Experitronic – A Few Favorites – 2013

Experitronic is my catch-all terms for: electronica, experimental, modern classical, ambient, noise, soundscapes, drum & bass, techno, and did I mention experimental? It names the sonic space my own music making takes place in.

Experitronic new releases

Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
Tim Hecker – Virgins
Darkside – Psychic
Alvin Curran – Shofar Rags
Bernie Krause – Particles of Dawn Soundscapes from the Great Animal Orchestra
Charles Cohen – The Middle Distance
Aidan Baker – Aneira (Bandcamp)
Lustmord – The Word As Power
Rebekah Heller – 100 Names (iTunes)
Steve Roach – Ultra Immersion Concert

Experitronic reissues

Lustmord – The Things That Were
The Hafler Trio – 4A Cure for Kenophobia Recordings 87-99 (outofline.de)
Muslimgauze – Tandoor Dog
Celer – Remixes 2005-2012 (Bandcamp)

Growing up in rural Louisiana and then later on a farm in Missouri, Julianna Barwick was a preacher’s daughter at a church whose organ got very little use. “We would always sing a cappella,” she explained in an interview a few years ago, “And instead of instruments we would clap or sing in rhythmic rounds.” A curious kid and a bit of a loner, Barwick showed a precocious fascination with the human voice. Her hobbies included harmonizing with random sounds, making up songs about whatever she was doing at the moment, and singing long, loud notes in hollowed-out spaces like parking garages and inside the trunk of a giant tree just to see what the echo would sound like. “It sounds kinda psycho, I know,” she admitted in our interview, but sometimes “I would sing to myself and get so lost in it that I would cry.”

Actually, it doesn’t sound that crazy; it’s very easy to become lost in the music that Barwick now makes as an adult. Over the span of her career, from her imaginative 2006 debut LPSanguine up through 2011’s dazzling breakthrough The Magic Place (the name is a nod to that aforementioned giant tree trunk, where she’d unwittingly discovered reverb), Barwick’s gradually refined a process that is at once inventive and incredibly simple. She sings short, reverb-drenched, often wordless vocal fragments into a loop station (though she made the loops on the painstakingly lo-fi Sanguine using just a guitar pedal) and layers them into luminous compositions that feel like the aural equivalent of an airplane ride through a cloud. Toweringly sublime yet invitingly human, her music has an uncanny power to transform whatever space it’s played in. It can make a cramped apartment feel like a high-ceilinged cathedral, or– when she plays in one– an actual cathedral feel like a gear-cluttered basement show. –Lindsay Zoladz, Pitchfork

comment, new releases: This year it turns out the top of the list elevates lots and lots of experiments gone very very right. Ms. Barwick uses her voice and Rebekah Heller uses a bassoon, but the end result is equally gripping. The most mainstream electronica here is Darkside’s Psychic, yet Nicholas Jaar and Dave Harrington seemingly render an 80’s soundtrack as if such a thing could be built today using the audio equivalent of Photoshop. It is splendid in its imagining what a mind meld between Derrick May and Pink Floyd and Giorgio Moroder might have sounded like.

Brian Lustmord’s journey with the human voice is unique in his output of grey scale ambient, and, it provides one of the best covers of the year. Aidan Baker is prolific; releasing eleven recordings this year. Likewise, Steve Roach, now on Bandcamp, released ten recordings. In any given year, if any two musical giants do so, it is highly probable I will note where the highest peaks are located at year-end. Curran, Cohen, and Krause are all older than I am and more power to aging explorers! Special thanks to Morphosis for bringing Cohen’s spare Buchla techno back into the light of day.

The reissues travel from Lustmord’s dark ambient, to The Hafler Trio’s UK techno, to Muslimgauze’s dependable Middle-eastern industrial, to Celer’s ambient scraping. Different strokes for different folks and each is delightful in, well, unique and different ways.

Deep Riches

Robert Rich

I’ve mentioned Robert Rich is a big influence on my own approach to sound design and ambient music. (The biggest difference is he is a master and I’m a charlatan.) What I have always responded to in Rich’s soundworld is the way he conjoins slow developing abstract sonics with at times tactile organic, and painterly ambient landscapes. As a listener, one can almost reach out and touch his sound.

As a musician he has been plying the analog waters for decades. Although he conducts his soundworld from a laptop these days, his genius is expressed through his command of modular synthesis. To this he adds (usually,) heavily treated flute, pedal steel guitar, and percussion.

Here’s an example of his innovative use of modular synthesizers.

Ambient music pioneer Robert Rich uses the MOTM-730 VC Divider to trigger 4 voices in synchopation, but with non-standard timing. He refers to this as the ‘penny in the dryer’ effect. | src

Robert Rich portal at Synthtopia. Interviews, performances, and a five part series on synthesizers.

Robert Rich Live @ Klusa Daba Festival 30.08.08 from Viktors Keino on Vimeo.

Interview-podcast podcast at solipsisticnation/

In the years that followed he developed a complex range of sounds founded upon the seamless integration of electronic, electric, and acoustic instrumentation, and the exploration of complex just tunings. His music continues to tend toward the organic and much of it is based on a concept in synthesis he refers to as glurp. His interest in using unique sounds has inspired him to create a large collection of original field recordings and homemade instruments. One of these instruments is a range of flutes made from PVC pipe. | wikipedia

Rich has issued, on average, about one record per year over 30 years. He’s collaborated with a lot of similarly evocative artists such as Alio Die, Ian Boddy, Markus Reuter. This includes masterful work with Steve Roach. Having absorbed almost every one, the best ones count as major masterpieces against his minor masterpieces. Sure, there have been a few missteps, but even these count as fascinating experiments. His so-called sleep concerts, where he unwinds hour after hour of archetypal lunar ambient sound are legendary. His very slow sleep music has been recorded, with Somnium being a highlight of his output.

Here’s are a handful of stone masterpieces to consider.

Robert Rich-Steve Roach - Soma
My favorite of his collaborations with Steve Roach.

Robert Rich-Lisa Moskow - Yearning
Peerless tribal ambient that achieves pride of place in that section of his recordings inflected by world music.

Robert Rich - Troubled
This compilation features recordings from 1993-1995, including The Simorgh Sleeps on Velvet Tongues, that was anthologized by Asphodel on Swarm of Drones. With drones, tribal meditations, and dark ambient excursions, this may be the only Rich record able to showcase the breadth of artistry.


My favorite Rich record is a collaboration with Brian Lustmord. Known for eerie, if not downright frightening, dark ambient, Lustmord’s aesthetic is slowed down and given the cinematic treatment by Rich, and Stalker ends up for me a relentlessly beautiful desert island disc.