Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sensory Overload (Ph'nglui Mglw'nafh Huygens Titan Wgah'nagl Fhtagn!)

Nova is so awesome. Any semblance of the meager social life with which I occasionally indulge myself is completely dismissed every Tuesday night after I get home from work to prepare for the show.  Marijuana, incense, popcorn. I set about soaking up every little bit of information released via the unique online feature Nova hosts on their site for each episode - and tonight, dear reader, you're getting dragged along for the ride, as for this episode the Nova crew are once again falling back upon everybody's (my) favorite topic: Space!
We're being taken to Saturn tonight, Titan specifically. Every few weeks my day gets made just a little bit more exciting by some wild fragment of reality hitherto unseen by human eyes (hey, Lovecraft was an amateur astronomer too; hence all those gibbous moons over cyclopean masonry, Polaris, etc), exquisitely captured by the Cassini mission before being broadcast back to Earth and disseminated online. So cool! The images get most of the press for their breathtaking immediacy, but the sounds sent back are, to an audiophile, just as awe inspiring. Here's the official "Sounds From Saturn" page NASA's set up for us, and here's the U of Iowa's "Space Audio" page, which has a few Saturnian sounds not found on the NASA page (along with a great multitude of otherworldly audio from previous probes and terrestrial telescopes). There's so much information compressed into every second of these recordings, every moment an immense flood of data inaccessible to the unaided human ear; scientists will spend months of their lives deciphering them and reverse engineering the exact circumstances of the cosmic electrical disturbances responsible for the squeaks and squeals picked up by our dutiful instruments. When listened to in this context, the indescribable tweaks and moans sent back to us become delightfully overwhelming, and like the best field recordings, evoke specific atmospheres and even emotions.

I've recently
been exploring "music" that evokes a similarly mind-blowing concentration of information; John Zorn, naturally, has satisfied my criteria with flying colors due to his unending experimentations in arranging and rearranging micro-fragments of sound and music, and has been involved in two of my favorite works in this vein: John Oswald's singularly devastating pop-music collage Plexure (which Zorn commissioned, co-produced, and released) and Zorn's own Necronomicon suite off his album "Magick", released in 2004 and brilliantly executed by the "Crowley Quartet" assembled specifically to perform the work.

Plexure is both a monumental achievement in sound design as well as in sampling. Seemingly inviting a crippling wave of litigation while simultaneously avoiding it via the microscopic samples from which it is composed (sampling law demands that a sample must be "recognizable" and of a certain length for the copyright holders to receive compensation), Plexure manages to crush about 1000 different pieces of otherwise highly recognizable rap, pop, and rock music into 19 minutes and 19 seconds of total chaos, shitting in the face of a mashup culture still in it's infancy with the sheer balls of it's mammoth concept and sound; I've yet to hear such an undeniably original work based on "stolen" source material.

The Necronomicon suite, on the other hand, is an original work in five parts, composed for a string quartet. References to the frantic screeching of Xenaxis's works for stringed instruments (and in it's slower bits, Jerry Goldsmith's unforgettable score for the original Alien film) are abound, but transcend such influences thanks to Zorn's own perverse and highly unique compositional touch, successfully evoking the incomprehensible horrors of it's namesake with a veritable flood of screaming and scraping strings. But both of these multi-movement masterpieces test the limits of listenability with an average running time of about 20 minutes each, and as such I have come to find the four scalding minutes of Autechre's Gantz Graf to be the pinnacle of my auditory quest for the immeasurably complex. I wrote out a moment by moment commentary on the track based on years of listening (I've listened to it regularly since picking up the untitled E.P. featuring the track in 2002, though I didn't start enjoying it properly until at least 2004) attempting to unravel it's bizarre internal logic, but it ended up doubling the length of what I've written so far, so I'm providing instead the video for the track as well as the full song in FLAC (as the sound quality for the video is predictably awful). A warning, however, for the less adventurous or more headache prone listener: appreciating Gantz Graf's Merzbowesque intensity and overbearing level of detail requires confronting each moment with your full attention, as grotesque as the task may seem, and stepping beyond the initial recoil one may feel due to the unfamiliarity of the music's structure and texture. Enjoy:


Oh Snap! The show's coming on!

***

Holy Shit! Saturn!
What I love about Nova is that they make real science as sensational as it ought to be - they really pull your heart strings and get your pulse racing, and the effect is not dissimilar to that feeling of being manipulated you might get sometimes (or all the time, depending on your level of paranoia) while watching watching or listening to any mainstream media, but in this case with a transparent and entirely productive agenda. This episode was no different - they really went all out on soundtrack licensing this time around too, weaving in some Massive Attack, John William's Indiana Jones Score (WTF?) and the curiously aforementioned score to Alien (it's just that good!). Great television!
As ought to be entirely obvious, the program consisted primarily of looped computer generated footage of Saturn, her moons, and the various probes we've sent to Saturn with short, epic cuts to the bogglingly awesome images they've provided us with dispersed at even intervals throughout the show. There were some juicy interviews with various individuals responsible for executing the Cassini/Huygens mission from it's inception to the present as well, in addition to a segment on the potentially life sustaining properties of Titan's environment - probably the most exciting part of the show. And those CGI closeups of the rings! Mmmmm.

Oh, and while we're talking about educational television, the illustrious Cosmos has recently been put back on the air by The Science Channel, which has been re-running each episode of Carl Sagan's landmark television series in order for the last few months, a different one each week. Check it out, record it if you can!

Monday, March 3, 2008

ghosts (will drown this world in astral fire etc)



trent reznor : internet superhero. the amount of blogging done about the new ghosts album is difficult to even comprehend, so i'm going to keep it simple with yet another strong endorsement of the distribution model. i'll be revisiting ghosts I-IV from a critical standpoint once i've had a bit more time with it, of course, but it's definitely a piece of work that takes some serious time and dedication to fully absorb. i will say that it reminds me very much of the new autechre - speaking of which, let's follow up on my previous post.



so the autechre broadcast last week turned out to be one of their marathon mixes, this one clocking in at just over twelve hours long (almost digestible compared to their 36 hour mix for xltronic), hence my providing a link to a torrent of the mix rather than hosting it myself...free up some hard drive space and give it a listen though, it's fantastic! loads of obscure old school hip hop is the MO this time around, though there's a fair amount of captain beefheart and the hafler trio and all the usual suspects. you can find an increasingly more complete playlist for the mix here, if you're looking to be totally fucking overwhelmed.

back to NIN's new ghosts project reminding me of quaristice: one of my favorite aspects of the release is that we can finally hear the influences NIN and AE share (80s industrial, early hip-hop, eno, etc), and the different if finally reconcilable directions both artists take those influences towards - playing both releases back to back makes for one of the most engrossing "ambient" music experiences i've ever heard, and serves to highlight their similarities. add this to my first experience with both LPs being FLAC copies provided by surprise internet-only pre-releases in which i had to wait precariously for the servers hosting the files to get their shit together (i find it a little unfair that reznor's been lambasted for not having his servers prepared for the onslaught of customers that flocked to the new release when the well oiled machine that is bleep.com almost entirely collapsed when quaristice came online, and they've been one of the most successful internet record shops in the business), not to mention the fact that both albums are long playing collections of short, instrumental sound experiments leaning toward the ambient (each one tied to specific images sent with digital copies of the album), and things start moving towards the uncanny. the weird, even [hauntology is the new goth!]

speaking of das unheimliche, i wonder if the general population will be subconsciously rejecting the effects of t
he 24th sunspot cycle as big-shot astronomer sten f. odenwald rather vehemently suggests we may have done with sun storms in past via his book "The 23rd Cycle". i wonder this as key space weather experts converge on san fransisco for a panel on the coming cycle - one particularly well written article on the upcoming sunspot surge casually drops that "while some scientists are predicting a weak cycle, others are predicting a cycle that would be the most intense solar activity yet recorded". in fact, there seems to be a great deal of debate between the two dominant schools of thought presented at the panel on nearly everything about this cycle, which is predicted to start warming up this month and rage on to a peak at the tail end of 2011 (all you freaks obsessed with the end of the world might note the proximity of this sunspot peak to the year 2012), mostly due to the lack of data we have regarding the sun's habits and it's effect on humanity and the planet as a whole. while i, for one, find this lack of data to be both terrifying and massively exciting, i think the data we do have is even more so. satellites falling out of the sky, entire power grids backfiring and shutting down, the earth's magnetic field being jerked around like a leaf in a hurricane, auroras in texas...keep in mind these are all things that happened last time the full 22 year cycle peaked in 1989 (the sun's magnetic field reverses in polarity every 11 years), and even then, they're only the things we can directly attribute to the sun - the butterfly effect these events could have is of course impossible to determine, but can provide many many hours of contemplation and speculation, at least to me, and we'll be visiting more on the subject in the weeks to come, i think.

but for now, there are more important things to think about, like the SEASON FINALE OF PROJECT RUNWAY OMG!!! I swear, Jillian better win this shit because I do NOT want to see Christian win by default (it really bothers me when people are rewarded for being total fucking assholes), and Rami just does not cut the mustard.

Friday, February 22, 2008

NEW AUTECHRE



like you haven't heard about it already. it's dividing opinions about as much as one might expect for a typical Autechre album, most of the talk being about it sounding throwback or "inconsistent" or what have you - which is all pretty silly to me music doesn't get much more subjective than this and talking about it gets old fast. still, that's not going to keep me from offering the assuredly biased opinion that if you made it to this blog, then there's a good chance this album will speak to you - lots of exciting cut-up techniques and a much more diverse sound palette than Autechre fans might have become accustomed to make it a real winner in my books. if you don't already have a legal downloaded copy, you can hit up bleep.com via the player below, or alternatively wait for the LP release early next month. In the meantime, Booth and Brown will be broadcasting a live, streaming mix from their website tomorrow at 20:00 GMT (that's noon for those of you on the West Coast - I'll do my best to get the mix up as soon as it's available online in the likely event of a long Friday night), after which they'll be going on a world tour and spreading the love in 7/4.

Monday, January 21, 2008

NASA MMO

Yes, it's actually real. Well, almost - NASA's announced it, but there's a lot to be done in between deciding to make an MMO and it's eventual completion, and we all know how reliable NASA can be following up on projects...



So I've stayed as far away from World Of Warcraft as humanly possible, more or less, not to mention all the dozens of other semi-successful MMORPGs released in the last several years, as I've no to desire to pay my way into some horrible clique of teenage freaks amped on Bawlz and Riddlin for several hours per day, or week, or ever (though EVE Online looks awfully tempting...). But THIS! This is outrageous. I would pay whatever asked to play this monthly, as long as they make sure the gameplay is solid. To be honest, I'm worried they'll focus too much on it being an educational project and dumb it down for kids, but who knows, it might end up being a pleasurably complex and realistic simulation of space exploration (yes!!).

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bobby Fisher Dead...


"Chess is life."
- Bobby Fischer






Friday, January 4, 2008

current listening

I first got into E.V.P. by listening to Coil; as I became more and more wrapped up in their personal mythology, I found they recorded many of their own "ghostly voices" by leaving equipment on nearby magickal or psychedelic events, or by finding curious sounds in malfunctioning hardware (that Balance sings almost exclusively about death, particularly his own - which happened just over four years ago now - adds a deeply moving level of beyond-the-grave eeriness to their work), but it was Coast to Coast AM's features on Electronic Voice Phenomenon that got me hooked - they were a bit more blatantly "spooky", perhaps, but hearing actual children's voices or the sounds of men screaming seemingly coming out of nowhere ensured my continued interest in the subject. Sure, there's a great deal of room for fraud and over-eagerness in both the arenas of AM Radio and Industrial Music, which isn't particularly lessened on the E.V.P. comp I've been listening to recently issued by Touch Music, but that doesn't make the idea any less engrossing, or the sounds any less haunting. Tap in:

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Ode To Tim





I just thought I'd take some time out to acknowledge the illustrious Tim Gunn. A blinding beacon of fashion, etiquette, and general decorum, Tim is a role model for the modern man, regardless of social standing, profession, or attitude (or, ah, orientation) and a breath of fresh air amongst the stifling and nauseating air expelled by the modern television "host". To the relief of many a fashion geek, Tim has resumed his "Tim's Take" blog over on bravo.com; it's gloriously written, a must read for all avid followers of Project Runway and Tim Gunn's Guide to Style, or anyone interested in staying fashionable, for that matter. Here's to Tim!

Oh, and happy new year everybody - let's make it work in 2008!