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.

Monthly Archives: May 2010

Quote of the Week: The Multidisciplinary Nature of Sound

From the introduction to Brandon LaBelle‘s new book, due out April 1 from Continuum, Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life:

Sound studies continues to emerge as an expanding discipline involving many concentrations and discourses. From musicology to anthropology, histories of media and cultural pracices, to performance and voice studies, the range is dynamic and also highly suggestive. I take this as no surprise and want to underscore such diversity as integral to the significance of auditory experience.

What LaBelle is onto is that the apparent hodgepodge of fields that involve sound is less a sign of the still nascent state of sound studies than it is of the inherent multidisciplinary nature of sound. We’ve seen this before, in film and comics studies, for example, which in academic institutions sometimes have their own dedicated departments, but are often part of other — often multiple other — departments. Sound’s emergence as a field of study is happening at an opportune time, when these divides between fields of study are becoming increasingly less meaningful. In the fine arts, it’s often discussed how the current generation of artists feels less required, than did previous generations, to focus on a particular medium. In the information architecture of online publishing, Venn Diagram interstices of tag clouds often prove far more meaningful than do authorial categorizations.

More on the LaBelle’s Acoustic Territories at

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Play Games with “Frontiers” (WAV)

Maybe the track was selected for a remix contest because its title suggests that the act of playing can be intrinsic to an exploratory, next-generation approach. Or perhaps the track was selected because it is one of the most spare in the musician’s expansive catalog, its individual parts so separate in the original mix that they already suggested themselves as musical Lego pieces, just waiting to be re-purposed. In either case, Peter Gabriel has offered up the constituent parts of the song “Games without Frontiers,” off his third solo album, now 30 years old, for free download. He’s done so with the understanding that fans and aspiring Steve Lillywhites will take the material and shape it in their own, three-decades-hence image.

The promotion is related to Scratch My Back, Gabriel’s current project, in which he covers the songs of other musicians, and in time they cover his (among the mutual appreciation society members are Radiohead, Magnetic Fields, and Lou Reed). This phrase, “scratch my back,” isn’t a bad mantra for the post-monetary economy of copyleft music sharing and collaboration in a Creative Commons environment.

For remixers, aspiring and otherwise, the track offers six constituent parts: “Lead Vocal,” “Backing Voz,” “Bass,” “Guitars,” “Percussion,” and “Synths.” But as with many (if not all) such remix offerings, at least one of those tracks is listenable to unto itself. This would be “Percussion,” which runs the full length of the song (many other tracks drop in and out, their subtractive presence adding to the song’s overall sparseness), and has the sci-fi amalgam of proto-industrial techno and Bo Diddley that made the track so enticing in the first place.

The service requires registration, so I can’t link to the file directly (it’s a WAV, not an MP3), so check it out at the hosting service,, an online space for collaborative music-making, which also provides its own remixing software.

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Cable Car Tropes (MP3)

Like many city landmarks recognized far beyond the city’s border, the cable cars of San Francisco are arguably more beloved by visitors than by residents. It’s regularly pointed out that far more tourists than taxpayers actually ride the old cable cars, in contrast with other forms of public transportation, like the bus or rapid-transit systems. I used to walk to work between Union Square and North Beach most weekday mornings, and on the rainier ones I would occasionally use my MUNI pass to hop the trolley just to make it up the steep, Thiebaud-like edifice that is Powell Street.

These cable cars are massive old rattly machines — not because they’re worn down, but because the rattling they emit is exactly the sort of sound that engineers now strive to reduce. A lot of the rattling isn’t even in the cars themselves, but results from where the cars meet the metal tracks on which they run. Think what you may of the extent to which the cable cars represent modern San Francisco, they truly emit a local sound — a sound different than a suburban light rail, or an urban subway, or the street cars of New Orleans.

Local sound-maker Sarah Brown, who goes by Esbie (as in her initials spoken aloud), recognizes the simple pleasures of those sounds, and she sought to amplify them in a recent experiment, titled “Trolley Through Quartz”:

There’s a change in pitch in there early on, an initial series of rises that sketches a kind of arrhythmic set of measures. They aren’t quite aligned to beats, these pitches, but they take the raw source material and lend a melodic overlay in a manner that involves a sense of progression. In time, the process gets more complicated: pitches shift down, sounds get scrambled. The end result remains sonorous throughout — well, sonorous if you appreciate the implicit attraction of the cable cars themselves.

Brown describes the track’s genesis at

A couple months ago (during the Chinese parade if I remember right) I recorded the very strange sound that the trolley tracks in San Francisco make. The recording is dirty, lots of people talking etc. But I did my best to clean it up anyway and turn it into a piece of sorts.

The track is located at More on Brown/Esbie at Her work was previously featured here back in December of last year:

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The Asthmatics/Asthamtics of/fO Failure (MP3s)

One of the things about the aesthetics of failure is the difficulty in discerning choice from chance. Take the titles of the two tracks that constitute Asthmatics of Failure, the new lengthy EP by Coin Gutter. The first track (at almost 25 minutes) shares its title with that of the full recording (MP3), while the second (at more than half that) has the sort of typographic error that happens even in this age of automated spell-check: “Asthamtics fO Failure” (MP3). Either of the two little mistakes inherent in that title would be easily taken as a mistake; together, it’s either downright sloppiness, or a concerted effort.

The idea of failure as a concerted effort is not new to music, even if the sounds of glitch seem unique to our era. Jazz improvisation, of course, is built on the idea that if you mess up, work the error into your music. Classical composer Morton Feldman loved the purposeful asymmetries built into traditional rug-weaving patterns, and employed that in his stasis-defying compositions.

[audio:|titles=”Asthmatics of Failure”|artists=Coin Gutter] [audio: |titles=”Asthamtics fO Failure”|artists=Coin Gutter]

As for Coin Gutter’s two tracks, failure may serve as an overarching term for the noises from which the music is constructed. This is purposeful music built from detritus; it’s music in which momentum is inherent, even if the momentum is founded on discarded materials, the stuff of cultural entropy. The title track rises like a distant church organ solo into a roiling slow boil of rhythmic texture, and if the second track (in which scraps of voices struggle to make themselves heard) has a more pronounced rhythm, it’s only as a matter of comparison between the two.

Get the full release at and

Coin Cutter is two Canadians: Graeme Scott of Ontario and Emma Hendrix of British Columbia. More on Coin Gutter at It’s rare that netlabel releases carry the name of the person who mastered them, perhaps because it’s rare for a netlabel release to be mastered; in this case it was one Paul Keeley.

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After Oval’s Oh Comes O’s “Ah!” (MP3)

By definition, we will only listen to the track for the first time once. After that, every time the brittle gauze expands and hovers during the opening half of “Ah!” from the forthcoming album O by Oval, we’ll know that the jazz-like instrumentation will soon cut in (MP3). Note: That’s jazz-like, not jazz-light. The minor plinks and planks and the softly shuddering disruptions in that initial haze will be supplanted — as signaled thanks to one fairly firm cymbal clash — by casual drums that sounds like drum’n’bass being played on a rudimentary kit, or like free jazz being constrained by a populist instinct, and by tentatively held chords, like something Herbie Hancock must have tried out when he first laid his piano-trained hands on a Rhodes piano.


That Hancock association may come to mind because O symbolizes a similarly significant shift for the musician who recorded it. Oval is Markus Popp, who is perhaps the musician most associated with “glitch” music, that is with spartan electronica built from all the fidgety mistakes and technical errors we associate with digital technology. Yet with “Ah!” (as on Oh, the new album he has due out on Thrill Jockey at the start of June, his first in close to a decade), almost half of what we hear is anything but digital: it’s all rough, rusty, dusty, “real-world” instrumentation. And rather than cut up recordings of those instruments into something as broken as his glitch music, Oval has those tools display their own herky-jerky tendencies, embracing all their idiosyncratic textural implications.

Full track list at More info on the album Oh here:

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