Archive for November, 2006

The Billion-Dollar Synthesizer

November 20, 2006

Here’s something interesting I found at the ORIMA website, specifically their “History of Experimental Music in Northern California” section. Rich Gold; a digital artist and technology lecturer, composed a set of instructions for “Billion Dollar Synthesizer”… better known to most as two phone handsets taped together, each “speaking and listening” to the other. (more…)

“Light and Roundchair” & “Live Journal 12.28.05”

November 20, 2006

A quick search for reviews of Grundik Kasyansky’s Creative Sources Recordings release “Light and Roundchair” will provide little more than links to writers attempting to describe the delicate aural fabric that comprises this inscrutable work. Like everyone else; I find myself drawn to the slivers of sound that you can feel in the back of your throat, the dense layering of saturated static, disembodied radio voices, and threads of noise that present themselves end on. But it is what hasn’t been said that is possibly the most intriguing aspect of “Light and Roundchair”– out of the thousands of transmissions and signals within this album, not a one is directed at us.

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Throughout “Light and Roundchair” Kasyansky primarily makes use of feedback synthesizer and radios for his sound sources. All but a handful of events bear the distinct sound of transmission and communication. Sounds of radio tuning, interference, radio shadows, ghost signals, and wave refraction are all present here; often interacting to suggest something like awareness of each other. Some sounds compete in opposite ears, while others appear to fight to survive strangulation by another. Like plant growth, the delicate and superfically-static nature of these works belies the almost violent activity occurring.

In terms of communication, listening to “Light and Roundchair” is a little like being in a removed, but privileged, state of eavesdropping; something like an operator or a spy. But whereas most albums assume a listener at the final end of the chain of communication, “Light and Roundchair” doesn’t seem to. With some unease, you may find yourself wondering– in the end– if this “conversation” is occuring when you’re no longer listening.

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Ironically, Kasyansky’s “Live Journal 12.28.2005 (from the Argentinian label Rruido) doesn’t seem to have as much of this “eavesdropping” quality. Recorded before the final day of the “Light and Roundchair” sessions, the 19-minute minidisc features a solo feedback synth recording. While the recording quality is very nearly the same, I have an amateur impression that the final product could use some tweaking. Whereas “Light and Roundchair” is very well balanced throughout, “Live Journal” has more of an immediate, unpolished feel. Perhaps this is to be expected from a journal. As a document of ideas and moments in time, it certainly holds my interest.

Improvised music at “It’s Too Damn Early”

November 19, 2006

This week’s show was an improvisational session with guest Tony Youngblood. Years back, we hosted an hour-long improvisational radio program together. With the exeception of a very few tracks, almost everything in this week’s playlist was mixed, layered, looped, and used to create a greater “whole.” I provided siren whistles, traditional whistling, no-input mixing board, cassette loops, tambourine, and balloon. Tony contributed acoustic guitar, loops, percussion, slide whistle, tambourine, and music box. We made a great mess, had quite a bit of fun, and got the whole thing recorded. The following files are sound clips from portions of the show. I will do my best to describe what was happening for each:

Sound clip one: This is from the beginning of our improvisation. Sources include Phill Niblock’s “Held Tones” from “YPGPN”, various percussion, my no-input mixing board setup, and amplifier hum.

Sound clip two: Underneath the looping harmonics and plectrum sounds of Tony’s guitar, there are sounds of balloon rubbing, no-input mixing board, and possibly a cassette loop of small humming noises.

Sound clip three: Ian Yeager’s “Music for Guitar and Computer” mixed with Yuko Nexus6’s “Le chanson de l’adieu”, from the “Yuko Nexus6 Songbook” album. I enjoy blending things in this manner during many of my broadcasts.

Sound clip four: Tony’s looping guitar figures play off of rhythmic patterns created by selectively fading Tom Johnson’s “The Chord Catalog” in and out. The chords you hear are taken from the 715 nine-note chords, not a single one of which repeats.

Sound clip five: Sampled elements from the video of “1984” provided a few years back by the Big City Orchestra are layered with OiMa’s “My Wonderful Has a Laugh”, and Roland Kirk’s “Saxophone Concerto.” Also present is Neil Rolnick’s “Gate Beats” from the Shadow Quartet album.

Call for submissions!

November 19, 2006

As you may or may not know, it is my New Year’s tradition to broadcast the most futuristic experimental music I can get my hands on. I also generally become angry about the distinct lack of jet-packs, meals in
pill form, and undersea glass bubble homes.

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Anyhow, I am issuing this CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS to all artists in order to insure an excellent supply of hyper-futuristic experimental music. I am looking for sounds that suggest the glorious possibilities of what our future can hold– although I may be otherwise throughout the year, I try to be hopeful and positive for the New Year’s broadcast. In other words, dystopian sounds need not apply.

Because of the nature of this broadcast, I will put no other constraints on your submission. I only ask that you use you imagination to its fullest– the best submissions will be those with no grounding in history, that sound as if they have literally arrived from a future time. Please send your most forward-looking, futuristic sounds to:

WDBX c/o DaveX
“New Year’s Show Submission”
224 N. Washington St.
Carbondale IL 62901 USA

Psicklops

November 19, 2006

Psicklops is an ambitious, multi-artist collage loosely organized in a sort of narrative form. Produced in part by the Rhode Island label Free Matter for the Blind, Psicklops claims to be a “sequel” to Franz Kafka’s dystopian manuscript “The Trial”, a goal which becomes increasingly irrelavent as one listens.

Superficially, Psicklops deals with marketing, surveillance, censorship, and a totalitarian lifestyle somewhat reminiscent of that found in George Lucas’ film THX-1138. Sometimes, the dystopian elements seem forced– a little too put together– it is the helplessness, chaos, and absurdity that makes “The Trial” so horrific; even a “helpful” voice such as the one giving occasional instructions throughout Psicklops would have been a point of light for the main character.

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Nevertheless, Psicklops still manages to get the listener thinking. Are these horror elements no longer as potent due to their increasing appearance in daily life? Can we consider the nature of labels, artists, and listeners to be a totalitarian one? How about performers and composers?

Even the presentation of Psicklops is charged with meaning. Originally having made its debut in a week-long series of mostly simultaneous broadcasts and “screenings,” Psicklops listeners were encouraged to gather in silence, and listen intently. Suggestions were even made to encourage listeners to “imagine yourself somewhere bright and warm.” This is a far cry from the vaguely rebellious “PLAY LOUD!” advice one sometimes finds on the back of a record jacket.

So where does that leave you? Like the poor fellow, K, subject of the titual “trial,” maybe more than a little confused. One thing Psicklops steadfastly refuses to do is spoon-feed a listener the answers. But in an age where so many forms of art and media are unwilling (or unable!) to even ask the questions, it would be a poor choice to sentence Psicklops for the crime of not handing us our next thoughts.

Voice is the Original Instrument: Early Works

November 17, 2006

Like most people, I find that when I really, really enjoy someone’s work; I have a hard time being anything but enthusiastic about it. Helpful descriptions, neutral explanations, and what little ethics I possess seem to vanish. Gosh! I just want to share music like this!

But that doesn’t make for a very interesting review, does it? At the very least, I can explain why I maintain an “open door/no waiting” policy for broadcasting Joan La Barbara works– she’s just amazing. Mind you, the music on her Lovely Music two-disc retrospective “Voice is the Original Instrument: Early Works” was mostly recorded before I was born. At the latest, I was all of two years old– and its a fair assumption there were no La Barbara records in my crib. Considering this, it would be safe to assume I’d hear her multi-track tape works, quadraphonic pieces, and yawn while reaching for a Venetian Snares album.

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That’s where you’d be completely wrong. As she has apparently proved time and time again (and its really fun seeing her “prove” it in fast forward over two discs!) La Barbara is one of the most talented, forward-thinking, and truly exploratory artists ever. Some of her more audacious outings here include sensory deprivation, attempting to “sound paint” a picture of the California night sky (complete with galaxies!), and creating a sort of disembodied “duet” with Cathy Berberian’s tape-recorded simulacrum.

So yes, I’m astounded. I’m thrilled. I’m running out of adjectives. Add this to your listening pile, right on top.When you regain your powers of speech, you’ll thank me for it.

Memory Like Water

November 17, 2006

Some of the most rewarding aspects of experimental music are the variety of ways musicians and composers approach sound. For some (and I think of Joan LaBarbara) sound is something like paint– it can be layered, spread, and mixed. For another artist, perhaps Phill Niblock, sound is like light; it fills a space fully and changes as we alter our relation to it. And if I can be allowed to imagine further, I will say that for Matt Rogalsky, sound is like an atom.

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For atoms, it is not only important to understand how much, and how many, and what type; but to also recognize the forces that bind them. In this sense, the “empty” space is equally important. Ions, compounds, and complex chemicals are not just added “pieces” they are a re-arrangement of space. In the XI Records 2-disc release “Memory Like Water,” Rogalsky often uses these “empty” spaces to musical effect; custom software teases out unnoticed detail, alters duration, and changes their relation to the original sound itself. In a way, Rogalsky breaks sounds into pieces smaller than their elements– something like musical fission. I picture these unstable sounds… What is the sound of something with only duration?

Like all my favorite musicians, Rogalsky sees the possibilities for sound creation everywhere. A violin, guitars, and radios are each used in a different working of the composition “Kash,” and the source for “Sprawl (western magnetics)” is apparently another compact disc!

Personal aesthetics aside, “Memory Like Water” is a well-assembled album. Flawless sound clarity and full-bodied tones are the norm for XI releases, and these discs do not disappoint in this regard. I appreciate the well-written, informative liner notes, which deftly avoid spoiling a first listen while still providing a lot of info.

DaveX interviews Supermodernist musician Frank Rothkamm

November 17, 2006

DaveX:  Interestingly, in the few days prior to your disc’s arrival, I had been part of a listserv discussion about microtonal tunings and new instrument designs for accommodating such tunings. The day before I got your disc, I had asked a question about whether or not anyone had ever utilised an entire piano’s keyboard, but modified the instrument in such a way as to span only one or two octaves. From there, some other members replied that such a thing was possible in MIDI, and that Carillo had used a 96-tone scale on a piano.

I posted about your FB02 liner notes where you mention the IFORMM’s “768 frequencies per octave”. I said that I assumed this to be the end of the “how many” sort of discussion we were having. Another member wrote off to microtonal composer Warren Burt, who wrote the following…

“Well, I did a piece once tuned in cents, so that might be considered 1200 tones per octave….but the point is, how are the tones used? Is there really a compositional way to make all 1200, or 768 tones perceivable as different from one another? Actually 768 rings a bell….that’s the number of tones per octave available on the old Yamaha TX81Z, I think (early fm synth).”

Of course, there is the FB01 in the pic on the cover and as you can see by now, I’m very curious about the IFORMM setup. Why 768 frequencies? (more…)

Yermo

November 16, 2006

Sometimes, one of the most difficult things about reviewing and broadcasting music is dealing with the social nature of music itself. For the reviewer, its not enough to try to understand the effect of an album or band– but there is the doubly tricky part about knowing where the album or band actually came from. Such a problem arises with the Yermo’s self-titled release on Last Visible Dog Records. Not only is half the album (specifically, the track “Irrlicht Verfallen”) a reissue from a previous Yermo release “Moth to the Sun”, but some portion of the band was previously in MCMS, an older project of label head Chris Moon.

You can begin to see where not being related to these guys would be a distinct disadvantage. In this situation, it would be nice to have some good liner notes– but the Yermo release only offers the barest of these, which is a shame, because listeners love to feel included– and that’s got to help any album.

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But what the album lacks in liner notes, it certainly makes up for in terms of sound. Boasting excellent dynamics, and fine recording quality throughout, Yermo showcase some of the most avant-garde material I have yet to hear from the label. Pulsating sirens, tube whistle phasing, and earthen rumbles are all present in the intriguing (if somewhat meandering) title track. The second track reminds me somewhat of Aube, or a more contemplative Guilty Connector.

In the end, Yermo is a solid release– not as good as some of the real gold at Last Visible Dog (the re-release of Davenport’s “Free Country” immediately comes to mind), but certainly not among the few duds (I can’t imagine wanting to hear any more of Eastern Fox Squirrels, for instance). I’m very excited that LVD has some odd electronic noisiness lurking inside it, as well. This would be a great album to add on to your next order– it will be different from the rest, it will draw your ears in new directions, and you may even save on shipping.

Montreal Sound Matter

November 16, 2006

John Cage said that “When we separate music from life we get art.” From what I’ve read about Cage, he probably meant this at least two different ways– one, that art is something existing outside of the ordinary, in its own world; and two, that “art” is a false distinction– a label, nothing more. And if he saw it these ways, I’m sure he was equally comfortable with both. For the purposes of this review, though, I’m going to focus on the first.

“Montreal Sound Matter,” a Pogus Productions release initiated by Francisco Lopez, presents nearly an hour of inscrutable sound tableaus– sourced, but divorced from, their origins within the city of Montreal. Although Lopez speaks of an “intentionally restricted universe” of sound possibilities, my skeptical side says that a city of nearly 2 million people is still a pretty big field. To open up greater possibilities, the artists shared their environmental recordings to create a common pool.

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As always, it is the individual handling of the sounds that makes the difference. Tomas Phillips’ track “White.gray” begins with a nearly inaudible low hum and disappears long enough to make you question whether you hit the pause button. Soon, returns as some sort of electrical siren/insect granular chirp. Chantal Dumas manages to work all manners of birds, both simulated and natural, into her piece “s/t w/t”. It is especially interesting to note the un-reality of even the most natural sounds– their volumes in relation to one another, their placement, movement. It is a wonderful collage where all properties of sound are in flux.

As is common with many albums I enjoy, I am left with a sense that there is not only more to be heard, but more to learn.

Startling Moniker recipient of dubious merit award

November 16, 2006

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How’s this for gumption? Startling Moniker is all of two days old, and it’s already the featured blog for “Experimental Music!” I guess all you have to do is pick a tag nobody has written about for three months. Next week, I plan to be the featured blog for “Blue Oatmeal”.

Bruiducoeur, prieres des infideles

November 16, 2006

These days, the word “awesome” has been slumming. You often find it dripping from the mouths of teenagers to describe anything from shoes to run-of-the-mill horror movies. Danielle Palardy Roger’s latest work, “Bruiducoeur, prieres des infideles,” is bringing back the “awesome” I enjoy– the biblical “awesome”, a pathetically human attempt to describe the terrifying mixture of fear and overwhelming power we feel when confronted with forces beyond our control.

It is in this unenviable position that we find the central character, “HIM” as he is dying; delirious, frightened, and without comfort. Although he is joined by “HER”, who matter-of-factly describes his deterioration; and the “CHOIR”, occasionally offering commentary on his (and our) fears– he is essentially alone. And, as the choir repeats: “Even when he was alive, he was not very courageous.”

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As with all Ambiances Magnetiques releases I have encountered, “Bruiducoeur, prieres des infideles” is immaculately produced and recorded, and contains detailed liner notes. I am continually surprised at the label’s willingness to even attempt to render the incoherent glossolalia of “HIM” in type– in the original French, and accompanied by an English translation– where appropriate! (Lines like “Hhghaaaaaaa Hhgheeeeeee Hhghooooooo” are hardly translatable!)

This is a very challenging work, but unlike some works where a composer asks us to imagine a giant glacier, or an obscure electronic theory; Roger meets the listener halfway with the universal fear of death. With less luck, this could be any of us.

Bottom line is that this album is quite challenging. Fans of Robert Ashley’s recent work may find a darker, more European take on life’s end with this album. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more of Roger’s work.

Special broadcast guest this week!

November 15, 2006

This week’s broadcast of “It’s Too Damn Early” will feature a special guest, Tony Youngblood. For long-time listeners of my radio broadcasts, Tony’s name will be familiar as my old co-host from “~Ore~ Prefab Audio Extrapolations”. Ore was a truly experimental freeform live improvisation into sounds of all kinds. These days, Tony has been fine-tuning his songwriting, but I suspect he still has a large streak of weirdness in him. As for me, I may be bringing in a modified record player or two, various small sirens, and lots of mixable recordings. If you have never heard the show before, this will be a fine episode to begin with. Check my homepage’s schedule of local times for the correct time in your area.

Startling Moniker says “Hi”

November 15, 2006

Startling Moniker will feature reviews of experimental music releases, thoughts about sound, and “director commentaries” of my weekly broadcasts from WDBX 91.1 FM. For now, visit  “It’s Too Damn Early” my radio show’s homepage. Thanks! –DaveX