The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘electronic music’

There Will Be No More Birthday Celebrations, and Other News

September 28, 2016 | by

The insignia of a master.

  • Mike Davis was an artist, and the irate company-wide memorandum was his canvas. Few in the history of humankind have recognized the savage beauty of this lowliest of media. But Davis—the erstwhile head of Tiger Oil Company, and now dead at eighty-five—shattered the limits of the form with routine ease, showing us just how big an asshole one man could be to his employees. Consider his memos a spin-off of the Theater of Cruelty: “ ‘There will be no more birthday celebrations, birthday cakes, levity or celebrations of any kind within the office,’ the boss wrote on Feb. 8, 1978. ‘This is a business office. If you have to celebrate, do it after office hours on your own time.’ … ‘Do not speak to me when you see me,’ the man had ordered in a memo the month before. ‘If I want to speak to you, I will do so. I want to save my throat. I don’t want to ruin it by saying hello to all of you.’ ”
  • It’s hard enough to get a human being to pay to read your book. Now robots are refusing to pony up, too. Google has just “fed” some eleven thousand books to its artificial intelligence, hoping to teach it how to talk like a real boy. But even though they’re rolling in the dough, Google didn’t pay any of the authors of these books, Richard Lea writes: “After feeding these books into a neural network, the system was able to generate fluent, natural-sounding sentences. According to a Google spokesman—who didn’t want to be named—products such as the Google app will be ‘much more useful if they can capture the nuance of language better’ … ‘The research in question uses these novels for the exact purpose intended by their authors—to be read,’ [Authors Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger] argues. ‘It shouldn’t matter whether it’s a machine or a human doing the copying and reading, especially when behind the machine stands a multibillion dollar corporation which has time and again bent over backwards devising ways to monetize creative content without compensating the creators of that content.’ ” 

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A New Machine

September 19, 2016 | by

Don Buchla with one of his instruments.

Don Buchla invented some of the first electronic instruments—not synthesizers, he insisted, but electronic instruments. To him, the word synthesizer implied some attempt at emulation, as if these new machines could do nothing more than imitate preexisting sounds. Buchla believed that his inventions offered an aural palette every bit as distinct as a trumpet’s or a clarinet’s. It was only marketing that made listeners hear something derivative in them.

An instrument has to exist long before performance techniques can be developed and a repertoire arises,” he told Keyboard Magazine in the eighties, explaining why there are so few new sounds in the world:

Because of this, the market for the instrument doesn’t exist for many years after the R&D that goes into developing a truly new instrument. With short-term profits a primary motive, the big corporations are simply not interested … When you open up those other possibilities, you'll alienate the people who are coming from a rock-band orientation and want instant gratification. They don’t want to have to figure out some other relationship between their actions and the instrument’s response. Read More »

Urgent Questions for Librarians, and Other News

June 2, 2015 | by


A question to an NYPL librarian from October 1976. Photo: NYPL, via the Guardian

  • “My idea of hell on earth,” Philip Larkin wrote once, “is a literary party.” He had in mind the Oxford parties of his era, which, much like the Oxford parties of this era, comprised “a lot of sherry drill with important people.” But what if those parties were in fact really entertaining, as at least one guest avows they were? “God, they were fun. Ever since Mrs. Dylan Thomas, at a literary party, stuck her elbow into the bowl of ice cream that T. S. Eliot was eating from, before presenting it to the great poet with the instruction to ‘Lick it off,’ these things have been democratic, argumentative and often memorable.”
  • “Please give me the name of a book that dramatizes bedbugs?” “What is the significance of the hip movement in the Hawaiian dance?” “Is it good poetry where every other line rhymes, instead of having each line rhyme with the one before it?” Questions for librarians at the New York Public Library before there was the Internet.
  • Saul Bellow’s portraitist remembers their encounter: “Bellow talked all the while, about life in New York when he was younger, his cohorts and various writers. What a duplistic moment for me: I had to ask him to be quiet so I could take some close-ups. He was fidgety even while cooperating. He picked up a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets and began reading, first quietly, and then aloud. I listened for a few minutes, and cringing apologetically, shushed him again.”
  • If Louise Erdrich could go back in time, she’d go to prison, as long as the company was good: “I am stranded for a few days in a comfortable jail cell with Walt Whitman and Henry James. I take one side of the room, share a bunk with Emily Dickinson. We listen in on their awkward conversations, exchange sharp glances of amusement.”
  • Max Mathews, who died in April, wasn’t the first person to make sounds with a computer—but his experiments with an IBM 704 mainframe in 1957 were the first to use “a replicable combination of hardware and software that allowed the user to specify what tones he wanted to hear.” He was the first computer musician: “He provided the initial research for virtually every aspect of computer music, from his early work with programming languages for synthesis and composition … to foundational research in real-time performance … Max also helped start the conversation about how humans were meant to interact with computers by developing everything from modified violins to idiosyncratic control systems such as the Radio Baton.”

The Serviceable Prose of Jules Verne, and Other News

July 16, 2014 | by


An 1884 caricature of Jules Verne from L'Algerie, a magazine.

  • On reading Middlemarch and being twenty-one: “Eliot’s ability to describe people was, in its subtlety and depth and scrupulousness, so many levels above my pay-grade. My own attempts were feeble in comparison. ‘He plays bass and dislikes capitalism and has long hair and an intense look,’ I’d say to a friend in explaining why I liked a certain guy, and the truth was that it was the best I could do.”
  • Jules Verne was unquestionably imaginative: a science-fiction pioneer. And yet … “Verne may be a master of sorts, but he is not a master of high art. A casual reader, even in English translation, can see that Verne’s prose is rarely more than serviceable and that it gets overheated when he presumes to court eloquence … Each of Verne’s heroes is a nonpareil, the most remarkable man in the world—as long as the reader is immersed in his particular story. Only in other Verne novels—and in television commercials for a Mexican beer—can one find his equals.”
  • Dungeons & Dragons has turned forty, and, “for certain writers, especially those raised in the seventies and eighties, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives.”
  • Archie will die by taking a bullet for his gay friend. “Archie taking the bullet really is a metaphor for acceptance,” Archie Comics publisher and co-CEO Jon Goldwater said, in case you didn’t get it.
  • From Bach to Deadmau5: a prehistory of electronic-music festivals traces their roots to the nineteenth century.


Andrew Pekler, Cover Versions

April 4, 2014 | by

Andrew Pekler is an electronic musician based in Berlin; Resident Advisor has described his music as the “cold alien groove of a midnight jazz café reemerging in the world of clicks and bleeps.” I came to him by way of a video, “Composition No. 1 for Electronic Toothbrush, Voice, and Synthesizer,” in which he plays a Philips Sonicare toothbrush—with his mouth, in the usual way—to harmonize with a Moog Prodigy synthesizer. It’s an entrancing wash of beautiful, dentally hygienic sound.

Pekler works primarily from found materials. His latest album, Cover Versions, draws from the music and imagery of postwar exotica records—those kitschy aural forays to faraway lands, rife with congas, vibraphones, and theremins. With an eye toward a certain aesthetic, Pekler bought dozens of secondhand records and appropriated their music and their covers for his own work. Cover Versions was printed in a limited run of three hundred (all of them, alas, long since spoken for), each with its own individually designed cover; featured here are thirty of Pekler’s favorites. He explains his process: Read More »