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: live-performance

This Week in Sound: Fahrenheit, Sonar Sabotage, Unsilent

An occasional clipping service

Audiobook Culture: The past weekend’s Sunday Book Review in the New York Times had an extensive section of audiobook coverage, including a review by Dave Itzkoff of Tim Robbins reading Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451. The conflict in Itzkoff’s piece seemed to be how the rise of the audiobook somehow is part of the gadget-ization of culture. And he credits Bradbury’s book for having posited the notion “that it was not a distant stretch from dismissing books as quaint and obsolete to banning them outright.” He writes, as well, “Fortunately, a few thousand years ago, we gave ourselves a sustainable and still reliable mechanism to provide shelter from these distractions, as well as the option to use it or not” — this “reliable mechanism” is, of course, the physical book. What he doesn’t mention in the review is how Bradbury’s book itself closes with an image of an even more ancient mechanism, in which people — not just people, but maintainers of culture — tell each other stories out loud. Full disclosure: I didn’t so much “read” Itzkoff’s review as listen to it via text-to-speech thanks to the function that is part of the New York Times’ Android app.
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/23/books/review/fahrenheit-451-read-by-tim-robbins.html

Sonar Sabotage: The headline says it all: “Study Shows Bats Jam Each Other’s Sonar to Snatch the Best Prey” (via Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner). Rishi Iyengar reports in Time magazine on research published in the journal Science that bats can block each other’s frequencies. Science’s Penny Sarchet likens it to “sonar sabotage.” It’s nature’s own EMP. The researchers are Aaron J. Corcoran and William E. Conner.
http://time.com/3571704/study-bats-jam-sonar-hunting/

Secular Robot Choirs: Unsilent Night is the annual secular caroling event, in which communal processions of boomboxes layer ambient scintillates provided by the composer Phil Kline. The schedule for the 2014 holiday season is now appearing online, including Manhattan on December 13, San Francisco also on December 13, and Toronto on December 19, with more dates to be added soon. I’ve walked the route in San Francisco, in the Mission, for many years, listening as Kline’s music fills narrow alleys and disperses into the street, as slight variations in playback create false echoes backward and forward in time. If it’s coming to your town, don’t miss it. If it isn’t, consider taking a trip.
http://unsilentnight.com/schedule.html

This post first appeared in the Disquiet email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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Office/Bus Playlist

Also a test run toward a year-end top 10.

What’s on repeat, in estimated relative order of frequency.

  • Loscil’s Sea Island (Kranky, 2014): Gentle beeps and light burrs, so much happening from so little. I was asked, on Twitter, what this sounded like when I was just three tracks in, and I replied: “like a rainy day after the Singularity.” Many days of listening later, it still does.

  • Stafford Bawler, Obfusc, and Grigori’s Monument Valley (Original Soundtrack) (ustwogames, 2014): The score to the beautiful “casual” game is the perfect backdrop for a game that is itself only slightly more active than wallpaper.

  • Gavin Bryars Ensemble’s The Sinking of the Titanic (Recorded Live on 2012 Centenary Tour) (GB Records, 2014): A live performance of a work that always felt like a studio concoction. Listen as a band continues its performance even after the ship goes down.

  • Grouper’s Ruins (Kranky, 2014): Haunting, at times willfully unintelligible, dirges.

  • Michel Banabila and Oene van Geel’s Music for Viola and Electronics (Tapu, 2014): A lovely duet for complementary toolsets, one analog, the other digital. It’s to the album’s credit that it isn’t always clear where one of those ends and the other begins. One track, “Dondergod,” gets a bit intense, in a European free improvisation sort of way, but the rest is elegant as could be.

This post first appeared in the Disquiet email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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Two Recent Talks

Sound art at CCA + "music comics" at the Academy of Art

I gave two talks recently in San Francisco. The first, on October 23, was part of Chris Kallmyer’s course at the California College of Art. The second, on November 11, was a standalone event at the Academy of Art.

The one for Kallmyer’s course, which is about sound as an artistic medium, was a chronology of my work in sound, starting in 2006 and running up to the present. That initial year, 2006, a decade after the launch of Disquiet.com, was, in retrospect, a big transition year for me. That was the year I put together the Our Lives in the Bush of Disquiet compilation, as a response to the open call for remixes that Brian Eno and David Byrne created to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their classic My Life in the Bush of Ghosts album. I then connected the dots from Our Lives in the Bush of Disquiet through a subsequent series of compilations I put together, all of which involved me asking musicians to respond to a specific compositional prompt — for example to defend Susan Philipsz in Lowlands: A Sigh Collective, to refute Megan McArdle in Despite the Downturn. Those 2010 projects led to a loosening of the curatorial method in the 2011 Insta/gr/ambient compilation, which was broader minded, and had about twice as many members as the earlier projects, and that in turn led to the far more open-ended Disquiet Junto, which as of this writing is finishing its 151st weekly project. In between I touched on the 2009 piece I had at the gallery Crewest in Los Angeles, the 2012 project of putting together a score for the exhibit Rob Walker curated at Apex Art in Manhattan, and my piece at a Dubai art gallery at the start of this year, and brought things into the present with the exhibit I currently have at the San Jose Museum of Art (more on which here at Disquiet.com shortly). I don’t think I’d ever really done a talk before in which all those things were connected as one continuum. It was very enjoyable to walk through, and Kallmyer’s students were curious, thoughtful, and intelligent.

The talk I gave at the Academy of Art was an overview of the work that went into the four comics I edited recently for Red Bull Music Academy (MF DOOM, DJ Krush, Can / Damo Suzuki, Isao Tomita). In the talk, I began back in 1992, when I started editing the comics at Pulse! magazine for what would turn out to be a decade, and then my half decade at Viz, the manga publisher. The Red Bull Music Academy comics combined those two periods, in that the comics drew creators from both Japan and North America. In preparation for the talk I had a bit of a realization about a question I’ve been asked regularly since 1992: “How do you edit comics?” I’ve long struggled with detailed explanations of what it means to edit a comic, and developed this theory about how people who can’t draw can have a tendency to read too much into how complex drawing is, when for someone who can draw a rough illustration is about as much effort as a paragraph is for a good writer. But I now think the question “How do you edit comics?” may have at its root a more simple misunderstanding. When a lot of people hear the word “edit” they think it means, at most, “copyedit,” and they are confused by how you can “copyedit” a picture. In the talk I gave at the Academy of Art I explained that true editing is, ultimately, a form of creative direction, whether or not pictures are involved. Anyhow, the opportunity to talk about comics at the Academy of Art (which is where I’ve taught my sound course for five semesters so far) was very enjoyable, and it was organized by Cameron Maddux.

Many thanks to Kallmyer and Maddux for the opportunities.

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Wire and Tin

An experiment in percussion, and a lesson in tagging

RP Collier of Portland, Oregon, makes spare and admirable use of tags on his SoundCloud account. It means one thing when a track of Collier’s is tagged “ambient” and another when it says “minimal” — and as for “percussion,” that seems to signify something else entirely. The work is “minimal” in the sense of limited resources, but it’s quite apart from minimal music otherwise, quite ecstatic and exploratory, pushing the tools in various directions, from springy resonance to abstract rhythmic opportunities. Collier explains the piece in this case was made with the following setup: “Pulling and plucking thin piano wire through tiny holes drilled in the center top and bottom of a medium-size cookie tin.” And despite being more a collection of sonic potentialities than a self-contained composition, a working out of a small set of equipment, the piece ends with a little flourish.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/rpcollier.

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Like a Robot Tuvan Choir

A live solstice performance by Gretchen Jude

Gretchen Jude’s “Midsummer Dark” track was performed live this year at Oakland, California’s annual Garden of Memory, an annual solstice event that takes place in a columbarium and invites a wide range of musicians. Her sole instruments on this appear to be a synthesizer made from a kit in the famed (at least famed in the maker set) Japanese magazine Gakken and a sampler from Roland, the SP-404. That isn’t intended as gear-hound talk, just as a recognition of the systems in play. The result is glottal, droning mass, the undulating layers like a robot Tuvan choir. For 16-plus minutes straight, she pushes at the drone, eking out impressive states yet never piercing the veil.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/gretchenjude. More on the Garden of Memory at gardenofmemory.com. More from Gretchen Jude at gretchenjude.weebly.com.

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