The worlds of hip-hop and ambient overlap more often than they collide, which is why Subtle is so welcome. An instrumental quintet plus vocalist, Subtle might find its albums and singles filed under trip-hop, or downtempo, or illbient for that matter, as two free MP3s on the website of its label, Lex, display. “Eneby Kurs,” off the forthcoming A New White, features a distracted keyboard flutter, a rich bridge of nonsense syllables and layered effects, and a bass line so sleepy it seems like at any moment it may nod off entirely (warning: by the end the cut has built to a noisy wall of sound, though the whole thing is so utterly unassuming you’ll wonder when, exactly, someone raised the volume). And “F.K.O.,” a recent single reminiscent of De La Soul, is a feat of pop minimalism just glistening beneath rapper Doseone’s nasal, artfully muffled wordstream. If you dig the song, pick up the release for the extra tracks: an instrumental edit, plus remixes by B. Fleischmann and Console. Both cuts represent a kind of “third way” for hip-hop, neither the fiscally obsessed narcissism of what rules the pop charts with commanding if high-priced beats, nor the often all too earnest enlightenment of so-called “conscious” (as in “socially conscious”) rap, which generally downplays the music in favor of the lyrics. Download Subtle’s “Eneby Kurs” here and “F.K.O.” here, and visit lexrecords.com for more info (among the assorted tidbits, Subtle was tapped to remix a track from the forthcoming Beck album). Oh, one more warning: the tracks are free, yeah, but they’re compressed at the substandard rate of 56 kbps.
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.
• 0494 / Insect Menagerie / The Assignment: Record a 20-second clip of the sounds of an insect that you yourself have invented.
• 0493 / AudioCorrect / The Assignment: Think about the utility and the useful failures inherent in autocorrect and apply this to your music.
• 0492 / Kintsugi Rework / The Assignment: Employ the Japanese technique of mending broken ceramics as a metaphor for remixing.
• 0491 / Footsteps Sequencer / The Assignment: Compose a piece of music structured upon a walk through your home.
• 0490 / In Conversation / The Assignment: Compose a piece of music structured like dialog.
And there is a complete list of past projects, 494 consecutive weeks to date.
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