Soundbites: Deaf Bell, Social Sound, Venue-less Gigs

Recent reads (etc.) on sound

A lightly annotated sound-studies clipping service, collected in advance of the next issue of my This Week in Sound email newsletter (tinyletter.com/disquiet):

The mother of the father of the telephone was deaf. Alexander Graham Bell’s own father developed a system called Visible Speech to facilitate communication. Bell eventually himself married a woman who had lost her hearing in childhood. And now, Katie Booth, in her new book, The Invention of Miracles: Language, Power, and Alexander Graham Bell’s Quest to End Deafness, traces this throughline in Bell’s life and work: “his creative genius and his misguided efforts to eradicate Deaf culture,” as Valerie Thompson puts it in a review. Here’s a particularly damning statement from Bell’s wife: “You are tender and gentle to deaf children, but their interest to you lies in their being deaf, not in their humanity.”
https://blogs.sciencemag.org/books/2021/04/06/the-invention-of-miracles/

LinkedIn is reportedly looking to add an audio chatroom feature, which makes sense, given how much of Clubhouse, the “audio social network,” has been professional conversations. This feature expansion would be part of a broader range of changes LinkedIn is making to flesh out its social capabilities.
https://www.firstpost.com/tech/news-analysis/linkedin-confirms-that-it-is-working-on-a-clubhouse-like-audio-chatroom-feature-9483741.html

Miss live music? Then I recommend this Gabriele de Seta essay on Hong Kong’s “no-venue underground” (a term credited to Rob Hayler), drawing from personal experience (2012-2016) playing in a city with few places to perform experimental music in the first place: “It is somehow ironically appropriate that, in this city without ground, experimental musicians find themselves relegated to a precarious underground actively carved out of fleeting spaces strewn across the upper floors of post-industrial peripheries. These precarious venues appear and disappear following the inexorable inflation of property prices and the investment decisions of landlords, leaving local show organizers to work in the present tense with whatever space is available at the moment.” It’s a timely, applicable piece during our moment of place-less livestreams. The essay is from the new book Fractured Scenes: Underground Music-Making in Hong Kong and East Asia, edited by Damien Charrieras and François Mouillot, both professors at universities in Hong Kong.
https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-15-5913-6_7

Erik Davis, author of Techgnosis and a friend of mine since college, writes about taking guitar lessons for the first time since high school. I myself started taking weekly lessons a few years ago, and can relate to this distinction he draws: “Rather than playing guitar, I am practicing with it. I don’t mean rote exercises — though I do some of those — but something more like meditation practice: a daily commitment to disciplined method and unpredictable encounter, to emotional exploration and deconstruction, to attention and listening as much as to performance or ‘doing.’” Likewise, he talks about trying to reconsider the role of recording in his efforts: “I want the recording device to become part of practice rather than ambition, no longer a staff sergeant of the Productivity Regime but a challenging feedback friend, breaking the spell to deepen it.”
https://www.burningshore.com/p/open-tunings

News of Google’s Project Wolverine goes back a month, but I don’t want to lose track of it. It’s reportedly a supercharged earbud. According to a summary by Ashley Carman, “[T]hey’re currently trying to figure out how to isolate people’s voices in a crowded room or make it easier to focus on one person when overlapping conversations are happening around you.” Carman compares this with Whisper (whisper.ai), and others to the lamented, defunct Doppler Labs. As David Pierce put it in his overview of Doppler’s fall back in 2017, it “had the bad luck of being a hardware company at a time when the biggest players in tech — Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook — are all pouring billions into developing their own gadgets.” Now Google appears to be pursuing the endeavor.
https://www.theverge.com/2021/3/4/22313421/alphabet-project-x-wolverine-hearing-aid-project
https://www.businessinsider.com/google-x-alphabet-hearing-project-wolverine-codename-augmented-reality-2021-3

Magenta Haze

Dave Seidel channels La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela

If you’re familiar with the work of La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, then the color alone of Dave Seidel’s video is a dead giveaway right from the start. The dreamy magenta is the duo’s signature color, a common theme in their wardrobe and installations alike. Here the magenta is a pale shadow cast on Seidel’s equipment as he unveils ream after ream of raga-like drones. The performance is titled “For LMY and MZ” (note the initials), and he explains in an accompanying text that it draws inspiration from some central works of theirs. This is both deeply beautiful and deep work, the beading, undulating patterns shifting and cycling in slow motion.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine live performance of ambient music. Video originally posted to Seidel’s YouTube page. More from Seidel (aka Mysterybear) at mysterybear.net.

Current Favorites: Synth, Cello, Code

Heavy rotation, lightly annotated

A weekly(ish) answer to the question “What have you been listening to lately?” It’s lightly annotated because I don’t like re-posting material without providing some context. I hope to write more about some of these in the future, but didn’t want to delay sharing them.

▰ Jostijn Ligtvoet’s “Twilight and Fire” combines live cello with synthesizer accompaniment, the blinking lights matching his four strings drone for drone.

▰ I caught Chiho Oka’s set during the recent No Bounds Festival event (a livestream), hosted by algorave figure Alex McLean, and several of the pieces she performed then are on her forthcoming album, Manipulating Automated Manipulated Automation. The record isn’t due out until February 28, but four tracks are already streaming, and they evidence the combination of rigor, humor, and pathos she brings to her work.

▰ Omri Cohen’s Meditation Spores is deep-synthesis ambient, brimming with digital artifice, and vibrant in its doleful melodic lines and tonal processing.

Fleming’s Automated Fantasia

Illuminated by a cathode-ray tube

Femi Fleming’s is a YouTube channel to keep track of. It’s regularly updated with electronic music that pushes at different areas, some noise, some beat-oriented, a lot of atmospheres. In another era something like this, which falls in the atmosphere zone, might have been titled “Minuet for Cello and Piano,” but the year is 2021 and the available instrumental colors have broadened considerably. So instead, this is “Ambient Live Looping Drone with Eurorack and Elektron Octatrack.” Illuminated by a cathode-ray tube TV set to glitchily stun, the devices do all the work while Fleming remains off camera, having set it up, pressed go, and removed himself from the mise en scène. Dense tones collide like nothing so much as a fantasia of big city traffic, all muted honking and the echo of tall boulevards. It begins and ends suddenly, suggesting both it’s part of a bigger work, and also that the segment is of something automated that Fleming determined showed the overall setup in its best light.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine live performance of ambient music. Video originally posted at YouTube. More from Fleming, a student at RISD, at instagram.com/femifleming.

Solace via Beirut

A live set from Charbel Haber and Fadi Tabbal

We live at a moment during which live performance in person is nearly absent. Solace for those who prize such pleasures comes during Zoom concerts and recordings, and sometimes the solace even manages to sound like solace. That is the sense the pervades Enfin la Nuit, a beautiful live set performed by Charbel Haber and Fadi Tabbal last September at Ahm, a nightclub in Beirut, Lebanon, the city where both musicians live.

The album’s three tracks, each roughly 11 minutes or so long, are suffused with longing. The opening piece, from which the album takes its title, goes from whisper to loud sigh, layers of what appears to be guitar pushing a collective drone to higher and higher places. “Couvre-Feu” nods at pandemic life, the title being French for curfew, and the music like a sonorous mix of sirens and barbed wire (the latter featuring as the release’s cover image). Like “Enfin la Nuit,” this second track escalates over time, achieving something piercing and fierce. The closing entry, “Chaque Rose Porte en Elle Une Petite Mort,” introduces a woman’s voice, perched on the boarder between full-blooded and ethereal, and benefits from delectable glitchy treatments throughout.

More from Haber at charbelhaber.bandcamp.com and from Tabbal at faditabbal.com. Last October, I hosted the premiere of Tabbal’s fifth solo album Subject to Potential Errors and Distortions.