CD Reviews

Monday 20th September

September 20, 2010

noishWhen I first listen to a CD, I almost always put it on without paying any attention to the sleeve notes or press release, and usually in the morning before work, while I go about the day’s early chores, washing, ironing, putting CDs into envelopes etc… So I don’t pay as much attention to it, or to the details I may have about how it was created, the instrumentation involved etc, as I would in the evening when I listen much more closely with the intention of writing about the music. So early today I played through tonight’s CD a couple of times, letting it pass me by as a just-OK disc of computer generated feedback and white noise detail. The sleeve notes later revealed what I was listening to to have begun life as something more interesting, though the question of whether the end result is any more listenable once this added information is known remains to be asked.

The disc is the fifteenth release on Mattin’s Free Software Series label, which will eventually be available as a free download from the label’s website. It is named Noise&Capitalism.txt and is credited to NOISH, who apparently is a computer musician named Oscar Martin. If the title rings a bell, then you may remember that the book edited by Mattin that came out last year had the same name, and it is the text of that book that has lead to this music being generated. Although the diagram on the sleeve that shows the process used is a bit vague, it seems that Martin took a pdf of the book’s text, fed it somehow through a laptop into a cheap radio cassette recorder, presumably somehow processing the pdf as an audio signal, maybe using an automated text reading voice. He then used a combination of  digital and analogue transformation processes to feed the work back into a computerised audio file, which is then presented on this CD.

Interestingly, this is almost exactly what Robert Kirkpatrick seems to have done for his latest limited edition release, details here. Though he started with a different text, the two musicians seem to have independently struck upon the same, or at least very similar conceptual ideas to make their music. I haven’t heard Robert’s piece, but I suspect that it could sound not dissimilar to Martin’s CD, a kind of mashed up mess of digital and analogue feedback and distortion, full of tiny details jammed together, occasionally landing on some interesting shapes and patterns but ultimately much more interesting as an idea and concept than as a piece of music.

The track here is divided up into clear sections, with dense sections of what sounds like a badly tuned radio and electronic scribbling interspersed with quieter, more spacious parts, these little breathing spaces being more interesting to listen to. In many ways the music reflects what I thought of the book, really thoughtful and thought-provoking in places, a bit of an impenetrable wall in others. The whole thing clocks in at a little under half an hour, which is long enough for me, but to be fair the CD doesn’t overstay its welcome and changes gear often enough to retain the attention. The sounds themselves though are very familiar and well worn. Knowing how they were originally sourced adds a layer of intrigue to the whole work, but ultimately as a piece of audio to listen to  I’m glad there isn’t more then twenty-six minutes of it. Although I would never have guessed how it was made, there is still a sense of disconnection in the music, away from too strong a human touch. I might have guessed that audio signals of some kind were being fed through digital patches of some kind, but otherwise I’d never of known.

So I find myself wondering if, had I not been intending to write about this CD, would I ever have noticed how it was made? Is the conceptual side of the release actually a vital part of the whole project, an element without which the music is rendered entirely uninteresting? Is there a point being made here? Could any text have been used to the same effect or does the piece of conceptual art require Mattin’s book to retain its power? Does the music stand up on its own? Soon it will be available as a free download and you can decide for yourselves. Personally speaking, without the added information about how the track was created, this review would have been a lot shorter than it is now.

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