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Preparing for the Undefined

Tomorrow I will be performing with longtime collaborator, industrial / experimental DJ extraordinaire and early sometimes-mentor Deftly-D as Zero Times Infinity at Decibalia VI. Zero Times Infinity was the first music project I was involved in seriously, and although we rarely play out, it is always a treat when we do.

The work I do as Ukuphambana is, however experimental, always a pretty well-controlled and self-directed process. This is not at all the case with Zero Times Infinity, which is at its heart an improvisational group. Although we rarely play out, schedules and priorities being what they are, I really look forward to it when we do. Not only is the experience itself both different and rewarding, but I find that working collaboratively generates fresh ideas and approaches, which inevitably find their way back into my solo work. It’s also an opportunity to reconnect with my musical roots, in the sense of having no idea whatsoever whether what I’m doing is going to work or not, or where things might lead.

Sometimes it works out beautifully, sometimes it’s a disaster, but it is always glorious and unexpected and loads of fun.

New Track: Quaternion Dimension

So, 2012 is shaping up to be a good year for bringing things to completion. Up at SoundCloud is another new ukuphambana track.

[Note: track no longer on Soundcloud]

This is another example of the sort of time-travel remixing I described in a previous post, though it is not actually the track I was describing there. (That one has itself gone dormant and awaits another day for its turn.)

This one started out as a live jam six or seven years ago. A year or two after the initial jam was recorded, I took a first stab at editing it into a finished track, adding some squiggly acid-style synth lines and recording some some inspired but very sloppy keyboard jamming. That was about 2006. After that first attempt, the first version of the track sat 80% finished on my hard drive for another six years until I felt ready to give it another stab.

After blowing the dust off, the first thing I did was edit mercilessly, removing over two minutes of unnecessary noodling. The second thing I did was meticulously recreate my live jam, note for note, as a programmed sequence. This meant keeping all the quirks and nuance of the initial performance, but removing the awkward, horrible timing which plagued the original version. Then, just to keep things from getting too boring, I decided to leave the original take in as a barely-audible background element; in that role, the dodgy timing winds up sounding more like a sort of subliminally shifting echo of the main version.

After doing that cleanup work, I was ready to finish the remaining 80% of the work required to finish off the track and release it to the listening public. And yes, if you’ve ever completed a long project, you know that this math works out perfectly well. And if all that sounds like more time and energy than any sane person would invest, then … you’re right.


Sound Design: Rockaby

After writing my last post, I recalled that experimental filmmaker Trisha McCrae also used a FreeSound recording of mine in a short independent film. Her film is available on Vimeo here.

The recording used was used was of an old, creaky rocking chair. It’s sound is audible throughout the film. I’ve gotten comments from other folks on FreeSound that they’re using or have used my sounds, but without following up or sending me links, so I can’t do much with that information.

Putting My Sounds To Work

So, I got a comment from a freesound user informing me that he had used one of my recordings in a track he wrote. It’s a sort of ambient thing, quite nice. You can listen to it on SoundCloud.

I had wondered how long it would take for something like this to happen, and also how it would make me feel when it finally did. Happy to report that it makes me feel pretty good, actually. I may start releasing bits and pieces of more organized unfinished work — beats, tunes and such — just to see if anyone picks up on any of it.

Or I might completely forget the idea. Time will tell. This definitely nudges me a bit further in the direction of doing it, though.

When In Doubt, Tidy Up

Closing in on the last month of the year now, and I have at least three new tracks, each of which is about 80% done. I’m not certain that I’ll finish them all before the new year begins, but that’s my new goal. Will post here whatever happens, of course.

It’s always a challenge to resist the urge to spin off in new directions, and instead push current work over the finish line. On the other hand, having several projects nearly done is better than my normal rest state of having dozens of projects barely finished. Progress!

My Sounds, Let Me Give You Them

A big part of my creative life has always revolved around the raw sound of things, much more so than composition in the traditional sense. I’ve got a pretty good ear for melody, and I’m decent with beats, but I’m still a sucker for a nice sound. There’s a reason why I still listen to (and create) noise, as well as ambient bits and pieces. It’s something I enjoy enormously.

Having said that, I have to confess that I’ve always been of two minds about releasing such things. I find that most noise recordings don’t hold up well with repeated listens. Hearing them live, as part of a performance piece, is often a fantastic, visceral experience.

The same is true about a lot of ambient, sound-collage, or other “experimental” sound art that I’ve heard. It’s wonderful in passing, but it doesn’t hold up as well over time. Your mileage may vary, of course, and there are exceptions: there are certain Merzbow albums I’ve listened to over and over, and I own recordings of Stockhausen’s early works that I consider worth their weight in gold. Those are exceptions, though. I have far more recordings of that nature that I’ve listened to once or twice and then not gone back to. And rarely do I hear a noise track and immediately want to go back and give it another listen.

I wonder whether many noise artists would admit it, but for me, it’s often much more satisfying to create those tracks initially than it is to listen back to them later. And when I release things — properly release them, for other people — I’d like them to be of lasting value instead of a transient thing. Maybe that’s vanity, but I create a lot more material than I’m ever going to give a proper release. I also have hours upon hours of recordings of, say, me banging around on bits of metal, or field recordings of train stations and thunderstorms.

So this brings me to my point: my original intent with this material was to use it in more polished tracks, either as sample fodder, or background textures. But I have way, way more of this stuff than I’ll ever use. What to do with it all? Deleting it seems wasteful, and simply hoarding it as I have been doing feels both wasteful and selfish.

So here’s the deal: it’s yours. And yours, and yours…and yours, too. I’m putting my samples, recordings and bits of unreleased noise and experimental bits up on the web, for anyone to use. For now, I’ve settled on donating it to the FreeSound Project. If you use any of it, in addition to respecting the Creative Commons licensing, please drop me a line and let me know where I can hear your stuff! It would make me really happy to see this material get the love and attention I can’t presently give it.

A direct link to my FreeSound page is in the sidebar (to the right of this post). So far, there are only a handful of files, but I will be uploading more in the near future. If I upload even a fraction of my sound library, there will eventually be hundreds of files. Share and enjoy!

Getting Out There

With the advent of spring, things are starting to move again on the music front. There have been some big changes at Gritware Studios: all but the choicest hardware is now gone, either sold or donated in my ongoing simplification efforts. I’m learning Native Instruments’ software suite and regularly experimenting with new musical ideas again.

All to the good.

I’ve got a studio schedule roughly worked out in my head. I might post it here when it becomes more concrete. One thing I’m absolutely committed to is spending a bit more time getting finished (and possibly in progress) material out to listeners, as well as working on new material. (Part of that should probably include posting here more than once every five months.)

In the meantime, though: I’ve made some updates on the ukuphambana SoundCloud account. There are now two sets, one for completed new material, and another for odds and ends from the archives that I don’t expect to give a proper release. I may create a third set for incomplete or in-progress material, or I may do something completely different for that. Still working it out.

I’m also setting up a Bandcamp site so that full ukuphambana albums will be available for purchase soon.

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