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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: sound-art

Disquiet Junto Project 0225: Serial Composition

Sight read a late-1940s painting by Argentine artist Lidy Prati as a graphically notated score.


Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group on and at, a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership in the Junto is open: just join and participate. There’s no pressure to do every project. It’s weekly so that you know it’s there, every Thursday through Monday, when you have the time.

Tracks will be added to this playlist for the duration of the project:

This project was posted in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, April 21, 2016, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, April 25, 2016.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at

Disquiet Junto Project 0225: Serial Composition
Sight read a late-1940s painting by Argentine artist Lidy Prati as a graphically notated score.

This week’s project takes as its subject a painting recently posted by art critic Blake Gopnik. Seen here, it dates from around 1948, he writes, and is by the Argentine artist Lidy Prati (1921-2008). In his description, Gopnik references Piet Mondrian, whose music is often associated with musical scores. Both the grid-like structure of Prati’s piece and its title, “Serial Composition,” suggest it as the subject of sonic investigation. Gopnik connects the piece to computers: “[I]t speaks of a system that can generate them. Computers and their algorithms seem on this painting’s mind, at a moment when computers still filled entire rooms with vacuum tubes.” (Note that as I was researching this project I came across work by Marcelo Gutman, who has created colorful score tributes to Prati.)

These are the steps for this week’s project.

Step 1: View the circa-1948 painting “Serial Composition” by Lidy Prati at this URL:

Step 2: Consider it as a musical score. Think about the sort of musical composition that “Serial Composition” might be.

Step 3: Record yourself performing “Serial Composition” as a graphically notated musical score.

Step 4: Upload your completed track to the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.

Step 5: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 6: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Deadline: This project was posted in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, April 21, 2016, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, April 25, 2016.

Length: The length is up to you, though between two and three minutes feels about right.

Upload: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud, only upload one track for this project, and be sure to include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Title/Tag: When adding your track to the Disquiet Junto group on, please in the title to your track include the term “disquiet0225-serialcomposition.” Also use “disquiet0225-serialcomposition” as a tag for your track.

Download: It is preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

Linking: When posting the track, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 225th weekly Disquiet Junto project (“Sight read a late-1940s painting by Argentine artist Lidy Prati as a graphically notated score”) at:

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

Join the Disquiet Junto at:

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Disquiet Junto general discussion takes place at:

Image originally posted (and viewable in larger scale) at

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This Week in Sound: Exposed Speakers + Paramusical Ensemble

+ AM-less e-cars + muting Istanbul

A lightly annotated clipping service — and because I was prepping for the second week of class, this week’s This Week in Sound is a bit more rangy and a bit more cursory. Then again, maybe it should be more rangy and cursory in the first place:

Brain Tunes: The New York Times reports on MIT research that seeks to codify the human experience of music: “By mathematically analyzing scans of the auditory cortex and grouping clusters of brain cells with similar activation patterns, the scientists have identified neural pathways that react almost exclusively to the sound of music.” As C. Reider noted on Twitter, the definition of music in the research is peculiarly limited. Reider points to this section of the piece: “When a musical passage is played, a distinct set of neurons tucked inside a furrow of a listener’s auditory cortex will fire in response. … Other sounds, by contrast — a dog barking, a car skidding, a toilet flushing — leave the musical circuits unmoved.” Alex Temple put it well: “If people are still saying this over 100 years after Russolo’s ‘The Art of Noise,’ they’re probably never going to stop.” And Nick Sowers: “Sorry NY Times, my musical circuits are also moved by dog barks and car skids. Maybe not toilet flushes tho.”


Paramusic Union: The feel-good music-tech story of the week must be that of Rosemary Johnson (, a violinist whose career was stopped short due to a car crash that left her severely disabled, unable to speak or even move. But after a decade of effort at Plymouth University and the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in London, Johnson is now producing music through technology that lets her control computer equipment with her brain. The photo above shows Johnson and three other disabled individuals who, along with the Bergersen String Quartet, form what they call the Paramusical Ensemble.


Umbrella Stands: The fact is every week I could feature one or another new work of sound art whose visual impact results from a preponderance of speakers — and I probably will. This week’s, above, is of an installation, Re-Rain, created by Kouichi Okamoto and on display at the Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art in Shizuoka City, Japan. Each speaker emits the sound of rain, which is reflected off the inside of the umbrellas:


Lagos Sonics: Speaking of exposed speakers, above is a shot from the site on Emeka Ogboh’s “Market Symphony,” a new work displayed at the National Museum of African Art. The speakers, which play sounds from Balogun Market in Lagos, and elsewhere in Nigeria, are installed on “colorful enamelware trays” of the sort found in the market. It’s the museum’s first sound installation. (I may be in D.C. at some point in the next few weeks, and if I get there I hope to check out this exhibit.)

Muting Istanbul: Imagine being able to mute or amplify individual elements from what constitute a city’s soundscape. Ateş Erkoç has produced such an installation in Istanbul as part of the exhibit Everyday Sounds: Exploring Sound Through Daily Life:

AM Unplugged: Apparently the mechanics of electrical cars don’t go well with AM radio, reports “cars like the Tesla Model X or BMW i3 don’t install them since the AM reception is impossible due to the internal electrical noise of the car” — via,

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the February 9, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter:

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This Week in Sound: Swan Speakers + X-Files Music

+ Mediterranean blues + fracking the atmosphere

A lightly annotated clipping service:


The Uncanny Lake: This whimsical image is of inverted satellite dishes (with added speakers) whose design and deployment are intended to refer back to the silhouette and motion of swans. The work is an outdoor installation by Berlin-based artist Marco Barotti. So often the exposed speaker is intended to be ignored in sound art. Kudos to Barotti for making something of the form. There’s video at, which provides additional information: “Two layers of sound design consisting of bass frequencies and human breath passing through brass instruments provide them with voice and motion. Eight individual audio channels are used to transport the sound through the swans, bringing them to life and remodelling the landscape.”

THE X-FILES:  David Duchovny in the "Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-monster" episode of THE X-FILES airing Monday, Feb. 1 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co.  Cr:  Ed Araquel/FOX

Cellphone Home: We’re now halfway through the reunion of The X-Files, and the third episode is, in my opinion, easily one of the best told and most enjoyably self-conscious episodes in the history of the show. This six-episode miniseries is clearly about the midlife crisis of Agent Mulder, whose long-held desire to believe has to, now, make due in the age of That scenario is a little disappointing because it leaves Agent Scully playing second fiddle, but Mulder’s self-doubt is more than enough to carry the show, and Scully makes a great foil for his crisis of xenobiological faith. This third episode, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” casts two fine comedians, Rhys Darby (the band manager from Flight of the Conchords) and Kumail Nanjiani (one of the main programmers on Silicon Valley), in roles the least said about the better, except that the duo, along with Mulder, give Scully plenty of opportunity to marvel as the sheer ridiculousness of what life as an X-Files agent involves. Scully can get sanguine, even giggly, while Mulder seems maudlin. At one point he wakes up in a cemetery with a freshly minted hangover. His cellphone is ringing. It’s playing, of course, the theme music from The X-Files. How this meta-congruity fits into the mythology of the series is unclear, but what I really wants to know is if this ringtone is reserved only for Scully. There are three more episodes to go. Perhaps all will be revealed. What’s for sure is that the ringtone works well within the overarching self-awareness of the episode (which features Darby wearing the same hat and clothing as the hero of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which was as much a premonition of The X-Files as The X-Files was of Fringe). The score-within-the-show cellphone moment is a reassuring reminder that, like Mulder himself is advised, the audience needs to take a deep breath and stop trying to connect the dots. At least until next week.


Basin Blues: That is a map of the Mediterranean. Despite the colors, it is not pretty. The colorful pixels are not recreational spots but locations of especially high noise density. Then again, maybe they are recreational spots as well. More importantly, the map is reportedly the first full map of “underwater noise sources” in the Mediterranean basin, the work of researchers in France, Italy, Switzerland, and the United States. The primary activity appears to be four sources: harbors, offshore activity (not just oil and gas drilling but also wind farms), seismic surveys, and military exercises. These closely map to cetacean habitats, hence the concern on the part of the researchers. The news was released as part of one of several campaigns to raise awareness. (Found via … In related news, the Telegraph reports that the noise of ocean-going ships may keep orca whales from communicating with each other.

Sonic Weapons: Via, sometimes that man-made quake sensation isn’t from fracking down below, but from something on high: “Tremors felt by residents of New Jersey Shore and Long Island today prompted speculation that an earthquake had occurred—but the US Geological Survey confirmed that the rumbling sensations were caused by a sonic boom.” Measurements over at

This first appeared in the February 2, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter:

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La Voix Humaine

Cocteau, Poulenc, Duval, and technological art of the telephone


Denise Duval sang passionately about broken telephone connections, about the way our technology can mimic, taint, and amplify human connections. She died a week ago, on January 25, the New York Times reported today.

A French soprano born in 1921, Duval is best known for her work with the composer Francis Poulenc. Foremost among the pair’s collaborations is the opera La Voix Humaine, based on the play by Jean Cocteau. La Voix Humaine is high on the list of essential viewing and listening if you’re interested in art informed by technologically mediated human interaction.

The opera tells the story of the end of a love affair. Expertly constructed, it unfolds as one half of a phone conversation. The other half takes place on the far end of the phone line, unheard by the audience. The woman is Elle, and Duval was the first to perform the role. There’s a filmed version of Duval’s performance, directed by Dominique Delouche, which uses another technology, television, to emphasize the creative constraints inherent in Cocteau’s vision: a woman, alone in a room, trying to navigate a failed love — and her own faltering psyche — using failing technology.

I spent a chunk of last year working on — and failing at — an extended essay about the intersection of art and technology that just never ended up going where I’d hoped it would. Only toward the end of the writing process, before I put it away half-finished, did I finally switch from wondering about the relationship between the artist and the technology and, instead, began to focus on the audience’s experience of technology. At that point I’d blown too much time and just couldn’t dedicate myself to it anymore, though I hope to get back to it at some point.

This morning, having read the news of Duval’s death over coffee, I was reminded of the centrality of that telephone in La Voix Humaine, not just to Elle, but to the audience of both the play and the opera. The play was first performed in 1930, the opera in 1958. By 1970, when Delouche’s filmed version was broadcast on television in France, the phone was long since not just an everyday but essential part of life. To witness Elle’s story in 1930 must have been a very different thing than in 1970, from the perspective of an audience’s experience of the phone as a lifeline. There is something very J.G. Ballard about La Voix Humaine, as if it’s taking place amid the narrative of his novel High Rise, like Elle lives in an apartment whose door the book’s narrator never happens to knock on.

Nicholas Muni

Eventually La Voix Humaine did leave the boudoir. For example, a staging by the Cincinnati Opera’s Nicholas Muni in 2003 re-situated Elle (soprano Catherine Malfitano, above) as the survivor of a car accident. We witness Elle wandering around the wreck while she tries to communicate with her former lover. The wreck isn’t merely a contrivance to switch to a cellphone. It’s part of the original story that Elle reveals her attempted suicide. In the Muni depiction, the scene of the accident serves as both setting and evidence. Of course, switching to cellphone in 2003 also made sense because the phone needed to cut off once in awhile, something far more common then — and today — on a cellphone than on a landline.

The lingering lesson of La Voix Humaine may be that if you’re making technological art, ask yourself if you are reflecting on the means by which that technology is infused in the lives of its audience.

The Delouche version with Duval is on YouTube in four parts. The image up top was colorized (and found at The original is in black and white.


Also on YouTube is an Ingrid Bergman (above) version of the play, from 1967.

And to bring things back around to electronic music, there’s an audio-only version of the play done for the BBC by Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, that was first broadcast back in 1998. It stars Harriet Walter, best known these days as Lady Shackleton on Downton Abbey and as the doctor who briefly but memorably tends to Chewbacca in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Human Voice is an important transitional work for Rimbaud, as it employs techniques he developed when making music to accompany cellphone conversations captured on scanners (hence his moniker), but applies them to prerecorded dialogue — or, in this case, monologue.

This first appeared in the February 2, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter:

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Vowels Accumulate Over Days and Months

An experiment in beading, accrual, and tonality by Steph Horak

Yesterday, on a brand new SoundCloud account, the artist Steph Horak posted a track of layered vocals, just tones, just soft vowels, that when played against each other yield a familiar, lovely, gently abrasive beading that sounds less like a choir of one and more like a glass harmonica played by an expert soloist. Her explanation is that it’s part of an art project that accrues and amasses individual tones over time on a regular basis.

Here is Horak’s description:

I am attempting to sing a note a day for a year because I want to know if my body holds a certain tension, or harmony, a resonant bias. Therefore, I record each day’s note in isolation, without hearing any of the previous days, and then I make a mix of the month. This is a somewhat indulgent side-project. This is not about singing in tune. This is about data. Trigger warning: People with absolute pitch may find this jarring to listen to.

The track is labeled “366 JANUARY 2016,” though it’s unclear how much time is accounted for, how many vowels over how many days.

Track originally posted at More from Horak at her other SoundCloud account,, and at and, the latter of which includes this intriguing sonified lipstick case:


Horak works as part of the computing department at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she earned an MA in 2013. (Track found via a repost by

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