Archive for the ‘DIY’ Category

Some thoughts about hosting my first soundwalk

July 19, 2010

First off, let me say that I think the soundwalk went quite well, despite a couple challenges. The main obstacle was arriving to find a good portion of campus actually closed down. Apparently, the Illinois budget problems are reflecting themselves here in Carbondale– I had never seen the Student Center locked up before, nor the library, so I had to make some last-minute changes to the soundwalk itinerary. I had anticipated some reduced student population, but it had not occurred to me that the buildings themselves would be closed.

We also had some hot, humid weather. Fortunately, the soundwalk participants took it like pros, even when it later turned into a full-fledged rain shower. I was particularly impressed by the local reporter who trooped along with us– many would have gotten their quotes in the first ten minutes, invented an “important meeting” and boogied on back to the AC– kudos, Tom Barker!

So here’s the nuts and bolts of things. I’d like to share some thoughts because I’ve seen so many different ideas lately, especially on the “Phonography” e-mail list.

I started planning the soundwalk by considering a few basics first: duration of the soundwalk, ease of physically accomplishing the walk itself, and accommodating certain sounds that I considered essential. The original route actually came to me quite easily, in a rather organic fashion. I started at a location that I believe is a “resting/meeting” spot on campus, one from which it is simple to move to a variety of different places. I took some time here, just listening, figuring out what sounds were of interest. Then I’d take a bit of time in a space nearer to those, sometimes moving in an unexpected direction, but mostly attempting to obey ordinary human movements. In other words, if foot traffic pointed in a certain direction, I’d generally head that was as well.

As I moved from place to place, I kept a small notepad open, allowing me to keep a list of sounds I heard in different areas. I made no real attempt to cause sounds to occur; everytime I see this sort of action in a soundwalk, it strikes me as somehow false. I don’t want to say it’s completely wrong, but it seemed a poor choice for my purposes. Later on, I’d amend this feeling a little. In addition to the list of sounds, I also kept a list of ideas, just little phrases or concepts that would pop in my head as I considered the sounds themselves. A bell reminded me to discuss issues of power and noise, a creaky escalator prompted me to think about the use of our sense of hearing as one of our earliest warning signals to danger.

Eventually, I typed these lists up, organizing them sequentially by their location on the “trail,” with separate headings for “sounds” and “ideas”. I was very glad I did this, as it helped me re-plan the soundwalk path upon discovering the various buildings were locked up on the morning of the soundwalk.

I won’t go into the specifics of what we heard or where we went, but I do want to share a couple of my practices with you. First, I took some time before arriving in each location to engage in a small thought exercise. I asked the participants to think about what sounds they expected to hear, and also to make a mental list of adjectives they would use to describe the sound of that area as well. When we moved to the areas, I’d again ask them to reflect on these thoughts, comparing their experience to expectation.

Additionally, I would occasionally ask the participants to take a “mental snapshot” of the sound of an area, for later comparison to another. I also mentioned that they could use these “snapshots” to compare the same places during future visits in other seasons, etc. I cheated a little bit, though, check the photos: that’s Mo running the Marantz, doing her best to capture the soundwalk!

My typed list came in handy during the walk. I never expected that I would refer to it constantly, but it did serve me well for gathering up some of the ideas I wanted to discuss so I could sort of “check them off” along the way. Because I often had to find a new example to replace a sound locked up in a building, the list helped keep me focused.

I think flexibility is a must on a soundwalk as well. The newspaper article mentions that the low campus activity level was “inconvenient,” but in actuality, it was just different. As I explained, there are different sounds to be expected at different times– so the super-quiet campus because a great way to highlight the transient quality of many sounds we consider more permanent. It also made the true soundmarks stand out all the more. At one point in time, I nominated a sidewalk lamp with a large metal dome covering as a miniature soundmark. My thought was that it stands quite constantly, and will always make a small sound to note the falling of a nut or raindrop on it’s metal top. Unlike the campus clocktower, which has functioned intermittently for the past 20 years, this lamp had remained. With little or no reason to replace it, this small soundmark might be one of the most enduring on campus!

Happily, the soundwalk participants seemed to really enjoy the process. A few new sounds and sound-related phenomenon were noted, so there was an element of shared discovery to the event. As a rain shower started to blow in, we found ourselves passing through the campus woods, on the walking path through this sizeable forest. We had taken some time to listen to the sound of the wind, birds, and insects, but we had yet to hear the rain itself. Underneath the leaves and a darkening sky, we took a vote on whether to stay for the rainfall or head for the parking lot– I didn’t want to be responsible for any camera damage, or wet clothes! We ended up staying, listening to the gentle patter of raindrops on the leaves, and the occasional bird call. All in all, a pretty nice way to finish off a soundwalk!

High Carb Low Life #6 is out!

May 8, 2010

If you can’t find a copy with the bonus CDR, download it here.

2nd Annual Noise Summit!

March 15, 2010

Now is the time to get in touch if you’re interested in performing, attending, or just want more information about the 2nd Annual Noise Summit!

Style City limited edition CDR– out now!

January 23, 2010

Style City’s “The Happening” CDR is out now, available in a trades-only limited edition of 10. Some are already in the mail, so don’t sleep on this!

The artwork is great– each comes packaged in a vintage elementary school reading lab book; with handmade rubbings decorating the outer ribbon. A black-and-white insert and color collage interior round out this nifty-looking debut

Entirely the work of a 10-year-old girl and a synth nearly three times her age; “The Happening” features minimal drones, surprisingly morbid lyrics, and an ode to giant robots. Highly recommended for fans of The Shaggs, Chica X, and outsider art.

Download a free copy here, or send a message to: stylecitymusik@myspace.com for availability.

Liveblogging! Commentary for “ITDE” 1/23/10

January 23, 2010

I’ve got Peter Martin (of Eddie the Rat) on the phone right now– he’s playing piano in a closet, and sending his efforts via speaker into a phone in another closet– all while trying not to wake the SFPD officer and her 4-year-old sleeping in the residence above.

Try finding that on corporate radio!

Anyhow, I’m pleased as punch about this set. The phone is giving us the usual “dial-a-fidelity” random qualities. In this case, adding a bit of ringing distortion to a handful of notes. Fun!

Peter Martin — LIVE phone-in set, WDBX-FM, 1/23/10
Eddie the Rat — Food For the Moon Too Soon, pt. 1
Eddie the Rat — Cannibal
Eddie the Rat — I Ovulate in Mode
Eddie the Rat — Spiritual Amnesia
Cesar Bolanos — Intensidad y Altura
Cesar Bolanos –Interpolaciones
Frank Rothkamm — Zahra Fugue 19, opus 467
Frank Rothkamm — Zahra Fugue 14, opus 459
Frank Rothkamm — Zahra Fugue 15, opus 460
Frank Rothkamm — Zahra Fugue 12, opus 457
Frank Rothkamm — Zahra Fugue 17, opus 462
Frank Rothkamm — Arppegiator
Frank Rothkamm — Rauschmittel
Grundik Kasyansky — 10.9.2005 (from “Light and Roundchair”)
Sous Su Toulouse En Rouge — Live at Dictaphonia Fest, 11/7/09
Mark McGee — Live at Dictaphonia Fest, 11/7/09
Vagina Teeth/Jesus Teeth — Live at Dictaphonia Fest, 11/7/09
Various — Runaway Train (from Ash International release “Runaway Train”)
Skozey Fetisch — Face Rub As Objective Convex Device

Today’s show turned into a bit of a drawing festival (something which I need to do more often, I miss this!) with Karthik, DJ Mo, and The Weasel contributing. I thought I’d share the results:

DJ Mo's pen and ink

A pencil sketch from Karthik

An early, untitled work from The Weasel-- can an electronics enthusiast convert this to a schematic? What would it do?

Your Xmas giftie– Style City, “The Happening”

December 25, 2009

Here’s something to make your Xmas weird– download a ten year-old girl’s Casio SK-1 experiments! Style City’s “The Happening” EP features extended minimal drones, surprisingly morbid lyrics, and an ode to giant robots!

Highly recommended for fans of The Shaggs, Chica X, and Eyes Like Saucers.

Also available in a limited edition of 10. Trades only! Send e-mail to stylecitymusik AT myspace.com for details.

Visit Style City on the web.

~ORE~ History, pt.2

December 18, 2009

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that my first radio show was ~ORE~, which I co-hosted for two years with Tony Youngblood. Lately, I’ve been exploring the history of WDBX-FM, but Tony’s most THEATRE INTANGIBLE entry got me thinking about digging back into the history of ~ORE~. You’ll want to read the sister entry (fact: like ships, all blogs are female) before continuing here.

I’ve been with ~ORE~ in one fashion or another since it got started, at Southern Illinois University’s WIDB radio in 1998. By that time, I was a confirmed music obsessive, but I had yet to do anything with radio. Tony’s on-air collages caught my ear, and I started helping him compile raw material each week, which we would sift through during the live broadcasts. More often than not, the results were something of a trainwreck– but I gradually began to realize that I was building my listening skills, learning to improvise in a sound environment, and getting a serious education in composition as well. In effect, ~ORE~ was like experimental music bootcamp. The grind of producing a new episode each week with zero budget, amidst a full college workload was often intense. But ~ORE~ opened my mind to the possibilities of radio and music in ways that I hadn’t thought possible. I distinctly remember pitching one show idea to Tony that would take place entirely in engineering, re-routing cables and signals to see what would happen to the broadcast signal. Although we didn’t ever go through with this (admittedly rather hazardous) idea, the concept of multi-layered improvisation existing at all levels of the radio chain stuck with me– we could alter the music, we could alter the broadcast, we could alter the radios receiving it, we could alter the listeners… and they could alter us. The possibilities were simply staggering.

Tony and I had apparently soaked up Wu-Tang Clan’s greatest lesson, too– make it a franchise. Thus, the original ~ORE~ was endowed with “Prefab Audio Extrapolations” as a tagline. Even while fighting to keep up with a one-hour weekly broadcast, we were thinking of the future! At times, it seemed like anyone who was listening was actually AT the broadcasts, or helping make them. Although we were doing something amazingly different on the SIU campus, we didn’t exist in a bubble. Flyers and chalk were our outreach. Wednesday nights, we’d gather under the dim yellow lights of Faner Hall, and begin our amazingly huge chalk runs. We got our friends and family into it with us, making teams to cover as much of the 900-foot length of the breezeway as possible before the chalk bucket ran out. By morning, Faner was a pastel mess of dogs and cows spouting absurdist essays extolling the virtues of experimental radio, mixed with the inevitable Xeroxed flyers cooked up special for the occasion. Although the flyers rarely made much sense, we knew that they would reach others like us– weirdos, makers, noise-enthusiasts, record collector scum, freaks… our people.

When Tony graduated, I tried to carry on with ~ORE~ as best as I could. Now having found myself in the somewhat ironic position of being a more senior member of WIDB (I found this funny, because I had never officially joined), I made some effort to have a positive effect on the greater course of the station. But WIDB was floundering and directionless– and worse yet, it was splitting into two “factions”. On one side, WIDB had a core group of specialty-show DJs and music fans who were happy to continue WIDB’s long tradition of broadcasting in an oddball college radio format. They recognized that the freedom we were allowed for selecting our music brought with it a responsibility to showcase recordings and artists outside the mainstream, something that a commercial station cannot often do. On the other side, there were those who wished to emulate these same commercial stations, rendering WIDB little more than a warm-up “practice” space for those seeking jobs in corporate broadcasting. Worse yet, they wanted to cede more and more time to the automated programming, and were removing the specialty shows one by one.

The climate was rough, to say the least. WIDB had re-branded itself as “The Revolution,” an insipid and hollow slogan ironically describing whole days filled with nothing but a computer playing mp3 files in the back room for the bored, captive audience in the Student Center. I took to showing up at random times, shutting the PC off, and broadcasting miniature shows for anyone who would listen. Other DJs also stepped up to the plate– I heard others interrupting the automation as well, discussing the change over the air, or refusing to play the nonsense dictated by new programming rules.

But eventually, it got to be too much. I was tired, and ~ORE~ was beaten. I’d seen the new programming schedule, which literally crowned the station manager victorious by awarding him my old time slot. It reduced specialty shows by more than half, pushing them entirely to the weekends. The “Quiet Storm” broadcasting, which was arguably our most popular offering, was slashed dramatically. This was bizarro-world WIDB, and I wanted no part of it. On the night of the last ~ORE~ broadcast, the senior staff of WIDB was taking part in a pep rally on campus, attempting to out-shout other student organizations to show their spirit. I couldn’t think of a more fitting end to my days with the station– playing my favorite tunes to a dark student union, while the staff screamed about how amazing we were. After my last record was over, I posted some flyers to announce the occasion… and ~ORE~ Prefab Audio Extrapolations was dead.

Here’s some early flyer art for ~ORE~, and a bunch of other photos besides. I’ll do my best to explain them:

This was the core of the ~ORE~ family. I always liked this flyer, and felt that it represented us all well. Our “Mysterious DJ” was Will Bernel, AKA DJ Shad, AKA Willie Dynamite. I owe him a lot as a fellow DJ, and would love to chat with him again sometime!

This flyer is one of our “stealth” postings. Our flyers were often torn down by a campus Christian group, so I’d try to hide them in plain view for longer shelf life.

I love this one– “who gives a shit about our soundless room?!” Be sure to click these to see them large, okay?

On the surface, this one makes no sense whatsoever. In actuality, it describes the exact plot of “Doug’s Party,” our most infamous episode.

I re-worked the dialogue in this flyer many, many times, even employing it later at WDBX-FM.

I made this flyer in January of 1999, long before Franz Ferdinand would rip me off, lol.

Open these windows in a new tab– here, heeere, and heeeeeeeere— to see more of my flyer art!

Here’s Matty Smith, the station manager who was intent on turning WIDB into a total shitpile. As you can see, he was a complete tool. I got him to pose with a sign that had been posted at WIDB since I arrived, allowing me to subtly alter the content for greater veracity. Also present– a very young DJ Mo!

Here was Matty’s proposed schedule. See all the “pre-programmed” stuff? YIKES!

Long Live ~ORE~

I’ve got to imagine that WIDB is a different place now. New DJs, new ideas, and a couple solid webstreams have seen to that. Do yourself a favor and check them out— tell them DaveX said “hi”.

Reviews for 12/10/09

December 10, 2009

Neil Rolnick – “The Economic Engine” – Innova

Rolnick’s third album for Innova Recordings, “The Economic Engine” is currently top of my listening/dissection pile. Although I’ve never been a formal student of music, I’ve been having a very good time formulating ideas about the juxtaposition of Eastern and Western instrumentation in Rolnick’s China-inspired titular four-part suite. Complicating matters is the electronic processing of the instruments, sometimes yielding a boldly distorted call-and-response, or sometimes subtly making a tweak in pitch. I especially enjoy the second movement, “Farm to Factory” which is as fine a musical setting for the range of human experience in Chinese society as I can imagine– from the slow, cyclical days known to farmers the world over; to the headlong rush towards modernity witnessed by so many during this past Olympics. Also included is “Hammer & Hair,” which utilizes the acoustic sounds of a violin bow and piano hammers, creating an interesting blend of jazz and more abstract sounds.

Ralph White & The Horaflora Sound System – s/t – Resipiscent

Three multi-layered improvisations with kalimba, fiddle and banjo piped through a prepared speaker array recall Ross Bolleter’s work with playing decayed pianos, with an additional patina of electronic clatter throughout. The first track, “Buzzard and Rattlesnake Share a Meal of Honeycomb,” is by far the most raw. Recorded with binaural microphones, it sounds better with a good set of headphones, where the buzzing kalimba really has a chance to emerge from the general froth of distortion. “A Space Between a Chimney and a Swift” continues the instrument abuse, albeit in what seems to be a more controlled manner. Often, the effect is lovely, with bludgeoned echoes ringing in agreement with the melody. Don’t listen to anyone who compares this to Konono no. 1, by the way– though I’m sure the comparison will be made by any number of writers searching their pretty little heads for thumb piano players, this album has very little to do with “Congrotronics” beat-driven tunes save instrumentation. If anything, White’s far more like the fellow in my next review…

R.P. Collier – “Let Them Eat Flarn” – Self-release

I’m not for certain that this is an official release just yet, but seeing as how it’s in my stereo, I’m going to make mention of it here. Combining futuristic synth-work and handmade kalimbas, Collier sketches a weird universe of glassine forms moving about on unknown business. “Deploy” is a hoot– a good number of more recognizable synth samples (whistle, cowbell, hi-hat) jumble about, forming temporary rhythms before re-assembling in a series of new ways over time. As this disc was Collier’s response to my recent call for “future music,” I guess he figures the cowbell has some life in it yet. “Mang” closes the album with a hectoring cloud of synth chirps, burbles, and imperfectly-received transmissions from 20th century Earth’s island culture. It’s a strange existence for our descendants, sorting through the cosmic flotsam of our radio existence… but send R.P. a message and you might get to hear it today!

Reviews for 12/7/09

December 7, 2009

Various Artists – “Crows of the World, Volume 2” – Last Visible Dog

It took an extra year, but economics being what they are, I’m still happy to see Volume 2 of this set make it out of the gate. As nearly as I can tell this is an entirely new group of artists for this compilation, though it’s still well within what you’d expect from Last Visible Dog. Excepting “Skull Death Dive,” the opening burnt-out garage jam from Bury My Heart, this is a rather subtle disc. Ashtray Navigations and RST evince a heavier end of drone; but selections like Juppala Kaapio’s “Kagami Hebi” and Renato Rinaldi’s “The Bite” are gentle tours through an aural wonderland of unexpected sounds and odd direction. Basically, a lot to recommend already– but in truth, the highlight of the disc is “Movements Under Water” by Bosch’s With You. I was hanging Christmas lights outdoors while listening to it, and didn’t notice until much later that I had been mentally comparing the sounds of its slow-motion ringing to how I expected the twinkling lights to look. Strange thoughts for an afternoon here in Smallsville. Thanks, LVD!

Various Artists – “Serge Modular Users 2009” – Resipiscent

Go fig– a totally geeky compilation devoted to a synth I’ve never previously heard of, and it still manages to be completely enjoyable. This is synth how I like it: fifteen tracks of analog exploration, soundscapes, gut-shaking bass, and general weirdness. John DuVal’s “Distress Call” and Cebec’s “Transformer Substation” take a fairly understandable direction (alternately evoking a plaintive signal from deep space, and electrical mayhem), but others’ contributions are far more abstract. Still, if I drop the title of Carlos Giffoni’s “All the Mistakes I Made During the Caribbean Winter;” I have no problem getting into his bumpy, meandering series of increasingly hectic bleeps and buzzes. Most importantly, everyone involved seems happy to let their synths be synths without attempting to simulate trumpets, pianos, etc. A good set of liner notes (including complex directions for using one’s own Serge as a vocoder) complete this disc; which I recommend for fans of vintage electronics, Louis and Bebe Barron, and banana plugs.

Markus Jones – “Send & Receive” – Con-V

The Serge Modular compilation got me thinking about this free netlabel release, from May of this year. Markus Jones took what might have been an opportunity for some IT workplace phonography, and turned it into something much better– a chance to record actual sound transferred across a network, utilizing some 16 servers and 1200 ports for the sound data. The result is a highly-varied pulsing cloud of sound events, oddly seeming to have some internal structure that occasionally comes across to the listener. This isn’t a straight recording, Jones does mention some real-time manipulation of the sounds, but “Send & Receive” retains an exotic quality nonetheless.

“All Together Now” Festival line-up

November 16, 2009

If you somehow missed it, I’m performing the world premiere of John Cage and Lejaren Hiller’s “KNOBS” this Wednesday, as part of the “All Together Now” inter-arts festival. So far, I’ve been quiet about other activities happening (and this IS a HAPPENING) so check out the schedule:

WEDNESDAY is our kickoff. Like the start of a roller coaster ride after being secretly slipped some psychedelics; get pumped and hold tight.

4:30 – 6:15: ALL TOGETHER NOW takes over the INTERNATIONAL LOUNGE, showcasing Photography, 2-D and more by Jason Wonnell, John McCowen, Bridget Ryan, Kaley Venable, Photogenesis and more!
6:30-7:00: we will break into the student center auditorium for the OPENING RECEPTION/PERFORMANCE:
SIUIU (Improv unit) with DUAL KIT DRUMMERS MATT LIND and SAM from INFINITY WIZARD and POETRY by DAVE NELSON.
7:00-7:15: INSTRUMENTAL TRANSITION by James McKain (guitar/sitar) with PSYCHEDELIC MASHUP PROJECTION
7:15-7:25: AMBER GIRADO reading/DRAMATIC INTERPRETATION of EPIPHANY FERREL’S “Last Person on Earth” with zombie mashup PROJECTION
7:25-7:35: KEVIN FLINN POETRY set to a DEREK SMITH PROJECTION

7:40-7:55 INTERNATIONAL LOUNGE INTERMISSION: GET SOME DINNER!

8:00-8:25 Back to the AUDITORIUM as DAVE X orchestrates WORLD PREMIERE OF JOHN CAGE score KNOBS
8:25-8:45: KARTHIK KAKARALA SOUND/PERFORMANCE ART
8:45-9:05: PREGNANT TONGUES (formerly cloud cuckoo) performing to LIVE PAINTING
9:05-9:15: DANNY BROWN SPOKEN WORD
9:15-9:40: BLACK ON BROWN performs to PROJECTION
9:40: PEACE OUT TILL THURSDAY!

THURSDAY DAY 2
is AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION day. YOU bring it, we BLAST it for all to see and hear!

3:00-5:00: BALLROOM D- GALLERY TIME! Wednesdays favorites and NEW PIECES. BYO ART! Have it displayed! No Rules except No Pricetags! For the love of the game!
5:00-6:30: head back to the AUDITORIUM 4 SIU’s FILM ALTERNATIVES curated STUDENT SCREENINGS! and HOUR and a HALF of SIU auteurs. AGAIN, bringing your own work is ENCOURAGED!

6:30-6:45: INTERMISSION

6:45-7:45: SPECIAL SETS by MUSICIAN/VIDEO artists ALEX RYTERSKI, TOM VASILJ, and PATRICK BRENNEN; each performing ORIGINAL MUSIC to ORIGINAL PROJECTIONS
7:45-8:15: DUENDE ENTENDTRE (sound art/poetry)

8:30-10:30: BALLROOM D becomes a forum for LIVE ART MAKING and TUTORIALS on STENCIL MAKING and CIRCUIT BENDING, with lessons by graffiti artist GABE GOWER and sound artist DAVE X. Materials for creating your own stencils/circuit bent toys will be provided, but interested parties are encouraged to bring their own.
IMPROMPTU PERFORMANCES TBA

FRIDAY DAY 3
will be the end of the party.

6:00-9:00: BALLROOM D will again become a gallery presenting the best work from the three days.
SIUiu will be performing along with MATT and SAM,
PREGNANT TOUNGUES will play a set to live art,
and as a FINALE SIUiu will perform with an experimental film by DERON WILLIAMS accompanied by JOHN MCCOWEN

mystery tape update

September 18, 2009

I’m still ripping tapes– just finished number 27 a few moments ago. This has been a truly interesting project. I’ve got the dedicated PC sitting in my garage, so I bop down there every hour or so and change out tapes. Occasionally, I’ll find things in mid-rip, so I put on some headphones to hear what’s going on. Needless to say, I’ve had some interesting aural moments! Last night, I slipped on the headphones just in time to hear Tujiko Noriko whisper “I love you” quietly in my ears. It took me a moment to realize what the heck was going on, and then I had a good laugh. What timing!

I’ve also run into odd moments from my infamous “Ghost Show,” some awesome improvised drones, and some sort of spectacularly failing phone-in interview that I’ve yet to place. I’m going to have to refresh myself on this one– it seems to have involved quite a few people in-studio, but I can’t remember what the exact situation was.

As for the mystery tapes themselves, they’re coming right along. I decided to number the series (there will be 41 total) and scatter them to the wind over a long period of time. I haven’t decided on the exact method yet, but it will probably involve me carrying a tape around everywhere until it just feels right. Some of these are much more strange than others, too! While a good lot of these are “just” straight shows, there are a bunch that document extended improv sessions at WDBX, with little or no identifying information whatsoever.

Bent Rhythmer

June 26, 2009

I was fortunate to pick up a Kay R-12 “Rhythmer” at a yard sale last week. It’s not every day that I have the opportunity to pick up a vintage drum machine for a buck! Upon trying it out at home, I discovered that it functioned, albeit with an additional high-pitched whining sound occurring throughout the chosen rhythm. This had to go, but I wasn’t at all sure what was causing it.

The next day, I cracked open the Rhythmer, figuring that I might get lucky and spot some sort of loose connection; basically, I hoped that my extremely limited electronics repair abilities wouldn’t be too severely called-upon. It’s true– I’m less truly knowledgeable about electronics than I am a helpful combination of lucky and willing to experiment. After all, I only spent a dollar, right?

bent rhythmer

I didn’t spy any obvious broken parts, so I employed my next “technique”… start poking wires in there! Now, before I continue, let me bring you a short announcement from Reed Ghazala, father of circuit-bending:

“Trying to circuit-bend any device operating on the “house-current” of your wall outlet is OUT OF THE QUESTION!!! This holds true even in the instance of AC adapters. Circuit-bending is for BATTERY-POWERED CIRCUITS ONLY.”

There’s a reason Ghazala says this– it’s so you don’t set your instrument on fire, send blinding blue sparks into your eyes, or perform an act of auto-electrocution. It’s serious!

I did it anyway.

My first poke with my little wire tester miraculously cleared up the whining noise problem, go fig. Things were going well! Being somewhat excited now, I decided to get my bending tools (i.e. miscellaneous junk) together and approach the Rhythmer the next morning with the intent to fully bend the bejeezus out of it. This is generally where a commentator says “he’s going ALL… THE… WAY!” but I’m going to save that for later.

I started off by cracking open the Rhythmer open again. At the time, I failed to appreciate how difficult it would be to type the word “Rhythmer” over and over again. I wish I had photos of it’s guts, because they’re a bender’s dream– rows and rows of resistors, neatly spaced with huge gaps practically screaming for a molten solder jizz-baptism. The Kay company wasn’t interested in compact design, apparently! After prodding around for a while with my tester, I found seven good bends. I decided to stop there, frankly, because I’m not exactly hot with a soldering iron AND because I only had seven switches that I had rescued from some sort of Rat Shack TV switcher device earlier.

The switches looked really nice! Three-position toggles, fluid movement… but unfortunately, the pins were all pretty mangled from the de-soldering/yanking/cursing/poking my fingers process of removing them from their original board. I still managed to get all my wires soldered on, but it was a huge time-sink and a pain in the ass. I’m sure you’ve already noticed that these aren’t in the photo, right? That’s because of those dang pins! No matter how I tried, I couldn’t get the solder joints as strong as I wanted them to be. I didn’t relish the thought of cracking open the Rhythmer every time a bit of solder decided to flake out on me, so I junked them and rewired the whole mess to the bank of RCA jacks you see at the top of the photo.

Each top/bottom pair of jacks completes a bent circuit when connected by a cable. Rows 2-8 are the original seven bends, with the first row being reserved for the left-hand assignable trim pot. That means that I can “turn on” any of the bends by connecting the top/bottom jacks directly, or control that particular bend by running the cable from the top position of the pair (say, number 7) to the top position of number 1, then from bottom 1 to bottom 7… putting the pot in series with the bend. Naturally, this more open arrangement of jacks also means that I can explore some of the fun sounds that arise from connecting different circuits in series as well. There’s a lot more possibilities than seven now!

I also added the right-hand trim pot, hard-wiring it to the 8th position, which speeds up the rate of the selected rhythm. In fact, the rhythm speeds up enough to easily demonstrate John Cage’s rhythmic fact about the underlying rhythmic nature of sound– drum beats become tones. It’s great, and definitely my favorite bend so far. Adding the left-hand trim pot into the mix gives me an incredible amount of control over the precision of this bend. Another great quality of the Rhythmer is how different many of the rhythms are from one another. Because they make use of different sounds to build the actual rhythms, the same bend will often have unique results depending on what rhythm is selected from the front panel.

I also discovered the possibility of body contacts on the Rhythmer, something I’d assumed would result in me being fried.

“He’s going ALL… THE… WAY!”

Yep, body contacts. I’d forgotten that touching any ONE of the RCA cables wouldn’t be completing the circuit. Of course, I wouldn’t want to grab TWO…. but one at a time is enough to get some fun sounds going. You can hear the results in my sound sample, I’m using my thumb to create part of the beat at the beginning. The sound sample is about 11 megabytes, so give it a listen.

If you happen to come up with a better name for this thing than “Rhythmer,” leave it in the comments section! The best suggestion will get engraved front and center on the Rhythmer panel. Come on folks– you can do better than “Rhythmer,” right?!

I, Phone

June 1, 2009

My good friend and former co-deejay Tony Youngblood hipped me to the free download of one of his latest ~Ore~ broadcasts this morning, an all-iPhone-app improvisation experiment originally broadcast this April 26th, on Nashville’s WRVU-FM. It’s called “I, Phone” and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

From the ~Ore~ episode guide’s description:

Here we have six performers playing apps such as Noise.io, RJDJ, Balls, The Zombietron, Brian Eno’s Bloom, the Thereminator, Mobile Synth, SpeakEZ, Ocarina, iPhone voicemails, Bebot, and more. William Davis from Oh No It’s Howard, his friend Brian Zimmerman, Ryan Adams from Sunshine Bros., Pimpdaddy Supreme, Irony from Nerd Prom on WRVU, and myself make one hour of pure iPhone goodness.”

Of course, experimental music obsessives will want to visit ~Ore~’s MySpace page as well– there are download links for many of the broadcasts, many of which are in the classic ~Ore~ model of an extended improvisation based on some bizarre theme. Some of my favorites:

“Good Sir” — Storytelling and weird music collide in slow motion. Listen gets to decide, success or failure?

“Turn the Page” — Wherein six vocalists find their behaviors controlled by inert objects. Namely, a stack of action cards making odd suggestions.

“Random and Nameless” — Maybe you have to be an ~Ore~ vet to dig this one, where all hell breaks loose and everything goes pear-shaped. Amusing for listeners, but probably a gut-wrencher at the time. Also notable for holding the current “most participants in-studio simultaneously” record.


WDBX-FM transmitter fixed for now– still needs help

May 6, 2009

At about 11:30 last night, WDBX-FM’s transmitter developed a problem, temporarily taking the station off the air. Station manager BRP called one of our many kind friends, who has gotten us back on-air temporarily.

“Big thanks to Tim Deterding, our engineer, who dropped everything, drove over and diagnosed the problem, then made a few calls and drove to WTAO in Murphysboro to borrow an old exciter. When that one didn’t work, he drove to Marion for another and on the way back was stopped in a roadblock and got a $75 ticket because the company car he was driving had expired plates. After all that, he made it back, installed the temporary exciter and had us back on the air by 4am!”

Our own exciter still needs repairs– about $2000 worth. And hey, let’s be cool and cover Tim’s ticket as well. If you want to help out, call 618-457-3691 and make a pledge, or donate online. WDBX is going to continue our current membership drive until just before my show this weekend. How cool would it be if I came in to find that this extra $2000 had made it in?

Torrents!

May 3, 2009

(Quick note: the torrent files referenced in this post are being replaced with new links. Sorry for any confusion. –DaveX)

I have a new method for archiving my broadcasts now, one that results in a higher-quality recording for you, but a slightly larger file size for me. Because of this, I can no longer avail myself of Mediafire’s pleasantly-free filesharing service, as their limit tops out at 100 megabytes.

So I’m going to share them using bit-torrent, and farm some of the work off to you! If you don’t use torrents now, let me explain a bit about how they work. If you do use torrents, skip to the last line of this entry and start downloading.

Alrighty… I have two files for you at the end of this blog entry. They’re called torrent files. These are very small, and contain no music whatsoever. They’re something like maps that your torrent software (we’ll get to this in a moment) can use to find the recordings I’m trying to share with you. Once you open the torrent file in that software, it will download the actual file for you.

This sounds like a bit of a run-around until you understand some of the magic happening. As I write this, I have not yet shared these music files with anyone. But by the time you read this, any number of people may have already downloaded them to their computers. When you open the torrent file (the map, remember?) it will not only start sending the file from me, but from everyone else who has a part of the file that you request! In this way, everyone who downloads a file helps to share it. Even if you haven’t finished downloading the file, you will still be able to share the pieces you DO have– that’s the magic of bit-torrent.

All you need to start is your torrent software, and the torrent file itself. As for the software, you have a lot of choices. I’ve done a lot of looking, and I recommend you use uTorrent. It’s popular enough to have a good community of users, it does what it’s supposed to do in a regular manner, and it’s not a bloated piece of junk. My Mac and PC friends can all use it, and it’s free.

And now for the torrent files. These are tiny, so they download really quick! Open up uTorrent, and drag them in– the program will ask you where to save them– it’s pretty straightforward. You can see the size of the file you want to download (these are going to both be under 200 megabytes) as well as how much has completed. You can also see your ratio, which is fairly important. If you’re playing fair, it’s nice to keep your ratio at 1.0 or above– that means you’ve given away as much as you have taken, so you’re helping others get the files you download as well. If nobody happens to want the file and your ratio is low, it’s not your fault; don’t sweat it.

As always, I offer these recordings purely in the spirit of sharing. They’re not as good a quality as you’d get if you purchased the actual albums, and these aren’t split into individual songs– you’re getting one big 2.5-hour mp3. If you like something, get in touch with the artist or the label. If you can’t, I’ll dig them up for you. Enjoy these recordings!

Here’s the torrent file for the 4/25/09 broadcast. Here’s the torrent file for the 5/2/09 broadcast. Have fun!

Liveblogging! Commentary for “ITDE” 4/18/09

April 18, 2009

It has begun– the 1st Annual IlliNOISE Summit! And the Spring Membership Drive!

OH NOES!

Yes, it’s true. I somehow scheduled the Noise Summit for Membership Drive time. There’s no real harm, it just makes everything that much more chaotic. After arriving at 2:30 a.m., and nearly being scared to death by the quiet-footed station manager Brian, I got everything more or less set up on my end; cables, mics, my own performance gear, etc.

Cosmic Twilight Pimps are the first to show up– it’s 3:15 am, and I’m in the middle of the pre-Summit midwestern noise warmup– so they’re getting their mountain of gear ready to go. With a bit of luck, everything will be able to kick off at 4am. If not, I guess I’m going first, ack!

You may listen LIVE here: “Yes, I’d like my eardums blown out.

Two Glass Pyramid members have arrived, along with 2/3 of the Cloud Cuckoo Band. Numerous cables have exploded across the front room/studio/Hi-Life Room… I can’t imagine what things will look like with everyone present!

Nathan and Justin (Cloud Cuckoo) are almost finished with their set– gotta find some time for the next Membership Drive schpiel– if you want to donate, feel free to give a call in 681-457-3691…

Okay, in the last hour or so… I did my set, a quick harsh blast of photovoltaic feedback and scree, followed by the entire front room (11 people!) moving from my version of Cock ESP to their version of Acid Mothers Temple– i.e., LONG AND LOUD!

This is definitely getting people’s attention. The owner of Global Gourmet (or maybe an employee?) stopped by to see if I was lying about having so many folks playing live. Ah, I wish I’d had money riding on that.

Karthik is playing his set now– he’s got this amazing alien-looking PA system… weird, like those electrostatic speaker systems that generate enormous sounds despite the flat shape. This looks like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Anyways, he has 20 seconds left in his set.

Karthik is 5 minutes into his second set now. Banging away at a helpless guitar. Everyone else has decided to break into smaller improv combos for the next portion of the broadcast– there’s simply no way to go about this broadcast other than to be highly flexible about who plays when, etc. With five microphones in service, I’ve been running back and forth, tracing wires from here to there, monitoring transient spikes in the signal, and doing my best to get a decent set of recordings to document this historical event.I’m fully convinced that the Noise Summit is the point that music fans will point to later down the road as a major turning point for experimental music in Southern Illinois. What do you think?

We’ve got a five-person combo set up and playing in the front room– drums, horns, guitar, synth, bass– sounds great, even though I’m sure I don’t have the mics perfect. I’m doing my best, but this little studio just isn’t insulated enough for me to hear the mix without a significant portion of their actual sound bleeding through. Hopefully, you’re enjoying it– I know I am.

We’re nearing up on 6am now. Just 30 minutes to go before this year’s Noise Summit is finished. But hey– it’s Record Store Day!

Playlist for “Midwestern Noise Warmup”
John Cage — HPSCHD (recorded at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)
Miss High Heel — The Family’s Hot Daughter
Rabbit Girls — The Lifelong Journey Into Nonexistence

MORE noise at the Summit!

April 17, 2009

I’ve confirmed three additional musicians for the 1st Annual IlliNOISE Summit–

Brandon Beachum – Bassist for Glass Pyramid and Gorilla Heritage.

John McCowen – Organ and Sax for Gods on Safari, also a member of Glass Pyramid

Aaron Jones – Member of Maggotapplewonderland. (I received word that one of Jones’ former bandmates from Carbondale, WILT, will be listening in.)

UPDATE: James McKain (Glass Pyramid, Swamp-monger) has tossed his beardless self in the ring. I didn’t forget you, James, blame Karthik for counting you as a “maybe”.

REMEMBER TO LISTEN THIS SATURDAY MORNING, FROM 3-6:30 AM, CST @ WDBX 91.1 FM. (or stream it online here)

1st Annual Southern IlliNOISE Summit

April 14, 2009

With a huge assist from local music gadabout Karthik Kakarala, I’ve been putting together what’s shaping up to be a fantastic noise free-for-all this April 18th, to be held during “It’s Too Damn Early.” Not a huge concept here– gather noise, rinse, repeat– but this is a big step for Southern Illinois, which is why I’m giving it a big name: The 1st Annual Southern IlliNOISE Summit!

Besides myself, here’s the lineup thus far:

Karthik Kakarala – Definitely a shining light in the Southern Illinois music scene. Kakarala has distinguished himself as an avid experimentalist, juggling more interesting projects than most folks would suspect.

Rick Leipold – Featured in the previously-posted “Nonexistent” documentary, also a member of Gorilla Heritage.

Tom Vasilj – Also featured in “Nonexistent,” Vasilj is half of Cosmic Twilight Pimps, and a frequent archivist of live performances at “It’s Too Damn Early.”
Andrew Crook – During Karthik’s April performance at WDBX-FM, I handed Crook a guitar. He just looked at me. Should I have labeled it “monkey wrench”? Perhaps.

Matthew Lee Lind – Drummer for Gorilla Heritage. Looking forward to hearing him again!

Nathan Staley, Justin Rodig – Members of the Cloud Cuckoo Band, organizers of Improv Noise Night. (More info on this later!)

Alex Ryterski – Recently, Ryterski told me that he’s interested in running a microphone into a blender. This is what happens when “There Will Be Blood” and “Will It Blend?” have a baby. Regular listeners will also remember his raw data > audio compilation as Chaos Kit from 3/14/09.

I’ll be working this week to round up more players, so keep checking back for updates!

Again, everything will be broadcast on “It’s Too Damn Early,” from 4-6:30 a.m., on WDBX-FM.

…and now, the truth

April 1, 2009

First off, April Fools! My previous post about the Performing Musicians Licensing Act was a bit of a joke on my part…

…But only a bit.

The sad thing is that a lot of it is actually true, and I’m not kidding this time around. Chicago really does have a stupid plan to force all promoters to carry ridiculous amounts of insurance AND apply for a license in their new, non-publicly-released ordinance. How this plays out will truly have a major effect on the Windy City. You can read about how to fight for your right to party here.

As for licensing American musicians, I made it up. As much as dumbasses like Illinois Rep. John Shimkus would probably love to see all underground art and expression forcibly removed from the face of the Earth, he’s too busy making ludicrous statements about global warming to care. That works out okay for American musicians…

…but if you’re Serbian, you’re fucked. The Serbian government has actually PASSED a musicians’ licensing act, which actually DOES have a jurored performance and musician’s exam. For the low cost of about 150 euros, Serbians can apply for a musicians’ license allowing them freedom to perform their music– music approved of by Serbian officials, of course! You can find more information about the Serbian music license at Terror Noise Audio, as well as at the following translated webpages here and here.

Oppose the Performing Musicians Licensing Act!

March 31, 2009

This is going to be a little off topic since most of my visitors are not from the Chicagoland area, but I will write this anyway, as this local issue is turning into a collapsing house of cards that may yet threaten us all.

Last year, the Chicago City Council’s Music Commission, chaired by Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th), drafted the so-called “event promoters ordinance” last spring with almost no input from the music community, rapidly moving it toward a vote before the full council in May. But aldermen tabled the controversial law at that time after an unprecedented outcry from the local music world.

Last year, council members vowed to work with the music community to “fine-tune” the law before a final vote.

Sources close to the procedure say that a retooled version of the law has now been ready since mid-February, and that the license committee is gearing up for a vote on Mar. 11 prior to sending the legislation back to the full council for what the committee hopes will be quick passage. Once again, however, the law is not being made available for public scrutiny, and no public hearings are scheduled to seek input from musicians, music lovers and indie concert promoters.

The good news is that public opposition to the proposed ordinance has grown more vocal and organized since the last vote, and could present a formidable player in killing the bill. The bad news is that the Commission already has an end-run around Chicago citizens in the works– a proposal to create a Performing Musicians Licensing Act. If you think about it, you’ll begin to see the ruthless logic at work:

The original bill, created in reaction to the terrible E2 Nightclub incident, in which 21 people were trampled to death, contained the following language:

“No person shall engage in the business of event promoter without first having obtained an event promoter license under this chapter.” AND “Each applicant for a license under this chapter shall furnish a certificate of insurance, evidencing commercial general liability insurance, with limits of not less than $300,000.00 per occurrence for bodily injury and property damage arising in any way from the issuance of the license.”

In short, promoting music would get a whole hell of a lot more expensive, prohibitively so for underground venues and organizers. Want to have a house show? Forget it! But lawmakers forgot that promoters are also the ones who usually have the money– deep pocket promoters might be able to keep this one off the books. But where to turn next?

Musicians.

That’s right, they’re going after the musicians now. If they couldn’t get promoters in line, they’re just going to take away their product, or at least make it difficult for anyone but the biggest bands and artists to play. Given the political shakeup post-Blagojevich, there have been a lot of Illinois politicians taking new offices lately– one of which helped draft the original Commission ordinance, but now finds himself out of his State-level seat and nearer to the ear of another well-known Chicago politician– President Obama.

Under the PMLA, all “performing” musicians (and are there any other kind?!) will be required to apply for a performing license which requests the following information, in addition to an EXAM and a jurored performance:

“(1) the applicant’s full name, residence address, business address, business
e-mail address, business telephone number and cell phone number;

(2) the name, residence address and residence telephone number of allcontrolling persons other than the applicant, if any;
(3) proof that the applicant and all controlling persons are at least 21 years of age;
(4)A statement as to whether, within the last 5 years, the applicant and each
controlling person has had a performer’s license or any other equivalent
license or permit, regardless of nomenclature or characterization, revoked or
suspended in any jurisdiction and if so, the details surrounding each such
suspension or revocation;
(5) A statement as to whether, within the last five years, the applicant and each
controlling person has been either convicted, in custody, under parole or under
any other non-custodial supervision resulting from a conviction in a court of any
jurisdiction for the commission of a felony of any kind, or of a criminal offense of
whatever degree involving theft, fraud, perjury or dishonesty and if so, the details
surrounding each such conviction;
(6) A statement as to whether, within the last five years, the applicant and each
controlling person has been convicted or found liable of knowingly making a false
statement of material fact or a knowing and material misrepresentation or
omission on or in connection with any license application submitted under this
chapter and if so, the details surrounding each such conviction or finding of
liability;
(7) The date of birth and social security number of each natural person named in the
license application;
(8) The license fee, as required by section 4-157-060;
(9) Fingerprints, as required by section 4-157-090;
(10) Proof of insurance, as required by section 4-157-100;
(11) An indemnification agreement, as required by section 4-157-110; and
(12) Any other information that the director may require.

Gotta love that last one– what else could they want? A fucking semen sample? But seriously, this is some bullshit. No more musicians under the age of 21? As much as I’d love to see Miley Cyrus out of a job, what about all the kids coming up in garage bands, or playing in their first couple years of college? Obviously, music students aren’t exactly touring musicians, but this still seems way out of line with reality.

A law like this opens way more issues than I’m prepared to deal with in this post– who gets the licensing fees, and where do they go? What about hobbyist musicians? Who appoints the jurored panels, and what will be considered “music”? I don’t want to get ahead of things, but I’m thinking of a sort of USA vs. Dunifer approach myself– claim that I don’t make music, only noise. Thus, the board will not have a licensing category for me– and I should be able to press on. What do you think?