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.

Serrated Ambient Music

A live performance on one instrument by Tom Hall

This gorgeous, pulsing, lightly fractured, seven-minute video of serrated ambient music performed entirely on an Elektron Digitakt was posted by Tom Hall late last year. In it, rapidly cycling bits of noise turn from sharp slivers to lush texture, from harsh to comforting, and back again. The pace is either anxious or genteel, depending on where you ear focuses. Does it attach to the internal motion of these micro-moments, bits of noise and drone churning past each other, or does it fix itself on the underlying big picture, a peaceful tonal space in which stasis is the ruling structure?

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. The video was first posted on Hall’s YouTube channel last October. More from Tom Hall, an Australian based in Los Angeles, at tomhall.com.au, instagram.com/tomhallsonics, and soundcloud.com/thall. His album Spectra was recently released on the French label Elli Records.

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Introductory Loop-Making

Another weekend experiment

Another little weekend project straight out of any Electronic Music 101 textbook: make a tape loop with an old cassette. I’d never done this before. The cassette tape is from an old batch of unused 90-minute Maxells I have on hand. The loop was recorded on a Panasonic Standard Cassette Transcriber RR-830, a relic of when I’d record interviews on physical cassette and then transcribe from those cassettes. That Panasonic device has a foot pedal, which used to make the start/stop process of transcription a tiny bit more bearable, especially because it can micro-rewind an adjustable amount with each pause.

The audio of my first tape loop came out OK on the first try — I recorded a short strum on an acoustic guitar — but there was an issue with playback on the RR-830: After two or three cycles through the loop, it would come to a stop. I had high hopes of using the RR-830 in a performance setting, given the potential for that foot pedal, along with other attributes of the device, like control over tone and playback speed. (Another issue: there was a not so little gap in the audio, and it was suggested to me to record the audio first on a longer stretch of tape, and to then make the loop from a subset of that tape. I’ll try this approach next time.)

At first I thought the issue with the playback ending on the Panasonic had to do with a poor job on my part constructing the cassette. So, I took it apart and made it more taut by trimming the length of the tape a bit, as well as reinserting the second plastic reel. Still, the Panasonic ceased playing after two or three cycles. To test the newly refined tape loop, I put the cassette in the old, bright yellow Sony “Sports” Walkman, and it played well, over and over and over. Perhaps there’s a setting on the RR-830 that will make it less sensitive, and therefore capable of playing the loop on repeat dependably.

Making the loop was more painstaking a process than I’d expected, even after advance warnings from various experienced people. The standard cassette tape has loose parts, held in only thanks to the tension supplied by five tiny screws. In addition, getting the tape to the correct length, and connecting it into one continuous piece, requires a level of dexterity almost — but, fortunately, not quite — beyond my manual dexterity. I got it to work, which was a lot of fun in the end. The sound quality is excellent, which is to say it is rich with texture, not high-fidelity.

And if you want to try it out, the tape-oriented musician who goes by the name Amulets has a helpful video on YouTube. There’s also a good tutorial at instructables.com.

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Stasis Report: Meg Bowles ✚ Abul Mogard ✚ More

Five new tracks added to the ambient Spotify playlist as of August 12, 2018

The latest update to my Stasis Report ambient-music playlist on Spotify, on Sunday, August 12, added the following five tracks.

✚ “Where Not Even” from the new album Above All Dreams by Abul Mogard, based in Belgrade, Serbia: abulmogard.bandcamp.com.

✚ “Love and Death” from the new album Exit Rumination by C. Diab, based in Vancouver, Canada: injazerorecords.bandcamp.com.

✚ “Berceuse for a Star Child” from the new album Evensong: Canticles for the Earth by Meg Bowles, based in Connecticut: megbowlesmusic.bandcamp.com.

✚ “Voice of the Runes” from Runes by Kano (aka Don Campbell). The 1986 album has been reissued by Subliminal Sounds: subliminalsounds.se.

✚ “Mauna Kea” from the new album Hawaiki Tapes by M. Geddes Gengras: umorrex.bandcamp.com.

Some previous Stasis Report tracks were removed to make room for these, keeping the playlist length to roughly an hour and a half. Those tracks are now in the Stasis Archives playlist.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0345: Sample Time

The Assignment: Make your own drum machine sounds, do something with them, and share them.

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.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is Monday, August 13, 2018, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on. It was posted in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, August 9, 2018.

Tracks will be added to the playlist mini-album for the duration of the project.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0345: Sample Time
The Assignment: Make your own drum machine sounds, do something with them, and share them.

Major thanks to Matt Nish-Lapidus and Jason Wehmhoener for helping put together this project.

Step 1: Today is August 9th, meaning yesterday was August 8th, or as it has come to be widely named: 808 Day, celebrating the Roland TR-808. In slightly belated celebration of that day and that device, we’ll be devising our own drum machines.

Step 2: Think about making your own drum machine. What basic set of sounds would it come with? (If you would benefit from additional structure, consider one for each of these categories: Accent, Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Low Tom/Conga, Mid Tom/Conga, Hi Tom/Conga, Clave/Rim, Maracas/Clap, Cowbell, Cymbal, Open Hat, Closed Hat.)

Step 3: Based on your thinking from Step 2, create those dozen or so sounds that are the basis for your imaginary drum machine.

Step 4: Record a piece of music using your new drum machine. At the start of the track, before the music begins, put the full sequence of sounds you created in Step 3, one after another, with a little silent space before and after each. (For next week’s project, people will be making music with your imaginary drum machine.)

Six More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0345” (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 “disquiet0345” (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: Post your track in the following discussion thread at llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0345-sample-time/

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 Monday, August 13, 2018, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on. It was posted in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, August 9, 2018.

Length: The length of your track is up to you.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0345” 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’s important for this project 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 345th weekly Disquiet Junto project (Sample Time / The Assignment: Make your own drum machine sounds, do something with them, and share them) at:

https://disquiet.com/0345/

Major thanks to Matt Nish-Lapidus and Jason Wehmhoener for helping put together this project.

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here:

http://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0345-sample-time/

There’s also a Junto Slack. Send your email address to twitter.com/disquiet to join in.

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“Aida Facing Shimmy 353”

Playing with acoustic guitar and MiniDisc artifacts

I have an old Sony MiniDisc recorder I’ve been meaning to sell or trade for the longest time. After watching one of the recent videos by the musician Hainbach, however, some hidden potential was revealed to me. Hainbach has been exploring unique characteristics of the MiniDisc, such as the granular quality of its fast-forward and rewind artifacts, its ability to easily break tracks into segments, and its gap-less playback.

The second and third of those three features are the ones I was most immediately interested in pursuing. That third one, the gap-less playback, isn’t present on all MiniDisc devices, though it was an impetus for Gescom’s ingenious 1998 album Minidisc — Gescom consisting of Autechre working in collaboration with Russell Haswell. Fortunately, my MiniDisc recorder, a Sony MZ-R50, has gap-less playback.

This simple little evening project turned out to be a learning experience in more ways than one. I wanted to record from my acoustic guitar into the MiniDisc, which seemed easy enough, but as it turned out I couldn’t find the microphone that originally accompanied the device. I spent some time looking on eBay and discovered that lots of people selling old MiniDisc recorders have also misplaced their microphones. I thought briefly about skipping the acoustic guitar for now and recording from a little iOS synth into my MiniDisc just as a proof of concept, which is when it occurred to me to record my guitar into an ancient iPod and to then record from the iPod into the MiniDisc. This worked fine.

The audio was me plucking and strumming a D chord on the guitar for about 30 seconds. I used a standard audio cable to go from the headphone jack of the iPod to the Line In of the MiniDisc. Once the 30 seconds were on the MiniDisc, I used the “T Mark” function on the MiniDisc to subdivide the track into little fragments. This took the one single track and turned it into about 25. After listening to it on shuffle/repeat, I whittled away and deleted a handful of silences, ending with about 19 pieces of varying lengths. In the end, the guitar material played out in little slivers and proved, to my ear, quite pleasing, as soft tones end suddenly and chance permutations render momentary melodies.

The question then became: how to transfer the audio from my MiniDisc to my laptop, or back to the iPod for that matter. This isn’t as simple as it sounds. The macOS software Audio Hijack didn’t seem to recognize my headphone input, and neither did my iPod. As it turns out, that’s because the standard headphone jack is different from the sort that laptops and mobile devices recognize these days. The standard audio headphone mini-jack has two little lines on it, if you look closely. The jack of the now-standard (well, until the imminent Bluetooth apocalypse) headphone-with-microphone cable actually has three little lines on it. I need to order a converter for future recordings, but I wanted to finish this tonight. So, I used a cable to connect my MiniDisc player to my Zoom H4n recorder, and then took the SD card from the H4n and put it in my laptop. I used Audacity to lower the treble on it, and then — just to try it out, because the software is new to me — Adobe Audition to trim the close, where the track initially ended too abruptly.

The track’s title, “Aida Facing Shimmy 353,” is an anagram of the word “MiniDisc” and the model of my acoustic guitar, a Yamaha FG-335.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/disquiet.

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