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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The Wire Magazine on the Disquiet Junto

Lottie Brazier features it in the Unofficial Channels column

Many thanks to Lottie Brazier, who wrote a piece about the Disquiet Junto for the “Unofficial Channels” column in the current issue of The Wire magazine (July 2016, the one with Loren Connors on the cover). I especially appreciate that she put in print a comment by Ethan Hein that I’ve long thought captures part of the essence of the Junto (“He writes reviews of music that doesn’t exist yet and then gets internet strangers to make it”), and for emphasizing my sense of “ambient participation” and how I connect it to the child-development concept of “parallel play.”

I’m hopeful the Wire coverage of the Junto will introduce it to a new batch of potential participants. She also quotes Richard Fair on, among other things, the weekly aspect of the Junto as part of its utility. And she singles out a track by Detritus Tabu from the 0028 project.

Here is the piece:

p1

p2

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More from the Wire at twitter.com/LottieBrazier and the Wire at thewire.co.uk.

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A John Cage Master Class (on the Junto Slack)

Mark Lentczner recounts an hour-long meeting with the bard of chance.

ivan_cage_kids

This thread is extracted from a conversation yesterday on the recently launched Disquiet Junto discussion Slack — that is, on the slack.com platform (if you’re interested in joining in, send me an email at marc@disquiet.com). The subject of “randomness” or “chance” in music was brought up by J. Siemasko (aka Schemawound), and then fleshed out in conversation between Joe McMahon, Ian Joyce, Anatol Locker, Robert M. Thomas (aka Dizzy Banjo), and others. And then Mark Lentczner said he had a story about John Cage he wanted to share.

Around 7:30pm Lentczner (aka mtnviewmark on the Junto Slack) did exactly that, recounting an encounter with Cage at Harvard where Lentczner studied with Ivan Tcherepnin. The above photo (from tcherepnin.com) shows Tcherepnin, right, and his two sons, on the left, with Cage. The photo below (from harvard.edu) shows the Harvard Electronic Music Studio from that era. This is Lentczner’s story about Cage visiting a music class he was attending (“in the early 1980s”), along with some interstitial comments from other Junto Slack members.

hems-studio

mtnviewmark [7:33 PM]
Randomness is the topic of the day

SO – Once, a long time ago, in a land before MIDI, I studied electronic music.

(This is early 1980s)

One of the assignments in the electronic music class taught by Ivan Tcherepnin was to make a realization of Cage’s ​Variations I

If you don’t know this piece, it involves taking a square piece of paper with splattered ink drops on it, and overlaying it with five pieces of acetate, on each of which is a single line. The idea is the dots represent musical events. You then overly the first acetate sheet, and measure the distance from each dot to the line- the closer it is the sooner in the piece the note occurs, the further, the later. Then you repeat with the second line, only here distance from the line gives the pitch of the event. Third is volume, fourth is duration, and fifth gives timbre.

So essentially you generate a random collection of musical events (perhaps notes), from this very random process… and then you play it. On whatever instrument(s) you want.

So – every year the dozen students in the course would do this. Some would tape splice carefully. Others would turn knobs on the modular synth to match events. And so on… And it was always interesting the day the assignments were played where we’d listen to these dozen realizations of a “random” piece.

[Strikes me like Cage was writing us a Junto…. eh?]

After having done this myself, my first year. In a subsequent year (I was at this point not in the class, just studying 1-on-1 with Ivan), I decided that I would “get at the heart of this piece” by ​automating the randomness​: I programmed an Apple ][ (pre-Mac, folks!), to make the spatters, draw the lines, do the measurements, assemble the notes, play the tones (covering occurance, pitch, duration, and volume), and output CV to a modular synth (for timbre), which processed the whole output.

Essentially, you hit play, and…. it’d played a 90 second ​Variation I​ realization. Press it again, and you got another.

It so happened this year that we were to be treated to a very special experience: A week or two after the class did ​Variations I​, Ivan arranged for John Cage to come visit and talk with the class.

!!!!!!!!

Over the course of the afternoon, Cage talked with us, and listened to us – and at some point the class played their ​Variations I​ realizations and there was wonderful discussion.

But then…. Ivan had also arranged that after the class was over, Cage would spend an hour or so with just me, in the small side studio I now used for my computer and synth work.

Of course, I was brimming to tell him, and play him, my automatic ​Variations I​ program. I explained how it worked, what it did… and how I loved that “by listening to variation after variation, as the randomness played out across the space, eventually the listener would come to hear the ​essence​ of the piece, the ​composition would show through​ the randomness.”

To me, this was obviously wonderful – indeed a key to randomness in music: We want to add variation, with some degree of unpredictability, to elicit a kind of feeling in the music – whether it is just tiny sample & hold added to our percussion patches to make the drums sound less mechanical, or it is random melodies choosen by Markov chain – this is a kind of controlled-unpredictable algorithmic composition.

Ahhhhh…. and I had done it for this great work, ​Variations I​ by the great master, John Cage.

(can you see where this is going….?)

……

marc.weidenbaum [7:53 PM]
@mtnviewmark: I think so, but I hope I’m wrong.

mtnviewmark [7:54 PM]
Cage listened, and in his incredibly thoughtful, quiet tone, being the great teacher who doesn’t aim to teach, but is just before their students….

qdot [7:54 PM]
braces himself.

mtnviewmark [7:54 PM]
…pointed out that I had completely missed the point of the piece, and my realization was just wrong.

For ​his​ aim, in employing randomness, was not to employ a controlled chaos in service to his composition. But to get away from it ​being his composition​. To remove his ego from his composition as much as possible [his direct phrasing].

He did not want a different set of random notes on each repetition. He wanted exactly the set of notes the randomness determined when the performer prepared the work. He wanted the audience to listen to ​that​ exact musical line. To hear it, for what ​it​ is, not for what ​he​ composed.

natetrier [7:58 PM]
So the preparation was crucial, in his perception. Almost like a ritual. Interesting.

mtnviewmark [7:58 PM]
Yes – and needed so that it wasn’t ​him​ we were all applauding at the end. But the experience.


I can’t begin to tell you how profound this hour with Cage was for me.

For not only did I now begin to understand what his work was truely about.

But I began to think about what was my work about, for me, what was I doing, and why.

And it was an incredible expansion of my understanding of what it could mean to make music.

I hope the story helps bring that expansion in some small way to you.

Peace.

marc.weidenbaum [8:03 PM]
That is really great. Thanks, @mtnviewmark.

qdot [8:03 PM]
Wow. :smile:

mtnviewmark [8:04 PM]
Most welcome! So glad to have finally found a community, lo these many years out of college, who are into thinking so much about music. Thank you again, @marc.weidenbaum!

qdot [8:04 PM]
And I mean, I consider you energetic /now/. I can’t imagine back then, as opposed to quiet, reserved Cage. :slightlysmilingface:

marc.weidenbaum [8:04 PM]
I have to ask, did he inquire at all about the effort you put into your realization, the employment of that early Apple?

mtnviewmark [8:05 PM]
He was quite interested in the means of preparation, he was genuinely interested in any means to make music.

We also talked about some of my other algorithmic works and I played some for him – I think he liked using anything to come to music.

leerosevere [8:11 PM]
Great story! It reminds me of his love of employing the I Ching method for composing almost anything. I would love to read a book of personal Cage stories.

mtnviewmark [8:12 PM]
I was using Forth on an Apple ][, after meeting with David Behrman in NYC (his loft studio was like a wonderland to me at the time – to be living in a warehouse loft in NYC surrounded by analog music devices all day…..) I’m pretty sure that Cage knew of Behrman’s work at the time.

Dave Wilson had built for me this giant interface board for the Apple ][ – something like 16 CVs out, 8 CVs in, and I think 12 triggers in each direction

it was a monster – but it enabled us to interconnect the Apple ][ to the Serge Modular .

marc.weidenbaum [8:15 PM]
So cool. So very cool.

mtnviewmark [8:17 PM]
But I admit the impact of that discussion, and implications for my philosophy of music, overshadowed anything else we talked about.

mtnviewmark [8:27 PM]
@leerosevere: I had found a book on the I Ching as an 11 year old in the bottom of a box of contents from a county auction. Dutifully cut yarrow stalks and followed it. Imagine my surprise in college discovering musical works made with it!

jicamasalad [11:08 PM]
@mtnviewmark: Thanks for sharing that beautifully Cage-ian episode – I can’t begin to imagine what a treasured experience that must be for you. I’ll throw in my (second-hand) Cage moment because it speaks to the same heart of his art: A good friend worked on the union stage crew at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall in the early 1990’s; there was to be a performance by Merce Cunningham’s group with a new work by Cage employing something along the lines of 50 or so loudspeakers on the stage. My friend, being well aware of Cage’s music and methods, wanted to make sure everything was set up just right, and summoned the courage to approach the master as the speakers were being brought in. “Excuse me, Mr. Cage,” he said, “do you have a stage plan, layout or instructions for how these 50 speakers should be set up for the performance?” JC turned with his characteristic kind and open smile and said: “It makes absolutely no difference whatsoever.” !! I think of that nearly every time I get myself stuck on some detail or other….

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RIP, Other Music

Aphex Twin makes its top-100 sales chart.

20160620-othermusic

This white board shows the top 100 albums sold at the excellent record retailer Other Music in its 20 years of existence in downtown Manhattan. The store shuts this week, on June 25, and the board was posted commemoratively at the website brooklynvegan.com yesterday with some light annotation. I first saw the picture when Amon Tobin tweeted about it, saying, “Peace out Other Music. There will never be another store that can move over 1000 copies of an Amon Tobin record.” There’s only one Aphex Twin record on the board, and while the photo cuts off, it appears to be Selected Ambient Works Volume 2. All it says is “Ambient” with what looks like the “2” truncated mid-numeral (a reading confirmed by that Brooklyn Vegan post).

20160620-othermusic copy

When Bloomsbury published my 33 1/3 book on Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 in 2014, one bit of feedback that confused me was from people who couldn’t understand why I hadn’t written instead about the earlier Selected Ambient Works, or the album titled Richard D. James Album, or another of his releases. My response was usually along the lines of “I wrote about this record because it’s the record that captured my imagination.” What interested me about the Other Music board is that no other Aphex Twin record made the list — not only did Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 appear on the top 100, it was the only Aphex record to make that cutoff. As the discussion at Brooklyn Vegan makes clear, Other Music had its own take on culture (“OM was more DJ Shadow or … J. Dilla than the Beasties,” writes Bill Pearis). While consumers were free to buy what they wanted at the store, the store in various ways shaped the tastes of the people who shopped there.

The store was also, in turn, shaped by time. Other Music’s history closely parallels Disquiet.com’s. It launched in 1995, a year before Disquiet.com did, and it was right around the corner from Tower Records. I was still an editor at the Pulse! music magazines published by Tower in 1995 — I joined the company in 1989 and left in 1996, a decision that led me to start Disquiet.com, which turns 20 on December 13, 2016. Tower was based in West Sacramento, and I lived alternately in Davis and Sacramento during my tenure. I’d moved to California from Brooklyn in 1989 to take the job. Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 was released in 1994, a year before Other Music opened.

The culture of a record store, the way you learn about music, is something that online retailers (including streaming services) have failed so far to emulate particularly well. Rdio probably came closest among the streaming companies, and it still went out of business. When you are in a physical record store, you learn from the room, watching what others buy, conversing with clerks, reading short reviews, listening to what’s playing and asking about it. Other Music was a valuable one-room schoolhouse, as record-learning goes. Up until Tower Records closed down, whenever I went back to New York to attend a Bang on a Can festival or interview a musician, or meet with record labels, Other Music was always a stop. It felt a bit like cheating to walk across the street from Tower, but the cheating was always in service of the magazines’ coverage.

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What Sound Looks Like

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


Image on a friend’s t-shirt at lunch.

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

A window on the new Disquiet Junto Slack discussion group

This past week I opened up a discussion group on Slack (slack.com), the popular messaging and collaboration platform. I remain more wedded to forum-style discussion, but I am also aware that preference may simply be me, and that Slack’s success may indeed relate to a more contemporary, fluid, less structured format.

In any case, as I’d hoped, discussion about specific projects while the projects are still happening has been solid. This week’s Junto project involves a remix of three unrelated tracks. I share a brief bit of that conversation below. (And if you’re part of the Junto Slack discussion, you can view the full thread here.)

mtnviewmark [7:36 AM]
I might suggest that we ​don’t​ post our tracks here. I think this channel would be better for discussion than as another rolling list of submissions, which can be found on SoundCloud as is. So… In the past Disquiet submissions I did the assignments in the void: I didn’t even load up the SC list until after I finished my submission. I didn’t want to hear others’ work and be influenced by them. That seems silly in the face of the premise of this week’s assignment: remix! Also, want to see if having a live discussion ​during​ the assignment helps. So… I’m looking at first two tracks – rhythmic / arrythmic – and rather than remix them directly, I’m working on swapping the rhythms between them…. so far, this is slow going. Also, if it helps anyone, the first track is at 128.41bpm by my measure….

marc.weidenbaum [9:21 AM]
It does feel a bit redundant. On occasion may be good for reference during conversation. Look forward to what you make of it.

joemcmahon [9:45 AM]
@mtnviewmark: Yeah, I prefer it that way too; if I let myself hear what others have done, sometimes I just say, “well, that’s better than I could do it” and skip it. :slightly_smiling_face:

audio_obscura [3:57 AM]
Its true what others say in that I often here junto submissions and think I could never better that, in fact I think I have 4 tracks I did and never submitted as they just weren’t any good. But this weeks challenge is a good one as the variety of posts from the same sources is really different. Just my opinion but I like to hear the elements from the source material in the remixes – some people twist the sources so much you can’t really hear any of the original. I think with mine you can still distinctly hear the three referenced works

marc.weidenbaum [5:41 AM]
@audio_obscura: That hearing the originals in the remix gives me great pleasure. Have you ever checked out the Stonesthrow Beat Battles? I love listening in each week and checking out how everyone’s redone the shared sample.

audio_obscura [6:34 AM]
@marc.weidenbaum: I think next’s weeks Junto should be to take 3 of this weeks remixes, download them and take the 1st 30 seconds of the tracks and remix them – basically repeating this weeks challenge but taking it another step down the road!

audiodays [6:55 AM]
Really enjoyed the challenge again this week. some weeks I know straight away what I’m going to do, but this week.s took a bit of thinking time and some experiments. I agree with that has been said about hearing the source material and I think I’ve ‘just’ about go away with it this week. But as I said in my notes on SC, I struggled finding a a way of bringing HNY and Pepper Jelly together without it sounding too much like a car crash. I rarely, if ever, listen to other contributions until I’ve uploaded my own, and settling down to hear how other have interpreted the brief is just as joyous as the Disquiet Junto email dropping on a Thursday evening (UK time).

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