January 8, 2013

The Problem with Interesting Music

“Interesting” is both the go-to faint praise for managing a conversation about someone’s mediocre art (“I thought it was really, um, interesting”) and the highest value to which contemporary creative work aspires. Beauty could never hold that dual responsibility. You can’t bullshit someone by telling him his terrible modern dance piece with spasms of sexualized coughing fits was “really, um, beautiful.” Interestingness is not a passing trend. The German social theorist Niklas Luhmann argued that every social system has its own binary code (in law, it’s legal/illegal, in business it’s profitable/unprofitable), and art’s has been interesting/uninteresting since the advent of modernism. It used to be beauty, but beauty got kicked to the curb just like moral instruction several centuries prior, according to Luhman. That would come as news to fans of Andrew Wyeth paintings or the crowds who throng to André Rieu concerts, but to anyone who has seen the inside of a seminar room in an art or music department, the primacy of interestingness is axiomatic.

What makes something interesting is open to debate, which is exactly the point. (more…)

July 26, 2012

Arduino Talk

I’m giving a talk about custom MIDI controllers with Arduino at Code 42 today at 6 PM. Late notice, I know, but I’ll put my slides up tomorrow. For now, you can check out the Arduino code for the MegaNome here: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B_KTeGhE8i6HUW9DajNGZ1Vrd2c

Here’s the slideshow for the talk: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1o2I8dQnhTKCgiakCF5px4p4KY_yonwDm-MazNML9Qq0/edit


May 7, 2012

FutureMusic Summit

I’m really looking forward to this gig. The Future Music Summit is an experimental music concert series and conference at the Round Top Institute near Austin Texas. On May 12th, I’ll be talking about cyborg musicality and opening for Mari Kimura and DJ Spooky, who is playing Steve Reich remixes with the Telos Ensemble. More info at http://futuremusicsummit.com/


April 12, 2012

Minneapolis Maker Faire

The bots and I play for the home crowd of makers, geeks, and freaks at the Twin Cities Maker Fair this Saturday, April 14. This show will mark the debut of not one but two new pieces of gear: the kick machine and the MegaNome controller, which is a big grid of illuminated square arcade buttons that I hit during performances while thrashing around in mock ecstasy. You don’t want to miss THAT, do you? Here’s a taste the robo disco blues that will be the hot genre this mid April.


February 21, 2012

Pimp My Monome

If Xzibit had a show about DIY, left-field electronica, I’m sure he would approve of this purpleheart and curly maple case for the Arduinome I’m building.


January 1, 2012

Time to Get Out and Play

At the end of 2010, Jazari was a four-piece, acoustic robo-band that had just welcomed the hi-hat machine into the fold. One year later, the group boasts snare and kick machines, an acoustic wobble bot, vocal processing with the Android app I released last January, lots of looping controls, digital effects on the drum sounds, and a smattering of synthesizers. All these toys make practicing a lot of fun, but it’s time to get these sounds in front of people. Step one in that process is the original mini mix above. Step two involves a lot of heavy lifting and driving, so that’s going to wait for warmer weather, but enjoy step one! Share widely, and grab the free download.


November 23, 2011

Freaky Deeky

While known for its lakes, Minneapolis is also blessed with an abundance of unnatural resources like the experimental public access TV show Freaky Deeky. As a program that defies description, taste, and the better interests of epileptics, Freaky Deeky offers an ideal platform for tribal techno of the robotic variety, which is what Jazari will be serving up as the house band on Nov. 27 at 10 PM CST. Sear your retinas here: http://freakydeeky.tv/.


November 6, 2011

New Spaces, New Sounds

I live in an apartment that shares no common walls with any other apartment, which makes my building something of an architectural freak. For a couple years I’ve been under the impression that this unique layout allowed me to make a lot of robot noise without disturbing anyone, and I was half right. The neighbors on my floor can’t hear me from their apartments, and I thought the same was true of the neighbors above me. But I was wrong. Apparently, one upstairs neighbor has been suffering through late night jam sessions while wrapping her annoyance into a tight ball of passive-aggressive Minnesotan rage. Because I’m a nice guy, and because I got tired of electromechanical furniture dominating my living space, I rented a real rehearsal space.

As it turns out, this was a great idea in its own right. Being able to play with normal volume is very liberating and completely changes how I practice. I’m able to balance the instruments better, build up thicker textures, and simulate a real performance. I got a little giddy with that freedom during my first full day in the space, and I dropped my planned session of scales and rhythm exercises for hours of self-indulgent jamming, which in a one-man improvisatory band, is actually the point of the enterprise. Who else would I indulge? But I digress. I recorded about half an hour of spontaneous beat creation and melodic noodling, and while there are some awkward moments and some loops last too long, I like the overall vibe. Unlike earlier tracks, these are mellow beats that aren’t in a hurry to get anywhere. Synths amble around in a bouncy reverberant space grounded by regular patterns in the djembe and auxiliary percussion, and enough weird stuff happens to avoid ambient chillout blandness. That said, it’s background music. Anyone listening for structural narrative in the modulation scheme will be…well, let’s just stop here and say that anyone who listens for the structure of modulation schema probably endured a harsh, though rigorous, upbringing in the former East Germany and deserves our support and patience. But that person will be bored Scheißelos by this track. Other people, however, may enjoy listening to this session while distracting themselves with homework, chores, or any one of the many brilliantly stupidly brilliant single-serving tumblrs on the internets. I recommend Fuck Yeah Menswear.


September 30, 2011


Other people’s music can be interesting too, and I thought I’d share some sounds that I’m digging.

Chicago juke music has been around for years, but I didn’t stumble upon it until recently, so for those who, like me, haven’t hit up underground dance parties on the South Side in a while, a brief introduction: Juke is derived from Chicago house music and hip hop but turns the tempo way up to around 150 bpm. The rhythms are intensely syncopated and often create tempo ambiguities; you’re not sure if the beat is at 75 or 150 bpm. Both are often viable listening strategies and you can choose to hear the music at either, allowing you to perform perceptual gestalt flips–who doesn’t enjoy a good gestalt flip? Juke has an associated dance style called footwurk that features manic legwork, and “footwurk” is sometimes used synonymously with “juke” to refer to the music itself. This article in New Zealand music mag Rip It Up delves deep into juke/footwurk’s origins. Here’s an off-kilter exemplar from Chicago dance music polymath Chrissy Murderbot.

Closer to my own practice, Archie Pelago uses a complex setup of laptops and live instruments to create an improvisational beat-based music that draws on jazz and dance music.

Cities Aviv is a Memphis-based rapper who likes to stretch out highly textured samples from classic R&B, chillwave, and jazz and let them bake in the sun for a while before applying a high sheen of reverb. I don’t listen to lyrics so I couldn’t tell you what he’s rapping about. Probably money, women, and his own skills as a rapper, but that’s just a guess based on what I’ve read about rap music.

Coastin by Cities Aviv

To stay true to my roots, some modern composition. I’ve always enjoyed Salvatore Sciarrino’s work for being ultra modern without being dogmatic and for maintaining a sense of joy and wonderment against the angsty, neurotic gloom that characterizes a lot modern music from composers of his generation. The violin caprices are tour de force of technique that I’ve had the good fortune to hear live twice. Here’s a taste:

Speaking of angsty, neurotic gloom, one composer who does it better than almost anyone alive is Austrian Georg Friedrich Haas. His piece for chamber ensemble Wer, wenn ich schreie, hörte mich? (Who, when I scream, will hear me? — do you see what I’m getting at?) is one my all time favorites pieces. It makes great use of cymbals to augment shimmering dissonances, and creates a massive sense of foreboding with slowly accelerating, swooshing chords in the brass and strings that move in and out of phase. To hear Haas in a mellower mood, check out his second string quartet, which is gauzy spectral work in the mold of Grisey.


July 1, 2011

Fragmentation & Acoustic Dubstep

Releasing four videos in the past three weeks gave Voloco, my Android voice processing app, a jolt of attention that boosted downloads. That’s mostly good, as it allowed thousands of people to sound like a cross between Roger Troutman and the Terminator while moving about with their hands free, which we can all agree is a real contribution to society. Unfortunately, the app didn’t function properly for certain folks who did not hesitate to report their displeasure to the app’s comments page. I understand their frustration, but what is particularly frustrating for me is seeing reports that the app doesn’t work on devices that I actually tested it on. One user reported that the app crashes on a Nexus One, which of course is the Android development phone–the same phone that I have used Voloco on for hours without a crash. This user was using a non-standard version of Android, but it still grates. Fudge.

I may opt to revisit iOS for my next app. I hate their development tools, but the test matrix is four devices and three versions of the OS instead of 300+ devices and who knows how many flavors of the OS. If you have downloaded Voloco, and it works or doesn’t work (and I believe it works for a solid majority of users), please do one of the following: If it works, write a thoughtful, honest review that makes copious use of words like “MAGISTERIAL,” “MIND-MELTING,” and “APOCALYPTICALLY AWESOME.” If it doesn’t work, send me an email that mentions the device model, Android version, and the nature of the problem. Actually, if it works and you want to suggest improvements, write a review along the guidelines specified above and then email your suggestions.

In other news, I hooked up the wobble machine to a wah wah pedal tonight, mic’ed the drums, and rocked several hours of acoustic dubstep and electro insanity. I stopped when the tendons in my hand got sore. That’s a good practice session. The video shoot and recording session is two weeks from tomorrow, and it will be a crunch to put two tracks together before then, but I’m confident something ridiculous will fall out of it. If you want to be in the fallout zone when the videos drop, hit the Facebook Like button at right.