Music Production

Lo-fi & Glitch

The enticing aesthetic of errors

According to tradition, music and noise are consirered opposite. For decades, composers and musicians have striven for the perfection of form and “purity” of elements. Malfunctions in such environment were to be avoided and corrected where possible.

However, with the rise of underground rock and hip-hop, as well as the availability of cheaper workstations in the early 90s, more and more artists started to produce music. While never saturating the market, less pristine-quality recordings and experimental works began to make their way into the mainstream. Such music was defined in retrospective as belonging to the lo-fi, noise, and glitch aesthetics. Genres that saw the light of the day at different points in the 1990s but are all connected through conceptual vectors.

Kyuss’ “Blues For The Red Sun” (1992) is as fascinating as it’s poorly recorded. An ingenue but genuine example of lo-fi, before “lo-fi”.

Lo-fi, in particular, refers to the lack of technique and technology regarding the recording and mixing of music. It is the natural antithesis to high-fidelity. Ground noise, buzzing, and other imperfections in the recording are magnified and veneered. Because of their capacity to add layers of “grain and dust” to otherwise clear recordings, the produced effect is a sense of nostalgia and a moodiness that is characteristic of many contemporary lo-fi releases.

Similarly, glitch describes the failures and in a flow of communication. Sonically-characteristic errors (glitches) are organised in the arrangement as if they were instruments, becoming central elements in the composition. Glitch music is about pushing the tools available to you as a musician to make something never heard before.

Failures at the centre of attention

My appreciation for music falling under the umbrella of lo-fi & glitch has often been challenged by musicians attempting to appropriate themselves of a sound only to meet the needs of an audience. At the same time, there have been scenes that have thriven, and some still do, for their unprecedented music production skills.

It is difficult, however, to label electronic music and restrict its sound to a specific press-ready niche. The obviously biased list of artists and music presented below is by no means exhaustive inventory of every lo-fi or glitch release ever, but only a short sample only meant to exemplify what a piece of lo-fi or glitch music could sound like. Neither am I, with such a subjective take, trying to designate the artists as belonging only to that particular genre and musical scene.

Well-sounding malfunctions

A visionary album that got me into the genre of glitch — that with hip-hop references later renamed as glitch-hop — is edIT’s Crying Over Pros”. One of Planet Mu’s most overlooked releases struck a chord with me because I’ve never heard any hip-hop producer use their tools in such a way before. edIT used techniques that were only sometimes found in experimental electronic music before, but nowhere near hip-hop. It was a record ahead of its times.

[embed]https://youtu.be/eBPdOEhbZ4c[/embed]

Amber by Autechre is another recent discovery dear to me despite its now 24 years since its release date. Blurring genre-labelling, but often defined by the press as belonging to IDM and Glitch, Amber presented an “entirely electronic and entirely instrumental” soundscape that could still compete with most modern productions.

[embed]https://youtu.be/Zzl2mzg5Lps[/embed]

Deliberate degradation

Teen Suicide (band, now known as American Pleasure Club) is maybe the most representative of the noise-pop and lo-fi aesthetic. Their ingenuity and quirkiness, paired with a deliberate lack of recording-quality — especially with their early releases — is effective as it’s catchy.

[embed]https://youtu.be/V2KSoCXDQPo[/embed]

In contrast, Lo-fi House, be it borrowing from the indie-rock/lo-fi aesthetic or creating a sound of its own to stay distinguishable in the dance arena, has experienced a disproportionate growth during the past 5 years. Thegenre quickly evolved “from an online community of fresh-faced producers into a palpable underground phenomenon”¹.

With its wide sound palette and extensive DJ experience, Ross From Friends is the “leading figure” in the lo-fi movement and an always favourite of mine.

[embed]https://youtu.be/WnedjxcMgIE[/embed]


References:

  1. Mixmag. (2018). Ross From Friends is the emotionally-charged house producer making an Impact. [online] Available at: http://mixmag.net/feature/impact-ross-from-friends.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

website| twitter | instagram | linkedin

The Voice as Music

Much more than a musical instrument

Kanye West is a leading figure in contemporary pop music. He experiments with voice used an instrument. Source Image: Jason Persee.

Music and the human voice have always been in a good relationship. Since ancient Greece, words were taken and set to music. “[Without music,] even with words alone, something was missing. For the Greeks, the lyric in lyric poetry was literal: the verses were composed to be sung to the accompaniment of a lyre.”¹

The majority of contemporary popular music is characterised by the use of voice as the main, leading, instrument. Besides, the ability of the human voice to “articulate, communicate ideas, create beautiful melodies, and translate human emotion into sounds is unmatched”.² There are almost endless ways in which the voice can be articulated — in terms of duration, rhythm, and pitch — to produce always new results.

Examples of how voice can be controlled, played as an instrument, and let free, are many. Below I will present — a list in no particular order and by no means exhaustive— a few examples dear to me that exemplify the multitude of was voice is used in contemporary music.

[embed]https://youtu.be/lekLl7o8yrc[/embed]

Trevor Wishart is a composer of orchestral and electroacoustic music whose fame is (partially) attributable to his innovative approach to composing with computers and the human voice. He is also a researcher on sonic arts, a developer, and a music educator.

“On the one hand the (human) voice is much more than a musical instrument. […] It reveals much about the speaker, from gender, age and health to attitude, mood and intention, and it also connects us with our Primate relatives. […] At the same time, apart from the computer itself, the voice is the richest sound-producing ‘instrument’ that we have, generating a vast variety of sounds from the stably pitched, to the entirely noisy, to complex rapidly-changing multiphonics or textures of grit and so on.” (Wishart, 2009)³

[embed]https://youtu.be/1YW94Psk0Jg[/embed]

Prolific Venezuela-born experimental producer, Alejandro Ghersi (aka Arca) has made a name for himself “producing for heavyweights including FKA Twigs, Björk, and Kanye West, and through formidable solo recordings”⁴. In his latest self-titled music venture, Arca unveils his singing and does it with uncompromising fluency and violence.

“Ghersi’s voice is not perfect, but rather than polish out any blemishes, he works the flaws. His voice cracks, he breathes sharply and his lips smack; at one point you can hear what sounds like someone taking a sip of water.” (Miles Bowe, 2017)⁵

[embed]https://youtu.be/cATZe_jlc9g[/embed]

Examples obviously are not limited to Western culture. African music, and especially that of Pygmy groups, is mostly improvised over a “basic” tune. Pygmy music not only makes use of the voice as key instrument, but is characterised by a polyphonic “contrapuntal communal improvisation”⁶.

“The Mbenga [and Baka] Pygmy music is based on repetition of periods of equal length that each singer divides using different rhythmic figures specific to different songs. This creates endless variations not only of the same period repeated but of various performances of the same piece of music. As in some Balinese Gamelan music these patterns are based on a super-pattern which is never heard.” (Wikipedia)⁶

[embed]https://youtu.be/ISCEilPMNak[/embed]

“Defined by the pure vocals and confessional lyrics of singer/songwriter Justin Vernon”⁷, Bon Iver never fails to astonish the public with their multilayered use of vocals and intimate lyrics. Vernon’s voice has become one of the most recognisable instruments in indie music.⁸

In 2016’s “22, A Million”, his voice is taken apart, recomposed, stretched, repitched, autotuned — yet, it still manages to maintain its authenticity and musical power.

“ About a decade ago, when Justin Vernon was recording the songs that became the band’s début album, “For Emma, Forever Ago,” he realized that ranging just above his usual register made it easier to sing about memories that were otherwise too painful to recount. Vernon’s falsetto caused an obvious strain on his voice, making it sound weary and brittle. His recordings gave the impression of someone forcing himself to venture far outside his comfort zone; they communicated a sense of solitude and drift.” (Hua Hsu, 2016)⁸

[embed]https://youtu.be/E0TTd2roL6s[/embed]

Italian theorist, composer, musician, and teacher Luciano Berio is among the leading charcters in avant-garde music. “His style is notable for combining lyric and expressive musical qualities with the most advanced techniques of electronic and aleatory music.”⁹ Berio’s works on the human voice demonstrates boundary-pushing achievements in the way we perceive voice as music.


References:

  1. Mendelsohn, D. (2015). Hearing Sappho. [online] The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/hearing-sappho.
  2. McMahon, J. (2018). The Human Voice as an Instrument for Language. [online] Listenandlearnaustralia.com.au. Available at: https://www.listenandlearnaustralia.com.au/blog/the-human-voice-as-an-instrument-for-language/.
  3. Milani, M. (2018). An interview with Trevor Wishart — pt.1. [online] Usoproject.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://usoproject.blogspot.co.uk/2009/01/interview-with-trevor-wishart-pt1.html.
  4. Mejia, P. (2017). After Collaborating With Björk and Releasing a Pair of Critically Acclaimed Solo Albums, Arca Finds His Voice. [online] Vulture.com. Available at: http://www.vulture.com/2017/04/bjrk-collaborator-arca-finds-his-voice-on-his-latest-album.html.
  5. Bowe, M. (2018). Arca finds his voice with an immaculate collection of grisly love songs. [online] FACT Magazine. Available at: http://www.factmag.com/2017/04/07/arca-self-titled-review/.
  6. En.wikipedia.org. Pygmy music. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmy_music.
  7. Margaret Reges, Rovi. Bon Iver. [online, Spotify bio] Available at: https://open.spotify.com/artist/4LEiUm1SRbFMgfqnQTwUbQ.
  8. Hsu, H. (2016). Bon Iver’s New Voice. [online] The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/03/bon-ivers-new-voice [Accessed 16 Feb. 2018].
  9. Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Luciano Berio | Italian composer. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Luciano-Berio.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

website| twitter | instagram | linkedin