Glitch is the word, have you heard? The term “glitch” is shorthand for the use, by electronic musicians, of bits of sonic material that mimic the sounds associated with everyday technology that has ceased functioning effortlessly. The most common example of glitch in pop music is what sounds like the repetitive skipping of scratched CDs. This tenacious electronica technique — found in music by Oval, Autechre, Matmos and many others — is less a genre than it is a flavor. And in the hands of Tim Hecker, glitch is more than just an Information Age trope — it’s got move, it’s got meaning. Hecker can turn what sounds like a broken record into a background groove, and he can make those repetitions sound less like echoes and more like premonitions — less like a reflexive mechanical effect and more like a compositional salvo. On the opening track of Presents Radio Amor (Mille Plateaux, 2003), “Song of the Highwire Shrimper,” the glitchy repetition comes in the form of single notes that ping slowly in a kind of decay, or quite suddenly as if something has short-circuited and a switch is being flicked on and off with great anxiety. Hecker has managed to find in this repetition a common ground with solo piano music — not only the minimalism of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman, but the romantic etudes of a century or two earlier. His repetitions almost always have an arc, and when that arc is slow it has the elegance of a rolling object coming gently to rest. In terms of sheer hyperactivity, the album’s eighth track, “The Stair Compass,” is its most glitch-intensive — with all that quiet buzzing, it could easily accompany a documentary about termite infestation. Hecker’s trick is that his sounds, for all their furious friction, meld into something as soft as wool. The track that follows, “Azure Azure,” has the same sort of textural, almost visceral, richness, but it achieves this with a more monotonic haze.
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.
• 0456 / Line Up / The Assignment: Interpret a painting by Agnes Martin as if it were a graphic score.
• 0455 / Inner Invertebrate / The Assignment: What does a moment (or a day) in the life of a jellyfish sound like to a jellyfish?
• 0454 / Lsoo Vneg / The Assignment: Encode the name of someone you love into a piece of music.
• 0453 / Dial Up / The Assignment: Imagine the technologically mediated First Contact through sound.
• 0452 / Let's Scream / The Assignment: Get cathartic. Be resilient. Turn your scream into music.
And there is a complete list of past projects, 456 consecutive weeks to date.
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