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. • 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.

Field Recordings and Amplified Rocks

The Echo de Pensees Sound Series, an ongoing series of events and installations at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, hosted two performances on Friday, June 23, that provided an interesting study in contrasts. Aaron Ximm‘s “Guantanamo Express,” which came first, is a tape work. He dimmed the lights, lit two lamps and hit play. After the intermission, Cheryl E. Leonard led a live trio, rounded out by two other women, A.L. Dentel and Parry Liu. Neither set included much in the way of sounds typically associated with a concert: Ximm’s tape work was composed of field recordings of a trip he took with his wife to Cuba in 2004. Leonard and her trio’s instrumentation consisted almost entirely of rocks with contact microphones.

Ximm’s was a single, 40-minute piece, which by his own admission might induce sleepiness, thanks to its languorous pacing; it was knitted together from recordings of conversation, music and travel (especially by train, a favorite of phonographers), all focused on a pair of musician-brothers, Jesus Avila Gainza and Julio Gainza, whom he’d befriended during the trip and who invited the Ximms to accompany them to visit family in Guantanamo. The collected snatches had the feel of one’s own memories, how various sounds filed from one to the next, occasionally overlapping, their connections at best a matter of loose inference. Ximm, recording and performing as Quiet American, has a long career working found sound into performance, and this, his longest piece, suggests an interest in narrative that supplants an earlier emphasis on texture and tone.

Leonard’s trio performed a handful of short pieces, each of which required some set-up time. In one piece, Leonard used snare brushes to detail the topography of a large stone while Dentel rubbed a small rock in circles around a larger one and Liu rolled small stones. In another, they each had an amplified wood board on which they moved around large and small pebbles. In another, the sound of three different grains of granite sand were contrasted. At one point Leonard explained how different the rocks sounded if not played in precise pairings and according to specific instructions. Each work was fully notated, and they generously let me photograph the scores for perusal after the show. Each rock has its own name (Purple Potato, Tickle Rock #1, Cylinder Rock, the Sea Egg), and the transcriptions appear to be gestural in nature, evidenced by shapes that suggest volume level, direction and, perhaps, speed.

What the works had in common was an air of political transgression: Ximm’s not only because it was recorded in Cuba, where travel by Americans requires jumping through some legal loopholes, but because of its association with the prison at Guantanamo Bay, lightning rod in the U.S. government’s “War on Terror”; Leonard’s because, as she explained, some of her rocks were removed from national parks. She appeared to find this funny; I didn’t (parks are protected from pilfering for obvious reasons), but it didn’t keep me from enjoying her performance. Her set closed with a piece that was as visually beautiful as it was sonically; each member of the trio manipulated a thin film of sand that fell from large bags that resembled pillow cases. The sound of the sand hitting those amplified boards was soothing, no less so than the image of the thin lines of sand falling as if from hourglasses made of rough cotton. One didn’t envy the effort necessary to get all that material out of the gallery space; Leonard’s trio isn’t a rock group, but they deserve some rock roadies.

More info at the websites of Ximm ( and Leonard (, and of the sponsoring body, the Museum of Virtual Memory (

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , / Leave a comment ]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Subscribe without commenting

  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website 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

  • Field Notes

    News, essays, surveillance

  • Interviews

    Conversations with musicians/artists/coders

  • Studio Journal

    Video, audio, patch notes

  • Projects

    Select collaborations and commissions

  • Subscribe

  • Current Activities

  • Upcoming
    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of
    • 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 ( at Gray Area (
    • 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

  • 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).

  • disquiet junto

  • Background
    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.

    Recent Projects

  • 0548 / Drone Vox / The Assignment: Make a drone using just your voice.
    0547 / Genre Melee / Combine two seemingly different genres.
    0546 / Code Notes / The Assignment: Make music that includes a secret message.
    0545 / Unself-Awareness / The Assignment: Learn from feedback intended for others.
    0544 / Feedback Loop / The Assignment: Share music-in-progress for input from others.

  • Full Index
    And there is a complete list of past projects, 548 consecutive weeks to date.

  • Archives

    By month and by topic

  • [email protected]

    [email protected]

  • Downstream

    Recommended listening each weekday

  • Recent Posts