Production legend, accomplished live electronic musician, and inspiration and friend King Britt has been deep in his lab again. So hop in the polyrhythmic time machine, as you may want to set its controls to “loop.”
While clubs are empty, we’ve been getting an intimate look at how people play and imagine ideas. And one of the best sets from FACT’s new Patch Notes series features the excellent JakoJako – just when you might need some music that lets you calm your head.
Many of us imagine visuals when we close our eyes and listen to music. Here are two devices you can drop directly into Ableton Live to make that happen – from an artist whose work weaves together visual and sonic realms.
Iranian-born, Armenia-based composer and music and media artist Arash Azadi has built his own body of evocative work that explores imagined topographies of sound and image. (We put out one on our Establishment project – see below.)
What’s special about these devices is you can connect to his imagination – and let these inventions interpret your music live, too. One works with generative visuals, and one with a camera.
Sonic Geometry is a reactive visual generator that spits out gorgeous abstract imagery in response to your sound input. It’s a minimalistic mathematical sacred sonic geometrical trip.
It’s also a great example of Max’s power to allow people to build on one another’s work and create variations. Sonic Geometry began its life as Sound Particles by Kevin Kripper, and Arash took it in another direction. That’s long been a part of music composition (see cantus firmus tradition for one example); patches and code in these environments make it easier in the medium of software.
The EP is a sonic pilgrimage of the soul liberating itself from the mind. Through repetitive phrases and circular rhythms, Azadi and Marutian create hypnotic soundscapes to open the windows of listener’s subconscious. The recording is the outcome of a fully improvised set at Azadi’s studio. This is the first time that Arash Azadi appears as the pianist on a record.
Marut Marutian: electric guitar and pedals. Video by: Karen Khachaturov Photography
There’s the side project Marginal Twilight, which marked the occasion of the Persian new year already disrupted by quarantine and lockdowns – a solitary new beginning:
In these times that we all are separated from each other and in fear of death, it’s good to realize that nature is becoming new and spring is bringing life to earth. Even now we can choose to celebrate life and Nowruz the Persian New Year (the New Day) through music and dance.
It’s earlier work, but I’m still quite fond of Arash’s Geosonic Journeys for us – and people slowly keep discovering its aural landscapes:
All the best to all our readers and my friends in Iran and Armenia and around the world. We’re listening. And I miss a lot of you.
Even in the capital Beijing, once-crowded streets are now empty, as the 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak forces people at home. The solution for live musicians: turn to streaming.
Streaming was already a popular hangout for Chinese musicians and artists across the region, before the viral shutdown of public space. That already included experimental artists looking to reach one another in their niche. The difference is, now online interaction in China is essential because people are effectively all isolated at home.
I caught some small window into this via Edward Sanderson, based in Beijing, who has been sharing the streams of his friends. (To this I’m again indebted to C-drik and his Syrphe Facebook group on experimental music in Asia and Africa, as I wrote up recently.)
Edward writes, ” As group events in China have been curtailed because of the coronavirus threat, the online space has become more important for meeting up.” (Many of these events are also shared via Facebook even though that site is blocked by default in China; in experimental music circles, it seems VPNs are popular.)
So, for instance, via streaming, two experimental clarinetists can play together.
Zhu Wenbo played a concert from his home in Beijing:
In Dali, located in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, clarinet player Ding Chenchen could join in a day later, as a duet:
You won’t see anything until a stream is active, but there’s a streaming space on Shanghai-based Bilili, with a URL like this one:
That’s a Chinese-only service that now boasts tens of millions of users, largely focused around games, animation, and comics, but evidently branching out into clarinet noise music. These services are blocked outside China, though, so the only way to tune in would be to find some way to VPN into the country (in an unusual reversal of the normal order).
Artist Zhao Cong had announced a stream for today. I couldn’t locate it in time for this post, but here are some of her gorgeous textural compositions on Bandcamp – engrossingly fuzzy, lo-fi looped constructions:
Plus as part of the “Practice” series, new live-streamed performances were just announced with music by Zhu Wenbo, Zhou Yi, and Li Song (Chinese-language link, but you can get QR codes for concerts coming up in the next week):
Just as China has led the way in expanding the uses of mobile chat, mobile-based streaming has taken off in the country even as the West embraces the tech in fits and starts. (I’d say the reason is, markets like the USA still split usage between desktop and mobile, and are dominated by Facebook and Google and their business models – including for how music fees are structured.)
Anyway, our Chinese readers now far more about all of this than I do (from streaming to the current state of Chinese quarantine). So, since we do have a large readership that’s now trapped in your houses –
Open call to Chinese artists and other readers under quarantine! If you do have some ideas for streaming concerts, go for it! I’ll be happy to share that across the readership here. We can basically create, for now, not Boiler Room, but a sort of Coronavirus Room for bored and isolated quarantined musicians.
And to everyone dealing with life in the shadow of this virus, we wish you the best health. A big thanks to all the people working to contain its spread and doing research to help humans respond in ways that are well-informed and effective. I am not an immunologist and I don’t know that I would make a very good one, but what I imagine we can do as musicians is to help share accurate information across communities, bring people together, and to process emotions.
Don’t miss out on music – speaking of getting Africa back on your listening list, here’s an extraordinary, wide-reaching compilation of some of the most adventurous sounds from Africa and the diaspora.
Africa, it goes without saying, is a big place – uh, really big, 30.3 million km² or so, even before you get into artists moving elsewhere. (To misquote Douglas Adams, “you just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to Africa.”) But maybe thinking of music on the scale of continents and hemispheres is well suited to today’s interconnected age, as networks of artists and interchange span even bigger areas.
In any event, don’t expect this is some tokenized, surface-deep look at music duct-taped together from a massive land area. Alternate African Reality is but the latest in a series of superb compilations from Cedrik Fermont, aka C-drík (Belgium/DR Congo). There are few people as voracious and refined in their musical diet than Cedrik – even though he makes music as a solo artist, he’s constantly deep into discovery. To me, he’s emblematic of the best of how we can redefine what it means to be an artist in the Internet age – where creativity isn’t shut off from the outside, but partly about what you support and connect.
And that also means that Cedrik has had some chance to iterate on how to make a compilation on this scale, and where to find music.
The whole beauty of this sort of project is that the work is never done, there’s always too much music, the cup overflows with sound, and all of that is brilliant. But that means you should not only grab this comp, but also check out Cedrik’s platform Syrphe, “mostly but not exclusively focused onto experimental, electronic, noise music from Asia and Africa.”
The regional focus can shift all over the place in those categories, including the Middle East – Lebanon I see on the top of the list – but it’s all just generally great music, and stuff that often gets missed. Press in London focuses on musicians around London, and so on. I don’t even know that that’s a bad thing in and of itself, in that it is meaningful for some writers to talk about the scene around them. But it is equally essential that someone like Cedrik can balance out your inputs and give you fresh perspective, for anyone who loves musical discovery.
Here’s where to go for that – there’s a blog (time to dust off the RSS readers, folks):
There’s so much stuff on Syrphe that it deserves another post, but meanwhile, have at the compilation. Just going to paste the full text, as it’s all worth reading. It’s been great to work with someone like Joseph aka KMRU a few times now, and equally nice to get some new names in here.
Alternate African Reality is a follow-up to several compilations I have published on Syrphe since 2007 (the first one, Beyond Ignorance and Borders included various artists from Africa and Asia), and even earlier on my defunct tape label in the 1990s (the last tape, Archives Humaines vol.1, was published in 1996 and included 25 artists from 25 countries, including non-Western ones : South Africa, Japan, Chile, Brazil).
Alternate African Reality could be seen as a drastic improvement of 30.2, a compilation released in 2012. The CD included nine artists from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Angola, Mauritius, South Africa, Réunion and Madagascar/France. But even if I was very happy with the result, I always thought I should do a deeper research, and another issue I faced was the fact that I didn’t manage to include any women in the project.
Travelling and touring throughout parts of Africa allowed me to meet many more artists than what I ever expected and pushed me to work on this new release. This time, the end result reveals a more global compilation that could be compared to Uchronia, a compilation that includes 49 artists and bands from 32 Asian countries and the diaspora in the field of so called experimental music. Alternate African Reality is nonetheless musically more diverse, including abstract but also beat-oriented music such as ambient, electronica, electroacoustic, noise, singeli, bass music, industrial hip hop, etc.
It includes 32 artists and bands from 24 African countries and the diaspora, and last but not least, 14 women are among those vibrant musicians and composers.
Of course the artists included on the compilation only represent a fraction of the African electronic music world, and the listeners should not believe that nothing exists outside of those countries. Electronic, and, at a lower extend depending on where you look for, experimental music do exist in many other African countries.
I wish that this project will open some eyes and ears and also create more connections and networks.
You will find more information, contacts, biographies and a short essay in a PDF available with the whole compilation if you purchase the CDs or digital files. Biographies, contacts and websites are also available on this page when you click on “info” next to each track. You can also have a look at this database that contains more than 3000 references about African and Asian composers, musicians, labels, magazines and so on. syrphe.com/african&asian_database.htm
If for some valid reasons you cannot afford to buy this release, you can send a message and explain why and I might send you a download code.
I deeply thank all the artists involved and also those who for one reason or another could not participate this time as well as all the people who supported me and provided help and advises to make this project happen, those who hosted and invited me during all the travels I made throughout Africa : the Nyege Nyege team in Kampala, Mass Alexandria/Berit Schuck in Alexandria, East African Records Studios/David Cecil and his family in Kampala, Esaete (Naomi) in Kampala, Houdini in Kampala, Lukas Ligeti, Ignacio Priego, Rhéa Dally, Yebo! Contemporary Art Gallery in Ezulwini, the Rock House in Mbabane, Ground Zero – Marley Coffee in Cape Town, Chiharu Mizukami, Chihiro Sato, Paweł Kuźma, Lynda Kansas, Tengal Drilon, Jamir Adiong and his family, Vilho Nuumbala, Kamila Metwali, Sharon Tan, Olivier Moreau, Christopher Kirkley/Sahel Sounds, Nenad Vujić, David Kerr/Sign Records, Memory Biwa, Essia Mestiri, PJ/slowfidelity and many more, you know who you are !
The track order on the physical release differs from the one of the digital release.
Mash (Tunisia) Pö (France/Ghana) [MONRHEA] + Ejuku (Kenya/Uganda) Jako Maron (Réunion) Robert Machiri (Zimbabwe) Ujjaya (France/Madagascar) Ibukun Sunday (Nigeria) KMRU (Kenya) Cobi van Tonder (South Africa) Redha M (Algeria) Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman (Belgium/Rwanda) Shadwa Ali (Egypt) Tiago Correia-Paulo (Mozambique) Jacqueline George (Egypt) AMET (Cameroon/Germany) Hibotep (Ethiopia/Somalia) Aragorn23 (South Africa) The Age Of Heroes (South Sudan) Beko The Storyteller (eSwatini) Catu Diosis (Uganda) Yao Bobby & Simon Grab (Togo/Switzerland) Mario Swagga and DJ Silila (Tanzania) AFALFL (Mauritania) Rey Sapienz (DR Congo) Ibaaku (Senegal) Sukitoa o Namau (Morocco) Victor Gama (Angola) Luca Forcucci featuring Cara Stacey and Mpho Molikeng (Italy/Switzerland/South Africa/Lesotho) C-drík (Belgium/DR Congo) Emeka Obgoh (Nigeria) Chantelle Grey (South Africa) Ski Crime (South Africa)
Get lost in a dreamscape of sound with Barker (Ostgut Ton) – who does what you do in a studio. With the clock ticking, he happily loses track of time.
It’s delightfully shiny, futuristic music – just what we need in a world that can feel dark and regressive. We spoke to Barker in the fall in the sunshine outside Berghain (playing against type). That conversation dwelled more on philosophy of music and rhythm than tech, but it’s just as stimulating to watch Sam at work on his machines.
Here he is for FACT‘s ongoing Against the Clock series – but I think embodying the best of what that format can be:
The action all takes place in Sam’s home flat, the same basic tools of his live shows. The heart of this rig, even with all those modulars around, is Elektron gear – the OctaTrack as sequencer and brain and sampler, the Digitone making those lovely chimey sounds, and the wonderful Faderfox for control. The Nord Drum adds extra noises, but maybe the most interesting aspect is the plate reverb with solenoids, sequenced by Arturia BeatStep Pro.
Against all this pristine digital goodness, the plate reverb produces some tightly-sequenced but organic and acoustic space. I believe that’s dadamachines as the friendly interface to the physical world – plug-and-play, MIDI-controllable robotics, also coming from Berlin.
For some of the deeper thinking behind Sam’s work lately, check our reflective interview from September:
I remember telling friends when I heard it that I thought Barker’s Utility on Ostgut Ton would be all over end-of-year lists. That was an easy bet – and it was right. But I’m still glad our resident music expert David Abravanel included Sam on the list we ran this week:
And it fits that headline description. It’s music from a techno artist, theoretically – resident of Berlin’s iconic Berghain, check, Ostgut Ton label, check, techno tools of the trade, yes, but added into a sum that just sits somewhere in music, without any particular genre affiliation.
And best of all, I think it’s the sort of sounds that make you want to go off and play, too.
Mixlr is an independent tool for live streaming, with broadcast tools for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. I wasn’t tuned in on Sunday when this happened, but it seems there was live chat with (presumably Sean).
The company is based in Shoreditch, London, and is itself an interesting story – still private, still independent since its 2010 launch, even as many other audio and music startups have come and gone and even mighty SoundCloud has seen its founders depart the leadership team. So it’s kind of encouraging to see Autechre show up there.
There’s some fun chatter on Reddit to follow:
Thanks to Mike of Wunderblock Records for the tip, as I shake jetlag from 10,000 km of travel yesterday! Feel free to chime in on comments with a) track IDs, b) your own live streaming experience/station, or anything else.
Hainbach may be known to most as the YouTuber with a bespectacled gaze, talking to you about weird old sound gear. But his ambient music is absolutely beguiling.
“Gestures,” his new LP this month, is a gauzy, sensitive reverie, as ghosts of piano loops slip between washes of delicate oscillator tones. Nothing is overthought or precious; there’s a gentle openness to each sound.
From the description:
Gestures is an album of disappearing and acceptance. The sense of loss is lifted by interweaving piano phrases, harmonized by fragile oscillators. Gentle movements above radio antennas guided the recording process, adding an incorporeal, dreamlike feel.
Cassettes are sold out, but vinyl is still available.
Digital is through today only name what you want, because the artist says he just wants it to be widely heard.
But maybe there’s the resonance between Hainbach’s art and his YouTube channel – he’s someone who is simply glad to welcome you into his home and share what he’s doing. So that transparency is there in his labor-of-love discussions of his tools, but also there in the easy intimacy of his mixes and compositions, too.
Here’s a new music jam from him, as well:
In art it is possible to create a sense of clarity that is difficult to attain in everyday life. That is a huge attraction to me. Here I am playing the Bellinger eKalimba and OP1 into the Ciat-Lonbarde Plumbutter, with Thyme generating lovely rhythms.
And in case you missed it, our last stop by Hainbach with our new MeeBlip geode:
It started as an artist tool, but it could become yours, as well. Grainstation-C is a free and open source sound creation workstation that’s playable live and supports ambisonic spatial sound. And the music its creators makes is ethereal and wonderful.
Micah Frank, noted sound designer and toolmaker as well as composer/musician, produced Grainstation-C for his own work but has expanded it to an open source offering for everybody. I’ve been waiting for this one for a while, and I think it could appeal both to people looking for a unique tool as well as those wanting to learn a bit more about granular sound in Csound.
The engine: 4 streams from disk, 3 streams from live input. Live audio looping, multiple grain controls, six independent pitch delay lines, six switchable low- and high-pass filters. Snapshot saving.
Powered by: Csound, the modern free and open source sound creation tool that evolved from the grandparent of all digital audio tools.
Live control: It’s pre-mapped to the eminently useful Novation LaunchControl XL MK2, but you could easily remap it to other MIDI controllers if you prefer.
Ambisonics: This optional spatial audio processing lets you use a standard format to adapt to immersive sound environments – in three-dee! Or not, as you like.
It’s deep stuff – even with different granular modes and controls (time stretching, frame animation, pitch shifting). The inspiration, says Micah, was the now-discontinued System Concrète, a complete MakeNoise modular rig that combined grains with modulation, filtering, and delays. But – as is easily possible with software, unconstrained by knobs and space and money – he kept going from there.
Equally notable is the ethereal, beautiful album Quetico that also debuts this week, on Micah’s own Puremagnetik record label. Once, the line between toolmakers and musicians, engineers and composers was thought sacred – even with elaborate explanations about why the two couldn’t be compared. But just as electronic artists have demolished other sacred walls (club and concert, for instance), Micah is part of a generation doing away with those old prejudices.
And the results are richly sensual – warm waves of sound processed from Yellowstone geysers and Big Sur nights, Micah says. It’s classic ambient music, and the tool simply melts away, the essential craft of delivering a palette of sound. At the same time, being transparent with the tools is the ultimate confidence in one’s own musical invention. Micah’s Puremagnetik was a business built in making sounds for others, and yet both the album and free tool suggest the limitless possibility of that act of sharing.
In any event, this is acousmatic creation of the finest quality, with or without the GitHub link. And Micah is getting some deserved recognition, too, with a 2019 New York Foundation award for the Arts Fellow in Music and Sound.
With so much of the sound out of my country of origin the United States ugly, it’s wonderful to hear beautiful algorithmic sounds derived from the nation’s national parks instead.
Before modulars became a product, some of the first electronic synthesis experiments made use of test equipment – gear intended to make sound, but not necessarily musically. And now that approach is making a comeback.
Hainbach, the Berlin-based experimental artist, has been helping this time-tested approach to sound reach new audiences.
I actually have never seen a complete, satisfying explanation of the relationship of abstract synthesis, as developed by engineers and composers, to test gear. Maybe it’s not even possible to separate the two. But suffice to say, early in the development of synthesis, you could pick up a piece of gear intended for calibration and testing of telecommunications and audio systems, and use it to make noise.
Why the heck would you do that now, given the availability of so many options for synthesis? Well, for one – until folks like Hainbach and me make a bunch of people search the used market – a lot of this gear is simply being scrapped. Since it’s heavy and bulky, it ranges from cheap to “if you get this out of my garage, you can have it” pricing. And the sound quality of a lot of it is also exceptional. Sold to big industry back in a time when slicing prices of this sort of equipment wasn’t essential, a lot of it feels and sounds great. And just like any other sound design or composition exercise that begins with finding something unexpected, the strange wonderfulness of these devices can inspire.
I got a chance to play a few days with the Waveform Research Centre in Rotterdam’s WORM, a strange and wild collection of these orphaned devices lovingly curated by Dennis Verschoor. And I got sounds unlike anything I was used to. It wasn’t just the devices and their lovely dials that made that possible – it was also the unique approach required when the normal envelope generators and such aren’t available. Human creativity does tend to respond well to obstacles.
Whether or not you go that route, it is worth delving into the history and possibilities – and Hainbach’s video is a great start. It might at the very least change how you approach your next Reaktor patch, SuperCollider code, synth preset, or Eurorack rig.