Posts Tagged ‘Random’

Dret Skivor – 18th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Swedish cassette label Dret Skivor continue to expand their catalogue at pace with another made-for-tape two-tracker in the shape of Hammarö Stickning Kubb’s Storbror Ser Dig. As is customary, biographical information for the label’s seventh release is nil, and technical information is sparse, the accompanying notes simply stating ‘Six oscillators, reverbs, psychoacoustics, voices in your head, chance methods.’

Methodologically, this evokes the spirit of John Cage – substitute eight or twelve radios with six oscillators, retain the random, and, well, there you have it. The fascination of the random – particularly where there are multiple operatives or machines involved – is the way it can yield moments of unanticipated interplay. It’s not just about the overlaps and intersections, either, but the spaces where one or more of those elements is not participating or contributing. It’s here where the potentials of permutation present themselves. Maths, I‘ll freely admit, isn’t one of my greatest strengths, but the permutations of six clearly offer significant numbers of variations. And on the one hand, while it is mathematical, there is also a strong musical and literary lineage of permutational work, with Brion Gysin’s permutational poems being a strong example of how a simple phrase consisting of maybe four, five, or six words can yield a substantial array of variants through the process of permutation. Then, of course, there is Dret label founder Dave Procter’s own Fibonacci Drone Organ project, which is – as the name suggests – mathematically based.

The permutational aspect of Storbror Ser Dig – split across two twenty-minute pieces, ‘Storbror.’ (side one) and ‘…Ser Dig’(side two) aren’t really apparent, but on the former, a minimalist drone swells to a filler drone that continues to expand in density over time.

‘…Ser Dig’ occupies a lower mid-range register and subtly wavers through slow oscillations. Not a lot happens, but this is a work that demands a certain level of focus – or otherwise, no attention whatsoever, by which I mean that close listening will reveal minute details, and that intent, alert state of scrutinising the sound brings with it a different state of mind, a certain clarity. Contrastingly, allowing oneself to become one with the drone is a deeply relaxing experience: headphones, dark room and candle, a smoky scotch all contrive to a certain slow fade in and out of the continuum, which is different altogether. It encourages you to empty your mind and instead of reflecting on any sense of trajectory, simply immersing oneself in the slow, subtle ripples of sound that reveal themselves over time. No drone is ever just a drone: there is always movement, shapes, undulations, ripples, waves. They are all present in this subtly-shifting, rippling dronescape that evolves over the course of its forty-minute duration. And the details are nice, but nicer still is just to sit back and let it play out, because life is stressful and demanding enough and sometimes, details simply don’t matter. With this, it’s time to go with the flow.

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DRET007 tape inlay card

CD Epicentre Editions EPI-2101

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s testament to his degree of innovation and influence that John Cage’s works remain a source of fascination for so many almost 30 years after his death. Few composers have reached across so many fields, let alone a composer as radical and overtly experimental. But Cage singlehandedly broke all the ground, especially when it came to exploring elements of the random, of the relationship between the performance and the audience, and of incorporating strands of philosophy into the creative process.

This recording of Variations VII is very much an unadulterated document of a specific event, best detailed in the liner notes:

Variations VII was created by John Cage to be performed at a special event, 9 Evenings, Theatre & Engineering, held from 13th to 23rd October 1966 in New York and in which a team of engineers, led by Billy Klüver, worked with ten artists from the American “avant-garde”, with the aim of enabling them to extend their exploration of the possibilities of electronics in their own art. Here is how John Cage described this piece in the programme for the event:

« It is a piece of music, Variations VII, indeterminate in form and detail, making use of the sound system which has been devised collectively for this festival, further making use of modulation means organized by David Tudor, using as sound sources only those sounds which are in the air at the moment of performance, picked up via the communication bands, telephone lines, microphones together with, instead of musical instruments, a variety of household appliances, and frequency generators. »

And so ‘Intro’ is four minutes of audience chatter, a throng of conversations, all in French, over and across one another. It may feel superfluous to some, but in so many ways, it’s integral to the experience. It not only captures the moments before the performance as it happened, but also transports the listener there, and reminds us that this is not a studio work, designed to capture some kind of perfect realisation of the piece for all time. There is no trickery or manipulation after the fact: this is a live performance, in front of a live audience, something that happened in the moment, and the moment is all there is, and the life of the piece is tied to that specific moment. And then, there is the fact that Variations VII is, effectively, about chatter.

Crackles of static, whistles and whines rent the air as the performance begins; the sound of radio dials turning, tuning in, finding – or failing to find – the right wavelength. Hums, hisses, and snippets of conversations, fragments of music. Whups and whirs, shill shards of feedback and blizzards of white noise emerge from a myriad pieces of sound, booming yawns of interference all criss-crossing over one another in a disorienting real-time sonic collage. Machines grind, babies cry, there are explosive, thunderous blasts of distortion, It’s like walking down a busy street, hearing pieces of conversation, radios blaring from cars, engines revving, and the parallels with William Burroughs’ cut-up technique, for those familiar, are clear. This replicates the experience of life in real-time, and real-time experience is not linear, but simultaneous: a plane flies overhead and you catch sight of an advertisement, and a reflection of a face in a shop window while conducting a conversation, and all around, other people conduct their own conversations…

The mechanics of it are complex and ambitious, but also typical of Cage’s approach to composition:

‘Ten telephone lines connected to the sounds of ten different locations in New York City. History has taught us that one of the first uses of the telephone at the end of the 19th century was, besides transporting voices, the live re-transmission of concert performances of opera. A few privileged listeners could therefore listen to the music in their own homes. Several decades later, John Cage reversed this, so to speak, by inviting the sounds of several distant environments into the concert venue!’

And so it is that the 1966 piece was performed live once more on August 15th, 2020 at the festival Le Bruit de la Musique. The performance lasts for an hour and eight minutes, during which time we’re subjected to a bewildering array of sounds, unconnected, disparate, all completely independent of one another, uncoordinated, random, haphazard and hither and thither. It’s a bewildering experience: not a lot happens, but at the same time, everything happens, a lot of it simultaneously. For the duration of the performance, the spell remains unbroken. For some reason that I really can’t explain, I find myself sitting, ears pricked, on tenterhooks, listening out for details. Towards the end, a blitzkrieg of overlapping extranea build to a tempestuous tumult of harsh noise that sounds like Throbbing Gristle a whole decade before their conception. And as it gradually tapers down, a cough from the audience cuts through the quiet – but it’s not quite finished. We wait, on edge.

Suddenly, there is silence.

Only when the performance ends is the tension broken.

There is a pause, a few seconds of uncertainty, before the applause breaks. There are a few whoops, but mostly, it’s polite. Enthusiastic, but polite. There is no chatter now. One suspects that having witnessed this – bearing in mind that it’s 1966 – many would have been simply stunned of vocabulary. The era may have been accustomed to all kinds of newness, all kinds of shocking, taboo-breaking art, but this…?

Variations VII hasn’t dated, and not lonely does it still sound contemporary, it remains incredibly relevant: if anything, its relevance is greater in 2021 than it was in 1966, perfectly recreating the experience of total media and sensory overload. Never mind The Beatles, here’s John Cage.

Powdered Hearts – 15th October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Gintas K releases albums more often than I change my clothes. That’s of course intended as a comment on the prolific nature of his output, rather than a confession about my personal hygiene post-lockdown, although not going into the office or being around people – or ever within two metres of them – has meant I’ve maybe made slightly less effort of late.

The same clearly can’t be said of Gintas K, at least in terms of his work, since I don’t know if he’s been tweaking away at his circuitry in his pyjamas or the same jeans for a week and a half or if he’s been bothering to shave or deodorise daily. I don’t need to, either, of course.

Anyway: Sound & Spaces explores what’s become established as familiar territory for Gintas K, with gloops and bibbles, froth and foam, squelchy bubbles of sound rising up randomly against the crackling burrs of electronic distortion. Sound & Spaces is less attacking and less abrasive than some previous outings, and is les intense and intensive in its interrogation of microcosmic space than some of his previous microscopic, microtonal explorations.

The first track – the thirteen-minute ‘Sounds & Spaces #1’ is a challenging mess of stammers and jolts, fizzing and crackling in a swampy slosh of analogue synth soup. It very much sets the tone, but in context, it’s a comparatively gentle start to what ultimately unravels to be quite a brain-shredder of a set.

‘Per aspera ad astra’ is a brief interlude of tingling, jangling dissonance before ‘Sounds & Spaces #3’ brings a bit of low-end grumbling, whining, and distortion, yawning undulations whizzing and popping all over.

By ‘Sounds & Spaces #4’, it’s almost impossible to differentiate distortion from percussion, and what originates where, although there are distinctly snare-like cracks in the feverish melting-pot of contrasting textures and tones, which become increasingly fragmented, fractured, and overloading as the album progresses. As an album it’s a frothy foment, and while some may find it simply uninteresting or a wash of so much noise they can ignore, I’m unlikely to be alone in finding the experience quite tense and uncomfortable – and nothing more so than the twenty seconds of silence at the end of the overwhelming chaos of ‘Sounds & Spaces #5’

If disorder offends your sensibilities, avoid this recording: once again, Gintas K has captured metal turbulence in aural form. It’s hard to process, but well worth enduring the turmoil for.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Fibonacci Drone Organ: three random words spliced together, unshackled from the constraints of context to allow free association to determine interpretation? Or a descriptive indication of what Dave Procter’s second- or t(h)ird-latest (this month saw the debut of HUNDBAJS, which is Swedish for dogshit, the absolute latest) of his myriad projects which include the Wharf Street Galaxy Band and Legion of Swine? The cassette release contains precisely no information whatsoever, even down to a track listing, but a spot of digging reveals that it’s the latter – which should come as no surprise, given that the man behind FDO curated a ‘10 Hours of Drone’ event a while back. The album contains two pieces, each occupying a side of the tape, and they’re formed around droning organ notes. Long, long droning organ notes.

And my (rather limited but suitably fruitful) research uncovered that FDO ‘uses the Fibonacci Series as part of the compositional process,’ that ‘the notes are chosen via dice rolls and coin tosses,’ and that ‘the durations of the notes are chosen by the Fibonacci Series. Notes are added at the appropriate time.’

From this, I infer that in technical / theoretical terms, FDO compositions emerge from an intersection of John Cage-inspired randomness and the mathematical precision of Fibonacci. What this actually means, ‘m not entirely sure, and thankfully, the technical aspects don’t impinge too heavily on the output from a listening perspective. Ultimately, it’s all drones. And on this outing the ‘appropriate’ time for adding noes is seemingly after an eternity.

This means that across the tape’s duration, not a lot happens. Notes may be added, but at such distance that the layers build so gradually that the pieces are over before much depth, resonance or layering has occurred. This is all testament to Procter’s unswervingly uncompromising approach to music-making, and encapsulates the reasons I personally hold him in such high regard (and it’s fair to say that if there’s one person I’ve worked with who’s intuitively understood my vision for creating spoken word with the most hellishly mangled noise, it’s Dave who’s been behind the majority of my best and most exhilarating collaborative live work). With more projects, pseudonyms and releases to his credit than seems humanly possible, he’s practically a one-man underground scene in his own right. Look up ‘northern avant-garde’, and you’ll likely find a picture of Dave Procter – or a bloke in a lab coat sporting a pig’s head or something.

Procter gets art, and is an artist, but doesn’t espouse the pretentious trappings of being an ‘artist’ (or, worse still, an ‘artiste’). Which means he can not only get away with releasing a tape containing 40 minutes of theory-backed drone without appearing a tit, but delivers some of the most brilliantly self-aware electronic drone you’re likely to find.

Side two (not that the sides are marked) brings a quavering decay to the elongated drones – which hover toward the higher frequencies – by way of contrast to the strong, stable drones of side one. The effect is cumulative and ultimately soporific, and it’s definitely the music and not the beer as I listen to the spindles rotate on my tape deck and the notes drift from the speakers. Sometimes, there’s no shame in sleep.

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The Sublunar Society 053 – 11th May 2018

James Wells

Just as Facebook advertising and Amazon recommendations prove that algorithms can be applied usefully but are no substitute for human input.

Of course, The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator is subject to human input, in that it was created by Mick Sussman himself. A programme is designed to ‘compose’ ‘unique’ music, by ‘making decisions based on a sequence of randomised processes.’ The nineteen compositions collected here seem to suggest a greater leaning toward the random than the musical. There are notes and there are rhythms, but none of them seem to coordinate with one another, and the sounds are trebly synthetic, 80s computer gamey. The cover art has obvious ‘matrix’ connotations, and tells much of the story of what The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator is about. Only, this is the sound of the matrix collapsing, of being stretched and pulled in all directions, twisted and tossed.

Sussman observes in the liner notes that in programming terms, Rosenberg is a primitive piece of coding, but is sufficiently versatile to enable him to vary musical phrasings and tempos – to the extent that one option enables the user to allocate a different tempo to each instrument. Why would anyone do this? Because, I suppose. It’s an indication of Sussman’s adoption of avant-garde principles, to disassemble and reconfigure that which has gone before, to build anew. It may well be that no-one has done this before not because they haven’t thought of it, but because they didn’t want to, but that’s every reason for Sussman to be the first.

The result is a disorientating, bleepy, bloopy clamour of sound, with digital notes flying in all directions in an exercise where the concept is considerably more appealing than the experience of the end product.

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Mick Sussman – The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator