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.

This Is What It Sounds Like When Dunes Groan

George Vlad files a report from Namibia

George Vlad reports from the desert of Namibia, where he recorded this hour of what sand dunes sound like. He identifies the locations as Dune 45 and the Skeleton Coast, and explains that the audio was taped both above- and belowground. The extended length of the document suits Vlad’s experience, which he says involves the ears adjusting over time to the environment and recognizing detail that at first is invisible:

“Spend a little time letting your ears become accustomed to the sparse soundscape though. After a few hours you’ll start hearing more and more detail where previously there seemed to be none. There’s a constant low frequency energy caused by the movement of air and sometimes by the sand dune itself resonating. The wind ebbs and flows at various speeds, occasionally spraying sand on to the hard crust of the sand dune. The insects flying by offer a sense of scale and immediacy.”

Two thirds of the recording was accomplished with microphones designed for use underwater, what are called hydrophones, here pushed deep into the sand. The result is, as he notes, often “abstract,” the wind muted at the surface, and the audio less immediately identifiable. Where above there is air and texture, below there is an ever-threatening churn, what Vlad likens to a “groan.” On his website, mindful-audio.com, he explains that these are a subset of audio captured at almost a dozen sites around the country.

Audio posted at George Vlad’s YouTube channel. He’s based in Guildford, England.

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Sound Ledger¹ (Atypical Speech, Tokyo Noise, Virtual Synths)

Audio culture by the numbers

7.5: The number of people, in millions, living in the U.S. who have difficulty using their voices.

30: The percentage rise in Tokyo noise complaints to police between March and April 2020, after schools were closed due to the pandemic.

2,217: The number of free synthesizer modules (out of 2,504 total, the others requiring a one-time fee per user account) in the module library of the free VCV Rack virtual emulation of a modular synthesizer (vcvrack.com). Other modules are available outside the library, as well.

▰ ▰ ▰

¹Footnotes: Voices: wsj.com. Tokyo: nytimes.com. VCV: vcvrack.com.

Originally published in the March 1, 2021, edition of the This Week in Sound email newsletter (tinyletter.com/disquiet).

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Magenta Haze

Dave Seidel channels La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela

If you’re familiar with the work of La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, then the color alone of Dave Seidel’s video is a dead giveaway right from the start. The dreamy magenta is the duo’s signature color, a common theme in their wardrobe and installations alike. Here the magenta is a pale shadow cast on Seidel’s equipment as he unveils ream after ream of raga-like drones. The performance is titled “For LMY and MZ” (note the initials), and he explains in an accompanying text that it draws inspiration from some central works of theirs. This is both deeply beautiful and deep work, the beading, undulating patterns shifting and cycling in slow motion.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine live performance of ambient music. Video originally posted to Seidel’s YouTube page. More from Seidel (aka Mysterybear) at mysterybear.net.

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Reading Waveforms

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt

I spent a lot of time over the weekend editing audio and I never got sick of looking at waveforms. If anything, these guides for my work became distractions from my work. This particular image was barely a blip in a lengthy expanse of signal and noise. It signified a near-silence that I felt was necessary to silence further.

There were other silences, as well, silences of differing sorts, clusters of which came to represent shared characteristics, subsets, a typology of silences. If individually the beautiful images distracted me, the patterns they suggested in combination helped me get my work done, served as guideposts: an atlas of the quiet. I could tell which silence, for example, was room silence and which was still-mumbling human silence. I noticed that “um”s looked like goldfish, and that when someone said the same word twice, the second time somehow could overlap the first, as if for an instant they were saying two words at once — well, one word, the end and the start of it simultaneously, a snake eating its own tail. If words were repeated as a verbal tick, I could sometimes tell from looking at them which was right. Not which was right objectively, but which was right in the context of the words around it.

The silences were especially interesting. There’d be a silence between words, and I’d cut it in half, and it’d still feel longer than half the original length. I’d cut that in half, and it continued to feel long. Trim and trim, and still I had to cut hard to get it right. It’s as if the measure of silence between words isn’t about length of time at all. It’s about a particular threshold, under which is natural speech, and beyond which is noticeable hesitation. And in the waveform I could see the hesitation. And in the editing tool, I could excise it. And the most beautiful waveforms — some spare, elegant curves, others little squashed and distended curlicues — were invariably the ones representing audio that never made the final cut.

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Disquietude Podcast Episode 0004

Ambient music by Belly Full of Stars, Christian Carrière, Femi Shonug​a-Flem​ing, Jeff Rona, Jostijn Ligtvoet, and Patricia Wolf, plus interviews and commentary

This is the fourth episode of the Disquietude podcast of ambient electronic music.

The goal of the Disquietude podcast is to collect adventurous work in the field of ambient electronic music. What follows is all music that captured my imagination, and I hope that it appeals to your imagination as well.

All six tracks of music are featured with the permission of the individual artists. Below is the structure of the episode with time codes for the tracks, the spoken annotation of the tracks, interviews with two of the musicians (Jeff Rona and Patricia Wolf), and a brief essay about voice assistants.

02:07 Belly Full of Stars’ “Pattern 5”

06:20 Christian Carrière’s “Sacred Acoustics T004”

08:02 Femi Shonuga-Fleming’s “Ambient Live Looping Drone with Eurorack and Elektron Octatrack”

15:50 Jeff Rona’s “Vapor 6”

23:37 Jostijn Ligtvoet’s “Twilight and Fire”

32:02 Patricia Wolf’s “Snow Falling on Rough Horsetail and Dead Oak Leaves”

33:28 Annotation Begins

35:25 Patricia Wolf Interview

43:23 Jeff Rona Interview

46:11 “OK, Giggle”

48:11 Credits

49:10 Closing Music

49:36 End

All the music here happens to be by solo musicians. These consist of Belly Full of Stars (aka Kim Rueger), of Nashville, Tennessee; Christian Carrière, based in Montréal, Québec; Femi Shonuga-Fleming, a RISD student based in New York; Jeff Rona, a favorite film composer of mine, who is based in Los Angeles; Jostijn Ligtvoet, a cellist based in the Netherlands; and Patricia Wolf, who provided a wintry field recording from near where she lives in Portland, Oregon.

All the music heard here is instrumental, which is to say there is no prominent vocal part – or at least there’s no intelligible vocal part – and thus it’s suitable for background listening. It’s all ambient, which is to say it’s also suitable for close, concentrated listening. That dual sense of potential uses, both inattentive and attentive, both background and foreground, is the hallmark of fine ambient music.

Belly Full of Stars’ “Pattern 5” is off the album Aura: triplicaterecords.bandcamp.com.

Christian Carrière’s “Sacred Acoustics T004” first appeared on his SoundCloud account, soundcloud.com/christiancarriere/.

Femi Shonuga-Fleming’s “Ambient Live Looping Drone with Eurorack and Elektron Octatrack” first appeared on YouTube.

Jeff Rona’s “Vapor 6” is from his forthcoming album, Vapor, due out March 5, 2021.

Jostijn Ligtvoet’s “Twilight and Fire” first appeared, at roughly twice the length heard here, on YouTube.

Patricia Wolf’s “Snow Falling on Rough Horsetail and Dead Oak Leaves” first appeared on her SoundCloud account, soundcloud.com/patriciawolf_music

Thanks for listening.

Produced and hosted by Marc Weidenbaum. Disquietude theme music by Jimmy Kipple, with vocal by Paula Daunt. Logo by Boon Design.

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