Long Listening
July 20, 2010 9:12 PM   Subscribe

It's a busy, chaotic and fragmented world. Maybe we can think slow (previously) and do some long listening.

If you've got the time during this hot, hazy summer, invest yourself in some art best absorbed slowly. A few examples worth exploring:

Eno's hour-long "Thursday Afternoon". His "Lightness - Music for the Marble Palace", a one hour selection of a hypothetically endless piece, and his tribute to Long Now, "Bell Studies".

A long classic single from The Orb.

Inspired by his own Sleep Concerts, Robert Rich's 7 hour "Somnium", released on DVD. Oh yeah, there's also an app for that.

Nurse With Wound's hypnotic multi-disc release, "Soliloquy for Lilith".

The seemingly endless output of Pete Namlook.

Harold Budd's droney "Abandoned Cities".

Steve Roach's slowly evolving "Immersion" series - "One", "Two", "Three" ("Three" itself is 3 discs long) and "Four".

La Monte Young's minimalist epic "The Well Tuned Piano".

And lastly, a 639 year long composition by John Cage.
posted by davebush (18 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
This post makes me wish there was a good source for the entire Music For 18 Musicians (Steve Reich) to link to. Sadly, anything I would find would be parts or chopped up.

Buy the album (any of the recordings are good) and fall into the eternal now.
posted by hippybear at 9:20 PM on July 20, 2010

posted by TwelveTwo at 9:20 PM on July 20, 2010

Corrected link for The Orb single.
posted by davebush at 9:21 PM on July 20, 2010

Suns of Arqa - Jaggernaut swirling dub

Seriously. I've listened to this thing a few hundred times over the past decade and still feel I've never reached the end of it. And you can sort of dance to it.
posted by philip-random at 9:46 PM on July 20, 2010

Thinking about the far future and thinking slowly are logically distinct sorts of thinking.
posted by astrofinch at 10:09 PM on July 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Think slow" and "think slowly" - logically distinct.
posted by davebush at 10:17 PM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

While you're linking sort of 'ambient' or 'minimal' (ugh, hate those words) electronica, you may as well mention Wolfgang Voigt's superlative Gas project [1 2 3 4] which Voigt said was aimed toward "bringing the forest to the disco, or vice versa."
posted by koeselitz at 10:19 PM on July 20, 2010

Waah! This post is awesome.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:34 AM on July 21, 2010

Terrifix, terrific psot. Thank you. Eno's bell studies album is one of my favorite recent discoveries.
posted by blucevalo at 4:38 AM on July 21, 2010

post, even
posted by blucevalo at 4:38 AM on July 21, 2010

I've been working in this mode myself since the many nights spent listening to Discreet Music in the seventies with my speakers rigged up in that off-phase surround set-up detailed on the album cover. I used to play the piano as gently as I could, with the sustain pedal down, just letting notes accumulate and interact in the ringing hollows of the body of the piano, and loved the sense of it all, and how my mind slows down, too.

Digital technology has really enabled me to finally create the kinds of pieces I'm inclined to make, and I've been doing installation work for spaces and exhibitions when I can get my hands on a room, as well slow music for stage and events. I've been honing my craft, and my interaction with my instruments, and it's always amazing to me how I tend to merge with the sound I'm making, until I sit back from my gear and realize I've been playing for hours without stopping.

I'm always suprised how few people enjoy slow, atmospheric music, or rather, how many people even know it exists, own a few recordings, or regularly take the time to listen to music that unfolds very slowly. I've played gigs before where I've been playing for forty-five minutes and someone comes up to me, a plastic cup of wine sloshing around in their hand, and asks "Umm, I heard there's supposed to be live 'ambient' music here. Can you tell me when it's going to start?"

Usually, there's a few people around who get it, and who picked up on the sounds behind the background long enough to notice that the room has a different space, but the notion of making music that requires a change in the speed of perception is still pretty novel to a lot of people. I started a podcast back in 2007, called 12 Minute Travelogues, after finding that twelve minutes was a good length for ambient pieces to unfold and drift, while still keeping the attention of people who might not be familiar with slow music. I haven't set the world on fire yet, but I get a decent number of hits each time I complete a podcast. When 12MT wraps up, probably this fall, I'm thinking of doing something even longer, to work on time scales I'm more comfortable with.

The only thing that gets me down is when people hear it and say "oh, you make new age music," which just makes me grit my teeth a little. I should be appreciative that people sort of have an idea of what I'm aiming for, but the enforced bliss and syrupy consonance of the "new age" isn't real to me, and just seems self-indulgent. Then again, I just dressed up as a nun and had a club full of people watching me with my hands in a little black box for a half hour, so I'm probably a little self-indulgent, too.

Thanks for the post. Sometimes I really get glum about continuing to be ambitious with my slow music, and it's great to know that people are out there, slowing down, changing focus, and listening.
posted by sonascope at 4:44 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Foolishly forgot to include Stars of the Lid.
posted by davebush at 5:52 AM on July 21, 2010

Sleepbot has been perhaps the most educational thing to happen to my music listening habits in the last 10 years, and is basically a permanent shuffle mix for people looking to be exposed to new ambient music.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:24 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, Mixing of Particulate Solids (1, 2, or 3) FTW.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:24 AM on July 21, 2010

It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that my earliest and most lasting musical influences were huge air vents, cicadas, and the interstate. I went to a thoroughly modern school back in the seventies, and by modern, I mean a sort of futuristic windowless hangar, where all the classes of each grade were housed in a hundred foot wide "pod" and separated only by low, movable partitions covered with bristly cloth in shades of burnt orange, harvest gold, ruddy umber, and avocado. Overhead, the ceilings were twenty feet high, black, and hidden behind a chaos of painted metal ducts, electrical runs, suspended fluorescent fixtures and vertical acoustic panels hung in a complex pattern.

Life was loud back then, a chorus of hundreds of kids completely undamped by all the burnt orange low pile carpet and acoustic traps carefully designed by cocaine-fueled seventies futurists, and it was, occasionally, hard to concentrate, all but for the sound. It was a low, throaty, constant roar, at a frequency you felt more than you heard it, the sound of forced air racing through the dull red exposed pipes of the overhead ductwork, and there were drones and chords, notes tuned by the accidental arithmetic of architecture, always just below the prison yard burble of four classes of unruly kids all being taught at once.

For a lover of distraction, it was the perfect world.

I could sit there, bored to tears by the endless repetition and the impenetrable "new" curriculum, where we were inexplicably taught octal mathematics because computers were the tool of the future, and just travel with my eyes, up into the plane of the lights. There were a few spotlights mixed in with the humming fluorescents there, aimed at safety targets like the exits and the water fountains and the bathrooms, and I'd stare into the bright points of light until they left amorphous infra-blue blotches burned into my retinas. With a little muscle control, you could direct the blobs around the room like remote controlled ghosts, or fragments of your awareness.

I'd send the blue spot roaming, tapping the heads of each kid in my class, and then circling my teacher's open mouth, before turning my attention upwards, into the darkness of the ceiling. With my blue spot, I'd carefully follow the run of each of the giant ducts, splitting off where they hit junction points and merging back in again down the line. As I focused on those spaces, I could see the subtle vibrations here and there where the ducts were not tied into the network of hanging wires as tightly as they could have been, and I'd register the image as I registered the sound, the trembling vibrato of subsonic sound that I could feel in my chest. With this, I turned away from chasing the blue spot and would just listen.

In time, I found them all, all the notes of the pod, played like a giant, inaudible chord in some exotic foreign tuning, and there was a real comfort there, in this understanding that there was a layer under what seemed like everything else in the world, constant and unyielding, and noticed only by me.

Sometimes, I thought I might be a superhero, but I just hadn't found my power yet.

Duct-listening doesn't amount to much, in the overall scheme of crime-fighting, but it was the gateway to other levels. By the time I reached the last pod, where the fifth graders readied themselves for crossing to the other side of the building, where the pods were bigger, with big desks and big chairs and big ideas, I was so bored with school that all I could do some days was sit and stare.

I'd sit and I'd stare, picking out a fixed point, and listen to the ducts, falling into their gentle, roaring, quiet space, just under the cacaphony above that level, and before long, I noticed that I could see fireworks, even with my eyes open. You know the fireworks, of course, and the swirl of colors, vibrant and black at once, that you see when your eyes are closed. I'd sit and I'd stare, and I'd start seeing them without closing my eyes, and as the semester wore on, I found that I could lose myself in those fireworks until the rest of the world, the real world, just closed in like an iris, down to a single point of light, and then went away.

As it happened, I was lucky enough to have the best teacher I've ever known, a woman with an easy laugh and a curiosity about life that she shared with us over a wry turn of phrase and a stern, but respectful, manner. I spent a couple days in her class, blind to the world, listening to ducts, before she caught me in the act, sitting there, sightless, with eyes as flat and empty as painted dolls' eyes.

In those days, I'd managed to talk myself out of recess, having made the perfect argument against the lackluster joys of running around with bullies at my heels, and thus was allowed to spend every other recess alone in the science lab, doing quiet experiments. My teacher found me in there one day, and asked me what I was doing when I was sitting in class, as silent as a corpse and staring at nothing, and I told her.

In truth, I turned the tables, just for that moment, and taught her what I knew. I told her about the boredom, the emptiness, and the sound, and about the blue spot and the fireworks and the iris closing and everything. She didn't interrupt, roll her eyes, or question a thing.

Maybe a week later, she came back to me, grinning broadly, and said "Joe, if that isn't just the craziest thing!" She'd taken a little time each day, after class, to try it out, and had arrived, in the dark, surrounded by fireworks and the song of the ducts.

It was the end of my blinded classes, at least with her, though. She'd see me there, dead to the world, in my own bliss, and would snap her fingers at me, saying "eyes back on," before continuing with her lessons, and as things slowly came back into focus, she'd wink at me. Of course, I was bitterly disappointed to realize that my only superhero power was the ability to turn my eyes off, like a sort of hands-free version of peril-sensitive sunglasses, and it took me years to realize that the real superpower, which I find in the intersection of the drone and the everyday, is a different kind of attention, untethered from time and bullshit.

I started listening to cicadas singing, and the way their song comes from every direction, and the sound of the nearby highway in the wee hours, when it would be filtered by the morning haze and the treetops of the intervening woods into a kind of phasing, sweeping, lush prismatic drone that I always imagined sounded like the Earth turning slowly on its axis.

The first time I got my hands on a synthesizer, back when synthesizers were still pretty simple beasts, and found out how many pictures you could make out of a single note, held down while delicately exploring the thicket of knobs like a monk raking gravel in a rock garden, I knew what I wanted to do. Like my superpower, it has not made me rich, famous, or important, but when I'm there, in that lost, open moment, it just doesn't matter.

I will never be able to quit my day job, making the music I make.

Now and then, though, I can quit the world, and that's more than enough.
posted by sonascope at 6:52 AM on July 21, 2010 [9 favorites]

Thanks for all these!

Zendesk's FM3 Buddha Machine Wall (prev/self-link) might fit in here, though the samples are shorter and might be too active for the realms of multi-hour productions.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:15 AM on July 21, 2010

Rhys Chatham's "Two Gongs" comes immediately to mind. A 64 minute composition for two Chinese gongs. It's drone-y and lovely.
posted by statolith at 7:45 AM on July 21, 2010

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posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:52 AM on July 21, 2010

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