The Well-Tempered vector rescanner? A new audiovisual release finds poetry in vintage video synthesis and scan processors – and launches a new AV platform for ATOM TM.
nuuun, a collaboration between Atom (raster, formerly Raster-Noton) and Americans Jahnavi Stenflo and Nathan Jantz, have produced a “current suite.” These are all recorded live – sound and visuals alike – in Uwe Schmidt’s Chilean studio.
Minimalistic, exposed presentation of electronic elements is nothing new to the Raster crowd, who are known for bringing this raw aesthetic to their work. You could read that as part punk aesthetic, part fascination with visual imagery, rooted in the collective’s history in East Germany’s underground. But as these elements cycle back, now there’s a fresh interest in working with vectors as medium (see link below, in fact). As we move from novelty to more refined technique, more artists are finding ways of turning these technologies into instruments.
And it’s really the fact that these are instruments – a chamber trio, in title and construct – that’s essential to the work here. It’s not just about the impression of the tech, in other words, but the fact that working on technique brings the different media closer together. As nuuun describe the release:
Informed and inspired by Scan Processors of the early 1970’s such as the Rutt/Etra video synthesizer, “Current Suite No.1” uses the oscillographic medium as an opportunity to bring the observer closer to the signal. Through a technique known as “vector-rescanning”, one can program and produce complex encoded wave forms that can only be observed through and captured from analog vector displays. These signals modulate an electron-beam of a cathode-ray tube where the resulting phosphorescent traces reveal a world of hidden forms. Both the music and imagery in each of these videos were recorded as live compositions, as if they were intertwined two-way conversations between sound and visual form to produce a unique synesthetic experience.
“These signals modulate an electron-beam of a cathode-ray tube where the resulting phosphorescent traces reveal a world of hidden forms.”
Even with lots of prominent festivals, audiovisual work – and putting visuals on equal footing with music – still faces an uphill battle. Online music distribution isn’t really geared for AV work; it’s not even obvious how audiovisual work is meant to be uploaded and disseminated apart from channels like YouTube or Vimeo. So it’s also worth noting that Atom is promising that NN will be a platform for more audiovisual work. We’ll see what that brings.
Of course, NOTON and Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto) already has a rich fine art / high-end media art career going, and the “raster-media” launched by Olaf Bender in 2017 describes itself as a “platform – a network covering the overlapping border areas of pop, art, and science.” We at least saw raster continue to present installations and other works, extending their footprint beyond just the usual routine of record releases.
There’s perhaps not a lot that can be done about the fleeting value of music in distribution, but then music has always been ephemeral. Let’s look at it this way – for those of us who see sound as interconnected with image and science, any conduit to that work is welcome. So watch this space.
Virtual reality and augmented reality promise new horizons for music. But one studio is delivering apps you’ll actually want to use – including collaborations with artists like Matmos, Safety Scissors, Robert Lippok, Patrick Russell, Ami Yamasaki, and Patrick Higgins (of Zs).
Consumer-accessible graphics hardware and computation – particularly on mobile – is finally keeping up with the demands of immersive 3D visuals and sound. That includes virtual reality (when you completely block out the outside world, most often using goggles), and mixed reality or augmented reality, which blends views of the world around you with 3D imagery. (Microsoft seems to prefer “mixed reality,” and still has you wearing some googles; Apple likes “augmented reality,” even if that harkens back to some old apps that did weird things with markers and tags. I think I’ve got that right.)
And indeed, we’ve seen this stuff highlighted a lot recently, from game and PC companies talking VR (including via Steam), Facebook showing off Oculus (the Kickstarter-funded project it acquired), and this week Apple making augmented reality a major selling point of its coming iOS releases and developer tools.
But what is this stuff actually for?
That question is still open to creative interpretation. What New York City-based studio Planeta is doing is showing off something artful, not just a tech demo.
They’ve got two apps now, one for VR, and one for AR.
Fields is intended both for listening and creation. Sounds form spatial “sculptures,” which you can build up on your own by assembling loops or recording sounds, then mix with the environment around you – as viewed through the display of your iOS device. There’s a lovely, poetic trailer:
Unlike the sound toys we saw just after the release of the original iPhone App Store, though, they’re partnering with composers and musicians to make sure Fields gets used creatively. It’s a bit like turning it into a (mobile) venue. So in addition to Matmos, you get creations by the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto collaborator, or Robert Lippok (of Raster Media, née Raster-Noton).
But if you think you have something to say, too, and you aren’t one of those artists, you can also share your own creations as videos, constructed from original sounds and motion captured with your device’s camera and mic.
The developers are Field are also partnering with the Guggenheim to showcase the app. And they’re also helping Berlin’s Monom space, which is powered by the 4DSOUND spatial audio system, to deliver sounds that otherwise would have to get squashed into a bland stereo mix. The ability to appreciate spatial works outside of limited installation venues may help listeners get deeper with the music, and take the experience home.
The results can be totally crazy. Here’s one example:
Pitchfork go into some detail as to how this app came about:
We’ve seen some clumsy attempts at VR for music before. Generally, they involve rethinking an interface that already works perfectly well in hardware controllers or onscreen with a mouse, and “reimagining” them in a way that … makes them slightly stupid to use.
It seems this is far better. I’ve yet to give this a try myself – you need Oculus Rift or HTC Vive hardware – but at the very least, the concept is right. The instrument begins as a kind of 3D physics game involving percussion, with elaborate floating clockwork worlds, and builds a kind of surreal ambient music around those Escher-Magritte fantasies. So the music emerges from the interface, instead of bending an existing musical paradigm to awkward VR gimmicks.
And it’s just five bucks, meaning if you’ve bought the hardware, I guess you’ll just go get it!
And it’s really, as it should be, about composition and architecture. Designer Dan Brewster tells the Oculus Blog about inspiration found in Japan:
One space in particular, created by Tadao Ando for Benesse House and consisting of an enclosed circle of water beneath a circle of open sky, felt perfectly suited to VR and inspired the environment of Drops.
Brewster and team paired with experimental composers – Patrick Russell and Patrick Higgins – to construct a world that is musically composed. I always recoil a bit when people separate technology from music, or engineering from other dimensions of tech projects. But here, we get at what it is they’re really missing – form and composition. You wouldn’t take the engineering out of a building – that’d hurt your head a lot when it collapses on you – but at the same time, you wouldn’t judge a building based on engineering alone. And maybe that’s what’s needed in the VR/AR field.
Clot magazine goes into some more detail about where Drops and this studio fit into the bigger picture, including talking to composer Robert Lippok. (Robert also, unprompted by me, name drops our own collaboration on 4DSOUND.)
Robert based this piece, he says, on an experiment he did with students. (He’s done a series of workshops and the like looking about music as an isolated element, and connecting it to architecture and memory.)
We were talking about imagining sound. Sounds from memories, sound from every day live and unheard sounds. Later than we started to create sonic events just with words, which we translated into some tracks. “Drawing from Memory” is a sonic interpretations of one of those sound / word pieces. FIELDS makes is now possible to unfold the individual parts of this composition and frees it in the same time from its one-directional existence as track on a CD. I should do this with all of my pieces. I see a snowstorm of possibilities.”
Check out that whole article, as it’s also a great read:
Miami-born Uchi is a fresh face as LA collective BL_K NOISE meet up with Berlin’s Raster – and that’s a perfect time to catch up with her and reflect.
Dive in, commit. It’s that moment when the mixer fader is up and you start your live set, the let’s-screw-up-our-lives risk-taking bigger moments we make sometimes for musical passion. It’s the willingness to screw up live and screw up life, maybe.
That sums up why a lot of us are here as well as anything. And so that makes Uchi’s approach refreshing. Just as your email promo inbox is full of drab, sound-alike techno and washes of disinterested distorted ambience, Uchi kind of doesn’t follow any rules. Her DJ sets are diverse and daring, her live sets going deep and abstract and back again. And she talks to us a bit here about that abandon.
It’s also paying off. Uchi has gone from being known in Miami to becoming a regular at Berlin’s most sought-after slots – including Berghain’s upstairs Panorama Bar and its darker, weirder new ground floor Säule. But the best part is, I think we don’t know quite what she’ll do next. There’s a couple of EPs, a full-length album, and various podcasts coming and … well, the hell with predictability. The artists you want to watch are the ones that will surprise you.
January is definitely when we celebrate new music gear, thanks to Anaheim, California’s massive NAMM convention show. But then why not celebrate new noises, too? BLK_NOISE has assembled for Saturday a party made up of artists willing to push their electronic instruments until they hurt. From team USA, you’ve got Richard Devine, Surachai. From Germany, label Raster – the imprint formerly known as Raster Noton – Grischa Lichtenberger, and label co-founder Byetone. (Carsten Nicolai aka Raster Noton is going solo again, reverting his label to Noton.) And then there’s secretive BLK_NOISE anchor Belief Defect, who have feet in both Berlin and LA.
PK: What’s the set you’re preparing for LA? I loved this noise set that just streamed from Halcyon [in New York].
Uchi: I don’t know what happened there! It’s so weird! I have the recording of it myself; I gotta hear it and see!
I think for this show I’m going to use somewhat similar setup I’ve been using for most noise shows these days, a narrow selection of stuff, and complete improvisation — or zero preliminary sequencing. It’s the first time I’ll try an AV setup, which is exciting!
It seems like you’ve had some pretty significant shifts in your life, your musical direction … especially as some of the folks who will be hearing you in LA as well as our readers may not know you yet, what’s the trajectory been from Miami to Berlin? How did you get where you are currently?
Yeah, I guess there’s been a lot of changes the last couple of years. I lived in Miami since age 10, up until college. After I finished a degree in Computer Science, I took DJing (obtained from radio hosting at University) more seriously, as well as actually working on something I used to do for fun — (Ableton fiddling) making music.
The Boiler Room set came about from Juan Del Valle, now a friend. His influence was to convince me to make a live set. That being said, it was my first live set ever, and it was on Boiler Room – lol! BUT it was a great way to learn how to use hardware! Then Berlin came after the release on Plangent Records, which made the first gig in Panorama Bar happen. That made me decide not to get a flight home, basically.
The interesting thing is that just before I left Miami, everything had already started changing. I was pretty active in the noise scene, which was a whole different level of exploration in music, the exact opposite of composition and programming or what I used to make the Boiler Room set. Noise changed also the way I record, too. It seems I find single takes, and master out mixes more interesting than spending hours on a single detail or mixing down. I guess trying to finish ideas in one day if the case has a lot of details, otherwise just simple pressing record (mistakes included) and room recordings.
I made the album and the last couple EPs basically playing them. Since moving to Europe, which changed literally everything about what I knew, and also playing for promoters in different cities, I’ve had the chance to do something different. Nowadays, I’m combining all influences together — noise improvisation, changing patterns, speed, writing melodies or lack thereof, depending on so many different things. For instance where, when, and for whom each show is prepared for, relative to time, and where things are for me at the moment — it’s never the same. I’m still figuring it out, but if there is something to expect, it should be to expect something new.
These Saüle appearances have been great … in this age and (city!) people can cling to a somewhat narrow and clasutrophobic view of genre, so that’s a relief. Can you talk a little bit about you’ve been playing lately?
Well, I guess Säule was a bit of the turning point. It made me realize its not far-fetched to combine everything into one presentation. Funny you say claustrophobic view of genre! That puts it a bit better in perspective actually. I think the first time was probably one of the most liberating DJ sets of my life, the first time I felt like myself. The struggle of genre has been real for a really long time, but thanks to that lately, I reeeally don’t care for dance floor “rules” too much, and follow just, whatever feels right at the time. I’m curious to what you would describe those gigs as.
Mmm, eclectic? This is why I wouldn’t really call myself a music journalist, just a musician. So to that — what are you using to play for this live set? Not just to sort of get gear-focused, but instead — what does this mean as far as instrumentation, as composition?
For sure, it will be a Moog Mother [Mother-32 synthesizer] running, pitching it sporadically, plus vocal whale sounds … maybe some screaming. Also some Koma Elektronik noises generated from the Field Kit [“electro-acoustic workstation”] and BD101 [analog gate-delay pedal] as main effects, messing with any signal sent to the aux [input] of the Field Kit.
I guess as “composition,” I suppose breaking it down by frequency – the vocal stuff is a lot of mid-range melodic, of course, with a ton of reverb and delay, the Moog for low-end and the Koma stuff for texture, high-pitch screeching, and pulsating static. These have been my favorite pieces of gear to use for noise shows. I made the last album using the Moog heavily, so it’s kind of been my main instrument for almost two years, along with Koma stuff which is heaven for noise freaks — the Moog sounds on another level! And some classic reverb and distortion pedals, Boss DS-1 [distortion pedal, since 1978] and Eventide Space.
What do those instruments mean to you; how do they impact how you play spontaneously?
They are my children!!! I supposed their user interface totally affects how they are played. For example, the large knobs of the Mother and the semi-modular part for patching and combining it with it with the BD10 light sensor (which kind of acts like a theremin), and putting that in the Field Kit mixer, which has got a life of its own. The signals kind of bounce with each other. Feed-backing is waaay fun. Also, the continuity of LFO’s makes it easy to do multiple things at once. Whatever instruments I’m using at the moment play a really large role in every live set, if not the biggest role. I hope to be switching to full-on modular this year! Wish me luck.
If you’re in LA, check out the event! I wrote about Belief Defect’s live rig here and for Native Instruments; now it’s America’s turn to get that live. Co-hosted with Decibel Festival: