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: video

My Aphex Twin Talk at CCRMA/Stanford

Full video from February 19, 2014 — plus techno.stanford.edu

The first talk I gave on my book Selected Ambient Works Volume II, in the 33 1/3 series, on the Aphex Twin album of that name was back on February 19 of this year, a few days after the book’s official release date. This is full video of that talk. It took place at Stanford University’s CCRMA, the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics:

One cool thing that came out of the event was the reviving of a URL that played an indirect but influential role in the history of the album. My book is as much about the cultural afterlife of Selected Ambient Works Volume II as it is about the album itself. Part of that afterlife took place online, with particular vitality on email discussion groups. The ones housed at Hyperreal.org were frequented by Greg Eden, whom I interviewed in the book, and who is the individual bearing primary responsibility for the words associated as track titles for the album (on which with one exception, the tracks are officially untitled). As background for the book, I interviewed Hyperreal.org founder Brian Behlendorf, who among other things explained to me that before Hyperreal got that name, it was running on “a dedicated box at the Medical Information Systems Group.” The URL for the boards was techno.stanford.edu. This was on a Sun Sparcstation 1+. The Hyperreal lists IDM@ and Ambient@ started on techno.stanford.edu in early 1993.

Speaking to the hometown crowd, I mentioned the techno.stanford.edu URL in my talk. Shortly after the event, Carr Wilkerson at CCRMA managed to get the URL — which had long since gone 404-error dormant — to redirect to the CCRMA home page.

Oh, and two facts to correct:

1: Toward the beginning I mention Jonathan Lethem’s entry in the 33 1/3 series, about the Talking Heads album Fear of Music. It is #86, not #89, in the series.

2: And very close to the end, in response to a question from the audience, I can’t recall the name of a sculptor whom John Cage compares his compositions to in his book Silence. The sculptor of wire works is Richard Lippold.

The video is housed at youtube.com. Original event listing at ccrma.stanford.edu.

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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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Aliens + Interrogative Music @ SETI

Video of my 20-minute talk on the Disquiet Junto (plus Ed Frenkel's and a Q&A) from April 22, 2014

When you reference Ezra Pound’s statement that “The artist is the antennae of the race” at SETI, the “antennae” part takes on a whole richer meaning. SETI hosts weekly colloquium at its Mountain View, California, offices, and a few times a year those talks put aside interstellar science and are, instead, organized by SETI’s artist-in-residence. Right now that artist-in-residence is Charles Lindsay, and he invited me and mathematician Edward Frenkel, professor at UC Berkeley and author of the well-received book Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality, to talk last week. This is a lightly edited video of the talk. The video is lo-fi, but the sound is good. The format of the video is that, after a short introduction by Lindsay, I talk for 20 minutes, then Frenkel talks for about 20 minutes, and then there’s an extended conversation, between the three of us, and then involving questions from the audience. I’m quite proud to have had my humanity thrown back at me during the Q&A by Lawrence Doyle. Also in the audience was SETI co-founder Jill Tarter.

My talk is about what I sometimes refer to as “Networked Creativity,” which I do here. Other times I call it, simply, “Doing Stuff Together Separately,” or “Ambient Participation.” In the talk I walk through the activity and development of the Disquiet Junto, the weekly music projects I’ve moderated since the first week of 2012. In the course of my talk I play five examples of results of these weekly music projects. The one by Mark Ward was particularly resonant at SETI, because it involved sounds recorded from Voyager 1 as it left the solar system. These are the five musicians whose tracks were included in my SETI talk:

Project 0036 / Grzegorz Bojanek / Poraj, Poland

Project 0002 / J Butler / Pittsburgh, Penn.

Project 0089 / Mark Ward / Sheffield, England

Project 0107 / Naoyuki Sasanami / Tokyo, Japan

Project 0066 / Jess Lemont / Milwaukee, Wis.

The talk was somewhat tailored for SETI, so with that in mind, here is a transcript of my opening statement, just for context:

“I just want to say thanks, first, to SETI for inviting me, to Ed for sharing the stage with me, and to Charles for setting the whole thing up. It is very much appreciated. I recently had a book published, as Charles mentioned, and so my publisher would like to thank you, as well. [Jill Tarter asks from the audience, "Do you have copies here?"] Just this one, that Charles brought, because he’s much smarter about these things than I am. I learn a step at a time.

So, when Charles asked me to speak at SETI, he asked what I wanted to talk about. I do a lot of different things, all circulating around the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and I recently published this book. I write for places like Nature, I have my own website, Disquiet.com, since 1996, I teach a course about the role of sound in the media landscape. I gave a lot of thought to SETI, to what would be appropriate. I thought about the central focus of communication to what you do here, I thought about indirect and chance communication, especially communication that isn’t inherently verbal. I thought about the interconnected arrays of radio telescopes, and about the network effect of SETI@home, that pioneering achievement.

So, in turn, I welcome this, ultimately, as an opportunity to speak about a specific thing I’ve been doing for a while now, an ongoing and expansive networked community of hundreds of musicians around the world, and sound artists, that I initiated at the start of 2012. I should say that the project is now a I little over two years old, but I’m still learning to speak about it because of all the investiagations I’m involved in, this is the one I probe the least in terms of trying to figure out how it works. So this talk is me walking around it, trying to figure it out, because I don’t want to totally demistify it, but I do want to share what I’ve learned these past two years about working with hundreds of musicians, upwards of 450 at this point, around the world each week.”

The structure of the talk is as follows: I explain how the Junto works. I walk through three different projects (0036, in which we made music that explore how classical music connects with abstract expressionism; 0002, in which sounds of fog horns and trains are combined; and 0089, the Voyager 1 piece). I give an overview of the range of projects, 120 weekly ones as of when the talk was given. I talk about how this work arose from my enjoyment of interviewing musicians and artists — how an interview involves asking 50 questions of one person, and the Junto in turn is like asking one question of 50 people. I discuss how many Junto projects involve forging partnerships, and then how each project probes ideas. By way of example, I play music from a project that involves exploring ideas from my book on Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II (project 0107 above). I share a bad joke about experimental music concerts — that everyone in the audience is also an experimental musician — and try to turn it on its head and look at the positive aspects of that notion of community. I then express misgivings about the term “experimental music” and discuss how I’m slowly exploring an alternate phrase, “interrogative music,” to get away from the broad generalization of an experiment and to get closer to the purpose, the intent, the pursuit. I talk through examples of online music communities that came before and after the Disquiet Junto. I talk about the notion of “parallel play” in childhood development, and how it relates to doing something with the knowledge that someone else is doing it nearby (even if “nearby” means across the world, but also in the same network of creative individuals). I note the term “acoustemology” and talk about what the “sonic potential energy” of the Internet might be. I play a fifth and final Junto piece, in which members commune with a Junto regular who passed away a year ago this month. I talk about the Ezra Pound quote regarding how “Artists are the antennae of the race.” And in closing I talk about how communities of creative individuals — whether musicians, or artists, or scientists — set the stage for their participants to achieve greater things than they might have individually, even if they don’t directly collaborate with each other.

And at the end of the talk I mention that the next project, the 121st, would explore ideas from Frenkel’s book.

Like the Junto, this talk is a work in progress, but it’s a pretty good snapshot of where my head is at right now.

By the way, if the “antennae” of Ezra Pound’s statement “The artist is the antennae of the race” takes on new meaning at SETI, this is all the more the case when you’re sharing the stage with a mathematician who, as an ethnic Jew raised in Russia, suffered from intense state-sanctioned anti-semitism that clearly took Orwell and Kafka as playbooks. Frenkel, during his SETI lecture, doesn’t dwell on the anti-semitism he experienced as a teenage math prodigy raised in Russia, though it is at the core of his compelling and educative book Love and Math. This particular connection to Pound is one I hadn’t made until it came up in conversation on Tuesday. Such additional connections and layers of meaning are the natural result of a discussion by individuals who have quite different pursuits, and Tuesday, for me at least, was no disappointment in that regard. It was a highly enjoyable conversation.

Video posted at youtube.com. It’s also online at SETI’s plus.google.com page. More on Frenkel’s book at loveandmathbook.com. More from Lindsay at charleslindsay.com. Visit SETI at seti.org.

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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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The Children Next Door in NYC (July 26 – Aug 1)

Film for which I did music supervision and, with Taylor Deupree, sound design

From July 26 through August 1, The Children Next Door is screening every night at 7:40pm at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan. The theater is located at 34 West 13th Street. The movie was directed by Doug Block (The Kids Grow Up, 51 Birch Street) and produced by Lynda Hansen. The score is by the talented Taylor Deupree, which whom I shared sound design duties. I handled music supervision for the film.

Anthony Kaufman wrote of The Children Next Door at the Sundance blog, “Doug Block’s searing short … attains a level of pathos as deep as any feature-length documentary.” It’s had a great response at numerous film festivals, including DOCS-NYC and the Seattle True Independent Film Festival, at both of which it received special jury prizes. It had its international premiere at the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival in Greece.

Here’s the trailer:

Trailer hosted at vimeo.com. Additional production details at imdb.com and thechildrennextdoor.com. Theater website at quadcinema.com.

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