Clocks of the Midnight Hours: The Work of Max Eastley

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I was hoping this might turn up on YouTube eventually, my copy being stuck on a VHS tape. Clocks of the Midnight Hours (1986) is a 25-minute film about the music of Max Eastley directed by Simon Reynell. The title is taken from a Borges poem. What makes Eastley’s music special is that all his instruments are unique “sound sculptures” that range through autonomous devices, to wind- and water-activated instruments, to creations requiring human performance. Some of the sounds, if not the look of the instruments, will be familiar to anyone who’s heard Buried Dreams, the album Eastley made in 1994 with frequent collaborator David Toop. Both Eastley and Toop appear in the film (the latter masked by a wicker helmet), as does Evan Parker in a performance in Kent’s Cavern, Torquay. An earlier Eastley & Toop collaboration, New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments (1975), may be heard at Ubuweb.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Max Eastley’s musical sculptures

Night Music in two parts

Night Music One by Feuilleton on Mixcloud

Night Music I
The Hafler Trio – Soundtrack To “Alternation, Perception, And Resistance” — A Comprehension Exercise (1985)
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Volume II: Untitled 4/1 (Hankie) (1994)
Michael Brook – Earth Floor (1985)
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Volume II: Untitled 10/1 (Tree) (1994)
Biosphere – Startoucher (1994)
Black Lung – Rex 84 (1995)
Biosphere – Biosphere (1992)
Holger Czukay – Radio In An Hourglass (1993)
Rapoon – Rains (1993)
Clock DVA – Memories Of Sound (1992)

Night Music Two by Feuilleton on Mixcloud

Night Music II
Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia – Dust (At The Crossroads) (1994)
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Volume II: Untitled 2/2 (Parallel Stripes) (1994)
Harold Budd – The Gunfighter (1986)
Divination – Errata (1993)
Coil – Dismal Orb (1992)
Biosphere – Mir (1994)
David Toop and Max Eastley – Rising Up Before Us Like Things (1994)
Angelo Badalamenti – Night Life In Twin Peaks (1990)
Coil – The Sleeper II (1992)
Jon Hassell – Empire II (1983)
The Grid – Virtual (1990)
Biosphere – En-trance (1994)

After signing up to Mixcloud earlier this year I’ve only managed to compile one mix so here’s an unseasonal attempt to compensate.

Night Music was a bona fide mix on cassette tape that I put together in 1994, intended as a response to Kevin Martin’s double-disc compilation from the same year, Ambient 4: Isolationism. The three previous entries in Virgin’s Ambient… series were fairly routine reworkings of the label’s back catalogue, collections of more-or-less ambient material with light electronica. Martin’s compilation concentrated on the darker, doomier end of the musical spectrum, and also pulled in music from outside the Virgin fold. It arrived as a considerable tonic after several years of diluted techno and psychedelic clichés being marketed as “ambient”.

Night Music is much more of a genuine DJ mix than Ectoplasm Forming. I didn’t have any proper mixing equipment at the time so had to record every other track onto stereo videotape then play back the tape while fading the rest of the tracks in and out from the CD player. The whole thing was recorded live to a C-100 cassette. Rather than run the mix as a single track I’ve kept the two sides separate; both sides were programmed with beginnings and endings so work better this way. I transferred the mix to CD several years ago, and still listen to it every so often. There’s a little too much Biosphere but apart from that I wouldn’t alter the track list.

As usual I’ll be away for a few days so the { feuilleton } archive feature will be activated to summon posts from the past below this one. Enjoy your wassail.

Previously on { feuilleton }
A mix for Halloween: Ectoplasm Forming

Automates Ki

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Following the post last week about the Gamelatron, Masha left a comment referring me to the similar, if less harmonious, Automates Ki systems of Canadian composer Maxime De La Rochefoucauld who describes his constructions as “musical robots activated by inaudible frequencies”. He also says:

Ki is a japanese concept : roughly, it is the invisible vital energy that makes things move. I use this word as an allegory for the energy that animates my automatons. The listener and spectator only hears and sees the consequences of this vibration. In this context, my Automates Ki are “spokespersons” for the vibration instead of invented musical instruments, since to build them I use previously created instruments gathered from various countries.

For several years I have worked on a system of my own invention that animates the automatons, producing a music centered on percussion. The Systeme Ki™ transforms inaudible low-frequency modulations into an acoustic phenomenon.

The Automates Ki comprises a speaker joined to a musical instrument. A pliable firing pin is set on the speaker. The firing pin, when animated by the vibration of the speaker, hits the acoustic instruments (drums, cymbals, strings instruments) in an oscillating manner.

There’s a website devoted to these works, and a MySpace page, but the best appraisal can be had by viewing some of the composer’s YouTube clips.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Gamelatron
Metronomes
Cristalophonics: searching for the Cocteau sound
Max Eastley’s musical sculptures
The Reactable
The Ondes Martenot

The Gamelatron

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The Gamelatron at Galapagos Art Space March 2009. Photo by Gisella Sorrentino.

A laptop-controlled gamelan orchestra by Zemi17 aka A. Taylor Kuffner. See it in operation here. (Is it Gamelatron or GamelaTron? Their spellings differ…)

The GamelaTron is the fruit of a collaboration between The League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR) and the composer Zemi17: A. Taylor Kuffner.

Modeled after traditional Balinese and Javanese gamelan orchestras, the GamelaTron is an amalgamation of traditional instruments with a suite of percussive sound makers. MIDI sequences control 117 robotic striking mechanisms that produce intricately woven and rhythmic sound. Performances follow an arc similar to classic Indonesian gatherings, where stories from great epics, such as the Ramayana, are told and settings given in words that are continued in music.

Sounds overly-mechanical to my ears but then that’s probably inevitable given the way the instruments are being controlled. The classic Nonesuch Explorer recordings of Javanese and Balinese gamelan orchestras follow less rigid rhythmic patterns. And being recorded outdoors the Indonesian music is augmented by background atmospheres from birds and insects.

For more variations on the gamelan theme, there’s 23 Skidoo’s Urban Gamelan album (recently reissued) and the many chiming electronic exercises by Paul Schütze.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Paul Schütze online
Metronomes
Cristalophonics: searching for the Cocteau sound
Max Eastley’s musical sculptures
The Reactable
The Ondes Martenot

Junkopia

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A curious short film over at Ubuweb by Chris Marker, John Chapman and Frank Simeone, depicting driftwood sculptures at the shore of San Francisco Bay which resemble the remnants of some Ballardian cargo cult. The film was made in 1981 and the sculptures look weathered and dated enough (rainbow stripes; what appears to be a lunar lander) to be products of the early 1970s. The atmospheric soundtrack is reminiscent of Max Eastley’s recordings, some of which use the force of sea-borne winds to generate their sounds.

And while we’re on the subject of Mr Marker, I hadn’t noticed this Marker-related blog before.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Max Eastley’s musical sculptures
Penguin Labyrinths and the Thief’s Journal
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk
Monsieur Chat
Sans Soleil