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: generative

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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Disquiet Junto Project 0081: Cheap Generative

The Project: create generative music with four loops of differing lengths.

20130718-iching

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 18, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, July 22, 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 0081: Cheap Generative

The theme of this week’s project is generative, an approach in which music is produced beyond the strict, immediate control of the composer-performer. The composition and performance are less a linear work than they are a system that is set in motion. We’ll use this approach to investigate pre-existing work. Your finished Junto project should link back to the pre-existing work for comparison’s sake.

Step 1: Choose a recent work that has isolatable parts, preferably layers, or at least distinct elements.

Step 2: Create loops from four of these distinct elements: one 2 seconds in length, one 3 seconds, one 5 seconds, and one 7 seconds long.

Step 3: Add a 3-second pause to one of the elements and a 1-second pause to another of the elements. The choice is yours.

Step 4: Record a five-minute swath of the four loops playing simultaneously. The sounds will rotate through at their own individual paces, create numerous chance intersections. The result is your finished track. Feel free to add a fade-in and a fade-out, though it is not necessary.

Deadline: Monday, July 22, 2013, at 11:59pm wherever you are.

Length: Your track should have a duration of five 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: Include the term “disquiet0081-cheapgenerative” in the title of your track, and as a tag for your track.

Download: Please consider employing a license that allows for attributed, commerce-free remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

Linking: When posting the track, be sure to include this information — and to post a link to the track from which the elements were derived.

More on this 81st Disquiet Junto project, in which generative music is produced with four loops of differing lengths, at:

http://disquiet.com/2013/07/18/disquiet0081-cheapgenerative/

Original source track at this URL:

[insert link]

More details on the Disquiet Junto at:

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

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The Cicada as Gadget Muse (MP3)

Getting in digital touch with nature's white-noise machine

How better to connect with, to express, the sonic automata that is the cicada than with a piece of equipment that plays by itself? The track “cicada.pch” takes its name from the insect whose collective, hoard-strengthened whirring is an inspiration to white-noise musicians. The sounds of “cicada.pch,” developed by frequent SoundCloud contributor Analogue01, aka Karl Fousek, barely touch on the familiar cicada noise. It is there more as background, a sheer static, than as focal material. In place of that sound is a loop of light rattling, elegant bits of microsonic percussion. According to a brief liner note, the piece was recorded as a “[s]elf-playing patch” on the Nord Modular G1. It is, in other words, a generative work, a system that emits sound, not unlike a small cloud of insectoid life.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/analogue01. More from Fousek, who is based in Montreal, Canada, at karlfousek.com.

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Dishwasher Meets App (MP3)

A bit of generative play from Mike 88

Mike 88 has taken one of the most ubiquitous examples of domestic generative music, the sodden rumble of a dishwasher, and turned it into something intentionally musical. His light reworking emphasizes the originating material’s jerky, cyclopean rhythms while filtering the sample through the wonders of the music app at yello.com.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/mike-88. Mike 88 is Mike Dayton of Minneapolis, Minnesota, more from whom at twitter.com/dayton_mike.

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Aeolian MP3

A "homemade windharp" by Rick Tarquinio

20130201-windharp

The aeolian harp is among the earliest generative instruments. It consists of a series of strings set out and left for nothing but the wind to engage with them. This is a recording of one such instrument developed by Rick Tarquinio. The above photo is from the post of the track on Tarquinio’s BandCamp page, and there’s another at his soundingplace.com site. The sound is less a matter of chords than of slowly alternating swells of deep, sonorous tones. According to Tarquinio, this recording was made in “a chilly breeze,” but there is nothing brittle about the excited strings, which throb with their inherent, insistent hum. In practice, the harp is as much a composition as it is an instrument: it’s a system set out for a series of random actions, in the form of wind, to put into play. As such, it is a distant ancestor of the modern-day generative music app, such as Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers’ Bloom, in which chance incidents trigger a sequence of harmonically structured possibilities.

Track originally posted at a “name your price” rate at ricktarquinio.bandcamp.com. More from Tarquinio at soundingplace.com.

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