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: site-maintenance

PR Notice

Dealing with the deluge

My email account is pretty pummeled by music PR, which given that the PR involves lots of opportunities to listen to music for free isn’t really something that I expect much consolation for. Anyhow, the following is, for the record, the current version of the email I reply with, on occasion, the fifth or sixth time I get sent an unsolicited email with a faux-personal introduction, telling me how much they love my blog, and extolling the virtues of this pop-punk band, or that neu-soulful r&b diva, or some country singer with a moving personal story to share:

Hi. It’s really not up my professional alley.

I pretty much focus my writing on “technologically mediated sound” — ambient music, sound art, sound design, sound in the media landscape, experimental classical, hip-hop production, that sorta thing. And I write very little about what would traditionally be considered a “song.”




It’s amazing how many PR agencies use Constant Contact and MailChimp and other services without the permission of recipients. When I have the time, I forward the offending emails to the abuse accounts of the given service.

Tag: / Comment: 1 ]

(Re)introducing the Disquiet.com Email Newsletter

Free albums, current fixations, more — in your inbox

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I regularly sent out an email newsletter. And as the years passed and email became more of a burden and less of a source of wonder, I did it less and less frequently. (And even further back, in 1994, I founded the email magazine of Tower Records, called epulse, which ran for a decade.) But for various reasons I’ve picked up the habit again, and having done a new entry for the last three Tuesdays in a row, I feel fairly confident that I’ll continue doing it henceforth. Maybe not every week, but with some regularity. Much of the material will appear here, or vice versa, but there will be material that is specific to the newsletter, more cursory, off-the-cuff things like lists of current fixations and obsessions (the most recent newsletter, posted yesterday, included “text-to-speech … “always on” listening devices … the not-quite-silences of conference calls … sound effects in comics … sound design of TV shows … getting reacquainted with the sound of rain”). Also unique to the newsletter are occasional contests to get free stuff, such as downloads of new albums as well as books, and who knows what in the future.

Here’s the subscription form:

Or you can sign up at tinyletter.com/disquiet.

Tag: / Leave a comment ]

This Week in Sound: SoundCloud, Replicants, Comedy, Surveillance

An occasional, lightly annotated clipping service

One-Track Mind: SoundCloud recently added a “repeat single track” function to its web player. This means that if you’re listening to something on SoundCloud you can click a button to have it repeat when it ends, rather than have the service automatically move on to another track. This is a very welcome turn of events. When it comes to audio streaming, we often don’t really hear something the first time we hear it, and often get lost in the continuity. The ability to repeat a single track in some ways having a chance to really pay attention through repetition.

Replicant Soundscape: Speaking of listening on repeat, this following track has been online since August, but I only just learned of it via an io9.com post about a related subject. The account of “crysknife007″ on YouTube is filled with great “ambient geek sleep aids” such as the sound of the Starship Enterprise’s engines running for 24 hours straight. What follows is the sound of Rick Deckard’s apartment in Blade Runner playing for half a day, so you can imagine you’re a cyberpunk gumshoe when you’re really just sitting at home paying some bills. Though YouTube comments are rightly avoided, a useful follow-up to the track did note that this same sound was later used in Alien for the Nostromo’s medical bay.

Ambient Comedy: The BBC has produced a retrospective of Chris Morris (Blue Jam, Four Lions), the British satirist. I had very much hoped to interview Morris for my recent book on the Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works Volume II because he used music from the album in his radio and television sketches to especially haunting effect, but sadly he wasn’t available. The BBC retrospective is three hours long and, according to the BBC webpage, will be online for another four weeks:

New Heights in Eavesdropping: A thorough overview of the U.S. government’s system “Automatic Speech recognition in Reverberant Environments,” aka ASpIRE, an advance speech-recognition tool.

This first appeared in the December 2, 2014, edition of the free Disquiet email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

Also tagged , , , , / / Comments: 3 ]

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.

Also tagged , / / Leave a comment ]

For the Record: Raster-Noton

An essay on the label's Olaf Bender and Carsten Nicolai


I mentioned this last year, but am only now getting around to posting the text. I was invited to write an essay for the tremendous book For the Record: Conversations with People Who Have Shaped the Way We Listen to Music. Published by Red Bull Music Academy in late 2013, it is a collection of marvelous team-ups, such as Martyn Ware talking with Nile Rodgers, and Lee “Scratch” Perry talking with Adrian Sherwood, and Robert Henke talking with Tom Oberheim. Each of the participants has an essay providing background on their activities, and I was asked to write one on Carsten Nicolai and Olaf Bender, who co-run the great Raster-Noton label and who speak with Uwe Schmidt in the book. Here’s the text of my essay:

By 1999, the Berlin Wall was dust for a decade, and a new threshold was in view. Though the next millennium would not begin, technically, until 2001, the year 2000 hovered just ahead in the popular imagination with a mix of portent and promise. This anticipation in mind, the German record label Noton invited an international assortment of musicians to contribute to a monthly series of recordings titled 20’ to 2000.

Each participant was directed to record what they felt might play on a home stereo for the 20 minutes just before bells would bring in 2000. A dozen in all, these contributors included Thomas Brinkmann, Scanner (AKA Robin Rimbaud), Mika Vainio (of the duo Panasonic) and Wolfgang Voigt. Their music, a mix of emotionally remote glitch and ambient, signaled a considered ambivalence about the future. The releases were as stark in packaging as they were sonically: Composed of standard-size CDs, the outer two inches of which were fully transparent, encased in nearly mark-less clamshells, each connecting to the next with small magnets, resulting in something like the vertebrae of a squat cyborg snake.

Also among the participants were Carsten Nicolai, who had since the mid-1990s run Noton as his own concern, and Olaf Bender, who had around the same time founded — alongside Frank Bretschneider — the label Rastermusic. The imprints shared an interest in viscerally ascetic, ecstatically minimal tracks. Music that whittled the rhythmic intent of techno down to myriad displays of patterning.

The series not only announced the beginning of a new chronological mindset, but coincided with a merger: Noton and Rastermusic would become Raster-Noton. Since the 1999 union, visual design and sonic experimentation have been its hallmarks. The label has released a sequence of recordings that, while originating from a variety of musicians, can be heard to collectively explore a shared territory. Raster-Noton effectively existed as a homestead on the frontier of digital art, and then waited until the rest of the planet caught up.

Today, of course, data visualization is pervasive, but its accepted norms can be tracked back to the early efforts of Bender, Nicolai, and the cohort they assembled at Raster-Noton, most notably Ryoji Ikeda, who has made a name for himself by filling art spaces with immersive barcode projections. The expressly global Raster-Noton label has served as a safe haven to Russian-born CoH, Swedish tape-music tinkerer Carl Michael von Hausswolff, British broken-techno duo snd (Mark Fell and Mat Steel) and a crew of Americans, among them to sound artist Richard Chartier, microsound explorer Kim Cascone and William Basinski, best known for his work with decaying tape loops.

The label has also been home to the unceasing productivity of Bender and Nicolai themselves. Nicolai’s solo releases, usually under the name Alva Noto, can often sound less like individual records than like the latest in a series of missives from a rarefied landscape. He is also prolific collaborator, having recorded alongside artists as diverse as Ryoji Ikeda, with whom he shares a love of immersive data environs, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, whose melodic proclivities offer a useful counterpoint. Those efforts have increasingly made him as prominent in art galleries as he is in clubs (How many techno musicians have work in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art?) His books, such as Grid Index and Moiré Index, look exactly like his music sounds: geometric structures whose complexity is rooted in slight shifts rather than sweeping gestures.

Like Nicolai, Bender is as much a graphic innovator as musician. It is a distinction that he willfully blurs, as in the title to his 2008 album, Death of a Typographer. The music found within has the cadence and intent of techno, but registers as barely a sequence of blips — the blueprint for techno in the form of a click track. Bender generally records under the moniker Byetone, and is given to koan-grade pronouncements about dedication to luxurious aridity. He once told an interviewer that he prefers the phrase “How less can I do” to “How much can I do.”

In 2013, Bender and Noto opened for the global synth-pop act Depeche Mode. Bender and Noto’s project for this stadium-proportioned enterprise was Diamond Version, a trio with the Japanese musician Atsuhiro Ito, a virtuoso of the fluorescent light bulb, which he wields like an especially theatrical Jedi knight. The association with Depeche Mode was not implausible, despite the seeming gap between their audiences. In the year prior to the tour, Diamond Version began releasing a series of hard-hitting, club-teasing EPs on the Mute Records label, a longtime residence for Depeche. Around the same time, Noto contributed a remix to a single by VCMG, the two-man supergroup comprised of Depeche Mode’s original songwriter, Vince Clarke, and the man who inherited those duties when Clarke left the band early on, Martin Gore.

The beats of Diamond Version are more louche than much of what Bender or Noto have previously produced — the effect is less white-wall gallery, more opulent urban lounge — but the dance-party tonalities only serve to disguise a trenchant minimalism that is of a piece with their collective catalogs. Diamond Version should be heard not as deviating from their more abstract Raster-Noton activities, but as another layer in the social graph that is Bender and Noto’s combined artistic vision. For we know what happens when new layers are added to corresponding yet inherently distinct data sets: familiar patterns are disrupted, and a new moiré emerges.


More on the book at redbullmusicacademy.com. And here’s something I wrote about the early Raster-Noton set 20′ to 2000, pictured above, back in 2000.

Also tagged / / Leave a comment ]