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

tag: voice

Making Abstraction Engaging

When is a podcast not a podcast?

I’ve been thinking for a long time to make a Disquiet.com podcast, and I’m still intent on doing it, but not quite yet. I even have the theme music in the can, thanks to a regular participant of the Disquiet Junto project series, but I’m still fiddling with the format, and I want to make sure I have the time to do it regularly. I may wait until after this semester is over, since I’m already dedicating time each week to creating 2,000-word summaries of each lecture in my “role of sound in the media landscape” course, and sending those to my tinyletter.com/disquiet email list.

What’s been on my mind lately has been how best to frame the abstract work I’m often up to in sound, so that it can have an audience beyond those already attracted to abstraction. The goal isn’t a larger audience unto itself; the goal is an audience that would quickly find the work of interest when given the proper context.

The “Sonic Frames” installation I developed for the San Jose Museum of Art was an attempt at this, and I think a fairly successful one. Using imagery, and elegant physical frames, and directional speakers, along with other tools, the piece can attract a potential listener from across the room, and keep them focused once they decide to interact with it.

For the Junto projects, I share the written instructions each week as part of the setlist I create for the given project, but that requires someone to take the time to read. Also, those instructions are intended for a different audience: the participants in the projects. So, three weeks ago I acted on the instinct to record myself describing the project. It’s very different to be told a story than to read one, and very different to have a (somewhat?) friendly voice explain something abstract than to have to decipher it on a page. So now each week’s setlist begins with me, for a minute or so, explaining what the project is about. Collectively the intro and the tracks that follow it comprise something akin to a podcast, though it’s not quite yet the podcast I have in mind.

Below are the first four such project-introduction narrations. The first week I did this, I actually made two separate playlists, for reasons explained in the audio below:

More on the Disquiet Junto at disquiet.com/junto.

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This Week in Sound: Chaucer’s Ear, Mouthing Words, Hearing Voices

A lightly annotated clipping service

  • CHAUCER’S EAR: There’s a new book about 14th-century poet Geoffrey Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales), which is something of a feat since we at this point know very well how little we known about him. The book is The Poet’s Tale: Chaucer and the Year that Made the Canterbury Tales, written by Paul Strohm. In a (characteristically unsigned) review in The Economist, we’re told what Strohm does in his history: “What he does instead is create a soundscape.” This is very promising, indeed. I am not accustomed to writing about books I have not yet read, but in this case I’m expressing enthusiasm and getting the word out. (Thanks for the tip, Scott Fletcher.)
    http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21642124-chaucers-year-living-dangerously-racket-genius

  • MOUTHING WORDS: At Boing Boing, Kortny Rolston reports on technology that allows one to use one’s tongue to hear. This would potentially remove the need for cochlear implants. It is fascinating to understand that both the production and reception of speech might be accomplished with the same muscle. One thing that gets glossed over sometimes in writing about sound is how senses themselves overlap, that hearing is a form of tactile experience — a form of touch — and this tongue-listening development further blurs our received conception of what it means to be human.
    http://boingboing.net/2015/02/05/words-in-the-mouth-device-let.html

  • HEARING VOICES: What did the development radio mean to voices that had previously not necessarily expressed authority? Christine Ehrick has uploaded to academia.edu an essay titled “Vocal Gender and the Gendered Soundscape: At the Intersection of Gender Studies and Sound Studies” that serves as an advance notice on her book Radio and the Gendered Soundscape in Latin America: Women and Broadcasting in Argentina and Uruguay, 1930-1950, which will be published by Cambridge this fall. Ehrick is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Louisville, and she writes in detail not just about the way radio informed conceptions of gender, but also about the way the increase in sound studies is changing gender studies. In the class I teach we spend time on related topics by studying the work of Nina Power, specifically public address systems and how they relate to the notions of the feminine and the robotic. I guess, again, I am writing about a book I haven’t yet read — in this case one that has not yet even been published. The essay originated in the sound studies blog Sounding Out! this month as part of a forum on “Gendered Voices.”
    http://soundstudiesblog.com/2015/02/02/vocal-gender-and-the-gendered-soundscape-at-the-intersection-of-gender-studies-and-sound-studies/

This first appeared in the February 10, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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Where the Work Ends and the World Begins

Chris Wood explores the many signals of Brussels

20150113-chriswood1

There is just enough noise that none of it stands out, and just few enough noises that the ears strain for distinctions. There are children playing, and a news report, and music from various genres and languages. There is a thick static that seems to want to become music; it hangs low, a sonorous drone, whining like a wounded animal hoping for just a little affection. Sirens pass, and the whole range of noises just keep going, stalwart despite their modest proportions, their simplicity, their everydayness. This is “Oscillating Cities” by Chris Wood. This is, in fact, “Oscillating Cities” heard amid the sounds of the city. Where the work ends and the world begins is unclear, and that may very well be part of Wood’s point.

In an explanatory post, Wood explains how the piece came to be: “Osciallating Cities is a dynamic sound environment built from local radio, field recordings and internet radio from distant locations retransmitted over FM. It was performed on the square at Comte de Flandres, Brussels in June 2014.” The work was made at the behest of iMAL, the Brussels-based interactive Media Art Laboratory, more on which at imal.org.

20150113-chriswood2

The mix of source material isn’t the extent of Wood’s mediation. There are, he explains, various aspects of the employment of radio, which influence the quality of the signal, and some of the source audio is filtered through delays and other treatments. Still photographs and footage evidence the sculptural quality of the generic radios placed around the plaza. A video documenting a series of related works features a short interview with Wood (at timecode 5:29):

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/wordthecat. More from Chris Wood, who is based in England, at wordthecat.com and twitter.com/whirringcat.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0158: Syllable Gumbo

The Assignment: Go from noise to signal with words.

20150108-syllablegumbo

Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.com and at Disquiet.com, 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.

Tracks will be added to this playlist as the project proceeds:

This assignment was made in the early evening, California time, on Thursday, January 8, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, January 12, 2015.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0158: Syllable Gumbo
The Assignment: Go from noise to signal with words.

Quite often Disquiet Junto projects actively avoid the human voice. This week’s project engages directly with the voice, and with language.

Step 1: Select the least important story on the front page of your local newspaper or the home page of your local newspaper’s website.

Step 2: Select the first or first two sentences of that story. Combined the resulting text should have between roughly 15 and 25 words.

Step 3: Record yourself, or someone else, reading the text aloud. You can use text-to-speech, though it is by no means required.

Step 4: Break the recording from step 3 into tiny parts.

Step 5: Produce an original piece of music in which the randomized “noise” of those tiny parts heard out of order slowly, over the course of one or two minutes, comes to form the full original statement.

Step 6: Add tonal and rhythmic material to the results of step 5.

Step 7: Upload the finished track to the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.

Step 8: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Deadline: 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, January 12, 2015.

Length: The length of your finished work should be between one minute and two minutes.

Upload: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud, only upload one track for this assignment, and 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 Soundcloud.com, please include the term “disquiet0158-syllablegumbo” in the title of your track, and 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 158th Disquiet Junto project — “Go from noise to signal with words” — at:

http://disquiet.com/2015/01/08/disquiet0158-syllablegumbo/

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

http://disquiet.com/junto

Join the Disquiet Junto at:

http://soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto/

Disquiet Junto general discussion takes place at:

http://disquiet.com/forums/

Photo associated with this project by Beanbag Amerika used via Creative Commons license:

https://flic.kr/p/uvuHK

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Video from My San Jose Museum of Art Installation

A short feature with all 10 interveners

The San Jose Museum of Art has uploaded this eight-minute video featuring the various folks who, like me, contributed works as “interveners” for its current Momentum exhibit, which celebrates the museum’s 45th anniversary. I talk in the video at 2:52 and 3:59.

My piece is “Sonic Frame,” a response in three screens to a video by Josh Azzarella. Each screen contains a unique set of seven different audio tracks composed to complement it, so each time the video plays anew it is accompanied by different sounds. Among the participating musicians are Taylor Deupree, Natalia Kamia, Julia Mazawa, Steve Roden, Naoyuki Sasanami, Christina Vantzou, Stephen Vitiello, and Scanner.

The Momentum exhibit runs from October 2, 2014, through February 22, 2015. More on the exhibit here (“How Sound Frames Vision”) and at sjmusart.org. Video hosted at youtube.com.

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