My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's 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: voice

Listening to Yesterday: Dim Sonics

The feel, if not the content, of conversation

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The local restaurant at lunch yesterday was sizable, in all three dimensions. The large space was packed with diners of all ages, several tables with at least four generations of family members. The double-high ceilings collected the conversations from the various tables, jumbled them up, and shot collages — echoed, splintered, layered — to wherever you sat or stood. Virtually every table was speaking Chinese, ours being one of the few exceptions. Nothing overheard by us was understood, rendering the numerous conversations, the ones close by and the ones reflected off the ceiling, into a kind of human-generated white noise. The murmuring, all at a reasonably sedate volume level, combined with the drone of the nearby soda machine into an underlying purr. In some ways we felt culturally apart; in different circumstances, the buzz might have reinforced such a feeling. In other ways, though, we felt strongly bound by our shared neighborhood and our mutual affection for this restaurant’s sesame balls, shrimp dumplings, shumai, and other dim sum treats. In that latter regard, the vocal hum felt like we’d tapped into the neighborhood’s energy, into the tonality, if not the content, of micro-regional conviviality.

(Photo by i_yudai, used via Flickr and a Creative Commons license.)

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Forum Digging and the Fate of Netlabels

I was interviewed for WFMU's Radio Free Culture podcast.

Radio Free Culture WFMU exists to, per its credo, “examine issues at the intersection of digital media and the arts.” I was excited to be interviewed for the podcast by Erik Schoster, aka the musician He Can Jog. We talk about a wide range of subjects, including the role of netlabels in the age of streaming, listening strategies in our age of sonic abundance (forum digging as the new crate digging), the benefits and challenges of platform agnosticism (in light of the Disquiet Junto’s shifting dependence on SoundCloud), the imminent 250th weekly Disquiet Junto project, the imminent 20th anniversary of Disquiet.com (December 13, 2016), and the return to active duty of Aphex Twin.

As of August 30, 2016, I’ve updated this with the audio embedded. You can also listen at prx.org.

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Unleash Your Personal Drones

A tape release from Austin, Texas–based Amulets — motivated by motivational tapes.

Part of the beauty of cassette releases is when they tap into the design energy — the tactile experience, the cultural legacy — of the object itself. As Ted Laderas wrote to the New York Times late last year in a letter to the editor, the cassette continues to offer something beyond mere nostalgia: “The cost of manufacturing vinyl and CDs is prohibitive for musicians who sell small numbers of albums. While not ideal, tape is easy to manufacture and easy to personalize, and provides small-time musicians with a viable way of sharing our music that our fans are willing to buy.”

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Sure, the tape cassette was once a dominant pop-music medium, and yes it has long since faded from mainstream commercial employment, but in addition the pop music market it was the foundation of late-night infomercials that promised a fast-forward education in business, real estate, language — and self-knowledge. The Austin, Texas–based Amulets (aka Randall Taylor) feeds on this association with his new album, Personal Power. Its seven tracks, with titles like “Self-Sabotage” and “The Power of Focus,” are built from the source audio of motivational tapes, specifically those of Tony Robbins, the audio of Amulets replacing the original text spoken by Tobbins. Personal Power was released on June 28, just a few days after participants in one of Robbins’ “firewalks” were reportedly treated for second- and third-degree burns.

Short bursts of speaking flesh out some of the tracks, referring to the side of the tape the listener is on, and welcoming the audience to the realm of self-actualization. The music itself is deeply droning, occasionally giving hints of guitar and loops, and generally enjoying the warpy loveliness of tape-based composition. There’s a certain cultural bleed at work here, a certain irony, in that for all his “business” aura, Robbins is a creature of what’s often called the “new age” movement. The music of the new-age movement, in turn, overlaps with and bears certain aesthetic and structural parallels with exactly the sort of music that Amulets is up to, namely a meditative music that can serve as background for activities and focus on introspection.

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Amulets’ creative repurposing of the source material isn’t restricted to the sound and the tape cassettes. Even the “notes/study guide,” as he described them, are part of the project. No doubt the limited edition, a total of 20, was determined by the availability of the originals. If you miss out on the physical cassettes, the audio will still be available for download.

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Album originally posted at amulets.bandcamp.com. More from Amulets at amuletsmusic.com. (Chart via businessinsider.com.)

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Space Age Surveillance Thrills

Courtesy of the new album from Italy-based Sonologyst

There’s much to recommend the new Sonologyst album, starting off with its evocative title, Silencers – the conspiracy theory dossiers. That colorful language may set a high bar for sonic surveillance thrills, but the album delivers, especially with its final track, “NASA Secret Tapes.”

Barely two minutes in length, “NASA Secret Tapes” loops snippets of space-age chatter with sonar swells. It’s a testament to those swells — which ring like massive bells pitched high, their tones extending unnaturally relative to their frigid timbre — that the track would be just as effective minus the “This is Houston. Say again?” dialogue, flavorful as it is in its retro flourish. Those tones are endlessly listenable. Sonologyst artfully tweaks them, turning the background ambience into something with subtle rhythmic purpose.

The “NASA Secret Tapes” track is up top, and here’s the full album:

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/sonologyst. Full album at sonologyst.bandcamp.com. More from Sonologyst, who’s based in Italy, at twitter.com/sonologyst.

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Kelli Cain and Brian Crabtree of Monome (Live Video)

Recorded in San Francisco earlier this year.

It’s not common to post the same audio here twice, but I’m making an exception for the half-hour concert by Kelli Cain and Brian Crabtree, developers of the Monome grid music interface. Back in March I linked to the SoundCloud file of the live performance (“What the Creators of the Monome Sound Like as Live Performers”), and updated that page in April when a higher grade recording went up. But now there’s full, affectionately edited video of the set. It’s at vimeo.com. I attended the concert, which was held at a small shop, Better, out on Balboa Street in San Francisco’s Richmond District, and in the review I mention in particular this social component of Crabtree’s employment of handheld shakers: “He’d shake one for awhile, and then pass it to someone in the audience to continue the pattern. Each person became an extension of what Crabtree had started, but then altered it a little, whether through the conscious decision to contribute a musical idea, or simply because their sense of rhythm differed from his.” That occurs about two minutes into this footage.

The video was shot by the Mill Valley, California–based duo Fabián Aguirre and Maya Pisciotto, who go by theunderstory.co. More on Better at betterforliving.co. More on the Monome, Cain, and Crabtree at monome.org.

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