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: TV

SOUND RESEARCH LOG: Is Voice the Uncanny Valley?

There may have been no better place than io9.com to keep track of Comic-Con, and this popped up in a summary of the Person of Interest panel. That’s the CBS series with an admirably long-game approach to narrative. It’s about an AI coming into sentience. That AI has become more of a character, and as the series enters season four it now is up against a competitive AI:

“Pressed for an answer about whether or not the AIs would get voices, Jonathan Nolan responded, ‘We’re working on the voice thing. But you may not like where it goes.’”

Full coverage at io9.com. It’s rarely advisable to read comments, but there are some strongly worded concerns in the resulting thread about lending voices to the AI, worth checking out if only as an expression of a point of view.

This entry cross-posted from the Disquiet linkblog project sound.tumblr.com.

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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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Cues: le Carré’s Ear, Friedkin’s Foley, Modular Doc, …

Plus: fast drones, wind chimes, full-spectrum TV, dance music, and more

20130527-lecarreThe (Eaves)drop: The following is extracted from the new John le Carré novel, A Delicate Truth. The book is, like almost any le Carré novel, a story of surveillance, and when le Carré pays attention to what it means to pay attention to sound, it is worth reading closely:

“Above the clatter of the wind came a clicking sound like dominoes collapsing: two sets of clicks, then nothing. He thought he heard a yell but he was listening too hard to know for sure. It was the wind. It was the nightingale. No, it was the owl. … A stray engine barked, but it could as well have been a fox as a car or the outboard of an inflatable.”

That things are not what they seem, even when one is paying attention, is at the heart of the novel. And it doesn’t give anything away to say that the closing moment in A Delicate Truth is a direct reflection of the bit reproduced above.

Foley Connection: “Why was the crash sequence in ‘French Connection’ so dramatic? The smack of a hammer hitting an anvil was added to the ambient sound.” That is from Janet Maslin’s nytimes.com review of director William Friedkin’s recent memoir, The Friedkin Connection.

Modular Doc: Trailer for I Dream of Wires, a documentary about modular synthesizers. Preorders end May 31, and it’s due out in June. Among the interviewees (in order of appearance in the video): Maggi Payne, Bernie Krause, Jack Dangers, Vince Clarke, Daniel Miller, Carl Craig, James Holden, Richard Devine, Flood, Trent Reznor, Chris Carter, Charlie Clouser, and Gary Numan. More at idreamofwires.org.

Wind’s Voice: “I attempted to make and record my own Aeolian Harp. I began to notice parallels between the harp and the planes. Both gave the weather a voice.” That’s artist Dawn Scarfe, interviewed at earroom.wordpress.com.

Jurassic Bark: “[T]o resuscitate the sound of prehistoric creatures by reconstructing their vocal tracts.” That’s designer Marguerite Humeau on her work, via bldgblog.blogspot.com.

Sixth Digital Sense: “[A]n agent at U.S. Cyber Command who has a microchip implanted in his brain that allows him to access the entire electromagnetic spectrum.” Alphas may have been cancelled, but someone got Gary’s powers, via washingtonpost.com. This new series is titled Intelligence.

Post Release: “All this focus on controllerism and interfaces and gestures is I think because it’s so important to connect thought and body – a challenge in ways that transcend even the question of technology.” That’s from some additional thoughts by Peter Kirn about the album, Music for Dance, that he previewed here on Disquiet.com earlier in the month: createdigitalmusic.

Fast Drone: Despite the association with stasis, the sonic drone moves. It generally moves slowly, the deliberate pace more an emblem of stillness than an actual realization of it. Occasionally we get to hear fast ones, such as the first minute and a half of this preview from Pillowdiver’s new album, Bloody Oath:

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Cues: Oliveros Listens, MoMA Limelight, Arup Acoustics

Plus: Amon Tobin ISAM pre-show stream, new CC netlabel, movie trailers, more

Bill Forman interviews deep-listening legend Pauline Oliveros at csindy.com:

Q: I’m wondering what advice you might have for people who think of more experimental music as, you know, quote-unquote difficult. What sorts of things should they be listening for, in order to better appreciate it?

A: Well, I think the best thing to do would be to get something that disturbs them, and play it over and over again, until they’re no longer disturbed.

Q: You’re not gonna get many people to do that.

A: Well, you know, it’s up to them. But the experience is worth it. Because you find out quick that the more familiar something becomes, the more interested you are.

◼ New York’s MoMa is doing a big sound art show later this year. “Soundings: A Contemporary Score” will run from August 10 through November 3, per nytimes.com. The show’s curator, Barbara London, made a comment in the New York Times piece — “Sound has come into the limelight” — that is either synaesthetically coy or, more likely, a prime example of how sound continues to labor in the, shall we say, shadow of the visual.

◼ The following conversation appears in a flashback between the title character in the CBS TV series The Good Wife (Julianna Margulies‘ Alicia Florrick) and her deceased client, Matthew Ashbaugh, played by John Noble, who played Walter Bishop on Fringe. Like Bishop, Noble’s Good Wife character has an emotional and obsessive association with recorded sound. He carries with him little speakers that play back the same Bach piece over and over:

Florrick: “You travel with your own soundtrack?”

Noble: “Yes. Don’t you?”

The episode was titled “Death of a Client” and first aired March 24, 2013.

◼ The global engineering consultancy Arup has launched arupconnect.com, a website-as-magazine about its endeavors. Arup has a large acoustic practice, with a particular emphasis on performance spaces. In a post from late last year, Anne Guthrie, who works in the New York office, explores the idea of “acoustics for musicians,” which is predicated on the observation that much work by acousticians focused on the needs of the audience, at the expense of the needs of the performer: “Today, acoustic technology is faster and more complex, allowing us to recreate the entire experience of playing in multiple halls in a single room. In Arup’s SoundLab, several acousticians — including Iain Laird in Scotland and Terence Caulkins, Kathleen Stetson, and me in New York — have been working to develop a system where musicians can come into the lab and play in any hall or room in real time.”

Amon Tobin has posted an example of the nearly hour-long audio that the recent shows on his ISAM tour have been playing before the curtain rises. It’s streaming-only, over at soundcloud.com/amon-tobin. Found via amontobin.com/news. In a note, Tobin explains that Jamie Harley (“long time friend and collaborator in sound”) has been mixing this music live:

C. Reider has launched a new netlabel, focused on supporting work that employs a Creative Commons license allowing for derivative works. Great URL, too: deriv.cc.

◼ Over at newyorker.com, Ian Crouch explores the “dunnhhh” sound that is in so many movie trailers these days. Correspondence on Twitter between critic Geeta Dayal and Echo Nest’s Brian Whitman rightly questioned some of Crouch’s language, in particular the phrase “accursed bass drone.” One thing Crouch doesn’t mention is how sound in the Prometheus trailer linked the film back to the original trailer for Alien.

◼ The One Hello World project by Jared Brickman, whose hour-long ambient piano work served as the basis for the 65th Disquiet Junto project, has been awarded a 2013 Webby for “net art.” This is the One Hello World project’s summary: “Leave me a voicemail and I’ll write music behind your narrative. Call it a soundtrack to your thoughts.”

◼ The great io9.com website has posted crazy images from the Japanese album of the Lost in Space soundtrack and, separately, asks, “Why do so many electric things hum?”

◼ Also via i09.com, this is (streaming-only, no download) an “auditory representation of the Big Bang” by physicist John Cramer, who “produced the audio by mapping sound frequencies to the changes detected over time in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation”:

◼ SoundCloud had a pretty funny April Fools joke in the form of “the dropometer” (blog.soundcloud.com):

20130414-dropometer

◼ If you use SoundCloud and have an about.me page, they now play together well. Unfortunately, for the time being, if you also have a blog whose feed you want to include, as I do at about.me/marc.weidenbaum, then you have to choose between that and a SoundCloud embed.

◼ And this is pretty nifty. The official help page on soundcloud.com about the Groups functionality uses the Disquiet Junto as a visual. (Thanks to Guy Birkin for letting me know.)

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Stems: Listening to Carruth, Mansell, and The New Republic

Plus: Matmos' toolset, sound design tips, the culture of rhythm, Sherlock's scanner ...

Primer Directive: The complete score of Shane Carruth’s film Upstream Color is streaming for free, 15 tracks in total. Extended stretches of the film are devoid of dialog, and the natural sound and music, along with the visuals, are left to do the storytelling. As Jascha Hoffman tweeted shortly after seeing the film at its Sundance debut, “Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color : plot // William Basinski’s tape loops : song form.”

Stoked About Stoker: “At the beginning of Stoker, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) tells us she can hear things more clearly than most people, a talent that is quickly apparent seeing as every noise and sound in India’s life is amplified.” That’s from the opening of Allison Loring’s appreciation of the sound design and score of the new Park Chan-Wook film, with music by Clint Mansell as well as a song from Emily Wells and a new piano piece by Philip Glass — at filmschoolrejects.com.

URL Earmarks: This is pretty intriguing. The recent redesign of the website of The New Republic (newrepublic.com) includes a button that will read out loud the text on the page. Like buttons for Twitter and Facebook, for email and “save to PDF,” this is almost certainly going to be a UI/UX norm. So far, however, per this screenshot, it seems largely to be “coming soon”:

201302-newrepub

In Brief: “Lost within the act of listening, I give attention to that which is often ignored: the high-pitched silence of a winter day; the whir of a movie projector displaying a silent film; the cavernous echo inside a museum. ” That’s from the latest post at the blog Phonomnesis, by John Kannenberg, sound artist and founder of the Stasisfield netlabel. ¶ Ethan Hein has posted a six-slide presentation about the extent to which rhythm is a cultural construct. That he is a new father is clearly an impetus for his exploration: slideshare.net. ¶ “Too loud? Sorry. I went downstairs to get some cereal. Didn’t want to miss anything. The city has excellent scanner apps but, um, there’s nothing like the tactility of the original devices, all those dials and buttons.” That’s Sherlock Holmes, as played by Jonny Lee Miller, in episode six (“Flight Risk”) of the first season of Elementary. The scene is on youtube.com:

20130224-sholmeselementary

¶ Many thanks to Peggy Nelson of hilobrow.com for having highlighted the Disquiet Junto’s end-of-2012 audio journal project. ¶ A tour of Matmos’ studio at xlr8r.com. ¶ List (at indiewire.com) of tips from top-rank sound designers has broad applications. Among the tips: “Decide if sound or music should do the heavy lifting in every scene” and “Too many sonic elements can be confusing.”

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