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.

The Systems Music of Marcus Fischer

An automated ambient performance for synthesizer, guitar, and tape loop.

Music that slowly develops as it proceeds is often described as “generative,” due to the way that development is autonomous, and the way we as humans have a tendency to attribute sentience to things that seem to act under their own guidance. Another useful rubric might be “systems music,” which is to say music that is the result of some combination of technological apparatuses working in tandem free of the continued presence of human agency. This “systems music” consideration puts aside, or at least lessens, the emphasis on an organic functionality, and looks instead at the functions, at the congruent parts and the whole that they constitute.

In the case of this video, that combination consists of guitar, tape loop, and modular synthesizer, the modular synthesizer being itself a system, a collection of interconnected devices. This is the work of Marcus Fischer, whose music often sits at the intersection of performance and installation, happening and recording, technology and sculpture.

The music here is a digital guitar loop, 11 seconds long if you want to keep pace at home, which is then being lent an echo thanks to that large reel-to-reel machine. The birdsong is a separate digital audio source, and all of it is being filtered, per the brief note accompanying the video. The music is sing-song, warbling, at time pushing well past the edges of what would commonly be thought of as audio fidelity, and in the process pushing into a whole new sensibility where artifacts are surfaced and left to be considered for all their newfound sonic loveliness.

Fischer’s mix of loops and tonalities, textures and reference points has no firm structure. It’s simply and elegantly a sequence of elements transforming as they proceed. This is music that is the end product of a system set up and then left, quite literally, to its own devices.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. The video originally posted to Marcus Fischer’s new youtube.com channel, which launched in mid-December of last year and currently has five segments, all worth taking in. Fischer is based in Portland, Oregon. More from him at twitter.com/marcus_fischer, marcus-fischer.bandcamp.com, and mapmap.ch. I should mention that Fischer was the composer on a science fiction film, Youth, for which I was the music supervisor and, with him, co-sound designer.

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“Gain Entrance (Test)”

A third week in the Weekly Beats series

This is the third Weekly Beats of 2018 — the third week of the biennial series wherein people upload tracks they’ve recorded as part of a communal challenge. It’s a bit like one of those largely non-competitive marathons where the majority of the people are just there to run alongside each other, and the only person anyone is gauging their performance against is themselves. (Which is to say, it’s like the Disquiet Junto to some degree.) For this week, I continued my efforts to combine electric guitar and modular, to run my guitar through my modular synthesizer in a manner that is, in essence, a very large effects pedal. My main goal this week was to incorporate a third element into the guitar + modular combination. The third element is piece of software called Rack, available for free from vcvrack.com. It’s a virtual modular, for which at this stage well over a hundred different modules have been created, most of the available, like the software itself, for free download. I have a physical module in my rig that lets me send and receive both audio and CV (control voltage) signals, and so I hooked that up to Rack and used Rack-based modules to augment the sounds being processed by my physical modular synth. Last week I ran the full guitar line through a looper, whereas this week I experimented with just sending two bands of the audio spectrum. It’s still very much a test case, but I thought it more important to get something up this week, to maintain the Weekly Beats cadence, than to skip a week out of self-editing. There’s some overdub toward the end, where I layered in material from an alternate take. That latter material involves no live playing. It’s all the circuit afterglow of the recording, where the guitar fragments caught in the system cycle through, morphing a tiny bit as they go. I didn’t upload this piece to SoundCloud, but you can give it a listen on the Weekly Beats website at weeklybeats.com/disquiet.

This is what the virtual modular setup looked like:

And this is what my modular synthesizer looked like:

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What Sound Looks Like

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


A doorbell button sends a variety of signals. It’s an instruction, an invitation, a place-marker. When lit at night, it can suggest habitation, even when no one is home. Often, especially in dense urban settings, the doorbell’s inherent messages aren’t sufficient to the task, however. There may be numbers and letters to clarify the association of address and interface. There may be arrows directing the visitor’s eye and finger. There may be redirects for postal services. There may be cameras that, intentionally or not, create an interactional moat, a digitally mediated divide between visitor and host — the host in such circumstances has an access to, a vantage on, a control over the visitor before the visitor has ever stepped foot inside. There’s lore of the vampire, who in some tellings must have permission before crossing such a threshold; digital vampires of the opposite persuasion — the ones on the recording end of the camera — have no significant restraints on their ability to capture, to collect and collate. They need not even cross the divide to have a presence.

Sometimes the additional message is simply a bit of text, like here, where the instruction to “push hard” is neatly appended below the button. This modest device has no internet-era or even multi-functional connectivity, but it does speak messages, even beyond its literal one. For context, understand that there is also an array of buttons hung on that perpendicular metal gate. This button is an add-on, perhaps a replacement for one of the earlier ones. There is personality to the writing, in particular the swirl in the numeral 2 and the playful vitality of that “a” in “hard,” its schoolbook charm somehow both youthful and old-fashioned. This writing wasn’t done quickly, or haphazardly, or out of anger. It doesn’t appear to contain a subtext of antipathy toward a landlord, or toward technology for that matter. The writing is welcoming, reducing any emotional strain that such an instruction might have introduced in other circumstances.

Still, the button itself shows little wear, which can be read generously as the resilience of something well-constructed, or more likely as evidence of it having been pushed with limited frequency over the years. The genteel stroke of the pen, upon reflection, takes on a kind of neediness, the entreating smile of an urban entity that knows the loneliness of the crowd all too well.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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Building on “Fever Pitch”

Joseph Branciforte has created a duet by adding to a track I recorded.

The Disquiet Junto has been going on since the first week of January 2012, and though I have moderated the Junto from the start, and we’re currently on the 316th consecutive weekly project, and the mailing list has over 1,200 subscribers from around the world, I myself have participated less than a handful of times, most recently this past week, for project 0315.

I hadn’t recorded the piece of music, “Fever Pitch,” as part of Junto 0315 initially. I recorded “Fever Pitch,” in fact, for an entirely different weekly music project series, one called Weekly Beats. When I subsequently recognized that the simple track, just a guitar line filtered by a modular synthesizer, fit the constraints of Junto project 0315, I posted it for that as well. There is a lot of cross-pollination among only compositional series. For example, I wrote a poem for the great Naviar Haiku series on the occasion of its 40th weekly project, and some people have cross-posted pieces of music between Naviar and Junto, which share a bit of the same roster in general, and we have collaborated once or twice.

In any case, the point of project 0315, “First Chair,” was for musicians to make short pieces of music that would serve as one third of a trio, with the idea that in the following weeks other musicians would, in turn, flesh out the trio. It’s an exercise in asynchronous collaboration, which is a central theme of all Junto projects. The sequence originating with Junto 0315 is simply a reinforcement through emphais of that concept.

Well, as part of Junto 0316, which is currently ongoing and will close at 11:59pm on Monday night, a Brooklyn-based musician named Joseph Branciforte did me a great honor. He added a second part to “Fever Pitch,” which he simply titled after the day he recorded it, “January 18, 2018.” It’s a marvel of simpatico consideration, his Fender Rhodes, coaxed by some effects pedals, filling in the blanks left by my guitar. I’ve been fiddling with a modular synthesizer since 2014, when I started to assemble one after marveling at a performance by Marcus Fischer at Powell’s Books in Portland at an event for my then just published book on Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, part of the Bloomsbury 33 1/3 series. Since last July, when I started taking guitar lessons weekly, my synthesizer has gotten less attention, but I recently got into using the synth as an oversized effects pedal, which is how this piece came about.

All of which is to say, I’m writing this evening to thank Branciforte for the great pleasure his piece — that is, his piece and my piece in tandem — has brought me. There is a misunderstanding that music critics are frustrated musicians. I’m in no way a frustrated musician. I have such low expectations for what I might accomplish musically, that learning guitar and synthesizer is just as sequence of pleasurable discoveries fed by curiosity and reinforced by the steady pace of practice.

As I write this, there are already 21 tracks by almost as many musicians in the 0316 Junto, “El Segundo,” some others of which have also built on my “Fever Pitch.” I’m just beginning to work my way through the accumulating duets, and listening for the space they leave for what will soon be trios.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/joseph-branciforte. More from Joseph Branciforte, who is based in Brooklyn, New York, at josephbranciforte.com, twitter.com/josbranciforte, YouTube, and instagram.com/josephbranciforte.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0316: El Segundo

The Assignment: Record the second third of a trio, adding to a pre-existing track.

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, January 22, 2018. This project was posted in the morning, California time, on Thursday, January 18, 2018.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0316: El Segundo
The Assignment: Record the second third of a trio, adding to a pre-existing track.

Step 1: This week’s Disquiet Junto project is the second in a sequence that explores and encourages asynchronous collaboration. This week you will be adding music to a pre-existing track, which you will source from the previous week’s Junto project (disquiet.com/0315). Note that you aren’t creating a duet — you’re creating the second third of what will eventually be a trio. Keep this in mind.

Step 2: The plan is for you to record a short and original piece of music, on any instrumentation of your choice, as a complement to the pre-existing track. First, however, you must select the piece of music to which you will be adding your own music. There are 50 tracks in all to choose from, 49 as part of this playlist:

https://soundcloud.com/disquiet/sets/disquiet-junto-project-0315

And then the 50th was a video by Bassling (aka Jason Richardson), also available as an audio track download here:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0315-first-chair/11022/34?u=disquiet

To select a track, you can listen through all that and choose one, or you can use a random number generator to select a number from 1 to 50, the first 49 being numbered in the above SoundCloud playlist, and 50 being Bassling’s track. (Note: it’s fine if more than one person uses the same original track as the basis for their piece.)

Step 3: Record a short piece of music, roughly the length of the piece of music you selected in Step 2. Your track should complement the piece from Step 2, and leave room for an eventual third piece of music. When composing and recording your part, do not alter the original piece of music at all, except to pan the original fully to the left. In your finished audio track, your part should be panned fully to the right. To be clear: the track you upload won’t be your piece of music alone; it will be a combination of the track from Step 2 and yours.

Step 4: Also be sure, when done, to make the finished track downloadable, because it will be used by someone else in a subsequent Junto project.

Six More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0316” (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 “disquiet0316” (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 llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0316-el-segundo/

Step 5: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process. Be sure to name the track to which you’ve added music and the name of the musician who recorded it, and include a link to it.

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, January 22, 2018. This project was posted in the morning, California time, on Thursday, January 18, 2018.

Length: The length of your track will be roughly the length of the track to which you are adding something.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0316” 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 essential for this specific 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 316th weekly Disquiet Junto project (El Segundo: Record the second third of a trio, adding to a pre-existing track.) at:

https://disquiet.com/0316/

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-0316-el-segundo/

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

Image associated with this project is adapted from a photo by Martin Kenny and is used via Flickr thanks to a Creative Commons license:

https://flic.kr/p/neoFUH

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

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