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Podcasts from Tate's Infrequency Series

Updated on August 21, 2017
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A plethora of composers

Another series of articles I started on my blog, but then decided to move the draft here. This series of podcasts contained no real theme except a love for noise, for this compilation features many artists who each create a mishmash of music and ambient noise while stretching the limits of a typical song structure. Listening to these experimental songs, I know these musicians all have John Cage to thank for blazing a trail in that genre.

These originated from recordings of live performances, for you can hear the sounds of coughing and page turning (I think).

John White's "Ricecare"

This piece went over ten minutes and reminded me of singing bowls practiced by Buddhists. However, this instrumental would not feel out of place in a science fiction film, with its eerie and otherworldly tone. Not harsh, but not soothing either. The mood and execution stayed the same throughout the podcast's running time.

The Work of Alvin Lucier

Just under nineteen minutes, Wave Songs has a singer who vocalizes (and largely sustains) just one continuous tone (for lack of a better term). However, that singer occasionally changes different pitches and volumes while performing. Then a soft, non intrusive sound creates a ghostly atmosphere that complements the singer. She did sing actual words near the end, and it called to mind Medieval chorus hymns. Also nearing the end, a male vocalist joined and he sounded as though he was dying.

Silver Street Car uses bells and is repetitive. The bells stay the same for all of fifteen minutes. Not for the easily annoyed. I’m sure I’m supposed to look for variations in pitch and speed in the ringing bells, but I doubt it.

Opera with Objects uses the repetition of tapping noises. It varies, for sometimes it's loud, and sometimes it's fast. The sounds stop occasionally, but then always starts up again. Probably a showcase of endurance, but when you have only audio recording, the performance loses impact. You can hear the ambient noise of people moving around and coughing and breathing.

In Memorian John Higgins features two low hums, one low and one high. Very similar to Singing Bowls and full of coughs (possibly audience member). Emphasis on the faint ringing and ambient noise helped me notice the changes in the sound. It doesn't raise in volume until the end, similar to how a traditional song builds up to a crescendo. Finally, I felt as though my ears almost pop while listening to this.

Other miscellaneous podcasts

The other podcasts I listened to via iTunes were also dedicated to avant-garde music full of silence, ambient sounds, and harsh tones.

Listening to Live Performance-Sachiko M., I wondered if the harsh ringing came from a singing bowl. Also, I wonder if he intended to annoy the listener with those harsh noises. Other forms of ambient noise such as whispers, sounds of a watch (or something turning on) and a bouncing ball occurred in this song.

Sound Surface by Scanner and Stephen Vitiello uses feedback and noise with its ringing, static, and manipulated voices. Then actual rhythm and music comes out. Almost as though the song evolved out of an primordial ooze of ambient noise.

Atlantic Waves 4-live Performance Monolake (Robert Henke + Torsten "T++" Profrock) probably feels more traditional with its use of electronica and synthesizer. The song also builds to a crescendo when it adds more layers.

Live Performance-Ryoichi Kurokawa went for electronic ambient noise. It called to mind Nine Inch Nails at their harshest. Or a robot powering up. I also heard sounds of tearing. The song felt relaxing, and made me think of aquariums. The faint ringing reminded me of skies and fast moving clouds.

Tony Conrad-Live at Tate Modern goes over an hour and ten minutes and you will hear the sounds of chainsaws and motors running. Listening to this made me think of lying on a dentist’s chair and having my teeth drilled while somebody pushed a lawn mower outside. It's not until twenty minutes into the song before you hear stringed instruments. Around thirty minutes, sounds similar to bagpipes start playing. To sum up this song, it is a slow cacophony of stringed instruments and machines.

Live Performance-Toshimaru Nakamura resorted to faint ringing and static. Taken out of its context, it also sounds as though robots were powering up, but something malfunctioned in the process. Also, I thought I heard laser sounds.

Achim Wollscheid's piece, Replika-re-mastered performance/score. It goes under fifteen minutes and uses squeaky sound effects, crumpling paper, static, and faint noises in the background. Again, I thought I heard sounds of machines turning on. Would not be out of place in horror moive. I think he also used conventional instruments such as violins and brass horns, which creates this menacing, carnival atmosphere. Especially with the squeaks the stringed instruments make.

Final Verdict

Good to listen to while you do something else.

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