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.

Stems: Eno Studies, Aural Antagonism, Sonic Diptychs, …

Plus: update on my recent film project, TV sound, politics, more

Imminent Audio: Saying “Tuesday at midnight” or “Wednesday at midnight” can mean different things to different people, so to be clear: On the midnight when Tuesday, November 20, meets Wednesday, November 21, I will be guest DJing for two hours on the web-streamed radio show “The World of Wonder” on KUSF in Exile. Thanks to drum machine innovator Matt Davignon for inviting me to handle the duties. It will stream at savekusf.org. The show will emphasize various aspects of minimalist sound: quietude, rhythmic simplicity, texture, and more. And that’s Pacific Time. And it will be archived within a day of the broadcast, and I’ll post that here when it’s available. The show includes music from, among others, Dance Robot Dance, Emma Hendrix, Garth Knox, Kate Carr, Anton Lukoszevieze, Scanner, all n4tural, Natalia Kamia, and jmmy kpple.

Two Disquiet Concerts: More on these very soon, but if you’re in Manhattan or San Francisco, please note that Disquiet Junto concerts are coming your way, soon. The Manhattan show will be at the gallery apexart on November 27, a Tuesday, at 6:30pm. The lineup: Brian Biggs (aka Dance Robot Dance), Ethan Hein, Shawn Kelly (aka Whyarcka), Kenneth Kirschner, Tom Moody, and Roddy Schrock (with Joon Oluchi Lee). The theme will be mechanized music made from field recordings of retail spaces, as part of the “As Real As It Gets” exhibit, organized by Rob Walker. ◼ The San Francisco show will be at the gallery the Luggage Store on December 6, a Thursday, at 8:00pm. The lineup: Cullen Miller, Clarke Robinson, Jared Smith, Subnaught, and Andrew Weathers (see facebook.com). The theme is yet to be announced.

Site Maintenance: A minor note, but this section of occasional tidbits and observations has long been called “Tangents,” and will no longer be. Now it’s going to be called “Stems.” The old term, “tangents,” suggested something that dissipated over time. The term “stems” comes from music production; it refers to a subset of material that’s been mixed down (collated, reduced) to aid in the subsequent production process. It’s a mid-stage, and thus it’s closer to the “outboard brain” (I think that’s a Cory Doctorow coinage) approach the “Tangents” postings have long served. (And if I appear to be doing these more often than I had in awhile, it’s true. I credit much of this activity to my adoption of the markdown “text-to-HTML conversion” approach, which speeds up things considerably. Seriously considerably.)

Eno-ology: One of the great things about a great new Brian Eno album — in this case, Lux — is the inevitable flood: a lot of writing about Eno. Geeta Dayal, in what I think is her first slate.com piece, notes that falling asleep to an Eno album is a compliment, not a criticism. ◼ Of course, Eno is ubiquitous, meaning that sometimes coverage of his work simply happens to coincide with him being in the news for a particular reason; in his plos.one blog, NeuroTribes, Steve Silberman queries 10 authors on the music they work to, among them David Dobbs, who notes not only Eno’s fixed recordings but his software:

… I rely on two staples:

First, a shuffled play of Brian Eno’s ambient albums, such as Music for Airports; second, an ingenious iPod app Eno made called Trope. You tap and rub the screen for a moment, fingerpaint-style, to set the texture for a Music for Airports-like ambient soundscape that will play indefinitely. I’ve done some great planning and some of my better writing lately with that going. The one danger is that the fine ambience and healthy relaxed Zenlike state it produces can convince you you’re getting good work done when it turns out … well, you’re not. A couple times I fell asleep.

When that happens, I get up, turn the volume up to 11, and put on some Led Zeppelin…

Sonic Weapons: I tend to disagree that the world is louder than it used to be. I think noise pollution is often a matter of individual perspective, of mood, of context. To be clear: I am not denying that humankind is leaving more of a prominent mark in places, zones, territories, it once left sacrosanct, or simply neglected — I’m speaking specifically of the built environment, of places (towns, cities, public spaces, workplaces) that are by definition humankind’s territory. In a New York Times essay (“The Quiet Ones”), Tim Kreider, a frequent flyer in the Quiet Car on Amtrak, describes how despite his concern for what he perceives as an annoyingly louder-than-ever world, he found himself “on the wrong side of the fight”:

I was sitting in my seat, listening to music at a moderate volume on headphones and writing on my laptop, when the man across the aisle — the kind you’d peg as an archivist or musicologist — signaled to me.

“Pardon me, sir,” he said. “Maybe you’re not aware of it, but your typing is disturbing people around you. This is the Quiet Car, where we come to be free from people’s electronic bleeps and blatts.” He really said “bleeps and blatts.”

“I am a devotee of the Quiet Car,” I protested. And yes, I said “devotee.” We really talk like this in the Quiet Car; we’re readers. “I don’t talk on my cellphone or have loud conversations — ”

“I’m not talking about cellphone conversations,” he said, “I’m talking about your typing, which really is very loud and disruptive.”

After each reproach they would lower their voices for a while, but like a grade-school cafeteria after the lunch monitor has yelled for silence, the volume crept inexorably up again. It was soft but incessant, and against the background silence, as maddening as a dripping faucet at 3 a.m.

For the record, as I’ve said in the past, I think perceiving this matter of “noise versus silence” as a fight is part of the problem. Noise is metaphor as much as it is a visceral experience. Noise is, in many ways, antagonism — and a fight is often a matter of antagonism, whichever “side” you’re on.

Hearing Aid: Light may travel more significantly more speedily than does sound, but Seth S. Horowitz argues that what’s heard is experienced more quickly than what’s seen:

Studies have shown that conscious thought takes place at about the same rate as visual recognition, requiring a significant fraction of a second per event. But hearing is a quantitatively faster sense.

That’s from his recent (and widely circulated) essay “The Science and Art of Listening” from the New York Times. Horowitz is the author of the excellent book The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind.

Like Kreider above, Horowitz is concerned about the pressures of modernization on the senses (“Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload”), but he is more attuned to the role context and consciousness plays: “your brain works like a set of noise-suppressing headphones,” he says. He argues in part for listening as a skill an individual can acquire, in contrast with the more systemic approach that Quiet Car devotee Kreider seems to be aiming for.

Curses, Foiled: Speaking of noise as metaphor, the website wtflevel.com provides “Real-time updates on twitter swearing.” Since I tend to curse more out of enthusiasm than anger, I am intrigued by how the service adjusts for this. In any case, the website is pretty f’ing awesome. Sample data output here:

I think the waveform could be of use in a future Disquiet Junto project — read it as a graphically notated score, like we did the polling data from the recent U.S. presidential election.

Moon Unit: Quick little interview at greyshading.com with Moon Zero, whose “Budapest” drone was noted here fondly recently. Turns out the city played a role in his sonic development:

I want the audio to take on a life of its own, to be constantly pulsing and shifting. I love contrasts as well, beautiful sounds hidden by noise, things like that.

I’m at a strange place at the moment because my sound seems to be more and more influenced by religion, which is funny as I consider myself an atheist. I think its their sense of “epic” that inspires me. Big spaces and big bombast. It started when I was staying at a friends house in Budapest a couple of months ago. On Sunday morning this huge sound woke me up. His flat was next to St Peters Basilica and the sound was the bells tolling. It was so intense, but beautiful at the same time. I’ve recorded in churches in the past and this is something I’d like to do more of, although sadly it’s not easy finding one that’s sympathetic to ambient music.

Tech-nique: Mark Rushton continues to report on his use of Google Hangouts, and in this case on his employment of a newly popular iOS app, Samplr.

Math Tip: If you’re trying to add lengths of various tracks (e.g., combine the length of a handful of songs when estimating the length of a planned podcast), this is a handy tool: dollartimes.com.

Surreal Politik: Old news, but nonetheless: the irony when a political campaign doesn’t fully comprehend the provenance of its source music extends beyond the opposition by pop stars to staples of the American classical repertoire: theatlanticwire.com.

Sonic Diptychs: The great youtubemultiplier.com site was introduced to me by the talented and insightful Samuel Landry, and since his initial mention I’ve seen and received many others. The service lets you easily play two or more (up to eight) YouTube videos side by side, simultaneously. The previous link goes to a Landry (aka @le_berger on Twitter) cocktail of Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, and Stephan Mathieu. The service is wonderful if only for letting me now, whenever I want, play one of my favorite sonic diptychs: Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon + DJ Krush’s Kakusei.

Doc Update: The documentary film The Children Next Door, for which I handled music supervision and share sound-design credit with the talented Taylor Deupree, won a special jury prize at the DOC NYC last Thursday. Trailer here:

It shares the award with the film Julian. DOC NYC said of the pair: “two powerful and intimate short films that capture the struggles of a pair of families as they battle through emotional confusion following devastating and violent tragedies” (docnyc.net). More at thechildrennextdoor.com. The movie was directed by Doug Block and produced by Lynda Hansen. So far it has shown at three film festivals: the Hamptons, Denver, and DOC NYC. Major thanks to the DOC NYC Shorts Competition category’s jurors: Natalie Difford (Cinereach), Vikram Gandhi (Kumaré), and Dan Nuxoll (Rooftop Films). And there’s a wonderful review of the film at sundancenow.com by Anthony Kaufman: “Though only 36 minutes, The Children Next Door attains a level of pathos as deep as any feature-length documentary.”

Listening to TV: (1) The Good Wife, in the episode a week and a day ago (“Anatomy of a Joke”), did a solid, humorous job of handling matters of censorship. As “ripped from the headlines” TV goes — there’s been increasing talk of late of networks easing their standards regarding adult material — it managed to be both outlandish and subtle. In the opening sequence, a character played by Christina Ricci is on the stand, under oath, being prosecuted for exposing her breasts on national television. When the opposing attorney interrogates her, she asks him what words he finds offensive (“What do you mean ‘vulgar’?”) and he can only muster, “It rhymes with ‘bits.'” She asks if we’re eight-year-olds here, and proceeds to say the offending word out loud (four letters, but only in the plural form), and not only does traffic noise obscure the verbalization, but the camera passes so that her face is momentarily covered by the attorney’s back, just at the moment she would be mouthing the word. The room’s guards are seen, as if in a Laurel and Hardy film, repeatedly trying to close a window to keep traffic noise from interfering. ◼ (2) Last week’s episode of NCIS: Los Angeles (“Rude Awakenings”) was the second part of a two-part sequence, focused on previously undisclosed personal matters involving the character of an agent played by LL Cool J. The show has more to its credit than it gets credit for, though its primary pleasure is likely the fact that on weekly basis the most unlikely pairing of LL Cool (“Mama Said Knock You Out”) and Linda Hunt (The Killing Fields) can be seen sparring or scheming, sometimes both at the same time. In any case, pretty much every episode of NCIS: Los Angeles ends with a little voiceover by Hunt’s characer, Hetty, after the screen goes dark. In a telling bit of tension-building, this time around, the credits were silent. It’s a small thing, but sometimes in sound design, the small things are the biggest things, especially when they’re silent, especially when that silent is a nod to, an acknowledgement of, the audience’s attention. In addition, there was a nice little bit at the start of the episode when a character previously disguised as a delivery person approached a home, presumed to be owned by a sleeper Soviet (yes, Soviet — not modern Russia) agent, and the pace of the music exactly matched her footsteps. Again, a small moment, but given how much TV music can sound like it was selected from a catalog with all the nuance of a Google image search, a good moment — especially when paired with the employment of Heddy’s silence at the episode’s end. ◼ (3) Finally, as @solidsignal noted on Twitter, Fringe did it again:

By Marc Weidenbaum

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