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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Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.


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When a Drone Seems More Traditionally Musical Than Other Drones

Without ever ceasing to be, you know, a drone

All drones are not created equal. Not that one is better, by some measure, than another, but that between intent and tonality, density and momentum, texture and form, they are as different from each other as the ear might allow. Many drones have an industrial quality, like the finely crafted noise of either a well-oiled or nostalgically archaic machine. Some are expressly synthesized, devoid of any semblance of earthy quality. And some are, by some manner, musical — in the traditional sense of the word. They may have no apparent melody — they are still, in the end, drones — or rhythm, but there’s something to the harmonic staging and the sound quality itself that seems less like an industrial machine and more like, say, a pop song put in suspended animation. That’s the sort of drone that Rob Kriston created with “Toneless Dying Heart.” It’s beautiful and ever-shifting, a florid and chaotic timbre spectacle.

Track originally posted at More from Kriston at

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“Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds”

A string quartet by Anna Höstman

When you think string quartet, certainly you think about creepy flying life forms in Africa that feed of the tears of other flying life forms. That is the scenario that informs Anna Höstman’s tensile and invigorating string quartet “Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds.” Premiered on November 14 of last year, the work is as slow and steady as you might expect of something that preys on things far larger than itself. The work moves from slow sawing to angular, intense slashing. At 15 minutes, it produces an impression of the scenario that is thick with drama. Certainly there is an intensity in the brief moments of fierce action, but the real beauty comes from the patience, both in the composition and the performance, to layer textured, paper-thin lines atop one another for extended periods of anxious near-silence.

Look closely at this image (from and you’ll see the moth’s dagger-like nose stuck into a bird’s eyelid:


Here’s an extreme closeup, from the National Institutes of Health (, that provides eerie detail of the moth’s sharp nose:


A brief program note by Deborah MacKenzie provides further background:

Scientists have recently revealed that a species of moth in the Kirindy forest of Madagascar drinks tears from the eyes of birds. Birds can usually fly away from these predators, but not while sleeping. The Madagascan moths were observed on the necks of sleeping magpie robins and Newtonia birds, with the tip of their proboscises inserted under the bird’s eyelid, drinking avidly. Sleeping birds have two eyelids, both closed. So instead of the soft, straw-like mouthparts found on tear-drinking moths elsewhere, the Madagascan moth has a proboscis “shaped like an ancient harpoon,” with hooks and barbs. It is inserted under the eyelid where the barbs are used to anchor it in place. The team does not yet know whether the insect spits out an anaesthetic to dull the irritation. They also want to investigate whether, like their counterparts elsewhere, the Madagascan tear-drinkers are all males who get most of their nutrition from the tears.

The piece by Höstman brings to mind another recent work of chamber music that has its basis in the dark corners of the natural sciences, “Euphorbia,” composed by Ylva Lund Bergner, heard in a performance by the Curious Chamber Players. Her piece’s name, and mood, come from a deadly plant in Denmark.

Track originally posted at More on Höstman at More on Quatour Bozzini at More on the moth at

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When a Musical Composition Achieves the Undirected Manner of a Field Recording

For example “Things That Stubbornly and Resiliently Subsist Without Leave" by Kate Carr

So often the audio that emanates from Kate Carr’s SoundCloud account is field recordings, the experience can be jarring when something more traditionally recognizable as “music” appears in the feed’s sequence. “Things That Stubbornly and Resiliently Subsist Without Leave,” uploaded about a month ago, is no song in the traditional sense. It opens with solo electric guitar, plucked in a quiet, patient manner, before fading suddenly into a chillingly metallic echo chamber. Then comes a more sinuous synthesized sequence that bobs slowly this way and that — it’s as if a melody had been laid on the ocean’s surface and left to ebb and flow accordingly. And then comes silence, not digital silence but the silence of a room in which not very much seems to be happening, the sort of silence that can be consuming: drawing the listeners in and then imagined building walls around them. Lending the otherwise disparate sequence a sense of compositional structure, the piece shifts back for brief codas of the guitar and the chill. Leave it to Carr to produce a musical track that retains all the linear yet undirected semi-randomness of a field recording. She credits the title to Marie Thompson and Ian Biddle’s Sound, Music, Affect: Theorising the Sonic.

Track originally posted at More from Carr at,, and

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A Nervous Itch in Darren Harper’s Blissed Out “The Yearning Loop”

From the forthcoming Winter Loops ep.

Darren Harper has posted a track from an upcoming EP. The EP is titled Winter Loops, and it’s due out soon. The track is “The Yearning Loop,” which appeared today on his SoundCloud account. Despite the singular “loop” in the title, it’s based on various subloops — a loping, low-slung bass line; a bit of happily meandering guitar that bounces in the stereo field; a rich ambient foundation; some hauntingly ethereal vocals. And from the very start, there is the subtle star of the performance, this little scratchy noise, like the end of tape that’s run out, or a piece of fabric fluttering in the grill of a slow-moving fan. It’s a nervous little itch in the otherwise blissed-out drone. It’s there throughout, even as “The Yearning Loop” fades, a fine example of how the most mechanical element can seem the most natural, what might initially sound rote appearing, instead, like a model of persistence.

Track originally posted at More from Harper, who’s based in Colorado, at and

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There’s a Thin Line Between Noise and Ambient

But what happens when you double down?

It can be informative to note that sometimes the difference between ambient music and noise music is simply a matter of volume. Played loud, a piece is a barrage; played quietly, it’s background ambience. But what happens when that background ambience is itself pitched down several notches. Titled “Inwards [005]” and tagged #silence, this piece by the Greek musician who goes by Simpsi begins so quietly you might think it’s entirely #silent. The music slowly makes itself somewhat apparent. It sounds like flowing, gently warping sine waves buffeted by some natural resource, like a passing breeze. And yet it’s in fact so quiet that its actual contours remain quite out of reach. It’s like the sound of a UFO landing just out of sight. Or maybe nothing is there at all.

Track originally posted at Simpi is Panagiotis Simsiroglou of Athens, Greece.

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