December 4, 2011 3:39 AM   Subscribe

"2,3,4 or more microphones are suspended from the ceiling by their cables so that they all hang the same distance from the floor and are all free to swing with a pendular motion. Each microphone’s cable is plugged into an amplifier which is connected to a speaker. Each microphone hangs a few inches directly above or next to its speaker.

"The performance begins with performers taking each mike, pulling it back like a swing, and then in unison releasing all of them together. Performers then carefully turn up each amplifier just to the point where feedback occurs when a mike swings directly over or next to it’s speaker. Thus, a series of feedback pulses are heard which will either be all in unison or not depending on the gradually changing phase relations of the different mike pendulums.

"Performers then sit down to watch and listen to the process along with the audience.

"The piece is ended sometime after all mikes have come to rest and are feeding back a continuous tone by performers pulling out the power cords of the amplifiers."—Steve Reich.
posted by misteraitch (16 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Oh that Sonic Youth track (first link) is brilliant!
posted by scrowdid at 4:15 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hyper-cardioid infarction.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:23 AM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Top Ten Ubuweb!
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:30 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Watching one of these is interesting, for about 2 minutes, but that's about all I can take. Getting an audience to sit still for an 8-minute live version — seems like a con job. To me the whole idea is more sculptural than musical, so presenting it as a performance with mikes swinging in is a pretty one-dimensional execution. I'd like to see this done in a large gallery or museum space, with more mikes and speakers, speakers pointing in multiple directions, mikes sent into rotational swings as well as straight pendulums, mikes passing more than one speaker in each swing, some kind of gearwork to keep them swinging or automatically restarting them, and the audience able to move around the piece. This is the kind of thing Tim Hawkinson does with his Uberorgan — a very different mechanism and sound, but basically an enormous musical instrument that's presented as a sculptural experience rather than a sit-down performance experience.
posted by beagle at 5:30 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

That is awful. Also, welcome to every space movie made prior to 1978.
posted by gjc at 6:12 AM on December 4, 2011

This is fantastic! I've always liked Pendulum Music for its interaction between simple physics and interesting tones. The Sonic Youth track, by the way, is taken from their fantastic album Goodbye 20th Century, their ode to avant-garde music. (Predictably, the Metafilter meh brigade has turned out to shit on it, but at this point that just means you're doing things right)
posted by Frobenius Twist at 6:44 AM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

Getting an audience to sit still for an 8-minute live version — seems like a con job.

Nonsense. If you watch the video, some of them are drinking beer.
posted by sneebler at 7:09 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Steve Reich's Friday
posted by leotrotsky at 7:46 AM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's fascinating to think there was a time when music stunts like this were provocative. I guess Cage finally won the reductio ad absurdum here. It's too bad that this stuff gets the most exposure, because some of the more traditional music these artists did are more than just gimmicks. Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, for instance, or Come Out if you prefer experimental. Cage's prepared piano works are absolutely fantastic and eminently listenable, too.
posted by Nelson at 8:37 AM on December 4, 2011

Steve Reich is great. Yes he pushes boundaries, into things that don't have instant or broad appeal, but he also finds new and remarkable spaces - my favourite to date is the CD Different Trains/Electric Counterpoint. Both compositions are great; parts of Electric Counterpoint (commissioned and performed by Pat Methany) are ... exultant. IMHO.

In my teens (early '70s), before I'd heard of Cage, Varese and Reich, I had a passion for analog open-reel tape machines. When a tape machine has a separate record and play head, you can create a short discrete echo by recording and at the same time picking up the slightly-delayed playback, then re-introducing that delay back into the record input, creating a feedback loop.

One afternoon I created a setup with an open mic going to the record input, the playback output going to an amp and speaker, which is picked up by the mic... creating a loop consisting of tape delay + room acoustics, set just on the verge of continuous feedback.

I 'stimulated' this setup by bouncing a tennis ball against the wall. Each bounce came back through the speaker transformed, building to a tone then fading away.

...well, I thought it was cool. Shoulda had the mic swinging too, maybe.
posted by Artful Codger at 9:03 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Some of the comments above echo Reich’s own thoughts about the piece (as stated in the 2nd link in the post): he thought the first concert performance he gave of it was, at ten minutes’ duration ‘a little too long’; he reckons it ‘audible sculpture’ at home in a gallery, less so at a concert-hall; and he downplays it as relatively inconsequential—‘It's not a piece that needs to be done very often. I was not interested in recording (it).’ Even so, he affirms that ‘Conceptually, it fits hand-in-glove with my other work. It's a phase piece, a process piece.’

I like it. While it is undoubtedly a ‘stunt’ piece, I think it has a value beyond that. I’d only ever heard the Sonic Youth version before today & greatly enjoyed seeing/hearing a bunch more.

Something else Reich-related on YouTube that caught my eye earlier: solo performances of Piano Phase.
posted by misteraitch at 10:58 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I really don't understand why this is supposed to be "provocative". It's a perfectly decent piece of music, it sounds interesting, and really sounds like an awful lot of what today is called "noise music", something that gets really good crowds of young people (at least around where I live).

Eight minutes by today's standards is hardly long unless you're talking about pop songs played on the radio. This sort of music is a lot of fun to be in the room with, in fact (as long as it's not too loud) - extremely meditative and relaxing.

Certainly, it takes some education to appreciate - it's only after sitting through endless guitar solos and orchestration decisions that you learn to appreciate music where no human is making constant choices! - but I don't see anyone here commenting on, say, some mathematical theorem that most people don't understand by saying it's "conceptual" or "provocative", and it'd take you a lot longer to understand even something comparatively basic like the Riemann Zeta function than it would to understand "noise music" or "minimal music".
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:41 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Related: György Ligeti's Poema sinfónico para 100 Metrónomos
posted by mediareport at 1:00 PM on December 4, 2011

an awful lot of what today is called "noise music"

Sometimes putting those two words together doesn't make sense. Sure if it's an attempt to collage noises into something with musicality, but noise per se (natural or artifactual) in itself can be really interesting as a concrete noun instead of a dignifying adjective... Leaving out the word 'music' avoids evoking a set of expectations that may be disappointing or prejudicial.

People Who Do Noise is a recent 80-minute documentary exploring some of the possibilities. Here's a PDF, nicely typeset by UBU, of Russolo's century-old thoughts on the subject.
posted by Twang at 7:10 PM on December 4, 2011

Codger: One afternoon I created a setup with an open mic going to the record input, the playback output going to an amp and speaker, which is picked up by the mic... creating a loop consisting of tape delay + room acoustics, set just on the verge of continuous feedback.

That's more or less what Alvin Lucier did to create one of the most cited examples of early electroacoustic music out there.
posted by daisystomper at 9:10 PM on December 4, 2011

Sorry, the feedback-storm posts go in the Hüsker Dü thread down the hall.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:00 AM on December 5, 2011

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