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.

tag: field-recording

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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Disquiet Junto Project 0109: Craghead Sketch

Insert musical objects into an urban soundscape.


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, January 30, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, February 3, 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 0109: Craghead Sketch

For this week’s project, we’ll insert musical objects into an urban soundscape.

The steps are as follows:

Step 1: Download the field recording of a walk through New York City at this URL:


Step 2: Listen to the track and note moments when space allows for the insertion of a musical object. Try to locate at least one space every 30 or 45 seconds.

Step 3: In each of those spots, layer in a unique musical object (e.g., a tone, a riff, a beat, some combination thereof). Each musical object should be self-contained (i.e., not overlap with each other).

Background: The project is derived from the drawings of the very talented illustrator Warren Craghead, himself a Junto member and participant. Among Craghead’s artistic practice is the act of leaving Post-its and other small drawings in public places. This project is an attempt to find a musical equivalent of his art. Examples of Craghead’s work can be seen in this recent post:


And on his own website:


Deadline: Monday, February 3, 2014, at 11:59pm wherever you are.

Length: Your finished work should be 3:36 in length — same as the source material.

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 “disquiet0109-cragheadsketch” 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, be sure to include this information:

More on this 109th Disquiet Junto project (“Insert musical objects into an urban soundscape.”) at:


More on the Disquiet Junto at:


Join the Disquiet Junto at:


Image from Warren Craghead’s website:


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Rainy Day IDM

From Berkeley, which is, like much of California, experiencing a drought

Yesterday’s featured track took the chitinous sound of insects as the inspiration for its beats. Today’s track likewise takes nature as its point of origin, but more along the lines of the Aphex Twin song mentioned earlier. In the Aphex Twin piece, “Grey Stripe” off Selected Ambient Works Volume II, the audio is more sound than music — that is, along a continuum of conventional understandings of those terms. “A Hard Rain” by Eric Kuehnl begins in similar territory, as the title suggests. The rapid rainfall is a flurry of pinprick static. Then, 20 seconds or so in, just as the rain has taken on the sense of white noise, a rubbery, fanciful beat, reminiscent of ancient IDM, kicks in. Its frenetic energy and burbling, brittle acoustics build on the natural rhythms of the rain, which seem to continue to linger in the background.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/erickuehnl, where there is more from Kuehnl, who is based in Berkeley, California.

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A Different Piano, a Different Noise

A musical soundscape by Victoria Fenner

Like yesterday’s Downstream entry, today’s is of piano subsumed in noise. Yesterday’s noise has an industrial static to it. It is a thick forest of noise through which the piano occasionally becomes apparent. What makes yesterday’s piece, “Week Twenty Nine Project” by Madeleine Cocolas, work as a composition is how the melody’s slow development is at creative odds with that noise — the notes don’t just follow each other, but they in addition have to make sense of the drone through which the emanate.

Today’s piece, “Early Morning With Piano Cityscape” by Victoria Fenner, is a retroactive composition — which is to say, it is field recording that, through selection and framing, can be heard as a composition. What it contains is the everyday sounds of the city, two and half minutes of them, a single swath of a day recorded, extracted, and saved for posterity. There is variety to the sounds in Fenner’s recording: birdsong, traffic, a general municipal whir, aircraft, household activity, and a piano. The piano is just one sound among the many, but because its musicality is explicit it stands out, no matter how loud the other noises, such as the encroaching bus — or so it appears — that arrives toward the end, might get.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/victoriafenner. More from Fenner, who is based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, at magneticspirits.com and twitter.com/VictoriaFenner.

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Gestural Sound, Gestural Drawing

The work of Warren Craghead

Warren Craghead is a master of the casual artistic action. There are the field recordings (as housed at his soundcloud.com/craghead account), such as those of a playdate, an ice storm, a shirt being ironed, and an office. And there are the gestural drawings that comprise his primary activity. He lives a life of seeming constant production, often in the form of slips of paper and Post-it notes he leaves in the homes of friends and the packed school lunches of his children. He’s part of a group show at the Winkleman Gallery in Manhattan, “The Fire to Say: Comics as Poetry,” that begins tonight, January 17, and closes on February 14. Here’s a shot he posted to Instagram, and noted on his blog, of some of his work on display:


And here’s one of a characteristic action (he left a piece in a hotel stairwell):


As part of this diary-like accumulation of work he has posted the audio he describes as “Sound of walking to the gallery in NYC (The Fire To Say).” It is very much that, the sound of someone walking: the sound of feet, and the sound of the world those feet are navigating. Certainly there are distinctions to be noted between gestural drawing and gestural sound, but there are parallels as well. For example, at times in the audio a whistler can be heard, and the whistle is akin to the personalized Post-it imposed on an otherwise external environment:

Track originally posted for free download to soundcloud.com/craghead. Craghead lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and makes his home on the web at craghead.com.

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