Aleksander Kolkowski is a composer, violinist, sound artist and researcher born and based in London. In a career spanning more than 30 years as a professional musician, he has appeared at major festivals worldwide and recorded for numerous record labels with various ensembles, bands and as a solo performer.
Over the past 12 years he has explored the potential of historical
sound recording and reproduction technology, combining horned violins,
gramophones and wax cylinder phonographs, to make contemporary
mechanical-acoustic music. This work has been shown across Europe and in
the USA, and broadcast by the BBC, WDR, Deutschlandradio and others.
In 2002 while resident in Berlin, Aleks founded Recording Angels, a
project that examines our relationship to recorded sound using
phonographs and acetate record cutters in performances, installations
and workshops. Large-scale works have been commissioned by MaerzMusik –
Berlin, Sonic Arts Network and the BFI South Bank.
He is an AHRC award holder and is currently completing a PhD at
Brunel University, London, combining practice-based and organological
research into early forms of mechanical amplification.
Aleks has recently been appointed as the London Science Museum’s sound artist-in-residence for 2012.
Jasmine Guffond created an application for android devices that sonifies wireless WI-FI and GPS networks, providing a sonic presence to phenomena that usually lies beyond human perception. Intersecting with the social, technological and political convergences within modern society, a society on the move – one walks through the city intercepting these wireless global infrastructures, the sonification of which, creates a compositional mapping within our everyday environments.
The first half of the title, Anywhere, all the time – was lifted from
the NSA Treasure Map document, leaked from the Snowden archive. It
outlines the NSA’s mission to build a near real-time interactive map of
the global internet that will “Map the entire internet – Any device,
anywhere, all the time” via the installation of traceroute generators in
“unwitting” data centres around the globe. Portable smart devices, by
the very characteristics that determine their success, also make them
particularly suitable as surveillance devices. Wi-fi technology, cell
phone towers and locative media provide specific geo-reference to
material territories so that it becomes possible to quite literally
‘follow the actor’.
The second half of the title, a permanent soundtrack to your life –
is a reference to the musical structure of the work and the ever-present
nature of wireless networks. John Cage’s dictum that “music is
permanent; only listening is intermittent” (1982) can be applied to the
listening of ever-present ubiquitous information networks, a ceaseless
production of sonic matter that proceeds and exceeds individual
Sound, like WI-FI and GPS data transmissions, functions as
omnipresent waves, and the sonification of these imperceptible networks
explores a ‘music’ with no fixed linear direction. By providing a sonic
presence to digital surveillance & communication infrastructure, the
listener is able to access their personal soundtrack anywhere, all the
time. By providing a direct sensory experience of data through sound I’m
interested in how it feels to live in a culture where our public space
is mediated by technological infrastructure that simultaneously empowers
via communication and compromises via the potential of surveillance. Do
our smart devices operate primarily as bridges or walls?
Records, God, didja ever stop to think the world is filled with billions of ‘em? No, you didn’t — chances are, if you read this magazine in the first place, you’re more or less like the author of this article, whose most memorable childhood fantasy was growing up to have a mansion with catacombs underneath containing –alphabetized in endless winding dimly-lit musty rows — every album ever released. I can tell you what a psychoanalyst would make of that: he’d say I had some kind of anal fixation. And he’d be right. I like shit!
In my own defense I gotta say I wasn’t always this way. The first record I ever bought was TV Action Jazz by Muncell Lowe & His All-Stars, as pristine a masterpiece as ever immortalized by RCA Camden. But from there one could only ascend so far into the heavens until one possessed all the celestial milestones of recorded art and there was nowhere to go but into the trackless depths of anomalies, absurdities and dogshit. When you’ve got three copies of White Light/White Heat, eight copies of Raw Power, and everything ever cut by Miles Davis, the next step is obvious: choo choo trains on location and the complete works of Gary Lewis & the Playboys. Besides which deep in my soul I’m not kidding myself at all: I know that when I started my record buying career back in 1958, I was already perverse enough that when I bought David Seville & the Chipmunks’ singles I was really into the Ross Bagdasarian instrumental novelty B-sides, whose titles spoke for themselves: “Mediocre,” “Almost Good,” “Flip Side.”
This same perverse streak obviously runs through the record industry itself: knowing that they have dedicated their lives to hyping product 90% of which is essentially worthless now and will be dead in a few weeks or months, they like to compound their guilt by from time to time releasing records so patently ridiculous that you’d think the game was up, were it not for the fact that occasionally one of these monstrosities will hit. For which I am eternally grateful as a connoisseur of all this stuff, because it only takes one such hit to justify ten tons more vinyl miscreants on the familiar “who knows what those crazy kids will go for next” rationale.
Since the Seventies seem destined to go down in history as our most ridiculous decade, it only stands to reason that ridiculous records should become the norm instead of anomalies. Lissen buddy, today quality is anomalous, but that’s okay with me, because I’ve already got all the best records ever made anyway, and personally am glad that the industry has seen fit to begin catering to those of my…shall we say rarified tastes?
But, when that long road from preproduction brainstorm to bargain bin is finally run, certain albums will stand above all competitors, distinguishing themselves either by being so far off the beaten quagmires that what they represent could never be familiarized and resold to the masses, or, conversely by being the most flagrantly excessive examples of their particular formula ever eructated on the public.
Here, then, in no particular order of importance for obvious reasons and because each stands by itself, are my Top Ten Abominations of the Decade (in other words, given above mentioned prevailing currents, the best records of our time):
1. HAVING FUN WITH ELVIS ON STAGE (RCA)
Proof positive that the King loved his fans with such blinding intensity that he never gave them less than the very best he was capable of: this entire album consists of his between song patter, a la “Hey, I think I’m gettin’ my scarf caught in my mouth.”
There are certain fanatics who feel that Blue Hawaii was a better album than this ultimate gift of gab, but then there are also people who feel that The Don Ho Show deserved to be cancelled.
Yes, this is what America thought of women in the unliberated Fifties: the cover features two atmospheric black and white snapshots of a dumpy aproned drudge at basin and board. Liner notes: “The therapeutic value of certain music has been known for a long, long time.”
This music is for washing and ironing tightened technologically to produce a society of optimum production and consumption…Muzak ‘nother words. “With this album you can actually experience the concept of stimulus progression. Move the needle of your record player from one selection to the other. Listen a few seconds to each. Feel the change in mood as the stimulation increases from the first selection to the other. Far more than a name, Muzak has spearheaded the unique usage of the music called functional music…”
3. SONGS OF THE HUMPBACK WHALE (Capitol)
Language and Music of the Wolves (Columbia) and Songs of the Humpback Whale and it’s sequel Deep Voices — both on Capitol, appeared ca. 1970-71 — obviously a good time to be a sentient nonhuman if you were looking for a recording contract. The Wolves record features one side of various solo and group howls by wolves of all ages, and one side of Robert Redford telling us all about “The Wolf You Never Knew.” I still don’t know him, because I never played that side, but the flip has provided both me and my canine cohabitants with many hours of pleasure over the years. As for the whales, prospective purchasers should note that the first album is more starkly minimalist, being mainly comprised of the big fellas making like Miles Davis on a bad night though, while Deep Voices offers more variety in such atmospheric numbers as “Surrounded by Snoring” and “Deep Breathing.”
4. THE BEST OF MARCEL MARCEAU (MGM)
Many feel this to be the ultimate concept album, while many others feel that it does not exist. But I ask ye unbelieving: would I, have I, ever lied to you? And if a record like this was possible, would MGM think twice about putting it out? Although the liner also mysteriously bears the imprint “Gone-If Records,” as well as the word “Imagine!” in giant black letters. Conceived and produced by Michael Viner, a chops-buster if there ever was one. Label copy for each one: “1. Silence — 19:00 2. Applause — 1:00.” Marcel and his audiences are equally precise in their respective arts. Okay, so that joke stinks. Today is the first time I have pulled “The Best of Marcel Marceau” out of its sleeve in five years, and it still smells good, not mouldy at all. Then again, this is one of those rare records that never dates. In fact it doesn’t even fool around.
5. CHICAGO AT CARNEGIE HALL (Columbia)
No list of greatest recorded accomplishments of any decade would be complete without inclusion of at least one live album, and while it is true that both the animals and Environments records were on-the-spot recordings, I think it’s fitting that we should include one which is, after all, music. At least that’s what the fans of Chicago keep telling me. The double live LP by a major rock band was one of the most oft-repeated formulae in the decade and I believe that Chicago at Carnegie Hall (1971) represents the genre at apogee.
This Chicago album was a boxed four record set, including a book, a poster, and a voter registration outline. It’s musical highlight was was Walter Parazaider’s wildly eclectic flute solo in “It Better Be Soon — Second Movement,” which started with “Morning Song” from Greig’s “Peer Gynt Suite,” shifted abruptly to “Dixie Land,” to cheers from the audience, and thence to “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” complete with martial drum rolls.
6. URI GELLER (Columbia)
This record, circa 1975 proved conclusively that Geller is a fake. Not only did his poetry eat rat root, but we must face cosmic facts: if the cat really had his act together, you wouldn’t have to get up and turn it over to hear side two. Not that you’d want to, anyway. Come to think of it, if Uri was what he claims to be, not only could he will or should I say weld you into your chair until you had listened to every last second of this piece of dogswill, but it would also have been the bestselling album of all time, as hands in record shops around the world moved, propelled by strange forces from out of the air to pick it up, pull out their wallets and…
7. THE WIND HARP (UA)
Somewhere on this hill up in New England somebody stuck up this giant harp. Breezes come by and fan the strings. That’s God’s music, buddy, and knowing what a flair for the hook God has shown over the years — not to mention being a consistent chart-topper — United Artists Records were more than happy to tape his act with the Wind Harp and even release it as a two-record set (I mean, hell, you gotta give God at least as much space as a live heavy metal band). Later his celestial musings on this by now probably somewhat rusty instrument were, as usual, appropriated by the Devil, turning up the soundtrack for The Exorcist.
8. DAWN AT NEW HOPE, PA. (Atlantic)
Atlantic Records and Syntonic Research, Inc.’s Environments series. I have nothing against these records in principle — a friend claims that playing the surf noises on the first record absorbs the traffic noises and crime-of-violence shrieks penetrating apartment walls in New York City, thus obviously reducing the tortures of the damned (meaning apartment dwellers, not crime victims). But I began to suspect they might be running short of inspiration, if not long on scam, when they followed Volume 2’s Dawn at New Hope, Pennsylvania with Volume 3’s Dusk at New Hope, Pennsylvania. Still, David Peel completests will want to pick up Volume 3, because he makes a cameo appearance on side one’s “Be-In (A Psychoacoustic Experience),” recorded at Sheep Meadow in Central Park April 6, 1969.
9. CALIFORNIA 99 (ABC)
Released late 1971 and subjected to an in-depth analysis by yours truly upon that occasion in the pages of this very magazine, this was truly the ultimate rock opera concept album. I know, I know, I hear you clamoring Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat or Camel’s Snow Goose or The Naked Carmen. But “California 99,” whose plot was far too complex toattempt to recap here, was the only science fiction concept rock opera in history to also include Jimmy Witherspoon singing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which makes it a document spanning over a century of American history even if you can’t find it in bargain bins anymore.
10. SENATOR SAM – Sam J. Ervin (Columbia)
This wasn’t the only record to come out of Watergate, of course — we much not overlook Orson Welles’ “The Begatting of the President” or the J.B.’s “You Can Have Watergate Just Gimme Some Bucks and I’ll Be Straight.” But, as critic Billy Altman pointed out in his Creem magazine review when it came out (when do you think, bozo?), it comes from a hallowed tradition: Senator Everett Dirksen’s “Gallant Men,” Senator Bobby’s “Wild Thing,” and John Wayne’s “America, Why I Love Her,” featuring “The Hyphen,” about how all hyphenated Americans (Mexican-, Afro-, etc.) were right up there with white folks. But Senator Sam was a true national hero, and in many ways this was his Self Portrait, as he recited his covers of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “The First Amendment.” (Which also reminds me of another great celebrity record: Telly on MCA, where the chromedome cop recited songs like Bread’s “If,” — which in turn reminds me of Ted Knight’s “Hi Guys!,” which I have heard about and seen a picture of the cover but never actually heard so I don’t know whether he sings or recites or what label it’s on…) Sam was 77 years old when this record was cut, but when he got down to the serious business of reciting self-penned folk-funnies like “Zeke and the Snake” he didn’t sound a day over 78.
Honorable mention for also-rans: Les Crane’s Desiderata, Kreskin’s World of ESP, Godfrey Daniel, Disco Duck (one of the only RSO albums not to feature Eric Clapton — I think they had to bar him from the sessions), Lou Reed’s Berlin, the Carpenters in outer space, Klaatu, the Orphic Egg series on London, the Golddiggers on RCA, Kim Fowley’s continuing efforts in behalf of mankind, Tangerine Dream and various solo spinoffs, the Get Off antidrug radio station albums, The Roto Rooter Goodtime Christmas Band, Magma who invented their own language, Steven Grossman who came out of the closet on Mercury for nothing because gays were supposed to play hard rock that year, Jonathan King’s Bubble Rock is Here to Stay, the Brady Bunch album featuring “American Pie,” Jobriath, The Sensuous Woman by J on Atlantic, and David Bromberg, beloved of his mother.
The P16.D4 were a collective of musicians active in the 80s focusing on the creative use of tape loops, sampling and the transformation of previously recorded material in deference to the teaching of the darkest concrete music.
They have long-standing collaborations with authors such as Merzbow, DDAA, Nurse with Wound, Vortex Campaing.
The PD began at the end of 1979 as a solo project by Joachim Stender, who at that time was studying in Mainz as a festival organizer. With the group “Messehalle” he tried (working together under the name of Neue Deutsche Welle) to bring to Mainz the punk / new wave / no wave / industrial movement.
At the beginning of 1980, Ralf Wehowsky and Joachim Pense joined the band, and the first album “Alltag” was released. Shortly thereafter he followed the LP “Inweglos”, which was joined by Ewald Weber, Achim Szepanski, Roger Schönauer and Gerd Poppe.
The remaining members, also with Wehowsky, continued with P16.D4. Through its influence, work on noise itself has become more important, with an explicit reference to concrete music. Stefan Schmidt, who soon joined, was an enrichment with his education in classical composition.
The characteristic of the group was the mode of production: the continuous elaboration and reorganization of the existing sound material from previous productions, known as “recycling”, also from the works of other artists (Mail Art) prefiguring a sort of sampling. This concept of exchange of materials can be seen in the projects “DI STRUCTURES” (1985) with the participation of international artists. Other LPs: Mass Human (1984), Cows in 1/2 Mourning (1984), Nothing, Nobody, Nowhere, Never (1986, with SBOTHI), Captured Music (1989), acRID acME (1989). They themselves have described their work process with “cuts, changes of direction, change of speed, tape ripples, harmonization, distortion.”
Walter Adolf Giers (1937-2006) was a pioneer of electronic arts and audio installations.
The intuition of Giers after the first studies in Design, Jazz and steel engraving, was his idea to transform the circuits into design objects, conveying the usefulness of the circuitry in an object that today could be considered by the captivating design. His works are not just objects that produce sounds or lights, in deference to the theories on the cybernetics of Weiner and Louis Barron, but they are also pure design objects.
In 1968 he conceived his first interactive work: “Mr.Brabbel”, where the viewer can manipulate and influence the object itself by modifying the sounds and lights produced by the work. This principle will be the basis of many of his future works. In advance of what the Arduino systems today allow to do easily.
As one of the largest collections of field recordings from Ghana,
this digital collection includes recorded interviews, musical
demonstrations, field notebooks, photographs, commentary, and other
original source material surrounding Koetting’s research. The collection
highlights his extensive work with Kasena musicians in Accra (Nima) and
in the Kasena region near the country’s border with Burkina Faso and
also documents Akan, Ewe, Ga, Dagomba, and other musical types and
activities of the time. Koetting served on the Brown University Music
faculty from 1975 until his death in 1984.
The James Koetting Ghana Field Recordings collection presents a vibrant mix of traditional and popular music recorded at a broad range of locations and events in Ghana during the 1970s by ethnomusicologist James Koetting. Students and researchers can hear online the complete archive of Koetting’s field tapes — 142 audio reel tapes — of musical performances from arts festivals, traditional ceremonies and events, stage concerts, church services, and less formal gatherings and sessions throughout Ghana.
This project is supported, in part, by the Scott Chanchien Memorial Library Fund.