Lowercase/Onkyokei/extreme minimal ambient composition

Hello everyone :wave:t2:

I noticed there is no dedicated thread about lowercase ambient, closest thing is field recording, so i thought it might be a good idea to create one :slight_smile:

So this is a place to discuss all things lowercase. Whether it’s artists, techniques, definitions, strategies, performances, or general appreciation for this small subgenre!

Some basic info for those who don’t know the terms:

Definition:
Lowercase is a extreme form of minimal ambient music, which uses extremely quiet and often unheard sounds (like the growth of plants or electromagnetic fields). The term was coined by Steve Roden, who described his 2001 release “forms of paper”, being like lowercase lettering in contrast capital letters. For a more in depth definition, check out Wikipedia

For the sake of this thread existing, posts have to be about either an artist who associates themselves with the genre, or having either very quiet or barley noticeable sounds or amplification of sounds below/beyond the spectrum of perception as their main compositional focus. Also Onkyokei music is welcome.

Artists associated with the genre:
Steve Roden
Bernhard Günter
Ryoji Ikeda
LLYN Y CWN
David Tagg
Tetsu inoue
Richard Chartier
Alva Noto/Carsten Nicolai
Michael Pisaro
Toshimaru Nakamura
Taylor Deupree
Ryuichi Sakamoto
Mitsuhori Yoshimura
Sachiko M
A huge list of others according to Last.fm

Labels with lowercase releases:
Dinzu Artifacts
12K music
FAX +49-69/450464
Trene Oiseaux
Line
Erstwhile records

Useful articles/threads/posts:
VICE interview with Steve Roden
Bandcamp daily lowercase list
Wired mag article
Pad Chennington interview with Steve Roden
Steve Rodens website
Steve Rodens blog
Steve Roden essay on lowercase affinities and forms of paper
Wikipedia Onkyokei
Tetsu Inoue website
Muffwiggler thread about Tetsu Inoue
Brian Olewnicks blog with a lot of lowercase releases
Lowercase compliation
Wandelweiser collective

DISCLAIMER: This list will be edited throughout the thread!

please excuse slow adding process, will add thread shared links ASAP

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I got introduced to the concept by a thread over at MW on minimalism, and a post about Richard Chartier’s album Of Surfaces. Such a lovely concept for making music. Here’s the album:

I would be very interested to listen to more albums like this, especially coming from Lines members, so thanks for starting this thread.

NB

As a newcomer to the concept I got the feeling that this type of music requires an assumed trust from the side of the listener. You need to somewhat increase the amplification on your system or use headphones, and even then, if the conditions aren’t ideal, the desired levels can leave you susceptible to any abrupt changes in levels from the composer’s side.

I know it’s not the focus of the thread, and it could be that only I personally got troubled by this, but I do believe it’s an interesting side effect of this type of music.

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I guess Taylor Deupree and Sakamoto in is most recent solo albums and collaborations with Noto should be included too …

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good sugestion, will be done Shortly!

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Also there is a label on Bandcamp that’s releasing tapes from different artists … I think that almost all of them could be included here.

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Absolutely, its a very inviroment dependent listening experience. Ive even seen requirements and instructions on playback on some CDs (specifically on the insert of Tetsu Inoues organic cloud). personally i usually use headphones on ~70% volume, since its just enough to get the background details.

id suggest you check out Bernhard Günther and Steve Roden. Both are very similar in compositional methods like Chartier!

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great topic. i was just thinking about this as i was re-listening to the most recent album i made.

does anyone have any ideas for what hardware would be good for creating this type of music? my favorite output is my last album, which i made by taking clips of processed field recordings and some synthesis, cutting them down to very micro scale chops, and re-stitching them together in ableton. I would like to do the sound design and piecing together the compositions with my hardware setup, but im not sure that the octatrack, a digitone, nebulae (& small rack), norns, ventris, jrf contact mic, zoom h5, some ciat paper circuits, shitty portastudio, and model:cycles are ideal for that. I was hoping to be able to structure less linear pattern based stuff in the octatrack with the micro-time oriented grid, but i think that working with 16-step patterns is limiting in general, although possible. sound design on the octatrack is nice. for example, recording an empty input to get a noise sample with some character, filtering it very nicely, slicing it up, applying modulation effects and resampling, but sometimes i with there were more precise tools for that like a frequency shifter, bandpass filter, more precise time stretcher with granular properties similar to ableton’s.

I was looking at the Deluge this morning and thinking that with it’s more daw-like composition structure, it might be good for this. i dont really want to give up the octatrack though. i’ve seen jan jelinek use one live and i cant figure out what he’s doing exactly with it, but those are also slightly beat-oriented pieces. I guess ideally, i would use the norns, some nice effects like maybe the shallow water and microcosm, have some smaller more modern sampler like a deluge or digitakt to stitch together very small detailed precise textured patchworks, feed those into something like the octatrack , then maybe further mangle, and structure fully there. modular may be the best option for sound design. things like taking noise or field recordings and processing them heavily. but when i think of that, it gets really expensive to find all of the tools. and i wouldnt really know where to start. i have a granular sampler with the nebulae, which i love. but its not exactly granulator II for m4l. i think maybe Warps, a bernoulli gate, a+b*c, s&h module, frequency shifter, lpg, mimeophon, frames, a complex multi-mode filter, some complex additive or digital wavetable oscillators, bitcrushers, quick sharp envelopes, some of the bastl and mannequins stuff might work, but that seems excessive. sort of recreating whats possible in ableton with sometimes fully digital modules in a eurorack system. It seems like it’s going to end up being a combination of ableton and the octatrack plus some of the other gear i already have to add some more organic tactile sound design.

i am really curious about how others may achieve this in an analog or hardware realm. maybe even how one would piece together this type of music without a daw. more amorphous natural timing and movement, less linear patterns. is a mixer plus a 4-track tape recorder the best option? this is maybe the biggest problem i face when deciding on my process

i would like to know what kassel jaeger uses. or what beatriz ferreyra used to make grm works. or elsa justel’s studio setup. maybe i need a reel to reel. some hainbach-esque test equipment. ciat lonbarde stuff maybe. i should also revisit some of the norbert moslang techniques described in Hanmade Electronic Music. maybe Microsound, if i can ever find the time to read it

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Dude, you certainly have way more gear than most of the artists on this list used on any “lowercase” albums, the central basis of this sound is reductionism. I would advise focusing on process rather than gear. Forms of Paper, probably the defining album of lowercase was a contact mic, some paper, an akai sampler and protools for arrangement and repeated eq passes.

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well, thats what i mean. like i know it doesnt take much, but how would you compose something like that without something like pro tools. maybe an mpc. i’ve never used one. the question is, how would you go about doing that if you didnt want to use a computer, but yeah i agree contact mics and concrete sounds are good for source material

theres only so much you can do with a contact mic without additional processing from a daw. but what would a good tool be for doing that outside of a daw, and also stringing those processed sounds together in a meticulous fashion

this is a good label too btw

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It really depends on how “purist” your approach to the methods are. At its core its a very computer heavy genre, also early adaptations were exclusively made using software like Ableton and protools. It also depends how granular you want to go into it.

I think most importiant is if your sample material is good. Its what makes the genre what it is, so good recording equipment is key. For the processing part id use multitrack loopers and most definetly a good mixer with broad EQ posibillities. I dont know the Octatrack too well, but i would see it as hindering to have to have no individual hands on control over volume of each sound.

However, eurorack is a really interesting aproach. Im new to the format and have been building a little palette around the microsound principle!
I definetly think that the Nebulae would fit, but id stay away from having too many buffer based granular modules (like Arbhar or clouds). In my build i have 3 samplers which ocupate 3 different “time scales”. The W/ does background loops with little to no processing, stretching upwards to multiple minutes/hours before relooping. The morphagene does segments and snippets of field recordings (made with contact mics, Shotgun mics and electromagnetic field trackers) and clouds takes it to the granular level. Sound manipulation is restricted to modulation on the modules (like you mentioned with the S+H) and the ocational filter from the 1U mounted Disting Mk4 (not shown). Thats my aproach to the DAWless concept :slight_smile:

As for the tape aproach, would be really impressive seing those techniques on par with digital manipulations. It might be possible!

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Octatrack would be more than enough, Roden literally used a single eq over and over to transform the sound from a contact mic, no fancy plugins just process. Alva Noto made whole compositions from tiny fragments of sound on sequencers far less feature rich, Gunter used an EPS 16 with a single sample tracked by an Atari. You have a norns! You could get a ton of mileage out of a single supercollider patch. The nice thing about this music is it doesn’t necessarily demand complexity just focus and time.

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agree, thats the rudamentary aproach. However you can develop upon the concept, like Tetsu Inoue did, and take these recording practices into a new context with different gear.

I am actually listening to Roden’s seminal album as we speak, and I found that 100% on my headphones really debased the work. I had to lower the volume to 50% to make it work for me; I don’t know, I’m probably informed by the situation and the discussion and from reading up the words on bandcamp, but something tells me this requirement is instilled in the work itself. I wonder if I would’ve lowered the volume regardless!

I can hear my own typing over the sounds and … I don’t know why, but it works. :slight_smile:

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Depending on which piece you listen to, the lower volume is 100% what the piece needs. again, listening to lowercase music is enviroment dependant, so blasting forms of paper at full volume while writing an essay isnt whats intended :joy:

Always read the descriptions, it also gives it sence and purpose, since most of these works are instalations anyways!

thats true, it is based on computer software i guess.

the modular setup you have sounds like a really good idea. i’d like to hear the output, or see a video of your process if you have any.

i was considering trying to use loopers more than sequencers. oooooo is actually really cool for making little layered pieces

thanks for the advice

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i did not know that about some of these artists using hardware sequencers. thats inspiring, thanks.

i think i need to learn how to make things like the octatrack work for me in terms of less structured music, it definitely is possible. sound design might be another story, but it can also do that well enough. sometimes i feel like with micro textures, you need a lot of high quality dsp, but that isnt always the case.

you’re right about norns too, what i’m currently trying to figure out is how to make some of the sampler or looper scripts work for me in a way where i can maybe play out smaller sampled material, maybe while its being processed, then resample that into the OT for tracking out.

i am interested in how other people do this though, because i’m having a hard time with it. i think the way my brain works, it’s hard to make sense of twisting a pattern based sequencer into something organic, even though it has a lot of features that help with that. i did have a lot of success with ableton, but if i’m being honest, i just find it a lot more fun and less like data entry to work outside of a daw. even though that is probably the most reasonable technique for what i want to make

this is kind of outside of the realm of specific gear techniques, but i also struggle a lot with authenticity in my music. constantly trying to make something that has never existed before. so if i can blend a few found sound sources together to make something completely new without a computer, i think i would be really happy. i like things like the ryoji ikeda album where he used barcode scanners for all of the tracks. something like that really appeals to me. so i agree that the source material is maybe the most important aspect of this type of sound art

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This is one of my favorite “lowercase” type albums from recent years:

I’m not familiar with their other work, this album was my introduction. I think found initially via Brian Olewnick’s excellent blog? He often reviews & discusses lowercase & lowercase-adjacent music there.

Edit, just to continue some of the previous discussion about the word as a genre… this sort of music was enabled by technology (accessible digital recording technology with low noise floors / perfect digital silence) but as far as the work goes, this music is about listening. The technique is in the listening, not the methodology of production.

On a similar note, I’ve never been a purist about volume level either. I love playing Bernhard Günter at high volumes to bask in the detail. Listening is a creative act, have fun with it. IMHO the good stuff will support experimentation in listening easily anyway.

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Will share some of it when i got the time!

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Very good comments about the listening process behind the genre!

I have added the Blog under the link section of the top comment :))

I do sometimes that kind of sound design and music and I’ve found that TELETYPE and the ER301 are a killer combo for this … Total control over the sounds, lenght, … etc. Other add ons are welcome, like the GRID or non grid step sequencers, like the ER101 …

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