KOAN: A Revolution Overlooked

2006 celebrates the 10th anniversary of a musical revolution that hardly anyone noticed.
In 1996, a company called SSeyo released the first version of their KOAN musical software. An incredible ingenious piece of work that introduced the concept of “Generative Music” – music that chooses it’s own path from a set of rules and parameters, and sounded slightly different every time it is played.

William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops

Upon re-discovering his own archives, William Basinski found some old analog tape-recordings of some ‘pastoral pieces’ of his own work, recorded in the early 80’s. If you can remember this analog reel-to-reel tapes (or cassettes), and imagine them to be used as a real physical loop (end glued to beginning), you can almost see how they started to deteriorate when played endlessly. (Remember the brown dust on your cassette-recorder playback heads?).

"Winter Music"

“Sound is Audible Time” (the original name of this weblog) is a quote from this book by John Luther Adams, a composer living in Alaska. The book, subtitled “Composing the North”, deals with the influence the environmental landscape may have on a composer. As is stated in the foreword: “A lot of composers live in the Hudson Valley; will some future historian find among us synchronicities that unite us stylistically?”

Akira Rabelais – Spellewauerynsherde

Maybe it’s because of this unpronounceable title, but I have completely missed this (2004!) release. I never have heard about it until recently. Better late than never, because this is easily one of the strangest and the most compelling albums I ever heard!

Upon hearing only the first track of this haunting album I realised that this is a sound completely different from all I heard before.
It’s as if a voice coming from the middle ages haunts you in your deepest sleep. It’s beautiful, heavenlike. But at the same time it’s distorted and confusing, scary even.

“Spellewauerynsherde” is built up from found sounds, field recordings of traditional Icelandic accapella lament songs recorded in the late 1960s or early 1970s on Ampex tapes and then forgotten about. After discovering the neglected tapes, cleaning them up and digitizing them for a library, Rabelais became fascinated with the heartbreaking sadness of the voices and began to think of them as source material for a series of compositions.

As the title (Spelle, Wavering, Sharde) suggests, you will not understand a word of what is sung. But somehow the message will come through.

This incredible record is available through samadhisound (David Sylvian’s label)

A Boomkat (recommended online store specialised in recordings like this) quote: “Not many album’s will move you in quite the way that this album does. Believe. “
Believe, indeed!

Murcof – Remembranza

Fernando Corona’s alias Murcof is a ‘hot’ name in the ambient music scene. And with a reason.
With his earlier releases (Martes, Utopia and some other, all released on Leaf) he defined his own particular sound, quite unlike most other contemporary ambient music around.
It’s a warm, emotional sound, maybe because he is born (and lives) in Tijuana, Mexico. A Biosphere from warmer regions, you might say?

His latest release is called Remembranza, and the music is as beautiful as the title. It is as adventurous as it is quiet.

However, the glitchy clickin’ rhythms on some of the tracks may pinpoint this release to 2005: I’m afraid it’ll be these rhythm tracks that will make this album sound a bit dated ten years from now. In my opinion these tracks would have been ‘timeless’ without these rhythmic backgrounds…but I’m nitpicking now. Remembranza easily belongs to the very best recordings I have heard in many years!

the Buddha Machine

Recently I stumbled upon some news about the buddha machine: a small device that looks like a cheap fm-radio that endless loops 9 ambient samples. You can switch samples, connect a headphone, or listen to it using the built in speaker. The ambient sample-loops for this small device are created by Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian, known as FM3.

Brian Eno is said to have bought eight of these things, for obvious installation purposes.

Well th?t’s a gadget (*) I cannot refuse! So I immediately ordered one from Staalplaat.
It’s a conceptual thing: it’s the idea that counts more than the result. Due to the inexpensive hardware the samples don’t even nearly sound like they do on-line (click the speaker icon below to hear the online version).
But still – the Buddha Machine proves irrestistable. After the initial scorn for buying ‘crap’ like this (“it doesn’t even play decent radio!”) I found my family playing with the thing and enjoying this piece of obvious irrelevancy. Although I probably won’t buy the complete series, I certainly won’t regret this purchase….

(I’m very curious to hear about any other ‘ambient gadget’ you may have found, so please let me know if you did)

(*) there’s a matter of definition here: a gadget is defined as ‘a device that is very useful for a particular job’ – whereas ‘a device of clever design that has no practical purpose’ is called a novelty item. It’s up to you to decide which one the buddha machine is.

Inside and Outside

Being the prolific musician that he is, Stephen Philips has come up with quite some unusual ideas (see the recent post about the drone download project, for an example).

There’s quite a few projects under his name at www.darkduck.net. Inside and Outside is presented in the form of an extremely limited multi-part subscription project, which immediately raised my interest.
Only the final (fifth) album of this series, which is planned to end in december 2005, will be available as a non-limited release, but the preceding four (ánd an extra bonus disc) will be available only for the 25 subscribers lucky enough to have spot this in time..I guess we’re talking about a 100% collectors item release here!

The music is a combination of field recordings (from near Washington DC), blended with dark deep ambient drones and textures. The field recordings are made only just before creating the albums, so the complete series finally turns out to be an auditive description of this year’s summer, fall and the beginning of winter. I like that idea. And I like the music.

Most of the two cd’s that were releases until now contain dark, moody drones (though the atmosphere gets lighter in the seconds half of part two…)

Drone Download Project

DDP Year 2 CD cover

It?s heading to complete its third year already, so if this is the first time you hear about the Drone Download Project, you?ve already missed quite a few free ambient-drone download opportunities. You missed 80 tracks of the first two years, to be precise. But don’t worry: the third year (including a Year 2 Megamix) can still be downloaded.

As you?d probably expected by now, all material is of the minimalist drone kind, some even quite extreme.
New tracks are available online for a limited time only, so you have to keep an eye on the site, but Stephen sends out notifications to you if you want.
If you?re into this kind of music (and can spend some money on it), I can heartily advise ordering the first two years on convenient MP3 CD format. Listening to all tracks until now takes op 21+ full hours…

The DDP – as it is sometimes referred to – was started by Stephen Philips, and boasts some famous names. And some more less famous names too. There?s a lot of material by Stephen Philips himself, some other names you may already have heard before are Sundummy, Brannan Lane, Esa Ruoho, Austere, Igneous Flame, Jeff Greinke. To name just a few.

All material is created for this occasion especially, and most of it is not available in any other format.

Support Strongly Recommended!

Arvo Part – Lamentate

Referring to Arvo Pärt’s music as ‘ambient’ is a bit like swearing in church, I guess.
But still, there are similarities. Listen, for example, to Da pacem Domine, and you’ll probably be remembering some of the earlier ambient works of Brian Eno (Music for Airports 2/1, to be specific).

The Hilliard Ensemble as always guarantee a flawless and heavenly performance.

Michel Banabila – Hilarious Expedition

Michel Banabila must be one of Hollands best kept secrets. He has released numerous albums, some ambient, some world, some jazz, some experimental, all worth the listen.

Hilarious Expedition is a double album with movie- and theatre music, which he has released himself in a limited independent edition. Because it probably would be too ‘difficult’ for official release.

I regret this album is a bit overlooked – due to it’s independent release – because it should attract a wider, adventurous, audience.

Nils Petter Molvaer – ER

For the ‘pop’ listener, ER is a far more complex album than Molvaer’s earlier work. The arrangements sound like studio improvisations, and the result is more ‘jazz’, less ‘dance. The accompanying background is created with delicate electronic sounds, which make the record very modern.
‘Sober’ is one of the best tracks, in my opinion. And that may very well be because it’s so ….er…..sober.