Archive for August, 2009

Prepared Walkman Improvisation

August 21, 2009

From the time I began circuit bending, I have been playing with walkmen. they are cheap and readily available, and there are a number of interesting things you can do with them. some of which has been previously documented here.

In the past though, I mostly did things which involved tape, as that was fairly obvious and direct. for an early experimenter there is a lot of fun to be had with a walkman and a simple tape loop. But as my interests have moved away from looping, constant sound masses, to more discreet utterances of sounds delineated by space, and focused on timing and texture, I have also moved away from tape.

Even still, the whole object of the walkman with it’s very common, even almost sad appearance, holds something for me. Perhaps it is history. It being the first playback device i owned, and part of my first forays into sound experimentation.

Because of this, I have been drawn back to it again. To attempt to wring from it the last quantities of available sound from beyond magnetic tape. Instead of once again firing up the loops (though I do plan on doing another loopscape at some point) I instead fired up the soldering iron and investigated the inner workings.

I have made walkman feedback devices before that did not require tape, but for this one I wanted to push into all the lesser known areas, and find things I’d never found before. So instead of attempting to build a finished device (which almost always dissappoint imo) I chose to create a kind of platform for continued exploration that left no routes closed off. i simply opened to back of the walkman to expose the board, and prepared it in several ways:
prepared walkman
I added a discrete motor control, and amplification knob and shutoff, a “bit crushing” knob, and inputs for up to two stereo devices. the devices currently include, a tape head, a contact mic, and a small speaker. I have also added metal posts to a few of the solder pads on the PCB so that I can easily attach alligator clips to them.

The following is an improvisation made using this device, and it’s various preparations, recorded direct to MD. In some ways it is still a study, but it is also a piece to listen to and enjoy many times. I have been listening to it occasionally for weeks, and it still confounds me. I hope it pleases you as well.

Be warned though, it starts quiet, but get’s quite loud. there are some very high pitches in here as well.

- Improvisation for walkman (without tape)

Cage on Branca

August 1, 2009

I received¬† a message from a friend today, telling of a performance by Glenn Branca in new york that is to happen soon, and inquiring as to whether i’d like to attend. As I can’t stand not knowing precisely what I’m getting into (especially when in nyc) in terms of music, I looked it up. the piece turned out to be “Indeterminate Activity of Resultant Masses”. I searched around for clips, and found a boomkat listing for the album and was surprised to find that said album contained an apparently venomous audio critique by John Cage. After some more net digging I was about to find the audio clip on ubuweb (of course!) which I present to you here.

Now, in general, I side with cage based on what he says here about musical politics, but having not heard the complete work and in ignorance of Branca’s thesis, I won’t comment further (Momus does a great job of it here already) . Instead, I wanted to offer this piece up to those who have not heard it, as a piece of music in and of itself, as while listening to it I was continually moved and confounded by it from a purely musical standpoint (though I did appreciate the text). In a way it is almost as if Cage and his foil Wim Mertens are making a live textural improvisation with the sounds of the surrounding area.

There is such an odd tension about this whole back and forth. Notice the absolutely odd timing of each phrase, as if Cage himself planned them indeterminately. How cage leaves you to hang almost indefinitely between phrases as if it could be the end, or left only with his dry rhythmic chuckle that oft times goes on just beyond the comfort level. And what of his partner? Possibly the most patient person of all time! Waiting, endlessly, for his counterpart to unfold his idea, and never being a hinderance, not even for a second. Though his flemish accent is dry, he (in his relatively few appearances) nearly rivals Cage in his sensuous working of the english language. Both men talk as if they are savoring the feeling of each word in their mouth while forming it. A sound that has a pacing and tonality that for me recalls a quiet slow solo. There is something about listening to the sound of these two men talking that especially today was a great pleasure.

Of course, one cannot speak of this “piece” without mentioning the third of it’s stars. The background noise. For whatever reason it sounds pleasingly in tune with both voices. It is a multilayered din, with the occasional clang, snatch of passing chatter, or bus sound, but the real star is the persistent short tone that repeats in the near background. Also somewhat in turn with the other sounds it provides a strange meter that seems to break up the rest of the parts into some form of process that I do not understand, but thoroughly enjoy. It is so insistent that it is almost maddening, and yet it’s imperfection keeps it standing just on the brink of annoyance without falling over. In a way it sounds like a Radu Malfatti solo sped up in it’s odd spacing and timbre.

An excellent listen, and if only for this recording, I am glad that the Branca piece exists, and that cage Attended, and that Wim recorded.


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