Archive for June, 2010
There must be some logic to the way Richard Skelton assigns artist names to his various releases but can your ears tell the difference between A Broken Consort, Clouwbeck, Carousell and the work Skelton releases under his own name? All of this stuff basically sounds like the string section from Godspeed You! Black Emperor attempting a recital of Arvo Pärt‘s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten on a wind-blasted English moor.
So, Crow Autumn is pretty much business as usual. Hell, doesn’t the title alone tell you everything you need to know about the Richard Skelton sound? On tracks like “Mountains Ash” and “The River”, all of the familiar elements are in place: sawing string instruments modulating between a couple of notes, terse high-end piano chords, rolling cymbals…
But here’s the thing: it works – it always works. You see, with Skelton, the sameness, the blinkered monomania… that’s the whole point. His is a world of autumnal melancholy, where crows caw and the string section from Godspeed You! Black Emperor really is attempting a recital of Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten on a wind-blasted English moor – and will be until the end of time. Few artist’s revival him for sheer aesthetic commitment. He’s the Ramones of experimental music.
How many Richard Skelton albums do you really need? Dunno but you need this one because it’s fucking great. Go buy it from Forced Exposure.
Often, when a person starts programming in Max/MSP, the first thing he or she wants to do is build an instrument for “time-stretching” samples – increasing the duration of the sample, without altering its pitch. Many new Max users are perplexed to find that there is no native object in MSP that allows one to independently modify the pitch and duration of samples.
Probably the quickest way to remedy this is to grab Nathan Wolek’s Granular Toolkit – a set of external objects designed to enable various types of granular synthesis. The Toolkit includes an object called gran.groove.file~, which is essentially MSP’s standard sample looper, groove~, with independent pitch/duration augmentation built in.
This object has found its way onto quite a few connect_icut tracks but it’s never sounded quite right – a little tinny and washed out. Luckily, the Toolkit includes another object, called gran.cloud.live~, which can be used in conjunction with groove~ for a rather punchier-sounding form of granular pitch/duration augmentation. The Max/MSP patch pictured above uses this technique. It was originally built as a simple stand-alone instrument and has since been integrated into the the main connect_icut Max/MSP set-up.
Here’s what it looks like inside…
The way it works is incredibly straightforward. The signal from a groove~ object is fed through the gran.cloud.live~ object and the controls are set up so that when the duration of the groove~ is changed, the gran.cloud.live~ does a little compensation and the pitch remains constant. Essentially, gran.cloud.live~ does this by busting the live signal up into a bunch of micro-loops (or “grains”), the pitch/duration of which can be adjusted independently.
The MP3 below is a demo of how the instrument sounds. It uses a sample familiar from connect_icut’s “Sea Bells on Sunday” and runs it through a bunch of presets with different durations, pitch-shifts and sizes of grain. You may notice that the particularly nice (or annoying, depending on how you look at it) thing about using the gran.cloud.live~ object is that it has a just-glitchy-enough sound and adds some nutty stereo panning.
The mighty Woebot has a new CD out. It’s called Moanad and it’s his most accomplished and satisfying set of sample collages yet – providing nourishing, bite-sized morsels of re-imagined rock history.
The appeal of Moanad is that it’s almost entirely based on samples of other people’s music but the samples seem to have been picked for their aesthetic qualities, rather than to make a “subversive” point about copyright law.
Last month, a representative of this here blog was lucky enough to spend a little time at Woebot’s East London home studio, where the great man was very forthcoming about his musical methods and intentions. Below is a selection of what he had to say:
On the Recording Process
“The first thing I started finding out when I started sampling was that – people wouldn’t really think about it necessarily, if they didn’t know about recording music – but the recording process itself is really, really crucial when you’re sampling stuff. I started out with a little MOTU sound card, which was supposedly very good – it’s drivers were very solid and everything – but what I found very quickly was that… the analogue conversion in the thing was really shitty. So, a lot of the really early stuff I did – nobody would probably know or care but to me – I think that the recording of the sounds was not good, so I spent a lot of time researching analogue-to-digital conversion and I ended up with [an Apogee sound card], which I use with the [Akai] MPC [sampler] in a very particular way. The MPC’s converters were actually better than those in the MOTU, so the stuff that I’d sampled directly into the MPC sounded better. But now what I do is sample via the new sound card and bring it into the MPC as a digital signal – I don’t touch the MPC’s converters. So, the whole recording process is really detailed. And once I finish a track, I’ll try six or seven different ways of recording it to the computer. Sometimes it’ll sound better coming out of the MPC, sometimes I’ll multi-track it from the MPC… So recording becomes a big issue with sampling, I find.”
On Using Lots of Samples
“What I tend to do is, I will probably build up about four pages of MPC sound-banks, so I’ll have sometimes 200 things in there. And then I’ll sometimes use half of that, a third of that or less in the finished track. But I’ll have a lot of stuff in there. For instance, on the new one, there’s a track called ‘Overdrive’ that’s only 40 seconds long… I pulled apart [name of classic rock chestnut deleted] – just the drum part – and I think I used about probably 50 samples out of it. So, for about 40 seconds, that was about 50 samples, all from the same place.”
On Integrity & Identity
“I don’t know if I could properly articulate why it is that I do sample but I think it’s probably… a bit more to do with a degree of not being conscious and a bit more to do with it being a practice that’s there… I’ve grown up as a record collector and somehow it seems like the first reflex is just to regurgitate what one’s been exposed too. So, maybe it’s less philosophically motivated, except that what I have tried to do, certainly with this record, is to unapologetically burrow through to who I am…. One of the things I’m big on is integrity and people having integrity and being who they are. I mean, I’m a middle class/upper-middle class, white indie geek. I’ve gone through the whole electronic music thing but that is who I am. I’m not, y’know, a Rastafarian, although I love that – I love those people and the music they make… I’m not German… Y’know, I have a lot of respect for those people, as I would hope they would have for me but I can’t pretend to be something that I’m not. So certainly, with this record, the sounds that I’ve used, the samples that I’ve used, have all been about personal identity. And obviously that could be construed as being totally selfish, apart from the fact that there are other people out there like me.“
On Composition Versus Repetition
“One of the pieces of feedback I got on the second record – and it’s something I really took to heart – it came from John Leidecker, the Wobbly guy. He played some of the tracks to Blevin and Kevin of Blectum from Blechdom because I had a track named in honour of them. And they really liked that, which was really nice. But one of the things John said was that he liked the tracks where I kept the bars much shorter. And in fact, there were four tracks on the album I built for playing out live so, obviously, I had to actually make the bars a bit longer because I couldn’t realistically trigger two-bar loops in a live setting and I had to stretch it out to eight bars. Whereas, with this record, I kept everything down to one bar or two bars at most and – as a result – it moves much quicker. Generally, it’s much more brevity and that goes hand-in-hand with there being much more composition, thinking, putting things together more artfully and seeing how things go. You can’t just run something for four bars, do A-B-A-B and then you’re out. You have to use more samples, stitch things together and compose more. If you just did A-B-A-B on two bars, you’d be done in no time… I do like lots of house and techno and things like Actress and Oneohtrix Point Never but I listen to it now and I think: ‘there’s a lot of redundancy there, that’s a lot of repetition. That track could be out of there in like 30 seconds’. Do you know what I mean? So, when I’ve got to two minutes on my new thing, it goes this way and that and I’m trying to keep a thematic thing going. I don’t want people to lose interest. Obviously, the thing about repetition is that it’s a nice thing to listen too sometimes but I’ve kind of gone the other way… If you’re like me and you [rely] on the quality of the samples [you use], then you’re forced into a position whereby you have to keep things moving – otherwise you’re just like [sings repetitive riff]. And I think I would have been much more tolerant of that in the past.”
On Keeping It Rock’n’Roll
“I think that, to temper that, I feel negatively that it’s kind of an old thing to be less patient with repetition because I do like a lot of repetitive music… It feels very proggy in a way, to be against repetition… I like the visceral thing about repetition. There’s the physical dimension of music, certainly when it’s played really loud, that kind of messes with that whole thing. My big thing this year has been rock’n’roll – as in really 1956 stuff – and that whole visceral dimension of music. What I personally feel I need to be careful of is keeping that backbeat, that pulse behind it… John Leidecker says his friends say his music isn’t repetitive enough. So, I think it’s a knife-edge but it’s certainly something that one has to be aware of… It’s almost just having that energy, that kind of vicious energy that’s almost threatening… Not necessarily that threatening but maybe destabilising. That’s why I shy from the prog thing a bit because I think that people who come to making music from a critical background, what they tend to make is not visceral… It can be tepid and it can be mousey.”
On the Legal Aspects of Sampling
“I had a real meltdown because I used a [name of extremely famous pop/soul star deleted] sample on the last record and I thought: ‘I’m going to be in such trouble for this’. I had to play some stuff live on the radio and I thought: ‘I’ve got to get it out of there’, so I just pulled the track apart and the whole thing just did not work without it. So, I just used it. I thought: ‘fuck it!’ I’m a limited company. I set it up because I was anxious. And I went to see a music lawyer. I researched it a lot and found that people like Madlib never bothered with it, although I think he subsequently came reasonably unstuck. He got into trouble. But the limit is something like 20 or 30,000 copies and below that, it’s not worth being prosecuted.”
On Sampling Obscure Artists
“One of the charms of using things that are very obscure [is that] you don’t know what it is, it’s just beautiful… I think it’s interesting because things that are not obscure, immediately the emotions that people get from them are much more trammelled.”
On Being an Obscure Artist
“One of my big things at the moment is accepting that what I’m doing has a limited appeal and not giving a shit about it but also having the integrity to not bother people about my music. This time around, there’s a load of people who I’ve elected to just not involve in the promotional process because I don’t want the stress of bothering them – people I respect – for their opinions. So, I’ve kind of gone off the radar even more. But, y’know, that’s just it. I’d like it to have its own momentum. It’s early days for this record and I’ve got a couple of pieces of good press. But I feel that I’ve got to be really hard on myself. Looking at my record collection, that’s right beside us, there are records here that mean just huge amounts to me and they can’t have sold very much. It’s just like being part of that edifice is enough. That’s what I’d like to think. I think that’s the way it is.”
The artist known as connect_icut has contributed an hour-long piece of generative music to a sound installation called Music for Lunch Breaks, which will be at the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, from June 18th. Other contributors include Scott Morgan (Loscil), Joshua Stevenson (Magneticring), Jeremy Shaw (Circlesquare), Larissa Loyva (Kellarissa), Anju Singh and Brady Cranfield.
Here are the full details:
“Walk In/Here You Are presents: Here you Are Part 2 and Music for Lunch Breaks
Please join us on Friday June 18th at 9pm for the launch of Here You Are Part 2 featuring video works by Kathy Slade, David Crompton and Andrew Herfst, Brady Cranfield, Ryan McKenna and Rodney Graham. We will also be celebrating the launch of a new programme of sound works Music for Lunch Breaks that will play within Christian Kliegel’s installation work Walk In during daylight hours throughout the year. The compositions are by Alanna Tailfeathers, Joshua Stevenson, Anju Singh, Jeremy Shaw, Scott Morgan, Julia Marshburn, Larissa Loyva, Andrew Herfst, connect_icut and Brady Cranfield.
Walk In/Here You Are
Vancouver Central Library North Plaza
350 West Georgia Street”
In its original incarnation, the Mego label focussed on bringing Viennese digital electronica artists like Fennesz, Pita, Farmers Manual and General Magic to an unsuspecting world. As the label’s profile grew, so did it’s A&R remit and quality control started to suffer.
The reborn Editions Mego retains the eclecticism Mego embraced towards the end of its first life but has thus far done a better job of consistently issuing worthwhile albums. The label’s recent release of two excellent LPs by American retro synth acts is testament to this fact.
Does it Look Like I’m Here by Emeralds is that rare beast – a double LP which doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. The breezier side of krautrock is a clear influence here, with Neu! and Popol Vuh being two obvious reference points. Tracks like “Double Helix” are remarkably concise and executed with such aplomb that the music’s lack of originality hardly seems like an issue.
Still, Emeralds hardly seems like a terribly intriguing musical proposition when compared to Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never. OPN’s Returnal confounds expectations by beginning with a blast of sliced-up noise worthy of a first-generation Mego act like Rehberg & Bauer. Much of the rest of Returnal falls back on Lopatin’s usual mix of evocative arpeggios and drones but it still manages to reaffirm that Oneohtrix is about way more than mere retro pastiche. The processed vocal on the title track is a particularly nice touch.
Both of these albums are career high points for the artists concerned. The vinyl is likely to go out of print very quickly, so act fast.
It’s been about a decade since we last heard from Markus “Oval” Popp. During said decade, glitch – the style of abstract digital electronica Oval basically invented during the mid ’90s – has had time to go in and out of fashion a couple of times. Popp, meanwhile, has been suffering the effects of his highly analytical approach to music making – total creative deadlock.
To clear his writer’s block, Popp has moved from a methodology focused on questioning everything to one based on simply reversing everything. The approach he takes on Oh is rather reminiscent of that Seinfeld episode where George decides to start doing the opposite of everything he would normally do. In Popp’s case, this means swapping custom-built software for cheap commercial plug-ins and abandoning samples of skipping CDs in favour of actually playing acoustic and software instruments – drums, even!
The result is an EP that packs 15 tracks onto two sides of (white) vinyl. The four tracks on side A are relatively lengthy and by far the most musically conventional material ever released under the Oval banner. Side B features much shorter, more abstract pieces. Initially, both sides seem likely to frustrate long-time Oval fans – with the tracks being either too lightweight or too brief to be truly satisfying. However, once prejudices are suppressed and expectations put aside, this turns out to be a highly satisfying release.
While, Popp may have reversed his approach, his sonic signature is immediately recognizable. In fact, “Hey” (MP3 removed because it had been recorded from the vinyl at the wrong speed!!!) actually opens the EP with some reassuringly familiar-sounding filtered glitches. Even as the track progresses into something far more rhythmically and melodically steady than the classic Oval material, Popp’s authorial presence is strongly but subtly asserted. It’s something about the way he gently disrupts and distresses sound to create music that is decorative and confounding in equal measure.
The great dark secret of Popp’s career has been that, while he has always concerned himself with asking difficult questions about digital technology and musical practice, he has also consistently displayed a real talent for using digital technology to make quite straightforwardly beautiful music. Now, with what is by far the most straightforwardly beautiful music he has ever given us, Popp is asking some pretty intriguing things about what it means to have a “voice” in music and how musical technology and critical theory can either intensify or obfuscate raw talent.
Oh seems to have gone out of print already. If you see a copy, buy it!