My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

A Chord Made of Cassette Tape

A video of live ambient performance

This weekend I introduced a new playlist on YouTube. Titled “Ambient Performances,” it’s slowly amassing a collection of videos of people playing ambient music live. There’s an interesting tension there — several tensions, really. The main one, perhaps, is that ambient music often supposes stasis, while performance suggests activity. The videos I’m focusing the playlist on explore the activity required to achieve a semblance of stasis — the motion necessary to give the effect of immobility, you might say. Now, all music takes place over time, so it’s false to suggest ambient music is truly still. What ambient music is is more still than other forms of sonic expression.

This piece, by the Austin, Texas–based Amulets, is a great example of what the “Ambient Performances” playlist is all about. To begin with, it adheres to the two main rules of the playlist:

Rule #1: I’m only including recordings I’d listen to without video.

Rule #2: I’m only including recordings where the video gives some sense of a correlation between what the musician is doing and what the listener is hearing.

What Amulets is up to in the piece is engaging, even as the music being produced provides a sense of disengagement. As described in the brief text accompanying the video, what Amulets has done is record four notes that make up a chord, each note assigned to a different track on the four-track recorder. He then effects change on each of those notes separately as the tape plays. The result is, as he puts it, “a droning, evolving, ambient soundscape.” I recommend using the service to, indeed, play it on repeat.

Video originally posted at More from Amulets, aka Randall Taylor of Austin, Texas, at,, and

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Watching Lee Ranaldo Loop Live

(And reverse-engineering YouTube music tutorials)

This video shows Lee Ranaldo, of the late Sonic Youth, earlier this year performing a short, two-minute improvisation for looping pedals. It’s a test run of a piece of equipment, a hardware looper made by the company TC Electronic, and I was watching it to consider including the clip in the video playlist of ambient performances I started yesterday. The playlist grew out of my increasing attention to YouTube videos over the past year or so. That attention coincided with my getting into making music, into learning more about the tools and techniques employed by the musicians I write about and increasingly, through the Junto and my projects as a music supervisor, work with.

I spend a lot of time watching video tutorials. Often the music in these tutorials — for hardware and software — isn’t necessarily bad, but it isn’t remotely what I’m interested in myself trying to play. Given much the equipment I’ve been exploring (the OP-1, a small DJ console, a Monome, and a modular synthesizer rig, for example), it’s often glossy EDM or strict-meter techno that I find myself required to listen to while learning what a given knob on a piece of equipment does. Guitar pedal videos in particular are given over to arpeggio-crazed pop-metal and roots rock. (I have the lowest-cost version of the looper Ranaldo is testing in the video.) Occasionally, though, you’ll find someone like Ranaldo, an outsider to rote pop techniques, in the YouTube feed.

The “ambient performances” playlist began as me working backwards — rather than locating ethereal/ambient/experimental videos in the channels of equipment companies, I would instead look at live performance videos of ethereal/ambient/experimental musicians and pay attention to what equipment they’re using (often enough the comments to a given video will surface such factoids — the Ranaldo video comments, for example, unpack other equipment at his feet). I’m not sure the Ranaldo clip will make the Ambient Performances playlist, as it gets a little raucous toward the end, but no matter. It’s enticing to watch him develop the piece one layer at a time.

Video originally posted at More from Ranaldo at,, and

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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from

The hook on this doorbell marks it as a unicorn. Many building entryways evidence telltale technological change, such as the addition of a gate, the replacement of a knob, the widening of a passage. In this case the doorbell retains the vestigial communication appendage on which once hung a mouthpiece. Several generations have passed since it would have been in use. Minus that hook (which I tried to photograph at an angle), the circle above it would be mistaken for a two-way speaker/microphone, whereas it was only ever used for the former.

An ongoing series cross-posted from
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A YouTube Playlist of Ambient Performances

Starting off with Andreas Tilliander, Christina Vantzou, Ryuicki Sakamoto, Nils Frahm (as a member of Nonkeen), Jon Hassell, and others

This “Ambient Performances” set is a playlist-in-progress of live performance videos on YouTube of ambient music by a wide variety of musicians using a wide variety of equipment.

Rule #1: I’m only including recordings I’d listen to without video.

Rule #2: I’m only including recordings where the video gives some sense of a correlation between what the musician is doing and what the listener is hearing.

Rule #3: By and large, the new additions to the playlist will simply be, reverse-chronologically, the most recent tracks added, but I’ll be careful to front-load a few choice items at the beginning.

YouTube proved frustrating the past day. I tried again and again to paste the URL for the “Ambient Performances” playlist into Twitter, and every time I did it broke. That is, the link in the resulting tweet wouldn’t work. Eventually a Twitter-friend suggested I share Twitter’s own shorthand URL, so if you’re interested in sharing the list, try this:

As a side note, for reasons I don’t fully comprehend, I have two different URLs for the same account. Perhaps it’s early-adopter blues:

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This Week in Sound: Mapping Silence

+ RJDJ + MIT sound + Wainwright Syndrome + speech control + pre-acoustic + Spotify protip

A lightly annotated clipping service (fairly brief edition this week):

RJDJ Return: This video is just a tease, but it’s a promising one. The makers of the RJDJ augmented-reality audio app have a new app in the works, named Hear, that processes everyday sounds through filters. There’s been much talk of an “Instagram for sound.” This has a sense of that wish being fulfilled. Video found via Ashley Elsdon’s (Post-script: since this note first appeared in the This Week in Sound email newsletter, the app has gone live on iTunes’s App Store. Unfortunately the app is not, for the time being, compatible with my fifth-generation iPod Touch, so I haven’t had a chance to use it yet.)

Sound Studies: Geeta Dayal interviewed Mouse on Mars’ Jan St. Werner, who is teaching a course at MIT called “Introduction to Sound Creations.” Says St. Werner, “I think it’s great that the visual-art world has embraced sound more, but there is the risk of that becoming a novelty. There’s also a great chance for sound, to see it as its own art form. It doesn’t need anything that makes it agreeable. That’s the great opportunity we see at the moment.”


Mapping Silence: At the Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham writes about a map commissioned last year by the National Park Service “of what the United States would sound like if you were to remove all traces of human activity from the picture,” pictured above. (Via Steve Ashby)

Wainwright Syndrome: Slightly removed from sound, though as always sound is vibration so buzzing is sound, and phones buzzing are doubly sound since the buzz is a stand-in for a ring(tone): at, Cari Romm writes about phantom phone vibrations: “These imagined sounds and sensations are examples of pareidolia, the phenomenon of perceiving a pattern within randomness where no pattern exists (seeing the man on the moon, for example, or hearing satanic messages in a record played backwards). For this particular pareidolia, there are a few things that make some people more susceptible than others.”

Always On: As someone who is rarely a foot from his phone, I still find the voice activation aspect of phones alarming in a privacy sense, but Google keeps upping the ante: “Google Announces Voice Access Beta—Control Your Phone Completely by Voice” (

Pre-Acoustic: If you’re near University of Copenhagen, there’s an interesting symposium happening there in two days, on April 21: “The field of sound studies often gets restricted to sound practices, listening experiences and auditory dispositives after the advent of modern acoustics, established as an academic subdiscipline of physics in the 19th century. Yet unsurprisingly, auditory knowledge was present and impactful in cultures of the middle ages, the renaissance, and early enlightenment”:

Spotify Protip: Since I’ve been on and off tracking my use of Spotify (following the demise of the Rdio service), here’s a Spotify protip. If you’re having issues with the offline sync (which lets you store tracks or albums on a device, as I do on my iPod Touch, which is the primary way I use Spotify), the issue may be that you have too many devices associated with your account. I had four. Once I reduced it to three everything worked fine.

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the April 19, 2016 (it went out a day late), edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter:

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