Island Life: Map of Senja, Norway, home to the musician Biosphere
Starting off in “the cultural hub of the Arctic Circle,” British broadcaster Petroc Trelawny reports on the sounds of deep, dark, sun-less winter — music of Tromsø, Norway, including its local ballet, orchestra, and a church choir known as Arctic Voices; the traditional vocal style of yoik (which a Norwegian student of mine did a report on last semester); and, most pertinent for this site’s coverage, the efforts of Geir Jenssen, aka Biosphere, to use the sound of frozen lakes and other natural regional resources as source recordings for his music. Jenssen’s segment, recorded on the island of Senja where he lives, begins at 26:30 and runs for a tad over 12 minutes. Jenssen discusses how at the right time of year, the ice on a frozen lake can serve like the skin of a drum — the effect is also known as “singing ice.” It sounds at times, as well, like the reverberation of long thick metal cable. He is also recorded playing a (reportedly bright orange) vuvuzela to test the deep echo of one of the spaces he and Trelawny explore. Now I’d really like to hear what Jenssen could make of yoik and that choir.
There’s no embeddable player, but the broadcast is available for download and streaming at bbc.co.uk. More from Jennsen at biosphere. (Several people drew my attention to this BBC broadcast. Many thanks.)
Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.com and at disquiet.com/junto, 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, October 22, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, October 26, 2015.
Disquiet Junto Project 0199: Space Crickets
Make a field recording of a field recording in a spaceship.
Step 1: You’re going to make an original field recording. Use only your own recordings and those from copyright-OK sources, such as freesound.org.
Step 2: There’s a brief scene in the film Interstellar (2014, directed by Christopher Nolan) aboard a spacecraft in which it’s revealed that the pilot, played by Matthew McConaughey, calms himself by listening to a field recording of crickets and rain. There’s something intimate and reflective about that little sonic trinket of Earth being of use aboard an interstellar ship. In turn, we back here on the planet are going to make a field recording — a “fake” field recording, that is — for our own use. It should answer this question: What does it sound like to listen to a field recording of crickets and rain while aboard a spaceship? (For reference, you can view the scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNI-iZ_1Rac.)
Step 3: Make the field recording described in Step 2.
Step 4: 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, October 22, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, October 26, 2015.
Length: The length of your finished work should be as long as you see fit.
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 Soundcloud.com, please include the term “disquiet0199-spacecrickets” 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 199th Disquiet Junto project (“Make a field recording of a field recording in a spaceship”) at:
Every Tuesday at noon in San Francisco, the outdoor public warning system rings out across the city. There are 109 speakers in total as part of the OPWS, though these days only 108 of them are functioning. That’s because the one at the intersection of Taraval and Great Highway has, reports Rick Prelinger, been turned off. The Taraval siren isn’t broken. None of the sirens are broken. The whole point of the weekly siren test is to check and quickly repair any siren — any one of the four speakers that make up each of the 109 sirens — that isn’t functioning. The Taraval siren is silent because it has become a shelter for a family of Red-Tailed Hawk.
Prelinger, who gave me permission to post the photo shown up top, wrote on his Facebook page:
When I toured the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management on June 16 prior to my communications infrastructure talk that evening at Long Now’s Interval, I was told they’d turned off the emergency siren and speakers at Taraval and Great Highway so as not to disturb a nesting Red-Tailed Hawk. Of course I had to go and see what was going on.
(Update: He also clarified this morning that the nest may be empty by now.)
If you’ve never heard it, here’s a recording:
Here’s a shot of the tower at Taraval and Great Highway via Google Street view. This is facing north. A very short walk to the left and you hit the Pacific Ocean:
Residents near Taraval and Geary needn’t worry too much for their safety. There are three other sirens within blocks. For reference, Taraval and Geary is number 78 in this chart, available as a PDF at the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management’s website, sfdem.org. The actual number of sirens is a little unclear. The main site states 109, but there are 114 listed in that PDF and 111 in an accompanying list. Note that some, like the one at Taraval and Great Highway, double for tsunami warnings.
Thanks to Rick Prelinger — associate professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and founder of the Prelinger Archives (prelingerlibrary.org) — for sharing the photo, and to Paul Socolow for alerting me to it. More on the sirens at sfdem.org. For additional reading, last month the duo 52-Blue (Nick Sowers and Bryan Finoki) in their designobserver.com series ran a piece on the tainted, wartime history of the siren. My audio recording of the siren is at soundcloud.com/disquiet. And for a recent shot of siren number 102, the one closest to my office, visit instagram.com/dsqt.
Earlier this week I posted responses I’d made to a series of questions about listening posed by Steve Ashby, who teaches music at Virginia Commonwealth University. Two more people have replied to Ashby’s questions, and I wanted to share segments of their thoughts here, both of them responding to the fourth, and core, question in Ashby’s survey: “How does one make their listening listened to?”
This is Bryan Walthall, a recording and mastering engineer who runs Stereo Image in Richmond, Virginia:
my perception of the way music sounds has changed greatly over the past 15 years. my favorite records when i was a kid (hendrix, nirvana) sound completely different! sometimes it breaks my heart because they don’t have the exact same magic they did when i was younger. its as if my “suspension of reality” has been diminished because I’ve seen the sausage being made for 15 years. for the most part they still evoke the same emotional response, but it has been diminished. i hear things completely different now, because i know how they were achieved. thats good for me making records, but the kid in me gets a little bummed sometimes that i can’t just listen to the song, i have to “hear the drums” or “know thats a plate and not a spring” or that “thats obviously a vocal double.”
This is the sound artist Stephen Vitiello. Up top is an image of visitors to one of his sound installations:
I mostly hope to achieve this in installation environments. Setting lighting in a space, comfortable seating, establishing a volume level and a speaker system that works well with the material are all important. Also, removing or minimizing visual distractions is vital – so that it is clear that in the work I’m presenting, sound is primary and not secondary to any sort of visual content. As I re-read these responses, it seems I’m hoping to create a space for the installations that goes back to what I used to create for myself when listening to a new record for the first time.
Jose Rivera participates on SoundCloud under the name Proxemia. A graduate student at MIT, he studies “sound art, geonotational mapping, location recording, experimental music,” and posts audio from his various excursions. One recent track of Rivera’s is “interplace,” a highly detailed sequence of largely drone- and rattle-rich “location recordings,” in his terminology. The phrase suggests something distinct from field recordings, perhaps — something with a more precise sense of position and place. A brief liner note explains that it’s a “composition experiment” for what appears to be the Sensory Ethnography Lab at neighboring Harvard. The lab “promotes innovative combinations of aesthetics and ethnography,” and is run by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ernst Karel. Past geonotational efforts by Rivera have included audio-visual documentation of natural and industrial spots in Asheville, North Carolina (which surface in a Disquiet Junto project), among other places.
• November 9, 2015: A short essay I wrote ("Bassel K") will appear in the book The Cost of Freedom, dedicated to Bassel Khartabil, who's been detained in Syria since March 15, 2012. Details at costoffreedom.cc.
• November 21, 2015: Start of semi-annual social-media absentia (through January 4, 2016).
• Early December 2015: Jeff Kolar's album Doorbells will be released by the label Panospria. I wrote the liner notes. In the meanwhile you can listen to his previous album, Smoke Detector.
• December 13, 2015: The 19th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 4, 2016: End of semi-annual social-media absentia (started November 21, 2015).
• February 3, 2016: First class session of the 15-week course I teach at the San Francisco Academy of Art on the role of sound in the media landscape.
• May 18, 2016: Final class session of the 15-week course I teach at the San Francisco Academy of Art on the role of sound in the media landscape.
• Ongoing: The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: soundcloud.com.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.