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.

The Playlist as a Literary Genre

Before it recedes too far into my memory, a quick note about a panel discussion I attended last month. On December 11, 2007, at the San Francisco offices of the software development company behind Songbird (, a quartet of seasoned technologists involved in media web development talked about “portable playlists.” The four were Tantek Çelik (; former Chief Technologist of, Tom Conrad (; CTO of, Lucas Gonze (; a director at and co-creator of, and Scott Kveton (; Open Technology Lead at The moderator was Chris Messina (

Gonze (pictured above) gave a pre-panel talk during which he provided an overview of portable playlists, which is to say — in my own super-uninformed, less than syntactically rigorous language — groupings of songs in list form that can be shared. Back in 2003, Gonze produced a detailed survey of existing playlist formats, from the ubiquitous M3U to the iTunes Library’s proprietary system, some 16 in all (it’s still online at Gonze joined Yahoo! when that company absorbed his service, a pioneering playlist-sharing website that has since closed down; the XSPF playlist format was developed hand-in-hand with

The field of playlist formats has expanded further since 2003. Among them is hAudio, Çelik’s explanation of which was a highlight of the evening (more on hAudio at — as was his impassioned critique of Flash-intensive websites; subsequent to the panel he created a webpage summarizing his notes from the evening (at Kveton also blogged after the panel, following up on some thoughts he felt he hadn’t explored fully during the discussion (

There was a lot of talk about web standards, about non-musical data that can be associated with music files (such as year of release, genre, author, performer, etc.), and about how the growth of the playlist as a “literary genre,” so to speak, is dependent on the general public taking more interest in sharing playlists.

What I came away with most was thinking about music in context. Much of what I write about is music as a standalone object, a song or album or performance as some independent node of critical, aesthetic scrutiny. What context or perspective I try to provide is generally restricted to the given musician’s previous work, and to work associated with the music in question, whether related by genre, geography, record label, era, instrumentation, what have you. That’s all helpful, certainly, but it doesn’t allow for how musical context can itself provide a kind of commentary — the sort of gloss, for example, that a DJ provides.

Along those lines, I’ve been thinking for some time about supplementing the Disquiet Downstream MP3 recommendations with something along the lines of a playlist, a kind of listening station or set of listening stations of grouped musical content — for example, the five most recent Downstreams, or a set of atmospheric Downstreams, or beat-oriented Downstreams, or Downstreams that have in common some particular source material (acoustic guitar, piano, voice, field recordings) or time period (WWII, 1960s). Anyhow, we’ll see what comes of that, but the panel discussion strengthened my interest in this idea.

More on the December 11 discussion at The event was filmed, so perhaps it will appear online in the future. A separate interview that was done with Gonze coincident with the panel discussion has been posted, in video form, at the website, which co-sponsored the event with Songbird. The image of Gonze above is a still from that interview, in which he talks about the nature of “open” media, the importance of having a URL for any media posted to the web (something closely related to Çelik’s critique of Flash), and other related subjects.

By the way, the credits to that video introduced me to something I wasn’t aware of previously. The theme music is credited to Moby, and below his name is listed the URL True to the “open media” model, Moby apparently provides a variety of backing tracks for, as his site states, “independent and non-profit filmmakers, film students, and anyone in need of free music for their independent, non-profit film, video, or short.”

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, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of
    December 28, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

  • Recent
    July 28, 2021: This day marked the 500th consecutive weekly project in 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

  • Ongoing
    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:

  • 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

  • 0511 / Freeze Tag / The Assignment: Consider freezing (and thawing) as a metaphor for music production.
    0510 / Cold Turkey / The Assignment: Record one last track with a piece of music equipment before passing it on.
    0509 / The Long Detail / The Assignment: Create a piece of music with moments from a preexisting track.
    0508 / Germane Shepard / The Assignment: Use the Shepard tone to create a piece of music.
    0507 / In DD's Key of C / The Assignment: Make music with 10 acoustic instrument samples all in a shared key.

    Full Index
    And there is a complete list of past projects, 511 consecutive weeks to date.

  • Archives

    By month and by topic

  • [email protected]

    [email protected]

  • Downstream

    Recommended listening each weekday

  • Recent Posts