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Some 20 years ago I bought an obscure Philips/Harlekijn LP containing the famous Ballet Mecanique by George Antheil.  In 1924 Antheil worked with Fernand Leger on a DaDa inspired abstract film called “Ballet Mecanique”. The music for this film was to come from electric bells, tree airplane propellers, a siren and piano rolls in 16 player pianos linked to a central control panel. However, the technology to realize this “central control panel” to synchronize all these player pianos was yet not available in 1924, so Legers film and Antheil’s score went their separate ways. The Ballet Mecanique score was technologically so ahead of its time, that it could not be performed in the way it was conceived in the 1920’s.

To resolve this issue, Antheil prepared a new reduced version of the piece for eight pianos, one player piano, four xylophones, percussion and two airplane propellers. This drastically simplified score was presented to audiences in 1926 and 1927 in Paris and New York. The work was never published in its original form. In 1953 a heavily cut version of Ballet Mecanique was published by George Antheil which featured only four pianos. This is the score of which a live version played during the 1976 Holland Festival was recorded for the above mentioned Harlekijn LP.

Bad Boy Made Good DVD

Last year I stumbled across a DVD called “Bad Boy made Good. The Revival of George Antheil’s 1924 Ballet Mecanique” on the antheil.org web site. The DVD documents a revival of the original orchestration of Antheil’s magnus opus using the 16 player pianos for which the piece was originally intended. Using MIDI technology to control the 16 player pianos (for which now Yamaha Disklaviers were used), it was now possible to synchronize the pianos in the way Antheil originally intended in 1924. The DVD documents the preparation and the world premiere of this original version of the Ballet Mecanique in the Concert Hall of the University of Massachusetts in Lowell on November 18, 1999. It also contains the Léger film with the newly realized 16-player-piano version of Antheil’s score.

World premiere by UMass Lowell Percussion Ensemble

The MIDI controlled piece was subsequently performed in many concert halls in the USA and Europe, a complete list of performances and DVD ordering info can be found on the informative Ballet Mecanique page/antheil.org web site which accompanies the DVD. Check it out if you are interested in the early history of  “noise music”.

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The crackle box designed by Michel Waisvisz in the seventies was probably the first commercially available portable ‘non-keyboard’ analog audio synthesizer with an inbuilt loudspeaker. Crackle boxes are still sold by STEIM and are regarded nowadays to be the archetype of ‘glitch music’ or ‘circuit bending’.

Original cracklebox

Since the new cracklebox has been released by STEIM in 2004, various performers are playing this instrument like Mouse on Mars and Coil. Old crackleboxes have become collectors items. I happen to own a limited edition “2nd release” cracklebox from 2003. Being a “second” and not a first release I don’t know if this also classifies as a collectors item, but that’s beside the point: it still makes an awful lot of noise!

Old and new cracklebox

With the renewed interest in analog electronic music the humble crackle box has generated quite a lot of offspring. A world-wide cottage industry has emerged thanks to the web and e-commerce of small “noise box” manufacturers. Sites like Analogue Haven and NoiseGuide are the trading places and outlets for these builders. Brand names are Audible Disease, Bug Brand, Electro-Faustus, King Capital Punishment etc. Links to the sites of some of these manufacturers are listed in the Links list of this blog.
Usually these builders combine pure analog noise boxes of synthesizers with boutique guitar effect pedals in their product catalog. Being a guitar and synth player and not too fond of playing keyboards, I am always interested in their new product offers.

I own Audible Disease Dementia DM-1 “ultra noise synth” for instance, which although controlled by knobs instead of a touch surface is a direct descendant of the cracklebox to me in terms of sound (noise).

Moody Sound’s BabyBox noise generator is both a noise box and a guitar effect pedal, enabling me to manipulate the noise with my guitar:

A class of their own are the electronic instruments made by Arius Blaze and Ben Houston, a.k.a. Folktek. These devices are genuine sound artworks, also accompanied by the hefty price tags usually associated with art pieces…
But in their “Symbiotic” series of touch based instruments Michel Waisvisz’ crackle box concept and look and feel is still reminiscent IMO, albeit in a far more elaborate design.

So if you are interested in generating spontaneous analogue noises, you now have a wide range of devices to choose from, starting with a simple STEIM cracklebox to a unique and expensive Folktek sound art piece, all depending on your requirements and budget.

Found a funny video on the Synthopia web site today: the development of electronic music from John Cage to Aphex Twin in 3 minutes.

Although the selection of artists is questionable and not at all complete (where is Kraut rock apart from Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and ambient music, industrial bands of the ’80/’90s?) and a lot of emphasis is put on HipHop and Dance music as the drivers of electronic music, it is still funny to watch 50 years of electronic music compressed into this short video sequence of 3 minutes:

The video was posted on the YouTube channel of R41N570RM.

Another original take on the timelines of electronic music is Ishkur’s Guide To Electronic Music. This Flash app uses contemporay Dance styles (House, Techno, Trance etc.) as entries to map the development of styles and substyles from the seventies onwards, providing sound fragments of each substyle in the map. A very useful tool to get acquainted with the numerous sub-genres available in todays electronic music scene.

I watched a Chris Cunningham VJ performance at the last STRP Festival and wasn’t that impressed by it. Thought it was too much of a paste-up of older music video’s, a bit like the trailer below:

But today I accidentally stumbled across this video annex remix of a Gil Scott-Heron song (remember “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised“?) on his website and this really is impressive, both as a 6 minute video and a song. This remix is actually telling a story, instead of just being a sequence of random image and sound fragments.
Apparently this “New York is Killing Me” video/remix was shown on 3 screens in the MOMA somewhere in September, 2010 as part of the PopRally program.

Check out:

Currently MU gallery in Eindhoven is exhibiting “funware” or “software dealing with this Fun-factor in software development”. Seventeen projects of funware artists are shown in which playing with software is the starting point, are being brought together in MU.

The exhibition includes the “Naked on Pluto” work by Marlous de Valk, one of the most well-known Dutch funware artists IMO.
She is part of GOTO10, an international collective of artists and programmers working in the field of digital art and Open Source Software. She is also the editor of the FLOSS+Art ebook, which “critically reflects on the growing relationship between Free Software ideology, open content and digital art. It provides a view onto the social, political and economic myths and realities linked to this phenomenon”. Worthwhile to check out the links and free e-book if you are interested in software-as-as-an-art.

Daan Roosegaarde is quickly becoming the most well known of the new “Dutch Digital Design” group of artists.


Daan Roosegaarde: Liquid space 6.0

Check his latest project “Lotus 7.0”: a living wall made out of smart foils which move in response to human behavior on his cool Studio Roosegaarde web site.

Trailer Lotus7.0 by DaanRoosegaarde

If you are interested in the history of electronic and experimental music, including recordings and instruments, you should definitively check out this book: Electronic and Experimental Music – Technology, Music and Culture by Thom Holmes.

The first edition of this textbook appeared already 20 years ago. The current 13th edition begins with the early history of electronic music (Cahill, Varese, theremin, ondes martenot) and ends with Afrika Bambaata, hiphop and turntablism. It provides a global view of electronic music culture and therefore is not restricted to “contemporary” composition, but also includes jazz, rock and hiphop artists. The book focuses on what the author calls the history of the “marriage of technology and music”, fueled by the idea that many techniques and concepts dating from the earliest developments of electronic music still govern contemporary electronic music.

lectronic and Experimental Music- Thom Holmes

Aimed at instructors and students, it is accompanied by a (free) web site, which contains summaries of all chapters in Powerpoint format and a very useful list of online resources. A must read for lovers of (electronic) noises!


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