Sunday, 29 May 2011

Slabcake - Playlist Four (29/05/2011)

Show 4: A family of shell-bearing creatures
Here are details of the tracks played in the fourth and final edition of Slabcake on 29th May 2011.

Oh Joyous Diner
Chlorophyll is Good for the Imagination
from the single Salad Makes You Feel Good
earn to Swim

Pierre Henry

Voile d'Orphee taken from the album Adventures in Sound
Amazon link

Mix by Lemur Communcations: The Colours
Has lived in Chorlton for over a decade. Is a collector of odd, unusual and confusing things. Currently investigating: the folklore of animals.
  • Phil Lynott - Yellow Pearl (Lemurs on Mogadon remix)
  • Dion - Purple Haze
  • Goblin - Profundo Rosso
  • Delia Derbyshire - Blue Veils and Golden Sands
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra - Rydeen
  • Telltale - Rainbow 

Malcolm Clarke (BBC Radiophonic Workshop)
The Sea Devils from the album Doctor Who: The Music
BBC Enterprises

Michishige Tomohisa

Musikalisches Wurfelspiel 1 (Mozart) (not yet released)
Learn to Swim

Gyorgy Ligeti

Continuum taken from the album Etudes pour Piano/Invention/Musica Ricercata
Col Legno Collage
Amazon link

Terry Riley

Happy Ending (excerpt) from the album Les Yeux Fermés / Lifespan
Elision Fields
Amazon link


Mountain Wood Collection from the album The Luck of the Singers
Weeping Truckers / Blocks Recording Club 

Slabcake is produced by Learn to Swim Recordings for Chorlton FM
Presented by Nicolas Jameson. Directed by ACP (Lemur). Produced by Acid Wilhelm. 

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Slabcake - Playlist Three (28/05/2011)

Show 3: Good things of day begin to droop and drowse
Here are details of the tracks played in the third edition of Slabcake on 28th May 2011.

Filmmuzik from the album A Synthetic History of E.M.A.K 1982-1988: Elektronische Musik Aus: Koeln
Soul Jazz Records
Amazon link

Clara Rockmore
L'oiseau de feu: Berceuse (Stravinsky) from the album The Art of the Theremin
Amazon link

Acid Wilhelm
Chase Sequences in the Dreams of the Socially Awkward (not yet released)
Learn to Swim

Southern Charles
Living With Peacocks and Bones (Chorlton FM mix) (not yet released)
Weeping Truckers

Hair By Roger
Banqueting from the single Lingering
Learn to Swim

Tangerine Dream
Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares from the album Phaedra
Amazon link

Karlheinz Stockhausen
Gesang der Junglinge taken from the album Adventures in Sound
Amazon link

Acid Wilhelm
Neun und Dreißig (not yet released) 
Learn to Swim

Slabcake is produced by Learn to Swim Recordings for Chorlton FM
Presented by Nicolas Jameson. Directed by ACP (Lemur). Produced by Acid Wilhelm.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Musical Toys

As we've been saying in our Slabcake broadcasts, it's very easy these days to play around with some quite complicated musical ideas without all that tedious mucking about with notation and musical theory. Everyone (unless you're clinically amusical, which is very rare) has an innate sense of music: we can all speak and listen to the language even if we're not trained in the written form, the grammar and the practice of writing.

As they used to say on ArtAttack!, try it yerself. They're all free to play with.

  • Tonematrix
    Like a basic, online version of the Tenori-on, it's a simply grid full of squares each of which is a note. Click on them to light each one up and watch your patterns turn into music. Although it looks quite random, you don't get to control tempo, time signature, scale or mode but it's fun to play with.

  • Pulsate
    Moving on from Tonematrix to something more abstract. Don't want to give away too many clues as half the fun of this is exploring how it works. To get started, just click quickly on two random places in the square and see what happens...

  • Musical Dice Game (Musikalisches Wurfelspiel)
    The most famous example of aleatory composition, i.e. music determined by the roll of dice. Attributed to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, although it was actually published a few months after Mozart's death in 1791, by his publisher Nikolaus Simrock apparently based on notes left by the composer. It doesn't particularly matter whether it really Mozart's creation: the idea of the musical dice game had been around for many years and Mozart's wasn't. Perhaps it was merely a clever bit of branding by Simrock. A roll of dice is used to select small sections of written music which can then be patched together to create a single musical piece. Another version also attributed to Mozart uses letters instead of numbers and invites the “player” to produce the composition derived from the spelling of his or her name. It is therefore theoretically possible to translate the script of an edition of “Homes Under the Hammer” into a composition by Mozart.

    (Note: Cataloguers do not credit each of these as individual compositions so if it was an attempt by Mozart to claim to be more prolific than Bach it didn't work.) 

  • Bhudda Machine Wall
    The Bhudda Machine is a lovely simple idea. It's a little box which plays soothing Chinese music. There's an online version where you can play around with up to 21 boxes all at the same time and produce your own blend of calming ethereal oddness. (And well done to the guys who made it for leaving the sounds under Creative Commons open copyright.)

      Sunday, 22 May 2011

      Slabcake - Playlist Two (22/05/2011)

      Show 2: the inevitable result of the natural sequence of events
      Here are details of the tracks played in the second edition of Slabcake on 22nd May 2011.

      Acid Wilhelm
      L'Interfaccia della Mente e del Cervello from the single Una Ricerca per la Morte 
      Learn to Swim

      Delia Derbyshire (BBC Radiophonic Workshop)
      The Delian Mode from the album BBC Radiophonic Music
      BBC Music
      Amazon link

      Malcolm Clarke (BBC Radiophonic Workshop)
      The Comet is Coming from the album BBC Radiophonic Workshop – A Retrospective
      BBC Worldwide Ltd
      Amazon link

      Mix by Nick Harris: Excerpts of Pain and Delight
      Nick Harris plays bass with Dead Sea Apes, a three-piece instrumental group based in Manchester. Since mid-2009 they have been developing a hard-hitting, dynamic blend of desert rock, drone, garage rock, krautrock, post-rock, western soundtracks and psychedelia. Their debut single Soy Dios was released in December 2010, a nine-minute instrumental taking its inspiration from the Mexican psycho-Western film El Topo and backed by two equally epic remixes. They are currently working on a new EP.
      • Throbbing Gristle
        Untitled 2
        from the album Heathen Earth
        Mute Records
        Amazon link
      • Godflesh
        Flowers from the In all languages compilation
        Earache Records
        Amazon link
      • Denis Jones
        from the album Red + Yellow
        Humble Soul
        Amazon link
      • Damo Suzuki with Dead Sea Apes
        Untitled 2
        from Live at Dulcimer
        Dead Sea Apes
      • Stray Light
        A series of easily forgotten mistakes
        from Waves Broken
        Doubtful sound records
      • Gnod
        Untitled 1 from Gnod

      Mix by Steven Heaton: Turn From the LightSteven Heaton is a local artist whose work work is held in collections in England, America and Sweden. He works at Soaptank Studios in Warrington. The first Saturday of every month is 'Open Studios' to which all visitors and curious people are welcome. He is also an associate member of OK Studios click here to view some of his work Steven has just finished an exhibition 'Time Pieces' which was held at 'Peter Scott Gallery' and was funded by Lancaster University. He was selected to appear in the Liverpool Biennial 2010. His photography was exhibited in 'The Hive Gallery' Arkansas, America in April this year & prints are available from the gallery:
      • D.D.Denham
        Two Teeth Missing
        from the album Electronic Music in the Classroom
        Cafe Kaput
        Amazon link
      • excerpt from The Moomins: The Hobgoblins Hat
      • Crystal Castles
        Fainting Spells from the album Crystal Castles II
        Amazon link
      • Tune Traveler - Clutchy Hopkins Meets Lord Kenjamin; Music is my medicine
      • excerpt from The Signalman (BBCTV, 1976)
      • excerpt from Schalcken the Painter (BBCTV, 1979)
      • Broadcast and The Focus Group
        The Song Before
        from Study Series 04: Familiar Shapes And Noises
        Ghost Box
        Amazon link
      • excerpt from Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Soundtrack)
        Finders Keepers Records
        Amazon link
      • Institute du loop
        A Place to Drown
        (Hive Gallery Exhibition USA)
      • Broadcast
        America's Boy from the album Tender Buttons
        Warp Records
        Amazon link
      • Mike Vickers
        Mr Milkman
        Protect and Survive (Music for your domestic nuclear shelter)
        Used as background to "Myths in Popular Music":

        Gavin Bryars 
        Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet (excerpt) from the album The Sinking of the Titanic / Jesus's Blood Never Failed Me Yet
        Virgin Records
        Amazon link

        Slabcake is produced by Learn to Swim Recordings for Chorlton FM
        Presented by Pete Nitrous. Produced by Acid Wilhelm.

            Saturday, 21 May 2011

            Slabcake - Playlist One (21/05/2011)

            Show 1: the act of breakfast 
            Here are details of the tracks played in the first edition of Slabcake on 21st May 2011.

            Les Structures Sonores
            from the album Les Structures Sonores N° 4

            Michishige Tomohisa
            from the album Gold Coins for a Cat
            earn to Swim

            Terry Riley
            In the Summer
            from the album Les Yeux Fermés and Lifespan
            Elision Fields

            Amazon link

            Mix by Nicholas Jameson: "She brings in the dawning"

            • BBC Radiophonic Workshop
              Good Morning Wales
              from the album BBC Radiophonic Workshop – A Retrospective
              BBC Worldwide Ltd
              Amazon link

            • Richard Burton and cast
              The Town Smells Of Seaweed And Breakfast
              - an excerpt from Under Milk Wood
              BBC Worldwide Ltd
              Amazon link

            • Salah Ragab and the Cairo Jazz Band
              Ramadan In Space Time
              from the album Egyptian Jazz
              Art Yard
              Amazon link

            • Roj
              Morning Break
              from the album The Transactional Dharma of Roj
              Ghost Box
              Ghost Box link
            • Brian Bennett
              Reflections on a Misty Morning
              from the album Aim High
              RPM link

            • David Devant and His Spirit Wife
              Cookie The Clown
              Kindness Recordings
            • MC CocOen
              from the album Zombie Autograph Hunter (radio edit)

            Acid Wilhelm
            Peridot from the single I was promised spacemen and flying cars 
            Learn to Swim

            Brian Eno
            Slow Water
            from the album Music for Films 
            Virgin UK
            Amazon link

            Southern Charles
            The Lights Inside (remixed by Acid Wilhelm) not yet released
            Weeping Truckers

            Sonnenschein from the album Muzik von Harmonia 
            Amazon link

            The Sun Shines at Your Door from the album The Luck of the Singers
            Weeping Truckers / Blocks Recording Club

            Slabcake is produced by Learn to Swim Recordings for Chorlton FM
            Presented by Pete Nitrous. Produced by Acid Wilhelm. 

            Friday, 20 May 2011

            Strange Noises

            “Avant-garde music is sort of research music. You're glad someone's done it but you don't necessarily want to listen to it.”  Brian Eno

            I don't like the term “avant garde”, it's one of those terms which is so elitist that if you've come across it, you've probably already worked out what it means. It's like finding yourself in Blackpool and asking someone to tell you what a hen party is.

            I'm not really willing to go with the term experimental either. It's true that much of this kind of music is driven by an exercise to test a theory. But an experiment is where you learn just as much from being wrong as being right. Eno's right in that sense: some of this stuff is created with the starting point of conducting an interesting technical exercise but that doesn't necessarily mean that the end result is right or wrong as a piece of music. Who's to judge? Music is completely subjective. And being “wrong” in the sense of breaking away from traditions is often the point of much of this kind of music anyway.

            I'd rather stick to more basic words such as “weird”, “odd” or “barking mad”.

            “Strange” isn't a bad one. Strange matter is a substance identified by physicists as being composed of up, down and strange quarks. “Up  down and strange” is as good a description of this kind of music as any I've ever come across.

            What was once only available to small groups of people who were themselves the experimenters, this strange music has now become while not quite a tradition, certainly no longer unfamiliar – in the same way that some of the revolutionary works of art in 20th century still seem strange but are now less shocking than they once were. If you've ever watched a Tom and Jerry cartoon, you'll already have heard some incredibly bizarre music, largely based on­ a kind of free fall jazz. If you've ever seen any kind of modern horror movie, you've probably heard that discordant metallic sound, like some ghastly reverberating spectral gate swinging open. It's the sound of a waterphone, an atonal musical instrument invented in the 1970s and now so frequently used in creating suspense that it's become a cliché. Minimalist electronic music, astonishingly new in its day, is now used to sell us cars and mobile phones.

            It is unsurprising that this stuff has its roots in anti-establishment movements and deliberately challenging Western classical traditions as it allows people who aren't from the elite of trained musicians and composers to play around with sound and musical ideas. I'm not in any way trying to dismiss Beethoven or Debussy as obvious but I could never do what they did.

            Music used to be a more communal activity. In that sense being "experimental", although it may sound "futuristic", takes us back to a time when music was more primitive: before all the rules were invented. Some of the ideas used to create strange music are now easy to play around with thanks to the internet. With technology which was a pipe dream only a few decades ago it's now easy to produce some amazing, if not always beautiful sounds which you might not normally think of as something to listen to.

            You decide whether Eno has a point or not.

            Sunday, 1 May 2011

            Shapes, Samuel Beckett and Randomness

            Samuel Beckett commented that he loved the shape of the line from the New Testament "Do not despair, one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume, one of the thieves was damned." There's a pleasing logic to it - metaphorically, you might say it was "hitting the right note" in balancing retribution and redemption.

            When I'm trying to get ideas to come out from my washing machine tumbler of a brain, I'll tend to use a large sheet of paper and a big marker pen. It's about getting the shape right first. The detail comes later. It's also about not necessarily starting at the beginning: shapes don't have a beginning.

            In music, there's a danger that shape becomes synonymous with structure. Structure can become habit and habit, as Beckett observed in Waiting for Godot, is a great deadener. Playing an instrument is a physical habit and I have to avoid my hands falling into habitual shapes of chords, intervals, etc. Likewise in composition it's easy to form familiar paths. Not surprising that this is the way we work since it's the way our brains work: carving out neural pathways to control movement, memory and thought.

            Radomness is surprisingly difficult to achieve. Human beings relate to the universe in terms of patterns. Apparently simple things like recognising faces are actually about recalling stored patterns. Therefore it is quite difficult, no matter how hard you try, to be genuinely random. There are now even companies which have developed algorithms to generate strings of random numbers and text because it has a certain use in science (I'm not quite sure what) and nobody is able to escape the subconscious habit of creating patterns.

            Habit seems to equal predictability and boredom. Attempts to look to randomness are a search for the new - not that whatever you use will stay random, but because there'll hopefully be some new and exciting connections buried in there somewhere. Aleatory music uses chance factors to generate new connections. If you're thinking that sounds like some new revolutionary post-art concept forget it: Mozart was playing around with this centuries ago. It's not certain that it was him but his publisher did release a document called Musikalisches Wurfelspiele which consists of dozens of musical phrases designed to fit together in any random sequence generated by the throw of dice. Except of course dice aren't truly random: they can only generate 36 different combinations which in the grand scheme of things is not very much - and by creating a number of set phrases (effectively samples), Mozart further defined parameters for those 36 possibilities to link together. So the interesting part is not really the seeming randomness but the struggle between randomness and order. Here is a link to a curious little online instrument which is seemingly random:


            It's not, of course, because a decision has been made by the designer to relate particular pitches to the size of the circle: and the fact that it doesn't produce anything discordant means he or she must have introduced some kind of scale which negates the possibility of half or quarter tones which would sound horrible to our ears which are conditioned to recognise tones and semi-tones as pleasing musical intervals - and of course all the sounds need to be within the range of human hearing or it would appear to be doing nothing (except perhaps annoying your dog). Still, it's fun because it's trying to defeat the normal habit of constructing a melody / rhythm: because you can't predict how it will work, there's a pleasing illusion of something apparently random generating a pleasant result. There, now I've spoiled it for you haven't I?

            A little randomness can be a revelation. But in an infinite universe true randomness is overwhelming to the point of being meaningless.

            Quite what all this has to do with an Irish playwright quoting from the New Testament is a bit of a mystery to me, but it is clearly not random.