Percussion Lab News & Updates
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DECEMBER 31, 2010

2010 was an incredible year for music. From limited vinyl editions (virtually everything Thrill Jockey put out this year) to the unannounced return of several old favorites (Caribou, Four Tet, Fenn O’Berg), it seemed as though you couldn’t browse through Boomkat’s new arrivals section for a single week without stumbling across three or four records just begging for purchase.

Surprisingly, some of the releases that most defined the past year for me were reissues; in particular Type’s re-releases of Thomas Köner’s Nunatak / Teimo / Permafrost triptych and Dug Out’s archival edition of the absolutely brilliant Peace and Love LP by psychedelic dub voyagers Dadawah. Sadly, my own rules prohibit me from including such releases among my year-end favorites; these lists, at least in my mind, are reserved for new releases that represent that which is forward thinking and fresh in the music scene.

With that said, I submit my top 12 albums for 2010 – one for each month of the year – presented here in alphabetical order, along with a handful of honorable mentions. Enjoy.

Top 12 Albums
BVDub / The Art of Dying Alone (Glacial Movements)
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma / Love is a Stream (Type)
Deepchord presents: Echospace / Liumin (Modern Love)
Taylor Deupree / Shoals (12k)
The Fun Years / God Was Like, No (Barge)
Laura Gibson & Ethan Rose / Bridge Carols (Holocene)
Madlib / Madlib Medicine Show #5: History of the Loop Digga, 1990-2000 (Madlib Invazion)
Oneohtrix Point Never / Returnal (Editions Mego)
Oval / O (Thrill Jockey)
The Sight Below / It All Falls Apart (Ghostly International)
Solo Andata / Ritual (Desire Path)
Kanye West / My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella)

Honorable Mentions
Marcus Fischer / Monocoastal (12k)
Foxes In Fiction / Swung from the Branches (Moodgadget)
Morgan Packard / Moment Again Elsewhere (Anticipate)
Yellow Swans / Going Places (Type)

Content originally appeared in Big Shot Magazine's 2010 Contributors Poll.

Posted by Carl Ritger | 3 comments

DECEMBER 12, 2010

With the release of Moment Again Elsewhere - his second album for Anticipate Recordings - Morgan Packard has established himself as one of the most forward thinking producers working in electronic music today. We managed to catch up with Packard via email to discuss his new found love of techno, homemade software applications and the joys of creating pyramid structures from recycled printer paper...

Percussion Lab: Moment Again Elsewhere marks a distinctive shift away from Airships Fill The Sky. What influenced your aesthetic direction for this new project? What were you aiming to achieve with the album?

Morgan Packard: I'm trying to sound more like myself. So, much of the shift you hear may be me discarding sounds, techniques, influences. Paring down. I deliberately used almost no reverb on Moment Again Elsewhere, because I'm getting tired of the shiny sound that nice reverb gives everybody these days. It creates a sheen that totally colors everything. And a huge amount of current music has that same sheen. It's all bathed in the same nice software effects. So the new album is a little dryer, not so lush, but also, I think, sounds more like me, and less like the designer of the reverb. Another big difference in the sounds of the two albums is the mastering. Airships Fill the Sky is mastered fairly aggressively, as most electronic music is. It's very loud. It feels kind of in-your-face. The mastering job on Moment Again Elsewhere was much gentler, less concerned with making it sound hot and punchy, more concerned with just balancing things out, making it feel good, letting it breathe, releasing the true character of the music.

PL: You recently spent some time in Berlin, presumably soaking in the sounds and culture of the techno community. Did this influence the album at all? Is Moment Again Elsewhere, in a sense, your "techno" album?

MP: The album was done well before the move to Berlin. But it's no secret that I've become enamored with some of the sounds of that city. Like I said before, I seem to be moving away from a really lush, richly layered sound toward something a little more sparse, a little more focused. It's really really, really hard to make music with space in it. I'm not so good at it. But I think use of space is something that separates good music from great music. So I'm trying to learn how to use more space. Moment Again Elsewhere might reveal more of my techno interests than my previous music. But I'm probably going to go deeper in to that sound before moving on, and the next stuff I do will probably be even more techno influenced.

PL: Your music seems to occupy a rare space between "club" music and more abstracted, home listening forms. When you set out to produce a track, what is your goal? Do you set out with a preset notion of how want your audience to engage with the music?

MP: It's important to me that my music works in the foreground as well as the background. When I'm making music, I lie down and listen with headphones to what I've created, make some notes, go back and tweak. I also put it on in the background while I'm doing other stuff, just to make sure it makes the space I'm in feel good. I take from the club world the notion that music doesn't need to be listened to with 100% of one's attention. I guess my music is meant to be sort of halfway listened to.

These days I'm trying to understand club music better. I'm in a sort of study mode now, which I think is very useful. It's not necessarily the mode in which I'll make the rules and clear benchmarks very interesting, something to push against. So, lately, when I'm making music, I'm saying "is this bass I made as good as the bass on track X?" "Does this make me want to dance?" "What's missing that makes my beats not feel as good as these other beats someone else made?" It's not necessarily the mode in which I'll make the most original, most interesting music; but it's where I build muscles, and when I take some of those rules away, I can really soar in a way I wouldn't have been able to if I'd been working without constraints all along.

PL: You are known for developing and utilizing your own home-brewed software program, Ripple, both in the studio and on stage. How did you come to start programming this environment? In your mind, what was missing from "off the shelf" software programs?

MP: I heard this guy called Timeblind doing a live set in the basement of Tonic. It blew my mind. It was like he had a million creatures inside the computer all doing amazing clever things in real time. I had this sense of immediacy, of present intelligence, of something happening, here and now, which really grabbed me. He was using SuperCollider, so I decided I'd use SuperCollider. Simple as that. Building your own software for art is all about controlling your work-flow, controlling your processes. I have one technique I use a lot which basically involves taking a sample, choosing a random start point, triggering it over and over again pretty quickly from that start point, and putting a big fade-in/fade-out on the whole thing, then layering a bunch of instances of that. You can do that in just about any off-the-shelf software, but it's a little tedious, it's hard to tweak, you have to set up more stuff by hand. If you can program your own software to do that, you can experiment with interesting techniques and very quickly try a whole bunch of variations without having to do a lot of repetitive manual editing on the screen, which is a totally mind-numbing way to spend your time. If you can program, it's more like you're the boss and have a bunch of little minions working for you. Much more fun. For me, anyway.

PL: You released - in collaboration with Joshue Ott - the iPad/iPhone app Thicket. How do you see this as fitting into the greater arc of your discography? Is it something that falls in line with your recorded work, almost like an EP release?

MP: I'd like for Thicket to be understood in the context of my recorded music. You're not the first person to compare it to an EP release. I'm comfortable thinking of it that way. But it's different. Pure, beautiful sound isn't what I'm after with Thicket. It's meant to be an interactive experience, and the sound is subservient to the interactivity. It's not at all like I just made a tune or two and tried to figure out how to iPhone-ize them. It was much more a process of figuring out how people would interact with Josh's visuals and thinking about how I could enhance that with sound, how I could capture the natural ways people would want to touch the visuals and sonify that.

The app thing is very interesting. It's a wide-open new medium. It's a fascinating challenge. And I really enjoy what Josh and I have created so far. But it's not clear to me yet what sort of value an app has for people. Will people continue to play with it? Will people return to Thicket again and again the way they put on a favorite album? What's it really good for? Can we use it to connect people to us and to each other as a natural extension of our other artistic pursuits? Or is an iPhone app, in the end, a fairly anonymous transaction?

PL: Will we see you working with Joshue on more App-style releases in the future?

MP: There's a significant update to Thicket which hopefully will be available by the time this interview goes live. Josh and I are fully planning to go deeper into this world. We're buddies, we like working together, and creating artsy software together is a very natural way for us to collaborate. We'll probably do more stuff along the lines of Thicket, which is somewhat esoteric, and probably best understood by people who've had some exposure to our work in other media. But hopefully we'll get better at creating experiences that are immediately understandable and engaging, even to people who might not have a prior interest in the world of digital audiovisual art. Josh thinks we can learn quite a lot from the world of video games. I haven't really found a game I liked since I was twelve, but I'm really in to the idea of opening up our influences, thinking outside our little scene, not being afraid to be entertaining as long as we continue to do stuff that we can be proud of as artists.

PL: In the wake of the new album's release, what's next for you as an artist? Touring? Recording? Installations?

MP: I want to make more music. The next batch, hopefully, will be geared a little more toward the club end of things. I find that I just have way more fun performing in front of people who are moving, rather than people who are politely, attentively seated. Joshue and I would like to design a new audiovisual performance, as well as continuing our mobile app work. I have a collaboration I've started with a few New York folks called The Jutro Experiment, which is totally outside of my usual comfort zone. There's a slightly theatrical bent to it, as well as lots of live sampling and a huge amount of percussion nick-nacks and noisemakers. It's fun. We'd like to develop that further and perform more. Lastly, I have a show at Devotion Gallery in Brooklyn in the works, which will involve building the hugest sculpture I possibly can, built out of the simplest solid structure you can create out of equal-length rods - a four sided pyramid. I'll be creating them out of rolled-up recycled printer paper and joining them, crystal-style, until I run out of space or collapse from exhaustion.

Posted by Carl Ritger | 0 comments

NOVEMBER 15, 2010

As one of the original developers of the now ubiquitous Ableton Live software, Robert Henke has established himself as something of a producer’s producer. Not only are his studio efforts - recorded under the revered Monolake monikier - impeccably executed, masterfully EQed and buffed to a lustrous sheen, his approach to performance and command of the software as an honest to goodness instrument is second to none. When we caught wind of this special edition of the Bunker featuring a set by Henke in surround sound alongside Scion, DJ Pete and René Löwe – which is to say the classic Chain Reaction roster – we simply couldn’t resist.

Despite a last minute venue change that left the Bunker crew scrambling to secure a new location, the evening started off smoothly. The sound system was perfectly tuned and the vibe was relaxed and positive right from the outset. Even the crowd seemed pumped, which if you’ve ever spent much time going out in NYC, is indeed a true rarity.

Ken Meier, a local Brooklyn stalwart with affiliations to Fear of Music, started the evening off, plunging things into the deep end right from the beginning. He delivered a deftly mixed blend of shadowy techno that gracefully arced from slightly chilled to immersive and upbeat over the course of his set. It was an ideal warm up for Scion, who brought to bear their signature dub techno sound, all oozing bass, rolling echoes and shimmering reverb anchored by a stoic 4/4 pulse. It was hardly the sort of ‘hands in the air’ fare one might expect from one of the most respected outfits operating in techno today, but it was tastefully understated and expertly structured, locking the dance floor in from the start. The only quibble we had with their performance was its brevity; they could have played for 5 hours and nobody would have minded a bit.

As Scion brought the fader down on their last selection to rapturous applause, Henke and his accompanying visualist, Tarrik Barri, took their positions behind the mountain of laptops and gear that had been sitting patiently in the middle of the dance floor. The set started off in decidedly abstract territory, cycling through a selection of broken rhythms and chirping atmospherics before settling into a real groove; but once things warmed up, there was no denying that Henke’s primary intention was to bulldoze the dance floor.

For the next 90 minutes or so, the room was a mass of movement as he doused us with wave after wave of unrelenting techno. There were bits of rhythms and melodies peppered throughout the set that could be identified as having been lifted from Henke’s studio recordings, but Henke managed to achieve a loose, off the cuff sort of feel, lending the performance an improvisatory air. Paired with Barri’s visuals, which echoed the imaginary shapes and futuristic urban landscapes that grace the covers of many of Henke’s releases, this became less a mere dance party and more an immersive multimedia experience.

It was a bit of a disappointment to learn that the cops were on their way as Monolake’s set drew to a close, but it almost seemed to be for the best. Sure, DJ Pete’s set was cut short and René Löwe never even got to play, but after the masterful display put on by Scion on Monolake few in the room really had much left in them. We stumbled back out into the Brooklyn streets, minds blown and ears muddled. While there was no denying that Henke had lived up to his reputation, he also managed to reaffirm that there is, in fact, still life left in techno. Indeed, from where we stood, the genre seemed just as vibrant and fertile as ever.

Posted by Carl Ritger | 0 comments

SEPTEMBER 16, 2010

Oval - Oh and O
Words by Carl Ritger

When it comes to the vaguely defined genre that is ‘experimental’ music, Markus Popp, the mastermind behind the acclaimed Oval project, has always been the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Not only is Popp perfectly capable of talking circles around the most prominent music and cultural theorists, he is responsible for developing his own software and invented the glitch genre virtually singlehandedly. His CV is extensive, boasting a healthy run of albums, art installations and collaborative projects; but roughly 9 years ago, shortly after the release of Ovalcommers, he went silent and just sort of dropped off the map. There were a bare handful of live appearances during this time, but other than that, the Oval project was presumed to have run its course. That was until this spring, when Thrill Jockey unexpectedly began promoting the release of two new Oval works: Oh and O.

Billed as a departure from his revered earlier works, these albums were intended to be a sort of ‘fresh start’ for the Oval aesthetic. Popp himself stated that he wanted this material to be received as a sort of second debut, and by all accounts he was successful in that pursuit. Indeed, to the casual observer, Oh and O have little in common with the crackling digital constructs of Popp’s past self; instead, by virtue of its decidedly organic sonic palette – this could almost be considered Oval’s “pop” period. Instead of sine tones and DSP-generated artifacts, we’re presented with guitars, drums, and in lieu of drifting ambience and shapeless noise, we’re confronted with structure, rhythm and honest to goodness melody.

Shunning digital processing and Popp’s homebrewed software applications, this work was realized utilizing an outdated PC, a couple of MIDI controllers, Ableton Live and off the shelf VSTs – a bold transition for an artist whose reputation had been built more on coding than actual musical chops. With that said, Popp has hardly abandoned the fundamental themes of his previous output: the glitch. If anything, these new works find the Oval project heading into unexplored territory within the context of glitch. Rather than ruminating on digital interference and the inherent flaws of manmade technology, Popp has opted to take a wider view, exploring the inherent – though richly patterned – chaos of nature.

But what of the music itself? Comprised of 76 tracks in total, the full digital edition of O tops out at over two hours of material, while Oh is a comparatively brief affair, spreading a mere 15 tracks across two sides of vinyl. To state the obvious, that’s a whole lot of sound to consume, but moaning about Popp’s need for an editor misses the point entirely. Presented as a library of brief vignettes that range in length from a mere 30 seconds to just shy of five minutes, these recordings form a sonic environment intended to be set in motion and lived with for awhile. Appealing to Brian Eno’s original tenets of ambient music aesthetics, O and Oh are as unobtrusive as they are rewarding to close listening, more a collection of aural mobiles shimmering in the wind than refined, self-contained “compositions,” in the conventional sense of the word. All sputtering harmonic patterns and fractured melodic lines interwoven to craft a weirdly beautiful soundscape, this is sound art that somehow manages to come off as both deeply familiar and utterly alien all at once.

Aesthetic analyses and contextual rambling aside, O and Oh represent a rare peak inside the creative evolution of one of the most vital artists of the past 15 years. Instead of cashing in and appealing to his fans with a predictable rehash of his past glories like so many other titans of the scene, Popp went back to the drawing board and recast Oval in order to explore new terrains. In the process, he’s managed to simultaneously appease his needs as an artist and keep things fresh for his audience…and it sounds damn nice, to boot.

Posted by Carl Ritger | 1 comments