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.
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Monthly Archives: December 2016

End the Year with Aphex Twin

A new track titled “tnodvood104”

In the United Kingdom it’s nearing midnight, so as I type this in San Francisco mid-afternoon it feels fairly safe to say that the track “tnodvood104” is the last bit of music that Aphex Twin released to the public in a characteristically — well, newly characteristically, after years of his quasi-silence — eventful 2016. It’s a refreshingly straight-ahead, 4/4 piece. There is no chaotic, entropy-loving IDM to its beats, and though there’s an ambient miasma in the background, the track as a whole is in no particular way ambient techno. Even in his ambient work, Aphex Twin rarely has suggested a strong influence by Brian Eno, but here, around the midway point, when layers of slightly nasal, casually atonal singing appears, it sounds very much like a bit of Eno’s slow-motion pop music. Otherwise it’s entirely instrumental, and a fine, understated way to ring in the new year.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/user18081971, the account where Richard D. James initially unspooled heaps of archival audio when he returned to active public service in 2014.

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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt


This is the doorbell at the Luggage Store Gallery in downtown San Francisco. Every Thursday night there are multiple sets of music, generally experimental, often electronic, usually local. That’s the Luggage Store Gallery Music Series in a nutshell. If you attend concerts there even just every few months, you start to recognize people, and easily feel at home. Parenthood and a heap of projects keep me from going to as many concerts as I once did, but I try to make time for the Luggage Store when I can. Sometimes I just go because it’s a Thursday night and I’m free: I don’t know what to expect, and I’m never disappointed.

This past Thursday I attended the final concert of the year at the Luggage Store, featuring Toaster (aka Todd Elliott), whom I know through the Disquiet Junto, and the trio of Sheila Bosco (electronics), Matt Davignon (electronics — he helps organize and run the series), and Suki O’Kane (percussion). This doorbell shown here is one I’ve never had reason to ring (except perhaps back in 2012, when I organized a Junto concert there), but always marveled at. It hints at the glorious Luggage Store staircase, a glimpse of which is seen to the side. The entry is festooned with graffiti and stickers in a manner that serves as a litmus test for attendees. It is either welcoming or off-putting, glorious or garish, vibrant or decrepit. I’m firmly in the welcoming/glorious/vibrant camp, myself.

Toaster played a beat-driven set on synthesizer, using Monome patches of his own devising. In between sections of his performance, as he swapped out the software, he piped in recordings off a tape cassette player, which was processed through a bitcrusher, rendering sonic pixel noise. It was an ingenious means to give the impression of a continuous performance, and yet give him, the performer, room to breathe. The trio played a downtempo series of flowingly rhythmic sequences, with Bosco and Davignon both using sampler loopers, and O’Kane on trap set. At one point O’Kane played a snare with her breath. At another she swept the air with a brush, and the place was quiet enough, even with Bosco and Davignon playing, for it to make its own sonic impression.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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Disquiet Junto Project 0261: Audio Journal 2016

The Assignment: Create a sonic diary of the past year with a dozen five-second segments.

Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group, a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership in the Junto is open: just join and participate. A SoundCloud account is helpful but not required. There’s no pressure to do every project. It’s weekly so that you know it’s there, every Thursday through Monday, when you have the time.

Tracks will be added to this playlist for the duration of the project:

This project was posted in the morning, California time, on Thursday, December 29, 2016, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, January 2, 2017.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0261: Audio Journal 2016
The Assignment: Create a sonic diary of the past year with a dozen five-second segments.

This week’s project is a sound journal, a selective audio history of your past year.

Step 1: You will select a different audio element to represent each of the past 12 months of 2016. These audio elements will most likely be of music that you have yourself composed and recorded, but they might also consist of phone messages, field recordings, or other source material. These items should be somehow personal in nature, suitable to the autobiographical intention of the project; they should be of your own making, and not drawn from third-party sources.

Step 2: You will then select one five-second segment from each of these dozen audio elements.

Step 3: Then you will stitch these dozen five-second segments together in chronological order to form one single one-minute track. There should be no overlap or gap between segments; they should simply proceed from one to the next.

Step 4: In the notes field accompanying the track, identify each of the audio segments.

(Level Up: Alternately, you can use more than 12 audio segments — do two a month, or one a week, or one a day. Whatever you choose, just keep them evenly distributed across the year. You might make the segments shorter, to keep the full track length to 60 seconds.)

Five More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Per the instructions below, be sure to include the project tag “disquiet0261″ (no spaces) in the name of your track. If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to my locating the tracks and creating a playlist of them.

Step 2: Upload your track. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your track.

Step 3: In the following discussion thread at llllllll.co please consider posting your track.

http://llllllll.co/t/make-a-2016-sound-journal-disquiet-junto-0261/5891

Step 4: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 5: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Deadline: This project was posted in the morning, California time, on Thursday, December 29, 2016, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, January 2, 2017.

Length: The length is up to you, but three to four minutes sounds about right.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0261” in the title of the track, and where applicable (on SoundCloud, for example) as a tag.

Upload: When participating in this project, post one finished track with the project tag, and be sure to include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Download: It is preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

Linking: When posting the track online, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 261st weekly Disquiet Junto project — “Audio Journal 2016: Create a sonic diary of the past year with a dozen five-second segments — at:

http://disquiet.com/0261/

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

http://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here:

http://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co:

http://llllllll.co/t/make-a-2016-sound-journal-disquiet-junto-0261/5891

There’s also on a Junto Slack. Send your email address to twitter.com/disquiet for Slack inclusion.

Photo associated with this project is by Bev Sykes, used thanks to a Creative Commons license:

flic.kr/p/2od2G

creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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10 Great 2016 Film and TV Scores

And 10 additional notables

With the rise of underscoring, key big-screen composers such as Cliff Martinez, Clint Mansell, and Lisa Gerrard, among others, have managed to save the Hollywood score by diminishing its presence — and, in turn, they have raised its profile. With underscoring, an attention to room tone, background noise, and overall sound design plays as much a role as once did the grand-entrance character themes of times past. Nowadays underscoring has extended its influence to television, though the rapid pace of serial productions yields different outcomes, such as looped and repeated cues. (Sadly, TV scores are still far less likely than movie scores to be released for off-screen listening.) While scores ultimately serve the narratives for which they’re commissioned, they also serve a larger aesthetic purpose: a deeper, still emerging collective sense of where non-diegetic and diegetic sounds converge, how sound frames and participates in visual storytelling. And these days there is no better place than film (and on occasion TV) scores to hear music that revels at the intersection of ambient, techno, minimalism, and neo-classical, not to mention (where available) three-dimensional spatialization.

(1) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis — Hell or High Water (Milan)
Who better than two Australians to provide mirror-refracted atmosphere to this modern Texas western? Their chamber-folk approach has the violin veering between classical composure and porch-fiddle intimacy.

(2) Shane Carruth — The Girlfriend Experience (no commercial release yet)
Shane Carruth (writer, director, producer, composer, and co-star of Primer and Upstream Color) takes time out from his own filmmaking (the forthcoming The Modern Ocean) to lend an elevator-drone, glass-tower sheen to this TV-serial spinoff of the Steven Soderbergh film. It is as chilly and elegant, as anxious and zoned, out as are its cast of characters.

(3) Anne Dudley — Elle (Sony Classical)
The former Art of Noise member renders concise cues that balance a minimalist’s attention to patterning with a classic silver-screen sense of drama, at times evidencing echoes John Barry and Bernard Herrmann.

(4) Max Richter — Miss Sloane (EuropaCorp)
If only for the highly detailed ambient techno, all pitter-patter sound design, this would be a significant accomplishment, but Max Richter has such a range of skills at his disposal, he goes on to fold in orchestrations both intimate and broad.

(5) A Winged Victory for the Sullen — Iris (Erased Tapes)
A Winged Victory for the Sullen is Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran, and they infuse this erotic thriller with heart pulses and train rumbles, deeply emotional string sections, choruses that seem to fill football stadiums, and a lush, dreamy resonance.

(6) Jóhann Jóhannsson — Arrival (Deutsche Grammophon)
When Denis Villeneuve was announced as the director of the forthcoming Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049, a certain subset of music fans sighed with relief. This was because of the seeming inevitability that Villeneuve’s frequent creative partner, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (their work together include 2013’s Prisoners and 2015’s Sicario), would join him on Ridley Scott’s home turf, and thus make good on the classic Vangelis score of the original film. Arrival provided the duo with a science-fiction test run, and it’s a sprawling accomplishment, both earthy and otherworldly. (Contributing to the score as well: Theatre of Voices, conducted by Paul Hillier; synthesizer player Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe; cellist Hildur Guonadottir; and a sample of vocalist Joan La Barbara.)

(7) Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammed — Luke Cage (Hollywood)
It’s a nice touch that each episode of the first season of this Harlem-set superhero drama takes a Gangs Starr song for its title. And that the club central to much of the story features live performances by the likes of Raphael Saadiq, Faith Evans, and Charles Bradley, among others. But what really gives the show its cultural swagger is the instrumental hip-hop score by Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammed (the latter of A Tribe Called Quest), thick with terse beats and string samples.

(8) Abel Korzeniowski — Nocturnal Animals (Silva Screen)
You can depend on director Tom Ford to employ only the finest fabrics, and Abel Korzeniowski makes good on such expectations with an orchestral score that yields hyper-minimalist pleasures, like the string marathon that is “Crossroads,” and old-school romanticism, like the luxuriously syrupy “City Lights.” Not all film composers do their own orchestrations, and when they do you can often tell by the attention to detail, as is the case here.

(9) Scott Walker — The Childhood of a Leader (4AD)
It’s hard to make a case that Scott Walker’s feverish score for The Childhood of a Leader is anything close to underscoring, since the music is so in your face (well, in your ear), the orchestra being such a pounding, soaring figure throughout. Even when it’s quiet, such as briefly in the opening to “Up the Stairs,” it veers around the stereo spectrum in a fly-like manner that announces its unpredictable presence. But what it is is thoroughly composed, as if Walker felt that he’d never again have a full orchestra at his command, so he best make the most of the opportunity.

(10) Trent Reznor + Atticus Ross, Mogwai, Gustavo Santaolala — Before the Flood (Lakeshore)
Neither the Social Network team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross nor the seasoned veteran Gustavo Santaolala scored a major work of film fiction in 2016, but they did team up with Mogwai for this documentary about the impact of climate change, delivering characteristically meticulous instrumental gems.

And 10 More Notable 2016 Film and TV Scores
In alphabetical order by artist: The clandestine auras of (11) Keefus Ciancia + David Holmes’ London Spy (no commercial release yet) • The artful claustrophobia of (12) Keefus Ciancia + David Holmes’ The Fall (no commercial release yet) • The impeccable eeriness of (13) Mark Korven’s The Witch (Milan) • The cold grace of (14) Mica Levi’s Jackie (Milan) • The hinting at familiar themes of (15) Michael Giacchino’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Walt Disney) • The high-stakes trepidation of (16) Andy Gray’s Hunters (no commercial release yet) • The muted orchestral gravitas of (17) Rupert Gregson-WilliamsHacksaw Ridge (Varèse Sarabande) • The metric anticipation of (18) Dominic LewisMoney Monster (Sony Classical) • The louche tension of (19) Clint Mansell’s High Rise (Silva Screen) • The high-style electronica of (20) Cliff Martinez’s The Neon Demon (Milan).

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10 Great 2016 Ambient/Electronic Albums

And 10 additional notables

I haven’t done one of these lists in several years. But I’ve come to realize that while the whole idea of top 10 lists is absurd — especially in a realm, like electronic music, that is such an embarrassment of riches these days — it can be a healthy exercise to take stock of the year before moving on to the next one. I think the recent 20th anniversary of Disquiet.com is especially on my mind, how an archive can be of use as time passes. Here in alphabetical order by artist are 10 especially great albums from 2016, and an additional 10 as well. For this list “ambient/electronic” is a broad field, from drones to broken beats to neo-classical, all works that emphasize texture as a form of composition, and that evidence a fully intentional approach to their instrumentation.

(1) Autechre — elseq 1-5 (Warp)
The IDM godfathers return with a massive, stately, sprawling collection, five LPs’ worth of broken beats, industrialized entropy, and conspiratorial static. Each piece has a rhythmic singularity, an organizing principle of beat, that then unfolds through alternately subtle and chaotic states of generative complexity.

(2) Madeleine Cocolas — Cascadia (Futuresequence)
Piano-based compositions merge in myriad ways with electronics, found sounds, and voice. And yet, for all the variety, all the depth of sonic field, under Madeleine Cocolas’ meticulous direction they never break the jewel-box self-confinement of modern classical minimalism.

(3) Sarah Davachi — Dominions (Jaz)
A second solo full-length from Sarah Davachi goes even more introspective than did its predecessor. The five tracks here, all made from synthesizer and violin, offer nuanced variations in sonic fabric, shifting minor bits of thread count, color, and patterning as they proceed.

(4) Masayoshi Fujita + Jan Jelinek — Schaum (Faitiche)
The latest collaboration between the Japanese prepared-vibraphone player Masayoshi Fujita and German electronics maven Jan Jelinek takes its title from the German word for foam. Gentle textures belie the rich source material and generous interplay.

(5) Daniel Lanois — Goodbye to Language (Anti-)
In many ways Daniel Lanois finally this year released the album his most ardent fans longed for, in which production techniques he’s provided to Bob Dylan, U2, and so many others are finally given their own space to stretch out. He brings his textural focus to his and Rocco Deluca’s guitars for a moody, glitchy achievement.

(6) Loscil — Monument Builders (Kranky)
The prolific Scott Morgan, who performs and records as Loscil, unfolds one forbidding techno-schooled, minimalism-informed soundscape after another, sometimes shot through with an urgent momentum, often left to their own artfully bleak devices. Sharing credit are Nick Anderson on occasional French horn (bringing to mind Ingram Marshall’s stately “Fog Tropes”), synthesizer player Joshua Stevenson, and a vocal sample of Ashley Pitre.

(7) Machinefabriek + Gareth Davis — Shroud Lines (White Paddy Mountain)
An extended excursion into live improvisatory collaboration, with the gregarious and prolific Machinefabriek on drone- and noise-oriented synthesizers and Gareth Davis on bottom-rumbling bass clarinet.

(8) Matmos — Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey)
The duo Matmos (Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt) team up with a washing machine and a host of guest stars for an album of glistening, churning, pop-inflected noise, all charming beats and anxious atmospheres. The guests include Dan Deacon, Max Eilbacher (Horse Lords), Sam Haberman (Horse Lords), Jason Willett (Half Japanese), and Duncan Moore (Needle Gun).

(9) Nonkeen — The Gamble (R&S)
Nils Frahm steps out from his solo-piano realm to produce, with fellow Nonkeen members Frederic Gmeiner and Sepp Singwald, this strong collection of sedate fusion grooves. Think early Miles Davis electric filtered by way of a hybrid Erased Tapes / Stones Throw aesthetic, all downtempo funky ether. There’s one track on this, “The Saddest Continent on Earth,” that I listened to more than just about any other piece of music this year. (Andrea Belfi is credited with percussion on just over half the track.)

(10) Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith — Ears (Western Vinyl)
The ace synthesizer player shares eight stereoscopic fields of sonic play, each a fully inhabited aural world of instants and melodies, riffs and figments. There’s a whirligig festiveness to each undertaking, chamber pop snapshots of an incredibly vibrant imagination at work.

And 10 More Notable 2016 Ambient/Electronic Albums
In alphabetical order by artist: The abstract hip-hop of (11) Arckatron’s Subtle Busyness (Twin Springs) • The electronically mediated vocalese of (12) Julianna Barwick’s Will (Dead Oceans) • The austere, sedate drone confections of (13) Donnacha Costello’s Mono No Aware (self-released) • The field-recording-inflected microsound of (14) Federico Durand’s A Través Del Espejo (12k) • The dramatic vocal/feedback explorations of (15) Lesley Flanigan’s Hedera (Physical Editions) • The whirring synth+ (voice, violin, more) of (16) Marielle V JakobsonsStar Core (Thrill Jockey) • The outworld dub of (17) Toshinori Kondo + Barton Rage’s Realm 2 Parallax (Toshinori Kondo Recordings) • The electronica collages of (18) Funki Porcini’s Conservative Apocalypse (self-released) • The inchoate data pop of (19) Tristan Perich’s Noise Patterns (Physical Editions) • The remixed neo-classical of (20) Christina Vantzou’s 3.5 (self-released).

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