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

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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Tangents: Holo Pledge, Post-Sandy Art, Ellis’ Soundscape, …

Plus: sound design, science fiction, Aphex Twin book update, more

◼ Please consider backing (i.e., kickstarting) the magazine (or serial-book) project Holo, which focuses on the convergence of art, science and technology:

The publication is led by Alexander Scholz, Filip Visnjic (creativeapplications.net), and Greg J. Smith (vagueterrain.net). The Kickstarter campaign has some extraordinary pledge rewards: $400 gets you an original Zimoun “motor box,” for example.

NYC Art Post-Sandy: Good news: Apex Art Gallery in Manhattan “sustained no damage” during superstorm Sandy (apexart.org). Apex is where the Disquiet Junto concert will be held on November 27 as part of Rob Walker’s “As Real as It Gets” exhibit. The exhibit’s opening is this evening, November 15. Bad news: Apex appears to be in the minority. Among the many institutions hurt by Sandy are the hallowed Kitchen on West 19th (“The theater and first floor lobby were hit hard,” according to its Facebook page), New Amsterdam Presents, which had recently moved into a 3,000 square foot space in Red Hook, Brooklyn (“our space was flooded with almost four feet of polluted sea water,” came word in a blog post at newamsterdampresents.com), and Eyebeam (“we were inundated with water which filled our entire ground floor and caused severe damage to the building,” via eyebeam.org).

Warren Ellis’ Soundscape: In a recent interview at the fine tech/gadget website theverge.com, author Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Red, the forthcoming novel Gun Machine) as well as a frequent and ambient-leaning podcaster, makes note of generational shifts in the British soundscape:

For instance, here in Britain, the soundtrack of every single early morning (except Sundays) was the hum and crunch of a milk float. I don’t know if you had these in the States? Electric light vehicles stacked with crates of milk for doorstep delivery. Twenty years ago they were a permanent feature of the soundscape. Today they’re almost all gone, because home delivery got killed by cheap milk in supermarkets. So, if you’re of a certain age, there’s a gap in the ambient soundscape. That denotes futuricity (which may not be a word) just as strongly as the absence of great mountains of horseshit in our cities denoted a futuristic condition in the 1950s.

More from Ellis at warrenellis.com.

In Brief: I now have an imdb.com page, thanks to work on the documentary film The Children Next Door. I handled music supervision and share sound-design credit with the talented Taylor Deupree, who composed the film’s original music. More at thechildrennextdoor.com. The movie was directed by Doug Block and produced by Lynda Hansen. So far it has shown at three film festivals: the Hamptons, Denver, and DOC NYC. ◼ There wasn’t a lot of sonic activity in the second season finale of Alphas, though it’s worth noting that the homeless guy who instantaneously has his dormant powers woken up becomes another in the show’s growing ranks of third-tier mutant banshee Tuvan mercenaries. ◼ Fringe has, in its final season, been relatively quiet in terms of its own sonic intrigue, in contrast with past seasons — at least since the explicit delineation of music’s role during the first episode of the season. But in last week’s episode (“Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There”), there was a new central gadget, a battery-operated radio tuned to a specific frequency that will, by all appearances, play an important role. ◼ There’s now a Disquiet.com page at instagram.com/dsqt. ◼ In an NPR Morning Edition interview this week on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of A&M Records, Herb Alpert mentioned the role that Les Paul’s multitrack recording played as an inspiration to his own development of the Tijuana Brass sound: npr.org. (Note: it’s in the audio segment, not the text summary). ◼ I’m currently writing a book for the great 33 1/3 series about the Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works Volume 2. The publisher, Bloomsbury, has begun posting on its blog interviews with the authors of its forthcoming books. First up in this series is Pete Astor (the Loft, the Weather Prophets) talking about Richard Hell and the VoidoidsBlank Generation. According to the tag at the bottom of the Astor article, my interview will be the next to appear, which is excellent. Both the Aphex Twin and Hell/Voidoids albums were released, it’s worth noting, on the same label in the United States: Sire Records (in 1994 and 1977, respectively).

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Listening to ‘Loom’

Colin Smith and Simon Elms provide "sound design as score" in Luke Scott's sci-fi film.

Loom is a short science-fiction film by writer-director Luke Scott. Scott is the son of director Ridley Scott and the film is, in various ways, the offspring of one of Scott’s great achievements, Blade Runner. It’s as much a matter of setting (dystopian future) and characters (a scientist and his mysterious house guest) as it is of plot (manufactured lifeforms). The score to the film, which is about 20 minutes in length, is particularly effective. Its credited to Colin Smith and Simon Elms, who for the first three quarters provide something more akin to sound design than score — or, more to the point, sound design as score. The music heard in the film could very well simply be an enhanced recording of the environments in which the film is set: the audio from the ventilation systems of a laboratory and a stark apartment complex. Certainly, the sounds are heightened and given tonal and rhythmic structure, so perhaps it’s more to the point that it’s as if we’re hearing the sounds of the environment as discerned by the main character — the ventilation triggering, or reinforcing, his anxiety, claustrophobia, and scheming. As a nice touch, the pulsing with which the film opens brings to mind a heartbeat, telegraphing the story that will follow.

This “sound design as score” is the case for the first 15 minutes or so in Loom, at which point the film’s climax begins, and the score becomes more formally musical, more conventionally musical. These things are purely relative, of course. The score remains gauzy and hazy as the climax gets underway, but the synthesis is readily apparent. More to the point, there’s no longer a material correlation between what’s heard and what is seen, and thus the score takes on a more traditional role. This final segment comes across more like a synthesizer being played, and the music at this stage brings to mind mellifluous passages of the original Blade Runner score by Vangelis.

The closing credits feature a vocal that seems to have been put through a lightly glitchy filter. (The credits include this line: “Punjabi Folk Song performed by Mrs. Mohini Bangera.”) Given what occurs in the film, it’s touching to hear a woman’s voice, especially one that has been conjured to seem partially artificial.

The film was shot on the “RED EPIC in 3D” system, and serves as a showcase for the digital technology. As a note at red.com states, Loom is intended to be viewed on a laser projector, but the web version was posted for general consumption.

More on the film at deadline.com. Located via io9.com. More on the film’s composers, Smith and Elms, at eclectic.tv.

Update (2012.08.31): After posting this I corresponded with Colin Smith, one of the film’s two co-composers. I asked for more information about the song that runs in the credits. He responded via email, and it’s reprinted here with his permission:

The song in the credits is sung by Mrs Mohini as it says. She is a the mother of a gentleman I met through work in Mumbai. She sat and played tabla and sang for us at her house before having dinner and gave me some recordings she had made of her singing old traditional songs. We took sections of the recording and manipulated it both to make it useable and slightly unusual as the majority of the score is. I mainly used Melodyne to get the effect and then of course harmonised it with several guitars to get the right emotional content.
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