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.

field notes

News, essays, reviews, surveillance

New Silence from Aphex Twin

The account of user18081971 has become a void.


At some point in the past 24 hours, the 260 some odd tracks in Aphex Twin’s have gone missing. In the past he’s deleted and re-added them, so they may show up again.

Before he had the user18081971 account, whose seemingly generic numerals in fact represent his birthday, he used the account user48736353001. That account went blank in advance of the tracks appearing under the user name user18081971.

There’s a detailed spreadsheet of the tracks associated with the account, via a Reddit user. The spreadsheet includes the brief commentary that Aphex Twin posted in the bio field for the account. Among these were political references, shoutouts to listeners, and a brief notice about the recent death of visual artist Paul Laffoley.

For the time being this development means that the Selected Ambient Works Volume 3 beta playlist I have been developing is now blank. I may be able to recreate it based on YouTube re-postings of the audio.

There remain six tracks at

Update (November 26, 2015): One thing that does remain at the user18081971 account is a collection of likes, at this count 32, ranging from a µ-Ziq track dating back to 1993 to a recording of Nikola Bašić’s sea organ in Zadar, Croatia, the latter of which has achieved 2.7 million listens.

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Social Media Break

Until January 4, 2016

I usually take off the last two weeks of the year, but this year I’m starting a little earlier with my social-media retreat/cleanse/void/break. I have no idea what truly constitutes “social media” these days. I know Instagram is “social,” but I use it mostly as a broadcast stream for short essays accompanying an image — sure, I look at other people’s images, too, and like/comment on occasion, but aside from the “like” aspect, it doesn’t feel all that different from commenting on someone’s blog post. Anyhow, for the most part I mean I won’t be on Twitter or Facebook.

See you on the other side.

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The Quantified Shelf

The 27 steps to alphabetizing your record collection (with your 5-year-old)

OJ: Original Jedi

OJ: Original Jedi

1: Fun!

2: Van Dyke Parks. D? P? Is that a last name?

3: This Dillinja/Lemon D split single is gonna kill me.

3b: “Dad, I need an ‘N’ record.”

4: Is there an app for this?

5: I could put a piano in there.

6: Sell it all.

7: Dump it all.

8: Oh, then I’d have to sort the sheet music.

9: No, this is fun.

10: Take break to tweet a lot.

11: Yeah, I need this LP of John Cheever reading The Swimmer.

12: First sighted accidental second copy: Ray Davies’ Return to Waterloo.

13: I worked for Tower Records for 7 years full time. It’s probably best I never actually worked in a Tower store.

14: I own a heap of hip-hop 12″s but playing them interrupts this activity even more than tweeting does.

15: Whatever happened to [____]. Do not hit search. Do not hit search. Do not hit search.

16: Whew, hit a stack of Ns. Was worried the movers lost a crate (back in 2003 when I moved back to San Francisco).

17: I don’t think Randy Weston owns this many Randy Weston albums.

18: There were 4 people in Destiny’s Child at some point?

19: Note on Billy Childish LP says art’s inside it. Assigned him a drawing. We ended up not being able to print it.

20: Why’s this Ornette Coleman sleeve empty? (Whew, found it.) (And why’s “Ornette” not in my laptop’s dictionary?)

21: 5-year-old is making a temporary post-it sign. Says: “Dad, are there any silent letters in ‘various’?”

22: 5-year-old plays electric piano along to Nav Katze remix album, turns it into a Herbie Hancock album.

23: Done. (For now.) I still need to sort through this huge stack of WTF.

24: And then I’ll need to, you know, sort within each letter/category.

25: And, er, then on to the 7″s, 10″s and, er, CDs …

26: Then get ’em into a spreadsheet.

27: And then back to MP3/FLAC/etc., which is mostly what this was an exercise to avoid.

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“Bassel K”

An essay I wrote for The Cost of Freedom, dedicated to detained Creative Commons coder/artist Bassel Khartabil Sadafi


“Bassel K” is a short essay I wrote for the book The Cost of Freedom: A Collective Inquiry, which was published today, November 9, 2015, to draw attention to the continued detainment in Syria of Bassel Khartabil Sadafi. The publication came together as part of a “book sprint” held in Pourrières, France, from the 2nd to the 6th of November. (I wasn’t in France. I was home, typing in San Francisco.) Contributors include Lawrence Lessig, Lucas Gonze, Barry Threw, Niki Korth, and Jon Phillips, among many others. Bassel has been held since March 15, 2012.

We’ve done two Disquiet Junto projects related to Bassel’s detainment. On the third anniversary of his seizure, March 12, 2015, we focused our imaginations on the silence of a closed room: “Disquiet Junto Project 0167: Placid Cell.” Previous to that, back on January 23, 2014, as described in the essay below, we expanded on one of his works-in-progress, creating an imaginary soundscape to the ancient city of Palmyra: “Disquiet Junto Project 0108: Free Bassel.”

And here is the essay:

“Bassel K”

I read The Trial at too young an age. It instilled in me many things, some of them even positive, such as an affection for Franz Kafka, an aspiration to taut structure, and a desire to tell stories. It also haunted me, and it does to this day. It imprinted on me an intense fear of undeserved imprisonment.

I was introduced to the imprisonment of Bassel Khartabil by three remarkable people: Niki Korth, Jon Phillips, and Barry Threw. They are in many admirable ways as free as Bassel is not. Each of the trio is dedicated to their own individual and collective artistic pursuits to explore the deep potential where technology and culture meet. They make and celebrate the things that make today a special time.

And they know full well that all is not right in our time. They expend significant energy in building awareness of the ongoing fact of Bassel’s murky, tragic legal status. At their suggestion, back in January 2014, I gathered musicians to highlight Bassel’s plight. These musicians participate collectively in something called the Disquiet Junto. It’s a freeform group I moderate that each Thursday responds to music-composition prompts. The idea behind all the prompts is that creative constraints, such as those employed in Oulipo and Fluxus, are a useful springboard for creativity and productivity.

The Junto’s fondness for such “constraints” met a fierce complement when we tackled Bassel’s situation, which is that of a most uncreative form of constraint. There were many ways we could have paid tribute to Bassel. What we elected to do in the Junto was to keep one of his projects going: He may be in jail, but his art could continue to develop. Prior to Bassel’s arrest on March 15, 2012, in Damascus, he was working on several projects. Among them was a three-dimension computer rendering of the ancient city of Palmyra. What we in the Junto did was make “fake field recordings”: audio of what the halls of Palmyra’s structures might have sounded like millennia ago. Much as Bassel was trying to revive an ancient world, the Junto participants were, in essence, keeping one of his projects alive while he is incapable of doing so. And, of course, building upon his artistic efforts was true to the ethos of the Creative Commons, in which Bassel has been profoundly engaged.

We had no idea, of course, back in early 2014 that Palymra would itself receive worldwide attention when ISIS, the extremist movement, would in 2015 move to destroy much of the ancient city’s remaining architectural history — or that, later still, Russian warplanes would further damage the site. This is one of Kafka’s lasting legacies: just when things seem horrible, they can and do get worse.

Palmyra has fallen. Bassel remains in jail. The challenge to rectify his situation has long since surpassed the overly employed term “Kafkaesque.” Someone must have been telling lies about Bassel K, because he is still kept from his freedom. But as long as he is in prison, there are plenty of people telling his story, and keeping his work alive.

Below is a shot of Bassel in happier times, and an image from his “3D Palmyra” work mentioned in my essay:



More on the book The Cost of Freedom: A Collective Inquiry, which is in the public domain and is available as an ePub and PDF, at

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Report from the (Real) Future (Fair)

A few hundred people listen to the Junto with their eyes closed — plus clairaudient journalism (Nov 6-7, 2015)


As you can perhaps deduce from the unused drink tickets that remain attached to these two wristbands, I had a pretty debilitating head cold during the Real Future Fair in San Francisco on November 6 and 7. I did, though, have the great opportunity to share the fruits and nearly four-year history of the Disquiet Junto in a short presentation during the Fair’s closing night “Future of Sound” event.

This appearance meant, among other things, sharing a bill with soul-pop figure Kelela, Hrishikesh Hirway of the Song Exploder podcast, San Francisco electronic musician Pamela Z, and performance artist Dia Dear, as well as a bunch of journalists from Real Future and its parent media organization, Head cold or not, that was pretty grand.

Some quick highlights of the Fair:

— Alexis Madrigal, editor-in-chief of, did me the favor of interviewing me for the Junto presentation. I like talking in front of crowds, and I like a public discussion all the more. Madrigal did a great job of summing up what the Junto is, and if I get my hands on the audio I’m going to transcribe it for future (not just Real Future) use.

— Madrigal has a particular sense of how the sounds emitted from Junto projects are interestingly apart from what is generally considered music. This perspective is something that I can, frankly, lose track of since I spend much of my listening time inside the drone bubble. (I did take the opportunity to mention that one of my favorite Junto projects played with the idea of a song, using the room tone of three different places to flesh out the verse, chorus, and bridge of a “song.”)

— My favorite moment of the live Junto event was when Madrigal had the entire audience close their eyes for 30 seconds and just listen to the final of the Junto tracks we prepared. Me? I kept my eyes open to take it in.

— The Junto project we shared with the Real Future audience is the current one, number 201, in which we: “Encapsulate an album for efficient yet meaningful consumption.” The idea is that in the future, among the many problems of overpopulation and the resulting leisure time provided by the robotization of work is that way more art is being produced. So, how do we, as humans, consume it — not to mention the vast back catalog of novels, music, video games, etc.? In addition to some very interesting sonic processing, this Junto project has led to some fun short-form science fiction in the liner notes to the various tracks. We’ve compressed two different albums in the course of the project, self-titled records by the French group Salmo and the New Zealand duo Montano. For the Real Future event I played a few tracks off the Montano album for context, and then three of the Junto reworkings: from Australia-based Tuonela, Tokyo-based Hiroyuki Kuromiya, and, closer to home, Erik Kuehnl of Berkeley.

— In addition to the folks I mentioned up top, there was some interesting live journalism. Kashmir Hill talked about the “real world mute button” being developed at Doppler Labs. Hill also did a great job the day prior moderating a panel about the future of surveillance.

— Kevin Roose gave a funny talk on vocaloids, in particular Hatsune Miku (who made a guest appearance in the Red Bull Music Academy comic on synthesizer legend Tomita that I edited, with Hideki Egami, last year).

— There was a short video from Daniela Hernandez on LRAD sound weapons.

— Kristen V. Brown reported on an outlier in the field of performance-venue acoustics.

— And there was a report on sonic healing that balanced skepticism with inquiry, but I didn’t catch the name of the reporter.

— One great thing that the Real Future producers did was hire Marc Kate to “live score” the event. Of course, he didn’t live score my session, since I was providing the music, but in all the reports he, in real time, summoned up audio to augment the narrative.

— The headliner of the show was Kelela, who is very much of the soul-pop realm in whose context the idea of much Junto work being “musical” to a general audience can be a complicated sell. I didn’t stay for her performance (#headcold) but I greatly enjoyed the interview that Hrishikesh Hirway of the Song Exploder podcast did with her at the start of the evening, talking about the recording of one of her songs. She discussed various aspects of her process, including working with producers, reworking provided instrumental tracks, singing first in vocalese before filling in the vowels and consonants and spaces with actual words. (I also missed Pamela Z.) One great thing about Hirway’s Song Exploder is how the musicians among its listenership are being encouraged, if not outright trained, to speak analytically about how they do what they do. Historically, this has not been a strongpoint of pop-music journalism, excepting technology/instrument-specific reporting in magazines like Guitar Player.

More details on the event: Major thanks to Alexis Madrigal and Cara Rose DeFabio. Check out the website at, and definitely subscribe to Madrigal’s Real Future newsletter at

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