February 13, 2014, is the official release date for my 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin's 1994 album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, 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.

Monthly Archives: April 2008

Communal Fourth World Chat Room MP3s

Chat rooms have a bad rap. They’ve gained a touch of the aura that used to hover around the word “hacker.” Though today it means something closer to “entrepreneur,” hacker used to be equivalent to “dangerous anti-social malcontent.” Chat rooms are social by definition, so they can’t be truly anti-social; but they still are saddled with a reputation as a locus for, if not a downright contributor to, anti-social behavior.

As a descriptor, “chat room,” however, has a broad reach, and it includes countless places where musicians meet up with like-minded peers for advice, support and, in this age of network art, even semi-anonymous collaboration. Cases in point are the em411.com community, the comment tags on posts at createdigitalmusic.com (and the forums at its sibling site, createdigitalnoise.com), and the Music Cafe section of the forums at kvraudio.com, the latter an “information resource for open standard audio plugins.”

A typical new post at kvraudio.com might have a subject line like “Topic: anyone wanna add to my ambient trombone thing?” Earlier this month, a longtime kvraudio.com member who goes by bernhardtjeff used that line to head a post of a lengthy bit of Fourth World dub, a lulling bass end that seeps out to the end of the horizon, with muted trumpet layered atop (MP3). After some discussion among other forum mates, a member named thokay posted an update. The first thing one hears in the thokay version is a clubby beat that the original had willfully avoided, but thokay has a plan, and in time the beat merges with the deep bass of the original. Thokay folds in keyboard chords and trims the piece to pop-song length. In the end, that clubby rhythm can be heard to lend a framework that helps showcase the horn while not jeopardizing the lazy quality of the original (MP3). View the full forum thread at kvraudio.com.

As one forum member responded, “It is quite remarkable how much difference another person’s ideas can make to a tune.” It’s equally remarkable how much of this sort of virtual collaboration is occurring in so-called chat rooms.

PS: Just to correct the above, the instrument heard in the material by bernhardtjeff is a trombone, not a trumpet, and no mute was employed. Sorry for my error.

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DJ Spooky/MIT Book Review in Nature Magazine (May 1, 2008)

My review of the new book Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture (MIT Press), edited by Paul D. Miller, is in the latest issue of Nature magazine, dated May 1 — founded in 1869, Nature is now by far the oldest magazine to which I have ever contributed. (The next eldest would be Down Beat, which was founded in 1935.) For the time being, the full Sound Unbound review is up at nature.com, though at some point it will be placed behind a paid-archive wall. Miller is better known as DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid. Included among the book’s 36 chapters are “The Ecstasy of Influence” by Jonathan Lethem (the piece originally appeared in Harper’s last year) and the essay on bells that Brian Eno wrote for his 2003 album January 07003. Other highlights are a piece by Daphne Keller on legal challenges in the age of sampling, as well as an interview with legendary album-art designer Alex Steinweiss.

The MIT site lists the complete contributors as David Allenby, Pierre Boulez, Catherine Corman, Chuck D, Erik Davis, Scott De Lahunta, Manuel DeLanda, Cory Doctorow, Eveline Domnitch, Frances Dyson, Ron Eglash, Brian Eno, Dmitry Gelfand, Dick Hebdige, Lee Hirsch, Vijay Iyer, Ken Jordan, Douglas Kahn, Daphne Keller, Beryl Korot, Jaron Lanier, Joseph Lanza, Jonathan Lethem, Carlo McCormick, Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid, Moby, Naeem Mohaiemen, Alondra Nelson, Keith and Mendi Obadike, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Pauline Oliveros, Philippe Parreno, Ibrahim Quraishi, Steve Reich, Simon Reynolds, Scanner aka Robin Rimbaud, Nadine Robinson, Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR), Alex Steinweiss, Bruce Sterling, Lucy Walker, Saul Williams, and Jeff E. Winner. Just to be clear, some of those contributors are, in fact, the subjects of interviews that appear in the book. An added CD features everything from Sun Ra to William S. Burroughs to Terry Riley. More on the book at mitpress.mit.edu.

In case you’re wondering, according to the Nature website, the magazine’s cover image shows “RNA granules (blue) at the tip of a cell protrusion, which has also been stained for actin filaments.”

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Stephen Vitiello/Beta Collide Tape MP3

In the current moment of hybrid music, of field recordings mixed with live performance, of remixes that can pass as first-draft compositions, of laptop-enhanced traditional instrumentation, it can be informative, not to mention entertaining, to listen before you look, or read. A case in point is “First Vertical/First Horizontal v.1,” a tape work collaboration between composer Stephen Vitiello and the new music ensemble Beta Collide, and which Vitiello has posted on the generously stocked “sounds” page on his website (MP3).

Even that is too much information for a true blank-slate listen — from the work’s opening industrial rhythm, to overlaying tones that suggest a duet for bass flute and distant fog horn, the dimensions and construction of the piece are difficult to fathom. Better to take the sounds at face value and observe how they interact: how a murmur of found noises serves as a bed for the deep, resonant tones; how those tones move between close sonorous proximity and stark contrast; and how the tones themselves become a kind of found sound in the mix as their extended tapering off emphasizes texture over melody. Tape work generally tends to fall into one of two categories: that which emphasizes the cut-up procedures of splicing, and that which seeks to erase any sign of seams amid the constituent materials. “First Vertical/First Horizontal” falls resolutely into the latter.

The work was performed at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, in April 2008. More info at stephenvitiello.com and betacollide.com.

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Image of the Week : Grandmaster Flash Back

As the April issue of Wired is being replaced on newsstands by the May one (an Apple cover story giving way to Steve Carell’s mug), here’s a shot from the former:

Photographed by Nick Waplington, it shows 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, where DJ Kool Herc lived and where Grandmaster Flash was pioneering turntablism back in the early 1970s. The photo is part of a series on “Unlikely Places Where Wired Pioneers Had Their Eureka! Moments.” Says Flash in the interview: “I was told that I ruined needles, ruined styluses, ruined records, and also that placing my fingers on the vinyl was something DJs never did because I’d make the record filthy. But I knew that I had to do it to have full control over the vinyl.” His innovation is timestamped 1973.

Also included in the photo essay, the Idaho field where Philo Farnsworth imagined television in 1921 and the Northeastern University building where Shawn Fanning developed Napster in 1999. More at wired.com.

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Quote of the Week: Furby-tronics

This is Thomas Fang speaking about circuit bending in advance of the Bent Festival, to be held this weekend in Manhattan:

The spirit of circuit bending is random effects — fucking with the electronics system until you get something you never anticipated.
Fang’s specialty is mashed-up Furby toys. More at nypress.com.

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