On Musical Yakisugi: Taylor Dupree’s “rem” (2022)

Within contemporary ambient music’s often texturally generic world, the work of Taylor Dupree carves a distinctive sound. Dupree is a master of assembling tableaus of small, delicate sounds suffused with noise to convey the aura of aged materials. The music conjures Yakisugi, the Japanese method of wood preservation through burning. 

The best of Dupree’s music excels where other ambient musics fail: it draws your ear to multiple layers of simultaneous musical action. For example, on the track “rem”  (2022) we hear a descending three note melody in c-sharp minor played twice, accompanied by a counterpoint line in a lower register (or maybe both lines are of the same part). As the melody and accompaniment phrase repeats, we also hear the resonance of a space (created with reverb and delay), a crackling white noise/ static, and the wobbling tape artifacts of what could be old magnetic tape. As we listen, we wonder how the music was assembled. Was it recorded onto cassette? Was it sonically “burned” in successive processing stages, like the Yakisugi method, to achieve its artifacts? However it was made, “rem” holds our attention through its distinctive layers rather than numbing our attention through a homogeneous wall of sound. The pitched and textural elements in the track seem to float, yet undergo subtle changes that are just enough to turn repetition into enchantment.  

Curating The Week: Craft, Ambient Music Streaming, Foley Sound

A blog post on craft and imperfection.

“As soon as we mechanize, measure and perfect something, it becomes far less interesting.”

An article on ambient music streaming.

“Now, in an era of constant uncertainty and overwhelming malaise, the new age imperative to slow down and heal thyself is deeply embedded in mainstream culture. It makes sense, then, that so many of us would be listening to ambient music all the time: for ‘Peaceful Meditation‘ in the morning (1.4 million likes on Spotify), for ‘Deep Focus‘ as we grind through the workday (3.6 million), for ‘Ambient Relaxation‘ when it’s time to log off (1.2 million), for ‘Deep Sleep‘ at night (1.5 million). The preponderance and popularity of playlists like these—not just on Spotify, but on competitors like Apple Music and YouTube as well—has furthered ambient’s slow transformation from a fringe concern into a sort of marketable commodity, like an auditory stress ball.”

An article on foley sound in film

“I thought about the way corporations can ensnare even the most delicate and specific of crafts—and the juxtaposition of expensive, mediocre entertainment and the personal, meticulous work that goes into them. I was indifferent to Buzz Lightyear and had no interest in seeing an animated film giving the origin story of a fictional toy. Yet it had been thrilling to watch the characters come to life—to emerge from silence into fully realized sonic beings, the way that static on an old television set might arrange itself into distinct images. In any case, the craft’s aesthetic ideal isn’t beauty but believability.”

I wrote a book about electronic music production. If this looks of interest to you or someone you know, I would appreciate you checking it out.