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.
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Sounding out technology.
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tag: software

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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Cues: 1,100 Tracks, DG Sublabel, Amon/Kronos

Plus: an iOS magazine, sounds of Coke bottles, more

Random Access: Jos Smolders, back in the golden age of the compact disc, 1994, released Music for CD Player, a collection of 99 short tracks intended for the listener to sequence. He’s now released a sequel in the form of an 1,100-track album, titled Music for FLAC Player. Yes, that is 1,100 tracks, the overwhelming majority of which are one second or less in length, and all but 30 or so of which are under 45 seconds:

Writes Smolders of the project:

The [Music for CD Player] disc contained 99 tracks. The original plan, however, was to have many more tracks. However CD Redbook protocol allowed a maximum number of 99 tracks, with a minimum length of 3 seconds. With the Internet as a platform these limitations are gone. The number of tracks for an online album are limitless and the length of the tracks can be near zero.

Recomposing DG: The esteemed classical label Deutsche Grammophon is launching a new label called Panorama (via classical-music.com). The first Panorama album will be from the highly collaborative Schiller (aka Christopher von Deylen). DG had previously released a series of genre-pushing “recomposed” albums including Max Richter’s reworking of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Matthew Herbert’s reworking of Mahler‘s 10th Symphony.

Amon v Kronos: “V838 Monocerotis” is the title of a new piece Kronos Quartet has commissioned from Amon Tobin as part of the ensemble’s 40th-anniversary celebration: amontobin.com, kronosquartet.org.

iOS Care: I Care if You Listen is a new iOS multimedia magazine about contemporary (i.e. classical) music. The initial issue features interviews with composers Clint Mansell and Arlene Sierra.

Sonic Footnotes: Ora, the occasional broadcast/podcast by Daniela Cascella and Salomé Voegelin about “listening and writing,” has followed up its debut episode with a reading list, featuring the hosts’ own books and titles by Gert Jonke, W.H Auden, and Clifford Geertz, among others.

Donut Hole: Jordan Ferguson is, like me, writing a book for the 33 1/3 series. Like me, he is focused on something that is fairly unusual for the series, in that both our books are about albums that have little in the way of words, let alone of lyrics. My book-in-progress is on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Ferguson’s is about J Dilla’s Donuts. And like me, he submitted to an interview for the publisher’s website. But, being a smart guy, he did his as a video:

Also, Evie Nagy (formerly of Rolling Stone, now at Billboard) has been interviewed about her 33 1/3 book, which will focus on Devo’s Freedom of Choice.

Sounds of Brands: Coca-Cola employed Kurt Hugo Schneider to milk sounds of its cans and bottles to make music. From Adweek’s coverage: “The recording obviously has some studio bells and whistles layered on it, but Adweek was assured that Schneider is truly playing the Coke ‘instruments.’” In another sound-related entry in the Coke series, you’re invited to see how long you can listen to someone singing “ah.”

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A Week on Rdio

Genre blackout, metadata funhouse, playlist generation

20130707-rdioI’ve been using Rdio.com for about a week now, and I’m enjoying it. For $4.99 a month, it’s certainly an affordable option. The sound quality has been fine (on phone via T-Mobile, and via wifi on a Nexus 7 in the kitchen, as well as on a laptop). The two major selling points are access to spur-of-the-moment selections — especially for some ancient rock’n’roll, like the Who or the Kinks — and quick listens through current releases, like Sigur Rós, Kanye West, or the revived Black Sabbath.

In terms of catalog, Rdio is far from the Borgesian universal library these services are sometimes likened to. A writer at the New York Times said, back in March, “I rarely come across an instance when Rdio can’t supply a song I’m looking for,” but that may say more about the relative breadth of the writer’s taste than it does about the depth of Rdio’s holdings. There are large, bewildering holes in the discographies of prominent electronic artists — plenty of Aphex Twin albums, for example, but almost none of the myriad EPs and singles. There are just six full-lengths from DJ Krush, and just eight from Keith Fullerton Whitman, both of whom are more prolific than those numbers suggest. Then again, from Grouper there are 11, which is nearly complete, and the Tim Hecker selection is also strong. The main gripe is Rdio’s album-centric orientation, the result of which, in hip-hop and r&b, means very little in the way of instrumental tracks. In electronic music, the limited presence of singles has the unfortunate result of dimishing the connections between artists that are usually highlighted in the logrolling we call remixes.

The absence of genre on Rdio is strange, at once confusing and freeing. Tracks are devoid of the standard categorizations like “rock” or “country” or “jazz.” It’s healthy, in that you stop wondering whether album X is really genre Y, and just listen — that said, the absence of genre and tags really limits discovery and filtering options.

Speaking of context, the site is woefully limited in that regard. There are no liner notes, and what track metadata is present frequently provides a funhouse-mirror view of an album’s history: Photek’s The Hidden Camera was released in 1996, but is listed on Rdio as a March 2003 release (Spotify has the year correct); Prince’s Dirty Mind is listed as 1984, when it was 1980 (again, Spotify has it correct).

In any case, I’m enjoying Rdio so far, and have started some playlists intended for general consumption (paralleling but not overlapping much with the “Carousels” I launched on SoundCloud). Right now there are two: “Disquiet / Ambient” and “Disquiet / Beats.”

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