New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • Disquiet.com F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

Monthly Archives: February 2006

I-Hop Post-Mortem MP3

Apologies in advance for choosing Valentine’s Day to drop a downer, but so be it. Rap producer J Dilla, aka Jay Dee, born James Yancey, had an intrinsically old-school touch, an early-hip-hop manner that prized switching up verses and laying down dusty vinyl for the sheer beauty of its surface tension, and he leant his scratchy powers to work by A Tribe Called Quest, Slum Village, Common, De La Soul and others. Dilla, who was born and raised in Detroit, passed away last Friday, February 10, just three days after his 32nd birthday, a day that also saw the release of his solo instrumental album, Donuts, by the Stones Throw label. One of the album’s best tracks, “Airworks,” is available as a free download from Stones Throw, and it sums up what’s great about Donuts, especially how it compresses 1970s soul into rusty kernels of riffs.

Donuts has many things to its credit, but what makes it a particularly great album of instrumental hip-hop (call it i-hop) is how it emphasizes vocal samples as part of the greater fabric. Even listeners with a fondness for studio-as-instrument composition often (mistakenly, I might add) find instrumental hip-hop lacking, and Donuts‘s bits of human voice make its music all the more palatable for a broader audience. Dilla also had a sly sense of humor, one grounded in music, bringing to mind a less showy Jazzy Jeff. In the age of the mash-up, anyone can sound like a street-reared P.D.Q. Bach, but Dilla really had the goods. Juxtaposition was just one of his many tricks.

As for “Airworks” (MP3), it’s a carefully edited succession of soul nuggets, reduced to their essence, a crooner’s voice cut to a mere syllable following a skipping opening that emphasizes the fragility of the source material. And when Dilla lays an echo on heavy, it’s just to emphasize how the period hits he’s borrowing from sound in our memories, a realm where he’s now a permanent resident. More info at stonesthrow.com/jdilla.

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SFMOMA Sound-Artcast MP3

Sound artist Janet Cardiff currently has a piece at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a narrated tour of the museum that involves audio and video. To lend context to Cardiff’s work, SFMOMA has featured an archival audio interview with her as part of its occasional podcast (or “artcast”) series of free downloads. Cardiff describes the epiphany of hearing her own narration of an activity played back, as well as her experiments with binaural audio, which when combined have the inherent capability of producing what she calls a “weird disjunction.” (For my impression of another recent Cardiff exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, based on a motet by Thomas Tallis, click through to this January 31 entry.)

The same artcast file also includes a Pamela Z recording, constructed from the reactions of viewers to an exhibit at the museum, all overlapping voices and the whoosh of shared space. Among the weird disjunctions in Z’s piece is hearing her repeat comments, like some phantom of the museum.

One interesting technical side note: the SFMOMA podcast is available in two formats, one a standard MP3, the other an M4A file, which works well in iTunes. The benefit of the latter is that it includes embedded still images, which appear (at least in iTunes) in the window where an album cover would be displayed, and that seem to be timed to the audio. The M4A format is different from the M4V format, which iTunes uses for the episodic videos it hawks, but M4A seems to have a lot of potential as an application for animation and webcomics.

Unfortunately for SFMOMA, also among the materials on this same podcast is “new writing from JT Leroy,” the author who has recently been revealed as a contrivance perpetrated by at least three individuals, none named Leroy and none sharing the fictional author’s troubled adolescence. Knowing that Leroy is a fraud makes the author’s southern accent sound grating instead of humble. Further irony: whoever is reading as Leroy says close to the end of the entry, “Why let facts get in anyone’s way?” Talk about weird disjunctions. (More info at sfmoma.org.)

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Tangents (bent, synaesthesia, Godzilla)

Quick Links, News and Good Reads: Two via downloadsquad.com: (1) A mouse-based loop scratcher called Scratch (link) and (2) a Speak & Spell emulator (link), but can you circuit-bend a virtual machine? … Two via createdigitalmusic.com: (3) The website for Max/MSP software, cycling74.com, has re-launched. Recent additions include video of enhanced turntablist Daito Manabe (link) and an interview with Laetitia Sonami (link). … (4) Sounds from space, courtesy of NASA’s SuitSat (link), which turns an old spacesuit into a small satellite. The first SuitSat is transmitting its condition to earth via an FM signal. Tune your FM radio to 145.990 MHz, and check this site (link) for when the SuitSat will be in (well, above) your general area. … (5) Tips on composing music with the new Nintendo DS game Elektroplankton (link). … (6) An NPR story on composer and dub-violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (npr.org), whom regular readers of this site may remember from the October 25 Disquiet Downstream entry from last year (thanks for the tip, Rob). … Catching up with Kyle Gann‘s PostClassic site: (7) totalism (link), the latest in a series on the subject, and belatedly (8) the death of Luc Ferrari (link). … (9) The All Saints label, which released music by Brian Eno and Harold Budd, is re-launching (marketwire.com). … (10) Is the new Firefox-based music platform, Songbird (songbirdnest.com), an iTunes-killer?

… Sound Art Special: (1) A less than positive summary of the What Sound Does a Color Make? exhibit at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (washingtonpost.com), with work by Scott Arford, Scanner, Atau Tanaka, Stephen Vitiello and others. Up through March 18, 2006. Curated by Kathleen Forde. More info at umbc.edu/cavc. … (2) Vitiello is among the artists making sound art for the Olympics (timesdispatch.com), for a project called Echoes from the Mountains (echoesfromthemountains.info); the website’s a bit slow and confusingly organized, but the event appears to also feature Joe Diebes, Enrico Glerean, Phil Kline, Charlie Morrow and Zimmerfei. … (3) Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is currently exhibiting The Idea of North, a sound art exhibit curated by Rhonda Corvese, all of art from Canada, Iceland, Sweden and Norway, with work by Christoph Mignone and others (smu.ca). It closes in February 19. … (4) Just closed this weekend, a sound art exhibit in Toronto at Diaz Contemporary with work by Beagles & Ramsay, Stephanie Cormier, Brian Joseph Davis, Dave Dyment, Pete Gazendam, Adad Hannah, Doug Lewis, Daniel Olson and Laurel Woodcock, curated by Kelly Mark (diazcontemporary.ca). … (5) The San Francisco Chronicle has a brief mention today of a new “installation” due up at nearby Gallery Route One, featuring Rebecca Haseltine, Barbara Klutinis and (this suggests possible sound content) Joan Jeanrenaud, the former Kronos Quartet cellist. No info up currently at galleryrouteone.org. … (6) A report on the drug ketamine suggests it could trigger synaesthesia (bbc.co.uk). Hence its popularity in clubs, if not museums.

… R.I.P.: (1) Akira Ifukube (Godzilla composer, latimes.com), (2) J-Dilla (born James Yancey, old-school-style hip-hop producer, freep.com) and (3) Nam Jun Paik (video artist, nytimes.com: “In 1963, seeking a visual equivalent for electronic music and inspired by [John] Cage‘s performances on prepared pianos, Mr. Paik bought 13 used television sets in Cologne and reworked them until their screens jumped with strong optical patterns”).

… Disquiet Heavy Rotation: (1) Clarinetist Sabine Meyer and the Trio di Clarone run through a host of music from or inspired by an age when mechanization was thrilling composers, like Erik Satie and Darius Milhaud: Paris Mecanique (Harmonia Mundi). … (2) The Disquiet Downstream entry of the week is Univac‘s circuit-bent live set of seven MP3s (link).

… Quote of the Week: Richie Hawtin, interviewed at (popmatters.com): “Techno sometimes does become more about process than substance, and I think this is when techno is going a little bit the wrong way.”

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Stark Polish MP3 EP

EP: There are three tracks on Pawel Grabowski‘s Notes from the House of Dead: one that interpolates a little female chant and shifts it into a spectral presence, and two others stark enough that they’ll make you wish you had a little human accompaniment for comfort, corporeal or not. According to the brief online liner note that accompanies the EP, Grabowski sketched Notes as an attempt to keep things short while maintaining a sense of tension. On those measures, he more than succeeds. “The Dead,” the longest of the three at five and a half minutes, immediately immerses you into a cavernous underworld of disorienting echoes and foreboding murmurings. “The Box,” at about half the length of “The Dead,” is more arid and spacious, trading claustrophobia for agoraphobia; occasional snippets of a throaty scratch suggest the point of view of a marooned astronaut on some desert moon.

And then there’s “Break,” with its theremin-ish female voice, echoing and repeating like gothic dub amid horror-flick scrapings. The full set it available from a relatively new netlabel, Silence Is Not Empty, at silence-is-not-empty.com. Special thanks to Nathan Larson, who heads up the netlabel Dark Winter (darkwinter.com). Larson had mentioned to me not only the small but impressive catalog at Silence Is Not Empty, but the ingenious manner in which the label provides readymade album sleeves as full-color PDFs. Just bring your own ruler and sharp blade. More info on Grabowski, who was born in Poland in 1977, at pawelgrabowski.com.

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Live Circuit-Bent MP3s

There’s a cognitive disorder known as “musical hallucinations.” It afflicts not the young but the aged, those whose decades of aural experience can come back unbidden, turning the brain into an out-of-control iPod on shuffle. For someone raised in a household where video games and other electronic devices, rather than a standard stereo system, filled rooms with sound, the music of a Macintosh tech consultant who makes his home at techdweeb.com might provide a scary, yet entertaining, premonition of mental issues yet to come.

Performing under names including Univac, or the Univac Index, he’s a serious bender, taking the noisemaking toys and gadgets of yesteryear and soldering them into his own aural image. The site offers visual and sonic documentation of things like a Kawasaki keyboard with pitch controls and optical resistors added on: “When it crashes noisily, you can still play noisy notes on the keyboard. Cool!”

Cool, indeed. The interface on the techdweeb site’s “noise” section requires the viewer to guess-click on a collage of dated computer clip art to access free MP3s of his performances. Doing so on the phrase “Single Pulse Device” (hint: lower right hand corner) leads to a seven-track set recorded live in Los Angeles a week or so prior to Halloween last year. He lists his equipment as Demon MonKeys, Nice Cube of White Noise, Blue Kaoss Pad, TubbyBox TinyFlaccid Po, Opera Daisy Rust, and the Super Ear Blaster. Listening to what appears to be a fleeing Pac Man at the tail end of “Electron Flow” (MP3) or the even more mashed-up gamer cues of “Free Battery” (MP3) and “Right Angles to the Wire” (MP3) could provide premonitions of what hardcore gamers will experience in their golden years. And there’s much more at techdweeb.com.

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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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    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
    • January 6, 2023: This day marked the 11th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

  • Recent
    • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier).
    • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly (aaassembly.org) at Gray Area (grayarea.org).
    • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the 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.)

  • 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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  • 0544 / Feedback Loop / The Assignment: Share music-in-progress for input from others.
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    0542 / 2600 Club / The Assignment: Make some phreaking music.
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