Jlin, Holly Herndon, and ‘Spawn’ find beauty in AI’s flaws

Musicians don’t just endure technology when it breaks. They embrace the broken. So it’s fitting that Holly Herndon’s team have produced a demonic spawn of machine learning algorithms – and that the results are wonderful.

The new music video for the Holly Herndon + Jlin collaboration have been making the rounds online, so you may have seen it already:


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But let’s talk about what’s going on here. Holly is continuing a long-running collaboration with producer Jlin, here joined by technologist Mat Dryhurst and coder Jules LaPlace. (The music video itself is directed by Daniel Costa Neves with software developer Leif Ryge, employing still more machine learning technique to merge the two artists’ faces.)

Machine learning processes are being explored in different media in parallel – characters and text, images, and sound, voice, and music. But the results can be all over the place. And ultimately, there are humans as the last stage. We judge the results of the algorithms, project our own desires and fears on what they produce, and imagine anthropomorphic intents and characteristics.

Sometimes errors like over-fitting then take on a personality all their own – even as mathematically sophisticated results fail to inspire.

But that’s not to say these reactions aren’t just as real. An part of may make the video “Godmother” compelling is not just the buzzword of AI, but the fact that it genuinely sounds different.

The software ‘Spawn,’ developed by Ryge working with the team, is a machine learning-powered encoder. Herndon and company have anthropomorphized that code in their description, but that itself is also fair – not least because the track is composed in such a way to suggest a distinct vocalist.

I love Holly’s poetic description below, but I think it’s also important to be precise about what we’re hearing. That is, we can talk about the evocative qualities of an oboe, but we should definitely still call an oboe an oboe.

So in this case, I confirmed with Dryhurst that what I was hearing. The analysis stage employs neural network style transfers – some links on that below, though LaPlace and the artists here did make their own special code brew. And then they merged that with a unique vocoder – the high-quality WORLD vocoder. That is, they feed a bunch of sounds into the encoder, and get some really wild results.

And all of that in turn makes heavy use of the unique qualities of Jlin’s voice, Holly’s own particular compositional approach and the arresting percussive take on these fragmented sounds, Matt’s technological sensibilities, LaPlace’s code, a whole lot of time spent on parameters and training and adaptation…

Forget automation in this instance. All of this involves more human input and more combined human effort that any conventionally produced track would.

Is it worth it? Well, aesthetically, you could make comparisons to artists like Autechre, but then you could do that with anything with mangled sample content in it. And on a literal level, the result is the equivalent of a mangled sample. The results retain recognizable spectral components of the original samples, and they add a whole bunch of sonic artifacts which sound (correctly, really) ‘digital’ and computer-based to our ears.

But it’s also worth noting that what you hear is particular to this vocoder technique and especially to audio texture synthesis and neutral network-based style transfer of sound. It’s a commentary on 2018 machine learning not just conceptually, but because what you hear sounds the way it does because of the state of that tech.

And that’s always been the spirit of music. The peculiar sound and behavior of a Theremin says a lot about how radios and circuits respond to a human presence. Vocoders have ultimately proven culturally significant for their aesthetic peculiarities even if their original intention was encoding speech. We respond to broken circuits and broken code on an emotional and cultural level, just as we do acoustic instruments.

In a blog post that’s now a couple of years old – ancient history in machine learning terms, perhaps – Dmitry Ulyanov and Vadim Lebedev acknowledged that some of the techniques they used for “audio texture synthesis and style transfer” used a technique intended for something else. And they implied that the results didn’t work – that they had “stylistic” interest more than functional ones.

Dmitry even calls this a partial failure: “I see a slow but consistent interest increase in music/audio by the community, for sure amazing things are just yet to come. I bet in 2017 already we will find a way to make WaveNet practical but my attempts failed so far :)”

Spoiler – that hasn’t really happened in 2017 or 2018. But “failure” to be practical isn’t necessarily a failure. The rising interest has been partly in producing strange results – again, recalling that the vocoder, Theremin, FM synthesis, and many other techniques evolved largely because musicians thought the sounds were cool.

But this also suggests that musicians may uniquely be able to cut through the hype around so-called AI techniques. And that’s important, because these techniques are assigned mystical powers, Wizard of Oz-style.

Big corporations can only hype machine learning when it seems to be magical. But musicians can hype up machine learning even when it breaks – and knowing how and when it breaks is more important than ever. Here’s Holly’s official statement on the release:

For the past two years, we have been building an ensemble in Berlin.

One member is a nascent machine intelligence we have named Spawn. She is being raised by listening to and learning from her parents, and those people close to us who come through our home or participate at our performances.

Spawn can already do quite a few wonderful things. ‘Godmother’ was generated from her listening to the artworks of her godmother Jlin, and attempting to reimagine them in her mother’s voice.

This piece of music was generated from silence with no samples, edits, or overdubs, and trained with the guidance of Spawn’s godfather Jules LaPlace.

In nurturing collaboration with the enhanced capacities of Spawn, I am able to create music with my voice that far surpass the physical limitations of my body.

Going through this process has brought about interesting questions about the future of music. The advent of sampling raised many concerns about the ethical use of material created by others, but the era of machine legible culture accelerates and abstracts that conversation. Simply through witnessing music, Spawn is already pretty good at learning to recreate signature composition styles or vocal characters, and will only get better, sufficient that anyone collaborating with her might be able to mimic the work of, or communicate through the voice of, another.

Are we to recoil from these developments, and place limitations on the ability for non-human entities like Spawn to witness things that we want to protect? Is permission-less mimicry the logical end point of a data-driven new musical ecosystem surgically tailored to give people more of what they like, with less and less emphasis on the provenance, or identity, of an idea? Or is there a more beautiful, symbiotic, path of machine/human collaboration, owing to the legacies of pioneers like George Lewis, that view these developments as an opportunity to reconsider who we are, and dream up new ways of creating and organizing accordingly.

I find something hopeful about the roughness of this piece of music. Amidst a lot of misleading AI hype, it communicates something honest about the state of this technology; it is still a baby. It is important to be cautious that we are not raising a monster.

– Holly Herndon

Some interesting code:
https://github.com/DmitryUlyanov/neural-style-audio-tf

https://github.com/JeremyCCHsu/Python-Wrapper-for-World-Vocoder

Go hear the music:

http://smarturl.it/Godmother

Previously, from the hacklab program I direct, talks and a performance lab with CTM Festival:

What culture, ritual will be like in the age of AI, as imagined by a Hacklab

A look at AI’s strange and dystopian future for art, music, and society

I also wrote about machine learning:

Minds, machines, and centralization: AI and music

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A haunting ambient sci-fi album about a message from Neptune

Latlaus Sky’s Pythian Drift is a gorgeous ambient concept album, the kind that’s easy to get lost in. The set-up: a probe discovered on Neptune in the 26th Century will communicate with just one woman back on Earth.

The Portland, Oregon-based artists write CDM to share the project, which is accompanied by this ghostly video (still at top). It’s the work of Ukrainian-born filmmaker Viktoria Haiboniuk (now also based in Portland), who composed it from three years’ worth of 120mm film images.

Taking in the album even before checking the artists’ perspective, I was struck by the sense of post-rocket age music about the cosmos. In this week when images of Mars’ surface spread as soon as they were received, a generation that grew up as the first native space-faring humans, space is no longer alien and unreachable, but present.

In slow-motion harmonies and long, aching textures, this seems to be cosmic music that sings of longing. It calls out past the Earth in hope of some answer.

The music is the work of duo Brett and Abby Larson. Brett explains his thinking behind this album:

This album has roots in my early years of visiting the observatory in Sunriver, Oregon with my Dad. Seeing the moons of Jupiter with my own eyes had a profound effect on my understanding of who and where I was. It slowly came to me that it would actually be possible to stand on those moons. The ice is real, it would hold you up. And looking out your black sky would be filled with the swirling storms of Jupiter’s upper clouds. From the ice of Europa, the red planet would be 24 times the size of the full moon.

Though these thoughts inspire awe, they begin to chill your bones as you move farther away from the sun. Temperatures plunge. There is no air to breathe. Radiation is immense. Standing upon Neptune’s moon Triton, the sun would begin to resemble the rest of the stars as you faded into the nothing.

Voyager two took one of the only clear images we have of Neptune. I don’t believe we were meant to see that kind of image. Unaided our eyes are only prepared to see the sun, the moon, and the stars. Looking into the blue clouds of the last planet you cannot help but think of the black halo of space that surrounds the planet and extends forever.

I cannot un-see those images. They have become a part of human consciousness. They are the dawn of an unnamed religion. They are more powerful and more fearsome than the old God. In a sense, they are the very face of God. And perhaps we were not meant to see such things.

This album was my feeble attempt to make peace with the blackness. The immense cold that surrounds and beckons us all. Our past and our future.

The album closes with an image of standing amidst Pluto’s Norgay mountains. Peaks of 20,000 feet of solid ice. Evening comes early in the mountains. On this final planet we face the decision of looking back toward Earth or moving onward into the darkness.

Abby with pedals. BOSS RC-50 LoopStation (predecessor to today’s RC-300), Strymon BlueSky, Electro Harmonix Soul Food stand out.

Plus more on the story:

Pythia was the actual name of the Oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece. She was a real person who, reportedly, could see the future. This album, “Pythian Drift” is only the first of three parts. In this part, the craft is discovered and Dr. Amala Chandra begins a dialogue with the craft. Dr Chandra then begins publishing papers that rock the scientific world and reformulate our understanding of mathematics and physics. There is also a phenomenon called Pythian Drift that begins to spread from the craft. People begin to see images and hear voices, prophecies. Some prepare for an interstellar pilgrimage to the craft’s home galaxy in Andromeda.

Part two will be called Black Sea. Part three will be Andromeda.

And some personal images connected to that back story:

Brett as a kid, with ski.

Abby aside a faux fire.

More on the duo and their music at the Látlaus Ský site:

http://www.latlaussky.com/

Check out Viktoria’s work, too:

https://www.jmiid.com/

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It’s time for music and music technology to be a voice for migrants

From countries across Europe to the USA, migration is at the center of Western politics at the moment. But that raises a question: why aren’t more people who make music, music instruments, and music tech louder about these issues?

Migration – temporary and permanent – is simply a fact of life for a huge group of people, across backgrounds and aspirations. That can involve migration to follow opportunities, and refugees and asylum seekers who move for their own safety and freedom. So if you don’t picture immigrants, migrants, and refugees when you think of your society, you just aren’t thinking.

Musicians ought to be uniquely qualified to speak to these issues, though. Extreme anti-immigration arguments all assume that migrants take away more from a society than they give back. And people in the music world ought to know better. Music has always been based on cultural exchange. Musicians across cultures have always considered touring to make a living. And to put it bluntly, music isn’t a zero sum game. The more you add, the more you create.

Music gets schooled in borders

As music has grown more international, as more artists tour and cross borders, at least the awareness is changing. That’s been especially true in electronic music, in a DJ industry that relies on travel. Resident Advisor has consistently picked up this story over the last couple of years, as artists spoke up about being denied entry to countries while touring.

In a full-length podcast documentary last year, they dug into the ways in which the visa system hurts artists outside the US and EU, with a focus on non-EU artists trying to gain entry to the UK:

Andrew Ryce also wrote about a visa rate hike in the USA back in 2016 – and this in the Obama Administration, not under Trump:

US raises touring artist visa fees by 42%

Now, being a DJ crossing a border isn’t the same as being a refugee running for your life. But then on some other level, it can allow artists to experience immigration infrastructure – both when it works for them, and when it works against them. A whole generation of artists, including even those from relatively privileged Western nations, is now learning the hard way about the immigration system. And that’s something they might have missed as tourists, particularly if they come from places like the USA, western Europe, Australia, and other places well positioned in the system.

The immigration system they see will often come off as absurdist. National policies worldwide categorize music as migrant labor and require a visa. In many countries, these requirements are unenforced in all but big-money gigs. But in some countries – the USA, Canada, and UK being prime examples – they’re rigorously enforced, and not coincidentally, the required visas have high fees.

Showing up at a border carrying music equipment or a bag of vinyl records is an instant red flag – whether a paid gig is your intention or not. (I’m surprised, actually, that no one talks about this in regards to the rise of the USB stick DJ. If you aren’t carrying a controller or any records, sailing through as a tourist is a lot easier.) Border officials will often ask visitors to unlock phones, hand over social media passwords. They’ll search Facebook events by name to find gigs. Or they’ll even just view the presence of a musical instrument as a violation.

Being seen as “illegal” because you’re traveling with a guitar or some records is a pretty good illustration of how immigration can criminalize simple, innocent acts. Whatever the intention behind that law, it’s clear there’s something off here – especially given the kinds of illegality that can cross borders.

When protection isn’t

This is not to argue for open borders. There are times when you want border protections. I worked briefly in environmental advocacy as we worked on invasive species that were hitching a ride on container ships – think bugs killing trees and no more maple syrup on your pancakes, among other things. I was also in New York on 9/11 and watched from my roof – that was a very visible demonstration of visa security oversight that had failed. Part of the aim of customs and immigration is to stop the movement of dangerous people and things, and I don’t think any rational person would argue with that.

But even as a tiny microcosm of the larger immigration system, music is a good example of how laws can be uneven, counter-intuitive, and counterproductive. The US and Canada, for instance, do have an open border for tourists. So if an experimental ambient musician from Toronto comes to play a gig in Cleveland, that’s not a security threat – they could do the same as a tourist. It’s also a stretch of the imagination that this individual would have a negative impact on the US economy. Maybe the artist makes a hundred bucks cash and … spends it all inside the USA, not to mention brings in more money for the venue and the people employed by it. Or maybe they make $1000 – a sum that would be wiped out by the US visa fee, to say nothing of slow US visa processing. Again, that concert creates more economic activity inside the US economy, and it’s very likely the American artist sharing the bill goes up to Montreal and plays with them next month on top of it. I could go on, but it’s … well, boring and obvious.

Artists and presenters worldwide often simply ignore this visa system because it’s slow, expensive, and unreliable. And so it costs economies (and likely many immigration authorities) revenue. It costs societies value and artistic and cultural exchange.

Of course, scale that up and the same is true, across other fields. Immigrants tend to give more into government services than they take out, they tend to own businesses that employ more local people (so they create jobs), they tend to invent new technologies (so they create jobs again), and so on.

Ellis Island, NYC. 12 million people passed through here – not all of my family who came to the USA, but some. I’ve now come the other way through Tegel Airport and the Ausländerbehörde , Berlin. Photo (CC-BY-ND
“>A. Strakey.

Advocacy and music

Immigration advocacy could be seen as something in the charter of anyone in the music industry or musical instruments industry.

Music technology suffers as borders are shut down, too. Making musical instruments and tools requires highly specialized labor working in highly specialized environments. From production to engineering to marketing, it’s an international business. I actually can’t think of any major manufacturer that doesn’t rely on immigrants in key roles. (Even many tiny makers involve immigrants.)

And the traditional music industry lean heavily on immigrant talent, too. Those at the top of the industry have powerful lobbying efforts – efforts that could support greater cultural exchange and rights for travelers. Certainly, its members are often on the road. But let’s take the Recording Academy (the folks behind the Grammy Awards).

Instead, their efforts seem to fixate on domestic intellectual property law. So the Recording Academy and others were big on the Music Modernization Act – okay, fine,
a law to support compensation for creators.

But while the same organization advocated on behalf of instruments traveling – domestic rules around carry-on and checked instruments – but not necessarily humans. So it could be that there’s more interest in your guitar getting across borders than people.

I don’t want to be unfair to the Recording Association – and not just because I think it might hurt my Grammy winning chances. (Hey, stop laughing.) No, I think it’s more that we as a community have generally failed to take up this issue in any widespread way. (I sincerely hope someone out there works for the record industry and writes to say that you’re actually working on this and I’m wrong.)

More than anything else, music can cross borders. It can speak to people when you don’t speak their language, literally. When music travels, emotion and expression travels – artists and technology alike.

It’s personal – isn’t it for you?

I personally feel the impact of all of this, now having been seven years in Berlin, and able to enjoy opportunities, connections, and perspective that come from living in Germany and working with people both from Germany and abroad. I feel hugely grateful to the German state for allowing my business to immigrate (my initial visa was a business visa, which involved some interesting bureaucracy explaining to the Berlin Senate what this site is about). I’ve even benefited from the support of programs like the Goethe Institut and host governments to work in cultural diplomacy.

I’ve also had the chance to be involved writing in support of visas and financial backing for artists coming from Iran, Mexico, Kazakhstan, and many other places, for programs I’ve worked on.

And all of this is really a luxury – even when we’re talking about artists traveling to support their careers and feed themselves. For many people, migration is a matter of survival. Sometimes the threats to their lives come from geopolitical and economic policies engineered by the governments we come from – meaning as citizens, we share some responsibility for the impact others have felt. But whether or not that’s the case, I would hope we feel that obligation as human beings. That’s the basis of international rule of law on accepting refugees and granting asylum. It’s the reason those principles are uncompromising and sometimes even challenging. Our world is held together – or not – based on that basic fairness we afford to fellow humans. If people come to where we live and claim their survival and freedom depends on taking them in, we accept the obligation to at least listen to their case.

Those of us in the music world could use our privilege, and the fact that our medium is so essential to human expression, to be among the loudest voices for these human rights. When we live in countries who listen to us, we should talk to other citizens and talk to our governments. We should tell the stories that make these issues more relatable. We should do what some people I know are doing in the music world, too – work on education and involvement for refugees, help them to feel at home in our communities and to develop whatever they need to make a home here, and make people feel welcome at the events we produce.

That’s just the principles, not policies. But I know a lot of people in my own circle have worked on the policy and advocacy sides here. I certainly would invite you to share what we might do. If you’ve been impacted by immigration obstacles and have ideas of how we help, I hope we hear that, too.

Some likely policy areas:
Supporting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers
Supporting refugee and asylum seeker integration
Advocating for more open visa policies for artists – keeping fees low, and supporting exchange
Advocating the use of music and culture, and music technology, as a form of cultural diplomacy
Supporting organizations that connect artists and creative technologists across borders

And so on…

But I do hope that as musicians, we work with people who share basic beliefs in caring for other people. I know there’s no single “community” or “industry” that can offer that. But we certainly can try to build our own circle in a way that does.

Some examples from here in Berlin working on refugee issues here. I would argue immigration policy can find connections across refugees and migrants, asylum seekers and touring musicians, as everyone encounters the same larger apparatus and set of laws:

Photo at top: CC-BY Nicola Romagna.

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An exploration of silence, in a new exhibition in Switzerland

What’s the sound of an exhibition devoted to silence? From John Cage recreations to the latest in interactive virtual reality tech, it turns out there’s a lot. The exhibition’s lead Jascha Dormann tells us more – and gives us a look inside.

The results are surprisingly poetic – like a surrealist listening playground on the topic of isolation.

“Sounds of Silence” opened this month at the Museum of Communication in Bern, Switzerland, and is on through July 2019. Just as John Cage’s revelation that visiting an anechoic chamber was, in fact, noisey, “silence” in this case challenges listening and exploration. It’s about surprise, not void. As the exhibition creators say, “the search for a place where stillness may be experienced, however, becomes difficult: stillness is holding sway only in outer space – yet even there the astronaut is hearing his own breaths.”

Inside the exhibition, there’s not a word of written text, and few traditional photos or videos. Instead, you get abstract spatial graphics. Tracking systems respond as you navigate the exhibit, and an unseen voice hints at what you might do. There’s a snowy cotton-like entry, radio-like sound effects, and then a pathway to explore silence from the start of the universe until this century.

And you get some unique experiences: the isolation tank invented by neurophysiologist John C. Lilly, 3D soundscapes, Sarah Maitland talking to you about her experience in seclusion on the Isle of Skye, and yes, Cage’s iconic if ironic “4’33”.” The Cage work is realized as an eight-channel ORTF 3D audio recording, from a performance by Staatsorchester Stuttgart at the Beethovensaal Stuttgart. (That has to be silence’s largest-ever orchestration, I suppose.) It’s silence in full immersive sound.

“The piece had never been recorded in 3D-audio before,” says Dormann. “We have then implemented the recording into the interactive sound system so visitors can experience it in a version that’s binauralized in real-time.”

Recording silence – in 3D! The session in Stuttgart, Germany.

Photos source: Museum of Communication Bern
Digitale Massarbeit

Exhibition credits:

Sound Concept and Sound Production Lead: Jascha Dormann (Idee und Klang GmbH)
Sound Concept and Sound Design: Ramon De Marco (Idee und Klang GmbH)
Sound Design: Simon Hauswirth (Idee und Klang GmbH)
Development Sound System: Steffen Armbruster (Framed immersive projects GmbH & Co. KG)
Sound Implementation: Marc Trinkhaus (Framed immersive projects GmbH & Co. KG)
Performance John Cage – 4’33’’: Staatsorchester Stuttgart conducted by Cornelius Meister
Recording John Cage – 4’33’’: Jascha Dormann at Beethovensaal / Liederhalle Stuttgart
Project in general
Project Lead and Curator: Kurt Stadelmann (Museum of Communication)
Project Manager: Angelina Keller (Museum of Communication)
Scenography: ZMIK spacial design, / Rolf Indermühle
Exhibition Graphics: Büro Berrel Gschwind, / Dominique Berrel
Author: Bettina Mittelstrass
Head of Exhibitions at Museum of Communication: Christian Rohner (Museum of Communication)

Various events are running alongside the exhibition; full details on the museum’s site:

Exhibitions: Sounds of Silence

More images:

http://www.mfk.ch/en/

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Gallery: a new documentary digs into techno’s 80s Detroit roots

“God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines” is the story through the eyes of a documentary team that grew up in Detroit – and with time running out, they’re short of their funding goal. Happily, you have the power to change that.

God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines: The Story of Detroit Techno

Behind all the history and legend, there’s always a human story of how things happen. What’s appealing about this film above others is, it’s not just one icon or one machine, but the relationships between the artists that takes the spotlight. And, it’s at last a film about Detroit’s influence from Detroit’s perspective – not just the European scene where the genre eventually turned into a runaway financial success.

The requisite originators all star – Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Eddie Fowlkes, Blake Baxter, and more – so this is definitely one I look forward to watching.

Of course, funding independent film is these days a major ordeal, particularly for American filmmakers. And so it’s disheartening to see that with days running out on crowd funding, the filmmakers haven’t made their very modest funding goals. There are some lovely benefits in there – just US$5 gets you an exclusive mixtape – so I hope you’ll get the chance to give this a nod.

Motor City natives Kristian Hill and Jennifer Washington are looking just for the finishing funds to put this out.

I asked Jennifer to walk us through some stills from the film, so here’s an exclusive gallery for CDM.

Young child at Movement Festival, Detroit.

Motor City, now.

Cover of Record Mirror, June 1988.

The Scene Dance Show, Detroit, circa 1983.

Cybotron’s vision of future cities, 1983.

Blake Baxter plays those drum machines.

Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Juan Atkins.

Juan Atkins, Eddie Fowlkes.

Classic Transmat label, illustrated by Alan Oldham.

Mike Huckaby.

Kevin Saunderson.

God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines: The Story of Detroit Techno [Kickstarter]

Previously:

Detroit techno, the 90s comic book – and epic new DJ T-1000 techno

In a documentary film, a return to Detroit and speaker f***ing

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In gorgeous ETHER, a handmade micro lens brings cymatics closer

Sound is physical, but we don’t often get to see that physicality. In this gorgeous video for Thomas Vaquié, directed by Nico Neefs, those worlds of vibrations explode across your screen. It’s the latest release from ANTIVJ, and it’s spellbinding.

The sounds really do generate the visuals here, from generating terrain from an analysis from the waveform to revealing footage of metal powder animated by sonic vibrations. A self-made micro lens provides the optics.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aK0BXH7zu-M

Everything in this video was made using the sound waves of the track Ether.
Equipped with a home-made micro lens, a camera travels inside physical representations of the musical composition, from a concrete mountain built from the spectrogram of the music, to eruptions of metal powder caused by rhythmic impulsions.

(Impulsion is a word; look it up! I had to do so.)

Still from the video.

Nico Neefs is the director, working with images he created with Corentin Kopp. It’s set to music from Belgian producer Thomas Vaquié’s new album Ecume, on Antivj Recordings. That imprint has for over a decade been a label for audiovisual creations across media – release, installation, performance. Simon Geilfus developed the tool for visualization.

They’ve employed the same techniques to make a very attractive physical release. The image you see in the artwork is cast from a concrete mold. For a limited edition box set, they’re producing 33cm x 33cm plates cast from that mold in dark resin. And it’s ready to mount to a wall if you choose; hardware included. Or if you feel instead like you own enough things, there’s a digital edition.

Ultra-limited handmade physical release.

Concrete mold.

Concrete mold; detail.

The whole album is beautiful; I’m especially fond of the bell-like resonances in the opening piece. It’s a sumptuous, sonic environment, full of evocative sound designs that rustle and ring in easy, organic assemblies, part synthetic, part string. Those then break into broken, warped grooves that push forward. (Hey, more impulsion – like a horse.)

The music was repurposed from installations and art contexts:

These are all derivations of compositions for site-specific and installation projects, the original pieces having been created as a response to place and space, to light and architecture, to code and motion. Now separated and transformed from their original context, the music takes on an independent existence in these new realisations.

That does lend the whole release an environmental quality – spaces you can step in and out of – but is nonetheless present emotionally. There’s impact, listening top to bottom, enough so that you might not immediately assume the earlier context. And the release is fully consistent and coherent as a whole. (It is very possible you heard an installation here or there. Vaquié has produced compositions for Centre Pompidou Metz the Old Port of Montreal’s metallic conveyor tower, in Songdo South Korea, at Oaxaca’s ethnobotanical gardens, and at Hala Stulecia, Poland’s huge concrete dome.)

And there’s thoroughly fine string writing throughout – with a sense that strings and electronic media are always attuned to one another.

Cover artwork.

Thomas Vaquié.

Poetic explanation accompanies the album:

Ether embodies the world that exists above the skies.
It is the air that the gods breathe.
It is that feeling of dizziness,
that asphyxiation that we feel when faced with immensity.

Full video credits:

Music by Thomas Vaquié
Video directed by Nico Neefs
Images by Nico Neefs & Corentin Kopp
Edit & Post-production by Nico Neefs
Video produced by Charles Kinoo for Less Is More Studio and Thomas Vaquié
Filmed at BFC Studio, Brussels 2018.

More, including downloads / physical purchases:

https://thomasvaquie.bandcamp.com/

Plus:
www.thomasvaquie.com
www.antivj.com

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Conversations and an overflow of music, streaming from Ableton Loop

Don’t have a ticket to Ableton’s Loop “summit for music makers” in Los Angeles? There’s an overabundance of music and conversation from the gathered artists streaming, much of it live, available now.

It’s easy to imagine Loop as turning into something really focused on the particular software and hardware products from Ableton, but the people programming the event have made it something very different. Loop’s programming itself extends through a range of artistic and technological frontiers, many of them only tangentially related to Live or Push – everything from AI to electronic instrument engineering to sonifying data from space. Most of that does require a ticket – which means you need to be in Los Angeles right now, and tickets were in short supply. (Even for ticket holders, capacities are constrained as workshops and seminars often take place in small quarters.)

What you can get access to is a couple of the mainstage talks, and a whole bunch of the music culture around Loop. That says a lot about the kind of artists Ableton has befriended, and the sort of hub Los Angeles can be for musicians. So Dublab Radio are broadcasting, for instance – and they’ve made Loop their home.

We’ll be talking to artists, too, in our own way – stay tuned for that. But meanwhile, part of what I get is that there’s a ton of music to experience. It’s not just one genre, and it’s also not just about the people Loop programmers thought were important. If music production tools are driven by an urge to create and share, then it’s little wonder that the participants here have self-organized their own collaborative playlist to share what they’re doing.

So let’s listen. Here’s your guide:

Loop has their live streaming schedule online, with events starting mainly 2PM (5PM NYC, 11PM Berlin) daily, earlier on Saturday:
https://loop.ableton.com/2018/streaming-schedule/

Timing on the West Coast of the USA tends to run a little late even in the Americas, and winds up at weird hours for Europe/Africa and the Eastern Hemisphere. But here you go — think afternoon – early evening LA time Friday and Saturday and afternoon Sunday. That means evening east coast USA, early morning Japan, and … Europe you might want to wait for the archive unless you’re a night owl.

Highlights for me include Sunday – Damien Licht has been doing some great productions and has a new album, and shesaid.so, Naomi Mitchell & Coco Solid should be terrific as they’re bringing in loads of new and diverse music interests and community activation. Plus Dennis DeSantis, Laura Escudé, Patrice Rushen, Photay talking Saturday about what happens when plans go awry – well, that’s relevant to all of us, and this is an utterly amazing selection of different life experiences professionally. We all talk about the Instagram-friendly perfect side of our creative lives, and very rarely about the failures – even if adjusting to failures is usually where the good stuff happens.

Plus there are live performances in the evening if you can catch them.

Music you can tune in any time, though, via Spotify.

What’s great is the chance for participants to share with one another:

And Dublab would love to welcome you to LA’s extraordinarily dynamic scene:

For more sounds – including the lineup at Loop and a guide to why the venue EastWest Studios has put out music you already know and love:

https://loop.ableton.com/2018/loop-spotify/

And if you are at Loop, see you here:

Touch, Code, Play: creating hybrid physical-digital music instruments

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Eerie, amazing sounds from tape loops, patches – like whales in space

Fahmi Mursyid from Indonesia has been creating oceans of wondrously sculpted sounds on netlabels for the past years. Be sure to watch these magical constructions on nothing but Walkman tape loops with effects pedals and VCV Rack patches – immense sonic drones from minimal materials.

Fahmi hails from Bandung, in West Java, Indonesia. While places like Yogyakarta have hogged the attention traditionally (back even to pre-colonial gamelan kingdom heydeys), it seems like Bandung has quietly become a haven for experimentalists.

He also makes gorgeous artworks and photography, which I’ve added here to visualize his work further. Via:

http://ideologikal.weebly.com/

This dude and his friends are absurdly prolific. But you can be ambitious and snap up the whole discography for about twelve bucks on Bandcamp. It’s all quality stuff, so you could load it up on a USB key and have music when you’re away from the Internet ranging from glitchy edges to gorgeous ambient chill.

Watching the YouTube videos gives you a feeling for the materiality of what you’re hearing – a kind of visual kinetic pcture to go with the sound sculpture. Here are some favorites of mine:

Via Bandcamp, he’s just shared this modded Walkman looping away. DSP, plug-in makers: here’s some serious nonlinearity to inspire you. Trippy, whalesong-in-wormhole stuff:

The quote added to YouTube from Steve Reich fits:

“the process of composition but rather pieces of music that are, literally, processes. The distinctive thing about musical processes is that they determine all the note-to-note (sound-to-sound) details and the overall form simultaneously. (Think of a round or infinite canon.)”

He’s been gradually building a technique around tapes.

But there’s an analog to this kind of process, working physically, and working virtually with unexpected, partially unstable modular creations. Working with the free and open source software modular platform VCV Rack, he’s created some wild ambient constructions:

Or the two together:

Eno and Reich pepper the cultural references, but there are aesthetic cues from Indonesia, too, I think (and no reason not to tear down those colonial divisions between the two spheres). Here’s a reinterpretation of Balinese culture of the 1940s, which gives you some texture of that background and also his own aesthetic slant on the music of his native country:

Check out the releases, too. These can get angular and percussive:

— or become expansive soundscapes, as here in collaboration with Sofia Gozali:

— or become deep, physical journeys, as with Jazlyn Melody (really love this one):

Here’s a wonderful live performance:

I got hooked on Fahmi’s music before, and … honestly, far from playing favorites, I find I keep accidentally running over it through aliases and different links and enjoying it over and over again. (While I was just in Indonesia for Nusasonic, it wasn’t the trip that made me discover the music – it was the work of musicians like Fahmi that were the reason we all found ourselves on the other side of the world in the first place, to be more accurate. They discovered new sounds, and us.) So previously:

The vaporwave Windows 98 startup sound remix no one asked for

http://ideologikal.weebly.com/

https://ideologikal.bandcamp.com/

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Ecco the Dolphin playthrough with Drexciya music is today’s perfect trip

I don’t know about you, but the next time I need to cool down, trip out, and feel good about the universe, I will turn to this epic playthrough of Ecco the Dolphin with soundtrack by Detroit’s Drexciya. Humans made this. We can follow those humans, or dolphins, or some combination to the future.

Ecco the Dolphin is the 90s Sega Genesis hit developed by Ed Annunziata and Novotrade International. Drexciya is the Detroit futuristic electro duo who imagined an underwater future. Together, they make more sense than peanut butter and jelly, or Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz.

Though, to be fair, after I was tweeted at that I should really transcribe the interviews with James Stinson (I should), it is now dangerously possible that I wind up getting sucked into Ecco and some Drexciya records. Uh… whoops.

But let us heed these words, anyway:

I know a lot of people going through a rough time right now – personally, globally. Sing to the shelled ones and they will heal your wounds.

Thanks, David Abravanel, CDM at-large Nerd of All Things Good.

Previously:

Underwater electronic futurism, in the words of James Stinson (Drexciya)

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Underwater electronic futurism, in the words of James Stinson (Drexciya)

At the turn of the 21st century, one Detroit duo was way ahead. Almost two decades later, the world is revisiting Drexciya and their imagined underwater future – the time is right, and the deepest insights come from James Stinson speaking in his own words.

Drexciyan Cruise Control Bubble 1 to Lardossan Cruiser 8 dash 203 X!

Drexciya, the underground electro duo of the 90s, is enjoying a new resurgence … wait, make that the underwater electro duo enjoying a new submergence? Anyway, cue the Tresor Records re-release, the Resident Advisor spot, the works.

And if you’re not already immersed in this duo’s work, now is a great time to discover or rediscover them. The electro tracks are raw, powerful, grimy, totally Detroit, and in these deadly-serious techno times, unafraid of their own irreverence. “Aquabahn” is sexy and totally, wonderfully, ridiculous:

(They’re not totally kidding, though; everyone I’ve talked to from Underground Resistance has talked about being genuine Kraftwerk fans.)

“Afrofuturism” as a term got applied after the fact (to Drexciya as to the likes of Sun Ra and Juan Atkins). When Drexciya’s 1997 release “The Quest” came out, this was just plain futurism in the words of its creators. But in the liner notes, their journey to imagine an underwater utopia spells out the connection to African-American diasporas and discrimination in overt terms.

From The Quest liner notes – diasporas to global techno to underwater worlds and African return.Source.

The Quest, 1997.

Drexciya were not prone to doing interviews. But apart from being a great musical voice, the late James Stinson, revealed in phone interviews from around the end of the project, had a great voice and articulate vision. And while an under-the-sea world of dreams might seem a preconceived conceit, Stinson says it all came naturally out of the vibes of the music. “We flow with the current,” he told Andrew Duke in 2001. And then he expands on how the concept and life flow out of that, and how water figures into the music.

Listen to him about trying the impossible, ignoring what is supposed to be in music – a perspective that seems in perpetual need in creative life. The whole half hour with journalist Andrew Duke is worth hearing. That’s appropriate, too, as Stinson encourages people to get beyond needle drops and listen to whole tracks and the whole world of Drexciya:

The guy talks about the feeling of music being like the sensation of sitting in a liquid chair made of water. And equally great questions. (“What’s it like to ride a manta ray?”)

Spirit of the underground? James Stinson sums it up perfectly: “Anywhere. Sewer. Underwater. Swimming pool. In the middle of a swamp. In a back alley somewhere … we’ll appear anywhere.”

(This is doubly interesting to me, as a friend from Tehran has recently staged an underwater concert with hydrophones, singing underwater – partly as a way to get around prohibitions on female performance in the country. Stinson was onto something with the radical possibilities of underwater music.)

Punk Collective fan art. From Twitter, via Drexciya Research Lab.

For still more words from the source: in 2002, shortly before his death, James Stinson talked to Liz Copeland, with tracks driving away in the background:

“Just give me the music; forget all the other stuff,” he says. “People need to … dig more into themselves and pull it out, and be more of who they are, and believe in what they do. Don’t worry about what other people are doing.”

Resident Advisor recently summed up all of this in a ten minute video, drawing heavily from those two interviews:

Another navigational chart to the music came in 2012 from the ever-reflective Philip Sherburne, who reviewed an anthology that year and also sums up the music as more than just “electro”:

Adapting the lurching rhythmic template of 1980s electro-funk acts like Man Parrish, Cybotron, and Jonzun Crew, Drexciya emphasized the depth-charge qualities of a booming 808 kick, and the electric-eel jolt of a zapping filter sweep. But it went deeper than that. The music was punctuated by cryptic interludes and scraps of code … Drexciya weren’t just trafficking in metaphor and affect; they were telling a story.

Drexciya: Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller I

It’s also worth reading this interview from 1994 in UK zine The Techno Connection, by Dave Mothersole, republished by fan page Drexciya Research Lab. Yeah, it’s 1994, but it’s easily just as relevant in 2018, though it seems now with the Detroit originators hot as ever on the international scene, it may be time to go back to the surviving Underground Resistance members to hear their current take on the landscape and the word “techno.” As for learning to mix better, even when there’s no 4/4 kick, uh — yeah, we can all listen to that one; that can’t be wrong!

More listening – even Spotify are into this now:

From Función Binaria, a full mix (tracklisting on SC:

It’s also great that Tresor are re-releasing seminal works, including Drexciya – ‘Neptune’s Lair’ – (Tresor.129)
is out November 30th, 2018 on 2LP vinyl. (In time for Hanukkah, even.)

It’s a gift, really, to get to go buy that vinyl and set it on a record player. I do also come back to what Stinson says about originality, though. So maybe the best way to honor the Detroit – Berlin connection is, perversely, to listen, take this in, listen end to end (record players are nice for that), let your mind get altered, and then forget all that and take that energy and vibe and go make your own thing.

And certainly everything’s better down where it’s wetter and all that jazz.

Fan art, Jim McCormack. Also via Drexciya Research Lab. Go check that.

For more Drexciya obsessions, follow Drexciya Research Lab on Blogger(!) and Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/drexciyaresearchlab/

http://drexciyaresearchlab.blogspot.com/

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