Though the vast majority of electronic music is instrumental (that is, vocal-less), some of the best compositions take as their base a snippet of something spoken — be it the loops of Steve Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain,” the hobo’s hymn in Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus’s Blood Never Failed Me Yet,” the “overheard” dialog of Scanner (ripped from the airwaves), the cut-up speech of Scott Johnson (John Somebody, Patty Hearst) or even the random, canned hip-hop shout-out from the Chemical Brothers. Rapoon is the pseudonym behind which Robin Storey works his studio magic. On I Am a Foreigner (Soleilmoon), various squelched voices, rarely more than a moan, surface amid a variety of textures. On “Via,” the title word is taken, reportedly, from a “Teach Yourself Italian” tape, and what we get is a heavenly choir of disembodied voices above the scratching of a locked-groove vinyl album. On “Horizons Endless,” what seems to be a muted choir, as if heard through a thick church wall, reveals itself to be but a few seconds of sampled vocal sound. As the sample loops, its edge, the point at which the splice is evident, takes on a rhythmic purpose, as if like one of Michael Jackson’s hiccups. And then, bizarrely, the sound is overlaid with what seems to be a Jew’s harp, all bouncy fun, albeit minor-key. Inevitably the voices fade back in, just in time for the whole piece to fade out. Many of the pieces on I Am a Foreigner make similarly peculiar transitions; “Dusk Moon” starts out with reverberating piano, only to be transformed into a Tangerine Dream-style staccato movement. Even on repeated listenings, I Am a Foreigner challenges you to find your place in its mass of found voices and sounds. A background sample from one track becomes the core material of another; tracks change mood at midway points. The result is disorienting, but no one promised it would be easy. If only a “Teach Yourself Rapoon” companion volume were available.
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.
• 0487 / Carillon Quotidian / Assignment: Turn a recurring sound from your life into music.
• 0486 / Earths Days / The Assignment: Celebrate Earth Day on or for another planet.
• 0485 / Strange Weather / The Assignment: Remix the pure sounds of Chris Kallmyer's traveling wind chimes to your own musical purposes.
• 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.
And there is a complete list of past projects, 487 consecutive weeks to date.
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