Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Distressing article from the NY Times about the economic model of streaming services like Spotify, and the low revenues musicians receive as royalties.

Monday, January 28, 2013


In the world of lowercase minimal electronic music, the work of Motion (aka Chris Coode) has long stood apart for me. Listening to his music is like looking at expert graphic design with some of its more coherent layers torn away: the elements left are skewed, dissolving shapes interspersed with wide spaces of faded texture. Lovely timbral, tonal, melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic events occur mostly by means of implication, truncated just at the point where they might coalesce, bent and warped into unexpected forms without warning. At some point I recall reading that Coode's practice is to start with a source sound, modifying it in passes that resemble the continual replication and degradation of an image on a photocopier. Indeed.

Why this stuff hasn't become some of the most talked-about work in contemporary experimental music is beyond me, but unless I've missed something, it hasn't. In any case, Motion's Every Action immediately became a desert island disc for me. I'm not necessarily saying "Buy this album now!", since it's certainly not for everybody. But I want to take a few moments to celebrate this music.

My original encounter with it was circa 2002 or so, via under-the-radar mp3 releases from nascent web labels like the venerable 8bitrecs. I quickly sought out all the Motion I could find, which led me to Every Action and its predecessor, Dust. It was very much what I was looking for at the time-- minimal but not dull or repetitive, electronic but organic, itinerant but still accessible and melodic.

I quickly snapped up all the Motion I could find-- which, unfortunately, wasn't much. I sent some fan email to 12k, releaser of all the Motion CDs to date as far as I know, and Coode graciously wrote back thanking me. But beyond those two releases, no further Motion material emerged (that I noticed, anyway). Coode released a couple CDs as the ultra-minimal techno venture Recon, and though I certainly respect an artist's will to explore other avenues, it wasn't really for me.

The other day I felt the compulsion to drop by the 12k site, which I haven't done in forever. While I was there I thought "Hey, Motion was on this label," and I decided to check out the artist page. Lo and behold, just a few days earlier 12k had released a "new" Motion disc, called Pictures. Evidently it's a release that predates the other two, long considered lost but recently found and remastered. So of course I picked it up.

The record is pretty much what a fan would expect: A proto-version of the later stuff. Same fragmented analog synth palette, tonal blobs, elemental melodic streams, and occasional rhythmic scrambles, but a little less refined and, if you will, less minimal than subsequent outings. But still, for the enthusiast, well worth hearing.

I have no idea what Chris Coode is up to these days. My Internet searches have turned up surprisingly little. I hope he's found happiness and prosperity somewhere and somehow. I'm very glad there's a new Motion record out there. I only wish there could be ten more.

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Monday, January 21, 2013

Recent Listening 1/21/13

Steven R. Smith: Autumn is the End
Robert Wyatt: Comicopera
Lightning Bolt: Hypermagic Mountain
Various Artists: Dim Lights, Thick Smoke And Hillbilly Music: Country & Western Hit Parade 1954
Zapruder Point: Clicks & Whistles, Double Clicks & Whistles
Broadcast: Berberian Sound Studio
Jakob Ullmann: Fremde Zeit Addendum
Barn Owl: The Conjurer
Richard Skelton: Marking Time
Ben Vida: Esstends-Esstends-Esstends

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Happy MLK Day!

The work of Dr. King makes me proud to be an American. Today in the US, we celebrate King's birthday on the same day we inaugurate an African-American president for the second time. Works for me.

Dr. King operated in the zone of public life that marks humanity at its best: he encouraged us to imagine the world a little bit different than it was, a little bit better. And he asked us to have the courage and perseverance to make that world a reality.

This, to me, is the intersection of art and politics that makes art politically relevant: art, in my view, is the arbitrary illumination of experience, and artists present a view of life that's different from the way we've imagined it previously. Maybe a little bit different, maybe a lot, but to experience art is to engage imagination, to suspend disbelief, to observe the world from some new angle. Like visionaries in political life, artistic vision asks us to imagine the potential for change, to expand our consciousness to include something we didn't picture before.

= = =

I've often been struck by the musicality of Dr. King's voice. Part of his oration's persuasiveness, I think, was its hypnotically melodic quality. Who knows how much of that melody is preserved in the auto-tuned rendition of King's "I have a dream" speech below, but I enjoy this video regardless.

Happy MLK Day!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

World’s largest natural sound archive

A dozen years in the making, the world’s largest digitized natural sound archive is now online. Check it out here.

According to Cornell University's tumblr, the archive contains "nearly 150,000 digital audio recordings equaling more than 10 terabytes of data with a total run time of 7,513 hours. About 9,000 species are represented. There’s an emphasis on birds, but the collection also includes sounds of whales, elephants, frogs, primates and more."

I only hope it's all somehow backed up on vinyl, so that after the planet goes kerplooey the survivors' children can hear all the species that went extinct.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Tuesday Series Kickstarter

Here's an opportunity to support the Tuesday series, a long-running performance lab for improvised and otherwise off-the-beaten-path music in the Twin Cities. Donate to the Kickstarter if you like.

This music has made a huge difference in my life, expanding the spectrum of both my listening and practice as a musician. But I'll let the series tell its own story:

"The Tuesday Improvised Music Series strives to build community around improvised music by presenting emerging and established artists twice a month in a casual environment at Madame of Arts in Minneapolis. Funds from this project will go directly to the rental costs of The Tuesday Series.

"The Series minimizes the boundaries inherent to traditional concert settings, holding events in such venues as Gus Lucky's, Acadia Theatre, Art of This Gallery, Franklin Art Works, and Madame of the Arts. Beginning by presenting a dedicated core of local performers, the The Series has grown with the expanding Twin Cites improvised music community, and now programs national and international artists regularly. The Series will continue to present concerts at Madame of the Arts in 2013, centrally located at 3401 Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis."

The Sound of "Django Unchained"

I went to see "Django Unchained" just kind of for the heck of it, not having heard much about it. I enjoyed it in a lot of ways.

While I'm not a big fan of movie violence, I was impressed by the artful portrayal of gunplay and other physical conflict. In particular, the Foley and sound effects were terrific-- big, raw and edgy. Given the clear inspiration of Sergio Leone, this seemed like a perfect approach-- after all, Leone's films were often (always?) shot without sound, the dialogue looped in later and the soundscape dubbed as stark Foley cues.

Anyway, I was psyched to find an article in Post Magazine about the sound design of "Django Unchained". It appears that Tarantino did indeed want a big, "analog" soundscape for the film.

Evidently, 150-year-old chains were recorded to provide the titular sound cues. The individually forged links apparently resonate at variable pitches, whereas today's machine-made chain is a lot more monotonous.

Also: it seems that the sound crew collected impulse responses in Death Valley, Zion Canyon and Monument Valley to create echoes for the gunshots. Quite a length to go to for echo collection; I love that they went to the extreme of traveling that far to gather these echoes.

When you get up to that kind of budgetary level, what is the ethos? Is the potential box office return even part of the equation? Or is it just "hey, we can go to Death Valley to record impulse responses! Let's do it!"?

In any case, they sure made a nice-sounding film out of it.

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Update: Tree Fort Defense video game (original music + sfx)

Above: theme music I've composed for Tree Fort Defense, a video game currently in development by Interrobang.

You can also hear other music cues from the game, including the theme for the spooktacular Halloween level, here. (Concept art by Sean MacBean for the Halloween level below.)

Mike Hallenbeck home page