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: forum-digger

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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The Disquiet Junto Project List

Association for communal music/sound-making on Soundcloud.com. [Update: March 13, 2014]

The Disquiet Junto is a group I founded on Soundcloud.com. The purpose of the group is to use constraints to stoke creativity. Each Thursday evening I post a clearly defined compositional assignment, and members of the Junto are to complete the assignment by 11:59pm the following Monday. The initial Junto assignment was made on January 5, 2012, the first Thursday of the new year.

The inspirations for the group’s existence are numerous. There are the weekly Beat Battles sponsored by Stonesthrow, and also hosted at Soundcloud.com, in which dozens if not hundreds of participants craft instrumental hip-hop beats from a shared sample. There is the tradition of Oulipo, whose embrace of creative constraints is personified by one of its co-founders, the author Raymond Queneau. Several comics artists with whom I have worked, including Matt Madden, have bonded under the banner of Oubapo, and there is, in fact, a related musical tradition, which goes by Oumupo. (I was reminded that the Iron Chef of Music projects at kracfive.com were also an influence on my thinking. They were for many years a big part of the Downstream department here.)

The word “junto” comes from the name of a society that Benjamin Franklin formed in Philadelphia during the early 1700s as “a structured forum of mutual improvement.” In Franklin’s honor, the third Disquiet Junto project explored the glass harp, an instrument he experimented with in the development of what he christened the armonica.

The idea for the Junto arose after the completion of a Disquiet project at the end of December 2011. That project, Instagr/am/bient, was more loosely curated than other such projects I had commissioned, beginning in 2006 with Our Lives in the Bush of Diquiet. Instagr/am/bient proved quite popular, with over 20,000 listens and almost 4,000 downloads in its first month, and this success suggested to me that I experiment with an even looser format — the irony being that this “looser” format is, in fact, dedicated to constraint. Much to my surprise, the very first Junto project resulted, in four days, in 56 original pieces of music by as many musicians. The assignment was to record the sound of ice cubes in a glass and to make something musical of that recording.

If for the musicians involved, the Disquiet Junto is an experiment in creative constraints, for me it is as much an experiment in what I would describe as “community organizing as a form of curation.”

Visit the group — and, better yet, sign up and participate — at soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto. There’s also an email announcement list for the group. If you would like to be added to the suscription list, you can join up here: tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto.

This page serves as an index of the assignments. They are listed here in chronological order:

These are the weekly projects to date: 0001: ice cubes0002: duet for foghorn and steam whistle0003: expanded glass harp0004: remixing Marcus Fischer0005: adding sounds to everyday life0006: remixing archival Edison cylinders0007: create through subtraction0008: rework Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography0009: cross-species collaboration0010: remix a previous Junto track0011: everyday mechanical rhythms0012: cut and paste0013: remixing wild Up playing Shostakovich0014: sonic version of Matt Madden’s Oubapo story15: aural RGB0016: sandpaper and dice0017: transition between field and composed0018: relative prominence0019: graphic score (photo by Yojiro Imasaka)0020: use the NodeBeat app0021: the four seasons0022: sonic decay0023: palindrone0024: a suite of sonic alerts0025: remixing project 240026: making music from your trash0027: turm the instruction text into sound0028: remix a netlabel release0029: music from water, inspired by William Gibson’s Count Zero0030: sounds from silence0031: Revisiting a 1955 Yoko Ono Fluxus piece0032: sonify the 2012 U.S. presidential election polling data0033: making music with a turntable but without vinyl0034: Use the theme song of the Radius broadcast as the source of an original composition0035: Make music from a sample page of Beck’s Song Reader sheet music0036: Reworking Bach into abstract expressionism0037: The sound of commerce0038: Make a fake field recording0039: Combine three tracks from the Nowaki netlabel into one0040: Turn a Kenneth Kirschner duet into a trio0041: Dirty minimalism0042: Record a “naive melody” with your oldest and newest instruments0043: Make mechanical roars from the sound of a retail space0044: Transition from storm to calm using field recordings from Sandy 20120045: Combine material from the public domain adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Tom Sawyer0046: Investigate a recording of the voting process for its “sonic fingerprint.”0047: Turn the muffled voices of a distant party into the foundation of a recording.0048: Celebrate the Creative Commons license that allows for derivative works by remixing music from the Three Legs Duck netlabel.0049: Make a track, 50% of which is the sound of a tape cassette deck in motion.0050: Encode a word or phrase in Morse Code and employ that as a track’s rhythm.0051: Create a 2012 audio diary with a dozen five-second segments.0052: Celebrate the Creative Commons by remixing three tracks from the Bump Foot netlabel.0053: Record the sound of ice in a glass and make something of it (redux).0054: Create an original musical score for the day’s news.0055: Combine two Nils Frahm solo piano pieces into one.0056: Make music from the sound of the tick of a clock.0057: Use sounds from the Phonetics Lab Archive at UCLA to depict emotions.0058: Celebrate the Creative Commons by remixing three tracks from the Endless Ascent netlabel.0059: Make music from three randomly assigned vowels.0060: Record something about yourself and your music/sound in your own words and voice.0061: Record a single for which the cover would be the image suggested by a @textinstagram tweet.0062: Make music using just three sine waves.0063: Make a new piece of music based on an echo-laden re-recording of Gregorian chant.0064: Compose a piece to align with, from memory, 60 seconds of everyday sound.0065: Compose music atop a randomly assigned segment of a pre-existing track by Jared Brickman.0066: Collaborate posthumously with the late Jeffrey (Nofi) Melton.0067: Compose music for a phrase from Homer’s The Odyssey0068: Combine three songs from the first release of the new deriv.cc netlabel.0069: Make music from field recordings of earth, water, air, and fire.0070: Create a single piece of music from two tones and three beats.0071: Create an original score to the trailer to Christine Knowlton’s film about blind sailors.0072: Make a domestic score from sounds recorded in your own home.0073: Read a map of the San Andreas Fault as if it were a graphic notation score0074: Turn applause into music.0075: Make a 3-part, 18-second suite with the Vine app.0076: Use the sounds of the room in which you sleep as source audio for a score to you describing your dream.0077: Combine music from three different netlabels to create one track.0078: Create music by removing sound from a century-old Edison Symphony Orchestra recording.0079: Remix music from the movie Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) to make a downtempo instrumental.0080: Make music with a metronome.0081: Create generative music with four loops of differing lengths0082: Create a minimal techno track using elements of a Haydn string quartet.0083: Treat a page from recently declassified documents related to NSA collection of telephone metadata records as a graphically notated score.0084: Connect two distinct field recordings via a transition between isolated elements.0085: Make a song with three simple parts (oscillator, drum machine, field recording).0086: Your next single is titled “Hyperloop.” Now record it.0087: Make five varied doorbell rings.0088: Make a track simulating 3D sound.0089: Use the sounds of interstellar space to make “goodbye music” for the Voyager 1 space probe.0090: Explore the sound of a radio caught between stations.0091: Explore the musical qualities of footsteps.0092: Use room tone to shape a three-part suite.0093: Combine music from three different netlabels to create one track.0094: Record an unlikely vocal trio with the sound of a bird, a kitten, and a pig.0095: Musicians post recent tracks with the express purpose of getting constructive feedback.0096: Pay tribute to the late Lou Reed’s noise classic.0097: Decode the music in a phrase from a book.0098: Combine original three spoken texts into one track.0099: Compose an 8-bit melody based on the “E G D” startup sound of the Xbox One.0100: Record the sound of water boiling and make something of it.101: Make a phase composition based on the sounds of three switches.0102: Record original secular holiday music: glistening, reflective, gentle.0103: Make a song based on last week’s “sonic tinsel” project.0104: Create a 2013 audio diary with a dozen five-second segments.0105: Record the sound of ice in a glass and make something of it (re-redux)0106: Treat the weather chart as a graphically notated score.0107: Use a wind chime as the rhythmic foundation for a track.0108: Create a soundscape for the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.0109: Insert musical objects into an urban soundscape.0110: Celebrate the 100th birthday of that old cut-up, William S. Burroughs.0111: Rework work from Impulsive Habitat, Xylem, Zeromoon (via actsofsilence.com).0112: Turn your week’s dayplanner into music.0113: Record a piece of music that slowly improves, in tribute to the late Harold Ramis’ film Groundhog Day.0114: Combine elements of Dave Seidel’s album ~60 Hz (Irritable Hedgehog).0115: Record a duet with yourself, divided by a wall.

And this is the initial post I made on Disquiet.com, announcing the project on January 7, 2012: “Sneek Peek.”

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Stonesthrow Migration from drop.io to Soundcloud (Instrumental Hip-Hop MP3)

The Stonesthrow label’s weekly sample melees recently migrated to the sound-file community soundcloud.com from the cloud-storage service drop.io (the latter of which is due to be shut down, following its acquisition by Facebook). It will be interesting to see how, if at all, the backend-technology shift influences the ongoing competitions. For now, it’s difficult to think of a significant downside to the move away from drop.io.

That’s nothing against drop.io; the service had regularly improved its interface over time. But one of the major benefits of the Soundcloud interface is that each participating musician will have a distinct personal page, so if a listener enjoys one track, it will be all the easier to locate other tracks by the same person. When the Stonesthrow Beat Battles were on drop.io, collating the various contributors felt a bit like being a character on the AMC TV series Rubicon, trying to track down information on mysterious figures who post coded missives online and leave a disparate and disconnected approximation of a data trail.

Beat Battle #192 is happening right now, which gives us time to focus on the well-attended #191. For readers just coming upon the idea of a Beat Battle, the way it works is that all the participants have a set amount of time, a little less than a week, to construct a beat (that is, a hip-hop-oriented backing track) based on a shared sound source. For contest #191, that sample was a bit of mellow instrumental pop jazz by Don Julian and the Larks (aka the Meadowlarks), titled “Just Tryin’ to Make It.” With a lightly swinging rhythm and a sweet lead saxophone, the track had numerous sample-able moments. Beatmaking tends to fall into two camps: reworking known music and crate-digging for rarities. The Larks track falls into the latter camp.

To these ears, the winner of #191 should have been Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Tictoc, who took the enjoyably subdued tune and torqued it into a noisily looping monster, somewhere between the skronk symphonies of Glenn Branca and the dense collages of Public Enemy:

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com. Original contest announcement, with link to source audio, at stonesthrow.com.

Speaking of the demise of drop.io, there was a piece by PC Magazine‘s John C. Dvorak (at pcmag.com) about the (much reported but still not yet in effect) demise of drop.io, in which he decried the fragility of a cloud-based Internet ecology: “It’s like a bone yard. Blame the cloud. You’ve basically wasted years of effort saving cool Web sites with bookmarks for no reason.” The piece is worth a reading, though it offers no apparent solution. It also begs the question, are dead links a massive problem? Putting all your data in one basket, as it were, is a problem, but that’s true whether the basket is in the cloud or in your basement server. Either way, it’s an avoidable one; drop.io only had so much impact on the Internet, but imagine Flickr.com suddenly going belly-up. In addition, there’s a mistaken fetish quality to the perceived eternal nature of links; maybe there’s something to be said for data that disappears.

It’s wait and see for now on how the Stonesthrow switch to Soundcloud from drop.io will play out. It seems like a win for participants and listeners, but perhaps the relative loss of anonymity won’t prove to be a boon — maybe the looseness of drop.io-era gave producers reassurance that their copyright-meddlesome habits wouldn’t be easily trackable, and the Soundcloud mode will be less attractive. For now, the Beat Battles go on.

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The Spoils of the Beat Battle

Been awhile since the last check-in at the ongoing Beat Battles series hosted by stonesthrow.com, the popular message board of its namesake record label.

The latest, number 151, like all previous Beat Battles, involves tossing up a beat-friendly sample and seeing which battler can push it further along.

As always, among the entries you’ll find both rudimentary cut’n’paste, and some inspired executions — and also as always, once you’ve listened to a handful of the mixes (at least 38 files were uploaded to the arena, at drop.io/battle151), you won’t listen to the original the same way again.

This time around, the source material is a tinny bit of rhythmic simplicity, though it has just enough different segments — old-school beats, Casio-quality congas, some vocoded chanting — to allow for numerous mixing outcomes.

The original is available as a download, but not for streaming, at mediafire.com. Among the highlights of the contest are those by bit1 (MP3), who provides a slo-mo version, all laconic hand claps, buzzy atmospherics, and a riff that suits the downtempo approach, and insDrumental (MP3), who judging by the sheer internal-combustion complexity of the outcome may have put more effort into his entry than a good number of his competitors combined.

The winner, chosen demo-cratically by votes on a separate message thread (at stonesthrow.com), was mplssoul, who worked in au courant sped-up vocals and a stuttery beat (MP3).

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The direct links and streaming above may not function properly, but either way, be sure to spend some time at the drop.io/battle151 site, where the entries reside. The service continues to up its game, now allowing for Zip downloading of a given folder. Also give a read to the comments that trail each entry, evidence of the supportive community of producers that has built up around the Stones Throw Beat Battle.

And on to battle 152 …

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The Rashomon of Remixing (MP3s)

There are few pleasures as richly kaleidoscopic as the Rashomon of Remixing: the online beat battle.

Two of the foremost beat fight clubs are located at cratekings.com and stonesthrow.com. In the message boards at both sites, disparate producers, most weaned on hip-hop, take a shared sample and do with it what they will.

Consider the latest from Stones Throw — the 126th beat battle hosted by that great record label. The originating cut is a mostly instrumental bit of soul, “Look What You’ve Done to Me.” And as of this evening, more than two dozen renditions have been posted, key among them an entry by Theory Hazit that takes the initial funk and cuts it up into something just broken enough to be entirely contemporary (MP3).

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Then there’s DJ Earl-e, who slows it to a spartan pulse, the guitar flashing past like a distant comet (MP3), and, just to single out one other fine entry, an edit by Density & Time, which ratchets up the guitar into something approximating hard rock, though the looped beat ensures it’s never mistakable for anything but raw hip-hop (MP3).

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View the full set of entries in chronological order at drop.io/stmbbattle126 — especially should the links above fail to function. Witness the original posts and voting at, respectively, stonesthrow.com and stonesthrow.com.

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