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a crack in your ear through which sound surreptitiously slips, or an illicit substance which gives your ears immense pleasure while enslaving them to a crippling addiction

Friday, December 30, 2005

now playing

If life were a movie, the trailer might sound like this.

I produced this piece for Weekend America, it'll be airing this weekend. The announcer voice is Bob Ford, you can also hear my voice in there too, along with some random WA folks.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

cold sound

What is it about tinkley high-frequency bell sounds that's so evocative of winter? It it that it's sort of like the sound of ice cracking when the wind sways frozen tree branches? Or maybe it's just that it's been used to accompany winter scenes in so many film soundtracks and TV commercials that we've been conditioned...

I'm listening to the "Winter" movement from Wendy Carlos' 1972 composition Sonic Seasonings on WNYC's New Sounds, hosted by John Schaefer. He says that Stanley Kubrick used this music in The Shining at the end of the film when the cold turns deadly. I have to admit that the music is quite chilling, even though it's a balmy 30 degrees in New York City right now, with overcast skies and wind from the north at 4 mph.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

unsilent nighted

I just got home from Phil Kline's Unsilent Night, and I feel so strangely peaceful and transformed. What looked like at least 1000 people walked from Washington Square Park to Thompson Square Park carrying boomboxes, all simultaneously playing a cassette tape of Kline's composition. Because no two boomboxes play exactly the same way, the tapes gradually drift out of sync, creating this really rich spacial dimension to the sound. It's a very unique experience to be in a large group of people who are all collaborating in mass-communal music making. It's sort of a secularized modern-technology form of caroling, with the people we passed by on the street stopping everything they're doing just to listen to the beautiful sounds.

I recorded the whole thing (I also interviewed Kline last week) for a piece I am producing about the event for Studio 360. The piece will air next weekend, and it's due this Tuesday, so gotta get crackin'. I'll post a link to it here when it's up on the web...

ADDENDUM 12/22/2005
As promised, here is a link to the piece.
I also happen to have another piece on the same episode, about a bible depicted in legos. It's a reworked version of a piece that originally aired a few years back. This one's about half as long as the original, with less sound design, but new narration that I think gives it a stronger close.

(photos by Jake Dobkin)

Monday, December 12, 2005

radio in concert

Transonic Arts is "an arts-presenting organization dedicated to crossing the boundaries between different subgenres of contemporary music, sound art, and any other sound-based artistic endeavor we can get our hands on." They recently got their hands on some of my work, and will be presenting two of my pieces, Vinyl and City X, on a concert this Wednesday, December 14th, at The Tank in New York City. Here's the press release:

Presented by Transonic Arts
Wednesday, December 14, 2005, 8:00pm. Admission is $10.

Location: The Tank; 217 East 42nd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues; Subways: 4/5/6/7/S to Grand Central

Transmissions will explore works which use found sound -- recorded sound like a bird chirping, a train passing by, or speech. The program will look at how computer technology has extended the definition of the term by allowing real-time recording and alteration of musical instruments and ambient sounds. Trasmissions will feature two multimedia sound installations, by sound artist Jessica Feldman and composer Jonathan Zalben; a "composed" radio documentary and a piece of concert music by composer/radio producer Jonathan Mitchell; and two contrasting performances of Jascha Narveson's work for improvising soloist and computer processing.

Jessica Feldman's installation uses overheard conversation as its sound source, broadcasting bits of conversation back to the people who said them using devices she has built. Jessica's recent work explores the way that audiences interact with sound based on where they hear it and how they perceive how the piece works.

In his audio/visual interactive installation Organized Color Intoxication, composer Jonathan Zalben (http://www.jonathanzalben.com) has designed a piece in which the audience is the performer, and the creator is the architect. The audience is encouraged to play with a ìfenceî that affects what they hear and see around them.

Jonathan Mitchell (http://earcrack.blogspot.com/) is interested in exploring how sound elements which are often thought of as separate - speech, music, sound effects, ambiance - can all be combined in a unified, cohesive way. His radio documentary City X and his concert piece Vinyl are examples of the ways in which Jonathan doesn't separate how he deals with sound, whether writing in an informational genre, like journalism, or one more traditionally thought of as being artistic, like music.

Kaleidoscope, by Jascha Narveson (http://www.jaschanarveson.com), uses live, improvised instrumental performance as found sound. The computer functions like a delay unit (which records bits of sound and plays them back later), except with a longer memory and without any of the predictability. Sound is chopped up into phrases, stored in memory, and played back in different ways at different times. These regurgitated snippets in turn affect how the performer proceeds with her improvisation.

Sunday, December 11, 2005



If you enjoyed the recent Werner Herzog documentary Grizzly Man, three of his short documentaries from the 1970's were recently released on a DVD called Short Films by Werner Herzog. They're each 45 minutes long, which made them difficult to distribute theatrically, but ideal for a DVD compilation.

I love DVD's. They make so many things possible, like seeing films that break the molds of traditional formats, or watching TV shows without having to watch TV, or hearing my favorite directors ramble on about lighting and their battles with weather conditions. But I digress.

This particular DVD didn't have a commentary track, but the liner notes included an excerpt of a print interview with Herzog (from the book Herzog on Herzog, edited by Paul Cronin). If "Herzogian" is a word, I think it has to do with man confronting nature and accepting the will (or wrath) of God. Or something like that.

The three films included on the DVD are:

The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner (1974)
I liked this one so much I watched it three times. The subject is the great Swiss ski-flyer Walter Steiner, and it includes some stunning slow-motion ski jumping, filmed at 1/20th speed. The score by Popel Vuh is beautiful too, with electric guitar swells that perfectly mesh with the snowy-mountain images. In the film, we witness Steiner breaking the world ski-flying record, easily beating all of his competition. He starts his run lower down on the ramp than the other skiers, because he's concerned that he'll fly too far and have a terrible accident if he starts any higher up, and he still beats everyone handily. But the film is not about athletic accomplishment, it's about spiritual quest. What they are doing is very dangerous (Herzog repeatedly shows images of ski-flyers wiping out in "agony of defeat"-type crashes), but they confront their fears, pushing the limits of physics and nature in order to achieve the ecstasy of flight, if only for a few seconds.

How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck (1976)
This one takes place at the 1976 World Championship of Livestock Auctioneers in New Holland, Pennsylvania. It begins with some interviews with the winning auctioneers, made all the more touching by the way Herzog lets the camera linger on the subjects for a brief moment after they finish talking, somehow making me feel like I was stealing a glimpse of their souls. But most of the film is simply watching the competition, letting the viewer revel in the beauty and poetry of the auctioneers' voices. I read someplace that the German version of this film includes a voice-over by Herzog in which he calls the auctioneers' chants the "poetry of capitalism."

La Soufriere (1977)
A volcano on the island of Guadeloupe is steaming, threatening to erupt at any moment. Authorities claim the force of the eruption could be equilvilent to several atomic bombs, and the island has been deserted, the residents fearing for their lives. What does Herzog do? He goes there with a camera crew and climbs the volcano. The man has guts. There are some beautiful and erie shots driving down the streets and docks of the deserted island town, and late in the film the crew happens upon a man who stayed behind, accepting his possibile fate as the "will of God." Luckily for Herzog, the ending is anticlimactic. But while waiting for the "unavoidable catastrophe" that never takes place, the film becomes a meditation on the ephemeral nature of life.

Sometimes I think part of me secretly wants to be a film reviewer, but then I worry that having to write about movies like this all the time instead of just watching them would totally suck.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I speak

It's always a good feeling to think that someone cares about what you have to say, especially when they have no idea what you might say. The Public Radio Exhange recently took that chance on me, and you can read the results in a nifty little interview entitled, Gettin' Cozy with Jonathan Mitchell.

And if, after reading that interview, you find yourself saying, "yes, but Jonathan...HOW? and...WHY? and...MORE DETAILS PLEASE," well it just so happens that there are a few more online interviews from my past that you might enjoy:

Third Coast (June, 2003)
Third Coast (January, 2005)
WBEZ's re:Sound (July, 2005), an audio interview which also features the pieces Terminally Blonde and Sopranos in the West Wing

Sunday, December 04, 2005

his medium? suburban christmas display.

from Barrett Golding via the AIR listserve:
someone sent me this kewl vid of a
rapid-fire sound&lights xmas display.

is it real?
being an incurable fact-checker, i did some digging.

song is "Wizards of Winter" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra

this guy sez the light-show exists at an Ohio home:
"This is a friend of mine in Mason, Ohio. These are REAL lights - not animated. The lights are ran from a computer program and it is impressive the time and effort he has put into them to make them work. He only runs it from 6p-10p and the sound is very low outside. He broadcasts over FM so you listen in your car on the radio, that is what you are hearing on the clip. Not offensive to neighbors except for the bright lights for 4hrs."

and here:
they say it's uses a Light-O-Rama sequence
"a leading manufacturer of user programmable light controllers"


ADDENDUM 12/9/05
According to the bulletin board where this video is posted, this display is from 2004, and is the work of Carson Williams, a Mason, Ohio electrical engineer. This year (2005), he had his lights choreographed to three different songs. On December 6, 2005, news reports announced that the 2005 display had been shut down because it was causing traffic congestion problems. Apparently there was an accident in his neighborhood and emergency crews could not get to it because of all the cars lined up to see the display.

You can see a video of his 2005 display here.
A radio interview with Carson Williams aired on WGMD Deleware,
it can be heard here. I don't know the name of the interviewer.

ADDENDUM 12/27/05
Last night I saw this video used in a beer commercial. A fricking beer commercial. I'm not going to say which brand because I wouldn't want to give them even more publicity, but it was a "lite" beer. Get it? Christmas lights..."lite" beer... I feel so disappointed, almost betrayed. But to be honest, I'm not sure why. I mean, everyone and their myspace friend has heard about this video by now. And it just means that even more people can now enjoy this wonderous spectacle of light and sound, while simultaneously getting a beer brand burned into their brain waves. Merry Xmas.


Friday, December 02, 2005

dj robot

I just found out about a music website that makes some interesting implications about the future of radio. You type in an artist or song you like, and it plays music that it thinks you might like. And then you rate what it plays for you, and it adjusts to your musical taste. So it's sort of like having your own personal disc jockey. It's free, although you need to sign up for an account to hear an unlimited number of songs.


"The Music Genome is a detailed analysis of a century of popular music. We employee a large team of professional musicians who spend their days listening to music one song at a time and "analyzing" the detailed musical characteristics of the song. This includes obvious stuff like tempo and key, but more importantly it covers a lot of subtle nuance: how much tremolo in the voice, what kid of harmony, guitar picking style, how much cowbell, etc. In total we listen for hundreds of different qualities and painstakingly record the results for each some. After 5 years, we've built up an incredible asset that allows us predict music you will like based on simple input (for example, the name of an album, artist, or song that you love)."

(thanks Maureen Jackson for the link!)