The three-letter term IDM, for “intelligent dance music,” is used often enough to describe a broad array of music, from Aphex Twin’s jerky ambience to Kid606’s digital acts of agitation. Another three-letter word, ECM, as is the estimable label ECM Records, run by producer Manfred Eicher, might lend itself to a more precise subset of electronic-oriented recordings — music that is compositionally open-ended, and whose deeply sedative aspirations are not technologically dependent. Drummers as fit as Joey Baron and Tony Allen likely couldn’t play two-hour equivalents of drum’n’bass if their lives depended on it; the music, with its high-wire feats of metrical aggression, pretty much requires a machine to make it happen — not that there’s anything wrong with that. However, there is a brew of quietness, of soulfulness, that is as sure to echo from Bill Frisell’s deeply digitized guitar as it is from Arvo Part’s a cappella chorus. The band Rothko makes this sort of music, and its new album, A Continual Search for Origins, with a mix of softly intoned instrumentation and documentarian field recordings, evokes a spirit of profound reflection. The field recordings were made by Rothko leader Mark Beazley, who taped various background sounds during a trip to Switzerland. In the album’s brief liner note he explains that those raw tapes became the “starting point” for a variety of instrumental settings, including percussion, sleigh bells, trumpet, guitar and much more. The first and last track feature prominent vocals by Caroline Ross, who sings plaintively over the slow tide of music. Nine tracks in between overlay delicate compositions on top of sounds of rain, wind and, again, according to Beazley’s note, “the sound of just sitting quietly.” The album was released on the label Too Pure on June 4, 2002.
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
• July 28, 2021: This day marks the start of the 500th consecutive weekly project in the Disquiet Junto music community.
• December 13, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
• January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th 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.
• A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the 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.)
• 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.
• 0484 / A Movable Heart / The Assignment: Transplant the sounds of Chris Kallmyer's wind chimes to a new location.
• 0483 / Type Set / The Assignment: Use a recording of yourself typing something as the underlying rhythmic track for a piece of music.
• 0482 / Exactly That Gap / The Assignment: Make a musical haiku following instructions from Marcus Fischer.
• 0481 / Capsule Time / The Assignment: Record a time capsule for yourself in the future.
• 0480 / Ongsay Aftcray / The Assignment: Record a piece of music by employing Pig Latin as a technique.
And there is a complete list of past projects, 484 consecutive weeks to date.
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