Beaucoup Fish Underworld (JBO) Take the title of the accomplished British dance trio Underworld’s latest album to mean what you like. The peculiar word pairing Beaucoup Fish may simply be an expression of the breadth of material here. The vocals alone range from the intricately computer-enhanced engineering of the opening track, “Cups,” to the Depeche Mode-style crooning of “Shudder/King of Snake,” to the deadpan spoken word of “Bruce Lee,” on which vocalist-guitarist Karl Hyde intones a mash of wordplay that imitates the digital cut-and-paste methods the band often uses to process its lyrical content. Now, keep in mind that this is by no means a vocal record. It’s a dance record, and as expansive a dance record as we heard this year — replete with sultry, soulful, cinematic, midnight-hour cruising epics (“Cups,” “Push”) and driving anthems, like “Kittens,” which keenly recalls “Rez,” the early, pulsing techno niche hit that cemented the group’s renown. A love for detail threads through the album, which hums along like an expertly coded program, bringing us an iteration closer to the day when machines are fully appreciated as instruments.
Niun Niggung Mouse on Mars (Sonig/Rough Trade) A wide-ranging full-length from one of the most hard-to-pigeonhole duos in electronic music — part dance music, part environmental, with nods to everything from hip-hop to chamber composition.
Kakusei DJ Krush (Sony/Red Ant) Released initially on Sony in Japan, this is Krush’s tribute to DJ Premier: virtually no vocals, just loop after loop of abraded hip-hop that follows a rhythm skewed like the gait of a wounded animal.
Scope Nobukazu Takemura (Thrill Jockey) Superminimalist music that plays doppler tricks on your ears with carefully choreographed patterns of clicks — a blueprint that’s an end in itself. Experimental electronic music has more than its share of pointilists. Takemura distinguishes himself with a composer’s sense of dramatic arc, distinctly Eastern tones and much sonic subtlety.
Parallel Processes Jake Mandell (Worm) The album takes its title from computer terminology for multitasking, but unlike much electronic music being produced in this moment of inexpensive CPUs and a flush economy, Mandell’s is a distinctly human effort: warm, humorous, playful, single-minded.
The West Matmos (Deluxe) The atmospheric world of electro-acoustic music, meshing the digital and the analogue, gets an incredibly crafty addition thanks to Matmos, the conceptually oriented San Francisco duo, and a host of friends (on, among other things, slide guitar, drums, jew’s harp, trumpet and more).
Modulation and Transformation 4 Various artists (Mille Plateaux) Three CDs of dedication to near silence and vertiginous depth. Ambient music tends to get typecast as sonic wallpaper, and this claustrophobic collection takes revenge on that mindset. It features Terre Theamlitz, Low Res, Mouse on Mars, and Kerosene among others.
Cadman Requiem Gavin Bryars (Point) Another beautiful set of compositions from one of the earliest musicians to directly influence Brian Eno. Bryars is best known for his Jesus’s Blood Never Failed Me Yet, a tape-loop composition from the ’70s that resurfaced in 1993 with additional vocals by Tom Waits. Cadman is a five-part requiem for a friend who died in the 1988 Lockerbie jet terrorist bombing; it’s an achingly beautiful piece scored for voices and strings, with all the hush of a Gregorian chant. Also included are settings of eight poems by Etel Adnan and a piece titled Epilogue from Wonderlawn (1994), a minimalist work for strings. The album shows that “ambient” is about artistic intent, not technology.
Royal Astronomy Âµ-Ziq (Astralwerks/Planet Âµ) More electronic explorations from one of Britain’s bright young things, composer-performer Mike Paradinas, a close associate of Aphex Twin known for his humor and love of rhythmic barrages and video-game sonics.
20′ – 2000 (series) Various artists (Noton/Raster) Not an album but a series of short CDs produced by a variety of musicians in response to the following challenge: write music for the last 20 minutes of the 20th century. The 12 releases, one for each month of 1999, feature: Komet, Ilpo Vaisanen, Ryoji Ikeda, coH, Beytone, Senking, Thomas Brinkmann, Scanner, Noto, Mika Vainio, Wolfgang Voigt and Elph. Much of the music is microsonic in nature, more a matter of technological ambivalence than of high spirts, more sine wave than auld lang syne.
Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media
• February 5, 2020: The first session of the 15-week course I teach at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape.
• April 15, 2020: A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)
• December 13, 2020: This day marks the 24th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2021: This day marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
• At least two live group concerts by Disquiet Junto members in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the works for 2020.
• I have liner notes for a musician's solo album and an essay in a book about an art event due out. I'll announce as the release dates come into focus.
• The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).
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Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.
• 0463 / Making the Gradient / The Assignment: Make a piece of music inspired by the concept of a gradient.
• 0462 / Vade in Pace / The Assignment: Write a short piece of music that gets slower and slower as it proceeds.
• 0461 / Goldilocks Zone / The Assignment: Navigate a sonic space between the hospitable and the inhospitable.
• 0460 / Creative Destruction / The Assignment: Show how you got to a tortured sound.
• 0459 / From a Distance / The Assignment: Make music intended to be heard from afar.
And there is a complete list of past projects, 463 consecutive weeks to date.
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