Supermodified Amon Tobin (Ninja Tune) Much has been made of Tobin’s country of origin, Brazil, but what matters most is where he’s headed. He’s one of the electronic avant-garde’s favorite populists, and the dance floor’s favorite experimentalists.
Alina Arvo PÃ¤rt (ECM) Classical music composed since the advent of the synthesizer isn’t necessarily informed by technology. The five austere, modern pieces heard here are electronic only to the extent that they were recorded with the consummate attention that listeners have come to expect from PÃ¤rt’s longtime association with ECM Records and its founder/producer, Manfred Eicher. That said, these are as stark and contemplative as any digitized ambience, and both fields — the techno-philic and the traditional — benefit from being heard in a common context.
Quondam Current Jake Mandell (Mille Plateaux) Once of America’s strongest electric voices, Mandell has one-upped himself with this strong application of brittle sounds and buoyant beats.
Kid A Radiohead (Capitol) Admittedly, something of a tough choice. A British band long (and deservedly) critiqued for ripping off the anthemic self-flagellation of U2 enters the 21st century by, all of a sudden, pixelating itself. In the process, it gets critiqued for ripping off the dyspeptic digitizations of Aphex Twin. True, the “newness” of this album will depend entirely on the range of the listener’s experience with so-called “intelligent dance music.” Anyone with a passing familiarity with Autechre or Oval will experience deja vu. Nonetheless, Radiohead deserves credit for not merely grafting electronic affects to pop songs, and for managing to bring considerable song craft to digital composition in a manner comparable to the electro-acoustic accomplishments of the Beastie Boys and Nine Inch Nails.
Rosa Thomas Brinkmann (Ernst) Brinkmann produced a series of 12″s, each with a woman’s name, that involved a rarified flavor of techno music. This album collects an assortment of material from that project. Ironic takes on metronomic dance music are common. What’s special about Brinkmann’s remote techno is how downright catchy it is, how much fun he accomplishes with such meager materials.
Multila Vladislav Delay (Chain Reaction) Yes, more haunting, near-anemic techno music from one of the more prolific musicians out there. It’s minimal, indeed, but slow as molasses, too, and distorted to the extent that any single element produces sonic consequences that ripple out toward infinity.
Brown, Blue, Brown on Blue (For Mark Rothko) Bernhard Gunter (Trente Oiseaux) An expressive, burnished ambient expanse, devoid of time signatures, exploring time slowed down to a deep wallow.
3 Pole (Matador) Jamaican dub remains as close as electronic music gets to an organic, rootsy sound. Pole (born Stefan Betke) is dub’s strongest Information Age proponent, and his thick, blurpy instrumentals suggest the satellite surveillance of swamp life.
Clicks + Cuts Various artists (Mille Plateaux) Two CDs packed with experiments in microsonic composition, stark music that explores the crevices within sounds with the same dedication that jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk brought to blue notes and that microtonal composers like Harry Partch brought to standard Western temperament. Contributors to this collection include Kit Clayton, Kid 606, Sutekh, and three musicians listed elsewhere in this top 10 of 2000: Pole, Jake Mandell and Vladislav Delay.
Requiem for a Dream Clint Mansell (Nonesuch) Mansell brought a dark techno sheen to Pi, the debut film by director Darren Aronofksy. For the duo’s second creative collaboration, a tale of multiple drug addictions, Mansell managed to lure the esteemed Kronos Quartet into his studio. The resulting soundtrack is nearly three dozen miniature compositions combining Kronos’ well-honed strings with Mansell’s pneumatic beats and sampled noise. Aronofsky has since been attached to the Batman franchise, and the thought of him and Mansell taking on the Dark Knight is enough to give movie fans a little faith in the future of Hollywood; Aronofsky is reportedly developing a script with comics auteur Frank Miller. It’s also worth noting that Mansell was a founding member of the band Pop Will Eat Itself, who once sang an ode to one of Miller’s comic-book peers: “Alan Moore knows the score.”
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.
• 0473 / Placebo Effect (2 or 3) / The Assignment: The Assignment: Record the second third of a trio that others will complete.
• 0472 / Jam Time (1 of 3) / The Assignment: Record the first third of a trio that others will complete.
• 0471 / Phase Transition / The Assignment: The Assignment: Record the sound of ice in a glass and make something with it.
• 0470 / Calendar View / The Assignment: Create a sonic diary of the past year with a dozen (or more) super-brief segments.
• 0469 / [Missing in Caption] / The Assignment: Make music that pushes the constraints of descriptive television captions.
And there is a complete list of past projects, 473 consecutive weeks to date.
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