Lowercase/Onkyokei/extreme minimal ambient composition

that does sound about right. some of my absolute favorite examples of interesting modular sketches on instagram are done with teletype. total control is what im after, and yeah it seems to make generative stuff sound very organic and complex. and the er301seems like the sound design tool i wish the octatrack was. very good call, thank you


I’m drawn to lowercase mainly as a performer, having been intrigued with the “extremely quiet” aspect of making sound, as well as the inner experience I get from practicing (and performing) such things.

For the sake of discussion, I’d like to offer a recent recording of Michael Pisaro’s black white red green blue that I released in May (recorded summer of 2019, it took a while to finalize, like most things…)

The score specifies “minimum amplification” but together with my recordist/producer/colleague Lanier Sammons we opted for a rather louder SPL during tracking. We were in a fairly large, acoustically balanced room (a recital hall), and we both felt that we needed a bit of volume to truly “activate” it. I think that choice gives a bit more control to the listener as well, enabling one to listen more closely at lower volumes, and to kind of “bathe” in the sound a bit if turned up louder.


I really like the approach to electronic instruments by some members of the onkyo scene, like the empty sampler of Sachiko M and , my personal favorite, the intricate feedback works of Mitsuhiro Yoshimura.

Here’s a fragment describing his process from his wikipedía page

Yoshimura’s music makes use of auditoryfeedback which he creates using a microphone(to pick up the noise in the room of performance), a small mixing console (used to carry the signal and to record performances), an equalizer (to adjust the frequencies sent to the output - the equaliser is set up prior to, and is left untouched throughout, the performance[5]) and a set of headphones(which project the sound back into the room - no other amplification is used).[1][6][7][8][9]

This process of sound creation is somewhat similar to that of Toshimaru Nakamura who uses a mixing console with its output connected to its input to create “no input” feedback. The techniques are not indistinguishable however; Yoshimura’s music, unlike Nakamura’s, can be altered by the noises which occur in the room in which it is performed (such an audience members moving or other musicians playing instruments etc.) because these sounds will be picked up by the microphone and alter the timbre or pitch of the feedback.[8]

As a result of this, Yoshimura has the ability to leave the music, if he wishes, to effectively play itself.


I love how diverse the practice discussed in this thread is, while at the same time basically staying “on subject” in some simpatico way.


paging @taylor12k

taylor might have some insight into his working relationship with steve and his approach to music. I remember him telling me a story of touring with him in south america (?) where steve would just scavange the venue before the show looking for interesting sound objects and build his whole set around that.


@0wlie you’ve created my favorite thread ever on Lines.
the most beautiful collection of music all in one place.
Thanking You Immensely :pray:


oh my, thats quite the compliment for a new user :blush:, thank you so much!

i created the thread because i thought the genre was too inacessable and spread apart, so i wanted to gather everything in one place and also learn about new artists and share composition ideas. I discovered the genre about 4 years ago and had a hard time researching and exploring it thuroghly, so i wanted newcommers to have a better resource and people who already are familiar with it to develope themselves.

Hope this isnt too cheesy :joy:


Thanks for sharing this, i will link it togehter with the others above!

Interesting analogy with the “bathing”, its a good description of the work. Also some good terms to describe certian technicues are “active” and “passive”, this aplies both to the process of listening and recording.


geez, i completely forgot about Yoshimura, huge oversight on my part…

Question to all active on this thread:
Should we keep Lowercase seperate of Onkyo, (maybe ill make another seperate thread), or would it be too pretentious haha?
The genres are very similar sound wise, but different in process (one being focused on just quiet noise of all nature while the other is heavily sample based). Should i just broaden the topic?

1 Like

Amazing to have some first hand experiences in the thread!

I tried contactimg people i know that had a working relationship with Tetsu Inoue, David Tagg and Bernhard Günter. Will get back when they respond

1 Like

I think there’s a Roden interview somewhere, where he expresses some dissatisfaction with the term ‘lowercase’ - or maybe the way it’s being used. Will try to find it to get another perspective on this topic.

Fuck the gear, do it any DAW, no need for Pro Tools at all. I think it’s a matter of approach more than straight-up technique.


I would broaden the topic and I would recommend some Wandelweiser stuff as well. For me personally it works much better in a lowercase kind of way than some current stuff mentioned in this thread which to me sounds more like ambient (not necessarily a bad thing…, but check Novisad on Tomlab, it could fit lowercase as much as the new release by Noto & Sakamoto).
“Breath” by Eva-Maria Houben is not your average Organ record. I think that a few lowercase artists changed their style quite over the years which is great, I think that some current records are working very much in a lowercase kind of way and the term is just like drone or ambient and can probably be used to avoid these, haha. Also, a few of the artists featured on the lowercase compilation felt suffocated by the term. And I would not recommend or exclude any gear. Never ever. Just do what you enjoy, maybe try to limit your approach and deep dive into one technique you like.


Steve Roden - On lowercase affinities and forms of paper (pdf)


I’ll second @dailybells Sukora tip - I’ve hunted down all the little bits of Sukora’s catalog I can over the years, and I was super excited to see the project return. I do hope he’ll continue some new output. Oeo probably remains one of the most polarizing releases I can think of even within the noise scene.

In this general area for me John Hudak has been a huge inspiration and I’m a very big fan of his work for a long time now. I think his work is a lot stronger than other artists who seemed to get a lot more attention. Though some of my favorites of his I’m not sure even fit into a more rigid definition of whatever one wants to call the genre- Wind,Rain and Clouds To Human Beings, Pond, The Wood Bells, and Garten with Miguel Angel Tolosa are some favorites of mine.

Anyone looking for a more currently active scene of artists working in areas of extreme reduction should def take a look at the Winds Measure catalog, the label run by Ben Owen.

While things kind of inevitably turn into gear questions while certain artists had clear strategies I’d say what the biggest thing anyone can take away from this general genre/style/school is that its really about interaction and finding ways or maximizing and minimizing at the same time and exploring things potential in that way or through mis-use even. For equipment you need absolutely NOTHING - though IMO what you do need is to cultivate a focused an intentional way of working. In some ways reductive genres like this offer the most democratic potential in that regard which can be creatively very empowering- the barrier for entry is only the ability to record at any level of fidelity, or potentially even not if that isn’t important to you. A lot of Sukora’s output I’m convinced is just him hitting record and possibly even leaving the room or just mussing with something on his coffee table, Jeph Jerman has produced a massive catalog with some really captivating work that essentially is him playing natural debris and trash with assistance from other trash and some contact mics, a lot of Small Cruel Party’s “focused manipulation of objects” falls into the same are for me. I work almost exclusively with the MS-20 these days because I’ve found a very personal way of working with it, but it might as well be any other thing electronic or not.

While I love this type of work and it is the area of my own focus, I also see problems in it and I think its worth taking some critical views too. As someone whose personal and financial situation means I live usually in busy urban environments over the years even just listening to some work in this area can be frustrating or daunting with the constant unavoidable noise of city life easily masking out quiet work. One could say I should appreciate the Cagean aspect of that, but if something is completely unlistenable due to daily life I quickly loose the pleasurable side of listening. For better or worse I find certain types of work are almost seasonably listenable- in fall and winter when the windows can stay closed and the streets become less noisy certain work becomes more available. I’ll also say despite in general being a big fan of the genre as much as I’ve tried to find reasoning or articulation behind what clicks for me and what doesn’t I still really struggle. Some incredibly quiet or reductive work gets to me in a fantastic way that nothing else can, while other work gives me the very distinct sensation I am just being messed with or listening to a very quiet but very big ego. I think it is a tough trap to avoid for any highly reductive art form that we can fall into a pit where austerity becomes a goal in and of itself and involved some sort of assumed value. There is a class element to this too that I also am still working through in my own head, but it again involves the financial accessibility of certain types of silence, the potential over-fetishization of austerity, the sonic equivalent of the immaculate Judd like structure. Things also can also become very prescriptive very quickly I think. For me while some affiliated artists have done some very nice work, Houben as @doomglue mentioned I think is really great, a lot of the Wandelweiser catalog falls flat for me and feels stale and rote, and almost as if a lot of people are just doubling or tripling down on what was an idea or small set of ideas that has already been sufficiently explored, or maybe just wasn’t of much interest to me to being with. The work becomes so inwardly focused its inaccessible without assuming too much for me- not every location or field recording or bit of air is fascinating to listen to, and if I strip away all the conceptual underpinnings it doesn’t stand on its own for me.


ok I’ll stop in a second but also since gear comes up here a lot… I’d say taking a look at the work and processed behind the WrK artists (who include Tsunoda and Minoru Sato) is a really unique and worthwhile dive. Its a really fascinating arena to me of this borderline between acoustics research, art, and music, focusing on breaking things down to their most basic level of acoustic space, standing waves, and documentation of acoustic phenomena - microphones, playback systems, so on.

1 Like

For me, I never liked every release in a “genre”, so a lot of the stuff on Wandelweiser doesn’t do a thing for me neither, same with a lot of the stuff discussed as lowercase. I don’t trust these genre labels, they are just there to help us getting a rough idea. When it comes to quiet, I always also think of the Jakob Ullman release “Fremde Zeit”.
I live on a noisy street and cannot play too much of this stuff during the summer but sometimes it is also OK if it just gets mixed up unless you feel like music listening should always be active, but let’s not discuss “ambient”. :wink:


i’ll chime in with the memories i can dig up… thanks @marcus_fischer
yeah, many moons ago i toured brazil with steve roden as part of a Caipirinha record label tour. steve’s setup was incredibly simple. two delay pedals (i think Moog) maybe a filter pedal, contact mics, probably a small dynamic mic, and a mixer.

as you may notice above, there were no sound SOURCES only processors. as marcus eluded to, steve would gather objects from each venue during sound check and use those as instruments in his humble setup. one such case i will never forget… is he collected some leaves at the beginning of the tour… dried leaves… and put them in a plastic cup… and he would rustle and crunch the leaves… but he used the same leaves night after night and each night they would deteriorate further until the end they were like dust. sadly, this was totally lost on anyone only seeing one show, but these are the kind of details and ideas that come out of steve’s mind.

regarding some of my early work and software. back in the late 90s when the raster/noton crew visited my apartment in brooklyn, carsten and i realized we were both using the same software in similar ways to create some of our works. it was called Sound Maker (richard chartier used this as well quite a bit for all of his early LINE albums. he and i discovered it together)



the novel thing about Sound Maker was that it would open multiple audio files and play them all at the same time, independently… so basically it was my first experiment with asynchronous looping… i’d create and open a half dozen audio files, all with different lengths, and play them all at the same time and they would loop and run independently from the others. it was very crude, but a lot of fun.

my album “occur” was done this way, as was richard’s “series” and a few later works and alva noto’s “crystals” track on the “microscopic sound” compilation.

for a real case of lowercase… check out the IMMEDIA release on LINE. the 2nd release from the label:

and, an anecdote, richard came to me with “series” for 12k and i said “i can’t hear anything! start your own label…” and that’s how LINE was born… or something like that!

  • taylor

What an inspiring concept with the leaves. I would kill to have been there…
Kind of reminds me of the time art by Joseph Beuys, where he used disintegration as a major role in the artwork. Although it isn’t as disgusting as rancid fatt…

I completely forgot how long ago the 90s were, those screenshots of the software look close to antique hehe. I actually toyed with the idea to get an older Macintosh and mess around with old audio software like this, but im not much of a retro programmer.

Thanks for the post and insight, very inspiring!

Edit: is it possible to pin posts or do i need admin privileges?

Thanks for starting this thread @0wlie! This kind of stuff is where my head has been at for the last couple of years, though I’ve had a tough time translating my interest/passion into recorded works. I’ll be following along with great interest.


this is so cool, thanks for sharing

i also want to thank you for making this thread @0wlie. this is my favorite kind of music to listen to and create

1 Like