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

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Monthly Archives: September 2015

This Week in Sound: Worm Ears + The Martian’s Silence + …

Plus: 33 1/3, John Cage's gift to GIFs, 700-pound hydrophone, and it's always-on in Entrepreneurville

A lightly annotated clipping service:

— Ear Worms: At singularityhub.com, Shelly Fan covers how “to control neurons using bursts of high-pitched sound pulses in worms.” Fan is discussing the work of Dr. Sreekanth Chalasani at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California. The field is called “sonogenetics,” which addresses shortcomings in optogenetics. Among those shortcomings are the need to “physically traumatize” the brain, and an overall lack of precision. What the research leaves to be appreciated more fully is how sound influences the brain in general — not just when it’s being employed to specific scientific ends. Fascinating stuff.

— Paperback Writers: The publisher Bloomsbury posted the shortlist of book proposals likely to make the next round in the 33 1/3 series. I have something of a vested interest in where the series goes, since I wrote the one on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II. I was disappointed not to see the proposed William Basinski volume (The Disintegration Loops) make the short list, but am heartened by many that remain in the running. There are 83 in all, out of a total 605 submissions. True to the series’ focus on releases, rather than on artists, these are alphabetized by album title: Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde-Pharcyde, Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night-Stereolab, Dr. Octagonecologyst-Dr. Octagon, Homogenic-Björk, Kollaps-Einstürzende Neubauten, Licensed to Ill-Beastie Boys, Kick-INXS, Refried Ectoplasm (Switched On Volume 2)-Stereolab, Solaris OST-Eduard Artemiev, Switched-On Bach-Wendy Carlos, Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat-Charanjit Singh, The Blueprint-Jay-Z, The Inner Mounting Flame-The Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Modern Dance-Pere Ubu, Tin Drum-Japan, The Yellow Shark-Ensemble Modern and Frank Zappa, Twin Peaks OST-Angelo Badalamenti, Violator-Depeche Mode, Voodoo-D’Angelo, and Uptown Saturday Night-Camp Lo.

— 1000-Year GIF: Clair Voon at hyperallergic.com writes about a GIF-in-progress with some 48,140,288 frames. The piece has the title “As Long as Possible,” and it takes its approach to time and that title from John Cage’s “As Slow as Possible.” It will unfold from 2017, the 30th anniversary of the GIF, to 3017: aslongaspossible.com.

— Fourth Rock: This is from Andy Weir’s The Martian, which I read this past weekend in part because a colleague recommended it, in part because I was on airplanes a lot and wanted an airplane read, in part because I hadn’t read a full-on commercial novel in a long time, and mostly in part because I wondered how the book would deal with the silence of outer space. The short answer is not much, but The Martian isn’t, by nature, a reflective book. It’s an impressively mechanical book about saving a man’s life and keeping a reader’s heart pounding. There are some fun one-liners (“In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl”). And there are some well-handled depictions of a global collective media experience (“A mild cheer coruscated through the crowds worldwide”), far more subtle in the book than in the trailers for the forthcoming Matt Damon film. Still, there’s this:

Once I’d shut everything down, the interior of the Hab was eerily silent. I’d spent 449 sols listening to its heaters, vents, and fans. But now it was dead quiet. It was a creepy kind of quiet that’s hard to describe. I’ve been away from the noises of the Hab before, but always in a rover or an EVA suit, both of which have noisy machinery of their own.

But now there was nothing. I never realized how utterly silent Mars is. It’s a desert world with practically no atmosphere to convey sound. I could hear my own heartbeat.

Anyway, enough waxing philosophical.

— Depths Charge: Samara Haver, a master’s candidate and graduate research assistant, is one of several students who post occasionally to the Animal Bioacoustics blog at Oregon State. In a piece from earlier this week (at oregonstate.edu), she writes about — and shares photos of — recovering a 700-pound hydrophone and its mooring.

— Listen Up: Google’s Android is, as they like to say in Entrepreneurville, doubling down on always-on technology, Devindra Hardawar writes at engadget.com. The next Android OS, code-name Marshmallow, pops up next week: “Most intriguing is the operating system’s bigger focus on voice interactions: Google Now voice commands work a lot faster than before, and you can now also control apps with your voice. For example, asking Android Marshmallow to ‘Play NPR’ pops up the NPR One app, which prompts a follow-up question about what specifically you’d like to hear. Any developer will be able to plug in similar ‘hands free’ voice features in their apps.” You say “hands free”; I hear “always listening.” I remain amazed in this age of (deserved) surveillance anxiety that people leave their phones’ microphones enabled 24/7. (For reference, I have used Android phones since the G1, my laptop is a Mac, I have an iOS and an Android tablet, and my MP3 player is an iPod Touch.)

This first appeared in the September 29, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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This Week in Sound: Giraffe Drones + Peak Discovery + …

Plus: performance listening, reverse Estonian megaphones, Dancing Baby justice, and "Happy Birthday"

A lightly annotated clipping service:

— Performance Listening: “I have always been part of the recording, for it is my body standing in a particular location that holds the equipment, listens through the headphones, and presses the button’s. … I have stopped worrying about picking up this movement with my microphones. Instead, I have begun experimenting with actively recording my movement through space, and what this adds to the sonic representations of the landscapes I pass.” That is Isobel Anderson in a piece recently uploaded to academia.edu in which she discusses how field recording is a “performative act,” which she has explored in relation to her PhD at Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast. More from Anderson at speakingmaps.co.uk. (Found via John Kannenberg.)

— Whither Discovery: This subject has been on my mind for several years, and I’m glad that Cortney Harding, at medium.com/cuepoint, has written about it. Much of the activity and observation of the online music business is focused on “discovery,” but I’ve never quite understood why “discovery” gets so much the attention. On the surface, sure, it makes sense: Who doesn’t want to hear new music? But then again, who does want to? Or more to the point, how many people want to discover new music? I don’t write this as an incurious listener. Clearly, if based only on the 365 or so pieces of music I write about each year, I’m deeply involved with music discovery as an individual. I’m not convinced, though, that it’s something that a general audience is necessarily responsive to. I’ve been fiddling with an essay on this subject for awhile, and maybe responding to some of Harding’s points will help me finish it up.

— African Drones: First, just click through to the New Scientist page on SoundCloud and listen to the sound of giraffes humming. The audio relates to work by Angela Stöller at the University of Vienna, Austria, about a low, drone-like sound that giraffes make in the evening. “People had earlier speculated that giraffes are unable to produce any substantial sounds,” writes Karl Gruber at newscientist.com, “because it is physically difficult for them to generate sufficient airflow through their long necks to produce vocalisations. Others have suggested giraffes use low frequency ‘infrasonic’ sounds – sounds below the level of human perception – much like elephants and other large animals do for long-range communication.” (Found via twitter.com/jamesmcn.)

— Reverse Megaphones: If a tree falls in the Estonian forest, it’s likely that one of Birgit Õigus’ gorgeous, massive megaphone-like devices will capture and direct the sound, even if no one is in the immediate vicinity to actually hear it. Õigus objects (click through to bldgblog.blogspot.com to view pictures) were installed at the Pähni Nature Centre in Estonia thanks to an initiative by the Interior Architecture Department of the Estonian Academy of Arts.

— Dance On: This “Dancing Baby” case isn’t small news. (Quick catchup: For about eight years a case has been progressing against Universal Movie Group for taking action against a 29-second home video of a baby dancing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.”) Fair use is an essential part of copyright law, and it’s often undone by the more pressing matter of law, that bit about how the person with the more expensive lawyers often wins, whatever the actual law is. Creative Commons is a great concept moving forward; it’s created a vast literature — music, images, video, software — that can be shared and used and built upon. However, the past can’t easily be retrofitted into the Creative Commons, which is in part where fair use comes in. I’m hopeful for a future where people can easily upload cover tunes and creatively re-use samples without fear of lawsuits and takedowns. Perhaps the “Dancing Baby” will lead the way. I like to imagine a future where the Dancing Baby replaces Lady Justice — or at least fills in when Lady Justice is on vacation.

— Especially Happy: This case is far from settled, but for now a judge has ruled that “Happy Birthday” is no longer copyrighted. The kid in the “Dancing Baby” video was 13 months old when it was uploaded in early 2007, which means he’s 9 now. When he turns 10, his parents should be able to safely upload a video of them singing “Happy Birthday” to him. And we can all sing along. (Side note: the original “Dancing Baby” video was uploaded in 2007 on February 7, which happens to be Charles Dickens’ birthday, so there is probably a Bleak House reference in all of this somewhere.)

This first appeared in the September 22, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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The Xenophonic Origins and Contemporary Pleasures of the Tuesday Noon Siren

A reflection on urban sound by Nick Sowers and Bryan Finoki

Because they are true professionals, the recording that Nick Sowers and Bryan Finoki made of the Tuesday noon civic warning siren in San Francisco has a lot of great detail. To begin with, there is the extended opening, which delays the arrival of the siren so that the listener, even one who’s never been to San Francisco, and even for San Franciscans who’ve never noticed the siren (I live here — this is more common than you might imagine), has a sense of how the sound — the alarm, and then the voice — emerges from everyday sound, from street noise, and wind, and chatter. In addition, Sowers and Finoki opted to record it near church bells. The siren rings out at noon, which means that in much of the city it collides with carillon of various denominations. In an accompanying post at their excellent (in)Fringe series at designobserver.com, they trace the background of the siren to its origins in Pear Harbor anxiety (“despite their current innocuous replay, they remain a reminder of a hysteric xenophobic past”). And they do justice to the siren’s role in daily (well, Tuesday-specific) life here: “All of them are installed atop poles or on roofs of buildings, and listening to them from different locations can signal interesting delays and cross-faded effects that almost mimic a hallucinatory interplay of the city’s acoustic skeletons.”

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/designobserver. More from Sowers at soundscrapers.com and from Finoki at twitter.com/subtopes. Together they go by 52-blue, more on which at 52-blue.tumblr.com.

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Guitar in the Garden

A Japan-Belgium collaboration

Nobuto Suda is a Kyoto, Japan–based musician. Stijn Hüwels, who goes by Steiner, is a musician based in Leuven, Belgium. Together they made the plainly titled “A Piece in Collaboration with Stijn Hüwels,” which Suda posted this week to his SoundCloud account. The piece is described as a tribute to the Mirei Shigemori Garden Museum in Kyoto. The garden dates from the late 1700s. The track is, like the garden, an exercise is architectural elegance that either is intruded upon or frames birdsong, depending on your perspective. (I vote for the latter.) In the track there is a simple acoustic guitar line that echoes into the distance. Sometimes that echoing matches the metrics of the original guitar, and sometimes the echo plays slightly against the source audio, testing the placidity of the overall track. Throughout, birdsong, perhaps recorded by Suda at the Shigemori, fills the space between the notes, much as a glass house reflects back the nature by which it is surrounded.

Track originally posted to soundcloud.com/nobutosuda1101. More from Hüwels at soundcloud.com/steiner. More on the Shigemori at japanesegardens.jp.

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Ylva Lund Bergner Poisons Ears

Her "Euphorbia" works slowly and effectively.

There are many places where ambient music and contemporary classical music collide. Among the more fertile intersections is where the latter is a chamber work, and the collective impression is considerably less than the sum of the various parts. This isn’t to suggest any disappointment, quite the contrary — simply the controlled intensity of many instruments taking considerably limited action for an extended period.

“Euphorbia,” composed by Ylva Lund Bergner and performed by the Curious Chamber Players, is just such a work. It has the attenuated tension of Morton Feldman scoring a Mission: Impossible movie, the mix of chiming strings and droning horns and chattering noisemakers proceeding at a deliberate pace in which the drama is implicit rather than explicit.

The composition’s title, “Euphorbia,” we’re informed by Bergner, is from a poisonous plant in Denmark, where she lives (she’s originally from Sweden). She writes: “It is beautiful and very common. In the piece I wanted to transform the poisounous effect the plant would have one a human into music.” Her music is beautiful and by no means common.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/ylva-lund-bergner. Get the album on which it appears at cduniverse.com. More from Bergner at ylvalundbergner.com. More from the Curious Chamber Players at curiouschamberplayers.com and soundcloud.com/curious-chamber-players.

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