Peter Cusack, recording sounds at Chernobyl in 2007. All photos courtesy the artist.
He calls it “sonic journalism.” From the Chernobyl site to inside London, Peter Cusack has been turning his ear to the world’s most interesting places. A leading practitioner of sound art at the intersection of ecology and music, Peter Cusack is a uniquely inspiring voice in music making. So we’re keen to welcome Czech-born writer Friday Diamondova to bring her conversation with the artist, for the first time in English here on CDM. We bring with that exclusive sounds for you to hear from the artist. -Ed.
Peter Cusack is a musician and a sound artist with a long music history behind him. He belongs to the English musical avant garde, played improvised music with the Alterations quartet for many years, and collaborated with flutist and journalist Clive Bell, composer Nicolas Collins, and musician and writer David Toop, just to name a few. He also started music label Bead Records in the early 70s, focusing mostly on improvised avantgarde music. He’s a member of CRiSAP (Creative Research in Sound Arts Practice), and was involved in founding the London College of Arts at the London University of Arts, where he teaches Sound Arts & Design.
His sound art works are often focused on ecology, environment, and the relations between the people, places, and sounds. One of his most popular projects is Favourite Sounds of London, which started in 1998 and has since spread worldwide. In his ongoing project Sounds From Dangerous Places, Cusack focused on the impacts of Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and Wales, oil fields in Azerbaijan, and inflows of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where controversial dam construction is planned. He moved to Berlin in 2012 to work on his project Berlin Sonic Places, so we interviewed him at the end of May 2012, slightly updated in April 2013 by Peter himself. The Czech version was published in HIS Voice magazine.
My colleague, Norwegian-born graphic designer Anette K. Hansen interpreted dance visually with these drawn patterns.
“Dance music” is a term that has lately become maligned all over again. And the press is often fond of deriding the music of machines, as if drum machines and computers are sentient alien technology that climbed out of the smoldering remains of a wrecked UFO rather than the handiwork of someone’s imagination.
For me, though, these two materials – movement and machines – are the reason I do what I care about this field, exploring new sounds in a way that is human and gestural, whether the music is in an experimental concert at 8p or a party in a club at 4 or at home on your iPhone in bed.
I got the chance to reflect on that again recently, while releasing an extended set of my own music for modern dance, which I titled simply Music for Dance.
I want to occasionally share the music I make as a practitioner, as that’s part of who I am and I would feel I didn’t want to write about music technology if I didn’t make music. But I have twice the reason to share now, which is that I got to have a really fulfilling conversation with one of my favorite music journalists, Marc Weidenbaum of the superb ambient blog Disquiet. You can read the full interview:
But it brings me back to my original reflection. I think there’s something special about connecting the parts of our brains and selves that handle music and handle movement. Body and brain are, after all, not separate parts, all integrated, organic wetware rather than hardware and software. I recall in college once getting stuck trying to do improv with an ensemble I was playing with, accompanying some modern dancers. We just weren’t listening and playing together. So I suggested we retreat to one of the adjacent dance studios and try doing the same thing with movement improvisation. By the time we’d returned to the stage, we had a completely different outlook. Moving together in silence had somehow freed up the ways in which we communicated with our instruments in hand. Continue reading »
Perhaps part of what you need for laptop music to evolve into an appreciated live performance art medium is simply time.
Finnish artist Sasu Ripatti is a good candidate for mastery of the form. Honing his production and performance skills since the late 90s, he’s become a maestro of digital music. Moments in his music stretch out into shadowy industrial landscapes, as if painting the mysterious worlds that lie between the beats. Others crank the machinery of the dance floor back into mystical frenzy.
Now, I believe the best way to experience a live performance is in the same room as the artist – whether they’re armed with a laptop or a mandolin. But the next best thing is proper documentation, and surely as scholars of music practice, we should sometimes review the tape. In this nearly one-hour HD capture, you can see him tease out a recent live show, armed with mixer and Faderfox controller. This is waveforms and mix as instrument, stuttering journeys through architectural realms of sound. There’s not any noticeable virtuoso performance to look at, necessarily, but in some sense I think you get an impression of him feeling his way through the music, and travel along that walk with him.
URSSS.com has done a series of these live performances — too many to mention. Enter only at the risk of getting nothing else done for a bit. I love their brilliant moniker: “mistake television.” Hey, that’s why it makes sense to record live shows.
Make no mistake. The slightly-impossible-to-pronounce acronym CCRMA (“karma”), standing for the not-terribly-sexy “Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics,” is one of the world’s hotbeds for innovation in electronic music. From the lowest-level DSP code to the craziest live performances, this northern California research center nesting at Stanford is where a lot is going on. So, when they put on a concert, this isn’t just another dry exposition of “tape” pieces, academics scratching their chins and trying not to nod off. (Trust me: I’ve … on occasion darned nearly rubbed my chin raw in that scene.)
No, this is a sampling of the state of the art in live music. CCRMA is currently hosting Robert Henke aka Monolake; it’s the school where Holly Herndon is finishing her studies while simultaneously upending the dance music scene, it’s a place where people learn the nitty gritty of sound and then re-imagine how to play with laptops.
And it’s also where another musician is doing extraordinary work – CDM contributor Gina Collecchia. Naturally, we asked Gina to give us a peek so we could live vicariously through her. It’s striking to see that the technologies here run the gamut from simple transducers to vivid generative software structures. People aren’t really so concerned about whether they’re working in low or high fidelity, tens of thousands of lines of code or old-fashioned mic technique; its on to the sound.
And Herr Monolake has been kind enough to let us share ten minutes of that live performance. I heard this duo in Berlin, and it’s stunning in person, but you can get a feel for Robert working live even in the stream. See also Tarik Barri talking about how he does visuals and works with Jitter, at top, courtesy the fine folks of Cycling ’74. Have a listen, have a look, and then get your Google ready for all the artists Gina scopes out below. -PK
Once the stuff of noise art oddity — isolated electronic experiments staying mostly on the test table — the DIY instrument is starting to find friends and form ensembles. And so it is that Czech instrument design mad scientists Standuino have assembled a clever little suite of open boards, happily chirping and glitching and droning together in musical harmony.
So, before we start delving into the esoteric number theory of the new “π” drone synth, behold as their three creations play together in the video at top. There’s even sync. And a groove. An exceptionally odd groove, but a groove nonetheless. This is what KORG’s Volcas are like in a really strange alternate universe. (In that universe, KORG doesn’t worry about exposing raw circuit boards on the outside of the case. And maybe everyone wears their underwear on the outside of their pants, like superheroes.)
Back to π, though. It has a manifesto worthy of the illuminati. And it makes sounds that resemble someone on the hidden Rebel base tuning in their radar. Or maybe of a rave with the Borg. (Yes, I’m mixing Trek and Wars. Blame J.J. Abrams and Barack Obama.)
In a tweet to CDM, Moog Music reflected, “The more creative tools artists have the more music the world will have.”
I couldn’t agree more. But platforms have posed some serious hurdles to making development pay off for independent music software makers, with technical hurdles that can make performance a challenge. If BB10 is something different, that’s good news. Continue reading »
What if patching, as on screen, involved physical unit generators you could connect with cables? KK Chau sends this project that answers that question. It’s modular at the lowest possible level – each box with one or two knobs, doing just one thing. And the sound? The sound is … uh, awful, actually. In a fun way.
Not much info, but there’s not too much to say – this is analog patchable insanity. As the creator puts it, it’s intended to “let people to make MSP/Pure Data-type synthesising logic in analog world.”