The Avant Garde Project is a series of 20th-century classical-experimental-electroacoustic torrents digitized from LPs whose music has in most cases never been released on CD, and so is effectively inaccessible to the vast majority of music listeners today. This is wild stuff, so check it out if you've never heard this sort of music before. The analog rig used to extract the sound from the grooves is near state-of-the-art, producing almost none of the tracking distortion or surface noise normally associated with LPs.
AGP1-41 are now available for direct download in the archive at www.avantgardeproject.org
AGP42-43 are available at http://thepiratebay.org/user/loudav
AGP44 is the second in our occasional series of “found” avant garde. This week’s installment features transcriptions of some very nicely recorded mechanical musical instruments. They include music boxes and other plucked idiophones, street organs, orchestrions, mechanical violin ensembles, and the like. The repertoire is largely drawn from late 19th and early 20th century popular music and operatic arias, so it may seem out of place in the Avant Garde Project. But like the whale songs of AGP28, I have for years enjoyed listening to these recordings in the same spirit as I listen to late 20th century music. Mechanical musical instruments produce remarkably complex timbres, including not only the resonance of the music-making device but also the miscellaneous noises of motors, cranks, and other machinery.
By way of justification for this bizarre installment, let me offer the following:
Mechanical musical instruments arguably represent the origins of concrete music, in which the human performer is taken out of the equation. Before the technology existed for the reproduction of recorded sound, electronic tone generation, or amplification, people used motors, cranks, metal discs, and perforated paper spools to achieve something of the same end—albeit with more populist aspirations.
Mechanical musical instruments are one product of the alienation of human labor characteristic of the industrial revolution, which underlay much of the social critique infusing the avant-garde movement.
Compositions by composers such as Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Mauricio Kagel quote from popular works in part as critique of the debasement of music involved in the more vulgar of popular tastes. This is nowhere more pointed than in interpretation of dance music by machines that by nature cannot invest it with human feeling, for an audience that is consuming it either as background noise or in support of drunken revelry.
For much of his career, the highly regarded composer Conlon Nancarrow devoted himself to a kind of concrete music using player pianos to produce sounds that no human keyboard player could have achieved. Somewhat less deliberately, the herky-jerky rhythms produced by many mechanical musical instruments provide a musical experience that no human performer would offer, except in a virtuosic imitation of mechanical instruments.
In “Presque Rien”, Luc Ferrari produced a musique concrete work formed of largely unaltered recordings of environmental sounds. The transcriptions of AGP44 could be consumed in much the same way.
And finally, recordings of mechanical musical instruments feature in some of the electroacoustic works of Josef Anton Riedl included in the very first AGP installment.
No one of these arguments may fully justify such an AGP installment, but I hope that some justification may be achieved by a kind of triangulation. In any event, I invite you to experience these recordings as a peculiar and stimulating form of organized sound. I have found that one can finely adjust the nature of one’s listening experience based on the level of aesthetic irony with which one approaches it.
AGP44 is actually the first of four installments devoted to mechanical musical instruments of various types. My enthusiasm for these sounds got the better of me once I got started. Also, upon searching the internet, I realized that there are practically no high-quality recordings of mechanical musical instruments available for free download. So these installments should serve the community of mechanical musical instrument enthusiasts as well as the avant-garde community. I do not want to divert the AGP into this strange estuary for an entire month, so I will be releasing two installments per week, on Friday and Tuesday evenings at around midnight GMT. Two weeks from today, we will be back to business as usual with some unarguably electroacoustic music from France.
This week’s installment features instruments in the collection of Heinrich Brechbuhl, Steffisburg, and the National Museum from Musical Clock to Street Organ in Utrecht. The recordings are rich and detailed, and the LPs are top notch European pressings with practically no pressing or surface noise. The torrent includes images of many of the instruments as well as liner notes from the two LPs from which these recordings were transcribed.
Equipment used for A/D conversion: Lyra Helikon phono cartridge, Linn LP12/Lingo turntable, Linn Ittok tonearm, Audioquest LeoPard tonearm cable, PS Audio PS2 preamplifier, Kimber PBJ interconnect, M-Audio Audiophile USB A/D converter.
NOTE: To the best of my knowledge, these recordings are currently out of print. If you know otherwise, please let me know ASAP, as I do not wish any artists to be deprived of the royalties that they so richly deserve.