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.

Monthly Archives: March 2010

Skittery Soundscape MP3

Cole Pierce refers to his track “Too Late Distracted” as a “textured electronic soundscape exploring a structure in flux,” and he goes a step further by employing the word “skittery” to qualify the effort.

The work in question is reportedly derived from a collaboration with Tyler Carter, who like Pierce houses his music at the great community site soundcloud.com. Pierce is at soundcloud.com/colepierce, Carter at soundcloud.com/tyler-carter, and the two of them apparently can make beautiful jittery ambience (or skittery soundscapes) together.

Like many solid efforts in abstraction, the piece includes its own decoder ring. While it eventually expands into a spacious if serrated sound field, it opens with the sort of all-rough-edges effect that Pierce’s chosen adjective, “skittery,” suggests. The introduction’s distinction from the majority of the track is plainly evident in the waveform that appears in the SoundCloud player (see above); it’s the short, bottle-brush tail that wags the music’s dog.

That initial segment is all stop’n’start glitch noise, and it sets down the textural equivalent of a downbeat before Pierce ventures into more quasi-ethereal realms. While the work does achieve a certain level of cloudy haze, it’s still marked throughout by the stuttered, broken-glass vibe of its opening salvo.

Original track at soundcloud.com/colepierce. More on Pierce at colepierce.com. He was previously featured on this site in mid-October of last year (disquiet.com).

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Fognozzle: Live Noise (MP3)

Nine minutes of controlled chaos. That’s Fognozzle‘s “End Game,” a live, nearly nine-minute recording from late last year posted this past week at his bandcamp.fognozzle.net account. If a sound can be harrowing and comforting at the same time, this is it. It’s the sonic aura of urban tension (sirens, wailing voices, radio interference) transformed into a slow symphony of dessication.

<a href="http://bandcamp.fognozzle.net/track/end-game">END GAME by fognozzle</a>

The piece moves from found noises set on short-turnaround repeat, to a raucous feedback solo, before a dénouement of introspective white noise — from routinized to improvised to an ever so patient fade. That transformation is key to Fognozzle’s accomplishment. The divide between the early looped work and the later-on freeform squall isn’t sharply determined. There’s a slow transition, and it’s only in retrospect that you might note that certain riffs have been done away with.

Recorded live during the Godwaffle Noise Pancakes event at the Golden TrapperKeeper Lodge on September 26, 2009. More on Fognozzle (born Pete von Petrin) at fognozzle.net and pete.vonpetrin.com. More performances from the series at woundedsquid.blogspot.com.

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Image of the Week: Analog Synthesis in Your Pocket

While Disquiet.com is not a gearhound guide, objects developed for music-making, especially those that can be described as gadgets, are not by any means off the site’s beat, especially when they can be seen as democratizing the production of sound. This forthcoming pocket-size analog synth from Korg, dubbed the Monotron, will have a relatively limited audience, even with its almost philanthropic $85 MSRP, but its size speaks to something larger.

It’s no surprise that Korg is making this thing. Analog synths have been seeing a renewed interest, as a generation of musicians raised in a digital bubble have sought out first-hand experience with what preceded software-based composition and performance.

And Korg has shown a unique aptitude for small-sized tools, from its “Nano” line of controllers, to its hand-held Kaoss Pad and Kaossilator — and let’s not forget its licensing of the Korg DS-10, a fully functioning simulation of an analog synth designed for the Nintendo DS gaming platform.

And yet while the Monotron will sit nicely alongside, and interact well with, all of those devices, what it really seems like is a test — if the Monotron does well, perhaps we’ll see even more (and larger) analog synths returning to the market. (This isn’t to suggest that no analog tools are currently being manufactured.) For all the attention that will be paid to software-based synthesis in the coming weeks and months, once the Apple iPad is released, the Monotron hints that a whole other storyline may be brewing.

Found via createdigitalmusic.com. Video at youtube.com. Details at korg.com/monotron.

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Quotes of the Week: Silence & Deafness

I’m about half of the way through the book In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise by George Prochnik. Due out in early April from Doubleday, it’s a series of essays that collect related anecdotes, trivia, historical references, interview segments, and personal reflections tied to particular themes, such as the purpose of hearing, the purpose of noise, the role of sound in the retail environment, and so on. It’s packed with fascinating information: about how there’s no way Pythagoras could actually have heard at a blacksmith’s shop what has become received wisdom about the history of Western tuning; about the relative “tunings” of various cities around the globe; about how aspects of Hitler’s commanding voice may have, as much as the substance of what he said, been the source of his charismatic force; about how the San Francisco Chronicle was the first newspaper to rate restaurants by a “noise-rating,” and that was only a decade ago; about the role of hearing in combat as described by a veteran of the U.S. military who happens to be credited as a guitarist on the debut album by Nirvana. (There’s a lot in the book about conflict, which makes it a good counterpart to Steve “Kode9” Goodman’s Sonic Warfare, recently out from MIT Press.)

Prochnik is, by all appearances, a curious and creative reporter — he accompanies a patrolman in Washington, D.C., who responds to noise complaints, and visits various religious sites, including a Quaker meeting in Brooklyn and a monastery in Dubuque, Iowa. He tells a funny anecdote about seeking out an accomplished astronaut, only to learn that the experience of the silence of deep space mostly involves being inundated by instructions from mission control.

Early on in the book, Prochnik talks about a friend of his, a painter, who as a child was deaf for a period of months. The friend is named Adam (no last name is given, which is an unfortunately common occurrence in the more personal anecdotes in the book, should you want to learn more about the individuals), and Adam believes that the experience is a key reason he pursued visual art; he says of his deafness stint:

“Sound imposes a narrative on you … and it’s always someone else’s narrative. My experience of silence was like being awake inside a dream I could direct.”

Prochnik gets deeper into Adam’s experience in this paraphrase:

“His memories of that time are vivid and not, he insists, at all negative. Indeed, they opened a world in which the images he saw could be woven together with much greater freedom and originality than he’d ever known.”

This portion of the book appears midway through the introduction, and it’s wisely placed. Much writing on silence after John Cage has focused on the word’s inherent contradiction: there isn’t any true silence — the absence of formal evidence of sound (conversation, music) is in fact an illusion, a thin scrim that amounts to little more than a consensual societal hallucination. Through that scrim of perceived silence the full world of sound (nature, industry) can be heard, at least by those who make the effort to pay attention to it. The reference to deafness, and it’s the first of many in In Pursuit of Silence, provides a tabula rasa for the subject that many books on sound neglect. (There’s video of Prochnik speaking on deafness and related things at MIT at techtv.mit.edu.)

My primary critique of the book at this juncture is that the title seems misleading — the book is, at least at the halfway point, less about pursuing silence than about escaping noise. This isn’t merely a matter of how the book has been packaged. Prochnik’s sensitivity to sound as an irritant (“I’m scared of becoming a noise crank,” he writes on its first page) leads to situations in which zealousness may have yielded mistaken, or at least less-than-nuanced, interpretations. For example, the omnipresent iPod is seen here as a symbol of society’s embrace of 24/7 sonic immersion. However, I believe it can just as easily be read as evidence of a pursuit along the lines of the one that Prochnik himself has embarked on: an entirely personal attempt to block out the noise that the world imposes on us.

His book-related blog, inpursuitofsilence.com, features tidbits about the energy produced by noise and the apparent genetic predilection among humans for beats. If the stats in Google Reader are to be believed, I am as of this evening the sole RSS subscriber (via Google Reader) to his blog, and I highly recommend signing up.

Note: I usually post my “Quote of the Week” on Disquiet.com on Saturdays, but I took yesterday as a computer-free day and, entirely coincidental with the activist tone of Prochnik’s book (I didn’t start reading it until after lunch), a recorded-music-free day, as well (except at the gym, where I played Fescal’s forthcoming album, Lethal Industry, for at least the 20th time, a familiarity that to my mind qualifies it as background listening). It was a TV-free day, too, until about 10pm, when I succumbed to the wiles of a documentary about Sun Studio.

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Past Week at Twitter.com/Disquiet

  • Hearing the sound world processed in realtime on iPhone/Touch with the @rjdj app = sonic heaven. It just hit build 0.9.9: http://is.gd/b0X8E #
  • RT @soundscrapers I swear that the sound of brewing coffee is just as enticing as the smell. #
  • First major change to our domestic soundscape: the city's paving the street. Will it dampen traffic noise or will cars drive faster/louder? #
  • Headed across town in minivan masquerading as a taxi, its aged hull creaking like I'm deep in the bowels of a leaky sailboat lost at sea. #
  • Great office sounds: business cards shuffled into a deck, printer settling into sleep mode, muffled chatter from closed conference rooms. #
  • Desk across from mine covered with 200+ plastic shot glasses. Sounds of them being stacked, unstacked, moved around is the music of my day. #
  • This would be an awesome Firefox addon: In Google Contacts you click on an email address; it triggers the default email client, not Gmail. #
  • Morning sounds: matter of potential energy; construction equipment perched on street, awaiting hour when it may begin pneumatic pounding. #
  • Morning listening: Larry Johnson's mix of field recordings from the great Wandering Ear netlabel: http://is.gd/aUkXI #
  • Generally not a proponent of elective surgery, but glad to have upgraded the RAM from 1Gb to 2 on my new (and great) Toshiba NB305 laptop. #
  • Monday morning sounds: more than anything, the uptick in car traffic, and the slightly tighter bus schedule, signal start of a workweek. #
  • More LiveMetallica set-detail intensity: "first performance of Shortest Straw in 2010. only played six times in 2009 after 12-year absence." #
  • Bonus: BBC Radiophonic book in August: http://is.gd/aSalj … RT @stasisfield Saturday for Delia Derbyshire fans: http://bit.ly/deliaderb #
  • LiveMetallica-release trainspotting detail is extraordinary: "third performance of Sanitarium in 2010. last played January 31 in Sao Paulo" #
  • Lee Scratch Perry's 73th birthday yesterday; JS Bach's 325th today. Seems like a good time to put the Solo Cello Suites through a Kaoss Pad. #
  • Having one of those "Exactly how many of my browsers' tabs are emitting sound?" moments … #
  • Sunday morning sounds: clack of intermittent typing from across the house, through mild droning haze of heater, hard drive, & fridge. #
  • Another great Virginia Heffernan sound article, on the origin, shape, artificiality, & inherent human-made-ness of beeps: http://is.gd/aR9NU #
  • Local church bells ring at 10:30. Recollecting what Gilbert & George said about this when they visited @deyoungmuseum — must revisit notes. #
  • Belated RIP, Jun Seba (瀬場 潤, b. 1974), Japanese hip-hop DJ/producer better known as Nujabes. Audio & tribute: http://is.gd/aQhVh #
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