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

What Sound Looks Like

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


Foot pedals on the 1924 Skinner organ at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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Major Thanks to Adobe Books, Marc Kate

For last night's 33 1/3 event

20161117-adobe33event

I had a great time last night yapping with Evie Nagy about our respective 33 1/3 books at Adobe Books in San Francisco under the informed guidance of the gracious Marc Kate. When Evie talked about Devo’s Freedom of Choice, I was instantly transported back to my friend Evan Cooper’s basement, circa high school. I was gonna read the part about Gracenote and cultural metadata from my book about Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II, but it’s a little long at six pages, so instead I played “White Blur 1” and read the bit about that track from the first chapter of the book. It was especially timely, what with Brian Eno having come out of the woodwork earlier this week to reaffirm the definition of ambient, in his mind, to being rooted in generative processes, which is what the wind chime is all about. Thanks to everyone who came out. I met some Twitter avatars in the flesh for the first time, saw people I hadn’t seen in ages, intrigued some folks about the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, responded to audience questions about stuff like the changing nature of canonical albums and the role of description in music criticism, mentioned the upcoming Futuredraft talk I’m giving on December 1 about doorbells, and had phenomenal al pastor tacos and habanero salsa down the block from Adobe at Taqueria Guadalajara. (That’s me on the left in the photo and Marc Kate on the right.)

There were good questions last night, both from the host, Marc Kate, and from the audience. I thought I’d summarize and elaborate some of them here:

Q: What does the change in music-listening habits mean in terms of how works are defined as canonical?
A: To me, the decline in the concept of a cultural canon is an overall positive, not just a net positive. Individual works are less likely to be singled out as hulking achievements, forced to bear weight that they can’t support without consensual hallucination and received idolatry. In the place of that canon we have not only a much broader sense of cultural output, but we also look less at individual works and artists/bands, and more at scenes and communities and time periods. That’s a much more realistic and holistic way to appreciate culture.

Q: Used to be you couldn’t hear everything released, and record reviews filled that void, let you know what to expect. What role does description play in music criticism today, in the age of streaming?
A: I think the most important role of description hasn’t changed — it’s less about describing how the music sounds, and more about describing how the music works, what to listen for.

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This Week in Sound: Ambient Eno +

sound maps + space silence + Mac startup + Westworld's Djawadi + ...

1. This Week in Sound

A lightly annotated clipping service:

Well, at least the first day of 2017 will be good. Brian Eno (via brian-eno.net) has announced that he’s putting out a proper ambient album through the Warp label on January 1. And in the process he’s pushing back a bit at the broad use of the ubiquitous term. In a note album the forthcoming album, titled Reflections, he writes “I don’t think I understand what that term stands for anymore — it seems to have swollen to accommodate some quite unexpected bedfellows — but I still use it to distinguish it from pieces of music that have fixed duration and rhythmically connected, locked together elements.”

Emily S. Rueb writes at nytimes.com about an effort in Manhattan “to create an aural map that a group of researchers hopes will help city agencies monitor and enforce noise pollution, and will empower citizens to assist in the process.”

Monica Grady at theconversation.com explores sounds that push back at the idea of the vacuum being truly silent.

Rhett Jones at gizmodo.com notes the passing of the Mac startup sound.

Jordan Pearson at motherboard.vice.com ponders whether whales are the source of a mysterious “pinging” sound in the Arctic.

You know how every show with top-shelf surveillance, from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the much missed Person of Interest, has people tap near their ear to suggest they’re interacting with some sort of near-invisible walkie talkie? Well, the headphone company Bragi, according to Mitchel Broussard at macrumors.com, is coming out with headphones enabled with “MyTap” that “lets them control the headphones through tap-based gestures placed directly on their cheek.”

Speaking of which: For those watching (and especially writing about) Westworld, while it’s of note that composer Ramin Djawadi also writes the music for Game of Thrones, please note that he in addition wrote the music for Jonathan Nolan’s previous AI-themed show, Person of Interest. People keep citing the Djawadi-Thrones connection (newyorker.com, independent.co.uk, and theguardian.com just to name a few) as direct or indirect evidence of HBO’s ambitions for Westworld, without mentioning that Nolan and Djawadi have a longstanding collaboration. (If you haven’t seen the fantastic Person of Interest, it is essentially an extrapolation of Colossus: The Forbin Project.) There are many mysteries to the enjoyable Westworld, and one thing I am fixated on is the (admittedly baseless) idea that while in the fictional Wild West of the AI theme park, guests themselves hear the same filmic background music that we, the show’s viewers, do. And, yeah, the anachronistic player piano music is fascinating, especially as the piano serves as a way to connect the code-enabled mechanization of AI to an old-west technology. By definition, the term “AI” is best used to describe machine intelligence that we haven’t yet normalized. No doubt those old pianos freaked out their share of saloon regulars.

2. Low(e) Tones

This is a public service announcement that “You Make Me” has become my favorite Nick Lowe song. It’s been “Without Love” for the longest time, but that’s changed. You learn a lot about a song if you sing it every other night to your kid at bedtime for six months straight. That’s especially true if you do so at increasingly slower tempos (which is my parenting sleepy time zen voodoo Jedi protip). I watched a bunch of videos recently about the Zvex Lofi Junky — it’s a nifty guitar pedal I noticed being used by a musician I admire — and I realized that what I like about it is how it sounds like it sounds when you sing something extra slow. The wave form, the ebb and flow, of your tone becomes an effect put upon the syllables that you’re singing. That’s a “warble” if it’s got some speed to it, but it’s warpy and syrupy and off-kilter if you do it super super slow. And I mean really slow. Gregorian Chant slow. Anyhow yeah, “You Make Me” is now my favorite Nick Lowe song, with the understanding that I mean “song” not “recording,” and I mean you sing it slow.

3. Recent Notable Deaths

RIP, pianist and songwriter Mose Allison (b. 1927)

RIP, David Mancuso (b. 1944), DJ and club culture figure

RIP, Billy Miller (b. 1954), Norton Records label founder

RIP, singer songwriter Leon Russell (b. 1942)

RIP, Victor Bailey (b. 1960), Weather Report bassist and ubiquitous sideman

RIP, George James (92), one of the last remaining Navajo Code Talkers of World War II

RIP, Leonard Cohen (b. 1934), who’s headed home to collect some serious royalties.

RIP, early synthesizer musician Jean-Jacques Perrey (b. 1929)

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the November 15, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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What Sound Looks Like

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


I’ve never owned Paul’s Boutique on cassette tape before. I may frame this j-card.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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What Sound Looks Like

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


I’ve passed the logo for this long-ago audio company on the 101 south of San Francisco many many times, but these tapes (hand me downs from a friend) are the first time I’ve owned the product. These date from around 1994, apparently.

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