My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

Monthly Archives: November 2009

Quotes of the Week: Twitter Ambience

No social network is right for everyone, and Twitter is just one among many. What’s interesting about Twitter is how by doing very little it has provided numerous sorts of interaction — that is, it’s used differently by different groups of people.

Especially with the advent of its “lists” function, which allows users to compile related Twitter profiles (“musicians,” “san francisco area food,” “green politics,” “novelists”), it’s an amazing place to alternately parse and absorb reams of tangentially related material. The first list that I created at Twitter was, which takes the word “ambient” as a wide range of sound-for-sound’s-sake people, sound art, quiet-music, and so forth. This ambient list currently follows 109 feeds. And these are merely a few of the comments that have surfaced from that flow during the past week:

ChrisRandall: I think if you need to use the word “bit” as a descriptor of your music or instrument, I’m reaching for the “Skip” button.

ChrisRandall: (Just an opinion, mind, but I don’t think I can take another bare-ass naked square wave.)

DaveSeidel: Been walking and driving with a buddha machine playing in the pocket of my fleece vest. Not visible, just barely audible.

experimedia: Is questioning if agreeing to exclusive distribution in this scene is counterprodutive or not.

robinrimbaud: Philips have re-rendered their body horror film, tattoo possibilities of the future, with my soundtrack :-)

audiobulb: Read my latest @madmimi newsletter:

Some work individually (comments, observations, news, links), while others aren’t really quotable here because they mean more in how they either intersect and overlap (i.e., when posts from a certain event provide a kind of awareness of what’s occurring there). Others still are only meaningful to the extent that you value a given individual’s work-in-progress, but if there’s a musician you enjoy who uses Twitter, it can be a great way to find out where they are at, not just geographically and socially, but creatively and psychologically.

There’s a certain humor to the fact that the word “ambient” is, as well, a word often applied to Twitter itself, and to like-functioning social networking tools, by which it’s mean that they provide a kind of passive informational awareness of individuals, scenes, events, and so forth. While the two types of ambient — the purely sonic and the broadly informational — are only somewhat related, the former provides metaphorical heft to the latter, and observations about our audio environment do lend themselves to wider consideration.

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Unboxed: Tristan Perich’s 1-Bit Symphony

Below is what would be called, in gadget circles, an act of “unboxing.” That’s the act of sharing the fetishistic revelry of a newly obtained physical possession by photographing it in the process of removing it from its packaging, and showing it from all conceivable angles. Unboxing can verge on the pornographic in its attention to detail (there’s something disconcerting about the frequency with which the word “sexy” is applied to consumer electronics).

The object of obsession here is the forthcoming release by Tristan Perich, titled 1-Bit Symphony, due for commercial availability early 2010. I obtained this copy when Perich, along with Lesley Flanigan, performed on Thursday night, November 19, at a new gallery space in San Francisco (Grey Area Foundation for the Arts).

As evidenced above, 1-Bit Symphony isn’t a CD; it’s a small homebrew electronic device nestled inside a CD case. It is, in that way, a kind of parallel to the Buddha Machine (and the forthcoming Gristleism). The 1-Bit Symphony is to the compact disc what the Buddha and Gristleism boxes are to transistor radios. They’re lo-fi music-producing technology packed inside the familiar form of a pretty much outdated music-producing technology.

When the switch seen second from the left inside the box is flipped to its right, the machine starts emitting lo-fi sound (it’s necessary to attach headphones to the audio jack to hear the music). There are five “tracks” in all, “movements” they’re titled here. The first four are between five and 10 minutes in length. The fifth will play forever, or at least until that replaceable battery dies. In brief, the music is a series of cascading little beeps that suggest Philip Glass as a character in a Mario Bros. video game.

1-Bit Symphony is being released by Cantaloupe Music, the label associated with Bang on a Can, and which released a previous Perich tech-in-a-jewel-box project, 1-Bit Music, back in 2006.

There’s a gallery of the images along with some annotation after the jump. Higher resolution versions are available at my account. Read more »

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Past Week at

  • Morning sounds: general pie-making in the kitchen, footsteps next door, hard drives below desk, birds just outside window. #
  • Unsilent Night dates have been announced. The San Francisco event is December 19. Details at #
  • Typical San Francisco midweek concert conundrum: 2-hour group drone, visiting New York sound artists, or comp-music show at local college? #
  • My Gristleism box is on its way — just got the UPS tracking notification. Can't wait to team it up with my Buddha Machines. #
  • MP3 Discussion Group: Is Leyland Kirby's recent triple album too long, too dramatic, or the best break-up record ever? #
  • Introducing the album upgrade. A recent favorite, Dr. No's Ethiopium, was initially 18 tracks; now it's suddenly 36: #
  • Best thing about Notepad++? It automatically highlights multiple instances, pointing out that you've said "subtle" six times in 300 words. #
  • Nothing like an apple from your own yard. (That's meant literally, not metaphorically.) #
  • The gym doesn't require noise-canceling headphones. The gym requires music that melds with the crisscross rhythms of the machinery. #
  • The many churches in my neighborhood apparently don't just differ theologically. They also don't agree as to when, exactly, the hour occurs. #
  • Once upon a time, it was Warp, Ninja Tune, Mo' Wax: the Blue Note, Prestige, Impulse of electronica. Mo is no longer. Ninja less essential. #
  • Barber after my cut: "Man, you're just gonna put that bike helmet back on." #
  • Gym music: Broken Note's recent Terminal Static album. #
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A Distant Rainfall (OGG by Aairria)

The rain is buried in “Rainfall,” lost in the thick mix of limpid synthesis and apparent manipulated field recordings. “Rainfall” is the title of an hour-long, single-track release by the prolific young Polish musician Marcin Drabot under one of his several pseudonyms, Aairria. By the time the rain becomes evident in the mix — the noise of water falling caught on some sound-recording device and then turned into audio art — it is more metaphor than object, a symbol of languor and malaise. You have to struggle to hear the rain at times, and when you locate it, it could just as likely be a river, or a sink. That’s how murkily deep it is buried beneath sci-fi moans and horror-show creaking and all manner of electrical chatter.


The track is available for download not as an MP3 but as a large OGG. Doing so is recommended, because the latter file is much larger (and, thus, more detailed) than the lo-rez one streaming above.

Full release at More on Aairria/Drabot at

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Rye, England, Church Sound MP3s

Organs, yes, but much of Thom Carter‘s field recordings taken at St. Mary’s, a church in Rye, England, are not of instruments but of people, and they show how people’s sounds can feel out the contours of a space. There are five tracks in all in Up on the Hill, which Carter released under the Son Clair pseudonym on the Elephants Music label. Tracks such as “Crowds in the Church” (MP3) easily take on the structure of music themselves, as they are revealed not as a solid block of ambient noise (voices, footsteps, mechanisms), but a many-layered audio track in which elements come to be like individual parts that rise and fall in the mix, slowly changing in time, dropping in and out of relative prominence. There is, as Carter writes in a brief liner note, bits of proper music, as it were, too, as when an “old man then sang the words ‘backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards.'”

[audio:|titles=”Crowds in the Church”|artists=Son Clair]

Over at the label’s website,, one can not only download the full set as an archive file (ZIP), but stream the individual tracks — which in this case means that you can also easily stream all five simultaneously, an experience I highly recommend, as it creates layers of the already layered material.

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