Archive for August, 2007

Naptime!

August 31, 2007

Get some graham crackers and luke-warm milk, it’s naptime for you– you’re going to want to be fully awake for the all-noise broadcast of “It’s Too Damn Early”…  4-6:30 a.m., CST, this Saturday morning. Here’s a helpful chart you can use to find the proper time in your area. Why are you still awake?

Advertisements

John Cage, a charlatan?! (pt. 2)

August 30, 2007

Although most folks over at the IHM forum seem to think I’m beating a dead horse, I haven’t been able to let this discussion with Sound & Fury drop. Besides, this is my blog, and I’m going to write it as I see fit.

All stubbornness aside, the discussion has been an interesting one; and you have to take me on my word that if interesting ideas weren’t being exchanged that I would have ducked out long ago. Rather than degenerating into a some sort of “nuh-uh, yes huh” sissy-fighting, my ongoing challenge of Sound & Fury’s dogmatic assertions has resulted in a flurry of explanations, retreats, and mental gymnastics.

In short, he has defined himself into a corner.

It’s been over 50 years now since John Cage wrote Bacchanale, but apparently, his ideas are still provocative today. Even though I have lost much hope of making any sort of addition to Sound & Fury’s understanding of music, I have greatly appreciated having this experience– it’s been like a fast-forward tour through Cage’s conceptual world, with Sound & Fury as my unwitting Norgay.

So where did we leave off?

Ah! Following the last entry, S&F wrote me an e-mail, in which he explained that he was impressed by my desire to learn more about classical music. He also mentioned that he was surprised I was not already knowledgeable about the subject, due to the fact that I was reading Sound & Fury. I suppose that’s a somewhat fair assumption, but it does make me wonder where he thinks new classical music fans come from!

S&F also offered his assistance in the matter, beginning with a lesson on his phrase “purely musical ideas”:

“…that’s not only NOT a “lightweight phrase,” but one which goes directly to the very heart of ALL genuine music, even simplistic stuff such as pop, or C&W, or rock. In classical music, purely musical ideas are, of course, absolutely essential and central.

So, what’s a purely musical idea? Listen, for instance, to any four- or eight-bar opening of, say, the opening movement of a Mozart symphony. That’s a purely musical idea – that is, a coherent idea expressed in the language of music that neither refers to nor requires anything extra-musical to convey its sense – an idea that’s then developed, expanded, transformed, joined or opposed by other purely musical ideas, etc., etc., all in myriad ways during the progress of the movement until, by movement’s end, all taken together have coalesced to produce one grand purely musical idea; a gestalt; that is, a whole greater than the sum of its parts — in the case of a transcendent genius such as Mozart, infinitely greater.

In short, purely musical ideas are genuine music’s very lifeblood; its sine qua non — literally.”

Later, I posted some of my thoughts about this lesson at the forum, and also sent a copy to S&F:

“We all know that Cage used “devices” (if you’ll roll with the term) to produce some of his works– overlaying a star chart on a musical staff, for instance… Knowing how Cage produced a work is integral in many instances to understanding the work at all.

Where I differ from him is in understanding how this is different from the compositions of someone like Mozart. I think he and Cage are on a continuum together, where Mozart’s machinations are simply more transparent because they are less unique. We transparently accept, at least in the Western world, that a minor chord is representing something sad– but the machinations of this situation is revealed when we examine the use of the minor chord elsewhere, where it may commonly be thought of as a signifier of positive events. I’m sure an ethnomusicologist could provide greater detail as to what part of the world this occurs in…

The point is that if this foreign person was listening to Mozart, and Mozart was making some sad section of a song, the foreigner would have to be made aware that in Mozart’s work, minor chords signify something negative and not positive. Because of this, I cannot see how he can purport this “pure musical idea” to exist. If anything, it puts him squarely facing the very Cage-ian idea that random sounds are music– and I doubt very much he would agree with this.”

As I should have expected, S&F completely disagreed. What was most interesting, though, was that I could now see his total emphasis on the effects the music produced as the sole qualification into his definition. I reproduce it here, complete with asterisks and bold type:

“I wrote about purely musical ideas; *purely* — as in solely, entirely, completely. And that concept has nothing whatsoever to do with “devices” like “star charts” or other such rubbish.  Nor has it anything to do with “behind the scenes work,” as you put it. Behind-the-scenes work doesn’t count no matter what form it takes, or how long or assiduously it was engaged in, or how much it cost the artist in blood, sweat, and tears.  The *only* thing that counts  is what the behind-the-scenes work *produced*.  In the case of Mozart, some of the greatest music ever written.  In the case of Cage, no music at all. Merely noise. The concept I was talking about has to do exclusively with precisely what I’ve already stated it has to do with, and with nothing else.”

Yikes! Bold = anger. Still, I have a readership to think about it, so I struggled on. Besides, “merely noise” is such tasty bait!

“If it’s not the “behind the scenes” stuff that matters, but PURELY the ability of the composition’s performance to elicit idea/emotion/thought/narrative, etc.,  then it would seem a simple matter of proving that Cage has done this with his music in order to render it AS music by your definition.

Surely, you do not ask that Cage’s work render these emotions/narratives/ideas in EVERY listener, though– we must allow that some listeners are unable to perceive art in any meaningful way, be it Cage or Mozart. As I have often been moved by Cage’s work in the same way as I have been moved by say… Debussy, then it seems Cage has created music after all– at least per your terms.”

And then, my coup-de-grace:

“I would also like to submit– and please do not think I am merely being clever– that NOISE may be the greatest example of music ever; as it completely lacks intent, machinations, design, and artifice. If a noise can move the listener, surely it is the pinnacle of music!”

Like a rattlesnake, though, the head simply would not die. Ignoring my championing of noise completely, S&F wrote:

“A purely musical idea is ‘a coherent idea expressed in the language of music that neither refers to nor requires anything extra-musical to convey its sense.’

See now where you screwed up?  A purely musical idea requires expression in ‘the language of music’ — i.e., a language that employs melody, harmony, counterpoint, and rhythm as *fundamental* elements of its grammar and syntax. Ergo, Cage’s “compositions” can NEVER be or become music except in the most figurative or metaphorical sense of the term.

But I see you’ve suckered me into talking about the charlatan again. Basta! Genug!”

Genug” seems to mean “enough,” and I’m just guessing that “basta” is a slick way around actually calling someone a bastard. Probably not the sort of thing you want to try in a men’s room, but in the blogging world, folks use what they’ve got. Anyways, I don’t trust someone who curses in a foreign language, unless they’ve run out of native words first.

But seriously, I didn’t know anyone still seriously held such an antiquated view of music. Read it again– it’s like stepping into a time machine! Investigate microsound efforts sometime; they show us that what we think of as a “note” is really a rhythmic event. Slow it down and see! Music is “sounding” and “silence,” whether it is Mozart or Cage. As always, the world of the avant-garde is leading listeners to these truths. You just have to be willing to listen to get the message.

John Cage, a charlatan!?

August 28, 2007

Yesterday, I finally decided to register at the “i hate music” forums. Blame it on the combination of a Sachiko M thread and the fact that there are very few people I can talk to about such music locally. I’m also hoping that some of the better writers might take a look at my reviews– it’s no secret that I’d appreciate some constructive criticism in regards to my music writing.

Having been primed by the interesting discussions going on at “ihm,” I was in a receptive mood to click on a link in the comments section at Pharyngula that described a blog with the topic of “matters musical and high-cultural.” It turns out I should have paid more attention to that term “high-cultural”…

John Cage, on the game show

Anyhow, the link took me to the blog “Sounds & Fury,” where a New Yorker writes aptly and passionately about “classical” music, opera, and the myriad of fascinating events surrounding these works.

Admittedly, I have much to learn about so-called “classical” music. Like many areas of sound, it is daunting in its own way; full of new artists, terms, and unfamiliar history that takes some time to work into before the pieces begin to fit. Jazz used to be much the same way for me– a perplexing, amorphous mess filled with endless liner notes detailing the contributions of faceless names and mysterious places.

Despite my rather ridiculous start, (my first jazz purchase being John Coltrane’s “Meditations,” of all things!) I dug in, struggled through those liner notes, listened to the recordings until they started making sense, and picked up book after book to absorb the history and ideas driving the music. Unsurprisingly, it worked. Ten years later, I’m comfortable discussing and listening to jazz music– and while I still have a lot to learn and hear, I’m no longer bewildered while browsing the bins at a good record store.

Eventually, I’ll feel the same way about “classical” music. That’s why I read sites like Sounds & Fury; I want to dig into these accumulations of knowledge and make the pieces begin to fit together. That’s why I was particularly surprised to find that Sounds & Fury is written by a closed-minded caveman.

Go check out the Sounds & Fury main page, and see what you notice– yes, that’s it… up in the top right corner: “A Very Brief Thought On New Music.” I can’t believe I didn’t see it right away, but it went unnoticed while I browsed the archives. Then I saw it. “Hooray!”; I thought. “This guy writes about new music too!”

And then I saw it:

“Of that so-called New Music of which I’ve direct experience, almost all of it not recognized immediately as blatantly and tiresomely derivative tripe requires at some level, and to greater or lesser degree, the active participation of the intellect in order to appreciate or, in some cases, even begin to comprehend. That, to my way of thinking, is the very definition of non-music — more, and much worse, a veritable perverse contradiction of just what it means to be music. In short, anti-music, much of it concerned with sound per se rather than with purely musical ideas, and much of that traceable to the influence of the charlatan John Cage.”

And he goes on:

“Which is not to say such can’t (or shouldn’t) be enjoyed, even relished, at some other level. But at the level of music — that condition to which all art aspires — it fails utterly and abjectly. And that’s principally why, not much time left me for music listening as the human span goes, I’ve little or no time for it. There’s simply too much music — genuine music — I’ve either not yet experienced, or not experienced or understood to the deepest level of which I’m capable, to spend valuable time sussing out the ostensible musical value of such presumptive music which, on initial hearing, I find to be no music at all.”

You know me. I couldn’t let this go unexamined. I love experimental music, and must surely be counted as among the most passionate and enthusiastic of its listeners. I can’t begin to fathom the magnitude of influence Cage’s ideas and works have had on the recordings and performances I so enjoy… To see an otherwise-knowledgeable listener write than he was a charlatan was unthinkable. I fired off an e-mail:

“…the John Cage = charlatan bit compelled me to write, the purpose being to ask you to give any decent reason why you’d say such a thing. He may not be your cup of tea, but damn, the man is definitely a composer. He may be one of the most important composers of the 20th century; I’m amazed any thoughtful person could find otherwise.”

To which I received:

“Oh? And just what, exactly, makes Cage “definitely a composer,” and “one of the most important composers of the 20th century,” other than his influence on those looking for an easy way out of sounding in their compositions like pale and effete copies of those musical giants who preceded them?”

So the guy has some balls, no doubt. Still, I wasn’t letting him off the hook. I asked my question first, and rightly claimed that he should defend his “charlatan” accusation before I’d address my own statements. He replied:

“I’ve already stated my reasoning. It’s contained directly in my statement about the charlatan Cage. To repeat: “In short, anti-music, much of it concerned with sound per se rather than with purely musical ideas….””

That’s it? This was the big defense? Mr. Sounds & Fury says it’s not music, so John Cage isn’t a composer. Well! One wonders what he was doing on the Pharyngula website in the first place– championing that omnipresent creationist “the bible says so” argument?

I wrote back, giving concrete examples of some of Cage’s compositions ranging from the highly-detailed (such as Etudes Borealis) to those allowing for much greater influence of chance (such as HPSCHD, which let players shuffle the score). I also discussed some of the main ideas Cage demonstrated and worked with, to show his enormous importance in 20th century music:

“John Cage gives us the following startling notions about music: 1) That there can be no true silence, only unexamined sound. 2) That the border between “noise” and “music” is far less real than previously imagined, and very well may not exist. 3) That rhythm is the basic structural element of all music, being that duration is the only common element of sound and silence. These are huge ideas, and it is difficult at best to fail to notice the time and effort at understanding them taken since Cage’s introduction of these concepts. While you may disagree with the various aesthetics wrought by their birth, I can hardly see how you could claim John Cage is NOT one of the most important composers of the 20th century. Who indeed would you put in his stead?”

I figured I had this guy hemmed in. I mean, seriously, I can’t take a step into new music without running into one of Cage’s ideas. But I underestimated Sound & Fury’s slipperiness, and apparent ability to self-medicate:

“In his stead? He has no “stead”. He’s a nobody as a composer. A total cipher. As I’ve said: a charlatan.”

I don’t know what I expected from someone who recommends using Internet Explorer for viewing his website! I asked him to back up his statements, or I was using him for blog fodder. Obviously, that’s what happened.

At the heart of S&F’s miniature “defense” is this strange notion that somehow, the sounds that emanate from an easily-recognized musical instrument are “music,” but that other things are “just” sound. Or something like that– frankly, it’s hard to tell what this guy thinks. Tossing around lightweight phrases like “purely music” is simple, but S&F seems to lack the mental effort necessary to catch up with his rampaging chutzpah.

In the closing paragraph of his “Brief Thought on New Music” section, Sounds & Fury poses the question, “Is all this the musical equivalent of what it means to be a Luddite, or, worse, a woodenheaded philistine?”

To which I reply: “Yes, all of the above.”

Upcoming– Two weeks of NOISE!

August 27, 2007

I’ve been sitting on this plan for over a month now, and the time is finally right to let you all in on it– for the first two weeks of September, “It’s Too Damn Early” will feature all-noise programming!

noiseshow.jpg

Being the obsessive, extreme, over-the-top person that I am; I’m not going to be playing one cut after another. These broadcasts will be constructed with large numbers of layered noise cuts, one on top of another. I’m pulling out all the stops, using every piece of equipment I can get my hands on. This means bringing in additional disc players, tape players– it will be done. Microcassette? Check! Re-routing the station signal back through master control? Check! Hundreds of tracks held together by the force of my will for over 9,000 seconds of intense noise? CHECK!

Making matters even more crazy is that the second week of September kicks off the WDBX-FM Membership Drive, so I’ll be hitting the airwaves hard with alternating bouts of abuse and begging for cash. It will be spastic, bi-polar, and completely off the map.

I am aiming for nothing less than producing the two greatest noise broadcasts of all time. You won’t want to miss either one. As always, the show starts at 4 a.m. CST, Saturday morning. I have no pity for your precious sleep schedule, so expect no quarter from me.

…And for those of you not familiar with the sound of a folded, re-routed radio station signal layered upon itself in mass reiterations, allow me to direct you to a fine recording of one such anomaly

Liveblogging! Commentary for “ITDE” 8/25/07

August 25, 2007

Well, my blogging host is down for a while tonight, so I’m dryblogging on Wordpad. There’s nothing quite as pathetic as trying to blog in Wordpad, let me tell you!

dryblogging.jpg

As usual, nobody was here when I arrived, so I annexed an extra 30 minutes in the name of “It’s Too Damn Early,” and kicked everything off with a long cut from Glenn Weyant’s Anta Project. Weyant, who you may recall from his work with Phil Hargreaves on the Whi-Music release “Friday Morning Everywhere,” uses the United States-Mexico border as instrument and inspiration for recording. Apparently, he’s been doing this for quite a long time!Ordinarily, I pride myself on picking up rather quickly on interesting experimental goings-on in the world of music, but I must admit that it hurts a little to have missed Weyant’s cello bow and chopstick activities for all these years. Then again, I suppose a certain sense of self-preservation may have precluded Weyant from announcing this sort of thing to a world where sippy cups, pudding, and nail clippers are so threatening.

I’m finding it difficult to keep up liveblogging without actually uploading anything… I’ve been hanging out in various chat areas of Soulseek, introducing some listeners to new music– a very organic process, I might add. I am really happy with the progression this broadcast is taking, everything seems to blend well and make good sense. It’s also nice to be able to recommend things that are in a similar vein to what listeners are hearing. Looks like I turned someone on to Rune Lindblad– and that’s got to be a good thing.

Truthfully, I’m looking forward to a little respite from all the trivial work that goes into one of my liveblog entries. It is kind of a bear to track down all the web addresses, etc– and even though I’ll end up doing it for everything in the playlist anyway, I still feel a bit unburdened.

I’m ripping the broadcast at home this evening instead of in the studio, as an experiment. We’ll see how it goes. It occurs to me that if I get home, and it has failed, I’ll be a bit upset. This is why you should ALWAYS listen live, hahaha. Hmm. I need to get on the mic a bit tonight. I’ll do so after this track, “Roman Kosh.”Okay, well, I didn’t get the reprieve from liveblogging– just a delay in sentencing, as it were. Looks like I have to make up for lost time now and start getting those links done. Otherwise, it will cut into my couple hours of sleep I try to steal before having to properly wake up for the day. This would be a good day for someone to drop a 24-pack of Coca-Cola on my doorstep.

Update: The recording at home failed. How prophetic of me! Actually, I managed to get 11 minutes and 36 seconds worth, but that’s far short of three-and-a-half hours isn’t it? Besides, nobody dropped any Coca-Cola off for me. No Coke, no show, hahaha. And I better not find any brown M&M’s, either! 

Glenn Weyant — Passage
Rothkamm — Odyssey I 70
A_dontigny — Koons
A_dontigny — Pruitt-Igoe
A_dontigny — Tatline
A_dontigny — Aufblau
A_dontigny — In memoriam Jane Jacobs
Rune Lindblad — Optica 1
The Bastard Sons of Morton Subotnick — Nola EKG
Liteworks — Bermuda Conference
Potpie — Blues for the Lower 9
Liteworks — Looking Glass
Anton vs. Nature — Phase Change (Blueridgemtn Mix)
My Fun — Phonopostal
My Fun — A Field in Freilassing
My Fun — Sonorine
Neil Rolnick, Joan La Barbara — Body Work
Dunaewksky69 — Roman Kosh
Little Ricky’s House of Chankletas — Refutable Melodies
Little Ricky’s House of Chankletas — Tyranny House
Little Ricky’s House of Chankletas — Laticer Nworb Lrae
Little Ricky’s House of Chankletas — Opening Passage
Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Mike Khoury — Improvisation X
Yannick Franck, Olivier Pe — Improvisation, March 2006
David Kirby — Coronary
Jim Connolly and the Gove County Philharmonic — Time Stops to Visit
Jim Connolly and the Gove County Philharmonic — Hi Lili, Hi Lo

Electric Kitten Vomit!

August 24, 2007

Of Sound Mind blog author (and one-half of improv duo LATRALMAGOG) Ethan asked me about my old Electric Kitten Vomit project this morning, wondering if I had a digital copy he could dig on. After uploading this collection of random sound experiments for him, I realized that I might as well share it with the lot of you.

The file is available for seven days or 100 downloads, so either way, you should get it quick if you want a copy. I’ve just re-upped this album. It will be available with unlimited downloads for the next 30 days. Enjoy!

A bit of history: Electric Kitten Vomit is a discontinued project of mine that I named from my champion attempt at concocting the worst band name possible. Electric Kitten Vomit, or EKV for short, saw two full-length releases. This is the second, “The Avant-Garde Revolts,” re-issued by the fine Public Eyesore label that same year. If you enjoy this download, you might consider contacting them for a physical copy. I’m not making any money off it, but Public Eyesore works very hard to put out interesting and worthy releases, so your money will at least help this continue.

The download package contains high-quality mp3 versions of each track, as well as the cover art.

Be kind, and enjoy! –DaveX

Jim Connolly & The Gove County String Quartet

August 23, 2007

Jim Connolly’s latest work on the pfMentum label reduces his more free-wheeling Gove County Philharmonic to a string quartet, but retains all the charm and cinematic qualities that made earlier Gove County outings so resonant with all who encountered them.

Connolly’s outfit, presumably named for the sparsely-populated Kansas county, presents an interesting amalgam of styles throughout the disc. Old-time country moments mingle just measures away from a pure lounge vamp, and then dissolve into something out of a cartoon-mouse-on-a-journey sweetness. Along the way, there are numerous more avant-garde moments– sudden changes of tempo, truncated endings, and the odd scraping and pawing of “Crows Would Steal the Stars If They Could Fly That High.”

Overall, the album is a distinctly American mix– probably best appreciated by those with a fondness for a little carnival music in their iPods.

Along with this latest self-titled release, pfMentum was kindly enough to send along a copy of an older Connolly disc, featuring The Gove County Philharmonic. The 2002 release, “Time Stops to Visit” is far more raucous than the current album, most notably due to contributions from Jeff Kaiser on trumpet and Jim Bement’s accordion. Bruce Bigenho also propels the album– recorded in Connolly’s living room, incidentally– with a chipper bar-room style at turns, but also with Sun Ra moments as in “Time Stops to Visit.”

The album closes with the lovely “Hi Lili, Hi Lo,” which should have you singing along and guessing at the words within seconds. Frankly, I wish more of the songs between both albums had such singing; perhaps this is a nice wish for next time Jim makes the trip to Gove.

Lngtche — “Music for an Untitled Film by T. Zarkoff”

August 22, 2007

More mysterious sounds from Etude Records— this time, a 44-minute debut from an improbably-named artist, scored for a director who may or may not exist. On a rather inauspicious note, it seems I actually know more about the album’s packaging artist; this being Seldon Hunt, who did a fantastic picture LP for Troum and a beautiful Lotus Eaters EP jacket among others.

With an emphasis on falling water, rusted hinge noise, and bursts of reverberant guitar, “Music for an Untitled Film by T. Zarkoff” falls pretty squarely in the “dark ambient” zone of which I’m generally not a big fan. Still, Lngtche manages to bring some new sounds to the  disc, easily conjuring pictures of large engines gearing up amidst a Kowloon Walled City-type setting.And the work is quite visual, surely more so for listeners more inclined in this direction than myself. At times I’m almost tempted to believe Lngtche captured some of these sounds “on the set;” sampling from some impossible conglomeration of afterburners, howling wind, and electronic disarray T. Zarkoff has turned his camera towards.

Throughout, the quality of the disc is high, with no technical mistakes to cut in on my imagination’s wandering. I also appreciate the efforts that have been taken with the dynamics of the work, which is pleasingly spatial and sounds nice in a quiet room. Personally, though, I can’t see this as a disc that I’ll be listening to over and over. I think that one’s own “use” of music may ultimately be the deciding factor on this disc’s worth. Lngtche has presented a work long on mood and ambiance, and that will be quite compelling for some; but it’s also a bit light on greater ideas, which leaves me wanting.

DaveX interviews Justin Hardison, AKA “My Fun”

August 22, 2007

Last week, I reviewed My Fun’s fourth album “Sonorine,” a gorgeous electroacoustic work that has really caught my ear. Justin Hardison, the man behind My Fun and label The Land Of, took some time out of being a busy New Yorker to let me do a little e-interview:

STARTLING MONIKER: “Sonorine” uses a lot of source recordings one might not ordinarily expect to find in a postcard– pianos, birds, traffic, radio… what influenced the selection of sound sources you used?

JUSTIN HARDISON:
One of the aims in my work has always been to incorporate sounds I’d find on an average day and then edit and transform those elements into compositions whether they’re musical, environmental, accidental etc. I guess when it comes down to it, My Fun is really about creating romanticized portraits of everyday life. Usually when I start a new project I try to build a collection of raw sounds to work with and I take and capture them from wherever I am at the time. During the time I was recording Sonorine, I was doing quite a bit of traveling and I was making field recordings of these trips as a way to remember them and share them with other people.

Freilassing, image provided by JH

SM: With “Sonorine,” you’ve really done away with the usual concept of the “album-as-listener-trip,” and made it something much more artist-centric– at least if the listener chooses to play along with the overall concept. In what ways did this affect how you went about creating the album?

JH: I think the concept of the Sonorine or sound postcards is very loose and open to experience/interpret how ever the listener chooses. I didn’t even think of the concept for the recordings I was working on until much later in the project. The concept seemed to fit the recordings I was collecting and I think has helped explain the ideas behind this sort of music work to those who usually would have no interest in sitting around listening to bugs or shortwave radios.

I really like to use sounds that are at least semi-recognizable because this way anyone can identify with and possibly attach their own memories to a specific sound. It is that immediate emotional response to sounds that I’m really interested in and I think if a listener is first brought into a composition by a familiar element then it leaves me room to
introduce the stranger and more obscure sounds that hopefully pique their interest and curiosity.

SM: I’ve noticed that on many of the tracks, the more obvious “musical” elements– such as the drones in “Radiant,” or the piano in “Phonopostal”– are framed by what I think of as “environmental” sounds such as clattering, walking, mechanical elements, and natural sounds. How appropriate is it that the listener consider the sounds individually in this way?

JH: I think listeners are used to listening and paying more attention to the musical elements but forget about all of the other noises they might hear around them when they’re listening to a musical recording but I think it is those elements that make the central musical element sound more interesting. I’ve heard others mention this as well but I always loved the ambient and accidental studio sounds you hear on some records, especially jazz records and studio out takes. It is those extra breaths, voices, tape hiss, guitar amp crackle and especially the ends of these songs that give a recording that human and mysterious element. I think listeners should take all sounds into consideration when they’re listening. With that in mind, I think noise pollution is a serious problem and I’ve really noticed it more since moving back to New York. The worse culprits are traffic and aircraft noise. It frustrates me to go out recording and and always capture the roar of traffic or planes in the recordings. With all of the added noise, you really miss out on the more subtle and quiet sounds.

Alghero, image provided by JH

SM: If you’ll allow me to take this interview in a “Guitar Player” magazine direction– what sort of recording equipment are you using? What’s your studio setup consist of?

JH: I recently saw these pictures of some of the old studios where people like Tod Dockstader and Delia Derbyshire worked with the crazy tape machines and ten thousand knobs and wish I could say I had such a place! My studio is pretty simple really. I have a software based studio for editing and composing sounds. For field recording I have a couple of mini disc recorders, Audio Technica and Sony mics, some contact and lapel mics if I want to go more stealth. I sample a lot of old records and use all of those strange extra sounds I mentioned earlier or perhaps a single harp pluck or guitar chord. I also picked up a shortwave radio and record a lot from that and have a acoustic guitar, mandolin and various other noise makers like a music box and some toy rattles and cheap cassette tape
Walkman. I started off a long time ago playing in guitar bands and then made a lot of techno and drum&bass music for a few years. After working with so much hardware, I still find it amazing that you can do so much on a laptop computer.

SM: You’ve always said that My Fun is concerned with narrative works. If each track is a stand-alone “postcard,” how much thought has gone into making them a coherent group?

JH: I spent a great deal of time making them a group and it really is meant to be listened to start to finish. I composed the whole thing as a single track and then edited it down into individual tracks. I know it will be split up by iPods and MP3 players and I do take that into consideration but I think that track sequencing is very important when you’re making a collection of recordings and hopefully this will always be appreciated element in recordings as technology changes over time.

SM: What have you been listening to lately? Anything similar in spirit or sound you’d care to recommend?

JH: Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of different things. There is always a ton of great music to be found on net labels like EKO, SKM, Test Tube and others. I’ve also been checking out a lot of CDs from the library like “Premieres Chansons Douces” by Henri Salvador and the Anthology of Noise and Electronic music on the Sub Rosa label. Also a lot of minimal techno and I highly recommend Billowy Mass by Alejandra & Aeron as well as the Yasujiro Ozu Hitokomakura compilation on and/oar!

SM: What’s coming up for My Fun? How about your label, The Land Of? I see something about a Darren McClure release– what’s the date on that?

JH: I recently decided to turn The Land Of into a label that would release material by other artists. It is something I have thought about for a long time and am really excited about. Yes, Darren McClure has an amazing full-length called Softened Edges coming out on October 15th and I have a couple of other projects in the works as well. The Land Of won’t be releasing a ton of recordings. Right now I’m thinking about four or so a year. My wife Kimberly Hall has worked really hard on a visual identity for the label and is designing and hand silk screening all of the cover art as well.

As far as my own work, I’m always collecting new sounds to work with and I hope to get back working on my sound journal/blog. New York is very distracting! Also, a friend of mine is working on a book of various friends artwork and I’m contributing a sound element of some of those small recordable cards like you’d find in a sound greeting card. Each one has a different recording of a particular place. Too bad they only have a ten second memory!

A_dontigny — “Geisteswissenschaften”

August 21, 2007

For quite some time now, there has been no shortage of art that has made comment on the increasing speed with which we are collectively bombarded with communication. Really, the issue has been approached from every conceivable angle– from Alvin Toeffler’s predictive “Future Shock,” to John Cage’s absurdist “HPSCHD,” to Negativland’s panicked track “Quiet” on “Escape From Noise,” to Satanicpornocultshop’s revelatory album “Anorexia Gas Balloon;” which embraced detritus as an aesthetic.

It would also be easy to make the case that nearly the entire noise genre is a composite of reaction to (and acceptance of) this bombardment, at times rendering even Toeffler’s worst scenarios relatively tame.

Unless you’re living under a rock, this isn’t really fresh material. But of course, artists are products of their environment– so the question becomes, “how do I make this new?”A_dontigny, half of morceaux_de_machines and a full fan of the underscore, seems to have found himself in such a position with his first solo album for the No Type label, “Geisteswissenschaften.” For those who aren’t aware, this mouthful of text is more or less the German translation of “Humanities,” as in the study of, etc…

Much like such studied pursuits, attempting to nail down “Geisteswissenschaften” is equally futile. Dontigny flirts at the edge of enough nearly-familiar material and structure to confound any sort of pigeon-holing, meaningful categorization, or understanding. It’s as if he is standing in a secret area of a Venn diagram, particularly in the impressively-crafted tracks featuring composer Paul Dolden. This is intricate music, filled with conflicting patterns which alternate from being ridiculously wrong to being surprisingly right.

I don’t know if it was A_dontigny’s intent to create a document so laced with examples of our futile struggle for understanding in a world fraught with miscommunication, sheer multitudes of perception, and the odd monkeywrench; but nevertheless, that’s what I’m taking away from it. On a more positive note however, I am still heartened to find that where A_dontigny may see the impossibility of ultimate understanding, he is drawn to create regardless.

In the end, this urge may be where the real redemption of “Geisteswissenschaften” comes about– acknowledging that no answer may appear, but that the question is worth asking.

A bunch of reviews from my vault…

August 21, 2007

Unless you’re a Southern Illinoisian, you probably never had a chance to see any of my reviews in print. But yes, for a few short weeks in 2002, I managed to convince the daily newspaper of nearby Marion, Illinois to fill some of their empty space with my reviews of experimental music releases.  They were short, to the point– written for a readership I imagined had little experience with (or knowledge of) the subject at hand.

To this day, I wonder what sort of reception they received amongst subscribers in a town where Pioneer-class baseball (this being one level beneath the minor leagues) is considered a big deal. I’m quite sure I’m also the only experimental music writer to have published work appear in “The Hub of the Universe,” as Marion is known to residents.

Anyhow, here’s some of the better ones. Nearly all of these albums are still available from the original labels, linked here. For the other few, I have given links direct to the artist or other sale page. Enjoy! (more…)

“Timeless Pulse Quintet”

August 20, 2007

There’s no way it’s easy to make music this wonderful, but to listen to the Mutable Music release of “Timeless Pulse Quintet,” it’s equally hard to imagine anyone opening their eyes– let alone breaking a sweat. Of course, with Deep Listening Institute founder Pauline Oliveros on the roster, listeners should know it’s the ears that matter.

Listening isn’t just a casual activity for these five; it is more of a spiritual act capable of delivering the right sound at the right time, with the minimum of effort necessary to seemingly produce any additional noises. With two percussionists, live electronics, accordion, and voice work; another quintet could easily descend into caterwauling one-upsmanship that turns so many dynamic possibilities into little more than a pissing contest. Of course, you can see where I’m going with this, and that the TPQ do no such thing. Instead, as Oliveros says in the liner notes, they are “leaning into the moments of sounding…” an apt description of the overall process and tone of this disc.

Where other bands coordinate and synchronize, the Timeless Pulse Quintet choose to exercise trust and wait. The results are truly astounding, with George Marsh and Jennifer Wilsey‘s wide array of percussion blending perfectly with David Wessel‘s electronics, and Oliveros’s understated accordion chant and chatter. Thomas Buckner does a fine job of contributing vocal swells which often enhance the other performers in lieu of resting atop their foundation.

What initially interested me most about this album was the palpable confidence of the musicians in every track. At a certain point in listening to improvisational music, it is expected by listeners that the musicians have gotten past relying on trite functions, or cliched direction. It is less common, however, to see performers comfortable enough to minimize their contribution to the essential elements– the AMM could do it, artists such as Otomo Yoshihide or Sachiko M have also proved themselves in this area– so if you’re inclined in this direction (and you should be!) then you’ll want to add this disc to your collection.

As a side note, Timeless Pulse seems to have one other album available, sans Thomas Buckner. It is taken from a performance at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies at Berkeley, in early 2002. I have a hard time believing there are not other documents of this powerful and compelling ensemble, though it wouldn’t be the first time the experimental listening community has had to do without adequate documentation of wonderful music.

Caroline Kraabel, Phil Hargreaves — “Where We Were (Shadows of Liverpool)”

August 20, 2007

I’ve always enjoyed albums that play with the concept of recording in some way– an artist sampling from other tracks on the same album, collections of found sound, or even musicians breaking the third wall to address the listener directly. When the Leo Records release of Caroline Kraabel and Phil Hargreaves’ “Where We Were (Shadows of Liverpool)” begins with an anonymous listener telling a crowd, “we’re going to start off by listening to some fantastic music,” it’s one of those they-know-that-you-know situations.

It’s this type of nested-doll thinking that permeates “Where We Were,” Hargreaves’ and Kraabel’s musical exploration of Liverpool. You see, unlike a ‘pure’ field recording, Hargreaves and Kraabel abandoned the idea of documenting a location in favor of playing it– and then went one step further, from the place-as-instrument concept to something more like recording-as-place.

Don’t worry, I’m having a bit of a difficult time explaining it to myself, despite my great enthusiasm for the results. Kraabel and Hargreaves give their all to this recording; using the alto and tenor saxes to flesh out a greenhouse, a tunnel, an anechoic chamber, and four other unique environments. Throughout, the crystal-clear binaural recording reveals the dual purpose of many of the players’ musical choices– a combination of improv feel and physical need– one gets as much a sense of heart as of the shape of the local geography!Consider a point about at about 17:30″, where the long tails of sax notes suddenly disappear, with the ‘virtual room’ crushing down around the listener, a claustrophobic experience of sonics. Somewhere near 29:00″, a series of truncated honks punctuates total silence before flowing into a larger, more open space where similar honks are free to linger about the listener’s head.

In a sneaky way, Kraabel and Hargreaves lay the old “studio versus live performance” question to rest, showing listeners that neither can be fully realized without the other. The performance aspects of the album give listeners an “on the ground” quality often unheard from studio-tanned musicians, while the engineering allows the effective and telling ability to contrast and hybridize these original recordings.

As disingenious as it is for me to admit, “Where We Were” is one of those albums you’re just going to have to hear for yourself before gaining any real understanding of what’s happening. I recommend that you do, though, it’s definitely worth the effort.

As a delightful bonus, Hargreaves and Kraabel maintain a website specifically for the album, packed with extra information about all aspects of the recording. I find the section detailing each location to be of special interest.

Jijimuge — “777”

August 20, 2007

“777” is a very subtle mini-cdr from the Hymns label, quite unlike the more immediate gratification served up in label owner Andrew Chadwick’s gloriously jarring tape collages. Truthfully, I’m not seeing the connection, but here it is– and the element of surprise is one of the nice things about small labels, isn’t it?

Anyhow, Jijimuge turns in a fairly low-key set of three tracks over the course of 20-ish minutes. The more I listen, the more I believe these to be variations on a theme. Each open with a rolling sort of noise which develops enough eccentricity through its ‘orbit’ to gradually reveal another dominant tone. Only once, halfway through the disc, is there any real break– but it does come quite literally, sounding like a snapping twig.

There is quite a lot to be said for the delicate structural work of this disc. The second track, “77” contains numerous small elements; ringing tones, thin static layers, and miniature scrapings that define the overall structure in a similar way that smoke can ‘give form’ to a beam of light. The title track goes a bit further, with more sounds intruding on the drone. Most apparent to my ears is something not unlike the tines of a comb being dragged across the edge of some hard surface.

Overall, “777” has fine production, though nothing I would think of as particularly remarkable. It doesn’t seem to take many chances, often choosing to fade an interesting sound out before it can eclipse the drone in any way. Most irritating, though, is how each track is simply clipped off at the end. There seems to be no musical reasoning for this, and is quite possibly only influenced by Jijimuge’s desire to make every track the same length.

To sum up, “777” is definitely a stand-out from the dreck that lines the shores of Drone-land, and drowns many an unwary listener. On the other hand, it’s up to Jijimuge to build on this solid foundation; it is my guess that their future efforts will be worth close inspection.  If anyone has a copy of Jijimuge’s other release, “Ghostflange,” a comparison would be fantastic– let me know if you’ve heard this disc, or where a copy can be obtained.

STARTLING MONIKER in Technorati’s top 100K!

August 18, 2007

Rather soon after I began writing STARTLING MONIKER, I made breaking into Technorati’s top 100,000 blogs one of my goals– and I’m very happy to say that I finally did it, entering at 99,303!

100k.jpg

I’m especially happy to see that this is possible without the aid of spam, viral video, misleading headlines, and compromising photographs of young pop stars. To my readers, I’d like to extend my sincere thanks for your readership and for your support. Thank you! –DaveX

Liveblogging! Commentary for “ITDE” 8/18/07

August 18, 2007

Starting off early again– no previous DJ in sight, though the sign-out sheet shows someone was here up until 2am… I think I may have to stake my claim on this extra half-hour and stick it to whoever wants the the 2-4am slot. They can have a 1.5 hour show, maybe?

I started off with the Jijimuge mini-cdr “777” from Hymns. It’s a nice little disc, maybe a little too nice at the opening. I really appreciate the quality of mixing on this disc, though; there are some nearly-infinitesimal noises occurring in the deep background that really ‘make’ the last track, “777.” Smooth Assailing has a good review of it up already, so go check that out for now.

I’m playing a new 7″ from Kitty Play Records, the Bastard Noise/Antennacle split– first side right now… and the ellipsis marks my “break,” and it’s on to the B-side, “Moving Across.” This is a good side, actually– some really physical textured sounds punctuated by higher-pitched noises, and I do believe I’m hearing some skee-ball noises worked in as well. Plus, you have to love any vinyl where you can tell something messed up is going to happen just by examining the grooves visually. There’s this long, low band of building hum that leaves a stripe across the record– I like CDs just fine, but it is sad that listeners miss this particular physical connection to their music so frequently nowadays.

Speaking of a physical connection, you should try listening to this disc from the NEUS-318 label sometime! It’s a Daruin/Grkzgl split called “Drain,” and features both artists using a variety of drone elements and electronics– and although there are some similarities in their compositions that provide a thread of continuity, the real experience here are the ultra-tactile sounds at play. Both Grkzgl and Daruin manage to uncover real warmth in the pulse of electronic chirps and drones that so many others find cold. I’ll be learning more about NEUS-318 this coming week, and will probably play Daruin’s contribution at that time, so be sure to come back then!

Wow. Here’s one I need to get around to reviewing properly: the Mutable Music release of Timeless Pulse Quintet’s self-titled disc. Before you think I’m terribly lazy, try to remember that I do all my reviewing, blogging, demo listening, and broadcasting in my free time– unpaid, of course. So if I lag behind The Wire a bit, sue me. Still, this is a really good album, and it bothers me not to have paid it proper attention in my reviews yet. I’ll get to it, truly.

I was just looking at my playlist, thinking about how few tracks I’ve played. Then I realized that three of them were over 20 minutes long, haha. And it’s not even 5 a.m. yet! This broadcast is moving slooooow. I may have to play with that a little.

A very fine album, this– “Where We Were: Shadows of Liverpool,” a collaboration between Caroline Kraabel and Phil Hargreaves on Leo Records. I first heard this on another experimental radio program.. can’t recall which at the moment, though I’m sure it will pop in my head during the drive back home this morning. Anyhow, I mentioned it to Mr. Hargreaves, who promptly sent me a copy– and what a boon, because it’s right up my alley. In short, it is a series of pieces recorded at a variety of locales in Liverpool; made with the expressed purpose of not only “exploring” their sonic space, but also of making the listener aware of the recorded nature of the work. It’s a unique position to be in as a listener, and I’m thankful to be able to share it with you.

Etude Records released this album, Lngtche’s “Music for an Untitled Film, by T. Zarkoff.” It’s a solid disc, with gorgeous artwork, excellent for playing straight through. There really isn’t much of any info about this release, so I don’t know anything about the film– what it looks like, or even if it exists!

Figured I’d play something unexpected– Philip Glass, “Are Years What? (For Marianne Moore),” a track from North Star. Never know what you’re going to get here, eh?

I was listening to Ernesto Diaz-Infante and Mike Khoury‘s improv-by-mail collaboration “Hymns for New Fathers” again this morning, and realized it was high time I played it on the show! This is such an apt title– with every track falling around 2 minutes, it’s the sort of time frame new fathers can deal with! I’m ending with this disc for the week, I hope you enjoy it (and the rest of the show as well, eh?)

Update: This show is now available for download. I’m not quite sure how much of the Jijimuge disc is cut off at the start, I think it comes in very near the end of the first track. As always, I do not intend for this download to be a substitute for purchasing albums from the artists or labels listed here. If you require any assistance locating an album or label, let me know.

Jijimuge — 7
Jijimuge — 77
Jijimuge — 777
Bastard Noise & Antennacle — He No Longer Lives Entirely Among Us
Bastard Noise & Antennacle — Moving Across
Grkzgl — Hatsugensho
Timeless Pulse Quintet — Just Play
Caroline Kraabel, Phil Hargreaves — Where We Were: Shadows of Liverpool
Lngtche — Music for an Untitled Film by T. Zarkoff
Philip Glass — Are Years What? (for Marianne Moore)
Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Mike Khoury — Hymns for New Fathers, pt. 1
Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Mike Khoury — Hymns for New Fathers, pt. 2
Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Mike Khoury — Hymns for New Fathers, pt. 3
Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Mike Khoury — Hymns for New Fathers, pt. 4
Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Mike Khoury — Hymns for New Fathers, pt. 5

DaveX interviews 1/2 of Pulga

August 17, 2007

As you may have noticed by now, when I hear an interesting album, one of my first responses is to fire off some long-winded questions to the artists responsible. It’s sort of a combination of duty and privilege, and thankfully, my poor victims are usually inclined to go along with it. First to return in a series of “interviews” I sent out recently were these questions, happily answered by Vanessa Rossetto. If you’re one of the slower STARTLING MONIKER readers, or if you claim to have just found this blog, you can catch up by reading my review of Pulga’s debut release “Pulga Loves You,” on Fire Museum Records.

photo provided

STARTLING MONIKER: I’m very curious about the recording process– Valerio is in Italy, and you’re in the States– but still, the album sounds terrifically together. What was the setup? Were you able to work together in person at all?

VANESSA ROSSETTO: No, we’ve never actually been in the same room before. We sent files back and forth through Soulseek for one another to work on and built the tracks up that way.

SM: Although it isn’t the first, “Pulga Loves You,” is a great example of geography’s increasing irrelevance in selecting a musical partner. Out of all the people in the world, why choose each other? Is there a commonality that isn’t immediately obvious?

VR: It started because Valerio and I were friends and we had talked about wanting to collaborate with one another for a while. I had been sending him all the new things I had been making and at one point he took one of the tracks I had sent (“The Forest of Shoes,” which ended up on the Joy of the Mountain CDR) and added saxophone and some other things to it. We both ended up liking the result so when I got home (I had been traveling) I started making pieces specifically with the intent of sending them to Valerio to add to them. The first piece that was made this way was “Witches and Bitches Brew” that was made for a comp Marriage Records was putting out.

SM: Depending on your answer to the first question, this one may be senseless… It seems that a lot of “Pulga Loves You” is improvised, yet I’m imagining you did not have the opportunity to improvise live together. How do you work around the rigidity of your recorded partner? During the process of creating the album, did you find that one of you was better suited for the task of “going second,” so to speak?

VR: I usually went first. Thinking back I am pretty sure I always went first but I’m not 100% sure on that. It worked better that way because Valerio was doing all the mixing and mastering and we just seemed to fall into doing it that way. For this reason, Valerio could probably give a better answer about working around rigidity than I could. It’s really about the most fun thing ever, though, to get files back after the other person has added to and modified them, not knowing what to expect.

SM: Each of the songs has a significant ‘imaginary’ quality to it– “Return to the Forest of Shoes,” ‘Still it Rides Me,” etc… and of course, the sounds are equally imaginative. What influences your music to sound this way? Are these purely “what if” creations of sound, or are either of you drawing on some sort of experience?

VR: It’s interesting because most of the things I make on my own are fairly programmatic in nature, but the Pulga stuff really isn’t. If anything, it’s more influenced by the things that Valerio and I were listening to at the time.

SM: What is coming up in the future for Pulga? Any plan to tour?

VR: Besides the Fire Museum release we have a split with Rob Funkhouser coming out on Phantom Limb/House of Alchemy that is pretty much done and should be out soon and will be making a second full length CD that we aim to have out some time in 2008. It would sure be fun to tour (or even just play in the same room for a change!) but for now it’s mostly a matter of having the money to do it.

SM: Last I knew, “pulga” means flea. Any special significance you’d care to share with obsessive fans who simply have to know this sort of stuff?

VR: The pulga where I live is a huge and amazing flea market where you can get roasted ears of corn and toy musical instruments of all kinds, along with fat scurrying chickens, astonishing and elegant cockatiels, ritual floor wash, cheap car mats, pocketknives emblazoned with flaming skulls, and hair clips (four for a dollar!)

My Fun — “Sonorine”

August 16, 2007

With his fourth release as My Fun, Justin Hardison brings listeners a fascinating, inverted listening experience on “Sonorine.” With each track presented as a “postcard” of sound– hence the title, which refers to the now-antiquated souvenir records made for fun at tourist locales– it becomes clear that unlike most albums, Hardison has already made the journey and is ‘reporting back’ to the listener.

It’s a simple, but delicious, way of turning the listening experience on it’s head. And although the disc’s glassine layers of pianos, birdcalls, traffic sounds, and radio are nothing like early psychedelic music; it’s interesting to note that the artist/listener relationship is similar: Hardison has been on a trip, and wants to tell us all about it. It was only later on that artists could safely assume listeners had turned-on adequately to understand what was happening.

For those first experiencing “Sonorine,” it’s much the same– a pleasant, but bewildering earful of a highly-realistic world, albeit one much unlike our own. On “Phonopostal,” (my favorite track, incidentally) Hardison introduces the listener into what seems an ordinary environment– the tinkling of a piano, and some sort of mechanical sound. But then… well, it all comes loose. With a loud ‘thunk,’ this (and I’m imagining a Victorian drawing room) sprouts legs, propelling itself slowly through an aviary where distant train noises merge with the grandfather clock’s clangorous intonation. The drawing room has become a steampunk, bizarro-world dark ride now. Applying the brakes, Hardison startles a flock of sea birds.

The production of “Sonorine” is basically a real treat. For those willing to put in the effort necessary to consider the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of the sounds, and to accept the notion that these are postcard recordings of places; the album becomes quite fantastic. Sounds that are ordinarily small take a front-and-center position, while other sounds move in ways dissimilar to their more ordinary counterparts. At times, the listener realizes the most peculiar situations must have occurred to generate such a milieu– and if you can hold that surprised feeling without coming back to earth, you may just find yourself wherever it is that Hardison has visited.

Ignore the terrible review from Vital Weekly (with the crackhead money quotes, “no prize for originality given here” and “it could almost be a real CD release” ) –this disc is highly recommended.

Liveblogging! Commentary for “ITDE” 8/11/07

August 11, 2007

stats.jpgWell, I was a little confused when I started this evening’s show! I was under the impression that it was pledge drive time– but this isn’t starting for about a month– a classic DaveX moment, believe me. I may not be any good with numbers or dates, but I sure do have some great music lined up for this broadcast!

Speaking of numbers, get a load of my stats for the past few days! Yes, you’re reading that correctly– a spike from 90-ish to 2,198 readers! When I took the screen capture, I was already at 874; though it’s currently at 1,211. If only one percent of these readers sticks around, that’s still 34 new readers– which is great for experimental music! You can’t say I don’t try…

Well, nobody was in the studio at 3:30 when I arrived, so I’ve started early. I’ve got Circle Six’s “Glitch Core” album playing, which is far more intelligent than the title might suggest. So many dumb electronica folks had to ruin the glitch thing for me, so it’s nice to see someone come along and attempt a rescue. Circle Six is among the most accomplished in the Roil Noise catalog– if you enjoyed the sounds from this disc, you should really check out his “Night in Kansas,” which is simply incredible.

A little discussion on the always-fabulous Oddmusic list brought up Mark Applebaum’s work, so I figured I’d share some of it on this broadcast– from the Innova Records release “The Bible Without God,” whose title is derived from a Village Voice article’s reaction to The Times assertion that the Merce Cunningham Dance Company would be more successful without John Cage. Obviously, the VV disagreed, likening it to “the bible without God.”

For the title recording on this two-disc set, Applebaum and students in his John Cage seminar provided accompaniment for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company with his homemade “Mouseketier” instrument, and a variety of instruments and objects played by sixteen of his students. The results are a bit bewildering at times, but actually provide a nice “overview” of some of Cage’s methods– and though it’s tremendously gratifying to listen to these with the liner notes in hand, I recommend hearing the music without this assistance the first few times through.

In the liner notes for “The Bible Without God,” Applebaum writes about the peculiar place of performers utilizing homemade experimental instruments– finding that one is the world’s “best” performer of the mouseketier, for instance, when you are the ONLY person playing this instrument. In my older review of Tom Nunn’s Edgetone Records release “Identity,” I also examined this phenomenon, albeit from an oblique angle. I pointed out that Nunn has clearly become a virtuoso of his constructed instruments, transcending the obvious and simple techniques that another performer might bring to the same session. There are some similarities in Applebaum and Nunn’s sound, unlikely as that may seem for musicians playing such unique amalgamations of hardware and junk… and while I’m not exactly sure of the links between them, I see online that they are at least aware of one another– surely some powerful influences moving in both directions here!

I noticed that on Matt Weston’s “Tarfumes” blog, he has been promising to mail out candy bars to people who can identify the visual reference in the design for his “Holler/Do You Hear Me?” cd-single– but all I can come up with is that it reminds me of the old Guinness Book paperback covers, or maybe the “Amazing Stories” television show titles… in other words, it beats me. That’s too bad. Whatever a “Rocket Bar” is, it sounds yummy.

Some more improvisation was appropriate after Weston, Nunn, and Applebaum. I was just reading about the Chapman Stick the other day, so I dug out my copy of “WhooSH;” a Burning Shirt release from Jeff Sampson, Eric Wallack, and Bret Hart. Please take a moment and reflect on how badly I wanted to type “The Hitman” just now… the amount of 80’s TV detritus in my brain is simply astounding.

Anyhow, Wallack provides the Chapman Stick for “Shikan-taza,” the longest track by far on the disc. Along with Sampson’s piano and synths, and Hart’s electric guitar; “Shikan-taza” is a compelling recording. I enjoy the fact that it so rarely proceeds where I expect, keeping me surprised without trickery as much with design.

Damon Waitkus and his electroacoustic composition “Transit 2” get the honor of kicking off the electroacoustic portion of the show tonight, though I suppose Applebaum technically did that much earlier, since he uses live electronics with his instruments. Oh well, let’s not be too technical, eh? I’m playing this from Waitkus’ collection, “Anxiety,” a self-release you may be able to pick up by contacting Waitkus directly. I suppose you could always write me, and I’ll send you the e-mail I have for him– its anyone’s guess if its current!

What kind of electroacoustic feature would I be pushing if I didn’t have at least a few selections from the “Jeu de Temps” competitions? These three compositions are taken from the 2006 “Cache”compilation released by the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, who head up the competition each year. Aside from attracting and benefiting a large amount of new, talented young composers each year; the CEC also maintains a fantastic resource, SONUS, for those wanting to learn more about electroacoustic composition.

Essentially, SONUS is a voluminous online listening library, but really– it’s one of the many ends to capitalism’s choke-hold on knowledge. There’s nothing quite like wanting to know more about music, and having to make uninformed purchases in order to hear enough to actually know anything worthwhile. With SONUS, listeners can search by artist name, titles, and even hardware used in the composition’s realization. I’ve spent many hours happily combing through it; I suggest you do the same.

sp32-50.jpgI’m always excited when a new release from My Fun comes out. My Fun, a project of The Land Of owner Justin Hardison, has created some of the best field recording-based music I’ve heard in the past few years, managing to make it engaging without stepping into trite layerings ala Fennesz. With the new album, “Sonorine,” Hardison perfects what has made his work so wonderful by posing each track as a “postcard” of sound– something meaningful becomes meaningless as it sheds its environment… yet retains the ability to find meaning through ourselves. It’s an interesting process, which I have a lot of sympathy for, being a collector of “Sonorine” and other postcard/memento records myself.

I will most likely close the show with this album. I am sorry not to have gotten to playing the Rune Lindblad, but frankly, I think this one is more important right now.

Thanks for listening, I hope you enjoyed the show! –DaveX

Update: This show is now available as a single 64kbps mp3 download, taken directly from the web stream. The file begins at the first Circle Six track, but is cut after “Phonopostal.” This file is not intended as a replacement for purchasing the albums from the artists or labels listed here. If you require any assistance purchasing an album (outside of just being broke) please contact me immediately.

Circle Six — My Grain
Circle Six — Cutting Up the Rest i
Circle Six — Feedback
Mark Applebaum — The Bible Without God
Tom Nunn — Skatchrod
Tom Nunn — Nailstrum
Tom Nunn — Cross Rods/3
Matt Weston — Holler
Jeff Sampson, Eric Wallack, Bret Hart — Shikan-taza
Damon Waitkus — Transit 2
Priscille Gendron — Camille (2006 JTTP 1st place winner)
Myriam Hamer-Lavoie — Et pluie souffle…
Adis Husejnagic — Transfigured
My Fun — Musik-Postkarten
My Fun — Radiant
My Fun — Signal Drift
My Fun — Setting Fires
My Fun — Phonopostal
My Fun — A Field in Freilassing
My Fun — Sonorine
My Fun — Anchor

A new mirliton?

August 6, 2007

Before I tell you about the most awesome musical instrument I’ve had my hands on in a long time, let me get a couple terms out of the way:

Membranophone: “any musical instrument which produces sound primarily by way of a vibrating stretched membrane”

Mirliton: “another kind of membranophone, called the singing membranophone, of which the best known type is the kazoo. These instruments modify a sound produced by something else, commonly the human voice, by having a skin vibrate in sympathy with it.”

Now that our little lesson is out of the way… I have a nifty mirliton candidate to share with you all. Allow me to introduce the “Air Blaster,” which I will refer to erroneously as a “parp whistle” from now on. This is my personal name for it, as it is much more fun, and goes quite a way towards describing its dominant sound– an immediate and striking “PARP!”

I picked my first parp whistle up in Nashville, while visiting a friend. He was intent on dragging me to a Dave & Buster’s, which is something like Chuck E. Cheese for grownups. It combines all the class of an off-the-strip casino with the delightful feeling that someone has a vacuum hose stuck in your wallet. It also seems to attract a lot of guys who wear penny loafers– i.e., not my bag.

Until I discovered the parp whistle, that is…

parppix.jpg

Basically, it’s a tube within a tube. At one end, the parp whistle’s two tube walls are sealed together, leaving an opening within the smaller tube– about the diameter of a thumb. At the opposite end, a ring-shaped cap holds a thinly-stretched rubber membrane in place, which vibrates as air is blown within the space formed between the walls of the tube pair. There is a hole on the side of the outer tube for you to blow into.

The parp whistle in the picture was my first. I had intended to blog about it a couple weeks back, but as you can see, it had developed a crack in the ring cap. I hadn’t noticed this until just seconds after taking the photo, when it came loose and allowed the membrane to fall off as well. These definitely aren’t well-made instruments by any means– they’re the most brittle plastic imaginable, something like the consistency of old vinyl chaise lounge chair webbing left too long in the sun.

On the other hand, these sure are fun to play! I’ve been able to generate a huge amount of sounds from mine– everything from sax-type honks to near-electronic tonal blasts. I have worked out ringing sounds, a wide variety of harmonics, pitch-bends from pushing the membrane with a finger or inserting my thumb like a trombone slide, and even small percussive pops made by partially allowing a finger to adhere to the membrane while providing a reinforcing barrier of air. Here is a short recording I made of various sounds:

Parp whistle demonstration #1

Naturally, I was fairly upset to have it break on me so suddenly. I looked around online, but only found the “Air Blaster” available in huge lots from China. Luckily, on a return trip to Nashville, my wife and daughter picked me up three more! One was pre-cracked, but the others seem to be holding up just fine. I think I’m definitely going to look into seeing if this is something I could construct on my own, so if anyone has any tips, I’d love to hear them!

As for mirliton status, I think the parp whistle definitely fits the bill. Until now, I thought that the kazoo was the only instrument in this category of instruments, so it’s very interesting to see another example within this unique area of sound.