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

Listening to Warren Ellis’s Debut Novel

“The design is such that the sound of the book being opened onto a table has infrasonic content, too low for human hearing. The book briefly vibrates at eighteen hertz, which is the resonant frequency of the human eyeball. … It’s a book that forces you to read it.”

That bit of sci-fi product design is from Crooked Little Vein, the debut novel by longtime comics writer Warren Ellis (Planetary, Transmetropolitan, Fell, Desolation Jones). Given that Ellis’ blog (warrenellis.com) regularly includes MP3s, often of the industrial-electronic variety, it’s no surprise that music has a solid place in his novel. It also features a woman who listens to Manhattan traffic the way Native Americans “listened for the future in the sound of horses,” an apparent radio-dial-surfing side reference to the Conet Project (“some weird broadcast of a woman doing nothing but reading numbers very slowly”), a government assault on a pirate radio station (“Pirate radio operations have been reclassified as Broadcast Terrorism”), and a pimp’s associate whose ringtone is Harold Faltermeyer’s Bevery Hills Cop ditty, “Axel F.”

Oh, and Ozzy Osbourne peeing on the Alamo. As that last reference might suggest, it’s a dirty little book, quite purposefully so. There’s a woman on my bus who seems to only read novels by people like Dorothy Sayers; she happened to peek over my shoulder during a sequence involving a sexual predilection for Godzilla — I don’t think we’ll be sharing a bench on the bus again any time soon. To say it’s a dirty book is an understatement. I continued reading it after I got off the bus, walking the last quarter mile to work and laughing out loud quite often — and I wondered if it is illegal to read this book near an elementary school. In Ellis’ paranoid near-future, no doubt, the airspace between a book and one’s brain is policed by the FCC.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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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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  • 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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