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: science-fiction

SOUND RESEARCH LOG: Is Voice the Uncanny Valley?

There may have been no better place than io9.com to keep track of Comic-Con, and this popped up in a summary of the Person of Interest panel. That’s the CBS series with an admirably long-game approach to narrative. It’s about an AI coming into sentience. That AI has become more of a character, and as the series enters season four it now is up against a competitive AI:

“Pressed for an answer about whether or not the AIs would get voices, Jonathan Nolan responded, ‘We’re working on the voice thing. But you may not like where it goes.’”

Full coverage at io9.com. It’s rarely advisable to read comments, but there are some strongly worded concerns in the resulting thread about lending voices to the AI, worth checking out if only as an expression of a point of view.

This entry cross-posted from the Disquiet linkblog project sound.tumblr.com.

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Disquiet Book Club: Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Memory of Whiteness

The discussion begins at disquiet.com/forums on July 15

20140707-memoryofksrAs I’ve mentioned here on occasion, there’s ongoing discussion of Disquet Junto projects and other sound/art/technology topics over at the recently introduced disquiet.com/forums. We’re going to have another book discussion club coming up. The first such discussion group, about Daphne Oram’s An Individual Note of Music, Sound and Electronics, went nicely, though I think participation was limited in part due to time — I only gave one week’s notice. This time I announced on the Disquiet Junto email list on the first of the month that on July 15 the Disquiet book club is going to read Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel The Memory of Whiteness: A Scientific Romance. It’s about music in the far future. Here is the description as it appears on Amazon.com:

In 3229 A.D., human civilization is scattered among the planets, moons, and asteroids of the solar system. Billions of lives depend on the technology derived from the breakthroughs of the greatest physicist of the age, Arthur Holywelkin. But in the last years of his life, Holywelkin devoted himself to building a strange, beautiful, and complex musical instrument that he called The Orchestra.

Johannes Wright has earned the honor of becoming the Ninth Master of Holywelkin’s Orchestra. Follow him on his Grand Tour of the Solar System, as he journeys down the gravity well toward the sun, impelled by a destiny he can scarcely understand, and is pursued by mysterious foes who will tell him anything except the reason for their enmity.

Thanks for considering joining in. There will be more such discussion groups in the future.

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Litquake Appearance on October 18

I'll be rambling on about manga or my beloved TRS-80. I probably won't be funny.


On October 18, a Friday, I’ll be participating for the first time as part of Litquake, the big annual literary festival here in San Francisco. The event is being held at the Cartoon Art Museum downtown. It starts at 7pm and has a suggested donation of between 5 and 10 bucks.

The event is titled “Comics on Comix,” but I was told in advance, when I was invited to participate, that the fact that I am not a standup comic is fine. I was also told I don’t have to talk about comics, that it’s OK to talk, more broadly, about science fiction. I’m still sorting out what my spiel will be about. Right now the two top plans are: (1) things I learned about manga in Japan, a snapshot of manga at the height of its recent U.S. popularity, or (2) a memoir-y cultural map of science fiction touchstones in my hometown, a kind of proto–geek culture thing, a snapshot of that world circa 1979. Either way, the talk won’t be directly related to Disquiet and ambient music, but if I do the manga idea, there will be material about visual representations of sound, and if I go the 1979 route, there will be much reminiscing about my TRS-80.

That Friday we’re up against Mary Gaitskill, Anne Perry, and T.C. Boyle, among other luminaries, but if you can make it, that would be great. My fellow event participants are Joe Klocek, Michael Capozzola, Karen Macklin, Tom Smith, and Mike Spiegelman. Should be a lot of fun.

More on the event at litquake.org.

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Cues: Jozef Van Wissem Per Rosanne Cash, Mike Patton Scores Derek Cianfrance

Plus: Celluloid heroes, Hearts of Space, Warren Ellis, more

◼ Part two of the two-part history of Celluloid Records is now streaming online, via strut-records.com:

Mike Patton’s score to The Place Beyond the Pines is streaming in full at pitchfork.com. The film stars Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, and Bradley Cooper, and was directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine). There’s also an interview a the site. In addition to 12 original cues from Patton, the film features by Arvo Pärt and Ennio Morricone, among others.

◼ The soft launch of music critic Michael Azzerad’s new website, The Talkhouse (at thetalkhouse.com), included Laurie Anderson on Animal Collective and Vijay Iyer on Flying Lotus. Rosanne Cash describes Jim Jarmusch and Jozef Van Wissem’s The Mystery of Heaven as sounding “like Ennio Morricone and Brian Eno got in a fight while writing the music for a spaghetti western.” According to press materials, “The Talkhouse will feature one piece on one album written by one musician each day, five days a week. On weekends, the site will feature a long-form music feature piece written by artists across many genres: film, comedy, literature, etc.” Azerrad is the author of Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 and Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana. The site is still listed as being in beta.

◼ In his occasional email newsletter, Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Red, Gun Machine) talked a bit about the excellent Spektrmodule podcast (“ambient, sleepy and haunted musics,” in his description) that he concatenates. The latest episode, number 17, includes music by Pausal and Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices.

◼ There’s a three-day ambient-music convention/conference, titled AMBIcon, to be held from May 3 – 5 in San Rafael, California. It is taking place to note several milestones for the Hearts of Space, which began in 1973 at KPFA-FM in Berkeley and celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The show began national syndication in 1983, and earlier this had its 1,000th broadcast. There will be eight surround-sound performances by Hans Christian, Stephan Micus, Jeff Pearce, Robert Rich, Steve Roach, Michael Stearns, Stellamara, and Tim Story, a Q&A session moderated by Stephen Hill (the series’ host and co-founder), and a presentation by Mark Prendergast, author of the book The Ambient Century. More details at hos.com.

◼ There were 19 tracks produced for the 64th Disquiet Junto project, which ended last night at 11:59 pm. The project involved the theme of “composing from memory.” … Also, I finally put together a set of the 25 extant tracks from the 14th Junto project, which involved sonic versions of the comic that served as the starting point for Matt Madden’s Oulipo/Oubapa comic, 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style.

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Stems: Buchla Doc, Mansell/Autechre Streams, Owl Predators

Plus: designing sound, microwave pulses, Portal 2 music analysis

Buchla Doc: Director Connie Field has launched a Kickstarter for a documentary on Don Buchla, a legendary figure in the development of the music synthesizer. Her colleague on the prospective documentary is editor Gregory Scharpen, who records as Thomas Carnacki.

More on the project at kickstarter.com and clarityfilms.org. They’re looking for an initial $25,000. Goal end date is Monday, April 15, at 1:15pm EDT.

Designing Sound: Over at domusweb.it, Maria Cristina Didero talks with Domitilla Dardi, who along with Elisabetta Pisu curated “Disegnare Oggetti Sonori,” which translates “Designing Sound Objects,” an exhibit presented by Fondazione Musica per Roma and the IMF Foundation about the intersection of sound and design. Parallel to it was a Anna Cestelli Guidi–curated show by Zimoun.

Q: Can sound also be design? If so, how?

A: Sound is designed by sound designers but is also a phenomenon that guides many designers’ thinking. In the exhibition we have set up three approaches to sound design: that of Listening, through means conceived to transmit sound in absolute purity; Music, with instruments chosen for their experimentation with new ways of playing based on ergonomics, gestures and entertainment; and Sound Objects, everyday objects that associate a practical-utilitarian function, like an alert, background, or inspiration from the world of music.

This, part of the exhibit, is Leslie Borg* and **Anita Silva’s sensorial headphones, called “_scape” (2012):


Birds of War: One of the tensions peculiar to reading about animal science is the underlying sense that the research, based in the field and enacted by individuals who generally appear to have a deep affection for their subject, is in fact at some level, perhaps discreet or perhaps quite obviously, funded by the military — that the study of life is, in fact, the study of death. This is, at a psychic level, something out of a story by Richard Powers (think of the corporate operations of Gain, or the computer science of Plowing the Dark). This sense permeates “The Owl Comes into Its Own”, a story by Natalie Angier in Monday’s edition of the New York Times. There’s much in the piece about the natural engineering of the owl’s wings, and what aeronautics can learn from them: “Researchers have traced that silent flight to several features. The bulk of the wing is broad and curved — the ideal shape for slow gliding — and is abundantly veined with velvety down plumage to help absorb sound.”


There’s also a fascinating moment when Angier plays an owl call from her phone and the owls respond: “I played the call again, the male grew bored, and I was about to put the phone away when suddenly the female — the larger of the two owls, as female birds of prey often are — pitched her body forward on her perch, lifted up her heavy, magnificent wings and belted out a full-throated retort to my recorded call.”

In Brief: The entire score to Stoker, from director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Thirst), is streaming for free at blackbookmag.com. Get the full track listing at soundtracksonvinyl.com. The score is by the great Clint Mansell, best known for his work with Darren Aronofsky. The stream includes a new piano duet by Philip Glass, among a few other non-Mansell pieces. ¶ This weekend there are two streaming Autechre events in advance of the release, next week, of the duo’s Exai album. More info at mixlr.com. ¶ Just noticed that the productivity website 43folders.com has an Oblique Strategy in its footer. The current one reads “Honor thy error as a hidden intention” but they may rotate. Brian Eno as the new Stephen R. Covey. ¶ The 60th Disquiet Junto project closed this past Monday at 11:59pm, and we ended up just shy of 55 tracks; each features a different member of the Junto talking about his or her work. This Junto project was part of a larger SoundCloud audiobio project, more on which at blog.soundcloud.com. If you participate at SoundCloud, I strongly encourage you to join in the project. ¶ Impressively thorough overview of the score to Portal 2, the video game, at reddit.com. Also includes this solid response by the author to a snide commenter: “I understand, and am flattered when others choose to read this, I understand when others don’t. What I don’t understand is others taking time to tell me that they didn’t.” (Via twitter.com/dpnem.)Carl Stone links to Phnom Penh field recording he employs in his work: soundcloud.com/larbneur. File under “Cambodian Aerobics.” ¶ Via the increasingly excellent io9.com, “Yes, you can actually hear microwave pulses.”

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