037: David Toop
An interview with David Toop + album downloads and our writers panel on Autechre's 'SIGN' and Oneohtrix Point Never's 'Magic Oneohtrix Point Never'
|Oct 26, 2020||5|
David Toop is a musician, field recordist, author and professor of audio culture and improvisation. His first album, New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments with Max Eastley, was released on Brian Eno's Obscure Records in 1975. Since then, he has released dozens of albums, both solo and with collaborators including Paul Burwell, Steve Beresford, Toshinori Kondo, and Scanner. Among his many books are an early study of hip hop, Rap Attack (1984); a history of ambient music, Ocean of Sound (1995); and a memoir, Flutter Echo (2019). This fall, he has two new albums out on Room40, a collage of field recordings collected throughout his life called Field Recording and Fox Spirits and an immaculately produced series of sonic set pieces called Apparition Paintings. Matthew Blackwell spoke with Toop via Skype on October 14th, 2020 to discuss Edgar Allan Poe, the nature of field recordings, and the problem of time under capitalism.
Photo by Fabio Lugaro
Matthew Blackwell: Hello David!
David Toop: Hello Matthew.
How are you doing in quarantine? I was reading your book [that accompanies Field Recording and Fox Spirits] and you mentioned that you were actually happier in lockdown than you were in January. Is that still the case?
(laughs). Yeah, to an extent, I guess. It’s been an interesting time for everybody, and a difficult time. But I think generally I’ve responded to it quite well, which is partly because of current circumstances in the work I’ve been doing. So yeah, it’s been alright.
You say that you’ve been spending most of your time reading and painting. What have you been reading lately?
I’ve been reading a huge number of books, actually. I read a lot of Ursula K. Le Guin in the summer. I’ve been reading a lot of a writer of Nigerian ancestry, Nnedi Okorafor. I’ve been reading a very good history of American slavery. I’ve been reading a multi-part Chinese novel from the eighteenth century called Story of the Stone. And a lot of research materials as well, for a book I just started writing a week ago.
Do you normally read so many books at one time?
I normally have like one or two books going. But at the moment I have a morning book, midday book, a research book, and an evening book or nighttime book. So that’s very much to do with the pandemic. Just a shift in work patterns, and more time I guess, but more composure to be able to read in that way. But I haven’t been able to read like this since I was in my teens or twenties.
I’ve found the same thing—usually I read one or two books but lately I’ve been reading four or five. I find it a bit frustrating, actually, because I’ll be in the middle of a lot of books, and rather than reading straight through one I’ll just jump between several. Can I ask which book about slavery you’re reading? In my day job I’m a professor of American literature, and I’m actually currently teaching a course on slave narratives.
Okay, yeah, I’ll have to go get it to remember the author. (David goes to get the book). Hi, I’m back. It’s called American Slavery and it’s by Peter Kolchin. Have you come across that one?
I have not read that one, no—the one I’m reading right now is The Half Has Never Been Told [by Edward E. Baptist], which is about capitalism and slavery. One thing that I was wondering in regards to [reading and painting], is that I was looking at your website for the London College of Communication, and it lists one of your research interests as “listening to silent media such as painting and literature.” Could you explain what that means? I was a bit puzzled by “listening to silent media.”
(laughs). I wrote a book in 2010 called Sinister Resonance, and in that book I focused on listening to paintings. Well, painting and also writing, particularly fiction. But paintings were at the heart of it. I concentrated on a Dutch painter called Nicolaes Maes, who was a pupil of Rembrandt when he was a very young man—a teenager in fact. Nicolaes Maes painted a series of paintings called The Eavesdropper, which depicted scenes of people listening. Overhearing, in fact, overhearing people speaking, or overhearing the sounds of other people. And that set me on a path of thinking about the idea of paintings as a sort of recording device, an audio recording device that existed prior to the existence of audio recording and its invention in the 19th century. So that’s what that means, I guess. It’s a bit more straightforward with literature, because literature is full of descriptive passages about listening. So Joseph Conrad, for instance, is full of examples. Painting, obviously, is a little bit harder to grasp, and in a sense is, I guess, a controversial idea. I did contact a few art historians about the idea, but none of them particularly wanted to talk to me (laughter).
Well, it took them into realms of conjecture which they were not happy about. Which I suppose is one of the advantages of taking on a subject if you’re not a specialist—you can do things that would otherwise threaten your job as a tenured professor (laughs) to make wild claims of that sort. But anyway, that’s what that means.
In your interview with Lawrence English [in the aforementioned Fox Spirits book], you cite the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe as an important encounter. Are there any particular Poe stories that influenced you in a similar way, in thinking about reading in terms of listening?
Yes, “The Tell-Tale Heart” was really the one that got to me. I read those stories when I was very young. I don’t exactly know the date, but I know that my sister gave me a copy of the collected stories, maybe before I was a teenager, when I was 10 or 11 or something. And it had a profound effect on me, partly because of this atmosphere of hyperacusis that exists in Poe, and the intensity of feeling that applies to all the senses, really. But there are some of the stories that really focus on listening, intensive listening. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is—I’m sure you know the story—but it’s a sort of extraordinary tension played out around the idea of not hearing a sound, or of hearing a sound that may or may not be there. And that develops into the protagonist—the murderer—chopping up the body and putting it under the floorboards and then hearing this heartbeat, and when the police come, the heartbeat gets louder and louder until it’s something he can’t ignore. So either it’s a supernatural story or a psychological story but whichever it is, I found it profoundly affecting when I was very young and it stayed with me ever since.
Sound becomes a sort of index of the narrator’s interior state more than an exterior phenomenon, in that sense. Did you ever read “Berenice,” which is a story where the narrator is almost catatonic, from an observer’s point of view, but in the story you get an interior monologue of him describing how he’ll stare at a shaft of sunlight while it moves across the room for 12 hours at a time. And when I read your take on Edgar Allan Poe, that’s what I thought of, this very extended attention to your surroundings.
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. And I read all of his stories when I was very young, and some of them stayed in my mind and some of them didn’t, but I read that book cover to cover and then selected stories many times. And I think that’s a very important part of what developed into a practice for me, that sustained attention, almost a fixation or a meditation on phenomena that is deeply introspective and mesmerizing. I became fascinated with that.
For [another publication] next month, I’m going to review the Victor Segalen book that you wrote the introduction for.
Oh wow, that’s finally coming out, is it?
Yeah, it’s coming out soon, I believe in November or maybe even sooner. [Correction: the book has been delayed until March 2021]. I haven’t gotten my copy yet, but I’m looking forward to it. Could you explain a bit about Victor Segalen and his importance, not only to literature but to people like Debussy?
Yes, I think I came across him while reading about Debussy, or researching Debussy. I got interested in him as a sort of polymath of his time. You know, a person who was involved in so many different things, a writer, an aesthete, a traveler, and a sort of diplomat, all kinds of things he was involved in. And these kinds of collaborations with Debussy, which never quite came off—you get the sense that Segalen was desperate to get them off the ground—and Debussy was kind of reluctant. He was encouraging on the surface, but you get the feeling that Debussy was happy to talk about them, but not happy to do the work.
There was always this fascination with the book about sound, In A Sound World, and it had never been translated. Some years ago, I spoke to a French woman about translating it, and she made a start and then she didn’t get very far with it, and the whole thing… she sort of disappeared. But it’s always been a project that I was keen to get going, because it seemed to me that the book was extremely important to anybody interested in sound studies or anybody interested in the history of listening or a history of representation of listening. And very few people seem to know about this book. So finally, I talked with Marie Roux about it, somebody I knew because she was a friend of a friend of mine—Rie Nakajima out of this group called O Yama O which I really liked. And Marie said, “Well, I’d like to do it.” And so that’s how it happened. And since then we’ve been waiting, I don’t know, two and a half years or something for anything to happen. So when you tell me you’re going to review it, I think that’s great, but I feel like I’m the last to know.
Oh really? (laughs). Could you tell me a bit about the plot? It’s about a scientist who gets lost—he creates a sound world, but then he gets lost within it, is that right?
It’s structured very much like an Edgar Allan Poe story. In fact, it’s very much like “Fall of the House of Usher,” and I can’t help thinking “Fall of the House of Usher” was a very big influence on it. It begins with somebody visiting the house of an old friend, and the old friend has turned into a kind of nervous wreck because of their hypersensitivity. But in the case of the Segalen book, it’s somebody who’s constructed a sound world for himself, so he’s shaped his environment so all of his stimulus is basically coming from sound. It’s clearly influenced by the physics experiments of the period, because there’s a lot in there about resonance, and he talks about resonators in a way that suggests he’d read Helmholtz, and Helmholtz talking about resonators and the effect of resonance on sound. So it’s really about a kind of madness that would happen if we move from our visiocentric or opticentric way of perceiving the world to an audiocentric way of perceiving the world. And I guess it’s unique in the sense that it’s maybe the first book, or one of the only books, that has ever experimented with that notion.
Do you think there’s anything to that notion, that we’ll go mad? That way lies madness, if we become too focused on sound?
(laughs). Well, if it was true, then I would be half-crazy. I mean, some people might say that I am, having devoted so much of my life to listening practice and music and sound and having deliberately moved my focus away from visiocentrism. Yeah, I would be suffering badly by now I think, but actually I think I’m a fairly balanced person (laughs).
Let’s talk a bit about Field Recording and Fox Spirits. I’m fascinated by the fact that all these recordings are from your personal archive, which goes back fifty years or so. Just on a practical level, how were you able to keep the physical recordings around for so long? How did you keep this recording of the wasp, for example, which is from 1971?
Well I have quite a big collection of cassette tapes from that period, and every time I’ve moved they’ve travelled with me, and somehow miraculously they’ve survived. And they also survived as audio recordings. I think if I’d used reel-to-reel tapes they wouldn’t have survived because reel-to-reel tapes of that period are notoriously fragile. They’re very low-quality recordings, but they’re still there, and I can still play them. So yeah, I don’t know—I’ve just been writing about a gift that my aunt gave to me in the 1960s, probably, of all of her 78 rpm records, which of course were fragile, breakable, these shellac records. She had a collection of records she bought in America in the 1950s, rhythm & blues and rock & roll and a little bit of jazz, and I had already lost those by the time I was twenty. I suppose they were just too difficult to carry around with me, you know, moving from one place to another as frequently as I did. So yes, it is a miracle that I've kept those cassette tapes. And I can see them here now, they’re on the floor right by my chair in this work room.
(laughs). Yeah, they’ve become very precious objects. And in fact, I did make an exhibition of them a few years ago. Somebody had seen something or read something I'd written about—in fact, it was a Wire piece I wrote about these cassette tapes—and a curator, a woman who runs an art space, asked me if I’d make an exhibition of them, so I did that. So yes, they’ve become very precious objects.
Let’s go back to this recording in 1971. Can you tell me about the recording of this wasp? What drew you to the sound of this wasp and why did you record it? You said this is the first field recording you had ever made?
Yes, I can’t really remember it. All I remember is that I think I was given a Christmas gift by my parents of a mono cassette recorder. Very poor quality, but to me it was an amazing thing to have this recorder. One of the first things I did was to record any sounds that were around me. I guess I was in the West Country of England for holiday purposes, or making artwork, and I was recording pigs and sheep and wasps and things like that. It’s like the first thing you do when you get something like that; you’re just excited at being able to do something so simple. And actually I think the recording is quite nice. Somebody said something to me recently that it was the first time they had ever listened to a wasp. Which I found difficult to believe, because with a wasp, as soon as you hear one, you’re sort of on your guard, really.
(laughs). Right, I certainly recognize a wasp as soon as I hear it.
Exactly. Yeah, it seemed strange to me. But I suppose what they meant was that they’d never listened to it carefully. They had never listened to the constituents of the sound. Which makes sense, because, going back to this visiocentric idea, many people recognize sounds, but they’ve never listened to them in any detailed way. And I think when I first got that cheap recorder, it allowed me to listen in a different way, in the sense that I could record the sounds I was already hearing and then listen back to them and study them, as opposed to listening to records, which were the sounds that somebody else recorded. So you know, it was a very important moment for me. And of course, the next thing I used it for was recording music. As a recorder, it was completely unsuited for that purpose. It was mono, the quality was very low, and it also had a limiter, so as soon as you started playing loud the limiter would cut in and the level of the recording would drop dramatically. But it was the only thing that I could afford at that time. I was buying very cheap cassette tapes, which made it infinitely worse, of course.
But there’s something about those recordings, there’s an atmosphere which is almost magical. If you use noise reduction processing, which is quite sophisticated these days, to isolate the sound, in other words to separate the signal from noise, you find that there’s almost nothing left (laughs). All of this strange magic is actually coming about because of this fusion of tape noise, transport noise, hiss, hum, all the rest of it. Which makes it a really complex sound picture, which is nothing to do really with the original sound that you were recording. But of course, if you listen to these things over a period of time, they become somehow your emotional reading of the recording. So it’s actually quite disturbing to clean the tapes up completely. You taken away your own memory of the recording.
In a way it’s like restoring a painting that we’ve come to know a certain way, you strip off that layer and the colors are now different.
Yeah, absolutely, suddenly it seems too bright and too fresh and you think, “Where's the age? Where’s the antiquity?” But of course the antiquity is partly just dirt (laughs). And I guess we have this idea about antiquity that it’s dirty, because buildings get blackened with age and so that’s a natural way to think about them, but of course when a building was first made it would have been fresh and bright and new-looking. Those old cathedrals… (laughs).
You say you have this recording that you don’t remember taking. I wonder if you have any memories of the reverse, which are sounds that you remember but that you didn’t have a field recorder handy for, or that you couldn't record for some reason.
Yes, but that’s… (thinks for a moment). I think I talked to Lawrence [English] about the recordings that get away. And the one that really sticks in my mind is when I was in Laos about eight years ago, and I had terrible jet lag. Jet lag that lasted about a week, and you know the severe kind of jet lag where you just can’t sleep at all. And in the middle of the night, every night at around 3 or 4AM, I would hear this extraordinary sound from the city, of gongs and bells. And what it was, was a sort of call to prayer from the Buddhist temples. And there were many Buddhist temples in the city of Luang Prabang. Of course, I had a recorder there, a Zoom recorder, and I tried to record it, and it was hopeless. I mean it was just pitiful, the results I got. Because of course, the sounds were distant and they were all coming at different times from different points of the city. So they were too far away and they were too dispersed throughout space. And I just gave up, because it sounds so pathetic, really, compared to my own listening impression. And I’ve since thought about that, and wondered how you could do it. And I don’t think there is anyway that you could do it. You know, you could set up recorders close to each temple and synchronize them all, or you could use various devices to bring the sound in closer but you would never get that listening experience that you get as a human being hearing that complex sound event.
Do you think that approaching that event as a sound recordist added to it or detracted from it? Because you might not have thought about it in the same way had you not had your recorder there, but at the same time you might not have been so frustrated with the technology.
I think I would have been more frustrated if I hadn’t had a recorder there because I would have thought I’d missed a tremendous opportunity (laughs). And if only I’d had my recorder then I would be able to listen back to this sound. But having the recorder there proved to me that actually it was impossible to record. So it meant I focused on it more closely as a listener. I thought, “I’m never going to be able to take this away with me, so I want to experience it as deeply as I can.”
But I know what you’re saying, yes, the actual technology can make you feel very different about sound events and I mean, that applies to music very often. Your perception of a piece of music that you’ve played or heard is changed dramatically by the recording. And if the recording is not so great, then sometimes it can make you feel that the event itself was not so great. That often happens, maybe not so much now, but it used to happen more often when recording technology was at a different stage. You’d feel great about a gig, and then somebody would send you a recording. And you think, “Ah, this is not very interesting at all.” Actually the worst thing was when people used to send videos. So you’d feel great about a concert, and then somebody would send a video with a locked-off camera at the back of the room, completely boring video, and you’d find it so dispiriting to watch this thing. I used to throw those things away just because it was too much of a risk to watch them.
The album, Fox Spirits, features recordings of conversations with Ornette Coleman and Derek Bailey. I assume you’ve got quite an archive of interviews, so what makes these particular conversations fitting for the album?
Actually, I don’t have much of an archive, because when I moved house seven years ago I knew I was going to have to cut down on my stuff. So I donated almost all of my interview tapes to the British Library. So that meant I gave them a huge box of tapes of all the interviews I’d done since, I don’t know, the 1970s. Most of them were from the 1980s, actually. 1980s onwards. I think there were a few things I overlooked or a few things I kept back, and also mostly I gave them cassettes, so I didn’t give them minidiscs and I didn’t give them digital files for some reason. But I knew I was going to be writing a book on free improvisation [Into the Maelstrom: Music, Improvisation and the Dream of Freedom] so I kept back anything relevant to that, which included the Ornette Coleman and the Derek Bailey interviews.
But actually, I think there was more to it than that, because those two interviews are really important to me. The Ornette Coleman because I think you could say that my breakthrough into listening to that kind of music came from listening to an Ornette Coleman album which I bought in 1966, an album called This Is Our Music. That record was, in a way, a bit of a shock, but it really changed my listening to some degree. And then Derek, I had known Derek since the beginning of the 1970s. I played with him and had known him really well, I'd had many conversations with him and I’d interviewed him many times as well, for various publications, for various reasons. That particular interview that I used on Field Recording and Fox Spirits was the last one I did before he died. So you know, there’s a sentimental feeling about both recordings I suppose. And also, the way they both spoke was very compelling. The way that Ornette, for example, would speak in this very puzzling way. He’d make statements and I found myself nodding my head and thinking, what does he mean by that? Then Derek, he had his Yorkshire accent and his very blunt way of speaking which is stereotypical of Yorkshiremen. But he could be very amusing, and very fascinating. If he started talking about his past or his ideas about improvisation, you know, it was mesmerizing stuff.
Do you consider Fox Spirits to be an autobiographical album, or maybe even an autobiography in sound?
To some extent, a very sketchy one. I wrote an autobiography which was published last year [Flutter Echo: Living Within Sound]. But actually, thinking about field recordings was something that happened before that. I think about a year before that I was invited to play a set of my own field recordings and I found that a really perplexing request. It was something I had not really done before. And it made me ask myself the question, “What is a field recording to me?” You know, is it typically the kind of thing that people say of field recordings, which could be anything from wildlife sounds to sounds of a bridge or industrial machinery or whatever it is, you know, air conditioning? And I thought, “Well to me there’s more to it than that,” because I have all of these recordings which are very personal in some way, which range from recordings of my daughter singing, which are very poignant, or these interview tapes that I’d made while I was working as a music writer, or music researcher. And then music rehearsals—or not exactly rehearsals, but just practicing together. In a way it comes back to what we were talking about before, these cassettes. One of the unifying factors was that many of these things were on cassette. So they were these objects, archival objects from my past. I think at some point I decided, when I was planning for this gig I was invited to do, I thought, “Well, to me it’s all field recordings.” To some extent what field recordings means is an autobiographical sketch of my life in sound, as you so rightly say. Maybe it’s in some way similar to the character in the Victor Segalen book, who has tried to reconfigure his life in terms of auditory experiences. That was what was going on.
You told Lawrence English, “I’ve followed an autobiographical path for some time now and maybe this reached its limit.” So what are the limits of autobiography? Perhaps the limits are different for your written memoirs and this new album?
I think I was partly saying it to be awkward (laughter). ‘Cause he asked—his first question was asking about memory and sound and I thought, “I don’t want to start there.” In a way it felt a bit too obvious, and I felt I’d really done a lot of that in recent years. A lot of my writing is to some degree autobiographical because I always feel it’s more honest in certain respects to speak from personal experience as opposed to speaking from a kind of scholarly, academic supposed neutrality. I guess it was a technique of writing I’d used since I wrote Ocean of Sound in 1995, to follow a path that is to some degree a personal one. In a way I wanted to try to get away from that, but I also didn’t want that as a starting point because I felt I’d—I don’t think I’ve used it up. I’ve been writing early today to some extent autobiographically about how I came to hear a particular record. So I think there’s still potential in it.
Good, you had me worried for a moment.
(laughs). Why were you worried?
I thought perhaps that you had reached the end of your practice. That somehow, I thought that maybe you were having a crisis and that you were going to completely change direction, but I like the autobiographical work.
Well thank you! Yes, I’m always having a crisis in terms of my practice. I think a practice isn’t healthy unless it has a plentiful supply of crises. But I guess I was just thinking about it, considering it. And also that conversation was right in the middle of quarantine, you know, and so it was intensely introspective. I had barely seen another person face-to-face and I had barely had another conversation for quite a few months by then, and I sort of recognized the dangers of intense introspection, of becoming an Edgar Allan Poe character (laughs) who’s starting to hallucinate sounds that aren’t there. So there might have been a certain amount of resistance at that point to what, in other circumstances, is a perfectly healthy way of going about your practice. To think about your own personal experience, at that point—yeah, it was beginning to get a little bit spooky.
Alright, so I have this question, and I don’t know if you'll have an answer for me. But I wanted to think about the problem of time, and especially time within capitalism. Capitalism is limited to this sort of narrow concept [of time] that focuses on the next quarterly report or the next pay check, but I like what you say about field recording: you say you’re “thinking about a time signature that extends out beyond the temporality of music. It's not in 5/4, it’s in 1975 or 1994.” So I was wondering if field recording is a way to get outside of this sort of constrained imagination of time that we’re forced to adopt.
Well I think that’s absolutely right, and I mean we were talking earlier about histories of slavery, and one thing that comes across very clearly is this model of capitalism where slaves were given Sunday off to do supposedly life-enhancing things but the rest of the time their day was brutally structured in terms of what the potential was, starting at the earliest possible moment and finishing at the latest possible moment. So in a way you have a model of capitalism right there in slavery.
One of the things I felt when this pandemic took hold in March was that in a way I was released. I mean, I wasn’t at a pragmatic level released, but certainly at an emotional level, and this is why I felt better than I had at the beginning of the year. At an emotional level, I felt released from that constant pressure, particularly the pressure in neoliberal capitalism where you’re supposed to to be maximizing every aspect of yourself all the time, and anytime you’re not on Twitter making the most of your attributes is time wasted. I have this archival sense of time as part of what I do, that I’m constantly circulating back to periods when in a certain sense I was at my most useless and impractical, when I was almost completely disengaged from the machinery of capitalism. And of course, you know, those times have been a wellspring for me. I’ve gone to them time and time again and found material that is immensely useful to me.
But it’s not in any conventional sense a practical use of time. That’s something I’ve always struggled with—I’ve always resisted, I’ve done my best to avoid those situations however I could, I’ve never really flourished even though I’m what you might call a productive person, somebody who likes to work on what they do. I’ve never really been at ease, or efficient you might say, in that framework. So to be released from that—that’s why I found that I could read again in the way I had before. In a way, I could’ve read more beforehand, but my life as it had been beforehand—always traveling, always being on call for something or other, fulfilling commissions and so on—was a kind of treadmill that destroyed my ability, psychologically, to be able to do those things.
And it’s been an extremely enlightening period for me, these last seven months. You know, it’s allowed me to think about time in a deeper way. I was very influenced when I was young by an artist called John Latham, whose work was all about time. He talked about temporality as a different way to live, in the same way that Segalen talked about sound. I mean, they’re the same thing really, because sound is a temporal medium. It’s soundwaves, so they exist in air but they’re not physical objects. John Latham talked about a space-based perception as the thing that determined the way we live, and he felt there was a division between space-based and time-based, that you couldn’t integrate a world that had those two ways of thinking about being in them. Whereas he said that, time-based thinking could integrate the two. Well, I mean, his work was very difficult to grasp, and I don’t know if I agree with it, but it was hugely influential on me and it certainly encouraged me when I was in my early twenties to think more deeply about time. So that has been a constant thread throughout the whole of my practice.
I suppose that when you were a child running around with your first recorder, that was a very anti-capitalist mode of being itself, running around the neighborhood and seeing what you could listen to. And then returning to those tapes is again very anti-capitalist. You’re spending a long time thinking about the past rather than the immediate future.
That’s right, yes, I think that many people feel that thinking about the past is a waste of time. But to me, the past—I wrote something the other day which said, “Here come the ancestors, bringing the future with them,” and that’s the way I think about it. If you’re delving into memory and archives, then in a sense you’re dealing with the future anyway. It’s very strange, as I’m saying this, I’m hearing sometimes loops of what I’ve said coming back at me [through the Skype call], so I’m having to deal with the past immediately, as I speak now, about the future… about the past (laughs). I’m confused now!
But yes, the activity of recording mundane sounds could be seen, and certainly was seen at that time, as a waste of time. There were more productive things to be doing. And certainly from my point of view, having no money at all when I was doing those things—I wasn’t a child by the way, I was twenty, twenty-one, so you know, I should have been working but I wasn’t working. I was recording wasps and pigs and strange music. And that in itself created a crisis because I wasn’t figuring out a way how to live within the capitalist system. In a way, you could say that most of my life has been about developing strategies to on the one hand survive, but on the other hand avoid as much as possible this capitalist system.
Well may I say, I think you’ve been successful at it, to the extent that one can be.
Well thank you. I never wanted to live in absolute poverty, but I did live in absolute poverty some of the time, in my twenties, and after that I managed to find ways around it, quite often by writing, actually, which seemed to me the best strategy for avoiding it. I’ve been a professor for twenty years now, but such a distant professor that quite often people don’t know who I am.
(laughs). People on campus, you mean?
Yeah, yeah yeah yeah. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll be retiring from being a professor next year. Retiring from academic life.
You’re going to quit teaching?
I don’t really teach that much more anyway, I have one Ph.D student left now, and I do occasional tutorials with people, but I don’t really do any teaching. I’m there purely for research now.
Well, we’ve talked for about an hour and we’ve not hit on Apparition Paintings yet. Can we quickly do an exercise? I love the titles, and they’ve all come from books and movies if I understand correctly. Can I throw out a few of my favorite titles and you can explain a bit about where they come from?
Okay, so: “A ghost traveling half a mile from its own shape.”
Oh, you should know that!
I should know this? I have no idea, I don’t want to guess and expose my ignorance.
No, it’s William Faulkner.
Oh, okay! From which work?
As I Lay Dying, I think.
Oh dear. I’m going to get fired! I can’t let my superiors see this interview.
(laughs). I know! A professor of American literature who cannot identify classic Faulkner.
How about “For believing (you were a strange beautiful unearthly creature from a faraway planet)”?
Oh yeah, that's from a Douglas Sirk film. Now which one is it from? It’s from one of his earlier films. (thinks). I can’t remember the name of the film, but yes, it’s from… is it from a film about people who do stunt flying? That sounds vaguely familiar. But yeah, I remember watching that film, I was watching a Douglas Sirk season on Mubi, the streaming service, and that line came out and I thought “That’s incredible.” And I wrote it down and I thought “That’s a piece of music.”
It is! I will research his filmography and see which—I’m not familiar with his work, but I bet we can hunt down which film that’s from. [Note: It is from The Tarnished Angels, which is based on a William Faulkner novel called Pylon]. Let’s do one more: “Some of them (to isolate themselves even further, beat their own ears until the tiny bones within were crushed).”
(laughs). That’s Antonio di Benedetto, his novel Zama, which in fact I first came across as a fantastic film made by an Argentinian filmmaker, a woman named... oh what’s her name, she's a brilliant filmmaker. [Note: David is thinking of Lucrecia Martel]. I nearly met her when I was in Buenos Aires a few years back and didn’t, unfortunately. Anyway, she made this film called Zama and I liked it so much that I tracked down the novel, which is also great. It's fantastic.
These are wonderful. If nothing else, I'll track down these films to watch.
Yeah yeah yeah! Did you recognize the Marilyn Monroe?
I did not.
That’s “You could touch him but he wasn't there,” and that’s from The Misfits, which was written by Arthur Miller, of course.
Ah, okay! I bet that a lot of people will get that one.
Yeah, you would hope so. I mean again, I was watching the film, it was on some digital channel in the afternoon, and I was watching it. It was a while since I’d watched it and she said that line and I thought, “Wow.” And you think about the line in terms of her personal history… it was fantastic.
A lot of these lines, it strikes me now, are about isolation or leaving: a ghost traveling half a mile, a creature from a faraway planet, trains leaving, people isolating themselves even further. Is that a conscious choice, or did you realize that it was a theme?
It wasn’t a conscious choice, you might argue that it was an unconscious choice, or a subconscious choice if we still believe in those words. There was something that maybe added up to a theme, but no, it wasn’t something I really thought through. One or two of these lines started jumping out at me, and it was as if they were saying to me, “Time to make a new record.” They gave me a feeling about pieces of music that I hadn’t had for a while, and so in that sense they’re thematic. But in terms of their deeper psychological significance, I think I would have to leave that to you to decipher.
I mean, maybe isolation, I’ve lived alone for the last seven years, and often in a state of semi-isolation. And there’s something about getting older and living alone in these titles, I’m sure. And there’s also a sense of wonderment at the condition of being alive that is something to do with getting older. I mean, getting older can go in different ways according to how you feel or who you are—you can just feel utterly miserable about the whole thing and find it painful and boring and depressing. Or you can think, the world, the phenomenon of being alive, is really an extraordinary thing. Which of course leads you to think about environmental issues and global heating emergencies and politics and capitalism and all kinds of things.
David, that mix of optimism and pessimism is a perfect note to go out on, I think. So I want to thank you for taking the time. It’s been a real pleasure to talk to you and to meet you.
Same here. I've really enjoyed it. You know, interviews can be rote exercises at times, but I very much enjoyed this one. It’s been great to talk to you, and I also apologize for exposing your lack of knowledge of every single sentence William Faulkner wrote (laughter).
Well, I’ll make sure that none of my superiors see that. I’ll keep up my air of knowledge when I’m on campus, at least.
That’s the thing to do, yes! That’s what I do, keep up my air of knowledge!
Every issue, Tone Glow provides download links to older, obscure albums that we believe deserve highlighting. Each download will be accompanied by a brief description of the album. Artists and labels can contact Tone Glow if you would like to see download links removed.
Alan Sondheim - T'Other Little Tune (ESP Disk, 1968)
Even for New York’s ESP Disk, which by 1968 had already released iconic free jazz breakthroughs by Albert Ayler and Sun Ra, Alan Sondheim’s T’Other Little Tune is out there. While there is some instrumental music, it doesn’t sound so much like jazz as much as a jazz band constantly rehearsing without ever beginning to play. Most of the instrumentals are overlaid with or outright interrupted by extremely imaginative tape manipulation and musique concrète experimentations. We hear what sound like bells or marimbas fed through a constantly-malfunctioning cassette player, and a squeaky, inhuman voice shouting “beautiful! beautiful! beautiful!” A track called “Rock” does indeed feature something like rock, albeit chopped-up and interspersed with the morse-code bleeps of a Moog under extreme duress. This was Sondheim’s strangest, most uncompromising release—and fifty years later, it still shocks. —Mark Cutler
Mind Design - 1991-1994 (TRANSONIC, 2000)
While the 90s Japanese techno scene did have several musicians crossing over internationally like Takkyu Ishino and Ken Ishii, quite a lot of music not picked up by European labels still remain in obscurity. The diverse roster of Kazunao Nagata’s label TRANSONIC RECORDS falls under this category. During its ten year life-span beginning in 1994, TRANSONIC put out nearly a hundred releases. Since a lot of the original releases were out of print, the compilation/reissue series TRANSONIC ARCHIVES was launched in 2000, with help from the major label POLYSTAR.
MIND DESIGN’s 1991-1994, one of the compilations released as part of this series, is remarkable in many ways. It can be compared to the contemporary techno scenes in Detroit and the UK, but the interesting thing for me to talk about isn’t the similarities between these scenes, it’s the differences. MIND DESIGN consisted of Tomonori Sawada and Koji Sakurai, and both of these members have worked in game music. In 1992, while the duo still was active, Sawada joined Sega. While the music still has more in common with the UR World 2 World EP than Hisayoshi Ogura’s Darius II soundtrack, tracks like “DREAM TRANCE” and “ABSOLUTE SCIENCE” (incidentally, this was actually a commission for a Pulseman arrange album) still reminds me of the carefree attitude in game music.
Most of the material comes from their only full-length release, VIEW FROM THE EDGE from 1994. While most of the music has a fast tempo, it feels relaxing instead of stressful. However, “PHONETIC” is a track that sticks out: originally released on the Welcome to Neo-Tokyo EP on Alan Oldham’s (DJ T-1000) label Generator Records, it’s an acid trance track that’s more aggressive than anything else on here. The compilation ends with “SKYWALK,” the last track of VIEW FROM THE EDGE. It brings nostalgic childhood images to mind and makes me think of how fast everything passes by and how nice it is to just sit down and not think about anything. —Rose
Hair Police - Drawn Dead (Hanson, 2005)
These days, Robert Beatty might be best-known as everyone’s favourite graphic designer. However, long before he designed most of the best album covers of the last decade, I first became familiar with Beatty as the frontman of Hair Police. Even within the pretty fringe American noise scene, the Kentucky band always seemed like outsiders. Their music was more abstract than Gang Gang Dance or Black Dice, and more abrasive than Wolf Eyes or (most) Yellow Swans. Over a few years in the mid-2000s, Hair Police released a truly prodigious number of CDs and CDrs, cassettes, LPs and 7”s (and one 6”). I picked this one because it’s a great Hair Police record, because it feels like an appropriately unsettling listen for the week of Halloween, and because the cover is one of Beatty’s earliest design credits. The stark, monochrome parallelism of Beatty’s art here feels like a much sketchier echo of Beatty’s latest and possibly last collaboration with OPN—dead simple, and yet strangely ominous, even off-putting.
The first track opens with the distinctively-00s sound of a guitar distorted and blown out until it sounds like bitumen in a washing machine. But whereas contemporaneous acts like Lightning Bolt and Goslings would take that same sound and bend it into towering, doom-rock melodies, Hair Police simply let it go, and go, and go. There are wiry screeches and high-pitched, almost-human whines, which continue sporadically across the album, but nothing ever coalesces into a tune, or even a rhythm. Rather, the primary mood is one of relentless, sonic vituperation. Drawn Dead feels like standing inside a building as it gradually, almost patiently crumples under thirteen tonnes of molten rock. It’s that patience which makes listening to this album genuinely unnerving. —Mark Cutler
Every issue, Tone Glow has a panel of writers share brief thoughts on an album and assign it a score between 0 and 10. This section of the website is inspired by The Singles Jukebox.
Autechre - SIGN (Warp, 2020)
Press Release info: None.
Mark Cutler: elseq remains one of my favourite albums of the 2010s, but it also inaugurated a period of extreme prolificacy which shifted my overall feelings about Autechre’s music. Their relentless output; the massive, elasticated tracks; the way fans traded and scrutinised live bootlegs before the band itself started dropping five, seven, nineteen hours of soundboards at a time… I started to feel that Autechre had become, in effect, a jam band, albeit one with extraordinary, self-playing instruments. Ae began the lead-up to this album with a series of Twitch streams comprising vintage video game play-throughs and what sounded like new music Autechre playing. At first, fans assumed this music was a preview of an unreleased project, and promptly began making and exchanging stream-rips of the audio. Gradually, however, the chat discerned that the audio was actually being generated, in real time, using the video as input. The revelation seemed to confirm my darkest suspicion about the band: that their infamous System had reached such a point of sophistication, that it no longer required human intervention or curation.
Enter SIGN. This is the band’s most melodic, most concise album in a decade. elseq and the greater share of NTS Sessions seemed primarily concerned with the architecture of sound, crafting complicated and sonically cavernous loops of synth and percussion, and then letting those constructions play themselves out for eight or fourteen or twenty-three minutes at a time. These structures were elaborate and interesting to hold our attention for their durations, but those durations themselves sometimes felt arbitrary insofar as the music didn’t seem to follow any arc. SIGN is the first time in a while that Ae appear to be writing songs with definite beginnings, middles and ends. Perhaps they aren’t, and it’s still just The System churning out whatever it sees fit—but in that case, the band’s curation has still decisively shifted. I can’t say that, for sheer, baffling complexity, the tracks here quite reach the highest heights of the elseq/NTS Sessiosn material. However, some of the songs here are gorgeous, melancholy, even heartbreaking in a way the band's music has seldom been since their Amber/Envane days.
Ryo Miyauchi: Autechre meditates upon a series of sublime electronic sounds in SIGN. Following the trend of their past works, the duo presents plenty of moments to fully observe and revel in the colors and textures of a certain synth hum, but each sound exists in a lot more vacuous, static atmosphere than their more aggressive, freewheeling outputs of recent years such as elseq and the NTS Sessions. Sign lies instead closer to the duo’s works from their second decade like Quaristice and Oversteps, where they let the songs freely idle and allowed the listeners to approach the pretty sounds at whichever angle they pleased. I don’t scour for riffs and melodies from Autechre as much as I simply look forward to getting lost in the sea of thick, metallic sounds. The new record provides a soothing palate cleanser to the digital glut of recent releases, but I do prefer Autechre records with a lot more physicality, with amoeba-like synths restlessly folding in itself to produce infinite new mutations.
Sunik Kim: Let’s talk about the cover art: It’s not very good. There’s no way to spin it. Sadly, in a way that it technically ‘shouldn’t,’ the art affects my perception of the music: its ‘eclipse’-ness immediately evokes ‘sci-fi’ imagery, something something ‘space’ ‘cosmos’ ‘ethereal’… this is dangerous territory. Much of SIGN, though pretty, is one or two steps away from a kind of (dare I say it) cinematic music—a moody, synth-y Trent Reznor soundtrack stretched out, made lighter. As I’ve mentioned before, Autechre has something for almost everyone (within reason). But I personally go to them for their one-of-a-kind rhythmic vision, their ability to smash a drum line to dust and piece it back together—‘club music’ taken to its most psychedelic and head-exploding extreme. SIGN is still, steady, almost placid: it disperses and envelopes rather than fragmenting, coalescing, sharpening—it slowly, slowly descends, passes away. In the process, there are breathtaking moments (“F7” opens up in a gorgeous way, despite sounding almost too on the nose at first). But ultimately, even four or five listens later, nothing here warrants anything higher than what I’m giving it.
Nick Zanca: The approximate duration of the music Sean and Rob released this past decade is more or less equivalent to how long the average person can function without sleep. As two hours became four became eight, their trajectory evolved into a presence akin to a cybernetic jam band or digital improv ensemble, and yet, no matter how cold or generative the music renders itself, one cannot unhear its human interventions. Perhaps this is why I approach their NTS Sessions in the way I would a behemoth Cecil or Coltrane recording—they’re congruently persistent, hypnotic, otherworldly and yet far more organic than the initial assumptions might prove. In its highlights you can hear the humans rummaging the pockets of their Max patches; I can even hear a colossal bonfire continuously being stoked in the subtle shifts of the drone that marks its final (finest) hour.
It’s tough to temper one’s expectations with new work by old idols, so of course I would be underwhelmed by SIGN’s tonal suppression through the first playback for what I’ve laid out above. To follow up a palette of such inexhaustible possibility with what is effectively a dialed-down dive back into the ambient idiom felt anticlimactic at first, but like all of Autechre’s highs, the emphasis on sculptural strength is self-evident through repeat rinses, validation that one will never step into the same river twice in the act of listening.
Marshall Gu: Every new Autechre album often has listeners framing it through other Autechre albums, and so I can already imagine some people comparing this to Oversteps, a more friendly-textured, melody-driven LP from ten years ago that was also their last not-multi-hour album. And the ambient tracks that comprise a great deal of SIGN sound like shorter versions of NTS Sessions 4 or the long tracks that ended Quaristice. Even the bubbly “si00” could’ve been on EP7! The newest Autechre album actually sounds like every other Autechre album, which is not to disparage their reach, but released in a year characterized by a global pandemic and economic hardship, some have already likened these beats to the times even though they could’ve been made in 2008, 2010 or 2013.
I like a lot of this, mind you—the drum programming on “M4 Lema” finally declares itself, only to be swallowed whole; there’s ominous bass that creeps in partway through “si00” to off-set the bubbly early-techno synths; “sch.mefd 2”’s bright synths sound like they’re filtered underwater; “th red a”’s use of Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Chrome Country”’s intro chords spaces them out further; a metronomic beat pulses gently and holds the throbbing waves of “psin AM” together—but I like almost all Autechre albums, and don’t find this one anything particularly special. Not for 2020, and not in their discography.
Maxie Younger: At this time in their careers, Autechre appear to have settled in as a more or less known quantity in the ever-widening field of experimental electronic music; their creative process, which has always been one of iteration and refinement, has reached a point where most if not all new work draws from an increasingly lived-in palette. Take, for instance, SIGN’s closing track “r cazt,” whose lurching, horn-like drawl stands in close company with the blares of the opening track of 2005’s Quaristice, “Altibzz.” Read charitably, such callbacks and parallels serve as a testament to Sean Booth and Rob Brown’s laser-focused vision and remarkable consistency of output; after all, it hardly seems fair to complain when Autechre make music that sounds like Autechre. It does, however, seem apparent that a dedicated fan may find SIGN to be one of the group’s least essential offerings.
This isn’t to say that any of the work on SIGN is explicitly weak or unchallenging. Far from it, as it contains some of Autechre’s most nakedly beautiful work of the decade (“F7,” “esc desc,” “Metaz form8”): tracks that carve esoteric melodic figures from walls of glacial ice, twisting to meet harmonies that breathe in jagged tandem, each texture refracting back in on itself, creating small pockets of infinity. Alongside these tracks are some appropriately mangled beats and slow-moving ambient digressions that both tended to have a recursive effect as I listened: the thought that popped up in my head most often was “if Autechre made an Autechre album.” There isn’t anything on offer that’s wholly unexpected.
Ultimately, I think what you’ll get out of SIGN is reliant on a few different interrelated factors, most of them tied to your overall familiarity with Autechre. If you’re a longtime listener, I have a hard time seeing SIGN becoming your favorite project of theirs; most of what it offers was done earlier, and perhaps better, on previous releases. If you’re just now getting into them, however, I think the album does serve as a pretty good summation of Autechre’s appeal in the current day, and delves into each of their usual rhythmic and textural haunts without the intimidating length of releases like the NTS Sessions. Stay a while, but not for long: there’s more rewarding work of theirs be found.
Joshua Minsoo Kim: I have a complicated relationship with IDM in that I find the pretty stuff too saccharine and the challenging stuff pretty benign. Perhaps that’s why Autechre remain one of few acts in that world I think are worthwhile: at their best, the “challenging” stuff is pretty, or at least forces me to appreciate the beauty within and because of the haphazard arrangements, structures, rhythms, whatever. SIGN is a nice moment in Autechre’s discography because it allows for me to consider the reverse: can the pretty stuff be challenging? For many, the challenge will be in caring about this stuff after elseq, the NTS Sessions, and Twitch streams. But I’m telling myself that that’s dumb, that maybe I should stop searching for moments of “shock” and instead enjoy the sheer craftsmanship on display. “F7” bests OPN at his own game, “si00” has enough disparate textures that it proves disorienting if you allow yourself to be in that headspace, and “r cazt” swells and flutters in the most romantic of fashions. The challenge is in letting yourself be entertained, and with Autechre it’s never so difficult—you just have to calibrate.
Eli Schoop: The new Autechre record is a Big Synth album, the kind that announces itself loudly with wide-ranging tones and moodmaking. There is this incontrovertible seriousness throughout, possibly gesturing at something, but failing to make what that something is known. The craft is certainly there, in true Autechre fashion, but it lacks their trademark abandon and unpredictability. What good is an Autechre album if they don’t make you hear something you can’t fathom? But then it hit me: SIGN is just a poor man’s version of Syro.
Yes yes, I know it’s lazy to compare Aphex Twin and Autechre, but deadass everything done on this LP just pales in comparison to its older brother. The synth textures, the patterns in the compositions, the metamorphosing over the course of each song—Syro absolutely blows it out of the water. This isn’t just an excuse for an Aphex Twin vs. Autechre argument either; if you’re going to make an album similar to another revered contemporary, you’d better bring your A game. Of course art is not to be simply compared yadda yadda but given a reminder of a better album in the same vein, I’d be remiss not to bring it up. Within this context, SIGN is not going to be something worth revisiting.
Shy Thompson: When I first started to get “serious” about music listening as a hobby, Autechre were among the first artists to help me capture a fascination with electronic music. Tri Repetae was unlike anything I had heard at the time, and it pushed me down the rabbit hole of Autechre’s many odds and ends; I wanted to hear everything so that I could understand it better. Electronic music, or more specifically, IDM—or “intelligent dance music,” a term Autechre’s Sean Booth rejects as silly—represented an endless frontier of possibilities for me. The ceiling for music made by machines was constantly being raised as technology continued to rapidly evolve, and the prolific output of artists in this sphere was proof to me that this facilitated a wealth of creative ideas. I got on message boards, trawled music sharing blogs, and hit up peer-to-peer file networks to collect everything I could find by artists like Boards of Canada, the labyrinthine network of Richard D. James aliases and projects, and, of course, Autechre. The intentional veiled mystique of electronic artists kept me interested, and the vastness of their output made me want to collect everything—I was also addicted to collecting Pokémon cards, so this probably speaks to something fundamental about my personality.
I was happy to obsess over this stuff and I felt my horizons being broadened for a good long while, but eventually I started to feel like these artists were evolving slower than my ability to comprehend new things. I don’t mean this to say that electronic music has reached its ceiling or that it can no longer impress me—a lot of it certainly still does—but somewhere along the line Autechre lost that ability to make me ask myself “what am I even hearing?” I had fallen out of voracious collecting for a couple of years before 2013’s Exai, and giving that album a try confirmed for me what I had suspected was the reason for my lack of the enthusiasm I once had: other things were filling that niche for me now. Autechre are good at what they do and I understand why it’s an event when they release anything new—they’re an incredible, influential legacy act that showed a lot of people something beyond what they considered possible—but they’re not doing for me what they used to. Exai didn’t reignite that fire to hear everything I missed, and SIGN didn’t either; it was everything I expected it to be and feels like I picked up exactly where I left off.
(Continued in my Oneohtrix Point Never review.)
Jesse Dorris: The tiresome chinstroking around Can A Machine Have A Soul attends each new Autechre release like stinkwaves. A banjo is a machine no more authentic than a line of code. A painting is a machine no more noble than a pad. A TikTok of a Persian cat mewling is a machine no less accessible than a field recording of Rob Brown and Sean Booth’s “system” in action. Every track is a machine, so it’s just a matter of which soul you prefer, and I prefer SIGN’s sighing miniatures to the splattercore they’ve elsewhere explored, and like it about as much as the set-it-and-forget-it radio installations.
I could get into why, but since, thirty years on, Autechre still seem to attract so much alienating discourse, here is a list of human track responses. “M4 Lema” is the beguiling moment in John Carpenter’s Christine when the titular hotrod reassembles herself. The descension and squelch of “F7” is like Switched on PC Music. “si00” is Muzak for a clear-cut Rainforest Café. “esc desc” is a faucet from which pours gleaming blades of utility knives. “au14” is the sound of the name of the metal from which it may take its name: hot rolled steel pile. “Metaz form8” is steam rising from NYC pipes around 4:37 on a mid-December morning; sorry, but anything with a Fender Rhodes does, real or manqué. “sch.mefd 2” has a hi-hat that sounds a lot like “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” and drips a lot like wearing pants into a bath and then returning to a violent room. I have terrible vertigo, and the gritty streaks of “gr4” remind me of when I once whited-out ascending an escalator and came to moments later, rising among stars. “th red a” is, honestly, sort of boring and also the album cover is uncharacteristically ugly. Depeche Mode’s “Behind the Wheel” goes autopilot on “psin AM” and I hand myself over on a plate. “r cazt” is a love gone wrong.
Oneohtrix Point Never - Magic Oneohtrix Point Never (Warp, 2020)
Press Release info: An eponymous album is a symbolic highlight in an artist’s career. Though often reserved for the beginning of a catalogue, the tradition has also been evoked to designate a celebratory body of work that looks back and epitomizes a defining cultural moment. Oneohtrix Point Never categorically challenges most standard notions of linear thinking in music, constantly shifting within traditional paradigms, unwinding and re-weaving digital sensory triggers into contemporary sonatas. Out today, the Drive Time Suite of “Cross Talk I,” “Auto & Allo,” and “Long Road Home” (which includes vocals by Caroline Polachek) serves as a prelude for the eagerly anticipated return from Daniel Lopatin, the New York based artist and producer, whose name has become synonymous with era-defining art.
At the end of 2019 Lopatin soundtracked one of the most unanimously critically acclaimed film scores of recent history, an anxiety-driven joyride paired to the Safdie Brothers’ noir thriller Uncut Gems. Prior to that release, Lopatin’s celebrated album Age Of (Warp 2018) foreshadowed a universal feeling of shifting tides that cuts even deeper today in the current state of world affairs. Now, Lopatin turns the dial towards his own inner frequencies, drawing from the origins of OPN as a means to discover a new found sense of levity and spirit during tumultuous times. The structure of Magic Oneohtrix Point Never “mOPN” itself loosely summons the broadcasting logic of radio dayparts, starting in the morning and ending overnight, latticed together with kaleidoscopic, twitchy transformations of sound between the dials. Lopatin has long been engaged with radio as a mode of aleatory listening. The now defunct “Beautiful Music” format popularized later as “easy listening” and “new age” are just one of the many colors heard on mOPN. Lopatin also collages together archival recordings of various American FM station’s “format flips”, in which detourned DJ sign-offs collide with advertisements and self help mantras to form darkly humorous reflections on American music culture.
Magic Oneohtrix Point Never, the name a reference to a misheard play on words of Boston’s Magic 106.7, is a nostalgic and self-referential career defining body of work, collaging maximalist baroque-pop within atmospheric glitter. Here Lopatin has mastered his own autobiography; an ornate musical double entendre from an artist making the most enlightened music of his career.
Mark Cutler: I’ve always had a shifting relationship with Oneohtrix Point Never. For many years, I insisted beyond credulity that I “didn’t get the hype.” I’d find myself putting Returnal and Replica on over and over, enough that he slowly climbed towards the top of my Last.FM charts—yet each time thinking to myself that I don’t see what’s so great about this, or really this isn’t so interesting. Some months before announcing R Plus Seven, Lopatin played a free show in my hometown of Brisbane, which I attended only for lack of better Saturday night plans. I spent most of the performance thinking about how uncomfortable I was, sitting on the IMA’s tile floor. Yet I kept listening to him, and eventually, the strange logic of Lopatin’s fragmentary constructions ensnared me. I had to admit to myself that I actually loved this musician who I now listened to most days. By the time of his next Australian tour, a few years later, I’d end up flying interstate to Melbourne for the weekend, just to see him.
Since then, I’ve fallen out of love again. Now that Garden of Delete’s conceptual-ARG pomp and circumstance have faded from memory, the music itself rarely demands revisiting. Despite a few knockout tracks, I struggled to get through two or three full listens of Age Of. The “r trilogy” are albums I still admire, but no longer feel compelled to put on. Now we have this album of minute-long squiggles, acid-y pop songs, and chillwave throwbacks (Elite Gymnastics’s RUIN continuing to be the most influential four tracks of the 2010s). The album has some of Lopatin’s best song-songs to date (“I Don’t Love Me Anymore,” “Lost But Never Alone”), as well as some of his most shapeless, tedious ambient noodling (“The Whether Channel,” before it devolves into two minutes of cheesy Dean Blunt vamping). Sometimes, other OPN albums annoyed or confused me, yet this provocation was precisely what kept me coming back. The most I can say about this album is that it simply is, in all its unwieldy sprawl.
To hear whisperings that this album could be Lopatin’s last under the Oneotrix Point Never moniker produces a mix of feelings, to say the least. As someone who only branched into more experimental and electronic music in the mid-to-late-00s, OPN has been a constant presence in my music-listening life. So, I would be sad to see the moniker retired—but even sadder to see it retired like this. Whereas an album like R Plus Seven felt like a true statement piece, like the culmination of everything Lopatin had explored up to that point, Magic Oneohtrix Point Never feels more like a collection of offcuts and sketches. This is OPN’s first (kind of) self-titled release, yet every track half-reminds me of somebody else. The album’s length and inconsistency make me nostalgic for the gimmick-core of Garden of Delete—an album which, for all its faults, had a clear style and point of view. After several listens, I can’t say as much about Magic Oneohtrix Point Never. Given my history with Lopatin, perhaps this is another album I’ll grow to love in two or three years’ time… but right now, that’s hard to imagine.
Marshall Gu: Following 2018’s Age of, this is another album by Oneohtrix Point Never where Daniel Lopatin apples generous AutoTune to his own voice to warble aimlessly in songs that closely resemble pop song structures without ever once sounding too much like a pop song. Because that’d be too easy, you see. That’d be too good. Yes, Caroline Palochek can sing a hook, but no, no she shan’t. All of these avant-garde musicians go halfway to pop music, careful to still come off as avant-garde enough, and thus, appealing to no one in particular. I’m never sure what to do with music like this—it just looms. And for the record, it’s not merely the use of that tool that turns me off, it’s that it’s not used in any sort of rewarding textural effect. It just sounds dorky.
At his very best, Lopatin’s music sounded like decay. Physical decay, like the abandoned shopping malls still blasting ’80s kitsch hits on Eccojams, but also spiritual delay, as on the vast data centers of R Plus Seven or artificial intelligence fronting your grunge bands on Garden of Delete. There is decay here: the machine of “The Whether Channel” discovering sentience and also the loneliness that comes with; the isolated vocals at the start of “No Nightmares,” enhanced somewhat by the warble, the word “imagine” on the start of “Imago” (evoking another kistchy pop song as that word does) being skipped and looped in a way until the word loses meaning, and the flat drum sound of “Lost But Never Alone.” But the decay isn’t nearly as evocative as it was the last decade.
Shy Thompson: (Continued from my Autechre review.)
Daniel Lopatin grabbed the torch Autechre left behind for me, in many ways. Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1, the album that ostensibly created vaporwave and remains a touchstone for very online musicians and producers, remains one of my favorites; it teaches me something every time I hear it—about how my memory reframes the music I’m familiar with when I’m not actively thinking about, the power of repetition, and how evocative it can be to change an existing work in a simple way. 2010’s Returnal, my favorite album under the Oneohtrix Point Never banner, is a work whose blurry, expansive, noisy sonic landscape made me say “what the fuck” at least ten different times across its 40-minute runtime. Lopatin came back the very next year with Replica, a plunderphonics sound collage of audio from advertisements sampled and pushed to their limits; it was not what I expected, even a little bit.
R Plus Seven ended up losing me completely, and though there were some surprises in Garden of Delete—an album that is introspective, funny, and still pretty strange—the familiar pattern was beginning to repeat itself. As Daniel Lopatin began carving a niche for himself and doing more of what he does best, I started to look elsewhere for the feeling I used to feel. Magic Oneohtrix Point Never—a cute reference to OPN debut Betrayed in the Octagon, which was originally credited to that name—is a collection of new work that’s meant to read like an OPN greatest hits collection. Lopatin revisits the styles of his past with the experience he’s gathered along the arc of his career, and it’s a nice victory lap for the OPN project but reminds me why I ended up bouncing off Oneohtrix Point Never years ago: there are no surprises here. I made my own OPN greatest hits playlist a few years ago and I like it a lot better.
Samuel McLemore: I’ve made the argument before that once an artist exceeds the boundaries of so called “experimental” music and ventures into typical forms—or, in other words, when an artist chooses to build from influences instead of creating anew—then we must start to judge them by the rules of standard composition rather than the rules of the avant-garde. The more similar and common something “sounds like” something else, the more we must demand from it as a listener, if only to differentiate it from others in our memory.
Many of these concerns don’t even enter my mind until something is presented to me as great art, or given weight to it by the culture at large; when considering the stature and popularity of Daniel Lopatin as a musician or the laughable reverence the music press has given him, it’s impossible to not notice how shallow his music can be.
Filled with forgettable fluff that leads nowhere, Magic Oneohtrix Point Never flits hopelessly between badly written stabs at mainstream pop songs and mostly boring attempts at different styles that were showcased to better effect on his previous albums. Maybe he’s trying to sound like a master in all styles—a vaporwave virtuoso, if you will—or maybe the grander conceptual game bears further study. Either way, it sounds cobbled together from also-rans and second-rate material.
Jesse Dorris: OPN started out making kitsch-y kosmiche as beautiful as any of those analog dudes and then worked his way up the art circuit while condescending toward low culture like body horror and thrash. Meanwhile, he collaborated with a certain realm (Anonhi, FKA Twigs, Shannon Funchess) whose work maybe benefited from his fiddling and another realm (Iggy Pop, David Byrne) for moments that sounded like ladder-climbing uncertain of whose foot was where. His graphic design remained impeccable. Now comes the, I guess, inevitable autobiographical career-capper. I don’t believe its sincerity and its winks irritate. Many stars are involved, to an end resembling what Gorillaz alternately embody and critique, and perhaps it’s an intuitive gathering of like-minded artists but to me it sounds like the focus group is coming from inside the house. Sonically it’s, of all things, Air’s 10 000 Hz Legend with the bummed-out LA smog swapped out for smug. The Ghost Box cohort do the Auntie’s-rickety-attic shtick better, Magic 106.7 is as lousy as its host city of Boston, and maybe Lopatin finds this all sentimental but I can’t imagine managing a memory of it.
Evan Welsh: Let me start off by saying I don’t blame him. Daniel Lopatin has been lurking around Brooklyn making incredibly acclaimed experimental electronic music for more than ten years and through consistently magisterial work and persistence he’s ended up working with seemingly everyone (FKA Twigs, David Byrne, Tim Hecker, Moses Sumney, The Weeknd). He’s made a name for himself (multiple actually: Daniel Loptain, Oneohtrix Point Never, Chuck Person, etc.) and it was bound to happen at some point. Out of either boredom or hubris, OPN was gonna shoot to make some more poppy tracks. And what better time to give it a go than on a “radio” album, where a diverse range of styles can all be thrown together with throwaway interludes of dial-tuning as the connective tissue.
To be fair, his last album Age Of was the most accessible record that OPN had ever made, so it’s not like the further pop leanings of Magic Oneohtrix Point Never couldn’t have been anticipated. But even after rising from a hero of the experimental to producing songs for The Weeknd, it seems like Lopatin wants to go even further. Magic OPN sounds like an audition tape to write/produce for any pop artist who’ll hear it.
Some of these portfolio tracks are decent, if not necessarily to my specific taste—my immediate reaction to “No Nightmares” was “This is definitely my favorite song from After Hours.” There are glimpses of the wondrous textures and atmospheres that I’ve always enjoyed most in OPN’s music, mostly on the back half of the album on songs like “Tales from the Trash Stratum” and “Wave Idea,” but just too much hits my ear flat. Ironically, this being a radio concept album, it’s structured like it knows it might give that effect, scanning the stations after a couple of just ok tracks in an effort to maybe find something better.
The feelings of enchantment that I associate with OPN have mostly been left behind in his recent work on the soundtracks to the last two Sadfie brothers movies, and it feels a little strange to think that Robert Pattinson and Adam Sandler are currently bringing the best out of the man that made Eccojams, but if there’s a timeline where it seems like anything is possible, it sure is this one.
Raphael Helfand: This is not Oneohtrix Point Never’s best work. The first half finds Daniel Lopatin doing an extraterrestrial’s interpretation of pop music, a technique he’s used his whole career. But for whatever reason, it doesn’t hit the same way it did twelve years ago on Channel Pressure, which may sneakily still be the best thing he’s ever worked on. There, alongside Joel Ford, he was caricaturing—and paying tribute to, and perfecting—the schlockiness of ’80s electronic pop. On Garden of Delete, he did the same thing less directly with nu-metal. Even on Age Of, the latest and least critically acclaimed record he’s released since entering the public eye by way of TMT, he had specific targets: “The Station” was a song he wrote specifically for Usher to perform (though Mr. Entertainment never got back to him).
Here, the object of interest feels much less defined. Third track/first single “Long Road Home” hinges on a buoyant, major-key version of the synth plucks that populated Age Of, and some wonderfully Gregorian vocal harmony. But rather than an original artifact, it feels like a triangulation of different styles that don’t quite gel. The pretentious lyrics (“Even my dreams kissed in digital gloss / It’s my reality // I don’t know why I don’t wanna transform / Taking the long road home / Alone”) don’t help.
The album turns around on its eighth track with six-minute centerpiece “The Whether Channel,” a refreshingly long stretch of relaxing instrumentation that molts its glossy skin halfway through, emerging as something even more refreshing: a return to OPN's trademark, dazzlingly original style. It ends with a minute-plus of bars from Awful-indebted rapper NOLANBEROLLIN, which merge with Lopatin’s hyper-effected vocals.
From thereon out, the record is an absolute pleasure. The next track, “No Nightmares,” is OPN nirvana, a more joyous version of the baroque electropop of Age Of. (Maybe his polycule with Anna, Dasha and Eli is actually going great.) “Tales From the Trash Stratum” plays like an interstellar field recording. “Imago” and “Lost But Never Alone” find him pulling out every tool in his box and hitting the sweet spots each of his early albums satisfied individually, all at once. The next couple tracks follow suit, each abstracting themselves a little further. Then, on closer “Nothing’s Special,” he reverts to A-side form with a saccharine ballad. It’s a bit disappointing, but it brings the album full circle, and it isn’t offensively bad.
OPN might not hit every album out of the park anymore, the way he seemingly used to, but he continues to evolve, playing with the tropes he’s created. Even the “Cross Talk” interludes that frame Magic Oneohtrix Point Never as a trip across a radio dial in another dimension (a trick he and many before him have already employed) are fun and smoothly integrated enough that they don’t bother me. To be honest, I really enjoy them, which is probably a credit to Lopatin’s elite skill as a sound designer. In the end, I don’t think he’s capable of putting out anything I wouldn’t enjoy.
Joshua Minsoo Kim: The problem with an album-as-radio concept is that it has to actually capture the specific act of changing the dial, hearing different music, and being delighted by what you find—it’s not easy. There’s an inherent surprise even if you know the sort of music each station plays; even when you hear something that is familiar to you, it still feels like an unforeseen victory: here’s three minutes of something you’ll dig, and you won’t have to change the dial for now.
Given Lopatin’s varied career, such an idea for a self-titled LP is apt. The issue is that there’s no shock—he explores sonic gestures he’s done in the past and, even worse, none of this is as captivating as the best material strewn across his lengthy discography. I get that the idea is to have sketches, but this proves detrimental for two reasons. One, it congeals all of his electronic excursions into a cohesive but bland whole, failing to capture the sporadic nature of radio listening. Two, the more fully-formed pop songs stand in stark contrast to the others for how fully-formed they are. They remind me of Yves Tumor, Jam City’s Dream a Garden, and Lopatin’s work with The Weeknd. And while Lopatin’s music has always aped synth masters of the past, this is the first time where I feel he’s lost his own distinct color. Maybe it’s like listening to the radio after all: I hear this, think it sounds like other stuff I know, and am content with forgetting it existed. He’s never sounded more ephemeral—good for him.
Sam Goldner: Daniel Lopatin’s work as Oneohtrix Point Never has become less and less focused the more he’s been thrust more into the spotlight. The constantly shifting nature of OPN has always been one of the project’s most enticing riddles, but with recent albums, the reinventions have become more rote than revolutionary; Age Of hinted at a grand mutation of classical music and Renaissance tropes, but ended up mostly a mishmash of various ideas Lopatin had already executed before, and better (topped with severely uninspiring vocals).
Magic Oneohtrix Point Never similarly ties together the various threads of Lopatin’s career into one piece, albeit with slightly more purpose this time. The radioplay idea, which has been done before by countless other artists, actually makes a lot of sense with Lopatin’s knack for genre jamming, and mOPN tries to balance its pop impulses and sound-sculpting exercises in a way that feels natural. The results aren’t offensive to the ears, but they rarely gel into anything exciting either.
Let’s get back to the issue of focus: Oneohtrix’s strongest albums have been those where he carefully sketches out a unique sonic palette, and stretches those ideas out as far as he can, creating a disorienting chamber of sound in the process. Rifts, Replica, and R Plus Seven were complex albums, but they also felt incredibly raw in the way they picked a few choice timbres and let them commingle in space with one another, with Lopatin’s haunting melodies acting as the fuel. Comparatively, the sounds on Magic Oneohtrix Point Never are all over the place with nothing to hold onto; it feels like an endless bank of effects, with Lopatin never settling on an idea that can truly stand on its own, descending at its worst into mere gear fuckery. At this point Lopatin just sounds like one of his dozens of imitators littering the Orange Milk and Hausu Mountain catalogs, except even those smaller artists are willing to push the envelope of digital sound sculpting into more extreme places.
We also need to talk about Lopatin’s pivot to vocals. Even if Oneohtrix Point Never has always been a project “about” pop music, his approach to it has always been an insular one—it’s not a coincidence that almost none of his most groundbreaking work used drums. It makes sense that Lopatin’s contemporaries like Arca, Sophie, and Yves Tumor, who all happily played with beats, would have a greater understanding of body music, and what kind of vocal melodies and front person is suited for that type of music. But Lopatin is not Yves Tumor. Dan’s voice just isn’t that good—he slathers a ton of effects over it, which in itself isn’t a crime, but even the most effect-overdriven Charli XCX songs can’t mask the fact that she’s an incredible vocalist at her core. With OPN, it’s obvious that without the textures, his vocals would just fall apart (and he often overtreats them to the point where they lose any real sense of texture; it’s hardly the same effect as Kanye’s “Runaway” outro, where its clear, buzzsawing AutoTune perfectly captures a kind of expression that’s only possible from a voice that can’t sing).
Even artists like 100 gecs have established a deep understanding of both pop and experimental music from the beginning, and how they can function together. OPN has only continued to make it clear that he’s primarily a headphone artist, a laptop-staring drone head. His most successful forays into vocal and beat driven music were on Garden of Delete, which still leaned into the deeply antisocial world of metal. Songs like “Long Road Home” (which I admit, has gotten stuck in my head a few times) still sits in a strange area of not really being great pop music, not being great experimental music, and not being great ambient music. So who is it for if not for OPN stans?
There is one stretch of music on Magic Oneohtrix Point Never that hints at what this album could have been. From “Imago” to “Lost But Never Alone,” everything suddenly comes together: the gradually disintegrating keyboards, the radio frequencies telling us “the country will not die; it’ll just have a new hOOome,” all feeding into a neo-grunge ballad that ends with a totally shredding alien synth solo—it’s enough to make you wish the rest of the album didn’t feel so lazy by comparison. But that’s the primary feeling left by mOPN, from the music to the groan-worthy album cover: that Lopatin really has lost whatever magic was powering this project to begin with.
Nick Zanca: “It’s okay if you feel weird,” Daniel Lopatin assured the Park Avenue Armory audience after stilted silence followed postponed applause. “We feel weird too.” At least he acknowledged the room’s elephant! I remember that banter better than I do the bizarre, barren, energy drink-sponsored attempt at gesamtkunstwerk that surrounded it and which served as the premiere of his preceding album, scored for a supergroup of Brooklyn-based experimentalists that one could (correctly) call a closed-off clique. What little I can recall of the music—vocals hidden behind hyper-processing, a samurai sword played arco (?), synthetic strings inches away from a James Earl Jones voiceover—was ultimately usurped by the sheer scope of the stage and the hyper-conceptual poster-sized program notes that waited for us at our seats.
Ephemera signaled itself as the apex of Lopatin’s oeuvre from the first basement show and since then he has approached the esoterica of capital commodity with an archival scientist’s flair. His finest album threw the TV ads of his youth into the plunderphonic ether and plenty of my peers credit his practice of slackening six-second earworms with the constitution of a genre that will remain unnamed. The allure of his craft wholly rested on the arcane; it was not until he allowed himself to be dragged into the cogs of the culture industry that his music finally embodied the transient material he utilizes as medium. Much like his coterie of collaborators, his recent gestures are nothing more than a Rolodex of reference—imitations expertly executed and appropriated for mass consumption, but with no original angles to add.
The distinction between song and skit disappears on this eponymous album and leads to a land of no cohesion. Perhaps the influence of “broadcast logic” is to blame, but personally when I trawl the megahertz, I at least stay on the station to hear where the programming will go. Like much of his work since signing to Warp, the melange of granular synthesis, early digital synth presets and potential WhoSampled listings runs limitless but never lasts, rarely encountering the realm of surprise that once attracted me to his work in the first place. To put it plainly, it feels weird, and contrary to any of his loyal and ubiquitous fanbase’s potential counterarguments—that’s okay.
Sunik Kim: ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER CATEGORICALLY CHALLENGES MOST STANDARD NOTIONS OF LINEAR THINKING IN MUSIC UNWINDING AND RE-WEAVING DIGITAL SENSORY TRIGGERS INTO CONTEMPORARY SONATAS EAGERLY ANTICIPATED RETURN FROM DANIEL LOPATIN THE NEW YORK BASED ARTIST AND PRODUCER WHOSE NAME HAS BECOME SYNONYMOUS WITH ERA-DEFINING ART ONE OF THE MOST UNANIMOUSLY CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED FILM SCORES OF RECENT HISTORY CUTS EVEN DEEPER TODAY IN THE CURRENT STATE OF WORLD AFFAIRS TURNS THE DIAL TOWARDS HIS OWN INNER FREQUENCIES A NEW FOUND SENSE OF LEVITY AND SPIRIT IN TROUBLING TIMES ALEATORY LISTENING DARKLY HUMOROUS REFLECTIONS ON AMERICAN NOSTALGIC SELF-REFERENTIAL CAREER DEFINING BODY OF WORK LOPATIN HAS MASTERED HIS OWN AUTOBIOGRAPHY AN ORNATE DOUBLE ENTENDRE MAKING THE MOST ENLIGHTENED MUSIC OF HIS CAREER HAS ALWAYS BEEN METICULOUS AND EVOCATIVE TO CRAFT A COHESIVE HUMANISTIC MASTERWORK.
Eli Schoop: At a cursory listen, it is easy to dismiss Magic Oneohtrix Point Never. It’s an amalgamation of every random impulse Daniel Lopatin has had; the Garden of Delete nu-metal conniptions, the Lil Peep emotive turns, a strain of Britpop that conjures Yves Tumor in both the melodic mind and the experimental contusions. Lopatin has given us so many worlds that it’s unfathomable he could invent new ones, so he doesn’t. Rather, there appears a down-to-earth atmosphere unfamiliar to the Oneohtrix universe, composed with a human sensibility in mind. It is eerie yet ultimately fetching to be much more reserved in concepts this time around.
On “The Whether Channel,” there is a Black man rapping/singing on an electro beat; this is the first time an OPN song has ever had the word “nigga,” and it’s honestly hilarious. It mirrors the album cover, a piece of art that can induce hysteria, mesmerizing in its absurdity. Lopatin’s insistence on giving us radio intermissions produces disassociation, the most productive sensation for a truly curious mastermind. Despite fewer fluid ideas on the whole, Magic OPN is endlessly explorable music; there is never a point where one gets tired of the album—a testament to his unbridled creative mojo, seemingly unmoored by challenges of genre. Even if it’s uneven, there’s no doubt Magic OPN is a labored-over project by someone who challenges himself every time he releases music.
Our writers do more than just write for this newsletter! Occasionally, we’ll highlight things we’ve done that we’d love for you to check out.
Still from The Tarnished Angels (Douglas Sirk, 1957)
Vanessa Ague interviewed electric guitarist, composer, and Glenn Branca Ensemble conductor Brendon Randall-Myers for the October edition of The Brooklyn Rail. We talked about how he went from a homeschooled kid in rural West Virginia to an experimental musician in NYC. “Heavy music has always been kind of a safety valve for me,” says Randall Myers. I'm trying to learn other tools to manage my own feelings other than just raging in a pit. That's what a lot of the music that I've written in the past four years is: it's trying to sit with something long enough to see what's really in there.”
Matthew Blackwell wrote an overview of Aki Onda’s discography for his publication Tusk Is Better Than Rumours. Blackwell says that “[Aki Onda] requires the odd experience of coming across the past semi-randomly, of nostalgia at second-hand, even if the memories are his own.”
Mark Cutler released an album last month titled I Am in a Sphere. It’s his first proper solo album and says, “Based on field recordings largely made in quarantine, it’s both a diary of life in NYC during the pandemic and a pretty abrasive noise album.”
Jesse Dorris wrote the text for “A Spiritual Good Time,” a monograph by Stephen Milner, whose mixed-media work examines the pursuit of pleasure in surfing. Dorris also hosts Polyglot, a weekly WFMU show featuring new electronic and experimental music. He also interviewed photographer Duane Michals for the Fall 2020 issue of Aperture.
Josh Feola wrote a guide on Chicano Soul for Bandcamp Daily. “Over the course of the ‘60s, in places like El Paso, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and L.A., a growing crop of new bands gave the movement regional flavor, bookended by the conjunto-inflected deep soul of the San Antonio bands on one side, and the R&B- and jazz-heavier “Eastside” L.A. sound on the other,” Feola writes. He also profiled DJs seeding the ground for a newfound appreciation of how locally pressed “souldies” fit in to San Antonio, TX’s cultural history, and its future.
Arielle Gordon wrote a review of beabadoobee’s Fake It Flowers for Pitchfork. “Too often, she jumps to John Hughes-ian climaxes without laying the foundation that would grant them the proper emotional heft,” says Gordon.
Raphael Helfand interviewed comedian and songwriter Tim Heidecker for FLOOD Magazine. “No one wants to hear a song from me about how great things are going. That’s not interesting to anyone, including myself,” explains Heidecker.
Jinhyung Kim runs Organ Grinder, a writers panel in the form of a biweekly newsletter covering experimental music. Their latest issue saw reviews of Counter!, the new EP from Arexibo, from Kim, Zachariah Cook, and Chloe Liebenthal.
Leah B. Levinson was interviewed by Todd Burns for Music Journalism Insider. “I think it’s very easy to view music writing as administering a ratings game. Even when there’s no score attached to a review, with each piece of writing, we’re choosing to give space, attention, and publicity to a work. That alone has quantitative value,” says Levinson.
Jesse Locke is one of the co-founders of New Feeling, a new cooperative of Canadian music journalists and community members “covering the sounds and stories of music across the country/occupied Indigenous lands that constitute Canada.” For its latest issue, Locke wrote the editor’s note as well as reviews of albums by Alpen Glow, Itchy Self, Sarah Davachi, and Tommy Tone.
Ryo Miyauchi wrote an introductory feature on Zoomgals, “a supergroup consisting of the most exciting rappers in Japan right now,” for their publication This Side of Japan. They also wrote a retrospective review of Speed’s “White Love,” which landed at #1 this week 23 years ago in Japan.
Nenet interviewed Bartees Strange for The Washington Post. “It’s impossible for me to look at all these genres, as a Black person, and not feel like they are all mine. All of these things are representative of the Black struggle in the United States. That is what created the foundation of everything that we are listening to,” says Strange.
Jordan Reyes has a new album on his label American Dreams out on November 20th. It’s titled Sand Like Stardust and you can stream tracks and preorder the album at Bandcamp. “I envisioned the record as a journey through human expression over the course of one day,” says Reyes.
Gil Sansón has a new collaborative album with Lance Austin Olsen and Dan Godlovitch titled Sweeping the Ground: Postcards. It’s out now on Suppedaneum. The album description finds Sansón saying the following: “There’s a sense of artistic kinship that’s the key that ultimately opens all the doors, with complete trust and faith in what each of us is doing. We simply don’t explain anything to the other.”
Eli Schoop made a “Joshua Minsoo Kim extinction button for anyone who needs it.” Use as you see fit.
Howard Stelzer’s “Sun Pass,” from the 2017 album of the same name, is included in the exhibition Audiosphere: Sound Experimentation 1980-2020 at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, curated by Francisco López. His piece appears alongside works by Maggi Payne, John Oswald, CCCC, William Basinski, and more.
Shy Thompson wrote a feature on composer Julius Eastman for Bandcamp Daily. “Eastman brought his individuality to every discipline he worked in,” says Thompson. She also wrote a label profile on Sean McCann’s Recital for Bandcamp Daily, as well as a review of FPBJPC’s Jubilee for The Road to Sound.
Mariana Timony interviewed her future husband, Sufjan Stevens, for Bandcamp Daily. She also wrote about “the magic and meaning of being part of a music scene” for The Weird Girls Post. “Music becomes the love between you and everyone you know—and everyone knows everyone in a music scene,” she says.
Jonathan Williger reviewed Patrick Higgins’s TOCSIN for Pitchfork. “Higgins is a technically virtuosic guitarist, and his propensity for disorienting complexity shines in moments when the instruments coalesce into pulsing patterns of indeterminate beats that dance about wildly before collapsing in on themselves,” says Williger.
Nick Zanca produced Wendy Eisenberg’s new album Auto. Zanca also released two Bandcamp Day albums: collage/concrète pieces titled Unguided Tour and Wurlitzer/electronics improvisations titled Wurlitzer.
Still from Meatball Machine (Yamaguchi Yūdai & Yamamoto Jun'ichi, 2005)
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