Jon Hassell Tribute, Part 2: Jon’s Influence

by Dave Maier

Last time I posted a mix of Jon Hassell’s music, a little under his own name and a lot of collaborations. This time we’ll look at (my take on) Jon’s influence on others; but we’ll hear a bit more from Jon himself as well. 

Before we start, let me remind you (one reason) why we’re doing this: Jon is ill and needs your help. Here is the gofundme link; as you can see, there’s quite a ways to go:

Also, some good news: Jon has a new album for us! It’s available for pre-order now and will drop on July 24.

At that link, interestingly, we find stated flat out what I’ve taken for granted in making this second mix:

“The impact of Jon Hassell on today’s generation of electronic and ambient artists is immeasurable” – Paste Magazine

How exactly Jon has influenced his devotees naturally varies but we can identify a few main features of his music which people picked up on. First, perhaps most obviously, is his use of pitch shifters or “harmonizers,” especially Eventide’s high-end rack-mount effects unit of that name, which allows even a monophonic instrument such as a trumpet to play multiple parallel melodies simultaneously. Read more »

Nothing really

by Dave Maier

Last month in this space I posted the notes to my latest ambient mix, and you may have noticed at that time that in those notes I slagged my own composition “Nothing really” – even in its title! – as being nothing much, and promised to explain later. Here I fulfill that promise.

If you listen to that track as featured in the mix, my judgment may seem a little harsh. The track is on the static side, but that’s hardly a fault in the context: the textures are lovely, and there’s plenty of movement; and at under four minutes it can’t really be said to overstay its welcome. A minor work, perhaps, but as a brief linking interlude it works perfectly well. So what’s the problem?

Well, I’ll tell you. Here’s how I made it: first, I fired up one of my many synthesizers (here a software synth called Aparillo, purchased in a discounted bundle with a bunch of other entirely out of control plug-ins from the same developer on this last Black Friday). Then I selected a particular preset supplied by the developer. Then – after adjusting the routing a bit, so that I would record sound rather than MIDI – I clicked Record on my DAW and pressed a single key on my MIDI controller (G4, maybe), and held that key down for about four minutes. There, finished! I didn’t do any further processing (synths tend to have built-in effects now, so that lush reverb is already there in the preset) or mastering or anything. Nor did I tweak the preset’s parameters in any way. It took about five minutes in total, most of which, again, was spent holding the key down and listening.

My questions here seem at first to be of two distinct kinds: conceptual/ontological and evaluative. What is “Nothing really”? Is it a musical composition, or perhaps a composition of another kind? Who composed it? and what determines the answers to these questions? And are they really distinct from evaluative questions, the main such question obviously being: how good (or bad) is it? Here too, what determines that? Read more »

Don’t even think about operating heavy machinery while listening to this mix

by Dave Maier

Another not-necessarily-the-best-of-the-year mix, but there do seem to be a number of 2019 releases. Warning: this one’s pretty drony, so don’t be driving or anything. Sequencers next time, I promise! (A few anyway.)

0:00 Anne Chris Bakker – Norge Svømmer (Reminiscences [Dronarivm])

4:50 FRAME – Earth (The Journey [Glacial Movements])

12:30 Strom Noir – There will never be another you (va/Illuminations II [Dronarivm])

17:30 Kinephilia – Nothing really

21:20 tsone – a good cleansing always sets one’s mind to rights (pagan oceans I [Home Normal])

26:00 Joseph Branciforte & Theo Bleckmann – 5.5.9 (LP1 [greyfade])

34:20 Le Berger – 0003 [No thanks to you]      ( Sounds of the Sleepless Sam v.1)

40:40 Silent Vigils – Mossigwell (Fieldem [Home Normal])

51:00 Forrest Fang – The Other Earth (Ancient Machines [Projekt])

1:00:30 end

Further info about this mix’s music in a sec. First, a program note. There’s something a bit screwy about one of the tracks here. I should know, because I made it myself. It’s kind of a thought experiment (so you probably won’t be able to hear what I mean, and it shouldn’t interfere with your enjoyment), and I originally intended to finish this post with a discussion of the issues I think it raises. It got a bit out of hand though, so I think we’ll postpone that part until next time. (They’re really great issues though, so that’ll be a lot of fun.)

Now back to the show.

Direct link: Read more »

Another not the best ambient and space music of the year post

by Dave Maier

Sometimes I think I should post new mixes more often; but one advantage of doing them only twice a year is that I have no shortage of really excellent material. (Actually that’s always true, so so much for that excuse …). Nothing of my own this time, but in recent months I have obtained some amazing tools, with another on the way in December, so next year could be quite interesting in that regard, once I figure out what I’m doing. Stay tuned!

Star’s End Annex 9/19 [direct link if widget fails]

FernLodge – a brief time [Hjemve]
En – Elysia [Already Gone]
Halftribe – Virus [v.a./Illuminations II (The New Year 2018 charity compilation)]
Jarguna – Garden of the Gods [Fusion of Soul]
Knivtid – Paus I [v.a./the opposite of aloof vol. 1]
Noveller & thisquietarmy – Reverie 3 [Reverie]
Ann Annie – delicate landscape [Cordillera]
Beaunoise – Forst, 1975 [Buchlaworks, Module 1]

We’ve seen a couple of these artists before. FernLodge is this guy Joe from Canada, whose music is (as is all of this music actually; follow the links) available on Bandcamp. However, while most artists, even when giving their music away for free, allow you to “name your price” (which in turn allows you, if your price isn’t zero, to put that music into your Bandcamp “collection,” available to download whenever you want), Joe simply sets the price at “free” (which means you can’t put it into your online collection even if you want to). As you can tell by listening, Joe is being way too modest, as Hjemve in particular is excellent, his best yet. Incidentally, one of the instruments Joe used on this record (a Ciat-Lonbarde Cocoquantus 2) is now in my possession, as earlier this year I traded him some Eurorack modules for it. If I ever do anything with it as good as Hjemve, I’ll be very happy! Read more »

When is a drone not a drone?

by Dave Maier

In the Third Essay of On the Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche levels a powerful attack on the modern Platonistic conception of mind and nature, urging us to reject such “contradictory concepts” as “knowledge in itself,” or the idea of “an eye turned in no particular direction, in which the active and interpreting forces, through which alone seeing becomes seeing something, are supposed to be lacking.” More recently, Donald Davidson’s attack on the dualism of conceptual scheme and empirical content, and thus of belief and meaning, requires us to see inquiry into how things are as essentially interpretative.

This idea can seem to conflict with our natural conception of the world as objective, fundamentally independent of what we say or think. In a similar context, Wittgenstein has his imaginary interlocutor challenge him (Philosophical Investigations §241): “So you are saying that human agreement decides what is true or false?” The implication is clear: if your position requires that what we say makes things true, rather than simply mirrors it, then that is an unacceptably irrealist result; how the world is cannot depend on what we say about it.

The suspicion can also arise – especially when the relevant reflections about language come from those steeped in literary theory – that “interpretivists” have mistakenly extrapolated from what may very well be true in the specific case of artistic interpretation and its objects to any discourse about the world at all. Similarly, defenders of the traditional view of objectivity such as John Searle (following John Austin here) have suggested that it is the specific cases of “illocutionary acts” such as “I hereby pronounce you man and wife,” which do indeed cause their objects to be thus truly described, that have unwittingly led to the interpretivist heresy. Read more »

Reverberance, Reverence, Deliverance: Echoing the Otherworld

by Gautam Pemmaraju

Suave locus voci resonat conclusus

(How sweetly the enclosed space responds to the voice)

—Horace, Satires I, iv, 76 (in Doyle, P, Echo and Reverb:

Fabricating Space in Popular Music Recording, 1900 – 1960; 2005)

The whispering gallery that runs along the inner periphery of the dome of Gol Gumbaz, the mausoleum of the medieval Bijapur sultan Muhammad Adil Shah (1626 – 56 CE) is an acoustic marvel. Multiple echoes of up to ten in number can be heard in the dome on a single clap. And a reasonably soft whisper can be heard across a distance of a hundred and thirty feet. The tourists visiting the place are mostly prone to whoop, shout, and clap with great enthusiasm, overwhelming the dome with dense sonic information. At quiet times though one can savour its rich, amplified reverberance—the timbre, colour and tone of the spoken word assumes an elevated quality, as if it were imbued by the sheen of something beyond earthly artifice.

Such sonic modulations appear to us to be of a higher order, sanctified by primordial forces. And in our own mimetic appropriations, of sermons and speeches, chants and songs, drones and dirges, we seek to texturize our words with an otherworldly aura. The use of delay effects in sound recording allows us then to ritualistically edify our anxieties and inadequacies and transpose them into reverberant solemnity.

The prosaic use of delay effects in recorded sound—echo and reverberation—has its place in modern times, but the phenomenon has for long resided in the realm of mystical experience. The Greco-Roman mythical character Echo, a nymph condemned to repeat all that she hears, is a tragic figure by all accounts. Rebuffed by Narcissus, the heartbroken Oread hides herself in woods, caves and mountain cliffs. She withers away there in loneliness, her flesh wasting away and bones turning into stone till all that is left is her voice. In this reduced, etheric spectral state, all she can do is to reply to anyone who calls out to her.

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Joanna Demers, “Listening Through The Noise”

by Dave Maier

Joanna Demers – Listening Through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music (Oxford University Press, 2010)

DemersWhen I tried, in 1981, to interest my undergraduate music professors in progressive electronic music, they didn't get it: anything with notes was “harmonically simple” (“it hess to do with analeetical levelss”, explained one prof), and anything without notes left them completely at sea. Apparently “musicology” meant the theory, not of music generally, but of Western classical music in particular. For anything else you want “ethnomusicology”, which turned out to be basically a subset of anthropology, dominated by scrupulously objective descriptions of Javanese gamelan, Ghanaian drumming, and so on (worthy music all, but not what I was talking about).

I guess that's not too surprising. If you are trained from the age of five to think about music solely in terms of melody and harmony, or at least pitch and duration, then you should be equally flummoxed both by music which lacks these things entirely, and – perhaps even more – by that which subordinates them to other things, like sound texture and spatial location. So I have not been expecting much analytic help from musicological quarters. However, I am pleased to report that Joanna Demers's recent book displays an amazing degree of familiarity – for an academic musicologist at any rate – with the full range of contemporary electronic music and sound art.

Listening Through the Noise is not a work of criticism, but of aesthetic theory, and the discussion is a bit abstract at times, perhaps in order to avoid drowning the reader in technical detail. However, as appropriate to the subject as this abstraction is, Demers renders her subject approachable through the analysis of a wide-ranging array of examples, and her writing is clear and accessible. This is partly because she is laying the groundwork for future elaboration rather than making a definitive statement, but as a level-headed introduction to this difficult topic, this book is hard to beat.

Yet I think we're still talking about baby steps. Impressed as I was to see approving references in an academic book to the likes of Celer, Basic Channel, and Tetsu Inoue, a quick look at the discography and index reveals huge, gaping holes. Some are excused by the focus on aesthetic theory rather than history or criticism, but to see what progress has actually been made here, we need to take a closer look.

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A spacemusic primer (plus bonus ambience)

by Dave Maier

PhaedraIn my previous posts on the subject, I have assumed, or anyway not worried about, a basic knowledge of what spacemusic is, and simply presented sets of classic or recent vintage. But that was negligent of me, as for most people this material remains an entirely closed book. Maybe they've seen a movie (Risky Business, or Sorcerer) with music by Tangerine Dream – which band does turn up in the Rolling Stone Record Guide (described there in a five-line review of two mid-70s LPs as “kings of the synthesizer, German-style”, with all that that implies to rock 'n' rollers) – but they'll draw a blank on “Berlin-school spacemusic” in general. Today we rectify that omission, so if you skipped the other installments you may want to check this one out. We begin at the beginning, long before our story actually begins….

From the perspective of the new millenium, the origins of electronic music are obscured by the mists of a bygone era. Indeed, the term seems no longer to refer to anything worth picking out as a distinct type of thing, as many rather different types of music-making nowadays are dependent in some sense on electricity. We still use the word, but usually to mark an emphasis on electronic means in some one music relative to another: we can refer to techno as “electronic” relative to other types of dance music, without denying the use of electricity in making, say, funk. If we want to make an absolute distinction, we often speak of “acoustic” music rather than its opposite (although here too a relative use is available).

Early electronic musiciansEven in the dawn of time, however (= the 1950s or so), there was an important disctinction to be made. “Electronic music” was made with electronically generated sound, e.g. with voltage-controlled oscillators and amplifiers. But another important use of electricity, one which had been around for many years without (significantly, in our context anyway) affecting musical composition or performance, was the electronic capturing of sound, or recording. This was the basis for the other main approach for making music electronically in the early days: rather than generating sounds electronically, musique concrète pioneers like Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry composed by manipulating recordings of previously existing, often non-musical, sound.

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