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

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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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.

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Disquiet.com Email Newsletter

Getting back into people's inboxes

As the past few items posted here suggest, I’ve rebooted the Disquiet.com email newsletter. I used to do a Disquiet email newsletter quite frequently back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In fact, I created Tower Records’ email newsletter, epulse, way back in 1994, two years before I launched Disquiet, and edited it on and off for a decade. I’m feeling pretty good about the new Disquiet email newsletter format, and that online reading habits are back in an email-friendly, newsletter-friendly mode. The old newsletters will be archived at tinyletter.com/disquiet. The first one is there now. Subscribers got it late Tuesday evening (California time — well, technically just after midnight on Wednesday). Generally speaking the material in it is a series of short items about music, the role of sound in media and art, some recent listening. I’ll occasionally have contests for giveaways of books and albums and apps and so forth. Some of the published material will be unique to the newsletter, some will draw from existing Disquiet posts, and some will be repurposed on the site.

You can subscribe here: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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The Hamlet of CMS Cross-pollination

I've turned off the sound.tumblr.com -> Disquiet.com autofeed.

There’s probably no one who cares about this but me, but I wanted to mention that for the time being I’ve turned off the IFTTT “recipe” that automatically would take new posts from my sound.tumblr.com site and then post the material here at Disquiet.com. The reason is simple: there’s a lot published at sound.tumblr.com on a daily basis, because it’s a linkblog, and it can overwhelm Disquiet.com. I came to this realization this month: my sensitivity to not overwhelming the Disquiet.com editorial balance was actually keeping me from posting more frequently to sound.tumblr.com site. And the point of the sound.tumblr.com site is to have as little in the way of a filter as possible — to just use it as a repository for lightly annotated links about the role of sound in the media landscape. On occasion I’ll do roundups here at Disquiet.com of highlights from sound.tumblr.com, and if a given sound.tumblr.com takes on a little heft, I’ll cross-post it here, as I did earlier today with the piece on the sound of dining.

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sound.tumblr.com -> disquiet.com

The role of sound in the media landscape / How commerce + audio harmonize

One more note regarding site maintenance, to follow up yesterday’s announcement about the expansion of the Downstream department: The linkblog I maintain at sound.tumblr.com will now be co-posted here at Disquiet.com, under the Field Notes category. This has already been underway for a few days. The linkblog content relates to the subject of the course I teach at the Academy of Art here in San Francisco. Its subject is the role of sound in the media landscape. As it’s described at sound.tumblr.com:

Sounds of Brands: The role of sound in the media landscape

Brands of Sounds: How commerce + audio harmonize

Recent posts to sound.tumblr.com have included whether water sounds different based on its temperature, an over-the-counter sleep aid that is expanding into the realm of white-noise machines, and the fading glory of Italian dance halls. One ongoing thread of obsession is devices whose microphones are always on, always listening. There’s also emphasis on shifts in what once was called the “record industry,” not so much out of an interest in business practices as an advance sense of how what was largely a business of fixed sonic artifacts is responding to the fluid nature of digital culture.

A little background: Since 2007 I’ve, on and off, mostly off, been maintaining separate activities at sound.tumblr.com. Tumblr launched in February 2007, and a few months later I found myself in Japan. I kept an online sound journal using Tumblr throughout that trip, and shortly thereafter compiled it into a single post here at Disquiet.com (“Tokyo Sound Diary, May 2007″). Since 2012, that site has served — again, on and off, mostly off — as a place to deposit brief observations related to this course I teach. Last July I thought I’d finally wrapped my head around how to handle the Tumblr side project, but that didn’t last too long. Then, again, this past month I felt I’d gotten a sense of how to manage it. At the time, I wrote, “So, I’m now using Tumblr as a kind of linkblog, an ‘active delicio.us’ as it were. It has a specific focus: entirely on my research on ‘the role of sound in the media landscape.'” It’s felt pretty good since then, hence its porting — via an IFTTT script — to Disquiet.com. IFTTT isn’t perfect. It can take more than an hour for an item in Tumblr to show up on Disquiet.com. Triggers from the app on my Android phone don’t work as effectively as the ones from the website. And don’t even get me started with the shortcomings of the Tumblr app.

In any case, I hope people find the linkblog material of interest. I certainly do, which is why I make note of it here. By and large, I’m not a fan of blind links, of links without any additional context; that said, there’s need to collect and collate material, and so I post these links with some framing information, and with tags for me to access the material at a later date.

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