As you may or may not know, 2012 is the Centennial of John Cage’s birth, and among its many celebrants (including myself, details to come…) is “transmission arts” collective Free103point9, who work in conjunction with WGXC 90.7-FM in upstate New York to present works specifically designed for air-borne electro-magnetic transmission – Radio, that is.
As you also may or may not know, John Cage wrote an abundance of pieces that called for either radios as instruments or as the listening medium (i.e. works designed specifically for radio play). Many of these are some of the first electro-acoustic works ever, predating most electronic music, and an inspiration to countless followers.
In fact I plan on submitting my own radio-accompanied piece (in graphical notation no less) influenced by Cage, written over a decade ago while still studying his music in grad school, called Riverbroadening. I have two really nice recordings by Comma in both DC and NYC, and will be putting together a 2012 version with (hopefully) some, all, or slightly more than the original folks involved.
Three years ago was the last time I did any kind of “year’s review” of aural nourishment, and I sort of feel the need to do it again. Those 24 hours of music are worth revisiting, and the following may not even count as a “best of,” but it is some of the best music I’ve heard this year, and I listen to an awful lot. Maybe call it a “compendium”? No that sounds too boring. In actuality this list is simply nothing more than a bunch of shit that goes on my iPod and ends up staying there for longer than it takes for me to get bored of it.
And yeah, there’s some strange shit indeed. Although I don’t cover any “pop” here, there’s still a very wide range of music represented, listeners will be hard pressed to find at least something attractive on this list. Click on the album title to find where you can get the release; you’ll find an amazing amount of these are on bandcamp and can be streamed for free. These also aren’t in any particular order, they all stand alone on their own and can’t really be compared to each other as a “top-#” list. So without further a’do…
I am so happy the throbbing washing machine multi-textured off-balance-beat dub techno sound has continued strong thanks to this artist. The constantly appearing layers are the most surprising and pleasing parts of these tracks, looping sound combinations you just don’t expect, spanning a wide spectrum. There emerge strange hypnotizing rhythms, thankfully not always percussively so, drawing the ear into a swaying communion.
I like this label, I really do. I can listen to entire albums of strategically placed pitch-shifted static and buzzing and genuinely enjoy it. These tracks, however, have a personality that stands out among all the other click-pop-n-wrinkle hardcore glitch. Check out older albums too, all extremely nice static buzz filled phat bass ear candy with more of an organic character than your typical release from here.
Getting involved in the Chicago house DJ scene made me a huge fawning sucker for that special deep style of dimly lit underground basement club speakers-in-your-ears house. These EPs – on Brikha’s new label, very worth following – provide a longing glimmer of those nights, a sliver of a view into that unending helical mass of filtered 4×4, but with the added flavor of a nicely wrought darker melodic display and just the right amount of unpretentious builds, expertly structured above thick analog basslines.
Really getting into the subtle noise of this album, a stereophonic treat where tendrils of sound creep into formation, directed by equally interesting shifts in rhythm. I’d certainly call it difficult listening, but more on the down-low engaging side than an all out aural assault, it even works as passive earpaper while I sysadmin. This artist is new to my ears this year, so definitely looking forward to discovering more, and super glad I bumped into this release when I did.
It was a great day when Ken Downie teamed up with Dust Science to resurrect The Black Dog in all its weird glory. It’s like a hole was in electronica and nobody ever knew it until new albums and remixes started showing up these past few years, and now here’s a slew of new tracks (colored vinyl if you’re one of the lucky ones!). The label page says the 12″es are meant a continuation of the more darkly ambient Music for Real Airports, but they are definitively more straight-ahead techno. Dogma, on the other hand, is one of my favorite listens of the year, meant as a snapshot of what tBd does live, and the result is a beautifully organic evolving mass of electronic exploration and funky groovability. I never got into this band much pre-Plaid, but what I’ve heard from that era doesn’t touch the production values of what they’re doing now.
I can’t deny my love of this band and when even a small two-track release appears I’m all ears. So although some of their tracks get way too poppy for my taste, it’s perfect that these are somewhat oldskool, and I especially love the Pink Floyd mimickery (not entirely unlike Download’s “Flight of the Luminous Insects”). I guess there’s a lot I like in tracks like these that remind me of my favorite times as a kid listening to the unfolding of albums like Dark Side of the Moon, and that can’t be a bad thing.
It’s really special when I find a record that caters more to darker electronica, the type of filtered analog sound with delicate beats and expansive reverberation atmospheres, the kind you’ll often think “man this would sound killer on a big system in the middle of the desert,” complete with crunchy liquid percussion. It’s not all beats though, there are some incredibly intense ambient sections that equally wrap your ears in haunting melodies from the other side of the chasm.
There is a playfulness in this album that compliments the regular cut-up and deep techno feel I usually get from the label. You know the drill: clean round synth harmonics contrast with crisp lines of shuffly drums and jazz-based samples nestled among the swelling and swaths of ululating drones… sounds typical, yes? Her arrangements are anything but; simple dissonant tonal contrasts propel the tunes beyond a boring four-by-four, and from out of nowhere you’re sifted into head-bobbing syncopation that evolved from surprises you didn’t even realize had happened.
Some regular fans were real disappointed, but the people I know who love it probably do so for all the same reasons i do: a poignant lack of sampling other works, intense abstract sound design, at times tableau-like, to-the-point sonic explorations, familiar filtered analog synth kaleidoscopes mixed with ample digital acrobatics and just the right touch of an eerily disturbing off-kilterness. I got the fantastic blue-fabric bound book version from Amoeba in LA, which is this amazing outlay of a miniature insect-like world created by Tessa Farmer (interestingly enough the very day I interviewed at Buzz). I share some heritage with the album too, mastered as it is by my buddy Shawn (aka Twerk) over at AudibleOddities.
When I listen, I keep wanting the solemn hypnotic repetitions to evolve into a live jam of some sort, and I fondly call this melancholy collection ‘shoegaze klezmer’, if for nothing but the acoustic instrumentation. My favorite parts of it are the weirder, more experimentally minded sounds, rhythms and ambience that flow between and around the masterfully arranged conversation between the instruments (all played by the same composer and arranger). This is a record I might expect to find as a solid Tzadik release with some extended soloing, and will hopefully be picked up beyond its homemade short-run life and get some play out as a real ensemble.
If you listen to any amount of electro-acoustic music you’re as painfully aware as I of the the glut of piano works. Fortunately idioms those… here broken… gLitsched… expectations frustrated – (just look at the title) – an immensely enjoyable equal footing of structure and form with materials instead of turning into some kind of accompaniment… driven and poignant, thickly colorful expositions.
Rod Modell has got the knack for delivering a constant stream of floaty reverberating dub, and these installments are no exception. Slightly ambient tracks with lighter drums sit neatly beside heavier beats that could easily be mixed into techno – in fact all two volumes provide a wealth of nice and long dub house tracks for the discerning mixologist (there is even a follow-up release of loops from these records).
Usually when I see any remix on something done by Tejada, I get it, but have never been so much into the full albums. This one is the exception, a stellar atmospheric and minimal techno release, not to mention I just love having a Tejada vinyl with the ubiquitous Kompakt circles.
Geoff White finally takes off his techno mantle and gives back some even greater tracks from his more smoothly downtempo project. I like his house beats a lot, and the first Aeroc album was excellent, but this one takes all the elements of that goodness and fills in the rest with more of it, generously connecting with samples he uses in more upbeat affairs. Some of the best combinations of weird sounds and more traditional (acoustic) guitar licks out there, with plenty of groove to catch yer hook.
When you’re actually searching through the underground for new things instead of just allowing them to pop up, you tend to run into some pretty awesomely strange shit (I mentioned the strange shit, right?). So first of all, I hate this genre title: Witch House (and I know you’re thinking, “RUN’s house!”). The alternatives are maybe not that better… ‘Okkvlt’ is probably what works best for me, but there’s also ‘Zombie Rave’ or the more musicological but equally confusing term ‘drag’… not so easy to tell what they actually describe. To that end, I feel like these releases not only encapsulate a lot of what I’ve heard from this style, but also what has gotten through to me more than other stuff. Orchestral, subtle folk, wide range of analog synth timbres, a rave element dialed down to icey glacial projections, plenty of noise and drone elements scattered throughout. Beyond style really, where a lot of genres meet up to melt together in an underworld of aural sublimity. I especially like the aspects of this genre that seem to be meant to keep it underground, for instance the indecipherable symbols and alternate typefaces for titling make it quite difficult for search engines, and a lot of the cover art are just bizarre and weirdly disturbing collages or suggestive imagery, which of course I find fascinating because the music echoes the same combinatory spirit. Highly contrasting, highly original stuff.
Back in the mid 90’s before I ever got into techno music, I owned the original VHS copy of Peter Greenaway’s 1983 release 4merican Composers (natch, “Four American Composers”) and watched it constantly while in music school; I think I probably saw the Cage movie no less than 10 times.
As a honorable musicologist is want to do, I lent my copy out to a friend who had never heard of any of them, but then never got it back because of moving across the country. So I’ve been searching high and low for higher quality versions of these videos.
It is way out of print, but you can still find the VHS version… they’ve been released on DVD in Europe, but only in PAL format. In the digital age, this is unacceptable for me, so I finally came across someone who ripped the videos and I now have – albeit in relatively lowres VHS-sourced AVI files – all four on my iPod. The quality is what you’d expect from a 30-year old VHS tape, but it’s not horrible.
I’ve been struggling about whether to post them myself, but today Ubuweb has answered my prayers and posted all of them for me (lo and behold, the quality is no better than my collected AVI files, I suspect they may have procured them from the same source).
So here they are, I highly recommend… they are the greatest films about avant garde music you’ll ever find anywhere:
Someone showed me this incredibly awesome looking ‘DIY’ pedal being done by Line6 called the ToneCore DSP Developer’s Kit. At first I think, aaah what a cool platform for custom DSP pedal effects, what a nice little generic pedal with cool ways of creating my own DSP configurations… you can imagine the excitement, so unfortunately diffused by this paragraph:
Will this platform be available on the Mac?
Probably not, sorry. Freescale, the company that makes the processor, writes the development tools and as far as we know, they have no Mac development tools planned. However, it may be possible that these tools may work on an Intel-based Mac using one of the Windows emulating solutions.
WHAT? Are you kidding me? Come on, Line6, couldn’t you have picked an actual OPEN platform like Arduino or something?
This is a great interview of an awesome figure in electronic music, done just recently (2011) in Madrid by the Red Bull Music Academy:
Listen to a free stream of Silver Apples of the Moon on last.fm.
I’m building a 3×3 matrix mixer and have been scouring the Internet for examples and technical ideas. Even though a Google search can give you days of examples of opinions on which OpAmp to use at what stage, I’m more interested in the actual pedagogy of building the thing in the first place. So here are some of the better links I’ve uncovered that are useful for getting your head around the entire idea of designing a matrix mixer.
A lot of good guidance here, using OmAmps for buffering, though I think the best thing about this page is the nice wiring schematic at the very bottom on how to wire buses.
This JFET style mixer is basically a step up from a passive mixer with no buffers, sometimes used in place of an OpAmp:
These are a selection of great starting points for learning how to build simple input/output buffers, focused mostly on JFET, but with some discussion of JFET OpAmps:
Ken Stone’s well known mixer designs. PCB’s are no longer available, but the theory and technique is there:
- Matrix Mixer: http://www.cgs.synth.net/modules/cgs33_matrix_mixer.html
- “DC” Mixer: http://www.cgs.synth.net/modules/cgs04_mix.html
The Doepfer A-100 DIY Matrix Mixer example schematic (about halfway down the page):
The Bucha Matrix Mixer Clone thread at Electro-Music contains vtl5c3’s posts about his 8×8 project, which follows the Buchla design. The only place I’ve been able to find the Buchla schematic online, and has great photos of the mixer’s guts:
I’ve breadboarded the input/output stages with NTE451 JFET’s using a 50k pot and 56k ‘mixing’ resistors, I think I’ve found the perfect combination out of parts I already own… I need to swing by Orvac later today and possibly pick up more transistors and resistors so I can build the protoboard. -mrd 20110411
Check out these great DIY schematics and tutorials for audio electronics published by Doepfer… found this while working on a passive mixer for Long Beach SoundWalk.
I like to make myself feel as if I’m somehow close to the elusive community of electronic music. My problem, however, is that I am way too interested in multiple facets of music releases to pay attention in any style for very long. I seek out what really turns my ear, the gems of sound that are unique statements of purpose or individuality. Since I desire great pieces of listening, I spend time searching for it, which means I listen to a lot of not so great things too, and that goes double for netlabels. Needless to say I associate my music activities in a very close circle, I do very fringe stuff, really of a limited appeal on the grand scheme of things. My listening is only very more or less fringey than that, but I thought, well hell why not, I listen to all this music I may as well review it (however briefly) and share my twisted sense of what’s good music to the dozen people who bother to look at my blog (and if you do, i thank you for at least being interested). And yes you guessed it, listening to all 24 albums shown here will take you almost exactly 24 hours. So enjoy!
Autistici : Volume Objects : 12K
Subtle explorations of sound relationships and rhythm, blending elements of recognizable instruments and easy going synth gestures with elegantly placed electro-acoustic underpinning. I imagine a conductor with the most supreme control of his sonic elements, swirling around in a glaze.
Various : Favorite Places : Audiobulb
A wonderful concept! Recordings and compositions from favorite places of the included artists, a very personal record, wide in breadth. Equal parts phonography and arranged constructions, in some cases I feel like I become part of that place. Eerie and magical.
Ellen Allien : Sool : BPitch Control
Count this one as a surprise indeed. I’m used to a heavier hand when it comes to bpitch and this gal, so a well-crafted minimal techno album with some actual musical interest was the last thing I expected. The tunes are understated but driven in a way that especially matches the style, engaging but never harsh.
He Can Jog : Middlemarch : Audiobulb
There is a finesse with which HCJ can blend noise and consonance that’s infectious and maybe just a little frightening. He shares the same ranks with other electro-acoustic artists here that like a tasty blend of percussion with their textures, and I think he does it quite excellently with a sparing amount of sugar on top.
Ilkae : Light Industry : Eerik Inpuj Sound
Just one person now, Ilkae has released one heck of an outing that mixes pure abstract expressionism with a smattering of melodies and structures that stick in my ear until I’m humming it when I wake up in the morning. LSK and Magnesium are both choice cuts.
Proswell : Cyclothymia : Eerik Inpuj Sound
Over 65 tracks between 0 and 6 minutes. Inspired miniatures, fully rounded songs, brief brightly colored sketchings; some of the best work he’s done to date. A lot of the songs appeared in a podcast over the course of the year, but it is great to have a full collection of them under one cover. Randomized listening highly recommended.
Various : Format : Fällt
Along the same lines of the miniatures Proswell and Ilkae (and myself, inspired by thus) have done, one of my favorite pieces of this comp is Tonne’s “Paper/Pixels”: a corrugated 71 tracks at only 7 seconds or less apiece, from tiny little beats looped once to bursts of noise or nearly silence. Taylor Deupree and FourColor also stand out on this one, wonderful collection!
Tape : Luminarium : Häpna
Polished construction and structure, with a perfect balance of acoustic and electric. These guys know how to make an ensemble be an ensemble and not just a band trying to add computers. The compositional acumen stands on its own in a collection of poignant, soft melodies and instrumentation that I haven’t quite heard before in this context. Looking forward to more from this gang.
Various : Magnetism, That Electricity… : HighPoint LowLife
All the HPLL artists shine on this comp, but I especially like the dark analog synth contributions of Fink Industries (check out the remixes of his tracks too) and the contrasting bubbly lift of The Marcia Blaine School for Girls. There is such a wide range of styles on here that it’s difficult to describe, but it’s fantastic listening with a tropical forest of influences and approaches.
Anders Ilar : Sworn : Level
Moving to the 4×4 side of things, a flawlessly constructed set of tracks. Haunting would be a good word to describe the melodies and dub feel, but really it’s just good smooth techno with a nice groove and peppered funky.
Various : Terminal : Narita
This does have an Ilar track on it that could have easily been on Sworn, but it features so many other great techno folks that it deserves a place on my list for sure. Not to mention it’s supposedly the very last release from the depths of Merck/Narita. I like working in the garden with this one thumping out to me… Senior Frio, Blamstrain, Arctic Hospital, Brothomstates, Yard, Adam Johnson… grow plants grow!
Byetone : Death of a Typographer : Raster-Noton
I was pleasantly surprised when hearing this mechanical beast roar in my studio. Pure waveforms have become the subject of extreme grooves and almost downright hooky harmonic form. It’s good to hear these guys move on from their surgical masturbation to something more substantial. I’m all for delicate glass soundscapes but you can only have so many before the personality is literally worn thin.
Ø : Oleva : Sähkö
There are times when blocks of sound and imagined landscapes go hand in hand. Just wonderfully alien and funky, stuff that makes your torso vibrate. Contains probably my favorite Pink Floyd cover ever; “set the controls for the heart of the sun” is perfect for brooding, dark-sparked audio.
Various : Round Black Ghosts : ~scape
I have to be honest, the output of this label has been questionable for the past few years, so it’s good to hear this collection of experimentally tinged and dub-inspired dance grooves. Pole stands out of course, but 2562’s “Channel Two” is probably my favorite.
Unquestionably the best new thing to come out of Evan Bluetech’s new label. There is a hefty amount of experimentalism balanced out by beats, supported by (of course) a dub atmosphere, but further punctuated by a free jazz influence. Right up my alley, the vibraphone work is especially sublime. Somnia has turned out not to be a hyper-ambient thing like I feared, I’m encouraged by the diversity of their CD’s so far, and I love the beautiful packaging. Some of the only CDs I still buy, in fact.
Brassica : Microvictories : Tartaruga
Another CD I had to buy because of the packaging, Calika recommended this album, calling it the best thing he had heard this year. As you can see I had a hard enough time narrowing things down to 24, so naming something numero uno isn’t really my bag. However, I absolutely love the approach in this music. The same sort of collage-inspired acousmatic blending but with his own unique voice in a way that draws you into what’s happening, and before you know it the album is over. And you get an oragami turtle with it! How awesome is that?
This music reminds me the most of music school, I’m not sure why. I think there is a connection with composers I studied that made a subliminal crossing to the work of d’incise, but it could be the natural fluidity of the sound that works the most like a classical string quartet. I enjoy the fact that he uses less beats but arrives at the same atmosphere as earlier albums, carrying the listener along in what seems to be a storyline that never quite reveals itself.
Fennesz : Black Sea : Touch
Finally a Fennesz I can listen to all the way through without thinking it was on repeat the whole time. There is a lot more diversity in this record than any other, showing a real willingness to develop beyond the distorted-guitar-drone rut. I’ve heard other die-hard Fennesz fans poo-poo this album, so it’s interesting I think it’s more mature than others. It’s similar to how I think Murcof has grown, I’m looking forward to what he’s doing this year as well.
Portishead : Third : Universal Island
Uniquely spectacular in their own way. It thrills me to no end that they employed their own studio recordings for this instead of the sample-based thing. Not that Dummy isn’t the best triphop album ever, but they’ve shown here that the band is really a group with something musical to say, not just push out badass basslines. Beth Gibbons has the most sultry voice ever, I cannot get enough of her inflection.
Autechre : Quaristice : Warp
Say what you will, the “bonus” CD for this album is so much better than the “original version” of the tracks. I think it’s an amazing escape into surreal dancescapes and fractured electro, it’s very mature and non-egotistic Booth’n’Brown just having fun and making some cool ass tunes. The reason people hate these guys for doing things like this is because they won’t drop their expectations and just listen to the sound, and want it all to be like 1997 again.
Flying Lotus : Los Angeles : Warp
What I had always wished Prefuse73 was. And now I no longer have to! Artists who pull out just the right elements of hip hop that I like and pull it threadbare through an electronics sieve are A-OK in my book. It also helps this is not an hour of the same approach to beatcutting and voice splicing over and over again. I concede people are into that. I’m not.
Deadbeat : Roots and Wire : Wagon Repair
If you couldn’t tell there is a definitely swing towards the reggae side of things in my library. Swelling basslines and rim snaps, echoes filtering every which way, the sort of limping I love most. What starts off as a minimalistic break-beaty sort of dancehall album assuredly melts into easy rolling dubhouse. I think it’s the most well put together Deadbeat of any.
Letna : Tisza Meets Dunav : Zymogen
Ah some of the most beautiful drones of the year. Very popular this style, it’s only really successful when done with detail and depth. This album imagines me drifting between layers of impossibly smokey silk.
Jimmy Behan : In the Sudden Distance : Zymogen
A sort of minimal chamberwork, with an unevenness and simplicity that mingles the sound as if it belonged there the whole time. Definitely ambient, but more personal than a pure drone album, with smaller spaces and more intricacy.
Some others worth mentioning:
Implex Grace : Through Luminescent Passages (I & II)
HRSTA : Ghosts Will Come Kiss Our Eyes
Hol Baumann : Human
Fly Pan Am : Ceux Qui Inventent N’Ont Jamis Vecu
Evan Marc + Steve Hillage : Dreamtime Submersible
Electricwest : Divine de Vice
Alva Noto : UNITXT
Wilder Gonzales Agreda : Se Tu Propio Totem
Trivium : Shogun
Tanox : Astronomia de Balcon
Secret Chiefs 3 : Xaphan: Book of Angels Vol. 9
op.cit. : Under the Sweel
naw : vague terrain 10: digital dub
Motionfield : Optical Flow
Model 500 : Starlight remixes
Lone : Lemurian
Various : Dame Citrus
Check this out… DataCent, a data recovery company, has started a catalog of common sounds heard on failing hard drives, and it covers multiple vendors and situations where things can be heard going terribly wrong. Best of all, they give full permission to use the samples as long as you contact them about it.
Six tracks, mostly beat-driven, of downtempo styled expressionism ripe with electro-acoustic improvisation; acousmatica for the brainwaves.
I was also honored to have Matt Mercer (of Microfilm) write up the release on Under the Lens, here’s an excerpt from the full article:
Craque [is] a project of highly abstract instrumental electronic music that often defies easy categorization. He’s not afraid of melody or traditional rhythm, even at times can lay down a healthy groove, but most of his music is characterized by heavily processed and manipulated sounds derived from everyday objects. Typically, though, these sounds are far removed from the source and take on a weird, synthetic life of their own.
Also from the release page:
…Craque assaults our senses with an eclectic amalgam of rich rhythmic patterns that derivate from dub, hip hop, techno and other urban languages, but instead of driving us straight to the physical emotion center, they drive us to the ‘braindance’ center… Excellent and extremely elegant electronic music.