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: film

This Week in Sound: SoundCloud, Replicants, Comedy, Surveillance

An occasional, lightly annotated clipping service

One-Track Mind: SoundCloud recently added a “repeat single track” function to its web player. This means that if you’re listening to something on SoundCloud you can click a button to have it repeat when it ends, rather than have the service automatically move on to another track. This is a very welcome turn of events. When it comes to audio streaming, we often don’t really hear something the first time we hear it, and often get lost in the continuity. The ability to repeat a single track in some ways having a chance to really pay attention through repetition.
http://disquiet.com/2014/12/01/soundcloud-single-track-repeat/

Replicant Soundscape: Speaking of listening on repeat, this following track has been online since August, but I only just learned of it via an io9.com post about a related subject. The account of “crysknife007″ on YouTube is filled with great “ambient geek sleep aids” such as the sound of the Starship Enterprise’s engines running for 24 hours straight. What follows is the sound of Rick Deckard’s apartment in Blade Runner playing for half a day, so you can imagine you’re a cyberpunk gumshoe when you’re really just sitting at home paying some bills. Though YouTube comments are rightly avoided, a useful follow-up to the track did note that this same sound was later used in Alien for the Nostromo’s medical bay.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7FhEpif1cA

Ambient Comedy: The BBC has produced a retrospective of Chris Morris (Blue Jam, Four Lions), the British satirist. I had very much hoped to interview Morris for my recent book on the Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works Volume II because he used music from the album in his radio and television sketches to especially haunting effect, but sadly he wasn’t available. The BBC retrospective is three hours long and, according to the BBC webpage, will be online for another four weeks:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04sp5pq

New Heights in Eavesdropping: A thorough overview of the U.S. government’s system “Automatic Speech recognition in Reverberant Environments,” aka ASpIRE, an advance speech-recognition tool.
http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2014/12/what-happens-when-spies-can-eavesdrop-any-conversation/100142/

This first appeared in the December 2, 2014, edition of the free Disquiet email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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disquiet.gizmodo.com

On Disquiet.com now participating in the Gizmodo ecosystem

These are two things that I think Geoff Manaugh, editor-in-chief of the technology and design blog Gizmodo.com, didn’t know about me when he asked if I’d consider bringing Disquiet.com beneath his website’s expanding umbrella.

1: My “to re-blog” bookmark file has been packed in recent months with scores of items from pretty much all of the Gizmodo-affiliated sites — not just Gizmodo, but io9.com, Lifehacker, Jalopnik, Gawker, and Kotaku. Probably Jezebel and Deadspin, too, but the file is too thick for me to tell.

2: Pretty much the first thing that I read every morning with my coffee — well, every weekday morning — is the “Morning Spoilers” at io9.com, the great science fiction website that is part of the Gawker network that also contains Gizmodo.

I knew Manaugh’s work from BLDGBLOG and, before that, Dwell Magazine. He’d previously invited me to involve the weekly experimental music/sound project series that I run, the Disquiet Junto, in the course on the architecture of the San Andreas Fault that he taught in spring 2013 at Columbia University’s graduate school of architecture. And I am excited to work with him again.

And so, there is now a cozy disquiet.gizmodo.com subdomain URL where I’ll be syndicating — simulposting — material from Disquiet.com, as well as doing original straight-to-Gizmodo writing. I’m hopeful that members of the Gizmodo readership might further expand the already sizable ranks of the Disquiet Junto music projects (we just completed one based on a post from Kotaku), and I’ll be posting notes from the course I teach on “sound in the media landscape” at the Academy of Art here in San Francisco.

For new readers of Disquiet, the site’s purview is as follows:

* Listening to Art.

* Playing with Audio.

* Sounding Out Technology.

* Composing in Code.

I’ll take a moment to break that down:

Listening to Art: Attention to sound art has expanded significantly this year, thanks in no small part to the exhibit Soundings: A Contemporary Score at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. That exhibit, which ran from August 10 through November 3, featured work by such key figures as Susan Philipsz (whose winning of the Turner Prize inspired an early music compilation I put together), Carsten Nicolai (whom I profiled in the new Red Bull Music Academy book For the Record), and Stephen Vitiello (whom I’ve interviewed about 911 and architectural acoustics, and who has participated in the Disquiet Junto). But if “sound art” is art for which music is both raw material and subject matter, my attention is just as much focused on what might better be described as the role of “sound in art,” of the depictions of audio in various media (the sound effects in manga, for example) and the unintended sonic components of art beyond sound art, like the click and hum of a slide carousel or the overall sonic environment of a museum. Here’s video of Tristan Perich’s “Microtonal Wall” from the MoMA exhibit:

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Playing with Audio: If everything is, indeed, a remix, that is a case most clearly made in music and experimental sound. From the field recordings that infuse much ambient music to the sampling of hip-hop to the rapturous creative reuse that proliferates on YouTube and elsewhere, music as raw material is one of the most exciting developments of our time. Terms like “remix” and “mashup” and “mixtape” can been seen to have originated or otherwise gained cachet in music, and as they expand into other media, we learn more about them, about the role such activities play in culture. And through the rise of audio-game apps, especially in iOS, such “playing with sound” has become all the more common — not just the work of musicians but of audiences, creating a kind of “active listening.” This notion of reuse, of learning about music and sound by how it is employed after the fact, plays a big role in my forthcoming book for the 33 1/3 series. My book is about Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and it will be published on February 13, 2014, just weeks ahead of the record’s 20th anniversary. As part of my research for the book, I spoke with many individuals who had come to appreciate the Aphex Twin album by engaging with it in their own work, from composers who had transcribed it for more “traditional” instruments (such as chamber ensembles and solo guitar), to choreographers and sound designers, to film directors.

Sounding Out Technology: A briefer version of the Disquiet.com approach is to look at “the intersection of sound, art, and technology.” The term “technology” is essential to that trio, because it was only when I learned to step back from my fascination with electronically produced music and to appreciate “electronic” as a subset of the vastly longer continuum of “technology” that connections became more clear to me — say, between the sonics of raves and the nascent polyphony of early church music, or between creative audio apps like Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers’ Bloom and what is arguably the generative ur-instrument: the aeolian harp. With both Bloom and the aeolian harp, along with its close relative the wind chime, music is less a fixed composition than a system that is enacted. As technology mediates our lives more and more, the role that sound plays in daily life becomes a richer and richer subject — from voice-enabled devices, to the sounds of consumer product design, to the scores created for electric cars:

Composing in Code: Of all the technologies to come to the fore in the past two decades, perhaps none has had an impact greater than computer code. This is no less true in music and sound than it is in publishing, film, politics, health, or myriad other fields. While the connections between mathematics and music have been celebrated for millennia, there is something special to how, now, those fields are combining, notably in graphic systems such as Max/MSP (and Max for Live, in Ableton) and Puredata (aka Pd), just to name two circumstances. Here, for reference, is a live video of the Dutch musician and sound artist Edo Paulus’ computer screen as he constructs and then performs a patch in Max/MSP. Where the construction ends and the performance begins provides a delightful koan:

All of which said, I’m not 100-percent clear what form my disquiet.gizmodo.com activity will take. I’m looking forward to experimenting in the space. I’ll certainly be co-posting material from Disquiet.com, but I’m also planning on engaging with Gizmodo itself, and with its broader network of sites. I’ve already, in advance of this post, begun re-blogging material from Gizmodo and from Gizmodo-affiliated sites: not just “sharing” (in the UI terminology of the Kinja CMS that powers the network) but adding some contextual information, thoughts, tangents, details. I’m enthusiastic about Kinja, in particular how it blurs the lines between author and reader. I like that a reply I make to a post about a newly recreated instrument by Leonardo Da Vinci can then appear in my own feed, leading readers back to the original site, where they themselves might join in the conversation. Kinja seems uniquely focused on multimedia as a form of commentary — like many CMS systems, it allows animated GIFs and short videos to serve as blog comments unto themselves, but it goes the step further of allowing users to delineate rectangular sub-sections of previously posted images and comment on those. I’m intrigued to see how sound can fit into that approach. (It’s no surprise to me that Kinja is innovative in this regard — it’s on Lifehacker that I first learned about the syntax known as “markdown.”) I think that all, cumulatively, makes for a fascinating media apparatus, and I want to explore it.

While I typed this post, it was Tuesday in San Francisco. I live in the Outer Richmond District, just north of Golden Gate Park and a little over a mile from the Pacific Ocean. The season’s first torrential rain has passed, and so the city sounds considerably more quiet than it did just a few days ago. No longer is the noise of passing automobiles amplified and augmented by the rush of water, and the roof above my desk is no longer being pummeled. But where there is the seeming peace of this relative quiet, there is also an increased diversity of listening material. The ear can hear further, as it were — not just to conversations in the street and to passing cars, but to construction blocks away, to leaf blowers, to a seaplane overhead, to the sound of a truck backing up at some considerable distance, and to the many birds that (unlike what I was accustomed to, growing up on the north shore of New York’s Long Island) do not all vacate the area come winter. It is shortly past noon as I hit the button to make this post go live. Church bells have sung a duet with the gurgling in my belly to remind me it is time for lunch. And because it is Tuesday, the city’s civic warning system has rung out. 

Dim sum, anyone?

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Cues: Martinez/Refn, Memory Prosthetic, Summer Camp …

Plus: "Deviant Wear," ambient art, Sakamoto in the forest, and more

20130709-refn-thailand

Martinez + Refn + Thailand: Perhaps not every sequel that relocates to Thailand is a disappointment. The score to Only God Forgives (screen shot above) by Cliff Martinez (film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn) is streaming in full at pitchfork.com. Martinez scored Refn’s previous movie, Drive. Working with Martinez are Gregory Tripi and Mac Quayle (who between them collaborated with him on such films as Contagion, Arbitrage, Spring Breakers, and Drive). There’s also Thai pop music, and two of the Martinez tracks are orchestral works performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The movie is set in Bangkok and stars Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas. A less than promising report by Manohla Dargis (at nytimes.com) from the Cannes Film Festival notes the centrality of wallpaper to the movie: “There are a lot of opportunities to examine that wallpaper with its repeating pattern – nonfigurative swirls with teethlike serrations suggestive of a dragon.” The description could apply to the pulsing, ambient Martinez score as well.

Sound Design in Product Design: “This could sense the sound levels in the room, and then gradually nudge you to turn over a bit,” Drexel Design Futures Lab director and assistant professor Nicole Koltic tells cbslocal.com of a robotic mattress. Koltic is describing a work in an exhibit at the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery in West Philadelphia. The exhibit features projects by six master’s students in the Interior Architecture and Design program at Drexel. Also in the show is “Memory Prosthetic” by Sarah Moores:

“The memory prosthetic is a wearable device that records an audio track when there is a detectable physiological change in the wearer. This thesis speculates on how memories form through emotional connections to events and the integration of technology and biological responses to enhance our awareness of these connections. The design scenario consists of a wearable device that records events with the assistance of biofeedback and a listening pod, which plays back the audio to enhance meditative reflection on selected moments throughout the day.”

And “Deviant Wear” by Kim Brown:

“The pervasiveness of handheld computing has shifted how we experience and interact with our environment and filtered the physical world through a digital screen. This project explores strategies for encouraging ambulatory exploration of the urban landscape through experimental prototyping with environmental sensors, physical feedback and audio graffiti.”

More on the exhibit at drexel.edu. The show runs from July 5 through July 21, 2013.

Ambient Art: Tim Griffin, executive director and chief curator of the Kitchen, curated the current show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Titled “ambient,” the exhibit collates work by Liz Deschenes, Olafur Eliasson, Susan Goldman, Mary Heilmann, Nathan Hylden, Sherrie Levine, Tristan Perich, Seth Price, Nick Relph, Haim Steinbach, and Alex Waterman in an attempt to locate a parallel to Brian Eno’s initial sense of ambient music. A quote from the liner notes to Eno’s Discreet Music album serves as a touchstone for the exhibit. It runs from June 20 through July 26, 2013. To quote from part of the exhibit text:

“If ambient music emerged decades ago as an artistic mode revolving around dislocations and relaxations of authorship–and quasi-reversals of figure and landscape, foreground and background–perhaps this proposition may usefully be expanded today, in a manner pertaining not only to objects of art but contemporary ways of looking (and their tenuousness between artistic periods).”

Listen About Listening: Seth S. Horowitz, author of The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind, is interviewed on kuow.org about how to be a better listener. Horowitz is the chief scientist at neuropop.com, a sonic consultancy. He has an account at soundcloud.com/universalsense.

Flora Magic Orchestra: Ryuichi Sakamoto unveils his Forest Symphony at the elegant forestsymphony.ycam.jp website: “Ryuichi Sakamoto will produce music on the basis of bioelectric potential data gathered from trees around the world. In line with this potential data, environmental information of each tree’s distribution will be added and the tree’s link with the music will be presented visually under the visual direction of Shiro Takatani.” It’s part of the 10th anniversary of the Yamaguchi Center for Art and Media.

Sound Art Summer Camp: If you’re in the Dallas, Texas, area and are (or have) a pre/teen, there’s a sound art summer camp. It runs from July 15-19, 1-4pm, and is for ages 10-18: “During this camp, students will learn to make a self-portrait by recording and combining the sounds of their daily lives.” More on the camp at oilandcotton.bigcartel.com. The series is run by Chaz Underriner, more from whom at chazunderriner.com. Found via the “moms” section of dmagazine.com.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0079: Junto of Fate

The Project: Remix music from the movie Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) to make a downtempo instrumental.

20130704-handoffate

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.

This assignment was made in the evening, California time, on Thursday, July 4, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, July 8, 2013, as the deadline.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0079: Junto of Fate

This week’s project involves shared source material, and it is an exploration of genre, specifically “downtempo instrumental.” The score to the film Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) has been made available for free download as part of a remix contest being held by the netlabel Happy Puppy Records, the company releasing a restored copy of the film, and the great website freemusicarchive.org. You will be reworking the material with the goal of constructing a track that would be considered “downtempo instrumental.” One standard, six-sided die is required. The steps are as follows:

Step 1: Role a die six times and add the results.

Step 2: Role the die once and subtract this from the amount resulting from Step 1. If the result is zero, then start again at Step 1.

Step 3: The number that results from Step 2 is the track number from the album that will serve as the source material for your remix. You can locate and download your designated track from this page:

http://goo.gl/kTWGA

Step 4: Cut up and reuse material from the track resulting from Step 3 in the service of producing an original piece of music that would be considered “downtempo instrumental.” Also follow this language from the official contest: “no explicit adult material please. By submitting, you agree to license your track under the same BY-NC-SA license. If you include outside samples in your remix, please ensure they are of a similar sharable license.”

Length: Your piece should be between two and five minutes in length.

Deadline: Monday, July 8, 2013, at 11:59pm wherever you are. (The contest’s deadline is October 1, 2013, but our deadline is shorter, per the strictures of the weekly Disquiet Junto.)

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: Include the term “disquiet0079-juntofate” in the title of your track, and as a tag for your track.

Download: Per the license of the source material and the rules the contest, you should employ the BY-NC-SA Creative Commons license (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing and remixing with attribution).

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

More on this 79th Disquiet Junto project, in which the score to the movie Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) is remixed to make a downtempo instrumental, at:

http://disquiet.com/2013/07/04/disquiet0079-juntofate/

More on the contest at:

http://goo.gl/GXAXf

More on the original film at:

http://www.manosinhd.com/

More details on the Disquiet Junto at:

http://soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto/

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Cues: le Carré’s Ear, Friedkin’s Foley, Modular Doc, …

Plus: fast drones, wind chimes, full-spectrum TV, dance music, and more

20130527-lecarreThe (Eaves)drop: The following is extracted from the new John le Carré novel, A Delicate Truth. The book is, like almost any le Carré novel, a story of surveillance, and when le Carré pays attention to what it means to pay attention to sound, it is worth reading closely:

“Above the clatter of the wind came a clicking sound like dominoes collapsing: two sets of clicks, then nothing. He thought he heard a yell but he was listening too hard to know for sure. It was the wind. It was the nightingale. No, it was the owl. … A stray engine barked, but it could as well have been a fox as a car or the outboard of an inflatable.”

That things are not what they seem, even when one is paying attention, is at the heart of the novel. And it doesn’t give anything away to say that the closing moment in A Delicate Truth is a direct reflection of the bit reproduced above.

Foley Connection: “Why was the crash sequence in ‘French Connection’ so dramatic? The smack of a hammer hitting an anvil was added to the ambient sound.” That is from Janet Maslin’s nytimes.com review of director William Friedkin’s recent memoir, The Friedkin Connection.

Modular Doc: Trailer for I Dream of Wires, a documentary about modular synthesizers. Preorders end May 31, and it’s due out in June. Among the interviewees (in order of appearance in the video): Maggi Payne, Bernie Krause, Jack Dangers, Vince Clarke, Daniel Miller, Carl Craig, James Holden, Richard Devine, Flood, Trent Reznor, Chris Carter, Charlie Clouser, and Gary Numan. More at idreamofwires.org.

Wind’s Voice: “I attempted to make and record my own Aeolian Harp. I began to notice parallels between the harp and the planes. Both gave the weather a voice.” That’s artist Dawn Scarfe, interviewed at earroom.wordpress.com.

Jurassic Bark: “[T]o resuscitate the sound of prehistoric creatures by reconstructing their vocal tracts.” That’s designer Marguerite Humeau on her work, via bldgblog.blogspot.com.

Sixth Digital Sense: “[A]n agent at U.S. Cyber Command who has a microchip implanted in his brain that allows him to access the entire electromagnetic spectrum.” Alphas may have been cancelled, but someone got Gary’s powers, via washingtonpost.com. This new series is titled Intelligence.

Post Release: “All this focus on controllerism and interfaces and gestures is I think because it’s so important to connect thought and body – a challenge in ways that transcend even the question of technology.” That’s from some additional thoughts by Peter Kirn about the album, Music for Dance, that he previewed here on Disquiet.com earlier in the month: createdigitalmusic.

Fast Drone: Despite the association with stasis, the sonic drone moves. It generally moves slowly, the deliberate pace more an emblem of stillness than an actual realization of it. Occasionally we get to hear fast ones, such as the first minute and a half of this preview from Pillowdiver’s new album, Bloody Oath:

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