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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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from

Many attempts to jury rig the fix of a doorbell would qualify as art as much as craft. Few such attempts achieve the full-on obsessive quality of this massive grid of mismatched hardware. The rusted splendor of the casing is straight out of an Anselm Kiefer sculpture. The muted buttons have the coded mundanity of a Joseph Beuys readymade. The fragile labels bring to mind the haphazard tape of Doug and Mike Starn. That the changes in color between buttons and tape do not directly correlate provides an element of visual counterpoint. Likewise, the sheer expanse of options hints at the considerable activity that is happening past this barely serviceable gate. As with any worthwhile work of art, the grid asks questions. Many of them are practical: Why the blank spot after 402? How many different label machines were used in the making of this artistic achievement? How much is the seeming discoloration of the buttons the result of the elements, and how much of it is the actual coloring of those items. And some questions are more metaphysical — what realm, for example, is accessed via the unlabeled button between 218A and 218B?

An ongoing series cross-posted from
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Disquiet Junto Project 0194: Clock Play

Record the sound of a clock and make something playful and sweet out of it.


Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group on and at, a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership in the Junto is open: just join and participate.

Tracks will be added to this playlist for the duration of the project.

This assignment was made in the evening, California time, on Thursday, September 17, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, September 21, 2015.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at

Disquiet Junto Project 0194: Clock Play
Record the sound of a clock and make something playful and sweet out of it.

Sometimes Junto projects have very detailed rules, and other times the rules are, true to very first Junto project, simple and open-ended. This week’s project is the latter. (Thanks to Brian Biggs for the timely creative nudge.)

Step 1: Record the sound of a clock and make something playful and sweet out of it. (You can also use pre-recorded sounds, like those at, if you prefer.)

Step 2: Upload your completed track to the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.

Step 3: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Deadline: This assignment was made in the evening, California time, on Thursday, September 17, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, September 21, 2015.

Length: The length of your finished work should be between roughly one and three minutes long.

Upload: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud, only upload one track for this assignment, and be sure to include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Title/Tag: When adding your track to the Disquiet Junto group on, please include the term “disquiet0194-clockplay” in the title of your track, and as a tag for your track.

Download: It is preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

More on this 194th Disquiet Junto project (“Record the sound of a clock and make something playful and sweet out of it”) at:

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

Join the Disquiet Junto at:

Disquiet Junto general discussion takes place at:

Image associated with this project by Brian Biggs, who drew it specifically for this project, and who provided the project’s timely creative nudge.

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This Week in Sound: Forensic Audio + Miéville’s Djinn …

Plus: sound startups, listening to a museum, 3D history

A lightly annotated clipping service:


— JFK’s Whispers: The upcoming convention of the AES (Audio Engineering Society) will have a presentation by Bruce E. Koenig, who will give the Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture. Koenig will be talking about “using sound to investigate critical events.” The talk is titled “Acoustic Forensic Gunshot Analysis — The Kennedy Assassination and Beyond.” AES’s New York conference will run from October 29 through November 1 of this year. (Found via Gino Robair.)

— Sound Startups: Dave Haynes left SoundCloud back in January 2014, but he didn’t leave sound. In a post at Medium, he discusses various ways that sound is fueling computer science, consumer products, and culture. He touches on a variety of new companies and items, including a “smart house sitter” called Point, and broader concepts like “hearables” (a subset, per se, of wearables).

— Gallery Sonics: John Kannenberg asks and answers the question “Why Listen to Museums?” in a paper he’s uploaded to He collates his observations to field recordings he makes at art institutions: “Museums as sonic environments contain a record of the present day mingled with the past. Every footstep, every echo, every bang of a ventilation duct that I record while in a museum captures data about how the sounds performed by contemporary people are affected by the historic objects in that space.”

— 3D History: Billy Ó Foghlú of the Australian National University has used 3D printing to bring back iron-age instruments. “These horns were not just hunting horns or noisemakers,” he says in a piece at “They were very carefully constructed and repaired, they were played for hours. Music clearly had a very significant role in the culture.” (Found via Mike Rhode.)

— Sonic Artifacts: And I love this brief bit from the China Miéville short story “The 9th Technique,” which appears in his new collection, Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories.

The occult economies of charged items were always jostling. War had flooded the market.

Helmets that remembered the last sounds heard by those who died. Melted iPods pried from burnt-out tanks — if you could make them play again, they would infuriate djinn.

Miéville is often characterized as an urban fantasy writer, but what he really reads like is science fiction’s answer to Billy Bragg. His work focuses largely on class, and yet has a florid, romantic nature. Bragg posited capitalism in contrast to love; Miéville connects it to horror. The lurid detail of Miéville’s stories can mask their romance, but it’s there in the rich descriptions, the emotional scenarios, and the difficulty people have forging connections. In “The 9th Technique,” a character hunts for objects infused with dark magical forces (his “charged items”) as a result of torture at Guantanamo and other fronts in the War on Terror.

This first appeared in the September 15, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter:

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SFEMF 2015 + Interrogative Music

Olivia Block and Lawrence English's sets consume the space.


I made it to three of the four nights of this year’s San Francisco Music Festival. It’s been running since 2000, and I think I’ve attended every year since I moved back to San Francisco from New Orleans in 2003, with the exception of 2010, when it coincided with the birth of my little kiddo, who decided to arrive two weeks early. This means I’ve managed to miss out on Alessandro Cortini twice: he played the 2010 show and he had to drop out of this year’s opening-night event due to a family emergency.

As always, SFEMF, which ran from September 10 through 13, was admirably style-agnostic except to the extent that it remains pop-antagonistic. The performances included a comical theatric mini-opera by Kevin Blechdom and Aqulaqutaqu, a full-on ambient-industrial immersion by Lawrence English, a percussive live score to a short film by Surabhi Saraf, a modular synthesizer set by Doug Lynner (using the first commercial Serge, which dates from the mid-1970s), and a four-channel “film-less film” by Olivia Block. English’s performance was about as “pop” as it got, because his smoke-machine aura and booming minimalism might also be at home in a handful of adventurous techno clubs.

And as always there was at least one elder statesman. This year it was the improviser Charles Cohen, who played twice — on Saturday (the night I missed) and on the opening night, in a makeshift, last-minute synthesizer duo with Wobbly (Jon Leidecker), to fill the hole left by Cortini’s absence. Because I missed the Cohen show on Saturday, I also missed Robert Rich and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Rich is arguably an elder spokesman of sorts, too, because even though he was born in 1965, he started releasing music in his teens, and gained prominence early on.

Thursday I got to see Thomas Dimuzio put a massive amount of modular synthesizer gear toward an admirably minimal, often microsonic, goal. Friday I caught English and Saraf (the latter of whose video of an especially louche pharmaceutical production line seemed to have some technical issues), and opening act Horaflora (Raub Roy), who used massive, slowly deflating balloons as audio sources and tactile triggers. And on the closing night, Sunday, I caught Blechdom’s antic interstellar opera, during which she managed to have a slide projected for every single word in the libretto and many additional syllables, as well as sets by Block and Lynner.

Lawrence English and Olivia Block arguably performed the most memorable sets of the three nights I was in attendance. Everyone on the festival bill was experienced and unique — SFEMF is no slouch in its curatorial efforts — but the English and Block sets were the two that seemed to fully consume the space. (Note: there were two spaces. The first night was at the Exploratorium, and the remaining three nights at the Brava Theater.) English’s was a throbbing white noise of dense drama. Block’s was an ever-shifting collage of sonic elements with an underlying through-composed, narrative sensibility. It isn’t that a set has to surround the listener to make an impression, but this year saturated listening made the most sense as concert music. A lot of this has nothing to do with the other performers in particular, and almost everything to do with concerts in general. I go through phases in and out of love with live performance of experimental music, and there’s an extent these days where shows of experimental concert music (seated, reflective) can feel a bit like going to the movies. Movies have been undone by television, and while live concerts don’t have a direct parallel challenger, there are times when the purpose remains equally unclear. After a movie, you walk out of the theater wondering what the point is — why, unlike with television, can’t you see the characters again, witness their continued development. Experimental concerts also often fail to fulfill a specific desire. One thing that surprises me regularly at shows is that there is no time set aside for explanation. Even major symphonies regularly schedule pre-concert discussions by the conductor and sometimes the principal soloist. The term “experimental music” can fall short for what’s been undertaken. It’s really interrogative music. It’s experimental because it’s intended to go places no one has gone before, but in doing so it is, like anything experimental, trying to find answers to questions: does this idea work, does this sound register with an audience, is this technology stage-ready, does this music cohere? Likewise, the audience has questions, too. I don’t think it would undermine a concert were the musician, if so inclined, to take a moment to talk about what was about to happen, or what had just happened.

I do also wonder if SFEMF would to well to add a night at a third venue of more populist work — a place where dance-friendly, or at least head-bobbing, music by Monolake or Amon Tobin or the like would be at home.

Anyhow, it was a great year for SFEMF, and I’m looking forward to next year’s festival — right after my kiddo’s sixth birthday.

This first appeared in the September 15, 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

The doorbell is a simple device. Yet it must be a complicated one to fix. Out and about in the city, you frequently come upon makeshift solutions to a specific problem. The problem is that an old doorbell no longer works. A new doorbell intended to replace the old doorbell may well work, but often as not, the overall solution doesn’t. This specific combination of heavy-duty tape, a handwritten sign, and a complete relocation of the doorbell deserves a prize for multi-stage suboptimal domestic hack. And don’t let its seemingly temporary nature fool you. The city is full of temporary hacks that remain in place decades later, likely lasting longer than the doorbell they replaced. Perhaps that is an accomplishment worthy of commemoration if not respect.

An ongoing series cross-posted from
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