February 13, 2014, is the official release date for my 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin's 1994 album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, 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.

Disquiet Junto Project 0118: That Ringing Sound

What is the room tone of the Internet?

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 6.17.35 PM

Each Thursday at the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.com 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 by participants will be added to this playlist as the project proceeds:

This project was published in the evening, California time, on Thursday, April 3, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, April 7, 2014, as the deadline.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0118: That Ringing Sound

This week’s project is as follows. Please answer the following question by making an original recording: “What is the room tone of the Internet?”

When you’re done, upload the file to the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud and describe your approach and process in the text field associated with the track. Listen to other members’ tracks as they appear in the Disquiet Junto feed on SoundCloud, and comment on them when you have the time.

Deadline: Monday, April 7, 2014, at 11:59pm wherever you are.

Length: The length of your recording should be two minutes.

Information: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud, 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.

Title/Tag: When adding your track to the Disquiet Junto group on Soundcloud.com, please include the term “disquiet0118-internetroomtone″ 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).

Linking: When posting the track, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 118th Disquiet Junto project — “What is the room tone of the Internet?” — at:


More on the Disquiet Junto at:


Join the Disquiet Junto at:


Image associated with this Junto project used via a Creative Commons license:


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Sonic Pedagogy Update: Explicit/Implicit

Notes on my course on sound in the media landscape

I’ve been teaching my course on “sound in the media landscape” at the Academy of Art in San Francisco for three years now — four semesters straight since 2012 — and I’m loving it.

It seems like just yesterday that my first day of lecturing was upon me and my many educator-friends were sending me encouragement. This semester has been especially enjoyable — not just because with each passing season there’s iterative improvement of the topics, but because this semester the specific subject that has in the past proved the most elusive is, quite suddenly, not really much of a problem for the students to comprehend. This came down to one tiny little change I made in the curriculum, and yet the impact on the students’ perception of the materials has been remarkable.

Pretty much every week I assign work that builds on that week’s lecture, and I assign work that looks forward to the next week. This latter pre-lecture, pre-discussion work preps them by getting them thinking about the ideas before I explore them more fully in class — ideas like “sound in product design,” or “the history of the jingle,” “the public voice” (largely about public address systems), and so forth.

Anyhow, the course spends a lot of time on the distincion between “explicit” and “implicit” sound — between that which is self-evidently part of a product, a service, an institution, and so forth, and that which is inherently part of the same subject yet isn’t as widely understood to be so. It’s the difference between foregrounded sound, branded sound, and background sound, tacit sound.

For example, the sound of Rice Krispies cereal is explicit (it’s referenced in the characters of Snap, Crackle, and Pop), while the sound of typing on the screen of an iPad is more implicit (the tablet is often described as being silent in contrast with traditional keyboards, even though typing on an iPad does make a sound). Likewise, the quality of audio on an MP3 player or phone is likely an explicit aspect (a selling point), while the sound of the headphone being plugged into the jack is more implicit (an everyday but largely ignored aspect). The spark, the static, of plugging a guitar cord into an amplifier is a more trenchant image than is the plugging in of a headphone into a phone.

I say “more implicit” because these these things are entirely relative — and because over time implicit sounds can become explicit when they become identified with the product, service, institution, and so forth. In some cases it is more general than a specific product; it’s about a category — the Harley Davidson engine sound is unique to that vehicle, while the concept of an electric car is synonymous with an idea of relative silence. These positions are relative. In the course we tend to work on them in the form of a standard grid of quadrants — not distinct buckets so much as relative positions, along these lines:


In the past, the pre-lecture homework on this explicit/implicit material yielded not so much more questions than answers, than it did as much confusion as curiosity. The whole distinction became so loaded down that explicit/implicit for some students became synonymous with confusion, and up through the last day of a given semester we’d still be discussing how it might be employed effectively. The material was still central to the class, and essential to the subjects at hand, and yet the discussion was muddied by this confusion. I’m not saying that every subject is class is uniformly comphrehended by the students — all of them seem to get “synesthesia” and “soundscape,” while not all have embraced “acoustemology” — but this explicit/implicit material is something this semester that I really wanted to work through more productively, and I gave a lot of thought to how to better present it.

And oddly, it took just a simple change to make progress in that regard. Because this aspect of the course is especially abstract, I simply didn’t assign much in the way of pre-lecture, pre-discussion homework about the distinctions between implicit and explicit sound. I introduced the ideas in class first, built on them in various class meetings, and then dedicated a working-session class — more discussion than lecture — to work through it all. That class meeting occurred yesterday, the ninth weekly meeting of the 15-week semester, and it went quite smoothly.

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Rain Through a Mixer Darkly

And through a windshield

It’s arguable that the remix of my afternoon sounds more realistic than did the original.

This week has seen some tremendous rainfall in San Francisco, where I live. I was sitting in my car on Monday, just after noon, when the power of the storm was so intense that it was remarkable — and by “remarkable” I mean that I felt the desire to remark on it, which I initially did on Twitter (“Noon bells heard through the rain and through the breathing of a post-swim sleeping toddler”) and then in the form of a 30-second recording on my SoundCloud account. That track sounds more like an ice machine than rain, which was clairaudient, in that shortly after I hit stop on my recorder — in this case my phone, a Nexus 5 — the rain turned to hail, and shortly thereafter came lighting and then, with alarming proximity, thunder.

The storm is longer, more consuming, and less immediately threatening in this reworking by Larry Johnson, who plucked my Creative Commons–licensed audio and had his way with it:

And here, for reference, is the original:

Tracks posted respectively at soundcloud.com/l-a-j-1 and soundcloud.com/disquiet.

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Bulgarian Dread

A live set from the Sofia Underground Festival


Multiple monikers utilized by a single artist can be confusing to listeners, yet provide orientation for the musicians who adopt them. Take the Bulgaria-based Mytrip, whose work has been covered here in the past, often as an exploration of subsumed tones that push at the contours of rhythm and melody. When planning a set at the Sofia Underground Festival this year, he opted for another name, Dayin, which should not be mistaken for a brighter outlook. Quite the contrary, he states in a brief liner note to the uploaded recording, “I decided to go a bit darker and deeper.” The result is a haunting half hour of ghostly chatter and dense drones:

Track originally posted for free download soundcloud.com/dayin. More on the Sofia Underground Performance Art Festival at sofiaunderground.com.

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The tape-loop decay of Howlround


Don’t let William Basinski get all the Google search returns for “ambient decay tape loops.” Save some for Howlround, which pairs Robin the Fog and Chris Weaver, who use reel-to-reel machines to make sounds as rough as they are fragile, as ephemeral as the are rooted in texture. This audio is sourced from what was, apparently, their first ever live performance, back in May 2013, as part of the Great Escape Festival in Brighton (MP3):

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Track originally posted for free download at part of the Touch Radio series at touchradio.org.uk. More from the duo at howlround.co.uk and twitter.com/howlroundmusic.

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