Saturday, August 5, 2017

gold on black

One thing I really like about Migos' "Bad and Boujee" is the synesthetic consonance between the beat and the fashions in the video, particularly Offset's gold chains on black shirt. The dark background of the shirt evokes the track's bed of sustained sub-bass; the gold evokes the sparse melodic elements floating on top of the beat. Similarly, the epic winter landscape scenery, the luxurious furs, and, again, the jewelry in the "T-Shirt" video work wonderfully with the deep reverb on the vocals and the slow, spacious instrumental melodies. (I never knew I wanted gold-framed round glasses before seeing that video...)

Side note: I'm a big fan of the staccato flow in Takeoff's refrain in "T-Shirt" and lots of other contemporary rap, i.e. syllables on just the first and second 16th notes of each quarter note. I think it's the percussiveness and syncopation that attract me to it. I'm curious about how long it's been around and where it started. (Did Triple Six invent it, as with so many other stylistic innovations?) I was delighted to hear Charli XCX use it in a pop-singing context in "Boys". Has it been used much in (non-rap) pop before? Leave a comment if you know of other instances of it in sung vocals or if you have an idea about the origin of the flow.

Been a while since the last post, eh? Maybe I'll try to update once a week and keep it short and simple like this. No promises though!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rough vs. glossy

I'm realizing again — while working on my ever-in-progress Europe 2009 photo gallery and listening to Basic Channel BCD-2 for the first time — that there's a strong parallel between my aesthetic preferences for music and those for building.

In both cases, I value simplicity. More than ever, I like to listen to (and make) minimal music that's built from as few elements as possible. The more muscular releases by the Basic Channel family; Robert Hood; Skudge; certain almost simplistic but powerfully danceable tracks out of the hardcore continuum, especially old jungle and garage — these are the most satisfying listens for me. A track can be anywhere from full of wide open space to quite dense with polyrhythms, as long as it's composed from a paucity of elements that assemble into a funky machine. Best of all is when it's necessary for every one of those few elements to be there to make the composition move my body, so that it's truly skeletal. And for my own music, I have long preferred radical simplicity of sources: only using simply-generated oscillators processed with effects to make the sounds. I've strayed into samples for quite a while, but the wondrous frequencies of dub techno have inspired me to delve back into pure synthesis, with new ideas for building great sounds from simple tonal and noise generators. (The most recent example is that white noise fed through Reason's vocoder on its EQ setting can get you noise with complex coloration due to the EQ's array of bandpass filters, which works really nicely for high percussion. You're welcome, Reason synthesists.)

I have similar taste in building: less is more, basically.

BUT there's a catch, similar in both realms. Architecture that's simple but too glossy and perfected — too machinic — is really unappealing to me. Partly that's because it takes a huge amount of effort to get things so perfect in form, so basically you're getting a simple product out of a complex process, which feels wrong — again, I much prefer when a simple (or complex) product results from simple processes and few ingredients. Also, in physical/aesthetic terms, glossy/high-tech materials are far less suitable for composing human habitation, I think, than rougher materials closer to nature — wood, earth, stone. (Glossy materials have their places as accents, but in low proportion to the rough/matte materials.) When a modernist/minimalist formal sensibility combines with the use of natural, rough materials, a real sweet spot can be found. Hence I was delighted to learn of Wang Shu when he won the 2012 Pritzker Prize. Best of all is when the construction process is simple and efficient and allows physical imperfections as a result, so that wabi-sabi can endure in the product, rather than working over the materials to geometric precision.

You can probably see where I'm going here with music, and that of course is the well-trodden path of preferring rough/matte/raw sound, most often achieved with analog synthesis in electronic music, over cold digital perfection. (Similarly to architecture, unnervingly glossy sounds have their place, but again in low proportion to more lived-in sounds.)

Of course the analog vs. digital divide is an oversimplification. I think it's still very possible to get rough/matte qualities very similar to analog sound if you know your way around your DAW (and of course then there's the middle ground of digital hardware). Maybe not just the same, but close enough for my taste. And I still prefer this for my own setup despite my analog sympathies because I don't want to have to acquire all the physical objects that make up a useful analog studio, for practical reasons (not enough space in my bedroom, no other space to set up in) and because I just don't want to acquire much more stuff than I already have. This comes directly out of my desire for economy of means, just as do my tastes in music and building, so I'm comfortable sticking with it.

E2A: An example of glossy music that I tend to like a lot, against the general pattern, is Night Slugs releases, and I'm sure it's because they're often built with simple, strong elements that lend the tracks both a good amount of space and a certain comprehensibility. This is brought to mind by a listen through the samples of Night Slugs Allstars Vol. 2.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

R&D (rhythm & darkness)

A quotation from Amos Childs of Bristol's Young Echo crew that I read at the end of the day yesterday in this great feature on them nicely clarified some thoughts that had been oozing around the edges of my mind earlier in the day:

"I think what people miss about the essence of dance music is that it wasn’t originally a safe, boring thing," says Amos, getting back to the purpose behind Young Echo. "All of these styles that people are doing quite boringly, house music, dubstep, techno, whatever, they all started out very fringe, almost punk things, and I think sometimes people forget that. It can become all about keeping a crowd happy."

With Death Grips having released their album The Money Store recently and thus being on my mind, I was finally moved to buy their album from last year, Exmilitary (that's the Bandcamp-based link; I couldn't find a digital version on Amazon, Boomkat, Juno, or iTunes; had I known at the start of the search that it was on Bandcamp, I would have gone there straight away). It had been on my radar for quite a while, and I wanted to get fully acquainted with it before progressing to The Money Store. The synthesis of hip-hop/nuum/juke electronics with an industrial/noise rock/hardcore punk sensibility (and samples, which were a great callback to my 2008 hardcore immersion) is just a total sweet spot for my musical taste and arrives at brutal sonic destinations that I'd been away from for too long.

As I went to bed last night with Death Grips' hooks burrowed into my brain and Amos' spot-on words freshly received, I thought about the frequently posited linear spectrum of electronic music's functions: at one end, simply being intended to get you jiggy and/or euphoric on the dance floor; at the other end, being a vehicle, via headphones, for solitary inner-space journeys. A piece of music that nails both of these can then be regarded as an ultimate dance music achievement. But with a little thought it becomes obvious that there can be far more dimensions to (electronic and other) music's function than just those two poles, noble though they both are. I think another important purpose of music — not ALL music, of course, just some, as with danceability and spirit-transportability — is to rattle your bones, to get you spooked, to bag you up and roll you into a dark forest at night and leave you there with only the creatures with glinting eyes to keep you company. When electronic/dance music accomplishes this while remaining danceable, something truly special is going on; the rhythms and the darkness slip right over into the realm of ritual and the occult. I think that could be part of the reason why old-school jungle is such a hallowed realm for so many producers and listeners in the dubstep diaspora, myself included, via the darkness and weirdness of the bass combined with the still mind-blowing percussion science, ominous and transportive and funky at its best. This is what Death Grips, Lightning Bolt, 36 Chambers, deep industrial techno, Burial, Shackleton, crazy dark interbass tunes like Objekt's "Cactus," and certain strains of post-punk do for me as well; it seems to be part of the stirring-up that Young Echo are doing, and it's what I am striving toward in my own productions.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Production vs. DJing: a personal snapshot

Up until maybe four years ago, the distinction between producing and DJing electronic music was a bit muddled in my mind. In college and for a couple years after, when I was making my first computer-music experiments with Melody Assistant, GarageBand, and then Reason (which is what I still use to this day), I had fun trying to figure out an artist name for myself, and often such names would be prefixed by "DJ," even though I had no intention of actually being a DJ. I think I was inspired by names of combination DJs/producers who use that nomenclature, such as DJ Shadow. More recently, as I became more immersed in learning about electronic music and the people making it, the distinction easily sorted itself out in my head, and I was glad not to have made such a dumb naming mistake, although in a way it could have been pretty funny if I had.* Of course, it's not even a necessary thing for those who primarily or exclusively DJ to use the "DJ ..." form consistently or at all: for instance, each of that triumvirate of non-producer DJs reigning in the UK bass scene — Ben UFO, Oneman, and Jackmaster — is usually referred to without the DJ prefix. The prefix seems to not really be that much of a thing these days in areas of EDM I keep up with, except in the footwork scene (e.g. DJ Spinn, DJ Rashad, DJ Roc, although they too seem to be frequently referred to as just Spinn, Rashad, Roc, etc.).

To this day I'm still pretty uninterested in DJing myself. I appreciate the art of curating a good selection of tunes to accomplish a certain effect or feeling, or progressing narrative of feelings, on the dancefloor, and I certainly appreciate the challenge of transitioning between tracks — beatmatching and etc. (I still don't fully understand how to do that; it still seems magical to me.) I think one reason I'm not really into the idea of doing it myself is that I'd feel like I'd need a truly encyclopedic knowledge of dance music to be successful in it, and even whether that's true or not, I don't want to have to develop such a repertoire — I much prefer building up a deeper but narrower appreciation of a limited number of albums at a time through many repeat listens. Which seems like a rockist stance, never mind that I don't listen to rock at all at the moment! In addition, if I did DJ, I would probably want to use vinyl records for the physicality of it, but on the contrary all the music I buy for home listening is digital for precisely the opposite ends: I don't want the physical bulk of accumulated vinyl crowding up my living space. I also have misgivings about the environmental impact of all that plastic — not in terms of disposal, because I would intend to hang onto the records pretty much permanently, but in terms of needing petroleum to produce them in the first place. On the other hand, I don't know much about the sourcing of raw vinyl for cutting records, maybe a lot of it is recycled. That would be interesting to learn about.

Because my listening habits (except for listening to my own productions) tend strictly to playing through full-length single-artist/group albums, I don't listen to many DJ mixes either, although sometimes one will pique my interest enough to do so. Andrew Ryce's Pitchfork review of Pinch's Fabriclive 61 mix makes it sound really compelling. For one thing, the sonic palette sounds just like my cup of tea — Ryce reports that "the music here is damaged, blackened, and always foreboding, no matter what tempo it's pounding at or what genre it might be interrogating" — and damaged, blackened, foreboding dance music is my ideal listening experience at present, as see in my previous post. In addition, the mix's structure is quite interesting for a couple of reasons, first in that Pinch starts and ends in the middle of the same track, "Venom" by Distal, setting the mix up as conceptually cyclical rather than linear, and second in that the first part of the mix explores 120-area house tempos, then transitions through a beatless Roly Porter track into the second half, which is at 140-area dubstep tempo, and then that transitions back down to house speed through Illum Sphere's "Promise a Secret," after which "Venom" returns to tie things up: so the mix is separated into two distinct tempo halves. This combination of cyclicality and dichotomy immediately evokes the cycle of day and night for me, though given the overall darkness of the sounds throughout, maybe it's more like ... night followed by a day blackened by an eclipse? I dunno.

So anyway, a mix that has a clear structure like that, as well as a compelling and consistent sound, is interesting to me because those qualities are what I like in a single-artist album. But the single-artist album still wins out because I want to hear that full-length statement from a single source, although obviously the DJ putting together a cohesive mix can be considered the "source" as the curator and composer of the macrostructure of the mix. Still just doesn't quite suit me. I think one small, really silly part of that is that I want to avoid duplicating tunes in my library, so I don't want to hazard getting a DJ mix if a tune from it might be on an artist album that I have or would want to get. But the main thing really is that I prefer the single-artist statement of the album.

*Why, meanwhile, did I choose the name Marktplatz, you may possibly wonder? Well, I'm part German, and German is the language I speak best besides English, and I appreciate Germany's role in electronic music going from Kraftwerk and Stockhausen all the way through to Berghain, so I liked the idea of using a German word. "Marktplatz," meaning market square, connects to my interest in public, social urban spaces, which in turn connects to the social space of the dancefloor. I also sort of like the dissonance between the English cognate "marketplace" and its capitalistic abstract meaning on the one hand, and my near-total lack of commercial ambition for my music on the other. I may possibly also have liked the look and sound of MSTRKRFT as a band name. At least I didn't blatantly copy it and call myself MRKTPLTZ, except on Twitter, but at least that's lowercase.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter techno

A blog post doesn't need to be long-form to be worthwhile, right? Load light and go often, that's what I should try to be doing here. So with that in mind, a shortish missive on winter music.

There are several albums from this year or last that I had been eyeing (earing) since they emerged, along with a classic older one, all in the general realm of techno, and all having a tendency toward heavy bass and dark moods. They're diverse within that, though, ranging from pummeling (Perc - Wicker & Steel) to lurching (Andy Stott - Passed Me By and We Stay Together) to booming (Shed - The Traveller) to haunted and ritualistic (Demdike Stare - Tryptych) to evoking a train traveling through the world of Tarkovsky's Stalker (the older one, Basic Channel - BCD, their original CD compilation from 1995). I listened to samples of each on Juno Download several times over the year and in the last couple weeks decided to buy each of them one-by-one.

This is my first major foray into the world of techno, and already I'm sensing a reluctant shift away from the hardcore continuum in my favorite electronic listening music. (However, I think I will continue to prefer the syncopations of garage and jungle for dancing in a club; a 4x4 beat is too monolithic over a long stretch of time for me on the dancefloor. Not that these newly purchased albums are all 4x4, by any means.) The techno albums' sonic palettes all share a somewhat lower fidelity than is commonly found in current bass music, while retaining good crisp high frequencies; by comparison dubstep and similar styles suddenly sound too glossy on the whole. They feel like an excellent conjunction of what I love about the surreal post-funk of Liquid Liquid and 23 Skidoo along with the gothic atmosphere of Silent Shout along with the dark, dubby groove of dubstep and jungle. Their evocations of the occult and/or factories and/or caverns are precisely what I've been interested in hearing throughout 2011. And especially so now that winter has arrived: I've drawn certain characteristics of the music — heavy repetition on economical frameworks but with interesting small-scale mutable details; a feeling of rough materiality (metal, wood, stone, water), which the title of Perc's album explicitly refers to — into association with the brown, skeletal, raw landscape that has befallen here at this early stage of the season, so their arrival in my music library has been perfectly timed. The allure of the music makes me love the present look and feel of the land, where in the music's absence it might be depressing.

Over the past several days I tended a slow-burning pile of charcoal and ash in the field left over from a brush bonfire. The charcoal on the outside of the pile would burn down to ash, which would then insulate and slow the burning of the charcoal on the interior. I wanted the pile to burn down as much as possible, so I periodically mixed up the pile with a snow shovel to bring more charcoal to the outside of the pile, where it would be aerated and burn faster. This intensified the heat radiating from the pile, as if I had woken up a sleeping demon shaped like a miniature volcano. All the while, notions of Yule fire rituals, primitivist or minimal land art, and British peasants from any era with simple land-working tools out in brown fields under cold gray skies, swam through my head, all filtered through the strange, dusky sound-lens of my new winter techno albums.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 in review

From Twitter, a twelve-tweet "tone poem" from earlier this evening about my relationship to music over the course of 2011:

My iTunes library indicates that I've bought relatively little new music in 2011, and of that there's only a couple albums I've rinsed a lot

And yet I've listened to *samples* of SO MANY releases, mostly on junodownload and Boomkat, that it seems like that can't be right

However I also continued to catch up on my knowledge of the hardcore continuum, purchasing albums from the early daze (~1990) & recent years

But the main thing is that most of my 2011 iTunes listening time has been listening back to my own newly created music for editing purposes

of which I've put up 13 tracks on SoundCloud and have bunches more in varying stages of progress

Anyway, my most-rinsed albums in 2011 (not OF 2011 most of them) are LV & Josh Idehen - Routes (my album of the year for sure); continued -

Peverelist - Jarvik Mindstate; John Roberts - Glass Eights; Pangaea - s/t EP; Shackleton - fabric 55; Kode9 & Spaceape - Memories o/t Future

& then just add in Sully - Carrier (the other one from 2011 in this list; both it and Routes being on Keysound, notably) and T++ - Wireless

Those were all the albums I listened to five times or more this year. I bet I've done the same with online store samples of other releases.

Such a weird state of affairs because I feel more tuned into the current state of EDM than I ever have before but it's mostly via samples

That and, of course, obsessively reading about music (RA, P4k, The Quietus, FACT, XLR8R, Dummy, Sonic Router, LWE, Blackdown, Reynolds, &c)

If I'd somehow monetized my consumption of electronic-music journalism, I'd have become wildly rich this year. OK MUSIC TWITTER FUGUE OVER

So I wrote that little exegesis as a year-end roundup of my listening activity. Later, I remembered that I had started this blog, and did so partly in order to be able to avoid such tweetfugues. So I'm going to discuss further here some of the topics covered above, mostly to try to start getting in the habit of posting to this blog spot, and also so that the content is a little easier to find than scrolling through reams of subsequent tweets.

At the start, I sort of wanted to make a personal top-albums-of-2011 list. I was inspired by the necessary incompleteness of Kristan Caryl's list at teshno because it was just his personal favorites out of what he'd actually listened to, as opposed to lists from music sites that aggregate multiple people's opinions. Before I even looked into my iTunes library to remind myself of what I'd listened to this year, though, I realized such a list might be quixotic in my case, as I didn't really remember listening to a lot of new albums that I'd actually obtained. Most of my listening to new music was via Juno and Boomkat samples (indeed I'm listening on Juno while writing this). Pretty much ever since I finished up with school twelve months ago, I've been making an effort to listen to samples of nearly every release reviewed on Resident Advisor, mostly via Juno, since that's what RA links to when it includes purchase links in the review. And I've been pretty successful in that endeavor and have thus opened my ears up tremendously to the possibilities inherent in the forms of house, techno, dubstep, d&b, garage, ambient, etc, and I think that's enriched my own music quite a bit. No regrets over this quasi-obsession. But I've only purchased a handful of the hundreds of new releases that I've listened to the samples of. By my count I've actually bought (or legally downloaded for free) just 16 albums released in 2011 and have listened to only a couple of them more than a couple times so far. How is that possible, when listening to music has been bigger in my life this year, so it feels, than ever before?

Besides the precedence of streaming samples over purchased music, the other primary answer is that a lot of the time I was listening just to my own music. 2011 is the first time that I've completed tunes and made them publicly available to listen to. The process of making tunes tends to be highly iterative for me: I start by creating a short or mid-length musical sequence in Reason, export the audio and listen back to it while doing other stuff. From that I make notes for revisions, which includes thinking about ways to lengthen the musical kernel into a full-length arrangement. Sometimes I'll end up with dozens of WAVs of a tune in different stages of its evolution. Anyway, the playback of works in progress has made up a really big chunk of my total listening time this year, which I don't really see changing as long as I continue to produce music at a similar pace (I sure hope it keeps up, because production is my greatest joy these days). I also really like listening to newly completed tunes over and over again — call it narcissistic, but I'm making (with varying degrees of success) the music I want to hear, that's why I make it, and so I love listening to it when it's done!

Overall I feel really on top of electronic dance music's directions at present, despite so much inward-directed listening, again thanks to listening to samples, but also thanks to, as mentioned in the tweets, voracious reading about EDM from a slew of online magazines and blogs that I've come to know and love: RA, Pitchfork, The Quietus, FACT, XLR8R, Dummy, Sonic Router, Little White Earbuds, Blackdown, Simon Reynolds, etc. Would that (as also aforesaid in the last tweet) I could have been making money by doing all that reading! But like listening to music and making music, reading about recent music is one of my great pleasures even with no remuneration in the picture. Interviews with the artists and syntheses of current directions in music are probably my favorite formats within music journalism; the former can provide wondrous insights into the motivations behind music I love, and the latter is just fun for the categorization/pigeonholing section of my brain.

Anyway, why not end with a short, easily digestible list of my favorite albums this year, to bring this long post back around to its original impetus? Most but not all of these were mentioned in the tweets, and several of them are from before 2011, but these are the works that were new to me this year and had the greatest influence on my musical being.

First, my top three, all of them real desert-island albums, all of them the kind that just physically feel good in my ears, you know? And they were all almost 2011 releases at least, none released earlier than Oct. 2010. They are:

  • LV & Joshua Idehen – Routes (2011, Keysound) — perfectly formed dub garage, humanistic, deep, bumpin', nicely varied yet consistent in feel. Also funny, especially "Northern Line."
  • John Roberts – Glass Eights (2010, Dial) — perfectly formed acoustic-feeling house, humanistic, deep, bumpin', nicely varied yet consistent in feel. Hmmmmmm.
  • Shackleton – fabric 55 (2010, Fabric) — a continuous mix CD/freight train of Shackleton's Middle Eastern dub, which absolutely feels like one single long piece. It inspired me to start work on an album-length continuous piece back in the summer, which has stalled, but which I hope to resume working on in not too long. Anyway, back to Shack: mind-bending percussion timbres reverberating into vast dread spaces that, along with the sub-bass, tie it back to dubstep, which rhythmically it is very different from.

Finally, some Honorable Mentions; these have all been big for me this year too but in some cases I just haven't listened to them enough yet for them to sink in like the previous three, or it's just that as of mid-December they figure into my mindspace a bit less than they did sometime earlier in the year:

  • Demdike Stare – Tryptych
  • Pinch & Shackleton s/t
  • Kode9 & the Spaceape – Memories of the Future
  • Peverelist – Jarvik Mindstate
  • Jack Sparrow – Circadian
  • 2562 – Fever and Unbalance
  • Co La – Daydream Repeater
  • T++ – Wireless
  • Sully – Carrier
  • Zomby – Where Were U in '92?

All right, I think that's enough for this post, before it begins to stray toward book length. Thanks for the music, 2011.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Transferred from Low Earth Orbit, originally posted 2011.02.14 19:58.

I linked to it in the previous post, but I’ve just put my music genre name generator through a round of lexical and algorithmic improvements, so I recommend a look at it. As also mentioned in the previous post, I warn you that it can be quite addictive.

In addition, if you find one genre at a time is not enough, you can get a listing of a hundred of them at a time.

Some of my favorites since I’ve been working on it today — I’ve been obliged to load the hundred-genres page each time I tweaked it, in order to check for mess-ups, and I copied the best results into a txt file — have been

  • pubstep
  • roboclash thrash
  • witch wonky
  • gore grunge-gogo
  • polka-punk proto-breaks
  • hyperbilly ghettobop
  • sadgamelan
  • lovers thrash
  • doom bop
  • hypnagogic hyper-punk
  • basement psychopsych
  • tropical gangsta ambient
  • dadcore
  • trance-trance rave-trance
  • classic ballroom industrial
  • post-minimal paleo-ragtime anti-dancehall
  • post-rave noise-polka
  • conceptual K-punk
  • beachwave
  • arena gamelan
  • album-oriented blues-blues blues concrète
  • crust-funk

I’m pretty sure there are quadrillions of possible combinations, and it’s those alliterative, cognitively dissonant, and roll-off-the-tongue-in-a-special-way ones that keep me coming back.