Year End Part II: The Best of 2012

I have some misgivings about publishing year end lists. But I do find that I gather great suggestions from other peoples lists. There is simply too much great music being made and never enough time to research it all. So with that, I hope that I may introduce some new work to others from my past years collection. 

I think I have finally narrowed my “Best Of” to 15. 
Strangely there was no stand out release this year. Plenty of incredible work, but nothing that seemed to deserve a special place at the top apart from the others. So the following are in no particular order.

Novaya Zemlya
Thomas Köner

The Expanding Universe
Laurie Spiegel

The Oram Tapes: Volume One

Daphne Oram

Kane Ikin

The Decline Effect
Jim Haynes

Selected Ambient Works Vol. II Vinyl Reissue
Aphex Twin

Above All and Beyond

Robert Turman

Particle Language
Matt Carlson

12 Stationer VI
Akos Rozmann

Mike Shiflet

Modern Jester
Aaron Dilloway

FE₃O₄ – Magnetite
Mika Vainio

Lee Gamble

Persuasive Barrier
Three Legged Race

Year End Part I

I realized recently that I hadn’t posted on my own site in near to six months. I’ve been in hiding attempting to finish some new material that I have been working on the better part of two years. Experimentation with new recording processes and techniques takes time. At least that is what I’m telling myself to justify the large gap between releases. As you may have read if you checked out the Trash Audio article I posted several months ago, I’ve been exploring the world of synthesis after many years working mostly with an electroacoustic process. While the results may resemble my other work in some respects, I believe this work to be rather different. In tandem with this body of work I’ve been finalizing another album of tracks that are more akin to my last two releases on Kranky. I have made an effort at times to merge these two techniques but as of yet they are still two disparate projects. With that, I am hoping to have both these releases out into the wild sometime in the coming year depending on were they might be released. That is if anyone decides they want to release them. 

Ambient music community finds inspiration in Instagram and ice cubes

By Jeff Blagdon

For communities of creative individuals, working under shared constraints can result in some incredible work, showing off what artists can put together with a limited set of tools. A great example is the “beat battle,” in which competing musicians are all given the same sample and compete to build the best instrumental track out of it. Online ambient music publication Disquiet has masterminded a number of similar projects, notably last year’sInstagr/am/bient compilation (below), which asked contributors to create pieces inspired by 25 images from the photo sharing service.


Following the success of Instagr/am/bient and LX(RMX) — a project inspired by Jorge Colombo’s Lisbon Revisited photo installation — Disquiet is making its collaborative projects a weekly affair with the launch of the Disquiet Junto this year. Every week the group’s members receive a new assignment (the first was “record the sound of ice in a glass and make something of it”) and have from Thursday until 11:59 Monday evening to finish their compositions. If you’re interested in hearing what the group’s been working on, or better yet participating, head over to the Junto’s Soundcloud site to check it out.

Le Mal Du Siècle / Relay

Relay is an online music project devised and curated by Irish musician John Lambert aka Chequerboard. The aim in the project is to create an unbroken chain of sound pieces where each work is created in response to the previous so that ideas and sounds shift, mutate and evolve over time.

Artist Statement/ Process:
Although not entirely apparent, field recording plays an important role in my work. Either in the form of acoustic inspiration or the subtle inclusion in a textured track. At this time of year ice flows work their way down the Detroit river, a constant zeotrope of frozen water. The sound of the massive sheets of ice colliding creates a perpetual cacophony of textures. After hearing Marie Guilleray’s work and understanding that location played a substantial part in her piece, it seemed only logical to pursue a recording that reflected the dissimilarity/similarity between Detroit and Venice.

Once I had captured the sounds from the river I walked into the city in the early evening when most activity ceases for the day and people who inhabit the downtown during work hours vacate and head back to the suburbs. The city becomes a vacant colossus of architecture and concrete. I recorded a few sounds in my short trek all of which were filled with hollow sounding textures with occasional traffic noise. Emulating the pulsing din of a dormant city, I produced a series of frequency modulated sine waves that slowly build gaining in volume and harmonics until they break and recede leaving only the sounds of the river remaining.

Both Detroit and Venice exist due to their proximity to water but their similarities end there. Unlike Venice’s labyrinth of streets, Detroit’s downtown is a city that was clearly planned out from it’s inception. Streets extend in concentric circles from the city center and there is far less activity or chance for variation. The final recording attempts to replicate both the arch of daily activity and the toneless quality of urban noise.

Le Mal Du Siècle

The Meridians Review From The Silent Ballet

One could be forgiven for thinking that David Wenngren, of Library Tapes, and Canadian sound artist Christopher Bissonnette, would make a dream collaboration. Their first release together, The Meridians of Longitude and Parallels of Latitude is a beautifully realized mixture of drone and the purest ambient. Their own distinctive sounds are blurred on the album, creating entirely new atmospheres, and both sides are present. David Wenngren’s work here uses field recordings and minimal experimental aspects; natural field recordings, static pops, and experimental hiss are featured, instead of the piano predominantly used in Library Tapes’ music. What we find in this collaboration, and maybe what is expected, are colorful, bright textures and light drones.

Like the cover art suggests, this is a warm, autumnal record – like a breezy September day before the winter chill takes hold. There is a shimmering quality present throughout, and it creates a hypnotizing effect.  Bissonette’s natural ambient architecture appears to be the most prominent feature at first glance, but take a closer listen and Wenngren’s contribution also stands out, although it is a subtle, yet effective presence; both artists operate on different levels. The photography used represents the sounds perfectly: a blurry, bright, and lucid landscape as seen from above, a moment in time captured forever. The record feels like it’s in a continual dream; the ever-shifting nature of the drones feels alive and illuminates a bright brilliance. Only a few in the ambient field can truly reach a depth present here, and many can’t entice as effectively.

The winds of static and the warm seasonal tones reveal an active sound, one that is always progressing – if drone had a fast forward button, it would probably sound like this. Like the landscape from our photograph, the colors and qualities are always changing, if only subtly, and each track has its own unique mood, a snapshot. The contrasts in tone and experimentation help create substantial diversity. “A Deceptive and Distant Howl” sets the tone with a warm drone next to a dusting of crackles, and “Burn Like A Meteor And Leave No Dust”  has powerful winds similar to a tropical storm and the rhythm of ocean waves before it is overwhelmed by static and turns grainy.

One critical aspect that makes this collaboration a success is that both Weengren’s and Bissonette’s individual sounds don’t overshadow one another. The Meridians of Longitude and Parallels of Latitude is a perfect blend of each artist’s take on ambient music. “Their Hunted Expression,” featuring distant, diluted drops of rainfall, makes a lasting impression and acts as an effective closer. While it can’t be said that the listener hasn’t been here before, the quality is high and there are no faults for what it does. An impressive organic depth exists that leaves both artists’ fingerprints firmly present, and it matches the quality of many of their standalone releases. This is as ambient as it gets in its very nature, and it is a gorgeous album that will leave the listener bathed in a warm afterglow, for one moment only – the feeling when the clouds lift and true beauty is revealed. Like the blurry photo, this record is that moment in time.

– James Catchpole

The Silent Ballet

Instagr/am/bient 25 Sonic Postcards

An Introduction to Instagr/am/bient:

Photos shared with the popular software Instagram are usually square in format, not unlike the cover to a record album. The format leads inevitably to a question: if a given image were the cover to a record album, what would the album’s music sound like?

Instagr/am/bient is a response to that question. The project involves 25 musicians with ambient inclinations. Each of the musicians contributed an Instagram photo, and in turn each of the musicians recorded an original track in response to one of the photos contributed by another of the project’s participants. The tracks are sonic postcards. They are pieces of music whose relative brevity—all are between one and three minutes in length—is designed to correlate with the economical, ephemeral nature of an Instagram photo.

The result of the 25 musicians’ collective efforts is an investigation into the intersection of technology, aesthetics, and artistic process. What parallels exist, for example, between the visual filters that Instagram provides users to transform their photos and the sound-processing tools employed by electronic musicians?

In many cases here, the musicians employ sonic field recordings as source material for their music. In the case of both their photos and their compositions (photography in one case, phonography in the other), documents are altered to emphasize their atmospheric qualities: to eke a modest art out of the everyday.

The full collection is also streaming at

The 25 MP3s are downloadable for free individually and as a Zip file

Download a 58-page PDF with full-page reproductions of the images and additional information on all the participating musicians: PDF.

A Project
Commissioned by Marc Weidenbaum

Cover Photo/Brian Scott