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.

Cartographic Misdirection

A one-synth video from r beny

When first pulled up on its YouTube page, this video from musician r beny invokes a bit of cartographic misdirection. In the center of the frame is a single black box. The box is packed with knobs and buttons as well as a small, bright screen, which is itself packed with little icons. To the right of the box, in view when beny’s left hand isn’t, is a piece of paper with two columns of information. The circles and triangles on the paper bear more than a small resemblance to what is cycling through on the screen.

It’s not uncommon for musicians, beny included, to post videos of their early experiments with new (or at least new-to-them) equipment, so it would be entirely rational to interpret this piece of paper as a page from the device’s instruction manual, a reference as beny lets the lovely music unfold. The track, titled “Fall Creek Unit,” begins with a little melody against a backdrop of white noise. That melody in turn doubles and triples, notes falling into each other and out of pace until, as the piece nears its end after seven and a half minutes, those individual instances have been almost fully subsumed into a gentle cloud of soft tonality.

And if, at some point, you pull the video into full-screen mode, those two columns of icons are revealed to be not the instructions for the electronic music device on which the tune is being performed, but instead the legend for a larger map on which the device has been placed.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at r beny’s YouTube channel. More from r beny, aka San Francisco Bay Area resident Austin Cairns, at and

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Disquiet Junto Project 0324: Factory Floor

Make music for newsrooms, design studios, and other collaborative workplaces.

Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group, 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. (A SoundCloud account is helpful but not required.) 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 the playlist for the duration of the project.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on Monday, March 19, 2018. This project was posted in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, March 15, 2018.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0324: Factory Floor
Make music for newsrooms, design studios, and other collaborative workplaces.

Step 1: This is the latest in a series of Junto projects about background music. Consider what sort of music is appropriate for collaborative workplaces, such as newsrooms, design studios, software development teams, and so forth. Think about music that (1) isn’t distracting and (2) suggests momentum.

Step 2: Record a piece of music that applies the thinking arising from Step 1, and that makes sense played on repeat or as part of an imagined playlist of like-minded compositions. The length is up to you, but consider keeping it between three minutes and six minutes.

Background: This project is somewhat similar to another recent project that was part of the background-music series. In this case, to probe the concept further, most of the previously proposed constraints have been removed.

Six More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0324” (no spaces or quotation marks) in the name of your track.

Step 2: If your audio-hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to also include the project tag “disquiet0324” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation a project playlist.

Step 3: Upload your track. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your track.

Step 4: Please consider posting your track in the following discussion thread at

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.

Other Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on Monday, March 19, 2018. This project was posted in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, March 15, 2018.

Length: The length is up to you. Between three and six minutes seems about right.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0324” in the title of the track, and where applicable (on SoundCloud, for example) as a tag.

Upload: When participating in this project, post one finished track with the project tag, 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.

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 online, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 324th weekly Disquiet Junto project (Factory Floor: Make music for newsrooms, design studios, and other collaborative workplaces) at:

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

Subscribe to project announcements here:

Project discussion takes place on

There’s also on a Junto Slack. Send your email address to for Slack inclusion.

The image associated with this project is by kenmainr and is used thanks to a Creative Commons license:

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Depth of Field

Guitar + modular, via Australia-based Betsy Hammer

A post shared by Betty Hammer (@betty.hammer) on

This brief Instagram clip from Betty Hammer — aka Liesl Hazelton — shows her performing electric guitar, in the background, through an array of synthesizer modules, in the foreground. That depth of field serves as well to describe the music. You can see her hands playing the guitar, but by the time it reachers your ear those modules have done a lot to the source audio, pushing it from a simple plucked string to something more like a Caribbean steel drum played at the very far end of a long metal corridor. Meanwhile the synth is deploying its own snare beat, the pace evident in the soft red light that is as large as Hammer’s hand.

Clip originally posted at Hammer’s Instagram page. More from Hammer, who lives on Norfolk Island, Australia, at

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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from

Excavated some cassettes of turntablism music (turntable as instrument) while cleaning out some of my old boxes this past weekend. Back then, around 1996 and 1997, when these were released, turntablism was often documented and circulated on cassette. These days, 20-plus years later, a lot of my listening is manipulation of the cassette tape itself, as well as digital approximations of tape manipulation. Some of the turntablists whose work is shown here have long since left traditional turntable vinyl behind and now use computer software that turns the turntable into a tactile controller for audio files.

An ongoing series cross-posted from
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RIP, Russ Solomon (1925-2018)

A brief remembrance of the late Tower Records founder

A little Russ Solomon (RIP) story from my years at Tower Records: I worked as an editor at Pulse!, the magazine published by Tower, full time from 1989 to 1996, and I continued to freelance for Tower after I left to take another job. The Tower corporate offices were in West Sacramento, and during my time as a Tower employee I lived in Sacramento (and briefly Davis), having moved out from Brooklyn for the job in 1989 after writing a few freelance pieces for the magazine. (Those articles’ subjects included electronically mediated cellist Hank Roberts, soul-punk band 24-7 Spyz, and alt-country act Souled American.)

After my first few months at Pulse!, the magazine’s office was moved across the parking lot from the main Tower corporate office building. This move meant a load of improvements: more space, better light, less noise, fewer interruptions. The move also further established what was already a solid editorial separation between the magazine and the company’s retail business.

Pulse!, of course, reflected Tower’s merchandising ethos, in that it covered as wide a range as possible of music. That was the point. We didn’t just cover the pop, rock, r&b, and hip-hop of most music magazines at the time. We had a classical columnist, and a separate opera columnist, and a Christian contemporary columnist, and a variety of jazz columnists, among many others. We kept on retainer reporters in cities around the world to contribute brief local scene reports. These days, having “big ears” — an appreciation for music across genres, with an emphasis on the connections between those genres — is an everyday occurrence, a listening norm, in our post-streaming, niche-market era, but back in the early 1990s the breadth of coverage in Pulse! distinguished it from most other music magazines.

In my time at Tower, the range of its publications expanded. I co-founded its classical magazine, Classical Pulse!, with the opera critic Bob Levine. And then in 1994 I created Tower’s first email publication. That’s what is now called a newsletter. Named epulse (everything back then was e-this and e-that, the way later it was i-this and i-that), the epulse newsletter ran weekly, more or less, for 8 years up until 2002.

Then Pulse! closed down fairly suddenly in 2002, after 19 years of publication. The closure was due to Tower’s financial instability. When in 1996 I left Pulse!, I had stopped editing the epulse newsletter for awhile, but then I picked up the responsibilities again later on. I ended up writing the final cover story for Pulse!, about rapper/producer Missy Elliott, before any of us knew it would be the magazine’s last issue. And when Pulse! shut down in 2002, we shut down epulse, too, naturally.

Or so we thought.

Because the very next week I got a call magazines’ (newly former) publisher. Apparently Russ Solomon had called him and asked why epulse hadn’t come out. Pulse! had been shut due to financial matters, he explained, but epulse was such a low-budget thing that Russ wanted it to continue. And so it did. Editorial coverage of music was core to Russ Solomon’s idea of what Tower was about. Little old epulse kept it going as long as possible. Epulse continued to be published, at his request, for another year or so, until bankruptcy finally shut down Tower for good.

This is lightly adapted from a thread I posted at the day after Russ Solomon died.

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