Tuesday, October 14, 2014

this was tomorrow (slight return #2)

Cybernetic Serendipity Music ICA01 | ICA02
1968 ICA Nash House, The Mall, London SW1 
A1 Lajaren Hiller & Leonard Isaacson – Illiac Suite (Experiment 4). 1957, 4 minutes, Mono.
A2 John Cage – Cartridge Music (excerpt). 1960, 5 minutes, Stereo.
A3 Iannis Xenakis – Strategie (excerpt). 1962, 5 minutes, Stereo.
A4 Wilhelm Fucks – Experiment Quatro-Due. 1963, 5 minutes, Mono.
A5 J.K. Randall – Mudgett (excerpt). 1965, 7½ minutes, Stereo.
B1 Gerald Strang – Compusition 3. 1966, 2½ minutes, Mono.
B2 Haruki Tsuchiya – Bit Music (excerpt). 1967-1968, 2⅜ minutes, Stereo.
B3 T.H. O’Beirne – Enneadic Selections. 1968, 4¼ minutes, Mono.
B4 Peter Zinovieff – January Tensions. 1968, 10½ minutes, Stereo.
B5 Herbert Brün – Infraudibles. 1967, 8 ½ minutes, Stereo.

This record was made to celebrate and commemorate the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition held at the ICA, London, 1st August to 20th October 1968. 
During the preparation of the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition two things became apparent. 
One, that in order to show what was going on in the field computer music, it was necessary to include a considerable amount of material that was not strictly composed with or played by computer. Two, that dealing with an exploratory field, all attempts at a historical perspective or firm evaluation were out of place. The exhibition and this record, therefore, are essentially a reportage of current trends and developments in programmed and stochastic music. 
The first landmark in computer composition is Lejaren A. Hiller’s ‘Illiac Suite’, 1957. Many experiments have been carried out before, but these were either exploratory without yielding a tangible music, or were mostly concerned with the technical possibilities of imitating familiar sounds. 
Ideas which are relevant to composition with computers were frequently employed in the experimental musical composition of the past thirty years. The work of Joseph Schillinger, for instance, through its systematic analysis and programming, antedates the methods employed by computer composers today. The notion of randomness exemplified in the work of John Cage is also of crucial importance. Randomness (decision avoiding, or more concisely, leaving a decision to chance within an exactly specified range of possibilities) is one of the most important tools of the computer composer. 
Computer music falls into two categories: computer composition and computer sound. Specific works may employ one or both of these. ‘Illiac Suite’ is computer composed but performed by a string quartet. Pieces by James Tenney, Gerald Strang and Peter Zinovieff utilise the computer both as a tool to compose with and a sound-making instrument. The experimental pieces produced at Bell Telephone Laboratories make use of existing tunes like ‘A bicycle built for two’ but played and sung by a computer. 
As a souvenir of the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition this record is a selection of work in progress. 
The cover shows a section of a score for “Four Sacred April Rounds’ 1968 by Peter Zinovieff

[text purloined from Cybernetic Serendipity Archive where there are lots of groovy photos and a few more videos]

Record to be reissued on vinyl says FACT -- although I doubt very much it was the "first electronic music compilation" as asserted . 

Or even as an exhibition of  art meets science  what about  E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) aka 9 Evenings at the Armory in 1966?  Perhaps lacking the computer-music element but they had John Cage... 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

retro-quotes # 79544011893

retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time # 79544011893

"Modern Times - This is an era of immense originality and innovation in machinery. Which is very sad to a person like me, because I don't care. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but it's not interesting to me. These things weren't imaginable when I was young. It's almost as if all of humanity is concentrated on this, and we're being used for the transmission of these things; that's what bothers me. You're 25. Do something that angers me, or surprises me. Don't keep rediscovering things. Now the culture is made of old things, it's a collage. Art made out of art is not art. You're supposed to make art out of life. You go into studios and you see these mood boards or whatever? You think you saw that at Saint Laurent's studio? It's other people's art. I call that stealing" 
                                                                              -- Fran Leibowitz, 2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Syro, scenius, 'stasis - and the "saming change"

"Has Underground Culture's obsession with the past endangered its future?' * asks Joe Zadeh at Noisey , using Aphex Twin's Syro as springboard for a survey of the panorama of "same old shit" that is the present   

I don’t think it’s necessarily retromania when an established, much-loved artist returns after a long period of inactivity.  There’s plenty of examples of people in all kinds of artistic fields who just disappear – get burned out or feel like withdrawing from view – and then their passion to create reignites or they start craving a bit of attention and admiration.  And it’s to be expected that their forlornly devoted audience will go into raptures when they return.

That said, it could be taken as significant and symptomatic that by far the biggest excitements of 2014 so far concern the return of Legends after Long Absences - Kate Bush and Richard D. James.

Zadeh's assessment of Syro --  "a time-travel through a meteor shower of eighties synth-funk" interspersed with "fond, self-referential glances at the career of Aphex Twin", resulting in "a sound unlike anything else this year" but "quite a lot like everything from the past thirty years" -- seems accurate and fair. 

But on the question of whether this means he's disappointing our expectations of a new breakthrough, I have to wonder: was Richard D. James ever really an innovator as such? Did he lead the way and point to the future, or was he just very alert and quick off the mark? For if you look back over his discography, for the most part he's gone along with the general direction of techno. His earliest stuff was basically banging 'n' slamming hardcore: strident percussion + caustic ear-punitive sounds, not far from what labels like Rabbit City and Rising High and PCP were doing then, but more accomplished. He was at the forefront of the drift towards floaty, dreamy idyllictronica but he wasn't alone: Carl Craig and The Black Dog were heading that way too, among others. Likewise the shift towards darker abstract atmospheres with Selected Ambient Works II: you could sense a reaction against first-wave ambient brewing, as it got too aqueously placid and pseudo-spiritual serene, such that Kevin Martin pulled together the Isolationism compilation. Then jungle and drum & bass shook everything up - once again James was one of a number of IDM artists (Vibert, Squarepusher, Paradinas, others) who recognised the new cutting edge of micro-edited breakbeat hyperkinesis, who embraced it and pushed it to an absurdist extreme. 

He's a genius, for sure, but where it comes into play is the melodic invention, harmonic and textural subtlety, emotional depth...  and an overall level of musical accomplishment. Also personality and whimsical humour. It's these things that made Aphex's work stand out in a crowded field of fundamentally similar and equally of-its-time music.

A genius who surfed the breaking waves of scenius. 

Generally with electronic music, the evolution is driven by much more wider and impersonal forces – what the technology makes possible, what the dance-floor audience is responding to. 

Perhaps the long silence - unbroken except for the overtly retro, back-to-analogue, back-to-my-roots Analord -- of Aphex since Drukqs just reflected the lack of a dynamic, incontrovertibly innovative and where-it's-at direction in 21st Century electronic music. **

Syro itself doesn't provide that missing direction - there's nothing here for others to imitate, I don't think.  

What it does do is exemplify the alternative strategy that reigns today in most fields of sonic endeavour: archaeological expeditions through relatively recent music history. 

In some ways, it's easier to construct a quirky, idiosyncratic sonic identity by combining past elements, simply because there is such a rich, diverse set of pasts to draw upon. (Ariel Pink's imminent Pom Pom exemplifies this, as all his best work does).

Conversely, when there is a clearly defined cutting edge, it creates homogeneity (think of the effect on the radio of Beatles/Stones, Chic, Timbaland). Innovation seems to promote swarming behaviour, it works as a centripetal attractor, it depersonalises. In the absence of time-defining sounds or sceniotic factors, retro-eclecticism and quirky individuality dominate. 

Personally I prefer a changing same to a richly differentiated stasis. 

Or perhaps I mean, a saming change - the innovation that enforces its across-the-board adoption, the makes the scene move in lockstep.

Not sure what I really make of Syro as yet.  There is a lot to digest. Almost literally - it reminds me of an overstuffed sandwich, or a burger with too many toppings.   The music seems to ooze out at the sides. There's a kind of lateral excess - all the squelchy bass-texture wobbling and wibbling – that interferes with the linear propulsion of the grooves.  It's different, for sure -- no one else is doing anything like it at the moment -  but I don't  quite love it as yet. 

Gonna keep trying, though - it's Richard D. James! The Aphex Twin!

* The headline in itself triggers a twinge of deja vu pour moi, or perhaps deja pensee.

** What, during the dozen years since Drukqs - in itself reflecting the sputtering twilight of late 90s ideas - could RDJ have latched onto, been spurred into action by? The wobble/bro side of dubstep, perhaps. And currently, maybe, certain things going on in EDM production. But that would be leap too far for RDJ. So instead of digital maximalism, with Syro he's opted for analogue maximalism.