Infinite Jest Project @ .microsound

The .microsound community recently embarked on a new project to honor the life of writer David Foster Wallace, known widely for his intelligently sprawling novel Infinite Jest.

Instructions were to take one of the films attributed to the protagonist’s father and create a soundtrack. I was attracted to the surrealism in the description of Baby Pictures of Famous Dictators and almost immediately had an image of what the film would be like.

Not having read this novel yet, the source of my inspiration was the description itself:

“Baby Pictures Of Famous Dictators” – Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad. Poor Yorick Entertainment Unlimited. Documentary or uncredited cast w/ narrator P.A. Heaven; 16 mm; 45 minutes; black and white; sound. Children and adolescents play a nearly incomprehnsible nuclear strategy game with tennis equipment against a real or holographic (?) backdrop of sabotaged ATHSCME 1900 atmospheric displacement towers exploding and toppling during the New New England Chemical Emergency of Y.W. CELLULOID (UNRELEASED)

I took 45 minutes as my guiding point and imagined the film was a tableau, a “moving still life” of sorts. It’s a 45 minute long game, a slow motion still life of a disaster reflected in the childsplay of fooling around with physics.

We see a setting that never changes, of innocent children (we assume the same as in the pictures referenced by the title) against a backdrop that is ever changing, sharing an appetite for control. They become the embodiment of the Famous Dictators, playing games, like children, with adult toys of power and war.

A chemical emergency could imply this is related to nuclear power or physics. Are the children playing a game that caused the emergency? Are they blissfully unaware? Or are they working to solve the problem by a series of complex nuclear games? It’s unclear if we will ever know.

The soundtrack is not a reflection of the action seen onscreen, but rather the literal voice of each proper name. As their structures compost, weaving as they play the game, new forms are illuminated.

These nine names were used to drive various parameters specific to each person’s voice, guiding things like frequency, filters, delay effects and envelope (in each case, the longest, most familiar version of the English proper name was used):

  • Adolf Hitler
  • Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin
  • Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini
  • Mao Zedong
  • Ho Chi Minh
  • Francisco Franco Bahamonde
  • Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz
  • Saddam Hussein
  • Tojo Hideki

The analysis of the text file containing the names was done with perl, which wrote out various ChucK files. The entire piece is one large ChucK session recorded to a file, then normalized.

When I started the piece was a lot less “bright” than it ultimately became, but in a strange way I feel like it took on its own character, and mourns both the tragedy of these dictators and the loss of DFW.

The player on the project page is a great way to listen to the soundtracks everyone has done, and allows for direct downloads of the works.

Experimental Music Links

I’m usually happening upon all kinds of things while I’m across the Internets for work or play, and I’ll document the more interesting and pertinent ones here on

I keep my own list of interesting Audio Hardware, as well as links to useful Audio Software, a lot of which centers around open source or DIY.

Check out Audio Culture for general experimental audio society.

Get Some is my list of “obtaining” art and sound across the Internet, both pay-sites and places you can get free stuff.

Last but not least, I try to keep a tally of enticing online Music Labels where I’ve enjoyed releases and projects. Most of these are of the “netlabel” type and I’ve put some of my favorites at the top; the remaineder are those I tag with delicious.

Enjoy the links and don’t hesitate to drop me a line to suggest something.

Nodal: Generative MIDI software

There’s a new generative music package out now called Nodal, which uses an object oriented interface that gives composers control over every aspect of MIDI in a string-it-together sort of Max/PD style.

It will work with any MIDI capable synth, software or hardware, which means it works with most anything like Live, GarageBand or Logic as well as your outboard synths. My outboard synths with MIDI are long gone, and I do next to no work with software synths, but it does look interesting.

The whole concept of “generative music” is weird. While I appreciate the removal of the ego in music making to explore new avenues of creation, I haven’t been able to embrace algorithmic composition very easily. And I would spend the time on it, really I would… but doing hardware circuit bending and made instrument improvisation is much more satisfying to me – in the indeterminate sense – than setting up a bunch of programs to do things for me.

Getting into Circuit-Bending?

Sound Art at professes to be where “the art of circuit-bending was launched on the internet,” and it’s actually a nice resource for getting into avant-garde uses of musical toys.

In [how it works] a step-by-step example shows the simple circuit-bending process, and other topics go into things like tools and equipment and advanced things about electronics.

Erotus Records Kickoff Set

Here’s a live set from the guys at Erotus (Blamstrain’s new label) celebrating its launch, featured in the Viides Uuden Musiikin Festivaali, or “Fifth Festival for New Music”, held in Kupittaanpuisto, Turku, Finland.

Download it to hear area, asketix, blamstrain, ercola, and mk10 (not necessarily in that order) throw down a continuous two and a half hour set of glitch-filled, sometimes psychedelic, always atmospheric minimal techno from 25 July in Finland.

Twisted Records now has downloads

One of my favorite sources for anything psychedelic, Twisted Records has started an online store with digital downloads.

Traditionally this has been a “DJ’s label” selling mostly vinyl and CDs of primarily music meant to be spun at a party, but it’s interesting to see them offering things digitally.

It matches up a bit with the direction of some of the music Posford and friends make now, a lot less “fringey” I’d call it – more use of pop elements some might say – not any less worldly but a lot more accessible for the common ear.

So on the one hand, you become less a fan of the music because of elements that you enjoy the music especially for being without, and on the other there is an entire world of ears out there being brought closer to the fringe.

Probably there is a happy medium where experiment solidifies into an entire musical experience, drawing people to different levels and depths but always satisfying.

DIY photo-sensitive synth

I’m excited to be waiting on the arrival of my new Bleep Labs ThingamaKIT.

Not unlike the simple improvising synth I’ve been working on with VCOs and 2-pole filters, this is a DIY version of their photo-sensitive thingamagoop, described on their website as simply:

“The Thingamagoops have oscillators just like any synth. On analog synths the oscillator that creates the actual tone you hear is called a VCO or voltage controlled oscillator. The Bleeps work a little differently so we’ll just call it the main oscillator. Instead of using a keyboard, the main oscillator in the Thingamas is controlled by a photocell.”

It’s basic, it’s clean, and best of all it’s amazingly well priced for the stuff included – as long as you’re in it for the soldering, of course, like nuts like me. There’s some good pics up on the thingamakit flickr group.

Looking forward to a good learning experience and possibly some ideas on how I can improve my homebuilt oddities.

T Spigot is rearing its burroughsian head once again

My favorite live downtempo band – T Spigot – is back in action this year, and to start it off they’re offering the limited edition first pressing of Experiments in the Hypnotic Production of Crime, available through paypal for a measly $5, so go get it!

The bonus is that this version of the album includes the remix of dubnbud which they did for the 12″ release of Trolling for Olives.

The version released on Water Music didn’t include it, probably for licensing/copyright reasons imposed by Water, but it’s not exactly clear why.

At any rate, I’m glad those guys are getting the CD version out there, because it’s a great remix, and the entire album is one of my favorites of the genre.