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VITAL WEEKLY (2012)



number 816
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week 4
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STAALPLAAT SOUNDSYSTEM - YOKOMONO-PRO/COMPOSED NATURE (LP by Alga Marghen)

STAALPLAAT SOUNDSYSTEM - YOKOMONO 3.5 (LP by Staalplaat)You may have heard of 'white noise' before (the sound thing rather than David Vorhaus), and even 'pink noise', but 'brown noise' might be lesser known, and 'green noise': did that exist? Yet all of that is part, somehow of these two records. Staalplaat Soundsystem is not a band/project in quite the regular sense of the word, but rather a fluctuating group around Geert-Jan Hobijn (also founder of Staalplaat, the label), Carlo Crovato (an artist and under the pseudonym plastic-electrics), Jens Alexander Ewald (software developer) and Carsten Stabenow. Their installations are about sound and space and 'small' is a word that never applies to these pieces. Its never for one car, one vacuum cleaner, but calls out for loads of cars, vacuum cleaners or one hundred electric office fans. They are altered so that a composer can play them. In 'Yokomono Pro', a piece created in New Delhi, for 30 tuck-tucks, the horns can be controlled remotely. They drive a pre-determined route, so their sound starts becoming a rhythm pattern. Ilpo Vaisanen (of Pan Sonic fame) composed a piece out of that, which is hear recorded in Gent (Belgium), so I assume its cars rather than tucks-tucks. Its an utterly annoying piece to hear, certainly if you never drove a car yourself - like me - but it also has something captivating. Hardly like anything that is even remotely Pan Sonic like, but its not difficult to see Vaisanen's fascinating with a choir of short and long form tones back in this piece for thirty car horns. Towards the end its gets even fast rhythmical and almost melodically. Maybe, however, we lack a visual component here. Green noise is something that we find on the backside, which is a piece of 64 trees, attached with 'controllable, mechanical vibrators', which can be played with custom made software. Visitors to the installation can control this with their cell-phones, but its also possible to play this is a piece. On this record we have a composition by Radboud Mens. In both cases its clear what we hear, car horns and trees. But whereas the car horns are slightly annoying and making a novelty record (perhaps due to the lack of a visual element), the 'Composed Nature' side actually works pretty well, without a visual side. We hear trees, branches, leaves flapping in the wind, triggered by those vibrators, along with the birds and wind sounds that you get when you an outdoor recording. Radboud Mens cleverly builds up his piece, starting with sparse elements and then slowly going to more heavy motions of those trees (bigger ones I assume). Now here a visual element is not really necessary, as this can perfectly be enjoyed as a piece of music by itself. There is mean drone like sound at its core (why am I thinking of chainsaw?), which comes in and out, but these seemingly random sounds are put together into one great piece of music.

One thing that puzzled me is why one side of the record is called Yokomono Pro, as I thought this whole Yokomono thing dealt with vinyl, vinyl killers and such like? To which end Staalplaat goes as far as to pressing records for these installations and invite composers to deliver sound material. I am not sure how this will end up in the installation pieces, but if its still the same thing as with the vinyl killers, then this '3.5' is worthy one. To explain what it is, I have to copy the original text by Staalplaat: "Our first attempt was the release of Yokomono 03 where we hoped to cut two tracks, one spiraling from outside in and the others from inside out. So that the needle would move in different directions. This attempt failed (for reasons that we will not go in to at this moment). This new record has three parallel soundtracks where the cutting needle was lifted twice with short intervals, in order to make the needle used during “wiedergabe” to jump tracks randomly. To play this record you must not see your turntable as a reproduction machine that reproduces the music on the record. You can not put it on and sit down to listen. See the record and turntable much more as a music instrument that with each turntable model and with each setting if your machine you will create a different sound and mix of this record. As with any instrument you have to learn how to play your turntable and find what setting you like best. Of vital influence are the skate settings en the wait [sic] on the tone arm, these and others you must very to experience the options of the record." There is a brown noise (inserts quote again: "In science, Brownian noise, also known as Brown noise or red noise, is the kind of signal noise produced by Brownian motion, hence its alternative name of random walk noise. The term "Brown noise" comes not from the color, but after Robert Brown, the discoverer of Brownian motion." with sound pieces by Cynthia Zaven and Merzbow, and a white noise side with Mika Vainio and Jaap Blonk. Now this is certainly a most strange record. I stood by my turntable, changing the weight of the tone arm hearing say Blonk, but then moving into Vainio and back, or the piano tones which I assume are Zaven's going into Merzbowian noise, sometimes with white/brown noise blocks coming in, quickly and disappearing equally fast. Stuff you can do on vinyl only and which have a highly added value to what you get. Hardly plain music, but also not just a DJ tool. Very nice, even without the art installation itself. (FdW)

Address: http://www.staalplaat.com

Neural Critical digital culture and media arts (2012)


June 2012

Simply by looking against the light at the white vinyl, we are able to distinguish the three sound tracks, recordings that don’t present the regular separations usually found on “normal” record printings. Here the idea has been to leave the stylus jump between the grooves, placing the listener randomly into the “cuts” that have been prearranged ad-hoc. Each record player will probably play this record differently, generating alternative sound sequences and making alterations to the score through repeating the listening process. It is impossible not to think that among the sources of inspiration of this very conceptual and refined project there is not an even metaphorical reference to the unpredictable music of the Fifties, for instance John Cage and the Italian composer Bruno Maderna. Although both equipment choices and repeated listening both engender chance, the aleatoric elements are here moved from the performer to the listener. The record player is not to be considered as mere playback equipment and the listening process is not reduced to being a purely passive act. The same “authoriality” also somehow comes to be queried, although we are able to distinguish the several contributions to the Staalplat Soundsystem concept, and have glowing words for the contributions of Cynthia Zaven, Merzbow, Mika Vainio and Jaap Blonk, experimenters experienced working with different mass media devices and fashioning rigorous reworkings that circle around their releases and performances. The special collection of Staalplat records broadens and we are confident there will be a continuation of such trailblazing research.

AURELIO CIANCIOTTA

 

View the original article on the Neural site here