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Hum along with me, along with the TV

Sylvia Monnier – “Theresa Russell” – Stock Shot & Addictive Sling – Sacred Phrases

This winter, there has been a mysterious and persistent hum in my house. It is a low frequency noise, lower than the 60Hz hum normally heard from buzzing home electronics or the baseboard heating. At times, usually at night, it fills my ears with a sinister resonance that is neither natural nor purely automatic. In pajamas and slippers, I repeatedly go on midnight excursions around the block to try and identify its source. To no avail: as soon as I leave the house, it disappears, submerged beneath the din of the city. But there is it again when I’m back inside, humming away, driving me a bit madder with each humming moment.

I try music to drown it out. But because it’s such a deep tone, it is not easily masked. It’s a sound that you can feel vibrating through the floor, a fundamental wave that tunes and transforms everything in the vicinity. Bassy music helps. Still, as soon as it’s done, the hum resumes its oppressive dominance over the sonic space.

The only things I find truly effective are sounds—not music per se—that blend in with the hum: drone music, durational tones, field recordings. For instance, Nancy Tobin’s 2007 CD Duo Des Aigus—an improvisational dance and sound installation based on audio feedback—works especially well. And so does “Theresa Russell”.

I have yet to discover the true origin of the hum in my house. Alternately, I have hypothesized it to be mechanical, electrical, industrial, or perhaps even imaginary. But I now fear that living with this hum is going to be the new normal. I’ll just have to harmonize myself with it, or be condemned to days of incessant discord.


Biggi Vinkeloe Band – “Jag Lyfter Mina Händer” – Aura Via Appia – Omlott

There is an unabashedly celebratory mood to this track—a virtue missing from almost all forms of music right now. It sounds like Scandinavian Gypsy Drum n’ Bass. I like it. And I can’t help cracking Biggi “Smalls” Vinkeloe jokes. Call it value added.


David Kanaga – “Go On / Salt & Scab” – Oἶκoςpiel OST pt. 1

Like some cruel Pavlovian torture, the Québec brain is hardwired to immediately recognize Celine Dion’s voice. Nonetheless, Kanaga’s jump cuts in the first movement of this piece paradoxically reprogram a clandestine soulfulness into Dion’s otherwise antiseptic operating system.


Jlin – “Nyakinyua Rise” – Black Origami – Planet Mu

In the mid-1960s, Kenya’s first president following British colonial rule, Jomo Kenyatta, bestowed upon the Makadara Nyakinyua women dancers 1,000 acres of homeland, in gratitude for their entertainment—the president’s personal favourite. But the Nyakinyua and their descendants were forced from their homes near Nairobi in 1988 by predatory property developers. Bulldozers destroyed their houses, scattering the dancers to live with relatives in neighbouring communities. Those that stayed remain squatters on their own land.

As of January 2017, there has been no permanent resolution, with the Nyakinyua holding frequent protests and threatening to boycott elections in attempts to persuade the administration—Kenyatta’s son and current president, Uhuru (Swahili for “freedom”)—to either oblige their land claims, or resettle them elsewhere. Even if you haven’t heard this story before, you’ve heard this story before—from the Palestinian situation to urban gentrification in major metropolitan centres. Jlin’s track is a battle cry that renders the Nyakinyuan plight universal.

The problem with other peoples’ problems is that, sooner or later, they become your problems, too. So you might as well make them your problems sooner than later.


TCF – “C6 81 56 28 09 34 31 D2 F9 9C D6 BD 92 ED FC 6F 6C A9 D4 88 95 8C 53 B4 55 DF 38 C4” – mono no aware – PAN

The first-ever MIDI sequencer—the Sequential Circuits Model 64 MIDI sequencer—in addition to velocity, pitch and modulation information could record and store up to 4000 individual notes. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony contains over 135,000 noteheads producing more than 70,000 separate notes. TCF’s obscurely titled track featured on mono no aware, a new ambient compilation courtesy of Pan Records, reportedly consists of 150,000 MIDI events, pushing this ostensible drone composition into Georges Seurat / Black MIDI territory.

It is easy to forget that digitally recorded music—indeed everything digital—is in fact composed of discrete, granular events that our brains then smear back into something apparently continuous. A standard CD, for instance, reconstructs an analogue sound signal by taking an audio snapshot 44,100 times per second. What we hear sounds uninterrupted, but in reality, it is an auditory illusion—like a flipbook. This is an excellent metaphor for life: what appears smooth on the surface is invariably violent and unpredictable at its most fundamental constituent level.