Cassette Reviews

Reed Evan Rosenberg – At the End of an Endless Stream

February 12, 2013


The first thing to note here, is that, try as I might, research however hard as I can, I haven’t a clue how the raw materials for this forty minute long, two halved composition by the American computer musician Reed Evan Rosenberg were sourced. The tape states that the audio here was all sourced using the “sonification of Chirkov Standard Map”. It took very few google hits for me to get completely lost in a sea of mathematical equations prescribing one particular system of chaos theory. So we are going to have to settle for the idea that Rosenberg used some kind of mathematical theory, to in some way, produce material that could be presented as sound that was fed through a Max/MSP system and create the alien digital scribble that he has arranged into this composition. Sorry to miss completely what is probably an important part of how this release came into being.

Anyway, the best way I can describe the sounds that appear on At the End of the Endless Stream is as being similar to those heard in my youth when loading software via (ironically) cassette tape to my trust Sinclair ZXSpectrum, or perhaps when someone tries to send a fax to a normal phone line. That kind of fast, squiggly stream of digital information anyway. In short, about as far from the sound of an acoustic instrument as you could find. So this is very much computer music, apparently sourced through some kind of mathematical process, using sounds of the kind normally only belonging within machines. Rosenberg is also one half of Keroaän, a group that, if I remember correctly create computerised musical systems that play themselves. A large part of Rosenberg’s interests then, I may venture to surmise, could be linked to giving life to the computer as sound generator, removing the role of the human as musician.

However I think, (and I won’t apologise for adding the word fortunately) there is a lot of human decision making going on with At the End of the Endless Stream. While all of the sounds are indeed of the cold digital variety, they arranged acutely, and often really quite nicely to form the piece of music here. The first side of the tape, titled Urashima Taro (it runs for twenty minutes each side) consists of slightly different blasts of these sounds arranged into standalone chunks, separated by short silences. Each of these is somewhat jarring, some more than others, not necessarily particularly loud, but always somewhat harsh and inhospitable. I didn’t at any point find this a pleasurable listen. That’s not to say that it wasn’t interesting, and that the juxtapositions of sounds placed beside each other didn’t constantly keep the work engaging. Of course something does not always have to be aesthetically pleasing to have value, and certainly the music here, despite the inhuman qualities of the sounds has had a lot of thought put into it. If the first half of the tape is something of a bumpy and maybe slightly inaccessible ride, so the second, Carneades, is a little more welcoming. While it starts in a similar manner, the latter half of the side sees the sounds soften a little, veering away from the more jagged digital detritus and closer to a form of white noise, which somehow, perhaps because we are more familiar with its appearance in our everyday lives as well as in our music feels a little more comfortable here. The silences then disappear after a while, and while at first the piece shifts quickly through a series of jumps from one rush of noise to another, it gradually finds its way to what seems like a disappointingly anticlimactic ending only for an extended silence to dissolve into a still quite insistent, but much, much softer, quieter and somehow easier to endure buzzing. This sound remains, without leaping into anything else, and seems to gradually build in intensity until it suddenly halts as the tape runs out. Once I had acclimatised to the set of sounds in use here, and stopped trying to measure this music in the same way as I might measure that created as musicians sit and play traditional instruments, I really quite enjoyed At the End of the Endless Stream. Its a work that clearly has had a lot of thought and work gone into its conception and construction, but it would be easy for the likes of myself to think otherwise after just a cursory glance. neither easy listening nor an adrenalin ride, this tape asked me a lot of questions that I don’t think I have really found the answers to yet, and that can only be a good thing.

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