21 March 2011

Another Music in a Different Kitchen, II

A recent posting by a friend brings this site to my attention. The site features real-time police radio from a handful of major cities, intermixed with a selection of selection of tunes randomly drawn from a database of ambient music. My former locale of Chicago is among the cities included thus far. The last residence I had there, situated on the southside, had more than its share of ambience -- what, between the buses and 18-wheelers and police cars that made up the constant traffic on the main avenue outside my window, plus the incessant sirens due to the fact that I lived directly around the corner from both a fire station and a hospital ER. And in the occasional lulls between all that, in the warmer months there'd be humorous shrieks and trills from the flocks of monk parakeets that nested in the park across the street.

The first thing that the site brings to mind is that it's clearly modeled after the work of the artist Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud). With his early releases under the Scanner moniker -- via the Ash International label in the early-mid 1990s -- Rimbaud briefly became a sensation in the experimental music community with his amorphous, open-ended electronic compositions, with various voices and conversations randomly pulled from all the airwaves, drifting into in and out of the mix....

Diffuse narratives and the incidental details of a myriad lives, all indeterminately overlapping and intermingling in the ether.* Of course, it also had its more sinister subtheme, with the implications of audio voyeurism, eavesdropping and surveillance lurking on the project's periphery.

It all links up with the profusion of a certain sonic sub-subtrend I've noticed these past few years. Case in point, the proliferation of websites devoted to "sonic mapping" that have cropped up in recent years -- interactive sites trafficking in contributed field recordings and audio landmarks from localations from across the globe, especially those drawn from urban settings. It's as if a couple of things have happened within the past 5-8 years, those being that (a) R. Murray Schafer's notions concerning soundscaping and acoustic ecology have gained increased traction some _ decades after the fact, combined with (b) Lefebvrian theories about the social production of space and place have recently filtered into the sound-art community.

Speaking of such stuff, back in September the London-based website Sound and Music invited Chicago sound artist Olivia Block to contribute to their "Places" series, with Block offering up her own sonic guide to the city. Many of the landmarks she cited (Lampo, Enemy, Empty Bottle, ESS, etc.) would be obvious to anyone who knows the city's leftfield music scene. I was, however, pleased to see that she included the Harry Bertoia sounding sculpture which is located off of Randolph and Michigan, across from Millennium Park...

About a decade ago, I worked in an office building next door to this thing. When weather permitted, I often go out and have my lunch under the thing; afterwards stretching out on the marble slabs, listening to the water in the nearby fountain, hearing the metallic sounds of the sculpture's rods pinging and ringing against each other in the breeze, the reverberating vibrations from the iron traveling out from the foundations of the piece, into and up through the marble beneath me. Very pleasant, very cool. Seemed that not too many people I met knew about the piece, or ever noticed it.

Block has a new recording out on the 12k label, one in which she's part of what amounts to a sort of experimental sonic supergroup -- a quartet that involves her, Steve Roden, Stephen Vitiello, and Molly Berg, all of them operating under the collective moniker of Moss. Essentially it amounts to an EP release, featuring a single 24-minute live track in which the ensemble summons up an improvised drone-folk driftwork of the Jewelled Antler/Charalambides/Lichens variety. And very nice as such things go.

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* Admittedly, I always wondered if this phase of Rimbaud's work wasn't (perhaps?) inspired by some of the sequences in Wenders's Der Himmel über Berlin.

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