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: software

disquiet.gizmodo.com

On Disquiet.com now participating in the Gizmodo ecosystem

These are two things that I think Geoff Manaugh, editor-in-chief of the technology and design blog Gizmodo.com, didn’t know about me when he asked if I’d consider bringing Disquiet.com beneath his website’s expanding umbrella.

1: My “to re-blog” bookmark file has been packed in recent months with scores of items from pretty much all of the Gizmodo-affiliated sites — not just Gizmodo, but io9.com, Lifehacker, Jalopnik, Gawker, and Kotaku. Probably Jezebel and Deadspin, too, but the file is too thick for me to tell.

2: Pretty much the first thing that I read every morning with my coffee — well, every weekday morning — is the “Morning Spoilers” at io9.com, the great science fiction website that is part of the Gawker network that also contains Gizmodo.

I knew Manaugh’s work from BLDGBLOG and, before that, Dwell Magazine. He’d previously invited me to involve the weekly experimental music/sound project series that I run, the Disquiet Junto, in the course on the architecture of the San Andreas Fault that he taught in spring 2013 at Columbia University’s graduate school of architecture. And I am excited to work with him again.

And so, there is now a cozy disquiet.gizmodo.com subdomain URL where I’ll be syndicating — simulposting — material from Disquiet.com, as well as doing original straight-to-Gizmodo writing. I’m hopeful that members of the Gizmodo readership might further expand the already sizable ranks of the Disquiet Junto music projects (we just completed one based on a post from Kotaku), and I’ll be posting notes from the course I teach on “sound in the media landscape” at the Academy of Art here in San Francisco.

For new readers of Disquiet, the site’s purview is as follows:

* Listening to Art.

* Playing with Audio.

* Sounding Out Technology.

* Composing in Code.

I’ll take a moment to break that down:

Listening to Art: Attention to sound art has expanded significantly this year, thanks in no small part to the exhibit Soundings: A Contemporary Score at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. That exhibit, which ran from August 10 through November 3, featured work by such key figures as Susan Philipsz (whose winning of the Turner Prize inspired an early music compilation I put together), Carsten Nicolai (whom I profiled in the new Red Bull Music Academy book For the Record), and Stephen Vitiello (whom I’ve interviewed about 911 and architectural acoustics, and who has participated in the Disquiet Junto). But if “sound art” is art for which music is both raw material and subject matter, my attention is just as much focused on what might better be described as the role of “sound in art,” of the depictions of audio in various media (the sound effects in manga, for example) and the unintended sonic components of art beyond sound art, like the click and hum of a slide carousel or the overall sonic environment of a museum. Here’s video of Tristan Perich’s “Microtonal Wall” from the MoMA exhibit:

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Playing with Audio: If everything is, indeed, a remix, that is a case most clearly made in music and experimental sound. From the field recordings that infuse much ambient music to the sampling of hip-hop to the rapturous creative reuse that proliferates on YouTube and elsewhere, music as raw material is one of the most exciting developments of our time. Terms like “remix” and “mashup” and “mixtape” can been seen to have originated or otherwise gained cachet in music, and as they expand into other media, we learn more about them, about the role such activities play in culture. And through the rise of audio-game apps, especially in iOS, such “playing with sound” has become all the more common — not just the work of musicians but of audiences, creating a kind of “active listening.” This notion of reuse, of learning about music and sound by how it is employed after the fact, plays a big role in my forthcoming book for the 33 1/3 series. My book is about Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and it will be published on February 13, 2014, just weeks ahead of the record’s 20th anniversary. As part of my research for the book, I spoke with many individuals who had come to appreciate the Aphex Twin album by engaging with it in their own work, from composers who had transcribed it for more “traditional” instruments (such as chamber ensembles and solo guitar), to choreographers and sound designers, to film directors.

Sounding Out Technology: A briefer version of the Disquiet.com approach is to look at “the intersection of sound, art, and technology.” The term “technology” is essential to that trio, because it was only when I learned to step back from my fascination with electronically produced music and to appreciate “electronic” as a subset of the vastly longer continuum of “technology” that connections became more clear to me — say, between the sonics of raves and the nascent polyphony of early church music, or between creative audio apps like Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers’ Bloom and what is arguably the generative ur-instrument: the aeolian harp. With both Bloom and the aeolian harp, along with its close relative the wind chime, music is less a fixed composition than a system that is enacted. As technology mediates our lives more and more, the role that sound plays in daily life becomes a richer and richer subject — from voice-enabled devices, to the sounds of consumer product design, to the scores created for electric cars:

Composing in Code: Of all the technologies to come to the fore in the past two decades, perhaps none has had an impact greater than computer code. This is no less true in music and sound than it is in publishing, film, politics, health, or myriad other fields. While the connections between mathematics and music have been celebrated for millennia, there is something special to how, now, those fields are combining, notably in graphic systems such as Max/MSP (and Max for Live, in Ableton) and Puredata (aka Pd), just to name two circumstances. Here, for reference, is a live video of the Dutch musician and sound artist Edo Paulus’ computer screen as he constructs and then performs a patch in Max/MSP. Where the construction ends and the performance begins provides a delightful koan:

All of which said, I’m not 100-percent clear what form my disquiet.gizmodo.com activity will take. I’m looking forward to experimenting in the space. I’ll certainly be co-posting material from Disquiet.com, but I’m also planning on engaging with Gizmodo itself, and with its broader network of sites. I’ve already, in advance of this post, begun re-blogging material from Gizmodo and from Gizmodo-affiliated sites: not just “sharing” (in the UI terminology of the Kinja CMS that powers the network) but adding some contextual information, thoughts, tangents, details. I’m enthusiastic about Kinja, in particular how it blurs the lines between author and reader. I like that a reply I make to a post about a newly recreated instrument by Leonardo Da Vinci can then appear in my own feed, leading readers back to the original site, where they themselves might join in the conversation. Kinja seems uniquely focused on multimedia as a form of commentary — like many CMS systems, it allows animated GIFs and short videos to serve as blog comments unto themselves, but it goes the step further of allowing users to delineate rectangular sub-sections of previously posted images and comment on those. I’m intrigued to see how sound can fit into that approach. (It’s no surprise to me that Kinja is innovative in this regard — it’s on Lifehacker that I first learned about the syntax known as “markdown.”) I think that all, cumulatively, makes for a fascinating media apparatus, and I want to explore it.

While I typed this post, it was Tuesday in San Francisco. I live in the Outer Richmond District, just north of Golden Gate Park and a little over a mile from the Pacific Ocean. The season’s first torrential rain has passed, and so the city sounds considerably more quiet than it did just a few days ago. No longer is the noise of passing automobiles amplified and augmented by the rush of water, and the roof above my desk is no longer being pummeled. But where there is the seeming peace of this relative quiet, there is also an increased diversity of listening material. The ear can hear further, as it were — not just to conversations in the street and to passing cars, but to construction blocks away, to leaf blowers, to a seaplane overhead, to the sound of a truck backing up at some considerable distance, and to the many birds that (unlike what I was accustomed to, growing up on the north shore of New York’s Long Island) do not all vacate the area come winter. It is shortly past noon as I hit the button to make this post go live. Church bells have sung a duet with the gurgling in my belly to remind me it is time for lunch. And because it is Tuesday, the city’s civic warning system has rung out. 

Dim sum, anyone?

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Code to Decode

Software and other insights on unpacking the "Ford Madox Ford Page 99 Remix"

The latest Disquiet Junto finds music hidden in everyday books. The project began Thursday evening, November 7, and ends this coming Monday, November 11, at 11:59pm. It ends not at midnight but at 11:59pm, as do all Junto projects, because early on in the Junto series it became clear to me that when you type “midnight Monday” sometimes people don’t know if you meant the midnight that began Monday or the midnight that ended Monday. These sorts of distinctions are important, because the framing structure of the Junto is as much a set of rules as are the rules of a given project.

If there were two key rules about writing rules they would probably be:

  1. Make sure the rules work.

  2. Make sure the rules aren’t likely to be misinterpreted.

Each of the weekly projects has its own vibe, its own likely/intended audience of participants, and its own surprises, and when it comes to surprises — especially in the form of generous contributions of code from participants — this week is no exception. A few notes follow regarding this week’s project, which involves transforming into music 80 characters selected from page 99 a book selected by the musician. The page number, 99, was selected from a comment by the author Ford Madox Ford (more details at the project page).

1: Shortly after project’s announcement, I got a note from Junto member David Wilkins, who has done text->music work in the past. He directed me to his website wilkinsworks.net, from which this is excerpted:

The earliest known version of this system appeared in the Renaissance as a technique called soggetto cavato, first used by Josquin des Prez around 1500, and later named by Zarlino in his 1558 treatise Le institutioni harmoniche as soggetto cavato dalle vocali di queste parole, or literally, a subject ‘carved out of the vowels from these words.’ des Prez only used the vowels, mapping them to the solmization syllables, and using the resulting notes as the cantus firmus for the Missa Hercules dux Ferrariae and other works. …

My first foray into this idea occurred in 1976 while an undergrad music student, waiting for a recital to begin. There is a famous organ work by Bach, based on his own name, which gave me the idea in the first place. In German, B is B flat and H is B natural. Being an American I wanted to use the A through G as is, so had to start with H as something else. Being a trombonist I tend to favor flats over sharps, so assigned H to A flat, I to B flat, and up to the first twelve notes. Start over again with M assigned to A, and so on for the remaining letters.

2: Junto participant Mutagene posted to github.com a script in the Ruby language to help automate the process of changing letters and punctuation into notes:

3: And Junto member Defaoieclan wrote a piece of software in Processing that would likewise assist in the transform. Full piece at the track’s page. Here’s the opening part:

20131109-juntocode

4: And Junto member Inlet wrote something in Supercollider, available at the track’s page. Here’s the opening part:

20131109-superc

The 97th Disquiet Junto project is housed here.

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The Hauntology of Daily Life (at Medium.com)

Or, why China Miéville has, for years, been stuck in my backyard retelling the same story

P1010472 copy

I am taking a bit of a midsummer rest here at Disquiet.com. There will be occasional posts throughout August, especially on Thursdays, when new Disquiet Junto projects go live.

Which is not to say I’m not busy. I just posted my first piece at the Medium.com service. It is titled “The Hauntology of Daily Life.” It is about China Miéville being stuck on a loop in my backyard, and how sounds can be rooted in place, and how memories are made.

This is the full text:

“The Hauntology of Daily Life”

Or, why China Miéville has, for years, been stuck in my backyard retelling the same story

A certain new, wifi-less café is situated across the street from a certain longtime dry cleaner in my neighborhood. I know this because I went to the dry cleaner to deal belatedly with some food-stained sweaters, and noticed the relative proximity as I made my approach by foot. I knew the café was somewhere around there, but had not yet connected that the two businesses were so close to one another. Needing to next head to a café to accomplish some work, I decided on this nearby one, despite having never entered it before, rather than my regular café, which is several blocks further down the road.

I made this decision while the dry cleaner’s proprietor, wearing his standard short white gloves of the thinnest imaginable cotton fabric, registered my drop-off by ticking away at his countertop touchscreen computer with the eraser of a long yellow pencil that has never been, and will never be, anywhere near a pencil sharpener. The tick of his touchscreen has a specific sound, a tight punch of a signal, that I associate solely with this dry cleaner. I do not visit the dry cleaner often, but when I do, I look forward to the touchscreen tick just as much as I do to the idea that my sweaters might soon have fewer spots on them.

Having deposited the sweaters and retrieved a yellow receipt so bright in color that it is impossible to lose in even the most overburdened wallet, I headed to the new café for two reasons: I had been meaning to check it out, and walking the additional handful or so of blocks to my regular café felt more like procrastination than exercise. As it turned out, the new café’s strident lack of Internet connectivity helped nudge me along during the current stage of a particular project, and I will almost certainly return there in the near future, even if all my sweaters are clean.

Next time I need to go to the café, I will know exactly where it is, just as I know that another café that I frequent is across the street — one block closer to the Pacific ocean — from a dim sum place I eat lunch at frequently, and just as I know that a favorite Vietnamese restaurant is on the same block as the movie theater that is closest to my home. I could not tell you the cross streets of any of these businesses, but I know where they all are in relation to each other. That is how memories are cemented. At least that is how my brain makes memories, through context, correlation, proximity.

And through incidence. There are different types of proximity, and though the word suggests physical nearness, there is also simply chance incident. On the way to the dim sum restaurant, there is a spot where I think about feathers, because a dead bird was left there for several weeks, and for weeks after its carcass had disappeared, individual feathers fluttered in the bushes and grass.

Key for my memory is sound, certain parallels between physical places and the sounds that I associate with them.

I do not think of alarms when I walk past the neighborhood fire station, but I do think about the crying in a nursery ward. This is because of a sign on the firehouse door that announces the place as a safe haven for unwanted newborns. The sign shows a child sleeping in a pair of hands, yet I cannot walk by that firehouse without the helpless calls of infants ringing in my mind’s ears.

There is a stretch of road between Pasadena and Glendale where I will always hear the rhythmic threadbare minimal techno of Monolake’s album Cinemascope, even if Led Zeppelin is blasting on the radio,even if I am deep in conversation on the phone or with a fellow passenger, even if the windows are open and letting in the sirens of passing police cars, all of which has happened. More than a decade ago, on a visit to the Los Angeles area, I blasted a CD of that album in a rental car after a long day of meetings, on my way to visit a friend across town, and though I have never again sat in that particular car, and I have long since parted ways with that employer, and my physical copy of the Monolake album is buried in a box in my closet, the music still hovers on the highway, waiting for me to trigger it simply by driving through it.

And I cannot step into a particular corner of my home’s small backyard without having the novelist China Miéville tell me a story — more specifically, tell me a particular part of a story. For at some point, many years ago, I struggled in that spot with a heavy ration of weeds, and while I pulled at the weeds, tried to separate them from the ground without leaving their crepuscular roots intact, a recording of Miéville reading from one of his stories played through the headphones attached to my MP3 player. I was fixed in that spot long enough for the story to take root. It is as if the story lingers there, set on a loop on an invisible jukebox, and I can access it if I get just inside a specific zone of the yard.

The piece also resides at medium.com.

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Beat Machine Beat (MP3)

An iMaschine experiment from Ohio

Pissoir, who identifies himself simply as Benjamin from Ohio, has uploaded a slow rage of video game noise, its beat a trenchant, martial, steady rhythm that is, as it proceeds, accented here and there with triple-time filigrees, semi-automatic weapons fire, hi-hats that might be made of cellophane, and countless other resplendent noises. The track is titled “Solip,” and the post notes that it is a teaser. For what? We’ll have to wait to see. Also mentioned is that it was produced in iMaschine, the iOS “beat sketch pad” apple.com. Recommended to listen on repeat.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/benjamin.

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Cues: Martinez/Refn, Memory Prosthetic, Summer Camp …

Plus: "Deviant Wear," ambient art, Sakamoto in the forest, and more

20130709-refn-thailand

Martinez + Refn + Thailand: Perhaps not every sequel that relocates to Thailand is a disappointment. The score to Only God Forgives (screen shot above) by Cliff Martinez (film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn) is streaming in full at pitchfork.com. Martinez scored Refn’s previous movie, Drive. Working with Martinez are Gregory Tripi and Mac Quayle (who between them collaborated with him on such films as Contagion, Arbitrage, Spring Breakers, and Drive). There’s also Thai pop music, and two of the Martinez tracks are orchestral works performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The movie is set in Bangkok and stars Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas. A less than promising report by Manohla Dargis (at nytimes.com) from the Cannes Film Festival notes the centrality of wallpaper to the movie: “There are a lot of opportunities to examine that wallpaper with its repeating pattern – nonfigurative swirls with teethlike serrations suggestive of a dragon.” The description could apply to the pulsing, ambient Martinez score as well.

Sound Design in Product Design: “This could sense the sound levels in the room, and then gradually nudge you to turn over a bit,” Drexel Design Futures Lab director and assistant professor Nicole Koltic tells cbslocal.com of a robotic mattress. Koltic is describing a work in an exhibit at the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery in West Philadelphia. The exhibit features projects by six master’s students in the Interior Architecture and Design program at Drexel. Also in the show is “Memory Prosthetic” by Sarah Moores:

“The memory prosthetic is a wearable device that records an audio track when there is a detectable physiological change in the wearer. This thesis speculates on how memories form through emotional connections to events and the integration of technology and biological responses to enhance our awareness of these connections. The design scenario consists of a wearable device that records events with the assistance of biofeedback and a listening pod, which plays back the audio to enhance meditative reflection on selected moments throughout the day.”

And “Deviant Wear” by Kim Brown:

“The pervasiveness of handheld computing has shifted how we experience and interact with our environment and filtered the physical world through a digital screen. This project explores strategies for encouraging ambulatory exploration of the urban landscape through experimental prototyping with environmental sensors, physical feedback and audio graffiti.”

More on the exhibit at drexel.edu. The show runs from July 5 through July 21, 2013.

Ambient Art: Tim Griffin, executive director and chief curator of the Kitchen, curated the current show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Titled “ambient,” the exhibit collates work by Liz Deschenes, Olafur Eliasson, Susan Goldman, Mary Heilmann, Nathan Hylden, Sherrie Levine, Tristan Perich, Seth Price, Nick Relph, Haim Steinbach, and Alex Waterman in an attempt to locate a parallel to Brian Eno’s initial sense of ambient music. A quote from the liner notes to Eno’s Discreet Music album serves as a touchstone for the exhibit. It runs from June 20 through July 26, 2013. To quote from part of the exhibit text:

“If ambient music emerged decades ago as an artistic mode revolving around dislocations and relaxations of authorship–and quasi-reversals of figure and landscape, foreground and background–perhaps this proposition may usefully be expanded today, in a manner pertaining not only to objects of art but contemporary ways of looking (and their tenuousness between artistic periods).”

Listen About Listening: Seth S. Horowitz, author of The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind, is interviewed on kuow.org about how to be a better listener. Horowitz is the chief scientist at neuropop.com, a sonic consultancy. He has an account at soundcloud.com/universalsense.

Flora Magic Orchestra: Ryuichi Sakamoto unveils his Forest Symphony at the elegant forestsymphony.ycam.jp website: “Ryuichi Sakamoto will produce music on the basis of bioelectric potential data gathered from trees around the world. In line with this potential data, environmental information of each tree’s distribution will be added and the tree’s link with the music will be presented visually under the visual direction of Shiro Takatani.” It’s part of the 10th anniversary of the Yamaguchi Center for Art and Media.

Sound Art Summer Camp: If you’re in the Dallas, Texas, area and are (or have) a pre/teen, there’s a sound art summer camp. It runs from July 15-19, 1-4pm, and is for ages 10-18: “During this camp, students will learn to make a self-portrait by recording and combining the sounds of their daily lives.” More on the camp at oilandcotton.bigcartel.com. The series is run by Chaz Underriner, more from whom at chazunderriner.com. Found via the “moms” section of dmagazine.com.

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