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This Week in Sound: Post-Alaska and ER Sonics …

Plus: sound design documentary and sound branding

A lightly annotated clipping service:

— Newest Yorker: John Luther Adams has been having a moment for several years now. The composer, who at the most fundamental level is appreciated as someone who artfully interweaves field recordings with orchestral arrangements, has been the subject of numerous profiles, including one on his obsession with baseball (“It’s ironic, isn’t it, that in my day job I keep score, and in my avocation I keep score, too?”). Now in the New Yorker, he writes at length about leaving his longtime home in Alaska, a state synonymous with his music, for a Manhattan apartment. Side note: It is remarkable to learn that two of your heroes were correspondents: “Here is my correspondence,” he writes, “with Edward Abbey, who first wrote to me after hearing my setting of the song of the hermit thrush over the radio.”

— ER Sonics: Even when stuck in the hospital due to what was initially suspected to be a stroke, author Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Trees, Gun Machine) is always listening: “Spend more than half an hour in an MRI and you will find yourself identifying every electronic noise from the last fifteen years of techno music. The MRI is the ursprache of the sound of the 21st Century.”

— Documenting Sound: The Image of Sound is a short film (under 13 minutes) by Amar Dusanjh profiling three sound professionals — Richard Addis (sound designer on the TV series Human Universe), Eddy Joseph (sound editor on Harry Potter and Casino Royale), and Dirk Maggs (who directed the radio production of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) — on the role of sound in media. (Found via

— Sound Branding: Kevin Perlmutter talks about the work Man Made Music does in sound and branding: “Despite all of the research about how sound impacts us, and massive changes in our behavior brought on by technology, many of us are still relying on the same brand identity pillars — visual and verbal — that have been in place for decades.”

This first appeared in the June 23, 2015, 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

I now know the Chinese word for “doorbell.” (I need to read up on the derivation of the individual characters.) What really needs translating, though, is neither language: The sign has to explain what is not immediately evident. The doorbell is hidden by the metal gate, and rendered humorously difficult to utilize. The small button is situated directly behind the crosshairs of the lattice work. The whole thing is a marvel of poor choices. It’s rusted through and the wires are exposed to the elements. If you do manage to press the button you’ll be welcomed into a church across the park from where I live. Not quite the gates of heaven, but a trial to access nonetheless.

An ongoing series cross-posted from
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The Time Within Time

Liner notes I wrote for Kenneth Kirschner's forthcoming 12k album, Compressions & Rarefactions

I was invited by the musician and composer Kenneth Kirschner to write liner notes for his forthcoming album on 12k Records, Compressions & Rarefactions, which is due out on July 10th. Mine are one set of notes among several. Also contributing notes are Simon Cummings, Kysa Johnson, and Mike Lazarev. Johnson also created the artwork on the cover. The recordings make for a beautiful album of stasis and motion, ruptured filaments and broken patterns. Kirschner often deals in massive scale in his music, and this album, while managing the length and depth he’s accustomed his listeners to, also heads in other directions. One of the pieces includes Tawnya Popoff on viola. Below, with Kirschner’s permission and that of 12k head Taylor Deupree, are my liner notes. More on the record at

Here are some samples of the album:

And … next Tuesday, June 23, there will be a giveaway in my email newsletter for one physical copy and three digital copies of Kirschner’s Compressions & Rarefactions.


“The Time Within Time”

There is a cloud overhead, and there is an ocean below. There is a vast and slender circle around us. Between us and the circle there is water as far as the eye can see, as far as the mind can perceive. There is no land to be recognized, just water, endless water. The world is a panorama of two half spheres: a gaseous plane above, an aqueous plane below. A thin dark seam surrounds us, marking the stable and eternal truce between the twin planes. Perhaps the stars, when they are visible, might provide some form of orientation, but orientation toward what? Where are we going? We’re just going, nowhere in particular. We go because time passes. In a world without landmarks, let alone land, motion and stasis are close siblings, often mistaken for each other. In every direction, there remains nothing but water. The stars move across the plane above us, but we, whatever direction we move, see nothing but water and sky, and perhaps our own reflection.

The moon passes overhead, notching the pace of time. It casts beams through the thick wood, piercing the lace canopy, alighting on and framing various natural still-life occurrences: congruences of flora and fauna, of naked rock and shallow streams, of decaying loam and iridescent shoots. We have walked seemingly forever, and wherever we walk there is simply more and more forest. There is no out of the forest. There are just trees as far as the eye can see, which isn’t very far, since only a few steps ahead they combine, from various distances, to create the equivalent of a wall, a wall of bark, branch, and leaf. We move from one patch of land to another, making our way through trees — not really our way but the trees’ way, the way the trees allow us to move, the way the landscape shapes our perception, our destiny. The forest is the world. The world is this forest, so dense that for all our wanderings, we never leave much of a trace, let alone make a proper path for anyone else to follow.

There is a life ahead of us, and there is a life behind us. At any moment, much of the past seems to linger at an equal distance, a faded distance, a middle distance. The future is a series of crisp options, all in conflict. We focus on these alternate futures, much as we do on street signs deep in the night, and we try to make one of these futures real, to choose one as a guidepost, as an eventual horizon. As for memories, they hover well beyond recent events, apart from daily concerns, without any interconnection or context except that they all come back to us without warning: first school, first pain, first love, first blunder, first epiphany, first loss, first sailboat ride, first camping trip, first night alone. The futures are sharp if conflicted, and there is a haze to the memories, a lack of focus, a gentle and continuous shifting of the mind’s foundation. And sometimes a sharp recollection pierces, and then it is gone, back to the haze. The further we proceed in life, the more life there is to hover in that past middle distance, and yet the past is never fully occluded. It gathers no density. It is simply always out of reach.

In the music of Kenneth Kirschner we hear slender sounds merge with the functional silence of whatever medium on which they are recorded, and whatever medium on which they are, later, reproduced. This music, in its overwhelming emphasis on quietude and space, tests the pores of whatever scenario it invades. With occasional exceptions for fierce eruptions and rhythmic play, his compositions are the quiet voice that draws the listener in more closely. His music doesn’t require attention or demand attention; Kirschner’s music is a finely tuned engine of attention. And like all music that draws inspiration from ambient, his is a music that inspires attention as much as it benefits from attention. It isn’t music that exists at the moment when it hits your ear. It is music that lingers in the air, in the room, in the moment.

In Kirschner’s music we catch glimpses of recognizable elements, of familiar artifacts: classical-ensemble strings, rich and deep echoes, florid percussive shimmer, aggressive sawing, undulating drones. We listen on as these sounds overlap, layer, eclipse, as each of them in turn recedes into the underlying hazy tonal bed of the work, and as new such sounds arise. Kirschner has many tools at his disposal, and among them the most conspicuous is time. He embraces a sense of periodicity that challenges the listener’s comprehension. His longest fixed works, those with a formal beginning and end, have the dimension of a full-length feature film — except, of course, in terms of narrative. That’s to put aside, for the moment, his literally endless works, the ones that employ algorithmic progressions to proceed for, in essence, an eternity. Even in the most generous and contemplative and present listening scenarios, one will lose oneself in the ocean or forest — or alien landscape, or post-industrial labyrinth — of his two-plus-hour pieces.

So dedicated is Kirschner to these through-composed, shard-faceted monoliths, that a half-hour work of his registers as “short,” even if it takes about that much time for a martial glisten to take on a richer, more varied percussive patterning. These “shorter” works serve as listener-training tools in advance of the substantially longer works — they’re not so much sprints before marathons as they are leisurely hikes before undertaking the Appalachian Trail. When, for example, that same glisten appears later below a wider range of rhythms, it is not just an element among many; it is a memory of how the same glisten once appeared, earlier on. The re-surfacing of the glisten serves as a loop, bringing the work full circle, thus suggesting an even lengthier span. The short work is a fragment of a possible work. It is a glimpse of time within time.

If time is Kirschner’s most self-evident compositional tool, then memory is his most active one. As we find our way — that is, find a way — through the immersive, perception-consuming, periphery-spanning territory of his work, as time passes, as life passes, our sole guide is the work itself.

This first appeared in the June 16, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter:

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This Week in Sound: Purple Reign, Station Eleven, Ornette Coleman, …

From the email newsletter

A lightly annotated clipping service:

— Purple Reign: In the New York Times, Randy Kennedy on the new home for La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s long-running “Dream House” installation. There are few things on the planet like this perpetual sound/art space, a dedicated, artist-specific union of site, sound, and vision. In San Francisco, the closest may be the Audium. Another somewhat kindred site is the Rothko Chapel in Houston.

— Station to Station: I haven’t yet read the novel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, but it’s now high on the my list thanks to a recommendation by Nicola Twilley on Twitter. The story of musicians and actors in a post-apocalyptic world, it touches on something I talk about a lot in my sound course I teach, which is the role of sound and culture beyond our current sense of pervasive technology:

— RIP, Ornette: Ornette Coleman died on June 11 at age 85. So many musicians of note die every month, it can be overwhelming, but I always keep an eye on obituary pages because the timing and pacing and rapidly reported history of those passings give a sense to the shape of generations. I rarely take the time to do more than tweet an acknowledgement, but Coleman’s passing hit hard, and had me thinking back to how I first came to listen to him. When I left for college, I took with me all my LP records — and some of my dad’s. When Dad visited me at college, he took back all the Charles Mingus, but left the one Coleman album, Body Meta, with me. Dad said at the time he had no idea how it is he’d come to possess the recording, which in 1978 came out on Artists House, a small label run by John Snyder. That record remains a constant for me, in large part because of the presence of guitarist Bern Nix, whose lines intertwine with Coleman’s in a way I can hum by heart. The broken rhythms of that record prepared my ears for much of what I’d come to love in the subsequent years, from John Zorn to Roy Nathanson to Marc Ribot. I can’t recommend the album highly enough, though I should mention in this context that there is nothing ambient about it. Speaking of Body Meta, if anyone reading this actually does Wikipedia updates, the album listings associated with Coleman have a mention of Body Meta, but no link to the actual page for the album, which is here:

This first appeared in the June 16, 2015, 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

Most of my doorbell photographs are taken outside of buildings. This one was taken inside a friend’s house. When I rang the bell by pressing a button outside his front door, there was an unfamiliar delay before the bell was audible. The bell wasn’t so quiet as to suggest it was ringing from deep in the house. There was simply first a decidedly extended pause, two beats passing in silence before there was a response. After being let in, I took off my shoes in the foyer, and I saw on the floor three long, narrow metal tubes of varying lengths. The doorbell itself was attached high on the wall, its innards exposed: just one tube, hanging off center. I asked my friend what was going on. He explained that the doorbell was loud, very loud, regal in its fancy grandfather-clock mode. His housemates had decided to remove the three loudest of the four chimes. The result is that the first two chimes are triggered, but since there’s no tube on either, we don’t hear anything. Only when the third bell rings does the person who pushes the doorbell button get confirmation that the inhabitant has been alerted to their arrival.

An ongoing series cross-posted from
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