Monday, 30 January 2012

Music and Morality

By Roger Scruton

“The ways of poetry and music are not changed anywhere without change in the most important laws of the city.” So wrote Plato in the Republic (4.424c). Music, for Plato, was not a neutral amusement. It could express and encourage virtue— nobility, dignity, temperance, chastity. But it could also express and encourage vice—sensuality, belligerence, indiscipline.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Flat Panel Loudspeaker

Unlike a conventional speaker, which is in essence a highly-controlled piston-like structure, the flat panel speaker goes back to first principles in sound reproduction. Those simple experiments with a tuning fork at school, tell us that the tuning fork itself, when struck, can hardly be heard. Yet rest the fork on a surface e.g. desk, filing cabinet, etc, and the surface comes alive and reproduces a tone essentially at the frequency set by the tuning fork. The loudness of the sound will depend on how stiff and heavy the surface is. These surfaces are creating sound, not by being a highly controlled piston, but by vibrations that are occurring across the entire surface.

Amina has taken this one stage further in order to achieve an unobvious or invisible source. Using the skills and techniques developed over the last six years from the commercial installation market, Amina has created a true in-wall speaker which is skimmed over with plaster. Both the composite panel structure and the thin layer of plaster and paint or wallpaper on its surface, become the vibrational soundboard. In fact in a stud wall, or a ceiling, the vibrations spread out beyond the boundary of the panel into the surrounding plasterboard. Just like the acoustic musical instrument (e.g. the sides of the piano), these vibrations are not as active as the main panel area, but they still make a valuable contribution in generating sound energy in the room, thus making an even more consistent sound field in the space. And just like the piano in the concert hall, such a surface can fill a very large space.

Noise: The Political Economy of Music

Jacques Attali (Former adviser to President François Mitterrand and first president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development)

Attali's essential argument in Noise: The Political Economy of Music is that music, as a cultural form, is intimately tied up in the mode of production in any given society. For Marxist critics, this idea is nothing new. The novelty of Attali's work is that it reverses the traditional understandings about how revolutions in the mode of production take place:

"[Attali] is the first to point out the other possible logical consequence of the “reciprocal interaction” model—namely, the possibility of a superstructure to anticipate historical developments, to foreshadow new social formations in a prophetic and annunciatory way. The argument of Noise is that music, unique among the arts for reasons that are themselves overdetermined, has precisely this annunciatory vocation; that the music of today stands both as a promise of a new, liberating mode of production, and as the menace of a dysotopian possibility which is that mode of production’s baleful mirror image." - Fredric Jameson, from the "Foreword" to Noise

Peter Cusack

Peter Cusack, based in London, works as a sound artist, musician and environmental recordist with a special interest in environmental sound and acoustic ecology. Projects move from community arts to research into the contribution of sound to our senses of place to recordings that document areas of special sonic interest, e.g. Lake Baikal, Siberia, and Xinjang, China's most western province. Recently involved in 'Sound & the City' the British Council sound art project in Beijing 2005. His current project 'Sounds From Dangerous Places' examines the soundscapes of sites of major environmental damage, e.g. Chernobyl, the Azerbaijan oil fields, controversial dams on the Tigris and Euphratees river systems in south east Turkey.

An Anthology Of Chinese Experimental Music 1992-2008

Adventures In Modern Music 06 August 2009

Hosted by Anne Hilde Neset. With special guest Clive Bell discussing Chinese experimental music

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


A superb, if not slightly disorientating website, set up by Ben Watson, author of Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play (Quartet, 1994). Covering almost everything under the sun that you had never even thought worth considering before.

"MILITANT ESTHETIX has advanced the quivering tip of the visual pyramid into Esemplastic Heraclitean Infinity. With our floating upright lyric (blue and sparkling) and plagiarist communism (Trotskoid and betusked) we burst through the indigo (possibly of coal-tarred synthetic origin) lampshade of the firmament, slog beyond, abandonning the petty purple (mauveine?) mortality of the merely individual to the bruised condition of a historical-non-historical life. Let spill the fire! Sizzle. Drip. Drip. Arrows, speak."


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Plague of Noise

"And this is the reason why it is impossible in a visitation to prevent the spreading of the plague by the utmost human vigilance: viz., that it is impossible to know the infected people from the sound, or that the infected people should perfectly know themselves."

- Daniel DeFoe. Journal of the Plague Year

Inspired in part by Leif Elggren's Virulent Images/Virulent Sound (if images can be virulent, can sound be virulent too?), blackdeath is the first open hardware/free software noise synthesiser with the plague inside.

Embedding epidemic and plague simulations amongst other data generation algorithms for granular re-synthesis of incoming audio signals or self-generated feedback, blackdeath represents a virulent yet highly controllable noise/audio engine with built-in, switchable distortion.

Alternatively you can abandon the plague carrier and code your own sampling software to make use of resident 512 Kb RAM (64 seconds of audio sampled at 8000 samples per second), 8 bit DAC (Digital Analogue Convertor), and digital switched distortion(s). A prototype area is provided to design, test and run your own distortion designs.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Right to silence?

The infuriating ring of someone else's mobile blights many a night out at the cinema or theatre. France has decided to jam phone signals to allow audiences to enjoy shows in silence - could the UK follow suit?

The trill or bleep of a mobile has become an all-too familiar recreational hazard for theatre and cinema-goers. In France they've had enough and the government is allowing venues to use mobile phone jammers to block incoming signals.

'Quiet zones'

Instead of electric jammers, the solution could be "wallpaper" containing complex metal patterns which block some signals but let others through. Its use is a legal "grey area" in the UK. This could soon be on the market, for use in airports, hospitals, prisons, military establishments or indeed any building which needs a "quiet zone", says technology firm Qinetiq. Just think of how schools could benefit from putting a stop to text-crazy pupils, suggests a Qinetiq spokesman.

Very interesting to think about the link between Erik Satie's Furniture music, which was otherwise somtimes refered to as wallpaper music, by which he insisted that the audience attempt not to listen:

"In the midst of an art opening at a Paris gallery in 1902, ambient music was born. Erik Satie and his cronies, after begging everyone in the gallery to ignore them, broke out into what they called Furniture Music—that is, background music—music as wallpaper, music to be purposely not listened to."

Musique d'Ameublement
Literally, "furniture music," the phrase coined by Satie in 1917, where he identifies sound
as drapes, tiling, wallpaper - items belonging to the environment - and changing it simply by being in it, by actually becoming elements of the space. The idea being that, since you don't notice the sound right away, it becomes, in a sense, part of the furniture.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Radio Ligna - Radio Ballet

Exercise in lingering not according to the rules

A Radio Ballet is a radio play produced for the collective reception in certain public places. It gives the dispersed radio listeners the opportunity, to subvert the regulations of the space.

The Radio Ballet “Übung in nichtbestimmungsgemäßem Verweilen” took place in the main station of Leipzig, Germany, a former public space that is under private control of the German railway company (Deutsche Bahn - DB) and it ́s associates since the mid-nineties. Like every bigger train station in Germany it is controlled by a panoptic regime of surveillance cameras, security guards and an architecture, that avoids any dark and “dangerious” corners. The system of control is designed to keep out every kind of deviant behaviour. People, who sit down on the floor or start to beg are detected immediately and instantly expelled.

The Radio Ballet brought back these excluded gestures of deviant behavior into the main station. Around 500 participants - usual radio listeners, no dancers or actors – were invited to enter the station, equipped with cheap, portable radios and earphones. By means of these devices they could listen to a radio program consisting of a choreography suggesting permitted and forbidden gestures (to beg, to sit or lie down on the floor etc.). These suggestions were inter-rupted by reflections on the public space and on the Radio ballet itself.

Decoder (1984)

, the artificial music product created by scientists and marketing experts to increase efficiency and enhance wellbeing, irrigates men everywhere. A young punk and hobby sound mechanic decodes this music and creates an antidote to provoke disturbances not only in the burger joints where he found this music. By recruiting street pirates to spread his twisted sounds via tapes (an idea directly taken from Burroughs' cut up manuals) the tumults turn into violent streetfighting (with real footage from Berlin's infamous Anti Reagan riots). The big corporations can not tolerate this and engage a shady agent to stop the antimuzak movement.

, by its very nature, has undoubted political significance. With this in mind, the authors of Decoder have achieved a blend of reality and fiction. Surreal, metaphorical imagery interwoven with music, words, and sound effects make this a musical action movie with a very physical impact and an exciting insight view in the subcultural ideas and aesthetics of the early 80's

Read more about the poetic German dystopian avant-garde science fiction film Decoder (1984)

Sonic branding: An earworm to your pocket

They may sound like mere jingles and ditties, but so-called "sonic branding" is big business indeed. How do advertisers capture your soul with just five musical notes?

Every day, trilling away innocuously in the background, dozens of tiny pieces of music are busy burrowing deep inside our psyche.

To the untrained ear they might sound unremarkable, even friendly - but drop your guard and you could fall under their spell.

Everyone recognises visual branding such as logos, and the aural equivalents are equally pervasive.

Nokia's ringtone, Intel's four-note bongs, McDonalds' "I'm lovin' it" refrain - all masterpieces of sonic branding, the genetically modified, 21st Century offspring of the jingle.


Saturday, 14 January 2012

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves, edited by CRiSAP co-director Angus Carlyle, seeks to draw together a number of different perspectives on how the environment is made audible through sound. The perspectives contained in the book are made manifest through more traditional textual analyses, interviews, image-based works (both photography and graphic illustration) and ‘artist’s pages’ (which combine different registers of information).

Field Recording and Soundscape Compilation

Lavinia Greenlaw: Audio Obscura

13 September - 23 October 2011
Lower concourse, St Pancras International Station
(between Marks & Spencer and Le Pain Quotidien)

Audio Obscura - trailer from Artangel on Vimeo.

In the busy public spaces of London's St Pancras International Station, everyday dramas are constantly being acted out; people waiting or rushing, engaged in conversation or lost in their own thoughts.

In Audio Obscura, equipped with headphones, you'd enter the crowd and overhear voices around you. What did that woman mean? Did he really say that? Does she realise what she is saying? You might wish you hadn’t listened or you might want to know more. You will look for stories and you might even find them...


Janet Cardiff - The Missing Voice

(Case Study B)
Stranger in a strange city

"Sometimes I don't really know what the stories in my walks are about. Mostly they are a response to the location, almost as if the site becomes a Rorschach test that I am interpreting. For me The Missing Voice was partly a response to living in a large city like London for a while, reading about its history in quiet libraries, seeing newspaper headlines as I walked by the news stands, overhearing gossip, and being a lone person getting lost amongst the masses."

I had attempted to do a similar exercise to Janet Cardiff, before I had listened to this piece, making binaural recordings in Poundland for example, giving directions and descriging what I saw. Listening back to the sounds however, I found that my voice was hardly distinguishable from the backgound sounds as I had felt rather self-concious at the time, talking about people around me. I find that Janet Cardiff's voice has so much more clarity, so much so that at times it feels like her voice has become your inner voice. The audio clip below, is a good example of this:

Dreams of Darkness by The Confusion Of Tongues

There is something about the next audio clip (Part-1, 9:45), which somehow reminds me of Vito Acconci's following piece from 1969:

It's like you're invisible by The Confusion Of Tongues

Vito Acconci - Following Piece (1969)

Read More about Janet Cardiff - The Missing Voice...

Zai Tang - Sonorous City

“…how do we listen to sounds never before noticed, sounds long vanished, or sounds that are not sounds, exactly, but more like the fluctuations of light, weather and the peculiar feeling that can arise when there is a strong sense of place?” (Toop. 112: 2007)

My work explores the dialogue between sound and space. More specifically, it focuses on the relationship between the soundscape and our perception of the urban environment.

I undertook this project to investigate this in relation to my own experience of London. I felt my interaction with the city was becoming increasingly dislocated and often dictated by routines of work and necessity. Inspired by Situationist ideas of urban exploration, I embarked on a series of journeys stemming from the River Thames. I didn’t plan any routes, I simply let the allure of the landscape and the sounds I experienced lead me towards my next location.