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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: rock

Listening to Yesterday: Listening to Yesteryear

Time Life keeps it physical

  1. old rock’n’roll hits
  2. a sales pitch on TV

The ad ran during cultural downtime, late in the evening, after the reruns and the news. Time Life was selling one of its many various-artists collections: Classic Love Songs of Rock & Roll, 152 pop songs from the 1950s and 1960s collected on eight CDs. The hosts of the half-hour segment were singers from that period: Bobby Rydell (“Volare”) and Darlene Love (“He’s a Rebel”).

What was of note was how the CDs were being sold, how they were being framed. “You could source the Internet, scour retail stores, or even rummage through your attic and you wouldn’t find all of these songs, but they’re all here,” one sales line went, tempting a testy couch potato to file a class action suit after actually doing a cursory YouTube search. “Why waste your time and money trying to find all these hits yourself? Time Life has done it all for you. Call or order online now,” a similar train of thought went later in the broadcast. The titles of songs, from so long ago, hinted presciently at their present nostalgic future, from the Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” to Little Caesar and the Romans’ “Those Oldies but Goodies (Remind Me of You).”

The temporal tension in the ad was between what was once fresh and what was now old. “The birth of rock and roll brought us a new sound, new artists,” it went, “and most importantly a new kind of love song.” The message was that the new of today didn’t hold a candle to what was once new: “Easier than downloading, no searching for songs, no trying to remember your favorite artists — take the CDs with you in the car, play them around the house, upload them. Just open the box and enjoy nearly seven hours of the best music.” (The “trying to remember” line seemed either unsavory or spot on, given Time Life’s aging audience.) There was no mention that the CD has as little in common culturally with Motown as does a smartphone streaming service. Perhaps the CD — itself outdated technology, however recently — can also be warmly embraced as an object of nostalgia. Unexpected allegiances are formed in the dustbin of history. Old isn’t necessarily better than new. Old new is better than new new.

This music, we were not so subtly informed, was tied to the physicality of the media on which it first played: “You’ll get all the songs we fell in love to, danced to, heard on the radio, in jukeboxes, and on our own 45s.” This remained the case even if the option to “upload” counted as part of the sales pitch.

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That Time I Interviewed Brian Eno in 1990

And John Cale, regarding their Wrong Way Up collaboration


Twenty five years ago I stood on the rooftop of the Diva hotel in San Francisco and interviewed Brian Eno while a photographer did his best to take advantage of the light.

We were there to discuss Wrong Way Up, the album Eno had just released with John Cale of the Velvet Underground. I was on assignment for Down Beat magazine, and the article appeared in the January 1991 issue. I’ve just now uploaded it to, backdating it to the original publication — hence this small note of its (re)appearance.

The record is a lot of fun, but apparently the daggers depicted on the cover were appropriate, as neither Eno nor Cale came away from it with warm feelings. Said Cale, whom I interviewed by phone:

“With Brian, I think what happened is that he would listen to what you said, but he really didn’t have much patience with it. His idea of listening to what you said was eventually, you know, slam the door and come out with a solution. I haven’t figured out yet what Brian’s notion of cooperation, or collaboration, is.”

Read the full piece: “Reconcilable Differences.” If I can track down my tapes of the interviews, I’ll transcribe them and post them, too.

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When Les Paul Met Ukulele Ike

In 2002 the multitrack master remembered the four-string king.


Back in 2002, the first issue of the short-lived magazine The Ukulele Occasional was published, and in it I had a short piece on Les Paul, widely associated with the development of multi-track recording and of the solid-body electric guitar. At the time, I was living in New Orleans, and he was playing weekly at a club in Manhattan, even though he was nearing age 90. I’d interviewed Les Paul once before, and was hankering for a reason to speak with him again when I stumbled on a bit of history I wanted to flesh out. The magazine was founded by Jason Verlinde, an old colleague from my Tower Records Pulse! magazine days, who went on to found The Fretboard Journal.

The two times I interviewed Les Paul, I was hunting for something that likely never existed. I dreamed that in his multi-track experimentation he had recorded things that were closer to noise music than the accomplished, jazz-tinged pop for which he is best known. Maybe such tapes are buried deep in his archives. But no matter. Speaking with him was always a pleasure. He passed away in 2009.

I’ve been slowly adding old material to this site. The post was uploaded to on June 27, 2015, but backdated to mid-2002 to match the original publication date. Read the full piece in the archives.

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The Ecstatic Congruences of Grassy Knoll

New music coming from Bob Green: Electric Verdeland, Vol. 1


A new album, Electric Verdeland, Vol. 1, is due next month from Grassy Knoll, aka Bob Green. I was asked to say a few words about his music, which I’ve been listening to since his early-1990s recordings for Nettwerk, Antilles/Verve, and Emigre. The full text of his press materials reside at his newly updated site.

Here’s what I wrote:

“There’s a difference between someone having the same records as you and liking them for the same reasons. Back when those records by The Grassy Knoll first came out, it was like someone was hitting pause in the middle of some of the greatest moments in electric-era jazz and just reveling in them for the sheer sonic joy of it. So many musicians and listeners got hooked on the ego inherent in jazz fusion, but Bob Green has always been more focused on its meditative, introspective potential. He has little interest in bravado and showiness; he is more drawn to concentrated, mantra-like electronic explorations, sometimes venturing into ambient territory. At other times, he has formulated proto-mashups, combining familiar elements – he called them ‘adverse ideas’ when I interviewed him – into unexpected, ecstatic congruences.”

Check out his music, past and present, at

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Cues: Rdio, Spotify; Writing Sound; Producer Reducer

Ambient playlists, a new Resonance podcast, Rick Rubin, and more

This Is Rdio Disquiet: I’ve started a pair of ambient stations/playlists at and, for any folks who subscribe to those services. These are in addition to the three setlists-by-accrual “Disquiet Carousels” over at

If a Setlist Plays in the Forest: Olivia Solon at reports on a project involving a radio transmitter deep in a Scottish forest by name of Galloway. The music will play for 24 hours. “Those who want to hear it,” writes Solon, ” will have to head to the forest. There will be no repeats and the files will be deleted after they are played.” The music will include work by Severed Heads, The Herbaliser, Scanner and Stephen Vitiello, Dave Clark, Imogen Heap, and Richard X. The koan-probing DJs are Stuart McLean (aka Frenchbloke) and Robbie Coleman and Jo Hodges, the latter two of whom are artists in resident at Galloway Forest.

Daniela Cascella and Salomé Voegelin have created a new broadcast series, titled Ora, about “Writing Sound” for Resonance104.5FM in England. After the program(me)s are heard on radio, they’ll pop up on the website. The first one aired Thursday, June 27, 2013, with a rebroadcast scheduled today, June 29, after which it’ll pop up on the Resonance site. Here’s a description:

Writing Sound voices the relationship between listening, hearing, talking and writing – it puts forward a language that is part of the listening practice and challenges the nominal relationship between sound and words, naming and reference. It is language as the production of words, the material of language, in response to the material of sound, that invites listening as a material process also to uncover in language the process of listening, rather the source of what is being heard.

◼ Excellent interview with producer Rick Rubin (LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash) at, especially in terms of his focus on simplicity. His emphasis on less being more is virtually required reading for anyone participating in this week’s Disquiet Junto project, which is based on subtraction-as-composition. Here is Rubin replying to an informedly leading question from interviewer Andrew Romano:

Q: So you don’t believe that, say, a great melody is necessarily part of a great song?

A: No, no. I think one of the things that really drew me to hip-hop was how you could get to this very minimal essence of a song—to a point where many people wouldn’t call it a song. My first credit was “Reduced by Rick Rubin.” That was on LL Cool J’s debut album, Radio. The goal was to be just vocals, a drum machine, and a little scratching. There’s very little going on.

Decade of SoundWalk: July 1 is the final day for proposals to participate in the 10th annual sound art festival in Long Beach, California. Last year I ran a panel discussion at SoundWalk, and the whole event was a blast.

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