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Bandcamp Picks: October 2023

Daniel Fishkin's Dark Listening, Robert AA Lowe's Telemarketers OST, & More

Eldar T + Brian G + Ryan G + Jacob J · 10/06/23

It's that time again—Bandcamp Friday is here! Falling on the first Fridays of most months of the year, Bandcamp waives their share of sales on all music, meaning that all proceeds go directly to the artists and labels you love. So whether your favorite band dropped a new EP or there's been something on your long-standing "to buy" list, there's no better day to grab it than today!

Need some recommendations for where to get started? This article offers a selection of what we've been listening to recently.

Daniel Fishkin: Dark Listening

Many of you may not know that a couple of us at Perfect Circuit are big daxophone buffs. What's a daxophone, you ask? The daxophone is an odd idiophone invented in 1987 by a German font designer, and a well-known figure in the free improvisation circles: Hans Reichel. It has a rich sonic palette, lightly reminiscent of a cello or a double bass tone—however, the instrument is particularly noted for its voice-like character, capable of simulating vocal characteristics of humans, bears, goats, ducks, and, as the German translation of the name suggests, badgers. Today, Daniel Fishkin—who studied lutherie under Reichel—is one of the most well-regarded contemporary daxophone makers, and an inspired composer/performer. So, we couldn’t have possibly passed by his new album.

[Above: a collection of daxophones designed and built by Daniel Fishkin. Image via Daniel Fishkin's website.]

Dark Listening comprises four compositions, all long-form, each performed and captured in distinct location and lineup configurations in the period between 2016 and 2023. The thematic roots of the pieces extend deep into Fishkin’s continued interest in the creative domain of psychoacoustics, and in particular the aesthetics of hearing damage. A particular ear quandary the composer focuses on is the infamous tinnitus—a persistent inner ear tone, ringing or buzzing, without an external source. Many of us would be familiar with the experience to a degree, as in the aftermath of being exposed to loud sound for an extended period of time. Daniel, all too familiar with the effect himself, transformed it into a focal point of his artistic research, cultivating in compositions that address tinnitus in one way or another. Dark Listening features two distinct approaches devised by the composer sectioned into ongoing work cycles, Masking Songs and Composing the Tinnitus Suites.

In Masking Songs, Fishkin delves into auditory masking and suppression principles. Masking is traditionally understood through the “critical band” concept—a frequency range in which one sound can alter the perception of another in the human ear. However, the composer’s research into psychoacoustics proved that tinnitus doesn’t adhere to this principle, and instead, any sound frequency at the right dynamic level can mask it. Masking Songs reflects that insight, transmuted into musical notation that outlines the artist’s lived experience with the tinnitus, and performed by Fishkin’s own Daxophone Consort trio on “Off Frequency Listening In Subjects”, and a collaboration between the Daxophone Consort and the Science Ficta Viola da Gamba Consort on “Excitation Patterns”. Both pieces are spacious, imaginative, and at times thoroughly intense. Daxophones here are fully stripped of their potential for funny and whimsical melodies, instead unleashing their gnarly ethereal sonic underworlds.

The Composing the Tinnitus Suites series began more than a decade ago with Fishkin’s invention of the Lady’s Harp—a 20-foot-long instrument comprising an ensemble of piano wires, pickups, transducers, and mixer feedback. Here, the composer explores the tinnitus not in a representational manner, but rather using the sustained resonant tones of the Lady’s Harp as an externally audible companion to his own inner tones. The first work of the series presented on the album is titled “Composing The Tinnitus Suites: 2020"; iit features a recording of an unabridged solo performance of Fishkin on the instrument—a quarter-hour of slowly morphing and shifting sound mass. The closer, “Composing The Tinnitus Suites: mise-en Transcription (2016)” offers a rendition of Daniel’s score by the renowned NY collective Ensemble mise-en alongside archival recordings of early Lady’s Harp. With this one, prepare for a quaint half-hour journey through streams of rapidly arpeggiating piano reminiscent of Charlemagne Palestine’s strumming patterns, ephemeral clouds of sustained feedback, and oscillating strings, all unhurriedly emerging along a mountainous sonic terrain.

I’m not entirely sure why Fishkin decided to associate the type of listening involved with this album as dark, but I have a couple of theories in mind, although none of them relate to the compositional character of the works (sure, there are plenty of tense moments in the pieces, but they are well balanced with the splendor). For me, some of the ‘dark’ is sensed in the subdued room tones of what feels to be an after-effect of music recorded live in the space, a quality that adds to the organic flow within compositions. But even more than that, ‘dark’ here reads as a suggestion to tune down the visual stimulation while interacting with the content of this album. So, to truly appreciate Dark Listening, make yourself comfortable, dim the lights, and immerse yourself in its bizarrely wonderful realm.

Check Out Dark Listening on Bandcamp!

Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe: Telemarketers OST

Experimental composer Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe is a legend and force when it comes to creating evocative soundscapes, performances, and textural pieces. Whether it's a live performance or recorded material, the life of the sound is something that always comes through—so it's only natural that his particular brand of music becomes deeply entwined with visual storytelling. His work was famously part of the 2021 film Candyman—with much of the film's overall atmosphere and feeling depending on Lowe's poignant underscoring and sound design.

Lowe was also commissioned to provide a score for the HBO series Telemarketers—and it works wonderfully with or without the visuals. The dense, 46-track digital sigital soundtrack album offers delightful vignettes that feature his signature voice along with sparse and interesting synth patterns that hypnotize.

Narrowing down the tracks to a handful of recommendations is no small task, as the entire collection is worth keeping on for an afternoon of domestic duties or exploring a natural setting. With that said, a few personal favorites include the watery "CDG Variations," "Hunting Whales," and "The Magic Chair."

Throughout the entire collection you get the sense of discovery, instability, curiosity, and a darkness that never feels scary...just slightly devious. Recommended for those who appreciate the more minimal and intricate paths woven by the likes of Suzanne Ciani, Morton Subotnick, or Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith.

Check out the Telemarketers OST on Bandcamp!

Snake Union: To Whom I've Never Met and Only Imagined

To Whom I've Never Met and Only Imagined is the latest release from New York-based duo Snake Union. Comprised of members Chuck Bettis and David Grant, Snake Union has explored improvisational electronics over several studio and live releases. Their work employs modular synthesizers, Max patches, and other electronics to create engrossing, highly detailed soundscapes that range from delicate and spacious to downright heavy. They often also collaborate with other artists—see their 2020 release Three Arrows for a great example of how those types of collaborations can play out (and definitely listen to the track "That Which Binds Us," co-created with musician/improvisor/technologist Bonnie Jones).

2021's To Whom I've Never Met and Only Imagined's unique sound world is the result of a 2019 residency at EMS in Stockholm—a long-running experimental/electronic music studio which provides artists with access to rare instruments, unique spatial mixing environments, and more. EMS has a remarkable history, but in recent years has become well-known in the burgeoning modular synthesizer community because of their large vintage Buchla 200 and Serge systems. These are some of the only instruments of their type available to artists and researchers on the entire planet—and they've been part of many excellent recordings across the years, To Whom I've Never Met... included.

The common thread of the vintage Buchla and Serge systems provides an element of cohesion to the album as a whole. Happily though, unlike many works made with esoteric instruments, it transcends technologies that made it and provides its own unique atmosphere.

The album was edited and mixed in 2020, well after Snake Union's residency had ended. They approached the recordings with fresh perspective, and where appropriate, took the liberty to overdub and to collaborate with others. Violist Jessica Pavone appears on "Hair by Hair Witnessed," and Rachelle Rahmé contributes spoken word on "The Fine Grain of Conviction." And that touches on one of the defining aspects of this album as a whole: its use of voice. Several tracks feature spoken word poetry and abstract vocalizations atop vast, dark soundscapes—providing a distinctly human touch to otherwise electronic textures.

Fans of vintage modular synthesizers will delight in hearing familiar tones in a distinctly contemporary context; and fans of experimental electronic music at large will revel in an opportunity to get lost in Snake Union's deep, brooding, and hypnotic sound world.

Listen to To Whom I've Never Met and Only Imagined on Bandcamp!

Langham Research Centre + John Butcher: Six Hands at an Open Door

Langham Research Centre is a contemporary ensemble/collective dedicated to exploration of traditional electronic music techniques of yore—following explicitly in the tradition of early trailblazers such as the BBC's Radiophonic workshop. They focus on the use of the recording studio as an instrument: tape manipulation, sine wave oscillators, gramophone cartridges, and more. While exploration of vintage technologies isn't entirely common, Langham Research Centre takes an exceptionally well-considered and steadfast approach—they've performed at the Barbican, have recorded at Tate Modern, and have assembled thoughtful and authentic renditions of iconic early electronic works by John Cage, Alvin Lucier, and others. All that to say, they take period performance and production techniques quite seriously; and the result is a sound that feels like it's straight out of the 1950 or '60s.

In 2023's Six Hands at an Open Door, Langham Research Centre collaborates with improvisational saxophonist John Butcher. Cassette machines, amplified scrapes, and shortwave radios collide with sax tongue slaps and multi-phonics; air and half-voiced squeals evolve into stuttering echoes and motoric oscillations.

The album as a whole is distinctly dry, patient, and mysterious. Textures evolve slowly as more transitory gestures flutter by. Some sonic structures pulsate and stammer before receding; others quickly bloom, spread, and dissipate. This album is a unique and constantly engaging textural experience, and if you appreciate sound as sound, it will prove an absolute delight.

Bridging the gap between experimental free improvisation and traditional early electronic music techniques, this is a unique offering with plenty of sonic wonders to dig into.

Listen to Six Hands at an Open Door on Bandcamp!

Drawing Virtual Gardens: 22:22

Among the recent releases from the Lost Tribe Sound label, 22:22 from Drawing Virtual Gardens is a dark and foreboding smattering of instruments and textures. As described on the Bandcamp page, the title of the record comes from David Gutman, the person behind DVG, and his natural tendency to check the time at 10:22 PM—22:22 in 24-hour time. Delving into the numerology and symbolism of this sequence of numbers, Gutman discovered cross-cultural connections to mental awareness of your being and reception to the natural forces around you. With the above in mind, 22:22 is packed with deep sub-bass accents, pulsating phrases, and immersive textures. Haunting guitars stretched and looped across time melded with distant clicks, scratches, and scrapes lend a supernatural quality to these tracks, which nicely coincides with the conceptual themes of ethereal energies and forces existing around us.

Right from the start, the opening track, entitled "Be aware there is a goat hidden in the trees," grabs your attention with sparse yet thunderous low-end hits, before expanding with drones, glitched-out guitars, and heavily processed sample material. The relationship between sparse and sustained sounds is heavily explored throughout the record—"La gout d'eau sur le mirroire" introduces guitar layered simultaneously with sliced and looped, sustained copies of itself. Gutman frequently introduces sounds as motifs, with subtle variations in repetition and layering used as a compositional spice.

But 22:22 is not all about drones—tracks like "Tu a mis un coeur sur le coeur d'Habuhiah" feature interwoven pulses across asynchronous and polymetric relationships. Of course, Gutman demonstrates that with the right approach, rhythm may be easily treated as textural, such as when percussive elements are introduced about halfway through this track. Through sparse and judicious placement of events, rhythms feel less like driving beats and more like temporal direction, aiding the music in its natural journey from one place to the next and aligning with the theme of the record. In other tracks, such as "You were able to be patient and kind with the angel," rhythms are present not in the form of transient events but staccato repetitions of loops and phrases, lending a sense of pulse without traditional percussion.

Perhaps my favorite is the final track, "22+22=44," which begins with solo guitar that slowly builds to be accompanied by looped and affected layers of itself, before giving away the spotlight to other sonic elements. At first, it seems like a change in sonic tone, but being joined later by subtle rhythms and haunting, reverberant trombone, the track is a prime example of the dark, supernatural collages of sound found throughout this record. Although it is the final track of the record, the slow build of interlocked layers into a hazy yet not totally indistinct cloud of sound makes this track a standout example of what you'll find on 22:22.

For the fan of dark, evocative ambient, Drawing Virtual Gardens' 22:22 is a worthy listen filled with contemplative and immersive textures.

Listen to 22:22 on Bandcamp!