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: sound-art

Tangents: Data Immersion, the Tuning of the Internet, Superloops, …

Plus: the emotional key of books, physical computer drums, quantum computer sounds, steampunk modular, and more

Tangents is an occasional collection of short, lightly annotated mentions of sound-related activities.

Data Immersion: Characteristically breathtaking video of a new work by Ryoji Ikeda, perhaps the leading installation poet of data immersion. This is of his piece “supersymmetry,” which relates to his residency at CERN, the supercollider. More at supersymmetry.ycam.jp:

In an interview he talks about the dark-matter research that informed his effort:

“Supersymmetry is being considered as a possible solution of the mystery of this dark matter. During the period I’m staying at CERN, there are experiments being carried out with the aim to prove the existence of as-yet undiscovered ‘supersymmetry particles’ that form pairs with the particles that make up the so-called ‘Standard Model’ catalogue of physical substances. Data and technologies of these experiments are not directly incorporated in the work, but I’m going to discuss a variety of things with the physicists at CERN, and the results of these discussions will certainly be reflected.”

Tones of the Internet: The tonal repository of the Internet is very different from the room tone of the Internet, which we explored in a recent Disquiet Junto project. Over at wired.com, Joseph Flaherty profiles Zach Lieberman, with an emphasis on his Play the World project, which scours the Internet for sounds — the music heard on radio stations — and then allows them to be played back. “Using the set-up,” Flagerty writes, “a person can literally turn the internet into a musical instrument.” What makes that sentence more than hyperbole is that the source audio is played at the note triggered by the user, though it’s by no means “the Internet” being played, and instead a fairly well-circumscribed and specific subset of the Internet. (The effort brings to mind the title of R. Murray Schafer’s classic book of sound studies, The Tuning of the World.) It’s part of DevArt, a Google digital art endeavor that has nothing to do with Deviant Art, the longstanding web forum for (largely) visual artists, or with Devart, the database software company. “Play the World, and several other DevArt projects,” reports Flaherty, ” will make their debut at the Barbican Gallery of Art in London in July, but the code is available on Github today.” There’s something intriguing about an art premiere that is preceded by the materials’ worldwide open-source availability. Here’s audio of the note A being played for 20 minutes based on a wide array of these sound sources. It appears to be from Zieberman’s own SoundCloud account, which oddly has only 15 followers as of this writing. Well, 16, because I just joined up:

The Singing Book: At hyperallergic.com, Allison Meier writes about an effort to extract the emotional content from writing and turn it into music. It’s a project by Hannah Davis and Saif Mohammad. Below is an example based on the novel Lord of the Flies. More at Davis and Mohammad’s musicfromtext.com. A few weeks back, the Junto explored a parallel effort to listen to the rhythm inherent in particular examples of writing, and to make music based on that rhythm:

Everyday Drum: The divisions between words like “analog” and “digital,” and “electric” and “acoustic,” are far more blurred than they get credit for, as evidenced by this fine implementation of an iPad triggering not just physical beats, but whimsically innovative ones made from bottle caps, buttons, grains tacks, and other everyday objects (found via twitter.com/Chris_Randall). The project is by Italy-based Lorenzo Bravi, more from whom at lorenzobravi.com:

LED Modular: Vice Motherboard’s DJ Pangburn interviews Charles Lindsay (the SETI artist-in-residence, who invited me to give that talk last month) on his massive LED installation, which involves the chance nature of modular synthesis applied to recordings of the Costa Rica rainforest. Says Lindsay:

“I love modular synthesis, the unpredictable surprises, the textures and wackiness,” he said of his heavily-cabled Eurorack modular synthesizer. “My rig is populated by a lot of SNAZZY FX’s modules. I’m part of the company, which is essentially Dan Snazelle, a wonderful genius, inventor and musician. We share an approach that says ‘let’s build these things and see what happens.’”

Also part of the LED exhibit, titled Carbon IV, is audio sourced from the quantum artificial intelligence laboratory at NASA Ames. Here’s audio from Linday’s SoundCloud account:

Superloops: Rob Walker shifts attention from the “supercut” of related material — like the “yeahs” of Metallica’s James Hetfield — to the superloop of standalone elements. “The opposite of a supercut,” writes Walker at Yahoo! Tech, “the superloop condenses nothing. To the contrary, it takes one brief moment of sound or video and repeats it.” It was an honor to be queried, along with Ethan Hein, in Walker’s research. I pointed him to the great sounds of the Star Trek enterprise on idle. … And in somewhat related news, in Walker’s “The Workologist” column in The New York Times, in which he responds to “workplace conundrums” from readers, he has some advice for someone bothered by an office mate’s gum chewing (“Other than the clicking of keys and occasional phone calls, it’s the only sound in an otherwise quiet office”); he writes, in part:

Because you’ve ruled out music, maybe a comfortable set of noise-canceling headphones — tuned to nothing — would be enough to blunt the irritating sounds. Or you could consider any number of “white noise” generators that are available free online. Noisli.com, for example, generates forest sounds, coffee-shop noise and the like. You also could do a little research on “ambient” music and use a service like Pandora to construct a nondistracting sound stream. Such approaches may be inoffensive enough that you can simply play the sound at low volume from your computer — no earbuds required.

Steampunk Modular: By and large, I tend to keep the threshold of coverage above the level of “things that look neat,” but sometimes that neat is neat enough that I can’t resist, especially when it’s tied to a fine achievement by a talented sound practitioner. Richard Devine has posted on Instagram this shot of steampunk-style effects module, encased in an old book, that he got from the makers of the Xbox One video game Wolfenstein: The New Order:

Synesthesia Robots: And here’s one from Kid Koala of his lofi visual interface for his sampler. Koala is a talented cartoonist as well as an ace downtempo DJ. Those efforts have collided in a score he’s made for a graphic novel, and in various staged performances he’s put together, and this achieves a functional correlation in a very simple manner:

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Gestural Sound, Gestural Drawing

The work of Warren Craghead

Warren Craghead is a master of the casual artistic action. There are the field recordings (as housed at his soundcloud.com/craghead account), such as those of a playdate, an ice storm, a shirt being ironed, and an office. And there are the gestural drawings that comprise his primary activity. He lives a life of seeming constant production, often in the form of slips of paper and Post-it notes he leaves in the homes of friends and the packed school lunches of his children. He’s part of a group show at the Winkleman Gallery in Manhattan, “The Fire to Say: Comics as Poetry,” that begins tonight, January 17, and closes on February 14. Here’s a shot he posted to Instagram, and noted on his blog, of some of his work on display:

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And here’s one of a characteristic action (he left a piece in a hotel stairwell):

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As part of this diary-like accumulation of work he has posted the audio he describes as “Sound of walking to the gallery in NYC (The Fire To Say).” It is very much that, the sound of someone walking: the sound of feet, and the sound of the world those feet are navigating. Certainly there are distinctions to be noted between gestural drawing and gestural sound, but there are parallels as well. For example, at times in the audio a whistler can be heard, and the whistle is akin to the personalized Post-it imposed on an otherwise external environment:

Track originally posted for free download to soundcloud.com/craghead. Craghead lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and makes his home on the web at craghead.com.

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10 Great “Sound (in) Art” Starting Points

For the Dubai-based Gallery of Light / DUCTAT

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The Dubai-based Gallery of Light, part of DUCTAC, the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre, is hosting a sound art exhibit this month, January 2014. The curator, Simon Coates, invited me to participate.

Artists featured include the British musician Scanner and the early musique concrète figure Dr. Halim El-Dabh, as well as Porya Hatami (Sanandaj, Iran), the British-Iranian Soosan Lolavar, Leopoldo Amigo Perez (among his works is a recreation of Arseny Avraamov’s 1922 “Symphony of Factory Sirens”), and Christina Kubisch (Germany). The exhibit will also include an installation of Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting in a Room,” with Lucier’s approval.

For my part, Coates requested that I hand write a list of 10 recommended works of sound art, the intended reader being someone somewhat new to the subject. His concept was to then print the piece large scale and hang it in the Gallery of Light, along with the other exhibited work. I expanded on his idea a little, and fleshed out the 10 recommendations with brief descriptions, plus an opening and closing statement. The title of it is simply “10 Recommended Works of Sound in Art.” Here’s what it will look like from across the room (click it and you’ll see the thing at a more legible scale):

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Here’s a detail:

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And here’s the text, along with correlating YouTube videos. The videos aren’t in the exhibit, just in this post.

. . .

“10 Recommended Works of Sound in Art”

I spent an afternoon once wandering the city of San Francisco with a pop musician who had begun to put aside song in favor of sound. I brought up “sound art” but he rebuffed me: genre, he said, was antithetical to the creative enterprise. I was confused until I, months later, recognized I was less interested in “sound art” than in “sound in art.” These 10 works are intended for listeners starting down a similar path. Marc Weidenbaum 2013.12.03

. . .

1. The Forty Part Motet
By Janet Cardiff
2001

Forty speakers stand in a room. Each emits the vocal line of a different member of a choir singing a 16th-century piece of music. Walk amid them like one of the angels in Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire.

. . .

2. Vexations
By Erik Satie
c. 1893

A short piece of music is played 840 times in a row, for close to 20 hours. Soon enough the music ceases to be music and takes on new purpose: installation, endurance test, mystic journey, wallpaper, irritant, lullaby.

. . .

3. Video Quartet
By Christian Marclay
2002

Bits of footage from numerous films run on four separate screens. Sound and motion are choreographed in a manner to make connections, and jokes, and even alternate narratives.

. . .

4. The Buddha Machine
By Christiaan Virant + Zhang Jian
2005

The Buddha Machine is a tiny box (also available as software) that plays brief sound loops. It is sound art on the go, an objet d’art that is practical and economical.

. . .

5. Deadly Edge
By Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake)
1971

“Up here, the music was just a throbbing under the feet, a distant pulse.” Thus begins the 13th novel in the Parker series: a rock-concert heist. All novels have a sonic component, especially novels about thievery.

. . .

6. Electrical Walks
By Christina Kubisch
2004

Participants in a walk around the city wear powerful wireless headphones that are sensitive to electro-magnetic fields. They discover the autonomous music that surrounds us.

. . .

7. Listening Post
By Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin
2003

Dozens of small screens display text pulled live from the web based on singular queries. Text-to-speech and music bring the data to life.

. . .

8. Test Pattern
By Ryoji Ikeda
2008

Sound, along with other source information such as text and photos, is turned into an immersive installation of barcode patterns.

. . .

9. The Rise and Fall of the Sounds and Silences from Mars
By Christof Migone
2011

All the audio-related words from Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles are extracted and displayed — in a book, in video, as an installation, on flag-like cards outdoors on a hillside.

. . .

10. Times Square
By Max Neuhaus
1977

Warm, enveloping drones emanate from below a midtown Manhattan grate that serves primarily as a steam vent for the subway. Passersby mistake the sound as municipal in origin, or luxuriate in its unique properties, or both.

. . .

I’d like to close with an exercise we do in a class I teach about sound in the media landscape. Sit somewhere and write down for 15 minutes everything that you hear. After the self-evident sounds are accounted for, it can become arduous — but then the world opens up again. The longer we go on listening, the more things open up to our ears: one’s home, one’s office, a street corner. Even a museum — and even a museum where no art is intended to make a sound.

. . .

Update (2014.01.08): Here’s a shot from the curator, Coates, of the individual notebook pages, each of which has been enlarged to the size of an A2 piece of paper. They’ll be hung shortly:

marcs notebook 1200

. . .

More on the exhibit at Coates’ facebook.com page and at ductac.org/art.php. Coates’ home on the Internet is at simoncoates.com. Special thanks to Holly Leach of Albertson Design for the assistance with scanning.

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A San Francisco Soundwalk

Megaphones, parabolic concrete, waterfalls, and much more

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We were confronted on the street corner by an evangelical wielding a large, battery-powered megaphone. This being a soundwalk, the appearance on this very cold day of the screaming man in the t-shirt was something akin to an act of serendipity. As he burdened us with the fear of eternal damnation, all I could think was: “My, what a perfect specimen of the urban soundscape.”

A soundwalk is a docent tour of everyday reality. A docent in a museum walks a group of visitors through the galleries and discusses the art: drawing connections, recounting history, responding to and posing questions. The leader of a soundwalk describes the sounds that are encountered en route — how they function as part of the overall soundscape, what they mean culturally, what their origin is, how they set context and are shaped by context.

The “we” on this cold winter Wednesday in San Francisco was myself along with students (a mix of BAs and MFAs) from the course that I teach on sound at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. The course’s subject is the role of sound in the media landscape. It is divided into three sections: how to listen; how objects, services, and organizations employ sound to express themselves (industrial design, jingles, etc.); and how music-related products (bands, stereo equipment, social networks) express themselves in non-sonic ways.

I had mapped out the soundwalk agenda in advance, but the world has a way of intervening, and not just in the form of an angry man hellbent on, well, talking about hell. Which is fine — in fact, interruptions are part of the plan. An itinerary, as they say, is the map, not the territory.

What follows are some key moments along the walk, some planned, some chance:

Simulated Activity: The tour started early on Wednesday morning at the entrance to the Westfield San Francisco Centre on Market Street, near the corner of Fifth. Inside the mall, if you closed your eyes, you might have thought it was as busy as holiday shopping could get. In fact, the only business with customers was a coffee shop on the basement level, where office workers and mall staff were lined up for post-dawn caffeine. The mall, however, seemed to brim with activity because the house music — that is, the music played on the speakers from the ceilings — was loud, upbeat pop. It was downright noisy, in pop-punk sort of way. The noise provided a simulacrum of activity. Without it, the mall would have felt like an airport at 3am: ghostly, void. The noise was a form of wishful, self-fulfilling prophecy. It set the pace for commerce, and in time consumers would arrive and adhere to that pace.

Score-by-Accrual: While still in the mall, we discussed how the structure had its own score-by-accrual, a score in addition to the “official” music. The majority of the individual stores had their own interior musical playlists, and these sounds leaked out and merged in the atrium and walkways. These individual playlists served as cues to potential shoppers, and as such were distant descendents of the barkers at stalls at the bazaars of yore. They also served, once one was inside a specific shop, to block out the sounds of the rest of the mall. The result is a music arms race.

Horns and Chatter: We walked back out to Market Street and headed east, toward 4th Street. The noises of the street provided a clear contrast to the music of the mall. There was no single overarching sound. There was instead a mid-level cacophony of horns and chatter, street cars and shuffling. Each time, though, that I attempted to suggest this contrast between mall and street to my students, the siren of an emergency vehicle managed to muffle my voice.

Different Kinds of Quiet: When we reached 4th Street, we turned south and immediately experienced just how quiet a simple change in direction could be. The bustle of Market subsided. The mall had presented itself as an interior city, but in fact the rules of the mall city differ from those of the actual city. In particular, stores on the street were not each blaring their own scores. Noise ordinances take care of that, as do the closed doors of cold winter days. Of course, the city doesn’t need music to suggest activity. It simply is active. And when it isn’t active, that quietude is generally welcome — unlike in the mall, where it suggests economic downfall.

A Private Silence: On the way down 4th Street we passed the entrance to a building with a large, artfully barren lobby, and discussed how the lobby provided, with its visual and literal quiet, a salve for those who entered. In a city, money buys many things, key among those things a relief from the pressures of the city.

Reel Life: At the corner of 4th and Mission we stopped — briefly, because soon the angry man with the megaphone appeared — to look up at the logos emblazoned on the exterior wall of a newly refurbished shopping mall. The ones high above the adjacent corner emphasized the movie theater situated on the upper floors of the mall. It was noted that these signs announced the presence of an Imax screen, but not of the sound systems. The heralding of high-quality sound comes and goes just as hemlines rise and fall. There are periods when THX and Dolby logos are everywhere. This is, at least in downtown San Francisco, not one of those times, even though this theater features screens with Dolby Atmos, which is barely a year old. Even on the website of the theater, the Atmos brand is subsumed as part of the ETX (“enhanced theatre experience”) brand.

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Holy Noise: We paused in front of the lovely St. Patrick Church, whose congregation dates back to the mid-1800s, and talked about the role that church bells play in a city, about the unique nature of that accommodation. It is difficult to imagine a new kind of business or organization appearing in a city and being allowed to make such a regular contribution to — or intrusion in, depending on your point of view — the city’s soundscape. And yet around the city, around the world, church bells ring out repeatedly, marking not just the hour, but regular times of prayer. (Photo of St. Patrick Church by Andrew Crump.)

Water Wall: Mission Street is fairly narrow between St. Patrick and the Yerba Buena Gardens, divided by a midsection, and the park area feels quite remote from the city. Part of that sense of ease in the park is owed to the constant waterfalls of the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial that lines the rear of the space. In addition to being lovely, and filling the urban valley with a light mist, it also provides a subtle white noise that blocks out much of the city’s intruding sounds.

Unscheduled Playtime: Among the many chance incidents that informed our walk, a favorite of mine was the oversize poster for the Jacques Tati film Playtime that we saw on the inside wall of a French-themed cafe at one corner of Yerba Buena. Playtime was one of two films I had the students watch as part of their homework this semester, the other being The Conversation (our classroom is just blocks from where the openning of The Conversation was filmed, which makes the surveillance theme all the more eerie). Next semester I may swap out one of those films for Diva.

Ambisonic Planning: We crossed back over Mission Street and made our way up the alley alongside St. Patrick and the Jewish Contemporary Museum. Just two steps from the sidewalk, and the noise of the street, in particular the idling of a delivery van, largely disappeared, the result of trajectory, but also of some sizable concrete structures. I talked a bit about the work of Arup, the architectural and engineering consultancy with offices a few blocks away, and how it employs ambisonic technology to allow architects and urban planners to test in a virtual space how structures will influence sound in real space, how materials, forms, and other variables shape not only the physical but sonic space in which people interact.

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Parabolic Fun: The soundwalk concluded back on the sidewalk on the south side of Market Street. Here an installation by the Exploratorium as part of the city’s Living Innovation Zone program had two oversized concrete hemispheres situated in such a way that anyone sitting in one could converse with the person sitting opposite them. (There is, apparently, also an “singing bench” that involves a completed electric current, but we didn’t see or hear it on this walk.)

And, this being an academic soundwalk, there was homework.

Students are to map three sounds in a two-block radius of the building at the corner of Bush and Kearny that houses our classroom:

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The assignment is: “Pin the spots where those sounds originate. Then write up for each spot a sentence or two in which you (1) describe the sound and (2) note the sound’s meaning, utility, function, or some other aspect.”

If you live in the area and want to upload your own map here, or a map of your neighborhood, that would be excellent.

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Sound of Commerce

John Kannenberg, our man (temporarily) in the U.K.

20131204-malluk

John Kannenberg is a sound artist with a particular interest in place. Much of his work is raw or lightly edited recordings of physical environments, notably art museums. He has, in the past, reversed the idea of sound art by making sound art of places that house art. He travels with his audio recording equipment as others might with a camera or a sketch book. What follows is his audio of a shopping mall in the U.K. It is the sound of commerce, of activity and inactivity, of daily life: a barker, passing conversation, thick local accents, even the squeak of shoes against the floor. Framing lends the mundane a sense of drama. Repetition lends structure, narrative.

Track posted for free download at soundcloud.com/johnkannenberg. More from Kannenberg at johnkannenberg.com.

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