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

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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Cues: Rdio, Spotify; Writing Sound; Producer Reducer

Ambient playlists, a new Resonance podcast, Rick Rubin, and more

This Is Rdio Disquiet: I’ve started a pair of ambient stations/playlists at rdio.com and spotify.com, for any folks who subscribe to those services. These are in addition to the three setlists-by-accrual “Disquiet Carousels” over at SoundCloud.com.

If a Setlist Plays in the Forest: Olivia Solon at wired.co.uk reports on a project involving a radio transmitter deep in a Scottish forest by name of Galloway. The music will play for 24 hours. “Those who want to hear it,” writes Solon, ” will have to head to the forest. There will be no repeats and the files will be deleted after they are played.” The music will include work by Severed Heads, The Herbaliser, Scanner and Stephen Vitiello, Dave Clark, Imogen Heap, and Richard X. The koan-probing DJs are Stuart McLean (aka Frenchbloke) and Robbie Coleman and Jo Hodges, the latter two of whom are artists in resident at Galloway Forest.

Daniela Cascella and Salomé Voegelin have created a new broadcast series, titled Ora, about “Writing Sound” for Resonance104.5FM in England. After the program(me)s are heard on radio, they’ll pop up on the resonancefm.com website. The first one aired Thursday, June 27, 2013, with a rebroadcast scheduled today, June 29, after which it’ll pop up on the Resonance site. Here’s a description:

Writing Sound voices the relationship between listening, hearing, talking and writing – it puts forward a language that is part of the listening practice and challenges the nominal relationship between sound and words, naming and reference. It is language as the production of words, the material of language, in response to the material of sound, that invites listening as a material process also to uncover in language the process of listening, rather the source of what is being heard.

◼ Excellent interview with producer Rick Rubin (LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash) at thedailybeast.com, especially in terms of his focus on simplicity. His emphasis on less being more is virtually required reading for anyone participating in this week’s Disquiet Junto project, which is based on subtraction-as-composition. Here is Rubin replying to an informedly leading question from interviewer Andrew Romano:

Q: So you don’t believe that, say, a great melody is necessarily part of a great song?

A: No, no. I think one of the things that really drew me to hip-hop was how you could get to this very minimal essence of a song—to a point where many people wouldn’t call it a song. My first credit was “Reduced by Rick Rubin.” That was on LL Cool J’s debut album, Radio. The goal was to be just vocals, a drum machine, and a little scratching. There’s very little going on.

Decade of SoundWalk: July 1 is the final day for proposals to participate in the 10th annual soundwalk.org sound art festival in Long Beach, California. Last year I ran a panel discussion at SoundWalk, and the whole event was a blast.

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Panel Discussion: Future of Music

From apps to guitar gear to distribution platforms

The recent San Francisco MusicTech Summit held, on May 28, a panel on “The Future of Music Creation Tools,” featuring Daniel Walton of app developer Retronyms, Sam Valenti of the Ghostly label and new Drip.FM platform, sound designer Dot Bustelo, and musician Dweezil Zappa. The panel was moderated by Billboard magazine writer David Downs. The panelists come at it from various, complementary directions, from iOS apps to guitar gear to distribution platforms, and there’s a heavy emphasis on practical applications, which in this heady field can be usefully grounding.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/sfmusictech. More on the panelists at zappa.com, retronyms.com, dotbustelo.com, and ghostly.com.

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The Sound of Vine.co

Listening to an app that revels in the absence of post-production

This current weekend’s Disquiet Junto project, the 75th, takes the Vine app (more at vine.co) as its subject. This isn’t just because the app’s six-second format allows for an interesting simultaneity of composing, performing, and recording. It’s also because audio has proved to be an under-appreciated aspect of Vine videos.

20130708-vine-offThe undervaluing of sound on Vine.co is in part due to what is, admittedly, a necessary UX decision: by default, the sound is off when a Vine is triggered. You need to click a little speaker symbol with a red X, turning it into two little green signifiers of volume. (The traffic metaphor only goes so far — there is no yellow warning phase.) As a result, Vines are experienced silently at first, the audio perhaps kicking in midway through, after the user takes action and clicks the sound icon, and only experienced in full when the second run of the loop begins. (That is, depending on the circumstance. For example, in the Chrome browser on an iPad, the videos don’t autoplay. Instead, you have to hit play, and in this case sound seems to be on by default.)

20130708-vine-onThe majority of Vines appear to be everyday field recordings and low-key stop-motion sequences. Some ignore sound, resulting in chance noise, while others embrace it. The decision-making, or lack thereof, is especially interesting to observe in the case of those videos that break the six seconds of allotted time into shorter stop-and-start segments. Most non-Vine filmmakers would use a single score to lend continuity to the fragments, but that isn’t an option in Vine, which allows for no post-production.

In turn, there are many Vines for which sound is, in fact, a conscious subject, if not the main subject. What follows are a handful of recent favorites:

Alexis Madrigal captured an ancient 8mm projector, not just its musty imagery but its noisy sound:

Richard Devine has been posting a lot of shots of his music production equipment, with an emphasis on modular synthesizers, often these intimate closeups in which the blippity sounds align with one or more blinking lights. The result suggests a hint of tech sentience:

Ashley Spradlin has posted a series of pieces that display the chance presence of daylight, such as this sequence of the sun playing against a wall, the background audio seemingly a shower. There’s an even stronger example amid Spradlin’s output — shadows of windswept trees filtering through curtains, punctuated by what seems to be an inopportune car honk — but I can’t seem to figure out how to share it. (It shows up in my feed in Vine on my phone, but beyond that I am at a loss.)

And here Craig Colorusso’s solar-powered ambient-drone “Sun Boxes” are given rhythmic texture thanks to quick edits:

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