Monday, April 23, 2012

Bob Ostertag's Motormouth

Last July, Bob Ostertag released an album called Motormouth, which was made entirely with the Buchla 200E. Being familiar with his noisier and more frenetic music, I was taken aback at how low-key this album is (i.e. I could potentially play it while my girlfriend is in the room). It was a pleasant surprise, and the sounds here feel both dated and timeless.

You can listen to or download Motormouth for free from Soundcloud or the Free Music Archive


There seems to be a resurgence of interest in these old modular synths. I remember Morton Subotnick talking about the post-McLuhan 70's desire to reinvent the interface and metaphors of music. Thus, the Buchla came into being. The popularity of Wendy Carlos and the Moog helped derail that goal by linking the new electronic sounds of synthesis to the old metaphors and interface of the piano keyboard. I think that the popularity of Max/MSP is to blame for this renewal of interest, as it's interface and metaphors are basically modelled after those of modular synthesis.

It seems that Ostertag's work is always on the technological edge in some way. While musicians like RadioheadSaul Williams, and Nine Inch Nails were very publicly re-imagining the role of the internet in music consumption, Ostertag was thinking along similar lines. In 2006, he put all of his recordings on archive.orgFree Music Archive, and/or Soundcloud for free download with a Creative Commons License. He also wrote a great essay about why he did it, called The Professional Suicide of a Recording Musician.

My personal favorite Bob Ostertag recording is Sooner or Later:

"The sounds in this piece come from a recording of a young boy in El Salvador burying his father, who had been killed by the National Guard. There is the sound of the boy's voice, the shovel digging the grave, and a fly buzzing nearby. In Part 2, there is an additional sound from a 3-scond sample of the guitar playing of Fred Frith..." 
from the original program notes

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