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When a record label gets into making cool, weird instruments

Streaming revenue may be hit or miss, but record labels can always make their own boutique sound hardware. Ghostly International have long pioneered new ideas in the category of “selling stuff that isn’t vinyl.” There was the Matthew Dear Totem, for instance – though that served zero practical function and didn’t make sound. Their store feels as much a trendy boutique for design fetishists as a record outlet. But I think it’s their musical instrument collaborations that are most interesting. Yeah, okay, you could say this is getting a bit hipster-y. But remember that it’s really musical instruments that have …

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Meet the guy you can blame for all those air horn sounds everywhere

The air horn is one of the weirder cultural tropes around today. It’s loud, it’s obnoxious – and it’s also ubiquitous, from radio ads to pop songs. It’s clearly out of its original context, but what was it’s original context, anyway? The answer to that is more clear-cut than you might imagine. But it also points a finger squarely at us cultural consumers and producers – that too much copy-paste could become a literal, repeated warning bell. Author Jeff Weiss actually wrote a beautiful essay for Red Bull Music Academy back in 2013″ In Search of the Air Horn In …

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Enter the surreal 1995 world of Laurie Anderson multimedia

Ah, the mid 1990s. We used terms like “new media,” and the idea of a record label of sorts devoted to the multimedia CD-ROM seemed natural and futuristic. It was the era of the Voyager Company, a pioneering media firm that spawned the Criterion Collection (via beautifully curated LaserDisc editions of great films), and an interactive line for Windows and Mac. Voyager is a story all its own, but I think Laurie Anderson’s Puppet Motel stands out. The breakthrough in technology at the time was that rich media could be distributed to a wide variety of platforms. On the Mac …

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Hearing a Steve Reich phase with two iPhones is oddly hypnotic

You’ve got Steve Reich on your speed dial, right? He calls now and then? This is totally a realistic experience of what happens in your daily life? I’m sure it is. http://stevereichiscalling.com/ Texting, of course, is similar, me and Steve. “U up?” “U up?” “U up?” “Up?” “Uu up?” “up??” “Uuu up?” “up? U” “Uuuu up?” “up? Uu” “u— True story. Also I recently installed the Steve Reich Weather app, because it tells me if It’s Gonna Rain. Thank you, you’ve been a lovely audience, I’ll be here all night!

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STEREO FIELD is a beautiful touchplate instrument and controller

This might just be a real spiritual successor to the Cracklebox. (That’s the classic – and very nicely unpredictable – creation of Michel Waisvisz, one associated with the research program at STEIM and many of the ideas about expression and nonlinear sound ever since.) STEREO FIELD is a sound box / controller centered around touch plates, marked with concentric overlapping circles that represent the interconnection of two analog stereo circuits. It’s a sound generator: you can make some (raw sounding) analog, atonal sounds by patching its circuitry to an output. It’s also a sound processor: use incoming signal to combine …

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New tools for free sound powerhouse Pd make it worth a new look

Pure Data, the free and open source cousin of Max, can still learn some new tricks. And that’s important – because there’s nothing that does quite what it does, with a free, visual desktop interface, permissive license, and embeddable and mobile versions integrated with other software, free and commercial alike. A community of some of its most dedicated developers and artists met late last year in the NYC area. What transpired offers a glimpse of how this twenty-year-old program might enter a new chapter – and some nice tools you can use right now. To walk us through, attendee Max …

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$300 KORG Monologue synth is a sequel, not a mini Minilogue

A 25-key, monophonic version of Korg’s clever 4-voice Minilogue polysynth wouldn’t be a bad idea. And it’s what you’d expect, given the Minilogue came out only at the beginning of this year. But that’s not what the Monologue is. No, the Monologue is more a sequel to the Minilogue than it is just one with less keys and voices. And there are a number of smart ideas here. There’s a new filter. You want some different character with a monosynth than a polysynth, so here there’s a new 2-pole VCF and analog drive for what Korg says gives you “more …

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Watch a beautiful meditation on the function of music

As co-host of the American public radio show Radiolab, Jad Nicholas Abumrad is usually in the business of giving you sounds on their own. You provide the mental images. But in a stimulating new film from director Mac Premo, thoughts become images as well as sounds. It’s a fitting conversation. Abumrad (a Lebanese-American, as I am) comes from a background in music composition. Premo, apart from being a filmmaker and commercial director, is an artist. Both live in New York. So what we get is a counterpoint of two imaginations running at once: sonic and visual, musical and optical. And …

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Lesley Flanigan’s ethereal music mixes singing and vibrations

There’s no oscillator quite like your voice. And sometimes the simplest techniques can yield elaborate textures. Lesley Flanigan has built a body of work out of an elemental approach to electronics, and her new release Hedera is to me the most beautiful yet, transporting us somewhere truly sublime. The source, in addition to singing, includes feedback, a broken cassette player – but evolves into mists of sound and space, shifting from the delicate to the raw.

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On women’s day, imagining a new future in sound

Let’s be clear: there should be no excuse for the press in our sphere, including this outlet, to treat International Women’s Day as a chance simply to talk about women in music. That obligation is year-round and daily, or we simply aren’t doing our jobs. But that’s not the origin of Women’s Day, anyway. The history, rather, is one rooted in organizing for change. (Like so much modern grassroots advocacy, indeed, it comes from the labor movement just after the turn of the last century.) It’s about people working finding fair opportunities for their work. Focusing energies around an annual …

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