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.

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News, essays, reviews, surveillance

This Week in Sound: Exposed Speakers + Paramusical Ensemble

+ AM-less e-cars + muting Istanbul

A lightly annotated clipping service — and because I was prepping for the second week of class, this week’s This Week in Sound is a bit more rangy and a bit more cursory. Then again, maybe it should be more rangy and cursory in the first place:

Brain Tunes: The New York Times reports on MIT research that seeks to codify the human experience of music: “By mathematically analyzing scans of the auditory cortex and grouping clusters of brain cells with similar activation patterns, the scientists have identified neural pathways that react almost exclusively to the sound of music.” As C. Reider noted on Twitter, the definition of music in the research is peculiarly limited. Reider points to this section of the piece: “When a musical passage is played, a distinct set of neurons tucked inside a furrow of a listener’s auditory cortex will fire in response. … Other sounds, by contrast — a dog barking, a car skidding, a toilet flushing — leave the musical circuits unmoved.” Alex Temple put it well: “If people are still saying this over 100 years after Russolo’s ‘The Art of Noise,’ they’re probably never going to stop.” And Nick Sowers: “Sorry NY Times, my musical circuits are also moved by dog barks and car skids. Maybe not toilet flushes tho.”


Paramusic Union: The feel-good music-tech story of the week must be that of Rosemary Johnson (, a violinist whose career was stopped short due to a car crash that left her severely disabled, unable to speak or even move. But after a decade of effort at Plymouth University and the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in London, Johnson is now producing music through technology that lets her control computer equipment with her brain. The photo above shows Johnson and three other disabled individuals who, along with the Bergersen String Quartet, form what they call the Paramusical Ensemble.


Umbrella Stands: The fact is every week I could feature one or another new work of sound art whose visual impact results from a preponderance of speakers — and I probably will. This week’s, above, is of an installation, Re-Rain, created by Kouichi Okamoto and on display at the Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art in Shizuoka City, Japan. Each speaker emits the sound of rain, which is reflected off the inside of the umbrellas:


Lagos Sonics: Speaking of exposed speakers, above is a shot from the site on Emeka Ogboh’s “Market Symphony,” a new work displayed at the National Museum of African Art. The speakers, which play sounds from Balogun Market in Lagos, and elsewhere in Nigeria, are installed on “colorful enamelware trays” of the sort found in the market. It’s the museum’s first sound installation. (I may be in D.C. at some point in the next few weeks, and if I get there I hope to check out this exhibit.)

Muting Istanbul: Imagine being able to mute or amplify individual elements from what constitute a city’s soundscape. Ateş Erkoç has produced such an installation in Istanbul as part of the exhibit Everyday Sounds: Exploring Sound Through Daily Life:

AM Unplugged: Apparently the mechanics of electrical cars don’t go well with AM radio, reports “cars like the Tesla Model X or BMW i3 don’t install them since the AM reception is impossible due to the internal electrical noise of the car” — via,

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the February 9, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter:

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Harding’s Hearing

On Cortney Harding's book, How We Listen Now: Essays and Conversations About Music and Technology

201602-chardingI just finished reading Cortney Harding’s book, How We Listen Now: Essays and Conversations About Music and Technology. Harding is, I think, one of the most actively curious observers of where popular music is headed. I first read her on Medium, where she was writing in detail about aspects of the music industry that befuddle me — like me, she wonders why “discovery” is presumed to be a thing for which there is any significant economic value or cultural demand — and, better yet, things that never occurred to me, like the role of messaging apps in music consumption or why musicians aren’t making more regular use of Twitch, the video-game streaming service.

Too much online writing is people trying to be first or loudest on a popular topic. Harding, to the contrary, spends at least half her time on things few people are even aware of, and what roots her work is that she connects her extrapolations back to popular music. Her book is a collection of such posts (the “essays” part of the title) and transcriptions of interviews and podcasts (the “conversations” part). This means a lot of it is out of date, but that’s not a knock, because the work was quite timely when it was first posted. Its timeliness is its strength. It’s also not a knock because Harding is entirely up front about predictions that don’t pan out and about her own interests, both cultural (she acknowledges that she can’t admonish a streaming service for not having music she discovered on a South African awards ceremony) and professional (she has worked and consulted for various tech companies, in addition to having worked at Billboard). It’s also worth noting that Harding self-published the book (through, which ties in nicely with her occasional consideration of a “post-label” world in which musicians do what they need to get their music out there. More from Harding at

This first appeared in the February 9, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter:

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Sound Course, Week 1 (of 15)

Listening to media

February 3 was the first class meeting for the new semester of the course I’ve been teaching for several years now about the role of sound in the media landscape. Taking off last semester turned out to be unfortunate timing, due to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. See, my opening lecture each semester has focused in some detail on the role of music in the films and television of J.J. Abrams, from the various tweaks on Fringe‘s theme, to the virtual non-theme of Lost’s opening credits, to his decision to employ a new theme for Star Trek, to his teasing extenuation of the Mission: Impossible theme in the film in that franchise he directed.

Abrams is so prolific in his directing and his producing that there has, each semester, been a new project to tag onto the sequence, sometimes to even include as homework viewing. After Abrams was announced as the head of the new, Disney-era Star Wars films, my lectures began to speculate what Abrams’ take on John Williams’ score would be. We now know, of course, that like the film itself, he has opted for an originalist scenario, going back to the first trilogy (that is, the “Luke trilogy” not the “Anakin trilogy”) and building on that framework.

There’s some notable sound design in the new film. The intense daymare experienced by Rey in the forest on Takodana has gotten a lot of attention for how, among other things, it manages to include the late Alec Guinness saying the character’s name by snipping a syllable from another word — all the more potently, the word “Rey” was culled from is “afraid,” very much Rey’s state of mind in that sequence. More impressive, or at least less fleeting, was the audible breath of Darth Vader heard when the camera shows that his grandson, Kylo Ren, maintains a shrine of Vader’s melted mask.

The class will proceed weekly through May 18, aside from spring break on March 23. I won’t be summing up all the early lectures each week, because I’ve already documented them fairly well, but I’ll link to the previous summaries here (week one), and make note of any new developments. I have been lining up some great guests, including a technology lead from a major streaming service and a curator at a major art institution.

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the February 9, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter:

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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from

This is a sound-art installation in the basement level of MoCA, the contemporary art museum in Los Angeles. It’s a readymade installation with no specific credited author. It’s a bank of what apparently used to be public phones. Now it is a shiny, burnished metal sculpture that could be mistaken for a work by Tristan Perich or Alva Noto. It’s a wall hanging that serves as a monument to a distant form of communication, to a time when we were, like the work itself is, tethered.

An ongoing series cross-posted from
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French Duo Hovers Between Real and Surreal

Avallon's Aurélie Barbé and Benoît Rocco


Avallon is the French duo of Aurélie Barbé and Benoît Rocco. Their combination, respectively, of electronic harp and vibraphone make for a genteel ambience. In “Une Autre Rive,” a third element enters the flow, a field recording of lapping water. Their instruments hover between the real and the surreal, between the documentary audio and a pervasive digital processing that snags pitches, tones, and textures and pushes the work beyond traditional notions of musicianship and into a realm of sonic experimentation.

Track originally posted at More from Barbé at The above picture of the duo is from the Avallon Facebook page, Avallon is based in Paris, France.

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