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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Dark Ambience from 1999

Of the small stack of releases by Crawl Unit that have slowly accumulated on the shelf over the past decade, Everyone Gets What They Deserve in particular is worth revisiting regularly. Crawl Unit is the pseudonym of Joe Colley, a self-motivated, drone-oriented musician who resides in Northern California. Everyone Gets What They Deserve, released on C.I.P. Records in 1999, contains six recordings, totaling nearly an hour of cautiously layered industrial noise. The album reverses the common pop format, from whisper to scream, and instead descends from the sort of distant hum that might keep you up at night, to the kind of slightly overheard resonances that would make you shutter, if you were certain you’d heard them in the first place. The depth of Colley’s sound can best be communicated by what is not heard — that is, by the contrast between listening to this album on a pair of Walkman-style “ear buds,” and letting it play out loud on a proper stereo. “Holy Static,” the album’s opening track, is a thick chant, like some mechanistic Tuvan throat singer on autopilot. The closing track, “Flicker (Elapsing State of Grace),” makes “Holy Static” sound pastoral by comparison; it maps a sequence of sonic irritants, from a bug-like buzz to a threatening slab of white-noise, with a momentous silence somewhere in between; voices emerge at a remote distance, and eventually the quietness is threatened to be overrun by the motor in your CD player. On common small headphones, these tracks might merely sound thin and trebly, like a nearby river, or perhaps an emergency broadcast signal on a neighbor’s television. Heard aloud, so to speak — that is, on speakers at a comfortable room volume — the effect is bodily, three-dimensional. The debate over the proliferation of MP3 files has been hijacked by mere commercial concerns. Of far greater significance, one might argue, is the increasingly prevalence of poor sound quality, in MP3 files as in everyday headphones. At a time when sound quality is being ignored in favor of convenience, Joe Colley makes sound art that commands attention to details.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • 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

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