think I'm ready for drum and bass now.
Old School Techno from Dallas, Part 2
Ravestock '94, Dallas. That is seriously a lot of stripes. And girls.
x-eleven "Ecstasy" 1992 [mp3 removed]
Previous post on x-eleven is here. Since it was written, Gary Wicker has put up some more tracks, including "Ecstasy," the one highlighted above. Not sure where it's going at first, the sampled "ooh" sounds silly, but at the 90 second mark it grabs your attention, and at 120 seconds, when the Larry Heard-ish house part with the synth-flute kicks in and those "oohs" become joyful, stuttering vocal science, it really takes off. Some of the appeal is rooted in time travel but this is among the happiest music you'll hear, and Wicker feeds the retrograde desire to hear lots of arpeggios played at high speed. Haven't checked out Todd Hixon's videos yet, also from the vault, but will--just wanted to get this track up. It's weird, I'm nostalgic for a scene I never participated in, except in my studio listening to these tunes on the radio. I moved to NY the next year and found drum and bass everywhere--right about the time Wicker sold his gear and stopped making x-eleven tracks. "Ecstasy" is earlier--'92.
I'm trying to set up a music studio and it's slow and frustrating as hell. There's a reason I use simple-minded programs in my visual work--I want the tech to be fast and uncomplicated, and then I compensate by doing something ridiculously labor-intensive on the physical end. So far I've had a similar approach to music, somewhat in reverse: using entry level programs and the computer's sound card but mousing in the entire composition note by note on an old fashioned staff. One of my family members said, "Yeah, but it's the same four notes over and over!" I tried to explain that there are timbral variations that make the work similar to my sphere paintings, which this person likes, and exciting octave jumps, and subtle things with syncopation, and...well.
The problem is I'm tired of the textures of the low end music programs and want the sound to get richer. I love the Sidstation synthesizer I bought recently and think it deserves better accompaniment than the sound card synths in the shareware program I downloaded. I'm tired of buzz and hum in the recording. I want better bass and drum sounds. I want a real sequencer.
Before Christmas I bought a sampler from craigslist: an E-mu
E6400 Classic. I've been playing with it tonight and it's been
fun learning how a 9 year old sampler works but, actually, I'm
not sure it does work. I managed to record a 1-second sample
but couldn't save it. This machine has no internal hard drive,
so my options are to hook a scuzzy (SCSI) cable up to a zip
drive or CD ROM, neither of which I have, get an adapter card
and enter "Scuzzy Hell" trying to get my PC to read it, or use
the floppy drive to store small bits of data. Watching this
thing slo-o-owly format a floppy was discouraging, and then I
couldn't save to it. After 3 tries I successfully named a
"bank," but then the sample wouldn't go in it. Eventually I
turned off the machine and lost the sample.
The State of the Art?
To catch and keep the ear of your audience, you need to be able to deliver new sounds. Just watch TV for a few minutes. Listen to the sounds used in commercials, on movies and even on top40 radio. Listen to a few cuts from the top albums. You hear sounds that are fresh, new and intriguing everywhere. It's now the norm to mangle drum beats, come up with what used to be considered bizarre synth sounds. As we entered the 21st century, Noise and retro synth sounds have taken a new hold on the contemporary musical consciousness. Spacey, trippy, grungy, quirky, 'retro' synthy sounds are "cool". It used to be that industrial noise and industrial ambient sounds were radical, and cutting edge. Now they are practically mainstream, and you have to have them just to fit in. But now we are rapidly running past DnB, club, techno Hard Core, Gabber and are contemporizing and mainstreaming these sounds with both retro and vintage sounds, and with the beautiful sonorities of new age and world music. I call this homogenization Post-Industrial Sound. "Post" means "after", or the sounds that are the metamorphosis of these as we leave 20th century industrial music.--manifesto/ad copy for Rich the Tweakmeister's Post-Industrial Cybr-Sound Depot
My goal was to create a massive 128 meg palette of sounds for the Emulator EOS series that would have everything I need to make any synthesized color I want, from the dirtiest analog mix cutting drone to the tiniest arpeggiator ready crystalline little blip. And everything in between. There is a tremendous variation of useful vintage sounding synths and leads, steamy pads dripping with character, unusual Orch hits, a vast range of electronica-oriented synth basses, and finally hundreds of variations of noise. All of these are combined in EOS to make killer synths and pads, drum machines you have never heard before. The true joy of a great soundset is that possibilities open. You can simply link 2 or more presets together and come up with something totally new. But not everything on this disk is new. There's some stuff that really old, like tons of variations of synth strings, new agey pads made on analog, raw clean CZ violins, stock basses in addition to hot ones, clean PCM sample-playback tones. Sample playback? The Horror! Ease back, my filter swept friend, think as a sonic artist, a dab of this, a dab of that and a unique color comes to life. And fear not, the TweakMeister adds filters and real time controllers to everything. Expect to turn a knob and have something cool happen. This is not a genre specific soundset. We are post-industrial, after the metamorphosis. Expect new and old blended, morphed, transformed. Expect the bright and thin with the phatt and lush.
New track: "Taser Squad" [mp3 removed].
Dark, gloomy, bare-bones techno where the bolts pop off the synthesizer and the circuits audibly fail.
My complete musical works in .mp3 form are here (19 tracks since 1998!)
More on the circuit bending genre. The painterly and/or sculptural aspirations of benders can be problematic, especially if the result is sci fi cliche, but the physical aspect can be engaging, too. So we're looking for good examples of circuit bent pieces that are visually, musically, performatively tight. I've posted work by Peter Blasser (aka Peter B) before; above is another piece of his (I think it's his) that I photographed at the Shinth Tour at Deitch last year. It reminds me of Eva Hesse's Metronomic Irregularity II (below) only with a sound component: actually it's as if her work looked forward to a time when sound would complete the idea.
My memories of the Blasser piece are sketchy. I don't know what the circuit board/sound-producing module thingies are. The cloth is a paint-spattered rectangle of canvas that's like a parody of a bad Pollock, but the expressionism component is relevant, particularly in light of the Hesse, which has been described as an attempt to reconstitute Pollock in the vocabulary of '60s minimalism. The sound you hear through the headphones is the sublime product of random crisscrossing connections in the circuit field: chirping robotic crickets, but with pauses and subtleties making them slightly haunted and Eno-esque. The blinking lights were their ephemeral, firefly-droid cousins. I don't know if there was any programming involved in the routing of the signals, or if it was solely a product of hardwiring parts. I guess I don't really care. More detail about the piece would be appreciated.
UPDATE: via cory, a momus-sponsored page devoted to Peter Blasser's old band the Gongs. the mp3 doesn't work but great photo. also link to CD (don't know about availability).
Loop Collection Updated.
Psychedelic Rock Loop
Update, 2013: Have been removing older mp3 links for
reasons of space/spam/bandwidth and sadly these loops had to
go. Trust me, this post was funny before it was a graveyard.
New track: "Kill Maurice" [mp3 removed]. I made a video to go with this but I think I'll hold off on posting it. The molecular imagery seems too zany for this music. I learned a lot about editing, and sync-ing sound to images, but I'm starting to think I really hate video. It sucks your attention and demands more, more, more to a much greater extent than music, still imagery, or even looped .GIFs--it's an almost bottomless pit of (diminishing) content. There's a reason Billy Grant's rapidfire, overloaded videos are the way they are--it's what the medium has conditioned our eyes to expect. I've made three short vids now and dislike them not as videos, but philosophically, in that they seem to be trying to play the same game. Maybe I just haven't found the right fit between the music I'm writing and the imagery. But I also hate most MTV and it's hard to find a way around that model.
As an example of the circuit bent gear phenomenon mentioned in the previous post--this is Nautical Almanac's equipment table.
Paul Slocum is doing some interesting work in the emerging "circuit bent" field, where old games, toys, and keyboards get broken open and rewired to make new sounds. Check out his repurposed Epson dot matrix printer that makes music and still prints out images. This is fascinating on the level of Mad Maxian, Professor-making-a-nuclear-reactor-out-of-the-ship's-radio-and-coconuts bricolage (or as an illustration of the Gibsonian axiom "the street finds its own uses for things"), but the printer is only part of a larger gesamtkunstwerk, including Slocum's band Tree Wave (a duo with Lauren Gray), which is making some of the coolest music around. While the band uses the printer and other low-tech gear (1977 Atari 2600 game console, 1986 portable 286 PC, 1983 Commodore 64 computer) to make its music, it's not the annoying, tuneless gameboy stuff we've been hearing in the galleries lately but rather has been compared to guitar bands such as My Bloody Valentine and early Stereolab. This is because the computers use fuzz tones and other psychedelic guitar-like sounds as opposed to pure video game bleeps. "Sleep" is a simply amazing 3 minutes of music that updates the Krautrock formula of drones-over-insistent-beats with rich, jangly, unmistakably consumer-electronic textures that just seem to keep surfacing in the mix. Catchy, crunchy rhythms kick away underneath while spare but sublime femme vocals float in over the top. The equipment making these sounds runs with custom music software written by Slocum for the band, obviously with a very analog-sounding end product in mind. According to the website there is also a video element used in live performance. Hopefully we'll get to see and hear all this here in NY soon.
Paul Slocum emailed to say he appreciated the above post on his work but perhaps isn't so happy to be slapped into the "circuit bending" category:
Is my work really circuit bending? key differences: (1) that traditional circuit bending has more of a chaotic element to it (placing wires without knowing exactly what's going to happen) where my stuff is mostly deliberate and calculated. And (2) while traditional circuit bending doesn't require much technical expertise, my work requires a ridiculous amount of geeky programming knowledge. (3) That my work really falls into the realm of software modification much more than hardware modification. All of my devices can easily be returned to their original state either by removing a cartridge or EPROM. Not so of circuit bend items. My stuff's like "Circuit Folding" or something.I described the genre as "emerging" but Ghazala says in the interview linked above that he started using found consumer electronics to make sound in the '60s. But the "instruments as sculpture" aspect of the trend perhaps isn't so interesting. Nautical Almanac's machines intrigue because they look like form following function, whether that's actually true or not. (Genuine bricolage as opposed to self-consciously arty bricolage--though the guitar body is pushing it.) Similarly, just because one rewired a consumer device doesn't make the sound interesting. Again, I liked NA the times I heard them as much for the mic-swallowing, pushing-the-limit intensity of their live act--and complex, hybrid analog/digital sounds I didn't think I'd heard before--as the tweaking of instruments. The question here is whether circuit-bending is a big or well defined enough field to incorporate Slocum's light, software-based interventions into existing equipment and Cory Arcangel's hacked Nintendo cartridges. Maybe that is the evolution of the genre, rather than something completely different. Which is not to say I'm not guilty of indulging in a facile journalistic hook.
In your blog, you are usually pretty unforgiving of redundant art. Does circuit bending deserve a bit of a thrashing here? Reed Ghazala thoroughly explored the idea what, like 25 years ago? And wasn't Nam Jun Paik kind of a bender as well (long before that)? I love that bending is accessible to so many people, but in many cases the audio results are totally unlistenable. The process and concept is the interesting part, and that's been so explored. It seems like it's time for something beyond a confused Speak & Spell and croaking SK-1. I'm kinda torn about the whole thing.
A few more (nerdy) thoughts on circuit bending and whether rewriting software for old games, toys, appliances, etc. should be included in it. Paul Slocum got lumped into the discussion because he participated in the recent Bent festival in New York and his modified Epson printer--as opposed to say, the vintage computers he works with--seems more in the bending spirit of altering consumer devices we don't normally think of as music-producing. That piece I would call bent, perhaps software-wise as opposed to hardware-wise (Slocum proposes "circuit folding" but that's not as blunt or catchy as "circuit bending"). As for whether bending produces boring work, Slocum notes in the comments that "lot of those ['80s] toys and keyboards sound crazy and awesome whether they're modified or not." Good point; j, on the other hand, says:
Circuit bending makes useful audio material if you have a well 'bent' machine which when in the hands of an experienced bender is mostly calculated as well.I'm for extending "circuit bending" to include hacking, with educating our ears to hear the distinctions good but still optional. ("For additional credit, is this [insert sound here] mechanically bent, virtually bent [i.e., within the program], or hacker bent [i.e., made by rewriting the program]?") I have a slight stake in this, having made some visual work that could be called circuit bent, even though it involved neither programming nor working within a program nor even getting out the soldering gun. Any citations to The Wire or Electronic Musician or other places where this issue might have been discussed would be appreciated. Also, it'd be great to hear more from Paul about the "bends for the Fisher Price Pixelvision video camera" he mentions--haven't seen any work done with that machine in quite a while but what I saw was inspiring.
That said, circuit bent machines' random nature are also an asset. They can provide phrases of sounds that just could not be made up in one's head.
I do think the distinction made between circuit bending and folding is interesting but one is not necessarily better than the other.
I've been checking out a recent Rhizome proposal and related blogs by sound artist Kabir Carter, the fourth panelist in the upcoming blogging and the arts event. Carter's sound blogs (a term I'm using, not entirely accurate--more below) are linked to and described there as follows:
I say the term "sound blogs" isn't entirely accurate, because unlike, say, David F. Gallagher's photoblog, which also records urban details in a diaristic way, Carter's journals don't document sounds via regular posting of .mp3 files, but rather verbal descriptions of audial phenomena. Many of these short, pointed, often poetic statements enter the journals "moblog" style--as the artist notes above, he types them into a handheld device, on the spot, from the locations where they were heard. The entries resemble a foley artist's deadpan record of sound effects in a movie or TV storyboard. Many of the "sounds" are actually visual descriptions of sound-producing activities, followed by the word "(inaudible)."
Effects is my first net project. Originally posted as a "stealth" LiveJournal blog, Effects purports to be a diaristic account of my life, but instead only offers dry accounts of sounds that I have heard, or imagine to have heard. While attempting to make LiveJournal friends who can track my accounts, I have periodically contributed to an ever growing catalog of acoustical accounts that never reveal much about me, but hopefully say many things about how I have experienced sound.
Walking In The City
I am presently realizing Walking in the City, a project commissioned by Subtropics, a Miami based music festival. I moblog (in real time) written descriptions and accounts of acoustic occurences that I audit while walking around New York City. The project was launched during Subtropics' festival opening, where 4 hours of my updates from the city were projected live in an arts and performance space in Miami. Until early April, I will continue to intermittently add to the initial log.
SFX: Two Street Signs Affixed to Same Post Vibrating against One AnotherI'm reminded of the Kenneth Goldsmith piece where the artist transcribed every word he spoke for a week and hung the transcriptions in a gallery. Like Goldsmith's work we take it on faith the artist isn't making stuff up. But Carter's blogs aren't as obviously sequential: he's moving around the city, and readers often must rely on their own deductive faculties to tell how (or whether) the sounds relate to each other--especially in the subtropics blog, where there's no timestamp. A run of posts gives you a feeling of momentary total immersion in a cacophonous, slightly unhinged street scene, and then you're abruptly transported underground, into a subway environment that feels equally random but has its own characteristic sonic events. The sheer amount and complexity of detail paints a cumulative impression of the city not ultimately that dissimilar from Gallagher's far more "accurate" (as in verifiable) photographic record. Both conjure a teeming world beyond our normal mundane powers of observation.
SFX #234 SFX: Bell Struck
SFX #233 SFX: Two Small Dogs Barking in Unison
SFX #232 UNKNOWN PERSON: "Not my fault the watermelon tastes like..."
SFX #231 UNKNOWN PERSON: "Police officer, can you go to the end of the train? There's a guy with a bag and blue jeans."
SFX #230 SFX: Droplet Falling from Small Bent Conduit (Inaudible)
Reading Carter's blogs is highly recommended, although they would doubtless have a different kind of interest if you were one of those baffled LiveJournal Friends experiencing them in blog time--that is, following the posts as they appeared.
"Eye Music." This post will eventually get around to techno music, but let's start with Claude Debussy. It's almost a cliche of criticism to compare the French composer's shimmery tone clusters to Impressionist painting. Daniel Albright's book of comparative aesthetics, Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature and the Other Arts, takes a 180 degree tack, disagreeing with an assertion by Ezra Pound back in the day that Debussy's music is "suggestive of colors, suggestive of visions." According to Albright,
[...] Debussy's music is typically an art of slight temporal adjustments, discursive, an artful series of instabilities; it seems visual only because of the peculiar evolution of the visual arts in Europe, from the notion that the primary act of drawing is the recognizable depiction of a finite object--as it is in most cultures--to the notion that the primary act of drawing is the recognizable depiction of the eyeball's whole visual field. In Western art, the space in which objects appear is often more vivid than the objects themselves: perspective drawing carefully poses and graduates the objects that it treats, to create the illusion that the artist is presenting everything that a certain angle of vision makes available. Debussy's works are like French impressionist painting--or like Renaissance chiaroscuro, for that matter--in that the mind tries to grasp fleeting visual phenomena from a puzzling density of events. But it is not Debussy who is visual, but Monet and Leonardo who are discursive, in that they require the spectator to apprehend slowly and work out over time the possibilities inherent in the painted surface.The above paragraph is bang-on, but now it starts to get confusing:
Truly visual music, it seems to me, is epigrammatic: music that operates by means of instantaneously grasped units, pieced together not according to progressive tonalities, not according to some standard template of evolution (the sonata-allegro, the fugue, the rondo, the three-part song), but according to any principle that can not be understood as discursive development. Music becomes visual simply by lacking musically comprehensible connections between its parts, and by having parts that permit rapid apprehension as elementary units. Certain older procedures of form, such as the rondo (a repetitive piece with a pattern of symmetrical digressions, according to a scheme such a ABACABA), can approach the condition of eye music, in that the listener is conscious of the phonic equivalent of charms tallied on a bracelet; and as A and B get shorter and shorter, and as the musical links between A and B grow more unsettled and hard to understand, the composition will increasingly lose any sense of temporal progression and flatten into eye music. [...]These paragraphs sum up an earlier discussion of the "hieroglyph" or the "epigram" in music, a self-contained sonic event usually but not necessarily paired with words or some onstage deed. Albright describes these melodies or moments as having visual-like properties within the larger continuum of the piece. He gives several examples: the "oracle tune" in The Magic Flute, musical cues for specific emotions in silent film, and the motifs of the medieval master songs in Wagner's Die Meistersinger. Regarding the latter, he writes: "The rules [of the master songs] are discursive, but the discourse is chopped into tough leathery chunks, so predictable that the ear stops straining to understand, simply waits for the next bit to fall in place. A musical composition that consists of stringing-together of cadences has no possibility of moving toward a goal, no possibility of genuine discursive development at all." So in the rondo example above, the development of self-contained, multi-note motifs over time remains musical until the ear can no longer sort out their "narrative" structure, at which point they become visual--mere blocks of notes being absorbed and compared. Later, in describing the collage of musical motifs in Stravinsky's Renard, he concludes:
[...] [T]he Modernist taste for ocularity in music, for easily-apprehended pattern-units juxtaposed rather than developed, brought the principle of scissors construction [collage] to its highest level. It is remarkable how strongly this procedure in sound appeals to the visual imagination: when I hear Stravinsky, I often feel exactly as Pound felt hearing Stravinsky's Capriccio in 1935--that a kind of slide projection of the score starts to hover in front of the music: "I had the mirage of seeing the unknown score from the aural stimulae offered." [...]I still have questions, though. How can you envision a score without hearing a relationship between its parts? How is it that charms on a bracelet are "apprehended" musically but not as an image? Earlier in the book, Albright observes that Gotthold Lessing's analysis of the Laocoön problem---a consideration of ways emotions are expressed in different media, specifically sculpture and literature--has limited use to us now because it is so embedded in the conventions and decorum of the 18th Century. Perhaps Albright chafes against similar limitations, by restricting his discussion to classical music, which is so form- and history-ridden. One yearns to see his analysis applied to more contemporary, fluid, amorphous arts, such as jazz, rock/blues, or (finally getting to the point) Detroit techno, with its simple but elusive sequences of notes announcing themselves and dropping out in a dense, continuous mosaic. Without reference to words or stage pictures, one can easily "see" techno's unknown score; if anything, the genre is all about that--rhythm provides the sensual pleasure and structure the intellectual lift. As with many of Albright's examples, electronic dance loops lack the discursive complexity of a sonata or symphony; they switch on and off or change texture, conjuring a score like a Mondrian checkerboard, something Albright also invokes in his consideration of Stravinsky.
My first compositional efforts using the SidStation synth, playing the notes in a notation program I downloaded called Harmony Assistant. I'm having fun, don't kid me too much.
"Funky Mountain Lake" [mp3 removed] The SidStation played "acappella," using the Lillhagen patch. I like the way the patch never seems to do the same thing twice--it always seems on the verge of breaking down or going seriously out of tune. And that it can add syncopation to a fairly clinical series of notes (see below) is amazing.
"Mountain Lake (Not Funky)" [mp3 removed] This is sort of a bonus track. It's the exact same sequence of notes used for "Funky Mountain Lake." The "lead" is the SidStation using the Autorepeat patch. I added another staff below it playing the same tune, using a kind of cheesy Harmony Assistant sound called Synthpad/Fantasia. This is unabashed Tangerine Dream/Phil Glass stuff, thrown in mainly to show how the Lillhagen patch utterly transforms the notes.
My complete musical works in .mp3 form are here.
I purchased jenghizkhan's SidStation synth, as we discussed in our interview a few posts back, and got it hooked up a couple of nights ago. Here's a preliminary report. First, it remains to be seen whether this quote from Walker Evans, which I found on Bill Schwarz's page, will be relevant:
Time and again a man will stand before a hardware store window eyeing the tools arrayed behind the glass; his mouth will water; he will go in and hand over $2.65 for a perfectly beautiful special kind of polished wrench; and probably he will never, never use it for anything.The SidStation is a beautiful thing, in its simple and modest design, but I mean to use and not just drool over it. It's a bit like programming a cell phone, in that you punch arrow keys to move around within menus on the little green LCD screen. To make sound, you're supposed to control it with something. Most people would use a keyboard but I hate keyboards because I associate them with the past trauma of sixth grade piano lessons, so my goal is to use notes that I plug into a musical staff on my downloaded notation program (called Harmony Assistant, or HA).
Wednesday night I successfully got the SS hooked up to speakers and got the MIDI cables hooked up so my computer sends notes to the SS to play. Harmony Assistant appears to only send one MIDI channel to an outside instrument--I haven't figured out yet how to make it control more than one. I had hoped to be able to use the SS as a "lead instrument" in connection with HA rhythm and bass lines playing off the sound card in my computer, but with the SS hooked up to the speakers, I can't hear the other staves playing in HA. I'm going to try running lines out from both the computer and the SS to my mixer, so I can hear and record both sources.
The SS is built around an actual, vintage Commodore sound chip from the '80s so it's limited in certain ways. It only produces sawtooth, square, and triangle waves--there are no smooth mellifluous sine tones, and everything sounds scratchy and buzzy and, well, like an old computer. jenghizkhan thoughtfully loaded the SS with preset "patches" from the SS website, which I haven't yet learned to modify, so I may still find a way to make a smooth sound. Some of the patches are single notes but most are loops of a handful of notes, so when you press an "A" note you hear a broken chord or prerecorded melody beginning with that note, "B" gets you the same sequence beginning with "B," etc. I want to start off working with single note melodies that I write (after first modifying the texture of the notes), so I already know there are lot of patches I won't be touching for a while. I clicked through all 90 or so patches and listened to them, using the real time editing knobs just below the green screen to alter them, and heard many cool sounds (and some obnoxious ones). I'm acclimated to my ancient Macintosh's array of lo-fi sounds so this still feels like an alien environment.
"Something Clicked" - [mp3 removed].
Acid Lullabye [mp3 removed]
an interview with jenghizkhan
[This interview has its own page here. I'm posting it in full on the blog for a while, though. --TM]
I first heard the music of jenghizkhan (aka John Parker) at the Brooklyn space vertexList, and described it enthusiastically here as "mysterious, sexily-filtered ambient industrial keyboards." (*) Later I heard him perform with Man from Planet Risk, his duo with Cave Precise (Ron Ramey), both in a live club setting and on CD. In a post on the band I commented on the differences between their live and studio sounds:
For all its echo-y horror soundtrack atmospherics and Black Sab-like bass riffs, the CD is much lighter [than the live playing]: the beats are spryer, with turntable twists & jazzy piano riffs livening up the doom and gloom. "Triphop" comes to mind because the sound is truly trippy: jenghizkhan approaches music like a painter (and is in fact a visual artist, exhibiting under his non-nom de plume), taking advantage of all the filtering and timestretching capabilities of modern keyboard tech to make layers of artfully mangled sound. Imagine Ennio Morricone eclectism shot through with the kind of dreamy, smeared psychedelia of San Francisco post-punkers Chrome, or the European hardcore tech of The Mover set to a hiphop beat.Since then, I've listened to jenghizkhan's solo CDs Hooden Knooks and Brooklyn Sucks. It's great stuff, what the late lamented Throb records would file under "braindance" and what I would call "art electro." By way of comparison, I went back and gave another spin to the Ischemic Folks compilation, which many considered a watershed for this kind of intensely digital electronic music, and have to say I prefer jenghizkhan's improvisational style with the laptop. Except for a couple of lush Richard Devine compositions, the IF CD is brittle and analytical, with too much of the Miami Bass parent DNA decanted out in the name of art.
Mixed in with jenghizkhan's trademark doomcore riffs one hears a lot of humor, and a strong melodic sense even when he's furthest out there in the drill-and-bass, sound-bending zone. As audio abstraction it's more frenetic de Kooning than faux-febrile Richter, and for all his insistence on "modern digital synthesis" over retro styles and sampling (see below), his compositions have the verve and warm texture of early analog and tape recorder music (e.g., Mario Davidovsky, Otto Luening, Richard Maxfield), as opposed to the rather cool "glitch" sound of Oval, Phoenicia, et al. Check out these tracks from the CDs: "Sidewinder Circus" [spotify], where the digitally scrambled phrase "sidewinder heat-seeking missile" sniggles in and out of overdriven-soundcard-like raunch, and "Outlet Nightjar" [ 3.56 MB .mp3], in which a synthetic bowed string keeps sounding the same ridiculous note in counterpoint to a heavily reverbed pseudo-guitar.
The following interview was cobbled together from emails I exchanged with jenghizkhan after we visited each other's studios. We're both visual artists involved with music (although his creative audio output far exceeds mine) and some running themes of our (still ongoing) discussion are sampling vs synthesis, painting vs musicmaking, and why the digital production of music so far has outstripped digital imaging as a creative medium. Mostly though, we talked about the really important stuff: gear!
Tom: Let's talk about Man from Planet Risk. As I mentioned, the live sound differs quite a bit from the studio recording: the beatbox-style beats on the CD sound very hiphop but with Cave drumming live the music has more of a heavy metal feel. You told me that the two of you have rather different philosophies; that Cave likes live playing and working with samples of live playing, while you favor synthesis and software laptoppery. What directions are you two coming from? What are your influences?
jenghizkhan: Actually the CD is composed of real time playing that is sometimes looped; both of us play in real time. You may be able to hear it in our CD in that it is not so perfect or too mechanical.
As for influences, I would say that Cave has been schooled in hip hop but is fascinated by classic metal. He tends to stay in the middle of the road when it comes to his likes but with a very deep understanding of how music is crafted.
I don't have enough perspective on myself to make a similar sweeping appraisal, but if I had to throw some influences out there, they would be: old Tricky, old Cure, experimental Scanner stuff, and Kurt Cobain songwriting. Although I named mostly mainstream influences, I tend towards unusual stuff liking parts of songs rather than a particular artist.
We meet somewhere between those two tendencies. We are very facile at making music and try to keep it from turning out cliche. The last track on our E.P. [.mp3] was a deliberate attempt to not lose some hiphop fans and is probably the most mainstream track and not a future direction. The first track [.mp3] represents how we work now, and it is not that popular.
T: When I came to your studio you walked me through some of the programs you use; thanks for that, it actually helps when I'm listening. I'm impressed by the full, rich sounds you're getting from the laptop. And you have a great ear for psychedelic "texture." I do hear some Morricone influence--not that it's derivative. Do you listen to him at all?
j: I did listen to Morricone in the mid-80's, among other things. I also studied Classical music for a semester at Princeton. Besides learning the piano when I was young (which I can no longer play) that may be the training that is emerging through the mix.
T: Did you ever get the SidStation synth we talked about?
j: I did--I like it but will probably sell it in a few months. Do you want it? It's expensive but will only increase its value since it was such a short run and the original Commodore SID chips are hard to come by. [The SID6581, a chip combining digital and analogue technology, was a part of the Commodore 64 computer, an '80s-vintage machine much loved by hackers; according to the manufacturer, its programming is "based on over 10 years of experience from the C64 hacker community." --TM] I thought you might be interested since it is so low-fi digital. Whole songs can be written on it.
T: Short answer--yes! What did you not like about it? j: I like it OK but the Monomachine has a SID emulator that I like just as much. Also, this machine really needs to be with someone that loves it. It definitely has that 80's video game appeal. What's supposed to make this better than other SID machines is the programming that went into it. I don't really know that much about the programming but can tell from their later machines that it must be brilliant. There were a little over 1000 SidStations made.
I had the same issue with my Virus which I sold to Cave. He loves it; I just know it as one of the best synths ever made. The other factor is that I have come to a conclusion concerning my focus with sound. I really like modern digital synthesis. I want to explore the possibility for new sound with the Monomachine and Native Instruments' REAKTOR software. I'm selling the rest.
T: I figured it might be because of the retro thing. That concerns me too. I'd like to try to make something with it that sounds good but doesn't immediately scream video game or 80s. That may be impossible, but I like the aesthetics of the machine based on what I saw and heard on the website.
It's funny, what you're saying about using the most current digital tools resonates for me when I think about music (mainly as a listener), but I don't feel that sense of purposeful excitement with the tools on the visual side. Maybe I'm just not seeing someone really screwing with state of the art software so it doesn't look so much like...state of the art software. I admired the Jeremy Bernstein video that came before you at vertexList that night but I didn't love it. I could see it was cutting edge animation but felt no urge to go there myself.
j: I agree about the prevalent visual digital conservatism. It seems as if everyone is using visual digital tools for convenience (meaning everyone is doing the same old thing but more facilely). In fact, I am left admiring hackers for anything non-aural. Interestingly, the designers of the SidStation were hackers.
The stuff I find in sound is ugly and dumb. I think perhaps that might be a clue as to what to do visually. That's why I like the stuff you are on to.
The SidStation definitely can make some great sounds if you are exploring the way in which you seem to be interested. I'm not going to get that deep into it. I do want to check out the modulation sequencer -- I'll probably do that in a couple weeks. It is not retro; it just uses an under-appreciated sound generator.
You will probably want to control it via your computer. In fact (+ perfectly) you will be able to use that program that you showed me [Harmony Assistant --TM.] to write notes that play the SidStation. You should check out if your program sends midi.
T: It does--I just have to get it set up (uggh). Speaking of which, and changing the subject to your solo CDs, isn't that the SidStation on "Jenghiz, the Damager"? It's very catchy [spotify]. There's a lot of humor in the music, even when it's dark and doom-y. "Outlet Nightjar" also cracks me up.
j: I actually used my circuit bent Casio SK-1 on "J, the Damager" but you are right it is practically the same thing. The SidStation has more sound options and control but you have to write the music. The Casio just spits out stuff. (In fact it may be catchy because the Casio plays "bent" versions of original presets. You may have heard something vaguely familiar 20 years ago.)
T: There was some other software you showed me in your studio, besides REAKTOR, to make your music. Do you remember what it was?
j: I'm not sure which programs I showed you. REAKTOR is a fully modular software program that does analogue modeling and digital synthesis as well as having a wide range of sequencer capabilities. It's similar to MAX-MSP, which is even more flexible and has more possibilities. I like REAKTOR because it has an online library with contributions from REAKTOR users all over the world and because it tries to emulate synthesizers of the past. Then I just start rearranging the virtual wires until it is screwed up and sounds new to me. I like working in the direction of making something "wrong" rather than the one of making something "right."
I do the same thing with the Monomachine (and, on the Brooklyn Sucks CD, the Korg Electribe ES-1 and EA-1). The circuit bent Casio SK-1 is already wacko. I started making music by scratching CD's that I made from digital noise samples (similar to modem tones). I got the samples from saving the screwed up files that my computer sequencer would spew out when it crashed (which was all the time in the beginning). Ironically all this happened in my attempt to make "real" music. One scratched riff is the main melody in "Killing the Messenger," the first song on the Man From Planet Risk CD.
Other programs are Emagic Logic and Ableton Live, which I use in a traditional studio way to put my ideas together.
T: I'm pretty sure the two programs you showed me were Logic and REAKTOR. I like what you're saying about "rearranging the virtual wires" in REAKTOR. When you say "The circuit bent Casio SK-1 is already wacko," is "circuit bent" your term? By wacko, do you mean you did something to it that can't be reversed? Are you talking about MIDI controlling a physical Casio or a playing a virtual Casio within REAKTOR? Also, just for clarification, you said "I started making music by scratching CD's that I made from digital noise samples (similar to modem tones)." Do you mean physically scratching, as in damaging, the CD, or scratching as in "Do You Like Scr-Scr-Scr-Scratchin'"?
j: In general, I am not a fan of midi. A lot of new electronic music is made that highlights the capacity of midi. I just use it to do very basic communication between machines like notes and time clock. As with the Man From Planet Risk CD, all my CD's are composed of real time playing (sometimes looped).
For the Korg I loaded in digital sounds that I then made into kick drum like sounds, etc. or left them raw. I played it like an instrument, recorded some phrases and then looped them in Logic. At the time I was timid so I often took a wild sound and tamed it into a more familiar one. My new work will be left untamed.
Circuit bent is a relatively new term to describe instruments that have had their internal wires re-arranged from their original purpose in order to maximize their sound-making capabilities and experimental possibilities. (Sort of a real world version of REAKTOR). I played the SK-1 as an instrument and then recorded it and looped it in Logic. In fact, "Jenghiz the Damager" is pretty much one live take with one part edited out. I practiced it 20 or so times and then recorded it. The problem, or genius, with circuit bent machines is that they rarely do the same thing twice. Here is the link to the builder, Arius Blaze. I think you may find this and his links very interesting. He belongs to a very passionate music culture. They convened in New York this summer for the very first time to exchange ideas.
And I mean Scr-Scr-Scr-Scratchin but sometimes at a super subtle and slow rate so that I can draw out all the tones that make up the white noise of digital streaming information. I don't use Logic in a very experimental way. I do use it to do some granular resynthesis with Pluggo plug-ins (made in MAX-MSP). Otherwise, I just throw loops into it, make arrangements, mix and master. I may have shown you Ableton Live which I will use in the future because it provides more possibilities to play with arrangements.
T: This whole business of moving sound around among instruments and software makes locating the "real" source of the music pretty daunting, conceptually, though I don't know why I should still find that important. With a guitar, say, you always intuitively know what's making the sound and where it's coming from. Also, I have a hard time keeping straight what are inherently analog or inherently digital properties. I did know about the circuit bending, homemade instruments phenomenon, just not by that term. Peter B, Paul Slocum, Nautical Almanac are three artists that come to mind--a couple were in that Bent festival (which I unfortunately missed).
j: All my instruments are like playing the guitar including REAKTOR on the computer. My schtick is playing the computer like an instrument. Then I use Logic to put all the recorded sounds of various instruments together and make songs. Sometimes I add additional virtual instruments within the program.
Midi is just a language for machines to talk to each other. Midi makes no sound. That is often the source of confusion. I do not explore the possibilities of midi. I find it dehumanizing even though it is very popular these days: all those rapid changes, extreme effects, movements that a hand strumming strings on a guitar could never make.
I joke with Cave that the guitar is a dumb instrument. What makes the guitar interesting is how much you can get out of its limitations. I enjoy the wider range of possibility that synthesis involves.
Analog has to do with electric currents and voltages. Digital has to do with 1's and 0's (i.e. granular resynthesis is chopping a sound into tiny bits and moving them around at different speeds.) It's difficult to make digital synthesis sound alive like electric currents although I like the challenge.
In your situation you can use your computer as both a tone generator (the inherent digital sounds that it possesses) and a sequencer that plays both the sounds in the computer and the sounds in the SidStation via midi. You would work the same way as you have but just have the added richness of a professional tone generator that has buttons and dials.
T: I want to come back to the issue of sampling vs synthesis, which we were discussing in connection with Man From Planet Risk. You sent out an email recently for a gig and made a kind of "no samples" guarantee. What's up with that?
j: In my email I said something along the lines of, "I'll be performing live digital synthesis -- that means no wimpy samples!"
This is actually a reference to a way of playing live rather than a general argument for synthesis vs. sampling. I often find live electronic acts tedious because they basically play a tape of what they've created in the studio. Hiphop has been a culprit of this whereby the music is played from a DAT tape with a DJ adding some vinyl scratching or flourishes over the top of the mix. The main live element ends up being the rapper, and I personally have always preferred music to lyrics. Hiphop has come to grips with this limitation. Now hiphop acts (like Outkast) have live players that actually play the drums, guitar, bass, and keyboard or send out samples on the fly from a machine or vinyl. I find the tension of the players on stage having to pull off a song together much more interesting than a guy doing Karaoke to tape.
There is a difference between live DJ-ing and live synthesis. A live DJ makes choices from already complete excerpts of music that can stand on their own. A DJ's creative input is in his or her choice. With live synthesis you begin with a blank slate excerpt for some parameter settings or a saved phrase of notes. You never know where your journey of knob twiddling will lead you -- good or bad.
Recently the lines between synthesis and sampling have blurred because sample libraries have become so vast that they include every minute detail of any instrument. So every possible sound of a synthesizer can be sampled. Hence they are the same, in theory. However, there is a crucial difference:
The difference can be described by a painting term--"plasticity." A sample can only be pulled and prodded to a certain degree. Eventually when it has been modified by effects it will sound just like anything that has a heavy dose of that effect. You can no longer hear the original sample. Synthesis is much more "plastic." You are working at a more essential level either manipulating electric currents or their mathematical equivalents. There are so many more possibilities and so many more directions in which to go. This can lead to some really bad results which is actually hard to do with sampling (and perhaps why it is more popular). (De Kooning once said when visiting a colleague's studio that he had no bad work around. That was how he knew that he was not making anything interesting). I prefer the possibility of synthesis over the control of sampling.
Cave and I do not exclusively sample or synthesize. Both are essential parts of making electronic music. At some point in most cases I have to sample any synthesized phrase that I make so I can arrange it to make a song. The only difference between the way we work is Cave often samples a phrase from old material that he believes has been overlooked or would sound interesting in a new context. I usually make my samples from scratch. The tension between the two is why I believe we are on to something really interesting in Man From Planet Risk.
*FOOTNOTE: He has since posted those performances on Soundcloud, captioned "live digital synthesis with the Elektron Monomachine." The track "4scratch" is one of my favorites, and I did a remix, consisting solely of lopping off the intro and cutting straight to the monster, four-note hook that first grabbed my attention: [4.7 MB .mp3].
Inflected Form(s): plural -chies
Etymology: Late Latin entelechia, from Greek entelecheia
1 : the actualization of form-giving cause as contrasted with potential existence
2 : a hypothetical agency not demonstrable by scientific methods that in some vitalist doctrines is considered an inherent regulating and directing force in the development and functioning of an organism
More on the train wreck that is Moog, the film. Wendy Carlos must be interview-shy. Switched-on Bach is mentioned in the movie but not her, by name. She deserves more credit (A Clockwork Orange? "Country Lane"? Tron soundtrack? C'mon!). Too much footage makes Moog's instrument look ridiculous. There's an admittedly over the top and laugh out loud funny Schaefer Beer commercial with some knucklehead doing a real ice-arena show stopper on a giant, early, multi-module Moog, climaxing with him quaffing a brew and the tag line "Schaefer: the beer to have when you're having more than one." Keith Emerson still has his two-ton Moog, and you get to see him playing it during a recent "Moog tribute night" at the BB King Theater. But it just sounds like the "Aquatarkus Variations"--nothing particularly new there. Vintage footage of Gershon Kingsley's First Moog Quartet looks as silly as that group was. Rick Wakeman makes the point, during his long-winded, bloke-down-the-pub spiel, that before the Moog, rock keyboardists weren't sexy, but were seen as behind the scenes accompanists for guitar players. But because the Moog was so loud and flashy, suddenly they could hold their own on the stage. Some of the background transition sequence music is nice. It's interesting to watch Moogs being assembled and to hear the inventor talk about them--he's quite the spiritualist, and says he intuitively knows what sounds the circuits will make. He emphasizes the importance of playing live before an audience, and seems to distrust "music made alone to be listened to by people alone," which may be why Spooky's analytical discourse on the sampler leaves him cold. A couple of other notable points: the electronic composer Vladimir Ussachevsky gave much input on the design of the mini-Moog, we learn: specifically, putting the sound generating dials (oscillators) in one rectangular group and the sound-shaping dials (envelope, filter) in another. Herb Deutsch recalls that Ussachevsky recommended not adding a keyboard, because he felt that would encourage playing the instrument in a traditional way, as opposed to discovering new sounds it was capable of, an observation that turned out to be prescient, since most people just used the Moog as a spacy organ.
The film Moog is, I'm sorry to report, not so good. Theremin or even Modulations it's definitely not. Synthesizer inventor Robert Moog is himself a charming and highly intelligent interview subject, but the film unfortunately consists of him being flown around the globe for on-location tete-a-tetes with Musical Bores of the World. DJ Spooky holds forth with his usual spiel about sampling until it dawns on him that Moog is only feigning attention; he abruptly switches tracks and compliments him for all the analog hiphop beats his work indirectly influenced. Rick Wakeman and Bernie Worrell go on, like bad drunks at a party, about how a synthesizer is like a woman who must be coaxed, made to scream, yadda yadda. The live music depicted in the film is uniformly pretentious and blah: Stereolab, Keith Emerson, Luke Vibert and Jean-Jacques Perrey all manage not to shine. The highest spots involve not the keyboard instrument but the Theremin, which Moog got his start building. Solos by Pamelia Kurstin and Moog himself are beautiful and otherworldly--music from thin air, only two controls (pitch and volume), no moving parts, it's the soul of economy and still inherently futuristic. How did we ever lose track of the concept?
Music-and-video outfit x-eleven burned brightly in the Dallas rave scene from 1992-1995, with frequent radio play on Jeff K's Edge Club program, inclusion in the Tales From the Edge CD series ("Texas Techno" installment), and appearances at major rave events. Their fast, scintillating techno tracks never quite gelled into a CD's worth of material, at least for perfectionist Gary Wicker, who wrote and performed the music. Strong nods to prog-rock and the industrial canon distinguish it from more purist or jazzy Detroit-style techno; Wicker mentions 808 State as an inspiration but I'd say Orbital if I had to compare it to anything. Wicker's amphetamine-fueled contrapuntal keyboards are in many ways the opposite of acid-house minimalism; one could envision a caped Rick Wakeman playing some of these baroque riffs, accompanied with grooving dance-floor bass and slightly incongruous party-hearty samples of kids saying "C'mon!" and "Let's do it!" The music doesn't quite fit into the Simon Reynolds standard techno timeline: it's an intriguing side-stream to what was happening further north and across the pond.
In '96 Wicker sold all his equipment and never looked back at his musical career, at least until last year, when he put the entire x-eleven catalog online, with assiduously detailed commentary, in what he calls "a sort of paean to the spirit of failure." The site has literary as well as musical interest, with Wicker narrating his own short career in the reflective tones of a sociological case study--an audio-linguistic meditation on artistic aspirations and the messy realities of a being a group navigating the world of public performance and recording. (Personally I think he is seduced to this day by the capitalist paradigm that confuses business failure with creative failure--the latter this is definitely not.) With the reckless generosity of a recovering musician (who says he's still working, but not in this style), Wicker invites you to "download [all the x-eleven tracks as] .mp3 files, load them into your iPods, burn them onto CDs, do with them as you will." While you're listening you can read his fact-crammed commentary, a veritable how-to of basement keyboard and drum techniques. See, for example this blurb for the 1992 track "Through the Ether":
This track opens with a filter-sweeped OB-8 sixteenth-note figure and a basic four-on-the-floor beat. Shortly thereafter, the members of Yes are digitally tricked into playing a portion of their biggest hit backwards, then forwards, then backwards again by a crafty ASR10M. Not content to humble just one great prog-rock act, the ASR10M then corners Robert Fripp's guitar, lassoes it and forces it to play a strangely happy melody that would be right at home amongst the talking mushrooms in an episode of "H.R. Pufnstuf." A bouncy CZ10M mallet part (inspired by Absolut's "X Ray My Love") soon takes over lead duty as most of the rhythm track drops away, leaving only a TR909 bass drum whose dotted-sixteenth triplet pattern indicates that it's caught a case of the giggles. A jazz drum loop soon joins in the fun, followed a few bars later by the rest of the drums and a stereo-phased ESQ-1 white noise bit. A tight snare drum roll announces the return of Fripp's regal-sounding looped guitar, and a confused Matrix 6R, still playing the theme from "Past Passion," wanders in from the next room. The mallet part eventually returns, accompanied by ascending arpeggios from the Matrix 6R and some stereo delay trickery, and we're soon back in Sid & Marty Krofft territory. The six-note "Past Passion" theme makes another final appearance before the track draws to a close.Other standout tracks on the site include "Burn it Up" and "Past Passion," but they're all worth a listen. It's the apotheosis of geeky keyboard tech--geeky but cool, at least in my biased opinion as a fan who until recently had only a few nuggets but just found the mother lode.
I first heard the music of jenghizhan (aka John Parker) at the Brooklyn space vertexList, and described it enthusiastically here as "mysterious, sexily-filtered ambient industrial keyboards." He has since posted those performances on this page of his website, as "live improvisation with the Elektron Monomachine." Track 4 is one of my favorites, and I did a "remix," consisting solely of lopping off the intro and cutting straight to the monster, four-note hook that first grabbed my attention: [4.7 MB .mp3].
Later I heard him perform with Man from Planet Risk, his duo with Cave Precise (Ron Ramey), both in a live club setting and on CD. In a post on the band I commented on the differences between their live and studio sounds:
For all its echo-y horror soundtrack atmospherics and Black Sab-like bass riffs, the CD is much lighter [than the live playing]: the beats are spryer, with turntable twists & jazzy piano riffs livening up the doom and gloom. "Triphop" comes to mind because the sound is truly trippy: jenghizkhan approaches music like a painter (and is in fact a visual artist, exhibiting under his non-nom de plume), taking advantage of all the filtering and timestretching capabilities of modern keyboard tech to make layers of artfully mangled sound. Imagine Ennio Morricone eclectism shot through with the kind of dreamy, smeared psychedelia of San Francisco post-punkers Chrome, or the European hardcore tech of The Mover set to a hiphop beat.Since then, I've listened to jenghizhan's solo CDs Hooden Knooks and Brooklyn Sucks. It's great stuff, what the late lamented Throb records would file under "braindance" and what I would call "art electro." By way of comparison, I went back and listened to the Ischemic Folks compilation, which many considered a watershed for this kind of intensely digital electronic music, and found I like jenghizkhan better. Except for a couple of lush Richard Devine compositions, the IF CD is brittle and analytical, with too much of the Miami Bass parent DNA decanted out in the name of art.
Mixed in with jenghizkhan's trademark doomcore riffs one hears a lot of humor, and a strong melodic sense even when he's furthest out there in the drill-and-bass, sound-bending zone. As audio abstraction it's more frenetic de Kooning than faux-febrile Richter, and for all jk's insistence on "modern digital synthesis" over retro styles and sampling (more on this soon), his compositions have the verve and warm texture of early analog and tape recorder music (e.g., Mario Davidovsky, Otto Luening, Richard Maxfield), as opposed to the rather cool "glitch" sound of Oval, Phoenicia, et al. Check out these tracks from the CDs: "Sidewinder Circus" [1.4 MB (excerpt) .mp3], where the digitally scrambled phrase "sidewinder heat-seeking missile" sniggles in and out of overdriven-soundcard-like raunch, and "Outlet Nightjar" [ 3.56 MB .mp3], in which a synthetic bowed string keeps sounding the same ridiculous note in counterpoint to a heavily reverbed pseudo-guitar.
[coming soon: Part Two--how Man from Planet Risk differs from jenghizkhan solo work, and a discussion of gear]
Trax Records, the seminal Chicago house music label, just re-released some vintage recordings, and the Seattle Weekly's review of them is worth a read. I just purchased Acid Classics and my jaw elevatored down to hear this music I completely missed when it came out in '86 (!) through 1990. (I knew about House but had no reliable way to get my hands on the vinyl.) By now we've heard these moves a million times--the trancy squiggle of the Roland TB-303 is a musical institution--but these early, stripped-down psychedelic funk engines still sound radical. "Acid" is the most techno-y side of house, and the beats are as minimal as it gets, but still seductive and completely up to date. There's simply no comparison between this music and the "industrial" style of techno that was appearing around the same time--Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, Single Gun Theory--whose beats were much more pounding, metallic, obvious, and, now, dated. (Although I still have a soft spot for Nitzer Ebb.) Laurent X's "Machines" and Adonis' "Two the Max" are brilliant.
I'd been telling a NY musician friend about Chrome, a punk era band from San Francisco whose work is, I think, aging pretty well. Their super-dense acid guitar sound, layered with feedback and phase shifting effects, floating on top of metronomic or insistent beats, looked back to krautrock and anticipated both grunge and My Bloody Valentine. I played these tracks fom the late '70s/early '80s for my friend recently and he commented that they "don't sound dated at all--it could be a Williamsburg band." Check'em out:
"Innervacume" [.mp3 removed]--this is the most "punk" or post-punk track.
"3rd from the Sun" [.mp3 removed]--almost heavy metal, or proto-Soundgarden.
"Nova Feedback" [.mp3 removed]--the earliest and I think best
of the three. Blues psychedelia--almost Hendrix-y a la "1983."
No vocals is a big plus.
|Below: Zoms Zoms at Boogaloo bar in S.
Willliamsburg, August 5, 2004. High-energy hardcore
synthpop trio from Austin, with a heavy art/noise
component. Surprisingly rocking. Songs are short and got
the crowd going: I imagined an A&R guy hanging
around, thinking, "Great, great, how can we ruin this?"
Although the band expressed concern that the sound mix submerged the singer in these "vocally driven" songs, I liked the prominence given the guitar, which I noticed less on the recorded songs I've heard: an orgiastic, Beefheart-Henry Kaiser jangle balancing out the fast metronomic beats and synth woops. The band has .mp3s on websites here (myspace.com) and here (main site). "Static" and "TV" are recommended.
My ten-minute, live on the wheels mix of 8-Bit Construction Set tracks, alluded to in an earlier post, is now online. [14.28 MB .mp3] The raw materials for this Steve Reichian (or Ritchie Hawtinlike) techno-minimalist epic are the lock grooves from the "Atari side" of the disc, faded together in a continuous flow; I didn't have as much luck with the "Commodore side." Apologies to Messrs. Arcangel, Davis, Beuckmann and Bonn for this arty-fied nonsense, but it had to be done.
Great moments in home taping, part whatever: Margaret Leng Tan plays a Philip Glass composition on toy pianos live in the studio on the Stork's (still-much-missed!) WFMU radio show. [3.12 MB .mp3] Recorded by me with a cheap boombox, aiming the mic in the general direction of my speakers at a time when I was between decent cassette players (around '97). Make no mistake, this is a cheesy recording (and I only caught the last 2 minutes), but the music is simply the best.
In an earlier post I linked to some sample tracks by BASIC and other musicians from humanworkshop.com, a Netherlands-based sample and .mp3 trading forum, which has just released a CD of site artists. Track 14, about 30 seconds of BASIC's "Narrow Minded Fool," caught my ear, and after a few listens I pegged a couple of the sources (I know, music nerds, big whoop)--"Accidentals" by Broadcast (1997), a kind of post-Portishead ambient pop outfit from the UK, and "Gui La Testa (Duck You Sucker!)" from The Big Gundown, John Zorn's otherwise not very good 1986 tribute to Ennio Morricone (or is it just that anything with a jaw harp makes me think of that?). I dug out those tracks from the crates (as we say) and did a short "educational" mix, consisting of the BASIC sample followed by Broadcast, Zorn, and the BASIC again, just to hear how everything overlapped. We're talkin' some serious chronological folding here, with the non-hippie '60s as the epicenter. [.mp3 removed]
An email for a "Bands Against Bush" event received late last night led to an orgy of random linkage; here's what came up, some of which bears further investigation:
Cotton Ponies (boston garage rock)
cotton ponies download page (2 songs)
Googled "cotton ponies":
Deadly Productions Records (hardcore techno label based "in the Poconos"--reps another, different cotton ponies) w/ links to:
Widerstand Records (hardcore label out of Austria) mp3 download page listed:
doppelganger mp3 "Can't See Cali4nia With The Marlon Brando's Eyes" (Atari Teenage Riot-ish)
Leisure B & BASIC (nice neurofunk/drill track on mp3); widenstand mp3 download page for Leisure B & BASIC also listed homepage for:
humanworkshop.com (Dutch ambient D&B label) with link to sample page:
My first house track! This might be classified as "Latin Horror House." [mp3 removed]
ADDENDUM: These recent pieces are "hand crafted" in the sense
that no existing loops were used (a la Sony Acid or
garageband). They're done with a shareware program where you
plug in individual notes on staves and choose from menus of
low-quality instrument sounds. It should be fairly obvious
from the somewhat halting, robotoid delivery but it needed to
be mentioned that these are "my" dumb (but hopefully good
New tune: "Streetsong 2" [3.48
My Loop Collection. The following are looped fragments of pop and electronic music I've been collecting. They could be karaoke or mashup fodder, or minimal art pieces suitable for playing in a gallery on a jukebox knocked off from Sol LeWitt. More will be added as I come across suitable material. Credits are withheld to discourage art-hating lawyerbots. Any or all will be removed at the least hint of trouble.
The Techno Loop [mp3 removed]
The Proto-Trance Loop [mp3 removed]
The Psychedelic Rock Loop [mp3 removed]
Adrien75's new CD-R, Chickadoo Chronicles (Vol. 1), is out and available from Space Mermaid Music. Go get it, it's superb. Recall that in the '80s a certain type of dreamy, slow-tempo, home produced electronic music came out that was marketed as a meditation aid for stressed-out yuppies and had its own bin. Well, this is not that. Rather, it's a lineal descendant of the so-called ambient music of Aphex Twin or the so-called IDM (I hate that term) of Plaid or The Black Dog, which began to emerge in the late '80s after basement producers got better equipment and a clue.
On first listen Chickadoo's leisurely, jazzy-techno tracks wash over you, but by the second or third the hooks are starting to jump out--and Adrien75 can really write good ones, little percolating confections of notes that are sweet but never remotely saccharine (try this .mp3 sample from "Who Wants More?"). By the third or fourth hearing those standout melody-textures have completely colonized your brain (in a good, as opposed to AM radio way), looping around mutating your synapses while you go about your daily routines. Six listens down the road, you'll be noticing the structures of the songs more: "Oh, this one has a hook that you think is coming back after the bridge, but then the bridge turns out to long ambient kind of thing, and it just ends." This was how Brian Eno described his third solo LP Another Green World--a series of tunes and vignettes swimming up out of the void, never to be heard again.
Chickadoo extends and deepens the vocabulary of A75's last collection of tunes, Therms Forever. After a series of earlier albums that sounded initially somethat different from each other, he seems to have found a groove, or better, hit his stride. He has lost the overt drum and bass breakbeats of his first EP, released about five years ago, but added the bubbly synths that pervade this disc; his guitar comes and goes but isn't heard on this CD-R. He's clearly in love with electronic keyboards but also has an ear for musique concrete-y kinds of sounds (songs can suddenly detour into passages that are whimsically abstract), as well as classical structure, jazz grooves, and intricate rhythms. And did I mention that he can play instruments really well?
Adrien75 might be called "the American Richard D. James," a "kinder, gentler Boards of Canada" (not as angsty and schoolyard fixated), or even a more atmospheric Recloose (Carl Craig's jazzfunk protege from Detroit). But it's not really fair to compare music this original to anything else. One finds oneself wishing for a music theorist who doesn't exist--that is, who knows classical theory but is also willing to stretch it to accommodate the nuances wrought by new instruments and recording technology. This hypothetical person could then begin to describe in technical language the substantial musical achievement anyone with a thoughtful ear knows this CD-R represents.
NOTE: This post was extensively rewritten
on July 3, 2004.
I hereby humbly present my Justin Berkovi Mix [.mp3 removed], featuring several of this UK producer's innovative techno tracks from the late '90s/early '00s. I thought the Village Voice was being perverse comparing techno to bluegrass a few years back (actually it was the other way around, and it was disparaging) but the second track "Gaddster" makes the connection explicit--much more convincingly than the The Grid's early '90s one-off "Swamp Thing." Berkovi doesn't just superimpose a banjo over a dancefloor beat, he actually uses electronic instrumentation and studio wizardry to mimic the rhythm and feel of a thumping hoedown, or maybe "holedown" since the track keeps plunging into the sonic equivalent of the Ketamine hole. Here's a track listing, all mixed live from vinyl EPs:
"Dark Clouds" from "The Storm" (Predicaments 11)
"Gaddster" from the "01273 Predicaments" (Force Inc.)
"Thass Raaht Baaahbee" from "Tanned Lumps With Lipstick" (Predicaments 9)
Track 2, text side, from Nightrax "London" EP (with Ibrahim Alfa)
"Dark Clouds" reprise
The Man from Planet Risk debuted last night at the The Lucky Cat in Williamsburg. Their CD Escape from Chixalub is what might be called "downtempo horrorcore" (or The Music Formerly Known As Triphop--more on this below) but the live set, substituting drums for old skool hip hop beat machines, changed the feel of the sound quite a bit. Live, drummer Cave Precise seems to be imitating a beatbox or drum instruction cassette, except he's trying as hard as he can to destroy the drums. His manic rigidity and intensity tipped the sound over from the hiphop column to rock-and-roll, a kind of minimalist psychedelic metal. "Minimalist" because each "song" is basically just a really cool metalloid riff--a big ungainly slab of doomstruck sound--played long enough for the audience to get the point and then ended.
For all its echo-y horror soundtrack atmospherics and Black
Sab-like bass riffs, the CD is much lighter: the beats are
spryer, with turntable twists & jazzy piano riffs livening
up the doom and gloom. I mentioned triphop because the sound
is truly trippy: keyboardist/laptopper Jenghizkhan approaches
music like a painter (and is in fact a visual artist,
exhibiting under his real name John Parker), taking advantage
of all the filtering and timestretching capabilities of modern
keyboard tech to make layers of artfully mangled sound.
Imagine Ennio Morricone eclectism shot through with the kind
of dreamy, smeared psychedelia of San Francisco post-punkers
Chrome, or the European hardcore tech of The Mover set to a
hiphop beat. But also none of the above. You can check out
samples of the CD here.
The art-jazz-electronic duo Plasmodium has a CD out titled Clairaudience, blending fusion, sampladelia, grunge, and twisted Southern humor. At the music's core are jazzy grooves performed by Jim Thomson (drums, vocals) and Bob Miller (trumpet and keyboards), augmented with loops, samples, and electronic treatments a la the "labfunk" of Recloose or Atjazz. Miller's nimble trumpet is a versatile lead instrument, moving from traditional muted phrasing to wah wah-ed electric guitar shrieks.
Veterans of the Virginia music scene centered around Richmond and Charlottesville, the pair has an interesting provenance: Miller gigs with the salsa group Bio Ritmo, while Thomson drummed in the 80s for the Mad Max-ian, nuclear mutant hardcore outfit GWAR. Although mainly jazzy, Clairaudience spins a dazzling range of musical fictions, from "Tristay"'s reverbed rockabilly lament to the paranoid psychedelic dirge rock of "Space Eye" (think Alice in Chains meets Air, if that's possible). The daily indignities of hapless convenience store clerk "Clive Buckledown," recited in a deadpan, detective-story monotone over sensuous electric piano loops, recall the white psycho jazz rap of Kentuckyan-by-way-of-Dallas MC 900 Ft. Jesus.
In a more Cagean mode, the sound collage "Rethinking the Raven" presents echo-treated field recordings of a suburban smart guy spouting increasingly ridiculous, palsied nonsense syllables into fast-food driveup intercoms. ("Sir, can you drive to the window so we can take your order, we can't understand you.") The track is funny on a mean spirited Jerky Boys level, but also seductive, with the sound manipulations turning the baffled or bored utterances of the franchise employees into quasi-world music. One clerk's digitally twinned "I don't know/I don't know (I don't understand what you're saying)" becomes poignantly melodic through repetition, resembling an eerie call-and-response chant. In "Dr. Octobongopus" a bored lounge MC introduces the stage act of a polyrhythmic, multi-armed, but basically lame bongo player in a routine that is pure deadpan surrealism.
"Windows Noises" is a short Flash movie by Clown Staples
loads pretty quickly). It's made using the little .wav (sound
file) editor called sndrec32.exe, found in the
Windows/system32 folder right next to the viruses and spyware.
Windows XP still includes this fun device, although it's
usually overridden by RealPlayer or the like. The source
material for "Windows Noises" consists solely of four sounds:
chimes, ding, chord, and the "Microsoft Sound" (a pre-XP
string sample). These have been chopped up, accelerated,
reversed, looped, and mixed into a single synchronized file.
In the video, an unseen mouse-clicker plays up to six editors
like a mini-orchestra. The piece is at once hellishly clever,
dumb, resourceful, "deconstructive," and musically very
catchy. As explained in the Winnoise
FAQ, the Flash film isn't a record of an actual
performance but rather a re-enactment of the processes by
which the tune was made. All the sound was done with
sndrec32.exe but the visuals are animated from cut-and-pasted
screen shots of the cursor flitting about the "orchestra,"
triggering drop down menus and starting and stopping loops. It
was actually a relief to learn the piece wasn't done in real
time--nobody could be that good. Could they? I still don't
believe synch-ing up the parts was as easy as Clown Staples
says it was. [via cuechamp,
where I also got the screenshot]
Artist Sally McKay is participating in a show in Toronto, opening April 30, called "Robot Landscapes." In her piece, a small mirror-lined box serves as home to a solar powered robot slowly caroming around inside. Reflected on the inner walls of the box is a continuously looped video of a half-factual, half demented Martian landscape; a kind of Zen foil-ball garden with a dozing, skullfaced inhabitant, who may or may not be inflicting intermittent, flaring image breakdown on the Rover's prying digital eyes. The mirror-diorama is viewed through a window, with nearby headphones chiming musical accompaniment--a kind of lo fi, ambio-melodic soundscape created by yours truly. Sally explains more of the particulars here, and she's also offering a scaled-down version of the 9 inch wide video as a streaming or downloadable online video. A borrowed copy of the interface is below.
click for streaming video
(or option click / right click here for download)
graphics by Sally McKay, music by Tom Moody
Saturday night, April 24, a group of laptop performers convened at vertexList, a newish space in the old Four Walls location in Brooklyn. Video artists picked audio artists as collaborators (and vice versa) and the work seemed as random as the pairings: synergy was only intermittently achieved. The video part of the Jeremy Bernstein/Glomag collaboration (coruscating patterns of finely minced abstraction) showed more subtlety than the clunky audio, and the audio part of the jenghizkhan*/Daniel Vatsky union (mysterious, sexily-filtered ambient industrial keyboards) eclipsed the video's rather generic typography-cum-50s-science-textbook imagery. One moment where everything clicked came during the token "analog segment," when Mike Ballou's super-8 film of a crowd pulling a giant helium-inflated pig through the sky found suitable porcine accompaniment in Brian Dewan's morose vacuum tubular oinks.
A cranky comment: some artbloggers outside NY have said "there's nothing going on here" or words to that effect. That's clearly wrong. The scene is so rich, so multi-layered, so overflowing with good work that gallerygoers have become blase--talking, schmoozing, laughing, flirting, and exchanging business cards during performances. The music and video serve only as a cool clublike backdrop for their networking. This is Williamsburg, after all, where those art school "how to survive as an artist" courses are field-tested en masse. To put it bluntly, the pigs weren't just up there on the screen Saturday.
*aka John Parker
CLASSIC RAVE HITS! (except I don't know what any of them are)
All of the following house and breakbeat rave techno tracks
were taped off the radio in '93 and '94, specifically during
DJ Jeff K's live mix show, "Edge Club," on KDGE-FM in Dallas
(besides killing Kennedy, that city has been a haven for club
music since the late '80s, as Simon Reynolds noted in his book
Generation E). I made them as "studio tapes" (i.e. to
play while making stuff), but found them indispensable when I
moved to NY shortly thereafter and had all my other music in
storage. Some tracks were played by Jeff K himself, others by
the guest DJs he had on each week (DJ Icy, the Hardkiss
collective, Utah Saints (!)). What they all have in common is
(1) I still play them on my battered cassettes and (2) I don't
know any of the artists or titles, except as noted below. Now
that they've been extracted from the longer mixes where they
originally appeared--digitally clipped, sutured, & faded
in or out as .mp3s--a little attribution help would be greatly
appreciated: any information you might have about this weird,
E'd-up, often gemlike music.
Track 1 [4.5 MB]. "Like this," "come down," and an uncanny "blablablablablablablablablah" are the samples punctuating this frenetic Two Bad Mice-like track.
Track 2 [3.4 MB]. The insipid "different strokes for different folks" vocal commencing this number is soon belied by Mentasm stabs and other craziness. The ending sample of a lad saying "only originate and never pirate" (as in "pyrate") cropped up a lot around this time.
Track 3 [3.7 MB]. Very minimal breakbeat rave recorded on Jeff K's birthday. A sequence of 12 notes is repeated (with the filtering constantly changing) until the middle, when it is replaced by another sequence of 12 notes.
Track 4 [4 MB]. From a live mix at the Bomb Factory in Deep Ellum, this peppy number (possibly by a Texas producer) merges flawlessly into Joey Beltram's famous "Energy Flash," right before the fade.
Track 5 [4.1 MB]. A bouncy little march opens and closes this Dixieland-inflected track.
Track 6 [5 MB]. Disco-era drum pads, a Chinese prepared piano hook, and a vaguely Middle Eastern diva wail: it's catchier than that sounds.
Track 7 [5.5 MB]. Digs and Woosh of the UK's legendary DIY Crew guest-mixed this deep house track. James at Satellite (who met the DIY-ers in Dallas) thought it was from Chicago, maybe Balance Recordings. The string riff magically smeared dozens of ways sounds like turntablism but I assume it's the sampler.
Track 8 [5 MB]. Spare (as in lean) organ riffs from guest DJ Germ-E's mix.
BONUS: Downtempo Rave (?)
Track 9 (5.5
MB). Not sure what else to call this; it's too giddy to
be considered triphop. It's from a mix by guest DJ Kid E.
Church of Lo Fi
A friend just jokingly referred to my preference for old computer programs over current software as my "religion." No, religion is believing you have to buy the newest program to make the best art. The opposite of that is...iconoclasm?
But idol-smashing can be dogmatic, too, so maybe it's better
to couch the discussion in terms of "desired artistic
effects." My old dying Mac SE makes cool sounds from the
clipping and distortion that comes from "overdriving" the
machine's limited synths, just in normal use--rhythmic
patterns of clicks, ominous atmospheric rumbles... You won't
get that with garageband (or maybe there's a pallette called
"old Mac flaws"? I don't really want to hear about it). Also,
there's something about working against limitations, as
opposed to having a machine that "does it all for you." Think
movie special effects on a budget vs profligate CGI. And
finally, there's a certain exoticism of hearing/seeing old
tools as they were before years of "improvements." Some of
those improvements are engineering tweaks (for speed, etc) but
others are simple value judgments the user had no input in. As
Dan Graham once said--in so many words, and not necessarily
for this reason--the "recently outmoded" can be one of the
more fertile and radical places for artists to work.
Anyway, if lo fi is a religion, here's a chapter of the
Bible, written by painter Alexander Ross for the "Static"
show co-organized by John Pomara and me in '98 (I especially
like the bolded para.):
The Recent History of Static in Recorded Music
by Alexander Ross
The static trend in rock music grew initially out of the fuzz guitar sound (best known from the Rolling Stones' "[I Can't Get No] Satisfaction"), which imitated an over-driven or distorting amplifier. Hard-rock outfits continued to push the "guitar wall of sound" well after the '60s, refining it into a subtle and controlled art.
The creative fringe took interest in an accidental by-product of this distortion: the overtones of fuzz, a warm "pink noise" (white noise is static without tone, pink noise is static or "snow" with a hum, or discernible pitch) that rode seemingly independently on top of the music. An early exploration of this might be Eno's "Needle in the Camel's Eye" from 1973, where the constant smashing of guitar chords creates a wall of wavering noise above the song.
A foundational work appeared in the mid-'70s with Lou Reed's controversial and fan-disappointing double LP Metal Machine Music, an all-static-and-feedback statement that figures in rock history much the way Futurist noise performances function in the history of theatre: pure, unequivocal rebellion.
There were some notable static undergrounds coming along in the late '70s/early 80's, namely Chrome (out of San Francisco), and a little later Fi (pronounced "eff eye"). Throbbing Gristle might also be mentioned here, as well as This Heat and Cabaret Voltaire (for example, "No Escape" off their classic first release, Mix-Up). The first group to make the intentional breakthrough into pure static would have to be The Jesus & Mary Chain, who eq-ed the bass-end off the fuzz chords entirely, leaving a shrill, static constant running relentlessly throughout their songs. Next would be Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, where the static becomes more textured and smeared, literally permeating the music. The effect is a sexy, dreamlike blur echoing early '90s trends in fashion photography. Static finally becomes the main subject with the rise of Flying Saucer Attack (Chorus is a good example), out of Virginia, of all places. Here the static is totally frontal, and the music sort of whispers at you through a snowy haze.
The advent of the compact disc in all its sterile flawlessness brought about the realization that technological defects such as tape hiss, amp buzz, record groove ticks, and ultimately the computerized glitches sometimes heard on the CD itself were now interesting sounds never before utilized in conjunction with music. This, combined with the inexpensive home recording boom, coalesced into what became known as LO-FI. Major players, largely confined to the US and New Zealand, include Lou Barlow/Sentridoh, Daniel Johnston, Guided By Voices, and (from New Zealand) post-rockers The Dead C and This Kind of Punishment.
Mid-'90s developments quickly cross-over into the techno-ambient realms with Oval, who boldly dominate the glitch and hiss scene. Mention should be made of Scanner, an individual who scans cell phone conversations and create pieces out of them, with the natural static of the transmission wavering in and out. Most recently is Porter Ricks, also techno-ambient, whose distant discotheque is heard pleasantly through walls of dreamy smush.
The ambient/industrial sector was long-ago onto the static phenomenon, but here there is no music at all, just pure, wonderful noise. Examples here would be The Hafler Trio, Arcane Device, Tibetan Red, PBK, and early Nocturnal Emissions.
MusicWorks for Macintosh was one of the first music software programs for home consumption (ca 1984); it takes up a whopping 69K of memory. I still use it: it acts as a primitive sequencer, letting me cut and paste loops that I write into some kind of coherent (hopefully catchy) song or composition. It gets a nice, unsophisticated video game sound, with about 10 "instruments"--e.g., piano, organ, trumpet (uggh), chime, synth 1, synth 2--and controls for the attack and decay as well as tremolo and vibrato. The pieces I did in '88, when the computer was relatively new, are more structured (i.e. songlike) than the most recent stuff, which is more "tracklike" and features found sound (other folks' lock grooves from turntables, etc.). A new composition will be posted soon, something I'm pretty happy with--a score for another artist's video--that's more in the '88 spirit.
Unfortunately the ancient Mac SE I run MusicWorks on seems to
be dying; it takes longer and longer to save and I've lost
some work. I like this little music program a lot--it's sort
of the aural equivalent of MSPaintbrush,
which I'm also fixated on--and I'm hoping it can be run on the
newer Macs. If it can I'll plunk down and buy one.
My Complete Musical Works in MP3 Form
1998 - present
1. Scratch Ambulance [3.7 MB]
2. Phil's Revenge (TM vs Ectomorph) [2.1 MB] / hi-fi [2.6 MB]
3. Brakin' 1 [1.8 MB]
4. Brakin' 2 [2 MB]
5. Calypsum (TM vs M. Mayer) [3.3 MB]
6. Migrant Song [2.3 MB]
7. Streetsong (TM vs 8BCS) [2.84MB]
8. Eins Zwei Drei (Melody) [mp3 removed]
9. Monster Scales [1 MB]
11. Robot Landscape [3.6 MB]
1. Arpeggiasm [2.6 MB]
2. Dance of the Nematodes [3.3 MB]
3. Lament for a Treefrog [1.8 MB]
4. Life in the Mortuary [1.1 MB]
5. Pass the Amphetamines [1.5 MB]
6. Spring Has Sprang [1.2 MB]
7. The Organist Died [.9 MB]
Ralf Hutter of Kraftwerk. The second most influential pop group after the Beatles is touring in support of Tour de France Soundtracks, their first CD of new material in 18 years. While not as aggressive, funky, or strange as their earlier work, it's good: kind of shimmery and ambient and yes, they can still write hooks. "Vitamin," "La Forme" and the remixed 80s hiphop classic "Tour De France" are quite hummable. They sound as if they spent all those years tracking down every trace of hiss and hum in their studio and then carefully mastered every millisecond because it's an amazingly clean, refined production. One thing they still have over the generation of electronic dance musicians they inspired is great technical finesse, and I'm guessing machines expensive enough to produce sounds and textures beyond the budgets of most basement producers. They don't flaunt it, though; the music is very understated. More tour photos in addition to the ones above, by Swedish photographer Henrik Larrson, are here. A review of the Brixton Academy show is here.
See comments to this post on my main weblog page.
cuechamp recently posted a music mix titled "source code" [dead link], consisting of the original songs--mostly from the '70s--that were subsequently, heavily mined for sampled drum breaks by hiphop and drum & bass producers. If you've listened to any music other than country (and maybe even that) for the last 25 years you will also recognize many of the piano stabs, vocal hooks, and random cowbells in these R&B, funk, and fusion classics (they were also very popular with house and garage producers). cuechamp doesn't layer or mash up the tunes: one song respectfully follows another in a nice flow that would also make it an excellent house party soundtrack. Here's the tracklist:
1. chase the devil - max romeo and the upsetters
2. amen, brother - the winstons
3. think about it - lyn collins
4. apache - incredible bongo band
5. ready or not - the delfonics
6. take me to the mardi gras - bob james
7. i'm gonna love you just a little more - barry white
8. shack up - banbarra
9. you can't hide from yourself - teddy pendergrass
10. scorpio - dennis coffey
11. fate - chaka khan
12. dance to the drummer's beat - herman kelly (I love this one -tm)
13. all this love that i'm giving - gwen mccrae
14. get out of my life woman - lee dorsey
15. far beyond - locksmith
16. ashley's roachclip - soulsearchers
17. i love you more - george duke
18. champ - the mohawks
19. praise you - camille yarbrough
20. funky drummer - james brown
It would be interesting to create graphs showing all the subsequent uses of sound bites from this "source code." If you sorted them by length you'd probably find the samples get longer in proportion to (1) the age of the track using the sample and/or (2) the economic strength of the samplee. This is because of an "invisible attractor" force in current creative endeavors called The Law. Early house and hiphop was made in the day before humorless poor sports like The Turtles started suing and winning cases for their precious string snippets. Nowadays the samplee becomes an involuntary creative partner in the new production, depending on the amount of lawyer fees he/she can afford (or recoup on contingency). Such issues are discussed in Lawrence Lessig's new freeware book, also linked to on cuechamp's page.
Here's a relevant quote pulled not from Lessig's .PDF but from a NY Times article about the Danger Mouse Grey Tuesday protest, before the article disappeared into the Times' proprietary vault:
Jonathan Zittrain, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, said the issue is indeed a gray one. "As a matter of pure legal doctrine, the...protest is breaking the law, end of story," Mr. Zittrain said. "But copyright law was written with a particular form of industry in mind. The flourishing of information technology gives amateurs and home-recording artists powerful tools to build and share interesting, transformative, and socially valuable art drawn from pieces of popular culture. There's no place to plug such an important cultural sea change into the current legal regime." (emphasis added)
A new piece of music I made: "Eine Zwei Drei" [1 min - 1.37MB - .mp3]. I find it kind of sinister. Coming this soon after talking about Monotrona, it might be compared to that, but I'd say it's closer to Laibach. That's it--a kind of abject, basement Laibach (Slovenian dirge-y synth stuff, but this is goofier.)
An earlier post described a "radio musical" I heard several years back by Electro musician and performance artist Monotrona (it might be called the first Electro opera.) I taped it on cassette and am now posting it here in all its hissy, lo-fi glory. [36 min, 33.6MB] Here's what I wrote before:
I first heard Monotrona on the Stork Club on WFMU-FM (a sadly missed live music show), around '97 or '98, performing "Joey, a Mechanical Boy,” which was described as the "fourth in a 14-section work called the 'Fourteen Imitations of Man.'" The story--told in music and dialogue, all performed by the artist using a variety of accents, vocoderlike filters, etc.--was extremely weird. Joey is an ectopically-spawned robot child who goes to work for NASA. His mother, in a ridiculous Chicago accent, tries to reach him on the phone and is headed off by the "Dark Technical Force," a gnostic demiurge that has a strange hold over Joey. Meanwhile, two shadowy government operatives discuss a rogue scientific scheme to create a ManWoman. The piezoelectric puppet show includes some really beautiful songs in the Chrome/Suicide/Throbbing Gristle postpunk vein, performed with buzzy, distorted keyboards. After the performance, Stork described Monotrona's equipment for listeners as "a mountain of unpatented cheap toy electronics adapted for her use--an indescribable array of electronics centered around a Casio machine, using light sabres, pistols, all sorts of mixers, and an oscillating device that looks like a little recipe box with two joysticks coming out of it..."Combining music and stand-up with the sheer Cage-ean randomness of these toy store electronics, "Joey" is brilliant even in a crappy, taped-off-the-radio recording. The bleeping, buzzing acoustics wed the arcade with the abyss, as Joey struggles to master simple digestive and muscular functions under the tutelage of a scary voice recalling Tron's Master Control Program. Monotrona is considerably more than just an entertainer or proto-Electroclash musician or what have you (although her recent songs are tight, smart pop): she is a poet of the "dark technology" embracing us whether we hug back or not. (video still from punkcast 237)
Beige Programming Ensemble at the Whitney; The Slowes
I missed Cory Arcangel and the Beige crew at the Whitney
Museum last night because I had to w_rk, but fortunately Thickeye
is on it with an excellent report. I like his description of
the line of kids wrapped around the block for free admission
night, soon to be groping in the darkened video rooms,
contrasted with the image of middle age people sitting at
tables in the downstairs dining room, politely listening to
the Beige-rs explaining their new 8-bit iPod concept.
Beige has a music download page that I highly recommend, consisting of their vinyl releases in mp3 format. Cory also recorded several songs as The Slowes, which I am pleased to offer here. The melodies are faux-dumb and very catchy. I say faux-dumb because they're actually fairly ambitious in terms of musical reach--a lot of pop music history is integrated in them (lounge, 60s-electronica, progrock, Pink Floyd...). Being so lo-fi keeps the homages from being overt or too reverent. Here's how Cory explains them in an email (edited slightly):
yeah,...the slowes is just me. most of the melodies were written by a melody writing program i wrote called "Rudy Tardy Generator Pro"..it was a cgi script. every time you went to its web page, it generated a new song and melodies (in the slowes style, which is lotsa open roller rink kinda chords) so....... i would have the program spit out 10 melodies...i would then pick the best few, turn them into a song, and go into my bedroom and record them. i used an organ, atari, drums, + guitar////The Slowes downloads:
the whole myth of the slowes that I made up was that it was this guy who sat in his basement all day and worked on his atari. his name was Rudy Tardy. This was his band. For a few years, i used Rudy Tardy to sign all my art projects...[Beige-r] Paul [B. Davis] to this day still Dj's under the name DJ Rudy.
"Fat Bits" [.mp3 - 1.33MB]
"Starship Izod" [.mp3 - 4.12MB]
"The Anthem" [.mp3 - 2.29MB]
"Hooked on a New Thing" (cover of 3Nuff Z'Nuff) [.mp3 - 5.2MB]
Suite: All Four Songs Above [.mp3 - 13.14MB]
dan at erase reports on a Squarepusher/Steve Reich/Aphex Twin-related live gig in the UK that sounds like a lot of fun. He's also been posting links to good online mixes, such as this tech-house assortment ("Eucalyptus" and "Night Herbs" are recommended--haven't heard the other one yet) and this 80s/00s electro jam.
UPDATE: The mixtapes mentioned above are by Sami
Koivikko, from Finland, who makes tracks when he's not dj'ing.
The "Night Herbs" mix is flawlessly beat-matched and contains
a number of those angelic arrangements of 3 or 4 confectionary
notes that probably have a more precise musical term but are
what I like most about house tracks, especially of the
minimal/tech variety. Producers such as Losoul, John Tejada,
Paul Kalkbrenner and other favorites are included in the mix.
As promised, here's the 2-Step Garage Mini-Mix: [.mp3 removed]. By way of background, this music combines the trickier rhythms, vocal science, and hiphop atmospherics (e.g., sped-up scratching) of drum & bass with the party vibe and divas of UK garage (a house variant). You may recall Ishkur (now in V.2!) called 2-Step "so fucking boring," complaining about its "idiotic" basslines and all the guest popstars. He's right about the guests: usually an electronic dance producer jumps the shark when vocals are added (see Swayzak, Chemical Bros.). But the basslines kind of crack me up. They make me think of the original intent of the Roland TB303, which was to be a kind of automated "bass genie" for pubrockers. The three tracks in this mix are light on vocals, guest or otherwise, and heavier on the atmospherics. All are "classic" 2-Step, meaning about 4 years old: "Scrappy" by Wookie, "True VIP" by Youngstar, and "Romantic Call" by DJ Deller. Any help with what the singer's saying in the last (after the lines "I'm on a romantic call/Talking to my baby down at the yard") would be greatly appreciated.
Some very cool, probably uncharacteristic tracks by Mundo, a drum & bass/2-step DJ from Dallas: "Music - The Question" [.mp3 removed] and "Carjack" [.mp3 removed]. Fished these from the "out of town" bin at Breakbeat Science a few years ago and have tried unsuccessfully to contact Mundo by email a number of times to say how much I liked them. (In other words, the tracks are posted as a fan tribute and will be removed if anyone's pissed.) I'd say they're atypical for Breakbeat and Mundo both, in that they're not hard shell drum and bass. Minimal and funky in its own dirgelike way, "Music - The Question" is Greg Hawkesian/John Carpenteroid electro with eerie church organ sostenuto, old-school beats, and a nice rolling reverb on the cymbals. Oh, yeah, and the mundanest sample imaginable, of some spry Victorian carnie dude saying "Music...to delight those who would have melody or be amused"--over and over and over. "Carjack" has those same creepy organ notes and insistent slapping beat, but with echoey psych guitar stabs and about 2 1/2 minutes into it, trebly amen-style breakbeats (with a lovely microsecond of truncated sped up vocal going "meh-" at the end of each loop) that continue to punctuate the track. This music is basic, original, category-resistant.
Follow-up to an earlier post about Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Dance Music: Did I forget to mention the guy is funny? Below are some examples of his Lester Bangsian blurbs explaining different genres*:
Acid Breaks! This and Chemical Breaks (and Big Beat, I guess) are the most favorite genres of action movie trailers, sports highlight reels, corporate powerpoint presentations, and spastic TV ads featuring people doing something extreme like driving really fast while birdwatching. I can't listen to this anymore without getting silly images in my head of jumping in the air, pausing while the camera pans around me, and then resuming kicking some guy in the head. This is part of the "electronica" wave of mainstream acceptance in the late '90s.*...which had to be retyped--note to all using Flash or the like: those formats are good for some things, but no one will ever quote you or find your words through a search engine on the Web if you hide them in the stinky folds of a proprietary format. Simple html pages are the way to go.
2 Step Garage. God, this stuff is so fucking boring! Retaining the idiotic basslines of Speed Garage, the hiccuping staccato beats of that derivative Top 40 schlock that dares call itself RnB, and even worse: the endless crooning by "guest" popstars (hence all the "featuring" accolades in playlists), divas, and whiny narcissists who like to think of themselves as just too damn cool to be listened to by you. The only good thing about 2-Step is, unlike Speed Garage, it won't be used by invading alien armadas to their high councils as grounds for turning the Earth into a giant ashtray. [This is mostly true but expect a mix of "good" 2-SG on this page soon. --ed.]
Hard Acid Techno. Here we go: the genre that reveals all the awesome destructive power of the little silver box [Roland TB-303, dispenser of the squelchy "acid sound" --ed.]. Hard as fuck acid techno. Acid that'll kick your ass so hard you'll be shitting shoes for a month. This is the kind of music everyone listens to before doing something destructive. Sports teams listen to it before a big game, politicians listen to it before a speech, armies listen to it before they go to war, kids listen to it before they clean their rooms. I bet God was listening to it before he made humans.
Here's my first stab at mixing some analog music (from vinyl) for a downloadable mp3: the Tuxedomoon Mini-Mix [.mp3 removed]. It's approximately 18 minutes, a 17 MB file. I realize this favors broadband users, and I'm sorry, I've really been trying to keep my pages surfer-friendly. Just consider the mix a bonus to the online music-crit below (yeah, I know, right).
Tuxedomoon was a kind of art-punk-cabaret band that emerged from late '70s San Francisco, specifically the scene around the Mabuhay Gardens and the Deaf Club: what band member Blaine Reininger called "our own Belle Epoque." Principal instruments were bass (that's a pun, sort of--the bassist is Peter Principle), sax, violin, keyboards, and rhythm box. Adjectives used to describe the band would be "innovative," "psychedelic" and "angsty." Three vocalists alternated on the singing chores and all sounded tortured, or suffering from post-breakdown ennui; all members were accomplished musicians downplaying their talent at the height of garage band streamlining. The band flowered during the postpunk era with a recording contract on the Residents' Ralph label, then relocated to Belgium before eventually drifting apart in the mid-'80s. In this selection I've somewhat slighted sax-and-keyboarder Steven Brown's contributions in favor of violinist Reininger's, but I love both. Here's the track listing; all songs are by the band unless noted:
"Volo Vivace" from Half-Mute (1980). Jazzy chamber music anchored in organ-and-synthesizer gloom. Principle's ultracool bass, playing counterpoint to a sequencer, supplies the rhythm.
"Incubus (Blue Suit)" from Desire (1981). Trippy scifi lyrics sung by Reininger, and you gotta love that beatbox.
"Crash" (flip side of Ralph 45 rpm "What Use") (1980). With its flailing drums, repetitive piano refrain, and filtered acid guitar, this is like proto-breakbeat techno. Never made it onto an album, but this is one of my favorite TM tracks. Guest guitarist Michael Belfer resurfaces on Reininger's solo LP described below.
"Birthday Song," from the Reininger solo outing Night Air (1983). Very '80s noir. Steven Brown's charmingly almost-inept sax makes an appearance here.
"Next to Nothing," 1977 rehearsal recording (from the Pinheads on the Move compilation, 1987). Singer and performance artist Winston Tong popped in and out of the TM lineup: his emotional vocals are featured here. The raw use of the analog synth here is inspiring, from the lurching, stop-and-start notes underneath the vocals to the ending where the sound hisses away in ever-rising square wave increments. Gives me chills.
Bruce Sterling, on his blog, steers us towards Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Dance Music, which definitely merits a moment or two of your time. It's a handy manual to all the different electronic dance genres, where you can hear samples and go "Ah, that's what Nu Style Gabber sounds like!" On the other hand, it's a novel and fairly persuasive form of criticism. Ishkur makes no bones that this is his take, and by combining a flowchart taxonomy with written argument and clickable soundbites, he's made a formidable first draft of pop music history.
I like the way he includes Dub as a forerunner of House (along with Disco); that's a little less America-centric than the usual version, which has NY djs moving to Chicago and reinventing disco with more electronics. (Curiously, Hiphop is treated as sui generis--under "Breakbeat"--when it also had a strong Caribbean influence, e.g., DJ Kool Herc.) He gives Techno short shrift, though, treating it as a genre for boring purists when it in fact has interpenetrated and informed almost all the other styles. It's interesting the way he divides early 90s breakbeat rave techno into Rave, which becomes the progenitor of Hardcore, and Breakcore, which spins off Jungle and Drum & Bass, but mysteriously, Rave never intersects with the "Techno" timeline and Breakcore never intersects with the "Breakbeat" timeline.* Also, I'm not sure I understand the distinction he makes between two 80s styles: EBM (Electronic Body Music, posited as a forerunner of Goa Trance) and New Beat (a Hardcore antecedent). When I hear both I just say "Belgian."
One style new to me is Speedbass, which sounds like a cross
between Noizecore and what Ishkur's calling Experimental
Jungle (AKA Drill'n'Bass). It seems very DIY and
upload-oriented (see website at www.speedbass.net),
and while it's a bit more chaotic than my usual
around-the-house fare, it's hard to resist anything with
repeated samples of whips cracking and Hollywood extras crying
out in fake pain, for example, DJ Tendraw and the Gypsies
Dog's "Vocal Tripe (I'm Gonna Hurt You Mix)."
*If I was going to collect a genre in depth
(meaning spending a fortune tracking down 12-year-old vinyl
and dubplates) it would probably be the one Ishkur calls
Breakcore. The energy and sheer creative nuttiness of that
particular musical moment has never been duplicated.
There's a nice mix of video game and game-related music over at the cuechamp. A good chance to hear artists frequently plugged here, including 8-Bit Construction Set and Monotrona, as well as punchy electro tracks such as Knifehandchop's "Ryu vs. Sakura," with samples of a Real Don Steele-type announcer (from "Streetfighter Alpha 3") yelling out stuff like "Select your fighting style!" and "Beat'em up guys!" Below is the playlist; it's a 22MB file so you probably need broadband:
1. super mario brothers - london symphony orchestra
2. video computer system - golden shower
3. bmx kidz theme - input 64
4. saucemaster - 8 bit construction set
5. ah, enemy - monotrona
6. ryu vs. sakura - knifehandchop
7. manhunt (rephlex manhood remix) – lords of the dance
8. computer games - yellow magic orchestra
|SCRATCH AMBULANCE, ETC.
I made the tracks below using, let's just say, a very old computer (and also a turntable, but only on the second track). The first two, "Scratch Ambulance" and "Phil's Revenge," have funkoid beats, while "Monster Scales" is more of an electronic sound piece. More than this I don't want to say. This is kind of a trial run, so any comments on .mp3 quality, downloadibility, etc. are welcome. As for the content, try not to hurt my feelings too much. The LP on the turntable was for photo purposes only and not used in any of these compositions. Thanks to Mark Dagley for ripping the MP3s from a cassette.
Scratch Ambulance. .mp3 format, about 3.75 MB.
Phil's Revenge (TM vs Ectomorph). .mp3 format, about 2.5 MB. Fades up.
Monster Scales. .mp3, about 1.3 MB.
More on the house track "House of God" and R&S Records, the label where it first appeared:
R&S is a Belgian imprint and it's obvious why they liked "House of God," because it's a dark and pounding track (for all the fun--more below) and Belgian techno tends/tended to be over on the industrial side of the aisle. DHS is from Chicago but I know nothing about that outfit. I see "House" as a refinement & updating of "Welcome to Paradise V 1.0" by Front 242, an actual Belgian band frequently described as "techno/industrial crossover" or "electronic body music." It's amazing what happened to electronic music between 1988 and 1991, as exemplified by these two tracks: an astonishing quantum leap in equipment, philosophy, or both. "Welcome" features samples from a Jimmy Swaggart-style televangelist over the metallic "drum machine" sound that everyone was using in 1988, not sure what brand, which now seems brittle and jarring and dated. Also wailing psychedelic guitar samples. The televangelist's words included such club-friendly ironic soundbites as "No sex until marriage!" but also scrambled nonsense phrases like "Hey, Poor, You Don't Have to be Jesus." (An even earlier precedent is Negativland's "Christianity is Stupid" which hacks up a southern sermon.)
"House of God" samples a black radio preacher, from Chicago
I'm guessing, who is trying to raise contributions of "50
dollars or more" to build a church called "The House of God."
Phrases from his pitch--"I am excited", "50 Dollars or
more"--are cut up, stripped of context, and sprinkled
throughout the track, or used as rhythmic elements in
themselves. The underlying music is minimal, just a thumping
beat (an 808?), synthetic cymbals, and a sonar-like
pulse--with the occasional hammer-hitting-a-railroad-spike
percussion that I'm sure attracted the Belgians. The
production is silky smooth, seductive, hypnotic. DHS
emphasized the connection between the word "House"--frequently
spoken aloud in house music--and "House of God," thus
secularizing a concept already corrupted by the phony preacher
(and he does sound like a shyster)--or maybe recuperating it?
There's a kind of liberating sacrilege in the track's repeated
use of the word "God": at one point a sample of the preacher
saying "God's House" alternates over and over again with a
little girl saying "God" (God's House--"God"--God's
House--"God") which almost sounds like cursing and makes me
think someone in DHS had a bad religious upbringing. But it
also recalls the joyous call-and response you hear in gospel
services. It's a brilliant piece of music in the way it tugs
you this way and that.
DJ Set List, 2000. Back when I was DJing regularly, I
had the idea of integrating some mixes I'd been taping off the
radio (from '93 - '99) into my own live "deep tech house" set
(yes, the term sounds pretentious, but it's accepted jargon
and I've collected tons of it so cut me some slack here). Kind
of curating the curators, or padding my mix with those of my
betters, if you want to be cruel. So I hauled my cassette
player into the restaurant where I was playing and plugged it
into the mixing board. In order to make it work, I felt I
needed some kind of road map. This piece of doodled-on,
taped-together, water-stained legal paper--which had to be
read with a flashlight--is it. Yes, I rocked the house, i.e.,
people were moving as they ate. (Alert readers will note the
presence of DHS' immortal "House of God" in the list.)
Performer above: The Plantains; Song: "Pop Iconography"; Video Projection: English Kills; Event: NY Underground Film Festival "Audio Visual" Live Showcase, October 8, 2003. Picture in background behind the musicians: that guy who's passport the FBI found lying on the ground a few blocks from the World Trade Center on 9/11. The Plaintains are a slick, funny sendup of a British neuromantic duo circa 1982, a dapper Spinal Tap for the synthpop era. Other performers included LoVid, Jamie Arcangel and the Arcangels, and the incredible Dr. Doo, who sat at a drumkit working the sticks athletically while lo-fi symphonic synths chugged and transcendental cartoon videos dazzled (sample frame below). The vibe was Soft Machine sound-and-light shows circa 1969 by way of Atari and Gumby, and wonderfully loud. Music to drive the bad shit away. (On-the-fly rock journalism type photography by yours truly.) Oh, yeah, I really wasn't into the last act, Ssion, which I would describe as Voice Farm meets B-52s meets dancers from Cats. Their pop irony seemed too much like MTV pop irony. Tryin' too hard.
Through weblog channels too circuitous to list, I came across
this page of Soviet
synthesizers. Who knew? Above is the Kvintet. Also,
here's the New
England Synthesizer Museum, which seems pretty
comprehensive. Earlier Bill Schwarz posted a link to this site
instruments from 1890-1990, which overlaps somewhat with
the New England site. And as long as I'm dumping links, here's
a site called the Obsolete
Computer Museum. Check back later and I may have
formulated something to say about all this. Or maybe not.
I'm running my turntables at half-speed this week to lament the passing of Throb, or at least its retail space. This record shop specializing in electronic dance music was located on 14th Street on Manhattan, then Orchard Street, and now it's just going to be operating online. This is too bad, because the meat space component of the dance dj scene is important--that is, having a place to test-spin the vinyl, look at record covers, and talk to salesmen who know the music (and are djs and producers themselves). Thanks to Zach, Carter, Aldo, dM, Derek and everyone else who made listening and buying so pleasant and fun the past few years. I'm really bummed about this.
Adrien75, a great musician previously discussed here and here, has a new suite of tunes available for download as mp3s, titled Therms Forever. Comparing it with his two releases from last fall, Disc 1 comes closer to the peppy instrumental synthpop of 757 while Disc 2 mirrors the atmospheric feel and slower pace of Coastal Acces (with less focus on ambient solo guitar). But TF is really a melding (and evolution) of those earlier releases. The first three tracks, "Welcome," "Connections," and the Alphaville-namechecking "Lemmy Caution" give a good sense where the music is heading: pretty, sometimes elegiac melodies hovering over metronomic electro beats (with intermittent nods to the artist's drum-and-bass roots), and an interest in the emotional effects of radically altered sounds. A later track that jumps out is "A Plethora of Zombie," which harks back to Ralf and Florian-era Kraftwerk (check out the trippy, phase-shifted rhythms in the middle).
Despite the all-electronic vibe of the tracks, Adrien has the instincts and touch of a jazz musician, introducing chord changes, tricky rhythms, and an emotional pitch beyond the range of many techno and/or breaks producers. That's been clear since "Detroit & Carpet Eyes" (which he recorded with Doron Gura as Unagi Patrol), an exquisite piece that shifts compositional gears several times, like a Brian Wilson "pocket symphony" with breakbeats, or more recently Coastal Acces' "Highway One South," a leisurely motorik composition with burbling sounds rising and fading like features of the landscape passing in front of the windshield. Thankfully, though, he doesn't wave his virtuosity in our faces; unlike his prog-rock and fusion forebears, he keeps things clean and minimal, and unlike his electronica peers, hasn't succumbed to the trend of adding vocals to "broaden the appeal."
Here are a few more echoes of things one hears floating
around in the mix--not literal cops or samples, more like
musical neighbors: breathy brass licks reminiscent of Herbie
Hancock's Crossings sextet (in "Smogma"), the eerie
stateliness of Wendy Carlos' Clockwork Orange-vintage synth
("Keep Connected"), and a distinctive early YMO slither I
can't place yet, in "Connections." According to Adrien's web page, he's got
another album in the works--maybe when he's ready to publish
I'll have doped out a fraction of the subtleties in this one!
Anyone who's ever been to an electronic music concert featuring laptop performers (we often have them here in NYC at Tonic) knows there ain't much to look at. Paper Rad, the Providence-based art collective, went through the entire repertoire of stage moves last night [June 27] at the closing event for "Blinky," an exhibition at New York's Foxy Productions. Concentrating intensely--check; nodding sagely--got it; leaning over to look at a band member's screen--several times; avoiding eye contact with the audience--consistently. The only problem with all this sincere, scientific-looking activity was it had nothing to do with the sound coming out of the speakers: the "laptops" were Fisher Price toys with colored yarn for cables and the music was a prerecorded mishmash of stop-and-start drumming and desultory, singing-in-the-shower vocals--all completely non-digital. You gotta admire a group willing to exhaust an audience's patience to make a point.
Considerably more exuberant was the act that preceded it: the reunion concert of New Yorkers Cory and Jamie Arcangel, who last performed together as hockey-mask and fright-wig wearing metal teens in Buffalo (documented on a hilarious home video). The duo, now civic-mindedly decked out in Sabres T-shirts and caps, demonstrated a Nintendo Duck Hunt game scrambled to electronic hash with a Game Genie, and then challenged Williamsburg's vaunted electroclash scene with an infectious tribute to Miami Bass titled--why kid around?--"Booty." While an 8-bit computer pumped the bass, Jamie rapped through a heavily-distorted microphone, Cory played electric guitar on his back, and the crowd got down. The last performer, Towondo Clayborn of Occasional Detroit, had a hard act to follow after all this insanity, but did an extended, intermittently dazzling set of hip hop electro noize that had people wandering in off the street (and also leaving--the philistines!). Think a bipolar union of Anti-Pop Consortium and Detrechno, with inspired segues between the two modes, plus off-the-top-of-the-(hot)head lyrics that gave new meaning to the term "loose."
A couple of other photos of this event are here.
Below is a discography of Dusseldorf musician Stefan Schwander, who records primarily as Antonelli Electr. (as in "electric" or "electronic"? I used to say the former but after hearing it the other way a couple of times I'm starting to just say "electer"). Schwander also plays keyboards with the Elektrotiki combo The Bad Examples, but is best known for his dance work, consisting of very minimal, catchy compositions performed mainly with sequencers and drum machines. Antonelli's club hit, the super elegant track "I Don't Want Nobody Else But You," combines a house four-on-the-floor thump with shimmering electro chirps and a plaintive vocoder, but in the years since that release, Schwander's output has become more abstract and stripped-down: the recent Antonelli disc Love and Other Solutions is very much of a piece with cuts under his supposedly more ambient Rhythm_maker alias. No matter how pre-planned and systematic the work is, Schwander has a gift for melody, exquisite production skills, and knack for conjuring a soulful vibe--the tracks may be even more powerful for being chopped down to a few interlocking tunes. The man is the funky Dan Flavin of the music world.
ANTONELLI ELECTR. RELEASES - LONG PLAYING
Peng Peng Baby, CD (Stewardess)
Me, The Disco Machine, CD and 2x12" (Italic)
Click, CD and 2x12"' (Italic)
Love And Other Solutions, CD and 2X12" (Italic)
ANTONELLI ELECTR. RELEASES - SINGLES, EPS
Handclaps EP, 12" (Stewardess)
Bohannon, 12" (Italic)
Composure EP, 12" (Italic)
Automatic Music, 12" (Italic)
I Don´t Want Nobody Else But You, 12" (Italic)
Dubby Disco, 12" (Italic)
The Source Of Design, 12" (Italic)
Chrome Vanadium EP, 12" (Italic)
The Vogue, 12" (with Miss Kittin) (Italic)
Pictures, 12" (Italic)
ANTONELLI ELECTR. REMIXES
"Waitin For the Mornin" on Follow You to the End of the World, 12" (WMF Records)
ANTONELLI ELECTR. APPEARANCES
"Unintense" on Clicks & Cuts 2, 3xCD and 4x12" (Mille Plateaux)
"Dubby Disco" on Fabric 01, CD (Fabric (London))
"I Don't Want Nobody Else But You" on The State of e:motion Vol. 7, 2xCD (E:Motion)
"Mrs Maze" on Staedtizism 3: Instrumentals, CD and 2X12" (~scape)
"Introducing:Unemployment" on DJ Mix 1/2, 2xCD (Dream Machine)
"Composure" on Dancer - The Italic Collection, CD (Italic)
"The Vogue" on Dancer - The Italic Collection, CD (Italic)
"Nachtclub Pavement" on Dancer - The Italic Collection, CD (Italic)
"Nachtclub Pavement" on Steve Bug Presents The Flow, CD (Cocoon Recordings)
"Dubby Disco" on Nighteffect, CD (WMF Records)
"Lovers Inn" on Clicks & Cuts 3, 2xCD and 3x12" (Mille Plateaux)
"Picture Yourself" on The State Of E:Motion Vol.10, 3xCD (E:Motion)
"The Vogue" on Untitled, CD (Spex Magazine)
"Time Destroying Machine" on Live Sets At Ego 1998-2000, 2xCD (EFA)
"Dubby Disco" on Dj Kicks, CD (Studio !K7)
"Lila Pause" / "Wer Tanzt Humpelt Nicht" on Station 17+ Hitparade, CD (Mute Records)
A ROCKET IN DUB RELEASES
If Music Could Talk, CD (Italic)
Rocket No. 1 [+ 2], 12" (Italic)
Rocket No. 3 + 4, 12" (Italic)
Rocket No. 5 [+ 6], 12" (Italic)
Rocket No. 7 + 8, 12" (Italic)
A ROCKET IN DUB APPEARANCES
Rocket No. 3 on Immer, CD (Kompakt)
Rocket Nr. 0, Rocket Nr. 2, Rocket Nr. 3, on Dancer - The Italic Collection, CD (Italic)
Landing CD (Background Records -Germany)
Alles Mainstream EP - 12" (Background Records)
REPEAT ORCHESTRA RELEASES
Themes From Repeat, CD (ATC or "A Touch Of Class")
Pure Silver EP, 12" (A Touch Of Class)
A Deeper Ground, 12" (A Touch Of Class)
Private Life EP, 12" (A Touch Of Class)
Personal Soul EP, 12" (A Touch Of Class)
Backpool EP, 12" (A Touch Of Class)
SWIMMINGPOOL (with Michael Scheibenreiter) RELEASE
Anything That Doesn't Move CD (Combination - Germany)
POP UP (with Jörg Burger) RELEASES
Pop Up (12"), Pop Up 2 (12"), Pop Up 3 (12") (Pop Up label is a joint project of Italic and The Popular Organization -Germany)
THE BAD EXAMPLES (Elektrotiki group including Schwander on
Slow Music CD (Ata Tak - Germany)
The River, the Night, the Moon, Temptation and You CD (Ata Tak)
Elektrotiki CD (Ata Tak)
Merino EP (Ata Tak)
Profis Like Us CD (Ata Tak)
Last night I caught a couple of musical performances at Siberia, a scummy, graffiti-scrawled punkoid club across from the Port Authority at 9th Ave. The Experimental Makeup has been described as "roots electronica"; they use a combination of hotwired analog equipment and heavily filtered digital sequencer loops. The result was a long, continuous (I would say) ambient piece that occasionally sequed into dub. The dub parts were the best, with one of the players crooning dumb stuff like "let's go to the beach" in a Gary Wilson-meets-Damo Suzuki voice. The burps and sniggles emanating from the analog equipment were frequently ear-tickling (if that's the right word at these decibel-levels). Next was Makita, as in the drill, "from Berlin," which was much more rockin'. The singer and guitarist were respectively Wolfgang Mayer and Tom Früchtl, who I had just heard a couple weeks back as 2/5 of Discoteca Flaming Star. Also playing was a laptop-and-keyboard percussionist (name pending) supplying a fast-thumping rhythm. Described by Früchtl as "powerbook deathmetal," the music consisted of revved-up metal tropes played very rapidly and proficiently, while Wolfgang shimmied his exposed midriff and sang lyrics like "This is the end of the society of fun" and "my blood is boiling" (I occasionally thought of Nitzer Ebb, plus a guitar). One song lyric consisted solely of numbers: "666-767, 666-767, 666-767..."
Last night I went to hear Diskoteka Flaming Star at the BQE Lounge in Brooklyn. It's a duo from Berlin that plays with musicians assembled on the spot in whatever area the pair happens to be touring. Practice sessions can be as brief as an afternoon, so we're talking some real Portsmouth Sinfonia potential here. I was invited by artist Tom Früchtl, visiting from Munich, who has also played guitar in German punk bands over the years. Früchtl was part of the backup ensemble, which included another guitar player and a drummer playing a laptop keypad. The music was nothing as chaotic as I expected--a lot of it was quite soulful and melodic. Very strange mix of krautrock, electro, AC/AC, Abba, and karaoke, with anti-charismatic singer Wolfgang dressed like a goth chick in arm stockings and black crocheted cap (his face has some of the cragginess of Klaus Kinski's, even with 2-inch false eyelashes). His bass-playing partner Cristina Gómez Barrio, a sultry brunette from Spain, also did the gender-confusion thing, with an emphatic song about the size and potency of her balls. Highlights included a duet in Spanish, a rad cover of the Stooges' "We Will Fall," and a plaintive riff on "Sexual Healing."
Before the concert, Früchtl introduced me to Nathan Abbott,
who makes electro tracks under the name Freezie
Freekie. Later I checked out a couple of samples on the
(a quite interesting New York imprint specializing in electro
since the mid-'90s) and liked them a lot, particularly the
dreamy filter-swirl of "Slow Decay." In the middle of the
concert Abbott suddenly pointed out that Diskoteka Flaming
Star reminded him of Tuxedomoon
(an art punk band from San Francisco that moved to Belgium
around 1980)--the electronic percussion, the noize, the art
vibe was certainly all there; the main difference being
guitars (Tuxedomoon was bass, beatbox, violin, sax, and
keyboards). Anyway, interesting comment; it made me listen to
the music in a different way, imagining how it might have been
to hear TM doing the punk cabaret of their early years
(documented on the 1987 record Pinheads on the Move).
Here are three recent techno tracks I'm playing a lot: Mitte Karaoke's electro-inflected "Panda Bär" (and the Ego Express Remix) on WFM; Velocette's "Tabloid" from the Potboiler/Pulp/Tabloid EP on Parallel Recordings; and Dan Curtin's "Magique Astrologique" from the Orbital Love Triangle EP on Player. All of these are complex and multilayered and keep you guessing what's coming next. Curtin's an old hand at this: mixing (machine-made) breaks and 4/4-thumping within the same track, varying melodic sequences, and constantly weaving in new motifs, so that the finished work is a little piece of classical music. The Cleveland native is sometimes compared to Juan Atkins; I'd say he's Stan Kenton to Atkins' Duke Ellington, making the techno canon trickier but also a bit geekier (this is OK).
Of the three tracks mentioned, though, my favorite is
unquestionably "Tabloid." I don't know much about Velocette
(aka Jason M. Williams) but I love the three EPs I own; the
label, Parallel Recordings, is based here in NY so I'm
guessing he is too. "Tabloid" has a kind of sputtering
midrange synth running over a broken beat throughout the
entire song; it's intermittently tuneless and grating but very
insistent. Midway through, a melody line that's just angelic
floats in over the top, a kind of sibilant/nasal chorus
reminiscent of CIM's "geosat fill" (another favorite track).
The combination of extremes gives the song its mad edge.
Simon Reynolds has finally traded the browser-filling text-blocks on his website for the semi-browser-filling text blocks of a weblog, and it's worth checking regularly. Currently up are his 2002 Faves. One of the best (practically only) writers on electronic dance music, he helped me get a handle on all the breakbeat techno & hardcore I was obsessively taping off radio in the early '90s, so I was pleased to see I owned 3 discs in his Top Ten: Kaito and Boards of Canada weren't surprising, but I can't believe he endorses Recloose's Cardiology! In an earlier post I described it as "music to make street-purist Simon Reynolds curl up in the fetal position." I love that CD, of course, but what a shock.
He still maintains his homepage,
and the articles there on the Electroclash scene and the movie
24 Hour Party People are both excellent.
I've decided to follow Cory Arcangel around on the lecture circuit (not really, but this was the second talk of his I attended this week). Last night he spoke at Dorkbot-NYC, a once a month gathering that meets at Columbia U's Computer Music Center. The theme of these events is "people doing strange things with electricity." Dafna Naphtali and Liubo Borissov also gave talks. (Photos of the event are here. On the top row, Cory is the third picture, in cap and sneakers; that's me in the second pic, holding a cup.) After the speakers I was privileged to see an amazing sight, a shrine before which all electronic music fans should bow in reverence: the original synthesizer, a pre-Moog (1950s) phalanx of hardware built by RCA that literally fills a room. It's a staggering, rack mounted monolith of vintage knobs, toggle switches, patch cords, and vacuum tubes, with keypunch equipment (to enter the music score) resembling manual typewriters holding rolls of player piano paper. The behemoth hasn't been fired up in about 10 years, but it is a thing of beauty.
What follows is something I rarely do, which is dump a bunch of raw notes on the lectures. I'll be reshaping these into an argument eventually. In a nutshell, Arcangel rejects current pre packaged software and makes art at the most basic level by getting inside a Nintendo cartidge and reprogramming it; the other two artists use state of the art digital tools taken straight off the shelf, either alone or in combination with other software. Either can be valid ways of working but in this instance I prefer Arcangel's end results. Because he's a good artist, NOT because he can program.
video game systems - first proprietary code
6502 chip is key: runs atari, commodore 64, early apple
beige recording artists (arcangel, davis, bonn, beuckman) discover it also runs nintendo games
makes political, aesthetic sense to work on that level (reprogramming chips)
you don't rely on proprietary code
you don't rely on libraries
study of the limitations of the system
learned how to crack them thru "lots of emails to swedish kids"
mario bros. - earliest, crudest nintendo game
arcangel uses EEPROM (electrically erasable programmable read-only memory) chip burner - like cd burner - to make modifications to chip
used by "home electronics nuts"
shows ambient video of mario clouds: "that's kind of like the new style"
"actual factory-soldered mario clouds"
"not a copyright violation because not a copy"
it's important to do things down in machine language
assembly language is simple: "if______/then_______"
easier than java
audience member: "so what you're saying is, you don't have to know as much, you just have to do more work"
(UPDATE: I asked Cory by email how assembly language differed from development language (see below); he replied: "Well to put it most simply, one does not have any 'objects,' or routines to inherit from. On a new computer programming language you can usually write something like 'draw red pixel at 10 pixels down and 20 pixels across on the monitor,' and it will appear. In assembly language you have machine level access to the computer therefore you have to actually write the code that will place that pixel there because aside from routines built into the hardware, you are not forced to inherit code from other people. So on a Nintendo you have to wait for the electron beam to jump to the top of the screen [happens 60 times a second], and then put values in certain registers. Then in the brief period that this electron beam is jumping you can draw some sprites to the screen at the values you poked into the microprocessor. I like it because once you get down to looking out for the TV's electron beam, you know you are getting some low level access to the idea of 'video.'")
for super mario bros clouds piece, Arcangel used text editor
to identify specific clouds
i shot andy warhol based on hogan's alley
less popular shoot em up game - "pre duck hunt"
cartridge has 2 chips - one for operating system, one for graphics
couldn't do it all in graphics; hogan characters were symmetrical and andy was asymmetrical so had to go into os to find mirroring (UPDATE: Super Mario clouds and Andy Warhol are diffferent types of hacks, per Arcangel: "[Andy] is a hack of the graphics chip although I also had to modify the program chip a little bit because I had to change the colors, and also flip some graphics around because my new characters were asymmetrical. Clouds is just a program chip hack.")
to write the code for the chip, Arcangel uses a 6502
assembler running on a mac; the assembler's code is MPW
(Macintosh Programmer's Workshop), a game development
language, which runs on top of unix (UPDATE from Cory by
email: "An assembler is a program that takes assembly
language [which is a kind of short hand] and turns it into
machine code [which can be burned onto a chip]. My assembler
happens to be a port of an old UNIX program that runs under
MPW on a Macintosh. There are many different assemblers for
many different platforms so the idea of it being MPW and
from UNIX does not really matter. Sometimes I use an
assembler that runs on DOS, and NOW I use one that runs on
OSX called nesasm. Usually I would not get into that, but I
suppose someone asked me a question and I had to explain
exactly what I was using... Actually now I am trying to not
use an assembler at all and just write the compiled machine
code by hand in 1s and 0s. Just for a challenge. This is
because Joe Beuckman and I kinda came up with the idea to be
a real BEIGE members one has to write in 1s and 0s.")
cartridge hacks done in rom, then tested in emulator (UPDATE:
as Cory explained later by email: "an emulator is another
piece of software that runs a compiled program for the
system it is emulating. They are mainly used so people can
play games they grew up on, using modern computers. So for
example with a Nintendo emulator, I can play super mario
brothers on my MAC." His preferred one is RockNES)
"harder to reverse engineer than engineer" - one audience member takes issue
other project: collaboration with paper rad (Providence RI
telling story with projection in background
(like puppet show?) no, 8-bit version of machinima
one more project: rave videos
writing programs with the mario software (demonstrates blinking geometric grids made from changing background colors - a high speed, better version of jeremy blake's early grids imho) taking advantage of mario's ability to sync up with the tv raster at 60 lines per second refresh rate, which is twice as fast as video (32nd lines per second)
tag line: "twice the psychedelia"
audience member: will you ever work with game boys?
"game boy irks me"
"higher end audio"
uses MAXMSP music software
processing audio live
digital chamber-punk ensemble
video synthesis from music
"making fire dance"
synthesized tabla drum - jerkily "dancing" flames (i did not like this - too new age)
music program used: reactor - modular synthesizer like maxmsp
edits "standard fire synthesis effect" in aftereffects, using parameters based on sound.
"communication" - looks like advanced early 90s rave video
ballet dancer with superimposed abstract painting
uses poser program for video of dancer
poser creates transitions between one pose (motion capture) and another
traces of shadow of dancer correspond to sound data
uses studio artist paint program for blue painting overlaying dancer
g-force moderates between studio artist and sound
poser option: "render as painting"
example of mapping sound to image: bass to physical size
Last night I attended an evening of electronic/noise performances, organized by LoVid at Gale-Martin Fine Art in lower Chelsea. The theme was "artists working with homemade electronics and electronic signals," and the vibe lay somewhere between that photo of Microsoft employees circa 1975 (fashionwise) and a Survival Research Labs performance in 1986 (intensity level-wise). Cory Arcangel began with a Power Point presentation about the history of Motorola 6502 chip (used in Apples, Commodores, etc) which "made low cost home computing possible." He then gave an amusing, faux-sloppily illustrated step by step procedure for his Nintendo cartridge hacks, which involves busting open the cartridge and adding to/deleting from the existing chip with an emulator program (to write code compatible with the Nintendo software) and a chip burner (to put the new code on a chip, which is then soldered into the cartridge). On display were two of his recent efforts, an abstract honeycomb version of an old-school shoot-and-run game, and an ambient video of slowly scrolling cartoon clouds. Following Arcangel's lecture, which drew appreciative laughs, Gavin R. Russom & Delia R. Gonzalez set everyone's teeth on edge for about a half hour with a dense, wall-of-sound feedback assault, produced with bolted-together analog equipment. Both musicians performed in a kneeling position, with two of the crudest portraits on canvas I've ever seen obscuring the control consoles. This was OK but too long. Next was LoVid (Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus), a really tasty combination of knob twiddling sound and fucked-raster video. Some exceptional psychedelic static patterns projected while the music blurted and coughed. The last performance I stayed for was Nautical Almanac, a kind of Frankenstein synthesis of soldered analog patch bays and hacked Casio-type digital instruments. The two performers did primal scream spazz-outs with mikes in their mouths (a la Lux Interior of the Cramps); the sounds that emerged from the alligator-clip-sprouting instruments were as unpredictable, rapidfire, and sophisticated as stuff from the Miami (Schematic) glitch school, but really raunched-out and ball busting. It was nice seeing/hearing all this chaos inside the denuded white walls of one those monster Chelsea art-boxes. Great evening.
One of my current favorite musicians is Adrien Capozzi (aka Adrien75), whose work emerges from the late '90s ambient drum and bass scene but incorporates aspects of much earlier styles--'70s "jazz fission," RIO (rock in opposition), and Canterbury stylings. He released two superb, and very different discs this fall: 757, on Worm Interface, and Coastal Acces (sic), on Source. The first is kind of bouncy and melodic with warm analog synth melodies and nods to the early '80s, and the latter is a slow, tripped out series of impressions of the California coastline, with understated but intricately programmed rhythms and washes of industrial sounds. I first discovered Capozzi's work hearing "Smack Rabbit" on a NY radio show, a gorgeous instrumental that could have been a combination of the early Mothers, Milton Babbitt, and Bill Evans (if that makes any sense); subsequently I tracked down his amazing work with Doron Gura, under the names Unagi Patrol and Microstudio (among other aliases). He's an American Original who deserves a lot more attention.
Thoughts on Monotrona, Cory Arcangel, and the return of Old School Vid Games. I've never been much of a player of videogames but I love the distinctive, cheap-synth-meets-sped-up-player-piano sound of the early consoles. There's something beautiful and stupid and perfectly reductive about those adrenaline-filled melodies, as urgent in their own way as Ramones songs. In 1983 Haruomi Hosono, of the Japanese technopop outfit Yellow Magic Orchestra, released an LP of game ditties on the Alfa label; the genius of his Videogame Music was that he didn't "interpret" the tunes but presented them straight up (according to this Hosono fan page, VGM was the first of what went on to become an established genre in Japan). Of all the tracks on the album--"Xevious," "Bosconian," "Pac-Man," "Phozon," "Mappy," "Libble Rabble," "Pole Position," "New Rally-X," "Dig Dug," and "Galaga"--only the last got some YMO-style musical embellishment; everything else was treated as found sound. I bought the album in the '80s and listened to it with the proper degree of quasi-ethnographic disinterest, as if it were a Harry Smith collection of folk ballads, but also just plain enjoyed it. Not only did the anonymous composers compress the entire musical spectrum--classical, pop, show tunes--into the smallest number of bytes, they wrote some damn catchy tunes ("Dig Dug" is still stuck in my head).
Videogame bleeps and sniggles were an important component of the early '80s "electro" scene, which was primarily urban hiphop and synthfunk in the Man Parrish/Afrika Bambaataa/Roger Troutman mold (see David Toop's A-Z of Electro for a definitive rundown). Pop culture has been revisiting that scene for a few years now in connection with the '80s nostalgia boom, and videogame sights and sounds are once again in the air. In this post I discuss two careers that are somewhat tangential to the taste-cycle, but nevertheless informed and uplifted by it. Monotrona is a post-feminist, posthuman musician/performance artist who uses old-school electronic gadgets in her act: her new CD, Hawkeye and Firebird, prominently features ancient Commodore 64 game sounds. Cory Arcangel is a computer artist associated with Beige Records, the definitive electro-slacker (but not really) combine.
I first heard Monotrona on the Stork Club on WFMU-FM (a sadly missed live music show), around '97 or '98, performing "Joey, a Mechanical Boy,” which was described as the "fourth in a 14-section work called the 'Fourteen Imitations of Man.'" The story--told in music and dialogue, all performed by the artist using a variety of accents, vocoderlike filters, etc.--was extremely weird. Joey is an ectopically-spawned robot child who goes to work for NASA. His mother, in a ridiculous Chicago accent, tries to reach him on the phone and is headed off by the "Dark Technical Force," a gnostic demiurge that has a strange hold over Joey. Meanwhile, two shadowy government operatives discuss a rogue scientific scheme to create a ManWoman. The piezoelectric puppet show includes some really beautiful songs in the Chrome/Suicide/Throbbing Gristle postpunk vein, performed with buzzy, distorted keyboards. After the performance, Stork described Monotrona's equipment for listeners as "a mountain of unpatented cheap toy electronics adapted for her use--an indescribable array of electronics centered around a Casio machine, using light sabres, pistols, all sorts of mixers, and an oscillating device that looks like a little recipe box with two joysticks coming out of it..."
Clearly Monotrona's act is visual as well as sound-based, but I've yet to see her live. Searching around the Internet I found a number of baffled and/or dismissive reviews of her stage show. Nevertheless, as a radio musical "Joey" was brilliant and I've been eagerly awaiting a followup. It finally arrived last month in the form of Hawkeye and Firebird, an 8-song, 21 minute CD on Menlo Park. Evidently her "14 Imitations" cosmology has morphed into a gesamtkunstwerk called "Superbeings," and the CD's title characters are two more personae in that scheme (I note that Joey is still on the list, too). Some listeners may be put off that she sings all the songs in the pidgin-English, little-girl voice of Hawkeye, a "Korean superhero" who flies around the world in her airplane accompanied by Firebird, a legless robot slave. ("People awound the world are afwaid/Don't worry people, we will fight and save the day!") The vocal conceit works well on about half the songs, and the music is consistently arresting. She integrates game tunes from the Commodore 64 ("Hotrod," "Monty on the Run," "Sanxion," "Crazy Commets") into the songs sometimes as the primary melody (I think), other times as effects and fills. All of the tracks have the breakneck speed and delicious brevity of the best game music, and there's at least one Gary Numan reference.
The Commodore 64 also appears on The 8-Bit Construction Set LP, released in 2000 by the musical ensemble of the same name: in addition to Cory Arcangel, the group consists of Paul B. Davis, Joe Beuckman and Joe Bonn. This unusual record is marketed as a "dj tool" that includes samples and lock grooves for use in live performances. "8-bit" refers to the very low memory computers first introduced in the '70s and early '80s, including the Atari line, much fetishized by geeks. Meticulously organized, The 8-Bit Construction Set has an "Atari side" and a "C64 side"; each includes samples and "scratch tones" taken from the respective computers (including sound clips from ads used to sell them back in the day), about ten locked grooves with beats and simple loops played on the machines, an original 2 or 3 minute composition ("Saucemaster" on the Atari side and "Dollars" on the C64 side), and a track of actual data that can be recorded on audiocassette tape and fed into the appropriate computer (these sound like fax machine tones until you translate them). Highlights include a promo of Alan Alda hawking the Atari to nervous first-time users, and the two aforementioned original tracks by the group, which are slammin' Detroit-style electro (wish there were more of them). With two copies of the record you can amuse your friends and pets by performing long, trippy Steve Reich compositions using the lock grooves and a fader; I'm not embarrassed to admit I tried it.
The DIY aesthetic also infuses Arcangel's visual work, particularly what he calls his "Nintendo cartridge hacks." On his website, he describes in mind-shattering detail his process of disassembling game cartridges and adding or subtracting characters and backgrounds. This compulsion to educate is part of the Beige Records schtick, as explained in this New York Times article:
The [8-Bit] stage show was a testimony to nerdiness. It wasn't enough for the group simply to play dance music on old Atari and Commodore 8-bit computers and show homemade "Star Trek"-like films. It continually stopped its show to announce the type of computer being used, how much memory it had, its assembly language and other technical minutiae. This was an attempt not just to show how difficult sophisticated electronic dance is to make on such retro technology, but also to savor the moment in the limelight that the group members' cumulative hours of computer reconstruction, programming and yard- sale searching had bought them.
For his piece I Shot Andy Warhol, Arcangel took apart a cartridge called Hogan's Alley, a fairly elementary target-shooting program, and substituted new characters on a chip of his own making. The object of the hacked game--and it really is this simple--is to aim a plastic pistol at the screen and hit the Andy Warhol icon whenever it pops up in the alley, while avoiding hitting the Pope, Colonel Sanders, and Flavor Flav icons. The game ends when you've made 10 misses (including erroneous celebrity kills). In another part of the game you take potshots at falling Campbell's soup cans, and flouting the laws of physics, make them bounce upwards through an open window.
on this page I've dissed art-smart art using videogames, and
still think the idea of blowing apart a Foucault text in an
arcade-style shoot-em-up is pretentious. At first I was
annoyed by the concept of I Shot Andy Warhol. Oh, no,
not him again. But after playing the damn thing at Eyebeam Atelier (and I
must proudly say, advancing the TOP SCORE on all 3 subgames) I
have to say it's so focking stoopid it's OK. It is what it is:
an opportunity to be vicariously transgendered (if you're a
guy) and sociopathically kill an important-but-overhyped art
world figure again and again. (My only two "misses" were
plugging Colonel Sanders twice; that was pretty fun too).
Recent listening: Swayzak's newest, Dirty Dancing, is, I'm sorry to say as a fan, the pits. Awful cover--what were they thinking?; too many tracks with guest vocalists; too many self-conscious attempts to capitalize on the '80s revival. The only track I really like is the last one, "Ping Pong." Adrien Capozzi aka Adrien75 has a CD out on Worm Interface under a new alias, 757. The CD title is also 757. Really interesting musician. Fans of To Rococo Rot, Richard D. James, Kit Watkins/Coco Roussel, Alan Gowan/Hugh Hopper take note! (Listen to the track "Two Cats" here; also good is "Dusseldorf," which is like Kraftwerk's "Neon Lights" set to a raga beat.) Two old-school tracks from Clay's Pounding System show on WFMU recently caught my ear (check out the stream for 9/25/02 on his archive): Eazy E's "Nobody Move" and Coldcut's "That Greedy Beat." The late 80s/early 90s were truly a golden age.
People sitting in a darkened theater stare at a large reflective surface, while cell phones ring randomly throughout the room. The typical moviegoing experience at Times Square? No, it's a musical piece called Dialtones, which I recently learned about on dratfink's page. This "telesymphony," performed in connection with the Ars Electronica festival and funded by Swisscom Mobile, etc, is a half-good idea that just doesn't know when to quit. Check out the exhausting spec sheet--it's a social sculpture, it uses corporate switching systems as a found medium, it employs a lot of clever programming and hardware, it's electronic music, it's live performance, it's an audience participation piece, it has flashing lights, it has graphics, it has Mylar!
This kind of MIT Media Lab product (at least one of the performers went there) just pounds you with technology. It's essentially a loss leader for the tech industry, crafted by geeks whose art sense derives from rock concert multimedia shows. Audience members are asked to register their phone numbers when they arrive for the concert, special ringtones are downloaded to their cells, and then a musical ensemble "plays" the phones in an auditorium by punching buttons on a graphic display. So far, so good, I guess, but do we really need spotlights hitting the audience members when their cells ring? Keychain lights distributed to everyone that glow red two seconds before the tones go off? To see all this activity in a reflective mirror? The visual element is as gimcrack-filled as a Spielberg movie.
The piece assumes an audience with near-infinite time,
patience, and trust. You have to be willing to queue for a
seat assignment, surrender your private number (to whom
exactly?), and accept the downloaded "custom ringtone," all
for the sake of one concert (to remove the tone, you're
presumably on your own). Thirty minutes of antiphonal chirps,
climaxing in the inevitable "crescendo of sound," might be
pretty interesting to sit and listen to in the dark, if you
weren't also being forced to "participate." The authors
dispense grant-panel-friendly nonsense when they say this
participation is "active," though. Your creative input
consists solely of choosing a ringtone (doesn't the phone
company also call this "creativity"?) and deciding what exotic
handwaving motion to make when the spotlight hits you. The
spec sheet doesn't mention another option you have that would
definitely affect the "texture" of the piece: turning off your
"Electroclash" (taking its name from the annual festival held in NY, now in its second year) is a rather confused, marketing-driven conflation of early-'80s electro, which is basically urban dance music/hiphop, and synthpop, which is Euro-styled new wave rock. These two types of music had the barest of common ground back in the day. Arthur Baker produced "Planet Rock" and then worked with New Order; both types of music use synths and vocoders; that's about it. If electroclash was just DJ music it would go nowhere--it's the "new wave nostalgia" angle (i.e., marketing it to white people) that's selling it this time around. I really don't buy the crap from Electroclash's promoters that "these kids (going to EC parties) are too young to know about Kraftwerk, Nitzer Ebb, etc." It was the music their parents had playing around the house when they were tykes in the 80s. (Well, maybe not Nitzer Ebb.) I guess I'm one of those purists referred to in this Village Voice article. I'll take the Mantronix/Drexciya/Man Parrish/DJ Assault (forward-looking) strain of what i call "electro" over the kitsch-retro, Human-League-by-way-of-Fischerspooner strain any day. I see no reason to coin a term to combine the two genres in the absence of any true innovation. But I realize it's out of my hands.
Addendum: Simon Reynolds covers this subject with his
usual compulsive thoroughness here.
He thinks the main thing that distinguishes electroclash from
electro is vocals, but then criticizes electroclash vocals as
pretty thin overall. He also thinks the new music is
technologically sprightlier, less plodding than '80s music,
and I agree: "There’s a textured intricacy to the rhythm
programming and production that testifies to the technical
advances of the last 15 years of digitized dance music, to
lessons that can't be unlearned."
Aux Men is the new name of Detroit's Aux 88 collective, which lost a key member in the mid-'90s and recently got back together. The Men played a "history of techno 1976-present" set at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival last May (along with some of the "names" from techno groundbreakers A Number of Names), and were profiled in the Detroit Free Press. According to the label notes to their new EP "Project 1" (Puzzlebox records): "The electro revival can attribute some of its early beginnings to Tom Tom, DJ K-1, Posatronix, and Black Tony, all formerly of Direct Beat Records..." Nevertheless, the act has never been pure electro: as Brendan M. Gillen (aka BMG of Ectomorph) writes in the Detroit News, Aux 88 "blend[ed] smooth Detroit techno with rough street rhythms." The new EP continues that mixture: "The Vibe" features the synthetic boing-boom-tschak of the Dynamix II school of beatmeistering but "Condor," my favorite cut, has the slithery high hats and mellifluous hooks of more jazzy May/Atkins-style techno (it's a fantastic track; I've been playing it over and over). Somewhere in the middle is the excellent "Behind the Lines," which starts with a rave-y power-line purr and ends with sampled strings.
Determining whether something is electro or techno may seem
pointless and/or arcane, but both influences are still vital
and usually one is clearly ascendant over the other: figuring
out which helps to convey the flavor. One thing gumming up
criticism, though, is the indiscriminate use of electro to
describe what is clearly just synthpop. If the Industry's idea
of an "electro revival" is just a retread of early-'80s-style
songs (Human League, Yaz, etc., a trend touched off by the
campy Fischerspooner) then lets hope it's over soon. It'd be
great to see Drexciya and Aux Men topping the charts but
that's not likely since there's no "star."
Paul B. Davis's "Pretty" EP (downloadable here) is a gem, combining electro, ambient drum and bass, and 21st Century classical influences in a thought-provoking, hummable package. "it's 4:30 am friday and i don't care anymore (edit)" kicks off the proceedings with Jean-Jacques Perrey samples over an early '80s style beat box: the arpeggios cycle faster and faster until the track ends with an emphatic "4-3-2!" "whiskey headed woman" suggests the awkward marriage of Stockhausen and Squarepusher, with jerky cello stabs punctuated by high-speed drillbeats. (Davis' roots in the academy--specifically the Oberlin Conservatory--show here: according to the liner notes, the piece contains samples of Brian Ferneyhough's "Time and Motion Study II for Solo 'Cello and Electronics"). "I need to freak" closes Side One splendidly, with a babble of computer generated sprechstimme resolving into an unspeakably lovely chorus: "C'mon baby let me freak you to the right/C'mon baby let me freak you all night/Baby I need you every day of the week/C'mon baby let me show you how I like to freak." The sexual strutting of the the (Rick) Jamesian words is belied by the melancholy of the posthuman voices, and the song ends abruptly, leaving the listener with a solid case of goosebumps.
"Everytime I go outside I get a headache" features an
infectious, jazzy rhythm played with brushed cymbals and
snares (by way of the sampler); the melody is also kind of
loungy, albeit intercut with submarine sonar pings and
timestretching effects. This piece is slinky, moody, and
Herbert-esque in the best sense; Michael Reinboth should
anthologize it post-haste in his Future Sounds of Jazz series.
The record ends with some piano-noodling and more complex
rhythmic filigrees in the title cut "Pretty"; the analog synth
that surfaces halfway through revives the electro feeling of
the first track, bringing the EP full circle. The disc is
confident, complex, and heedless of fashion in its willingness
to combine genres and thwart expectations: more work from
Davis is greatly anticipated. (Beige Records, 2001, www.beigerecords.com)
Here's a list of music I picked up today at Throb, an excellent dance disc shop in Manhattan specializing in electro and tech-house tracks:
Drexciya Grava 4 2LP. Electro, begat by Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa and New Order and still thriving in the digital age, is dance music at its most defiantly synthetic (as Kodwo Eshun puts it, "there are no snares--just waveforms being altered. There are no bass drums---just attack velocities"), and Drexciya is the Detroit variety at its most beautiful and pure. The following may be the world's wordiest sample: "Use the star chart to fix the celestial navigation point and from there you should be able to plot a path back to earth using rudimentary astronomical guideposts." (From the track "Astronomical Guidepost.") Amazingly, the Drexciyans make this sound incredibly funky.
DJ Assault Jefferson Ave CD. Not as hard-sounding or vital as the singles in Belle Isle Tech. A kind of studio concept album, with skits, like a potty-mouthed 3 Ft High and Rising. The sexual imagination on display is strictly Vivid Video, and the misogyny wears thin, but there are nice melodies sprinkled throughout.
Herbert Bodily Functions CD. More lovely vocals from Dani Siciliano. I'm indifferent to Herbert's clicks and coughs and clattering dishes as percussion, but they don't ruin his music for me either. I like 1998's Around the House better as a whole, but both that and this one are worth owning.
Ultrasound, Hospital Records compilation CD. Jazz hooks intertwined with drum-and-bass beats in this 1997 collection of UK artists: predominantly tracks by London Electricity and The Peter Nice Trio (how could anyone dislike something called "The Peter Nice Trio"?). I go back and forth on this stuff: when it sounds like fuzak (or has flutes) I hate it, but when it's a nervous, staccato, techy revisiting of Canterbury-style prog/rock/jazz ideas from the early '70s (Soft Machine, Hatfields, Caravan) (which is often), I'm completely on board.
Volumes C-D, G-H of Berlin 2001 Compilation Bpitch Control label (2LPs). Speaking of electro, here's some great Berlin variants. Favorite tracks so far: White Dolemite "Nice Acid (2001)," Toktok "Sekker," Barbara Morgenstern "Dr. Mr." (the latter with Michael Nyman-esque strings--most odd).
Marin-Go-Round. Derek Marin "Inhale/Wanna Get Wit" EP. Marin works at Throb and also djs. He's got the tech-house thang down cold. Not sure if Lap Dance Records (with graphic of dancer losing bikini bottom) is the right look/label/image for sounds this lofty. Platonik "Don't Look" EP. Marin again, on Intrinsic Design, a label whose previous releases include the "Galactic Schematix" EP by Entity (aka Lucas James Rodenbush aka EBE). This is total class. Here's what djonline.com, out of the UK, had to say about the disc: "This torrid tech houser comes from Derek Marin under the Platonik moniker. Here are three bonafide stompers that will fire up your dance floor in a hurry. "Don't Look", "Skeptic (Was It Good For You?)" and my personal favorite, "Friction" should be included in ANY dj's set. Deep, dark and tribal...doesn't come any better." Clock Punchers "In-Just" EP. Marin and dj/fellow Throbster Carter Reece remix tracks. I really like Reece's contribution. Very minimal; kind of simple and mysterious at the same time. it makes me think a bit of Trike's "Country 3000" but with a lot more pep.
[Addendum: Here's a review I found (cached) from the starbass website describing the Clockpunchers disc--I love this writing.]
carter reece and derek Marin (known for his work as platonik
and modest d on the plastic city, intrinsic design, red
menace, and a touch of class labels) drop their latest release
supplying three cuts of potent tribal tech-house. the ep kicks
off with a full-sided mix that works a driving progressive
house edge as resonant percussion and bass-driven atmospherics
intertwine to form a building, flexing groove echoed with
hypnotic vocal snippets in a heavy 4/4 flow. the b-side kicks
off on a morphing liquid tech-house tip rippling with dubby fx
and tuned log-drum percussion, finishing with a slick minimal
thumper building up a focused percussive format and layers of
radiant loop manipulation.
My listening has been bipolar lately, alternating between fairly pristine German minimalist house and florid, funky, latter-day manifestations of kozmigroov.
In the former, stripped down vein, I recommend 3 recent mix compilations: Michael Mayer's IMMER (Kompakt), Steve Bug's The Flow (Cocoon Recordings) and Swayzak's Groovetechnology v1.3 (Studio !K7). All are DJ'd by musicians who also make their own tracks, and all have a strong point of view. "Self styled dub techno house blokes" David Brown and James S. Taylor (aka Swayzak) have assembled cuts with an audible bearing on their own music, with hints of electro, reggae and postpunk (e.g. Wire) sniggling in and around the mid-tempo beats. Some of my favorite tracks are Wolfgang Voigt (as Studio 1) doing robot Bob Marley on "Lila," the 60-second moogasm of CIM's "RNA," and the Mike-Ratledge-on-Angel-Dust keyboards of Pile's "World Record Holder." On the Bug CD, I like the rave-up ending of Hakan Libdo's "Kiki de Montparnasse" fading into the pulse of Antonelli Electr.'s "Nachtclub Pavement," the cheerfully out-of-phase wah-wah of SWAG's "The Soundworks," and have even grown to like Marshall Jefferson's spoken-word account of playing "tongue hockey" with an unknown female while on 'shrooms. On the Mayer comp, A Rocket in Dub's "Rocket No. 3" (that's Antonelli under another name) flanges along nicely, and John Selway's "Flying Far" is ecstatic and poignant without getting corny. The only track I DO NOT like is Phantom/Ghost's "Perfect Lovers (Unperfect Love Mix)": "Ve are 2 perfect lovers/besides zuh fect dat ve're not there..." UGGGH. One more techno CD (not a comp) that should be mentioned in passing: Bolz Bolz's Human Race is a complete hoot. The spirit of Krautrock thrives in these chugging analog loops and goofy samples ("take a walk/take a bath/take pains/to take an exam"), but this is nevertheless not what I would play if I was trying to turn someone on to recent electronic music. It's pretty close to metal.
On the Nu-Kozmigroov tip (my own coinage?) I recommend Cardiology,
by Carl Craig protege Recloose (Planet E), AtJazz's Labfunk
(Mantis Recordings), and every volume of Michael
Reinboth's ongoing series The Future Sounds of Jazz
(be sure it's on Compost, not the other label doing a series
with the same name). This is music to make street-purist Simon
Reynolds curl up in the fetal position, but f*ck it, I'm older
than he is, I collected a lot of Kozmigroov the first time
around, and I'm really excited it's back and being done so
well. A fundamental, keystone work for these recordings, IMHO,
is Herbie Hancock's Thrust, augmented by new
loops-and-breaks technology, so if you're into that
Rhodes/Clavinet/Bass-synthesizer vibe, and wonder, like I do,
how jazz kept taking wrong turns after the '70s (first fuzak,
then the formaldehyde classicism of Wynton Marsalis, et al),
you'll be glad to know that there's a new crew breathing life,
energy, and science into the form.
Geogaddi, the new Boards of Canada CD, is good, but I actually prefer their four-track release from 2000, in a beautiful place out in the country, with its herky jerky rhythms and subtle allusions to David Koresh. The standout track from the new CD is "1969," with its Stephen Sondheim-like vocoder duet, ending on the repeated phrase "1969 in the sunshine." Meaning "1969 basking in the cathode rays cast by a dreary after-school special from the Canadian Film Board, waiting for the Big One to drop." Picked up three late ('97-'98) CDs by Larry Heard, "house music's one true bona fide genius"--an assessment from Mixmag I'm inclined to agree with. Heard processes Sly Stone, Pat Metheny, and Happy the Man's Kit Watkins through house's 4/4 thump and arpeggiated loops, pulling the warmest imaginable sounds from those machines of his in Memphis. Heard rules! Finally getting around to early '90s Alec Empire, when he was still a My Bloody Valentine-meets-ambient groove machine. Limited Editions 1990-94 is highly recommended and still available. The first third of John Tejada's Backstock is a nice self-mix of his own tracks; gets a little dull and then perks up at the end. More consistently exciting is Roni Size's mix of recent Full Cycle tracks on Through the Eyes. Yes, I still like Drum and Bass. Some stuff bought blind off Forced Exposure: Electronic Cosmetics on Salo (a nice comp of recent, tuneful Berlin techno) and Monolight's Free Music, a bit more abstract but very listenable selection of three-synths-and-an-effects-deck chittering.