Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, January 14, 2004


According to the web site of Toronto-based music critic Carl Wilson, zoilus.com, Toronto based composer John Oswald has a new album out, and I really want to hear it. Oswald is famous for his Plunderphonics, music created completely out of samples, altered and unaltered. His most widely heard Plunderphonics piece is a 2-CD collage commissioned by the Grateful Dead, made up entirely of excerpts from hundreds of live versions of the Dead playing their song "Dark Star." Speaking as a lukewarm-to-lukecool Dead fan, I find the piece lovely and enchanting; a lot of serious Dead fans apparently dig it too. Some of Oswald's shorter Plunderphonics pieces are brilliant -- witty and exhilarating.

Oswald's new album, "Aparanthesi," also relies on computer-altered sound. It consists of two 30-minute versions of one note. Oswald processes all sorts of sounds from nature and culture and pitch-fixes them to same note. The interest comes from the changing timbres.

Lately I've been thinking more about the history of timbre. How the gravelly sound of Louis Armstrong's voice transformed music as much as his rhythmic and melodic genius. Edgard Varese and John Cage brought what had been considered "noise" to their music. Musicians are always looking for new sounds.

Tone -- timbre -- tone is It. A sociology professor once told me that some huge X percentage (I don't remember the exact number) of verbal communication consists of tone of voice, and that the information from the meaning of the words spoken makes up a minority of the information communicated. Singing is acting; life and emotions are endlessly complex. Tone carries ample portions of complexity.

John Oswald's new CD promises a wealth of tone-magic compressed into one note. I listen forward to hearing it.
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