Are you sick of the pleasant hum of jazz and coffee grinders in Espwesso? Does the dull roar of Olin’s main room make you want to peel your skin off? Has the humping of thesis writers in adjacent carrels gotten to you yet? Throw on a pair of headphones (or get ready to annoy your neighbors), because we have a sonic treat for you.
Oye, if you want to skip past the extensive discussion of experimental music borne out of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and get straight to a hands-on procrastination tool, click here and get your experimental music on, ese.
Founded in 1958 in London, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was much more than a Raygun Gothic name and a studio. In the late 1950s, the BBC Third Program—which was eventually folded into BBC Radio 3—was ramping up their dramatic output. Seeking atmospheric, ethereal sounds that couldn’t be produced through traditional sound design or instrumental techniques, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was created in service of exploring then-cutting edge production methods to accompany the BBC’s radio productions. The resulting soundscapes resembled musique concrète and were prescient in the development of the electronicandexperimentalmusicthatwehavecometoknowandlovetoday.
Click through to see more about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s creative output from the ’50s to today.
Former WESU personalities Aliza Simons ’09 and Dave Ruder ’05 write in from beyond the void (there’s life out there, it seems, if you look hard enough) about a pretty cool project they’re involved with this week. The two are members of composer-performer collective Varispeed which, just last week, performed a newly arranged rendition of composer Robert Ashley’s 1983 television opera Perfect Lives. (Ashley’s name should be familiar to students of Intro to Experimental Music: the acclaimed composer was a member, along with Alvin Lucier and others, of the Sonic Arts Union collective, and his pieces have been prominently featured in Lucier’s syllabus.)
“Dave and I were both members of WESU Middletown 88.1, too, where we both found a lot of inspiration,” Simons writes. The project was featured this week in a NYT article examining new interpretations of Ashley’s work. (Not that the 81-year-old isn’t still active in the scene.) For an excerpt:
“I am sitting in a WNYC studio, different from the one you are in now.“
A New York Times feature this week profiles Radiolab, the acclaimed experimental philosophy- and science-themed WNYC radio show hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. The show incorporates strikingly rich, layered soundscapes “to communicate big ideas.” Turns out Wes’ own beloved experimental music maestro Alvin Lucier had a part in inspiring the show’s sonic backdrop:
During my visit, Abumrad listened to a minute-long edit of this passage with Howard and Wheeler. “Do you know Alvin Lucier’s ‘Music on a Long Thin Wire’?” he asked Howard when it ended. “I’ll play it for you.” He had an idea for the sound — not a sound effect, and not music, but a “musical gesture” — to play against the dialogue. “The sound’s going to be going bruup bruup bruup,” he told Howard, advising him to take the pigeon’s point of view. “It’s moving — fhewm, fhewm — through bands, some are thick, some are thin. You know? That’s the part where it’s gonna feel very visual.” [ . . . ]
I asked Abumrad what a traditional radio producer would make of his meticulously constructed bruup bruup fhewm fhewm. “They would say it’s insane,” he said. Early on, he had to deal with “radio people” who thought he was wasting time on “artsy-fartsy namby-pampy” technical distractions. “But do you want to know why ‘Radiolab’ has worked beyond public radio?” he asked. “Because it sounds like life. You watch TV, and someone has labored over the feel. Look at ‘Mad Men’ or ‘The Sopranos’: the mood, the pacing, the richness of it, comes from those fine, quote-unquote technical choices.”
YouTube user canzona uploaded a video to the web, downloaded it, then re-uploaded it one thousand times, gradually eliminating “all human qualities” of his voice and image.
The final video in canzona’s series is a mess of distorted colors and sounds; you can recognize from the motion that the original featured a person talking into the camera, but all individual characters and specifics have been lost, replaced by artifacts created by YouTube’s video and audio compression algorithms.
Here’s something that I consider extremely exciting and would jump on in a heartbeat… but then again, Xue did tell me that I’m the most pretentious person she knows (and keep in mind she knows Adam Fishman ’09**).
Lincoln Center Jazz and the Juilliard School are putting on free concerts in MoMA’s sculpture garden (speaking of which, do go see the Richard Serra exhibition there if you haven’t already). It’s been going on for a while, sorry I didn’t post about it before. The last two concerts in the series are:
Sunday, August 19 8PM The New Juilliard Ensemble plays contemporary classical music by composers Jukka Tiensuu, Andy Vorhes, and Paul Schoenfield. Knowing these people will put you one step above everyone else in Lucier’s Intro to Experimental Music class. If you ever want to impress somebody with your knowledge of new music and contemporary composers, mention any of the above, especially Vorhes–the guy doesn’t even have a wikipedia article!
Sunday August 26 8PM Jazz Concert: Cyro Baptista’s Antropo-Fagia. Nothing says it better than MoMA’s own little blurb, which calls it “a musical manifestation of the process of eating, swallowing, and digesting all the tendencies that are part of the sonic landscape and our environment.” If you have the nerve to pretend to know what that means, don’t miss it.
Music Professor Alvin Lucieris another tour de force at Wesleyan. Like Finn, he has garnered his own following among students. Most notoriously, nearly every student at Wes is familiar with his 1969 recording “I am Sitting in a Room.” Here, today in the Washington Post, he is noted as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century:
“I Am Sitting in a Room.” (Alvin Lucier, performer. Lovely Music.)
After 10 minutes, you’ll probably hate this piece, but by the time it reaches the half-hour mark, I’ll bet you are fascinated. The idea behind “I Am Sitting in a Room” is very simple, rather akin to making a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy with the inevitable fuzzy dissolution of the original image. What Lucier (born 1931) did was to take a tape recording of a brief speech, play it into another tape recorder, then take that tape and play it into another recorder, and so on, until all language was filtered away and what was left was a mercurial patina of sonic residue — the “ghost” of the speech, if you will. It may sound arty and pretentious, but it couldn’t be more lovely, especially as the distortion moves in to stay. Words become music, sound becomes shimmer and a natural process of acoustics is demonstrated in the most elegant and strangely beautiful fashion.
On a completely unrelated note, Xue is the hyperactive puppy of the internet search. I tell her to fetch, and she fetches. Good Xue, good. Sit, booboo, sit. Good girl.
Xue adds: I was speaking to Brian Decker ’08 (a music major) on the phone just now as I was listening to the mp3. To me it just sounds like hurt. But Brian insists that he hears whales. Whatever, Brian.