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.

Disquiet Junto Project 0321: Let’s Active

Make a short piece of music that decreases the mind's tendency to wander, based on research by Dr. Liila Taruffi, PhD, and her colleagues.

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 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on Monday, February 26, 2018. This project was posted in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, February 22, 2018.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0321: Let’s Active
Make a short piece of music that decreases the mind’s tendency to wander, based on research by Dr. Liila Taruffi, PhD, and her colleagues.

Step 1: This week we’re making music that decreases the mind’s tendency to wander. The project was developed in coordination with a Dr. Liila Taruffi, PhD, based on a paper she and her colleagues published in Nature Scientific Reports.

Step 2: No, you absolutely don’t need to have read the 10-page research paper or its 60 footnotes to participate in this project. But … in you’re interested, you can find the PDF here:

Step 3: Record a piece of instrumental music (no voices, no words) based on the following constraints. Use samples, simulations, or approximations of the recommended instrumentation if the instruments are not available:

Instrumentation: banjo, piccolo, xylophone, celeste, glockenspiel, ukulele, toy piano, baritone saxophone, tambourine

Instruments number: max 6

Speed of music: 130-180 bpm

Key: major

Length: around 2 min

Recommended musical/acoustic features: bright timbres, high pitches, much pitch variability, rising pitch contour, fast tone attacks, medium-high sound level, very little microstructural regularity

Here’s some additional background from Dr. Taruffi: “Mind-wandering” or “daydreaming” (i.e., our mind’s tendency to engage in thoughts and images that are unrelated to the here and now, are spontaneously evoked, and naturally flow over time) is incredibly omnipresent, reaching up to 50% of our waking mental activity. Mind-wandering is an internally-oriented cognitive state somehow opposite to focused attention on a task or on a specific sensory input. In the study entitled “Effects of Sad and Happy Music on Mind-Wandering and Default Mode Network”, we (Liila Taruffi, Corinna Pehrs, Stavros Skouras & Stefan Koelsch) tested the idea that music, via emotion, can function as a mediator of these inwardly-oriented mental experiences. In three experiments (two in which participants described their mental state immediately after listening to sad-sounding and happy-sounding music, and a third in which other participants’ brains were scanned as they listened to sad and happy music pieces) we found that sad music, compared with happy music, is associated with stronger mind-wandering and greater activity of the nodes of the Default Mode Network (the main brain network responsible for mind-wandering). Thus, our results demonstrate that, when listening to sad music, people withdraw their attention inwards and engage in spontaneous cognitive processes.

Six More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0321” (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 “disquiet0321” (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, February 26, 2018. This project was posted in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, February 22, 2018.

Length: The length is up to you. The instructions suggest roughly two minutes. (Assume your piece can be played on repeat, or as part of a playlist of similar music.)

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0321” 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 321st weekly Disquiet Junto project (Let’s Active: Make a short piece of music that decreases the mind’s tendency to wander, based on research by Dr. Liila Taruffi, PhD, and her colleagues) at:

More on Taruffi, music, and mind-wandering 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.

Tags: , , / Leave a comment ]

Instagram Improvisations

A turntable-sampler miniature from San Francisco musician k'in sventa

A post shared by k'in sventa (@kin_sventa) on

It’s almost redundant for a self-producing musician to employ the word “improvising” when posting a short performance video on Instagram. The Instagram shorts are invariably bedroom setups, or portable-rig excursions, or trial runs of new tools and new techniques. They’re almost all improvisations to one degree or another. These videos feel intimate not just because they’re shot in a personal setting. These videos feel intimate because the musician involved has opened up their world a bit, done something they’ve maybe not done before or that they know full well to be a work in progress. The idea of work in progress excites them, and they’ve invited the listener to check it out — not just the listener, but the viewer, who witnesses the cables and equipment, the hesitation of an extended finger, the imperfection of the framing, the minimal editing and virtual absence of post-production.

In this brief recent Instagram video from the musician k’in sventa, who is based in San Francisco, you hear the clackety keys of the sampler almost as clearly as you do the old piece of vinyl spinning nearby. That sound of the keys is almost — not quite but almost — part of the piece as a whole. In it, a short segment of the vinyl recording is fed into the sampler, and we hear it at the same time as the sampler hears it. Then, with a few key presses, the sample plays back, at first stuttered, then layered, then flourishing into a vibrant array of half-familiar elements, some glitches and others held tones, all as the turntable needle is returned to a resting position. Eventually a proper beat kicks in. If you look closely, the left hand is momentarily doubled as the video splices to later footage with the drums employed. The production of the video is as much an improvisation as the performance itself. That’s part of the pleasure.

Video originally posted to the k’in sventa Instgram page. More at and

Tags: , , / Leave a comment ]

The Sound of One Sound Glitching

The work of the Japan-based musician Ichion

The Japan-based musician who goes by the name Ichion explains the barebones appellation in a brief SoundCloud account bio. By this telling, “ichi” is the Japanese word for “one,” and “on” is the Japanese word for “sound.” All of the music on the Ichion account is extrapolated from a single sound. Well, more than one sound is present on the account. It’s that each individual Ichion track is “made from one sound only.” There are, of course, multiple sounds within each track, because Ichion transforms each seed sound into glitchy, rhythmic treats.

Some of the resulting music is downright club-ready, and some, like “Dada,” is enticingly minimal. “Dada” begins with the sense that something has gone wrong. The beat snaps and repeats like a machine rebooting on instinct. That cycle continues to dominate the track, as darker, more mechanical renditions of the central sound become more pronounced. A low throb and a froggy clip-clop then dominate until all the sonic pieces slowly disappear one at a time. The work is a small triumph of editing, of doing more not just with less but with virtually nothing.

“Dada” is just one track among dozens on Ichion’s account. Dig into the chase-scene momentum of “Erueee,” or the funky industrial music of “Chikara Chikara,” and all the other one-note wonders.

Track originally posted to

Tag: / Leave a comment ]

The Actions Within

An ambient performance video by r beny

I grew interested in live performance videos of ambient music based on an idea, and perhaps inevitably what came to be of interest to me was in marked contrast with where I started out.

What interested me at the start was the tension between inaction and inaction, between the perceived stasis of much if not most ambient music, and the simple fact that, in live performance, action is taking place. In other words, if ambient music is a balloon floating in air, then performance — that is, live production — is the hands that keep the balloon afloat.

There were other things afoot, too. As someone who writes about technologically mediated sound and to that end fiddles with the technology involved in mediating sound, I was always looking for videos in which the technology was put to use in a manner that was informative. Sometimes this meant tutorials, but often it just meant observing an instrument — a synthesizer module, a foot pedal, the construction of a tape loop — in practice. Problem was, the vast majority of videos employing this equipment usually had music I had no interest in listening to.

So, I started a YouTube playlist, now 79 videos long and growing, by collecting videos of live ambient performance. A regular presence in this playlist is r beny, whose music is richly ambient, and whose videos do nothing to disguise his techniques. Quite the contrary, they are studies in the connection between the action and inaction I was initially interested in. But as time has passed, one of the things I’ve noticed about r beny’s videos in particular, and many other live ambient performances in general, is how much the music comes alive when you pay attention to what’s happening on screen.

On its own, the audio of this video, “The Magnetic Sea,” is a lush conglomeration of sun-dabbled synthesis and warped, sun-damaged tonalities. But when watched live, when attention is paid to what r beny is up to, the interior moments of the piece gain a sense of distinction that was previously hidden beneath the sublime surface (which, if you studied literature in college, is sort of a redundant comment, but more on that another time). You needn’t know what r beny is using in this set, or what the individual controls necessarily do. Much as the lights on the devices give you a sense of interior tempo, his hand actions are synced to shifts and changes within the greater work. “The Magnetic Sea” is a beautiful piece of music to do other things to (read, write, think, sleep), and an all the more beautiful piece to pay utmost attention to — a duality that is at the heart of the definition of ambient music in the first place.

Video originally posted to r beny’s YouTube page. The musician r beny is Austin Cairns, who is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. More from beny/Cairns at and

Tags: , , / Leave a comment ]

When a Study Isn’t an Étude

A guitar pedal put through the motions

If you listen to experimental music in public, you might be familiar with being helpfully informed that what you’re listening to isn’t actually music. That approbation takes on a different meaning when it comes to another sort of listening, which is when musicians post rough initial takes of new equipment. Take “Tensor 1 02-18-2018,” which is a guitarist running through settings in a new effects pedal. The loping, sinuous tones are sent backwards and forwards, turned into dense guttural utterances and glitching broken figments along the way, but generally resting in a diffuse, reflective zone. The very shape of the depicted waveform makes it clear this isn’t a single work, but a collection of pieces, of attempts: it is broken into distinct segments, each with its own visibly evident start and end. Yet, while this isn’t even an étude, per se, it is an example of study, and there’s a pleasure to be taken in studying the study, to appreciating the sonic transformations afoot as the musician comes up to speed.

Listen to the track at The audio is by Kees de Goot, based in Rhode Island. More at

Tag: / Leave a comment ]