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 2010

Tangents: Sound from 1885, Boots, Phone …

Recommended reading, news, and so forth elsewhere:

¶ Boot Down: Here’s a collection of boot sounds of various computers, including the Apple IIc and Window 3.1: (found via @tariqkrim). Sadly, I don’t see my old TRS-80 in there, and I have no recollection of what it sounded like. For what it’s worth, on my two current Windows 7 machines, I use a piece of shareware called Auto Mute (, which turns off the sound of a computer during the boot sequence, so there is no audible boot, and the machine remains muted until you choose to un-mute it. I have a Sony television at home, and it makes a loud tone, a kind of synthesized bell, when it is turned on — if I set it to mute when I turn it off, it recalls that it is muted when it’s turned back on, but does so about halfway through the turning-on process, so the boot/on bell tone is heard, but truncated. If a piece of consumer electronics can be embarrassed, this is the sound that it makes.

¶ Phoner?: Image of a phone (the DP01 Dect) for which Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud) designed all the sounds. According to the product’s features page ( there are 10 of these sounds, all of which are streamable from the site: “active,” “airwaves,” “chitter,” “connect,” “contact,” “mirror,” “motion,” “relay,” “vive,” and “wired.”

Conversation Instrumentals: The DP01 Dect phone, with sounds by Scanner

¶ A Decade Screwed: DJ/rupture, aka Jace Clayton, reflects on the impact of Robert Earl Davis, Jr., aka DJ Screw, a decade after his passing (at

Not all songs sound good screwed; the technique reveals a hidden face whose image can’t be guessed beforehand. The effect is druggy ”“ there’s a subculture of codeine-based prescription cough syrup around screw ”“ and occult. Once screwed, upbeat songs in a major key destabilize into eerie tonalities. Dark tunes get darker. The bass goes viscous. A screwed song urges the listener to internalize its dampened tempo, to stretch the existential qualities of the moment to match the music.

¶ Insert Holy Grail Pun Here: Via Alexis Madrigal (@alexismadrigal, via @andrewhazlett), who has been on the hunt for early recorded sound, audio from Mecca dated 1885. You read that right, 1885:


These sounds from Mecca were recorded by Dutch adventurer Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje a quarter century after what are generally considered the oldest known recorded sounds, those of Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (more at Thomas Edison‘s phonograph, the cylinder recorder, for historical comparison, dates from 1877. It seems that the further we get into the future, the more the past comes into focus — and the more that it makes itself heard.

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Soundcloud: Comments, Warchalking, UI, Community

The comments on, the music-hosting community, get a bum rap for how they gum up the interface. If a track becomes too popular — well, not even too popular, but just popular enough, then these myriad vertical bands appear, each one delineating the comment of one or another Soundcloud user. Take for example the comments seen in this player, which is for Brian Eno’s song “2 Forms of Anger,” off his recent Small Craft on a Milk Sea album:

That’s what, as of this writing, some 131 comments look like in a tight horizontal space. And that’s 131 out of 176 comments total. Some 45 commenters thought to add non-“timed” comments, which is to say comments that appear below the track post, and not literally atop the song’s waveform.

There’s something simple that’s slightly broken in the Soundcloud user interface: Not enough people are getting the correct nudge to only leave “timed” comments when they’re appropriate.

In any case, the big problem with those striations isn’t what many people complain about — they complain about the visual noise, which is admittedly not insignificant, in large part because of the general placidity of the Soundcloud interface, against which they make a serious contrast.

No, the big problem with those striations is that they are for the most part meaningless.

Sometimes, yes, frequently even, one does come across comments that make note of a special moment in a track. At 2:43 in the Eno song, a user named AliaK says “quite a build-up there,” which is true, and fine. The majority of the comments, however, are praise and complaints that don’t correlate with where they appear on the timeline.

The thing about the Soundcloud system, though, is how great it is despite issues like the “timed” comments. For example, regardless of how incredibly tiny the little square comment user-avatars are, I was easily able to discern ones by people I know — well, “Internet know,” which is to say I follow them, or their work; and that’s “Internet follow,” not as in “I follow the Grateful Dead,” which suggests a deep immersion in a culture, just “follow” as in their activities appear in one or another of my social network feeds, and I pay some attention to them. For example, I made out the face of Mark Harris, who commented how the Eno track reminds him of Sonic Youth, and what a welcome surprise that comparison is.

Here, now, is a track for which, at least as of this writing, there is but one single comment:

It appears close to the end of the waveform, and happens to be by a musician whose Soundcloud account (and more broadly whose musical activity) I follow. It appears as a “timed” comment, which is to say it appears along the track’s timeline, though it’s quite likely that the brief note of praise (“Great stuff”) doesn’t refer to the precise moment of 4:24, but to the track as a whole.

Soundcloud lets you discover tracks in various ways, including by seeing what people you follow have said about (i.e., commented on) various tracks. What’s interesting from my personal experience of this track is that I came across the comment by chance. I didn’t click on a link that said “So and so said something about this track.” No, I found myself on the track’s page, and while listening to it, noticed the tiny familiar icon of someone whose work I admire and point of view I trust. The result was akin to virtual “warchalking.” Warchalking is the much-discussed act of leaving a subtle public message (in the physical world) that alerts people to the presence of an open wifi network. On Soundcloud — as on many avatar-enhanced social networks — the appearance of a familiar user-icon was the best kind of word-of-mouth: it wasn’t sought out, and it wasn’t pushed on me; I simply came across it, a casual experience that only helped amplify its impression.

Now, as complicated as software engineering can be, social engineering can be a lot more complicated. At this stage, it would take a seriously concerted effort on the part of Soundcloud to get users to only make time-coded comments when they really intend them to be time-coded. However, there are things the site can do to make the comments more meaningful to users. For example, the Dashboard — the site’s internal feed of information — could allow you to tailor which users’ comments you’d like to be made aware of. And, better yet, when on a given track’s page, you could have the option of only viewing comments by people you follow.

Soundcloud has quickly become a central site in the online culture of musicians making their music freely available to each other and to supportive listeners. Commenting is a core constituent part of the Soundcloud service, of how musicians and listeners communicate with each other — sometimes literally, and sometimes through means that are more like signals, virtual nods of approval.

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Past Week at

  • Taking the 9-volt battery out of the body cavity of my pickup-enabled ukulele makes it seem like some sort of cyborg device. #
  • On days when I don't make the "contemporary classical daily" ( I feel like I'm off my game. #
  • In (dis)honor of Black Friday, I suggest the "free" tag at, for legally downloadable and adventurous music. #
  • Leftover ingredients from homemade Rice Krispies treats led to best sound of day: snap, crackle, & pop I haven't heard in many, many years. #
  • Apparently before Black Friday comes Robo Thursday. #
  • [email protected] That'd be great. I have some more remix projects in the planning stages. Will let you know when they're getting going. #
  • [email protected] @deltaslide Thanks. Yeah, really loving the uke. And I will try a metronome. Playing chords backward helps plan transitions #
  • [email protected] @rddy It does sound like a drug-production-line term. If I ever compete in a beat battle, I may go as gramsop. #
  • Will be thankful when I can more smoothly transition from Dm to Bb on my new ukulele, as I teach myself to play the Beatles' "All My Loving" #
  • Why does it feel like Tron: Legacy already came and went months ago, and like we're still waiting for Chinese Democracy? #
  • Thankful for: #netlabel culture, hacker culture, music communities (@soundcloud), open source (Firefox, Android), donate-ware, & the cloud. #
  • "Forgive me, Boyle, but it's just too early for Mahler." "Of course, sir." NCIS: Los Angeles ("Absolution," 11/16) #
  • First bit of our Remixing Hanukkah project: @hecanjog & his Cedar AV buddies remix theme music from @tabletmag podcast: #
  • RIP, Throbbing Gristle's Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson (b. 1955). #
  • William Gibson's soundscape: RT @GreatDismal Very silent. Snow. #
  • Great early BBC term for professional turntable handler: "grams operator" (grams = gramophone), e.g. "Kid Koala is a skilled grams operator" #
  • Composer Alvin Curran discusses a British commuter-train installation/composition: #
  • Unsilent Night in San Francisco this year is Saturday, Dec. 18, from 7:30pm to 10:30pm — and as always, it starts at Mission Dolores Park. #
  • I've seen the past of music, and it's Bruce Springsteen. #
  • Morning sounds: laptop hard drive, distant urban hum (like a foghorn that's stuck), occasional automobile. #
  • I am sitting in a room (my office) listening to a high-fidelity recording of my office's room tone. It's like Alvin Lucier in reverse. #
  • Two tweets received in tandem: @geetadayal "asylum-seekers…have sewn their mouths shut" @dargel "My vocal lines are ridiculously elusive" #
  • Tuesday noon siren. So much louder with the windows open. Who would have thunk? #
  • Anyone else sensing that these $1/$1.99 deals for full-length albums will become standard price in the near-ish future? #blackeveryday #
  • Did I mention I bought a ukulele? Can't wait to patch it through my Korg miniKP Kaoss Pad… #
  • [email protected] Yeah, and "loco" is a consensual hallucination. Web erases geography, lets supposed outsiders/outliers find colleagues/peers. #
  • The shows Alias, NCIS, and Brothers & Sisters exist in same universe, if you accept Arvin Sloane secretly dated the director of Mossad. #
  • [email protected] Yeah, running @thicketapp while multitasking in iOS is a good example of visual glitch. (That's not a critique of the app.) #
  • Bad news: Multitasking in iOS 4.2 not as multitasky as basic Android. Good news, kinda maybe: Less likely interruptions while doing stuff. #
  • [email protected] @dtauvdiodr @bit_synthesis @vagueterrain Seen Cracked Media (MIT) by Caleb Kelly? (Not just 'cause he quotes my Oval interview.) #
  • [email protected] @dtauvdiodr @bit_synthesis @vagueterrain Yeah, Cascone's "failure" is what I meant by "error" in regard to "glitch." #
  • Now installing iOS 4.2 on my iPod Touch. See you on the other side. #
  • Post-podcast Hanukkah-remix celebratory lunch? Pelmeni, of course. #
  • "Glitch" is "non-traditional utilization of media tools" but I'd say that's broad. @Bit_Synthesis @vagueterrain It's about the use of error. #
  • Taped @tabletmag podcast w/ excellent host @saraivry. Details TK. Cool benefit: now have professionally recorded room tone of home office. #
  • [email protected] Woah — is that accordion part of our remix project? If so, super cool. #
  • Morning sounds: baby's breathing, jet overhead, more traffic than usual, refrigerator, laptop's tiny fan/drive. #
  • Switched Win7 screen-divider software from MaxTo to WinSplit Revolution. Gone are the ghost artifacts. Now have nice mode-shifting. #
  • [email protected] I can immediately see the parallel between the "experimental" music I'm talking about and your comics. #
  • Thanks, folks — @sbtrmnl @gurdonark @chefmenteur — check out the @markrushtoncom response re: "experimental": #
  • Fairly convinced a lot of musicians I like whose music is experimental don't consciously make experimental music; they make music they like. #
  • RT @thicketapp The Thicket dev team is helping @buddhamachine with a few little updates to their lovely iPad edition #
  • Nice thing about a relatively computer-free morning is the near absence of hard-drive and fan noise. #
  • I think autocorrect just turned Unsilent Night into Insolent Night. #badsanta #
  • Morning sounds: light rain, sleeping baby's breathing, no hard drives (computers off, Tivo several rooms and thick walls away). #
  • Blind guy making way down street, his walking stick banging against car doors. #
  • Thunder in the Mission, thunder strong enough to set off car alarms. #
  • Just saw Red. Comic movie continuity is confusing. First the Human Torch is Captain America, and here Doom is the Vice President. #
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Glitch or Not (MP3s)

Some recent constructive back’n’forths on Twitter about the meaning of “glitch” suggested that looking at how the tag is used on various sound communities might provide some insight into the term’s evolution. For many, the word has its root in the music of Oval, aka Markus Popp, who used the sounds of malfunctioning compact discs as his inspiration. The question is whether glitch, the sound of error, the aesthetic of error, is intrinsically digital, intrinsically CD-related — is it an aesthetic, a sound, a school? Much early video art involved system feedback and bad signals, but it wasn’t called glitch then, nor does it necessarily feel like “glitch” now. There’s something about the hard fact-ness of “glitch” that suggests a digital on/off-ness, a harsh binary, a binary that seems entirely apart from audio tape and vinyl and cathode ray tubes.

Over at the Internet Archive, Paolo Ribo‘s Bent Interlocutor set is tagged, among other things, “glitch.” It’s also referenced as “8bit” and “experimental.” Just because someone’s work is tagged with a particular word isn’t necessarily meaningful in regard to the word’s status, but it does speak to how musicians see the word. On Bent Interlocutor, the glitch is hard to find, but it is there. The opening “Intro” has some artfully masticated vocals snippets, shriveling behind sci-fi-soundtrack oscillators and layers of static, shuffled like the words are coming off a busted production line (MP3).

Perhaps the album’s strongest glitch moment is the title cut (MP3), which has a retro sci-fi feel, yet its dated-ness, which is purposefully exaggerated thanks to effects that make the material feel quite worn, lends it a glitchy quality — it’s the sound of, as Caleb Kelly titled his book on the subject, cracked media. And even if it was digitally produced, it isn’t inherently digital. Glitch is the siren song of decaying media.

[audio:|titles=”Intro”|artists=Pablo Ribot] [audio:|titles=”Bent interlocutor”|artists=Pablo Ribot]

Get the full release at

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Past Week at

  • Happy (what would have been your) 110th birthday, Chester Gould (1900-1985), whose comic Dick Tracy helped make Americans tech-gadget crazy. #
  • Morning sounds: rain (and lots of it) and coffee, both dripping. #
  • [email protected] I wonder same thing. I wonder if permanently recorded music will exist. But "future" is many things, including just tomorrow. #
  • In the future, albums will come with related ringtones so that IM, phone, and email alerts will blend/contrast perfectly with the music. #
  • A little ">" character appears in @soundcloud browser window when audio plays. I vote all browser windows should have this. Where do I vote? #
  • "Massive Light Boner": name of event in Amsterdam I'm proud was promoted in part using my description of Jamie Allen #
  • [email protected] New DeLillo story (ecstatically unnatural dialog, naked econo-social commentary) read like novelization of one of his plays. #
  • Relative amount of bad/good, un/enjoyable free music on the web is probably about the same as in commercial releases. #netlabel #sturgeon #
  • RT @dizzybanjo I am on the bus with the squeakiest breaks in the universe #eartwit #
  • ♪ My favorite drone in some time, for streaming and download: (From PoznaÅ„, Poland's Szymon Kaliski.) #
  • Morning sounds: hard drives, typing, light rain, the fizz of a Diet Coke in its can (forgot to make iced coffee last night), baby hiccups. #
  • Finally got to last week's Fringe, "6995kHz," which did prove close to the dream episode for fans of the show's sonic sensibility. Close. #
  • I'd listen to the phone book sung to the melody of the Terriers theme song. #
  • Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould among the 15 documentaries announced for Oscar short list: #
  • Just because you are fascinated by sampling and admire Black Sabbath doesn't mean you'll necessarily enjoy the new Girl Talk at all. #
  • [email protected] Somewhere I have scans of an excellent early-20th-century pamphlet on how radio kills piano (and I think sheet music) sales. #
  • [email protected] Global juke will (emphasis) be cool (I get it's the streaming of which we speak) but it mistakenly views music as fixed object #
  • I need a second mouse, for depending on which shoulder my kid falls asleep on while I'm typing. #
  • Whenever a music publicist's press release describes a recording as "organic" I like to imagine it employs generative processes. #
  • [email protected] Old-tyme habits aside, the future of music (wishful thinking from me) will be reactive: not just temporal; incident-singular. #
  • Benjamin Franklin wakes to find Americans generally don't care if their communication is surveilled, only that their privates are private. #
  • [email protected] @erik_davis Then again, this could all just be my old-world experiences fogging up my prognosticator goggles. #
  • [email protected] @erik_davis Not saying streaming won't grow. We know from TV, radio and museums there's a large audience for temporal culture. #
  • [email protected] @erik_davis And: piracy often leads the new-tech way. Not seeing pirate streamers, while file-sharing appears to be growing. #
  • [email protected] @erik_davis … but stream-focused future would reverse current course, in which "everything" (more or less) is available. #
  • [email protected] @erik_davis I remain uncertain the future is streaming. Pop has largely been disposable to consumers, so there's that … #
  • [email protected]_davis I let my @emusic lapse. The price kept going up, and the service (most notably search) wasn't showing sufficient investment. #
  • [email protected] Bring your recorder to the dentist! #
  • [email protected] Yeah, Cheryl Leonard's getting her due, which is great; music's really going places, too. I may post some score images today. #
  • New BBC Radiophonic book waiting on the porch (Special Sound, Oxford). Gonna be a long night. #deliaonmymind #
  • There's so much static on the radio station playing opera in this taxi, I must be in a Francis Ford Coppola movie. #teatro #murch #
  • "One of the dangers of field recording is being attacked by wildlife." Cheryl Leonard is speaking at the Museum of Craft and Design. #
  • It's not easy to be polite with a car horn. Guy who just passed O'Farrell and Jones should give lessons. #quietdrivingschool #
  • New Don DeLillo story in the new Harper's. Opening graph: "There's no word for it, that sound, pure urgency, sustained, incessant." #
  • Really enjoying Kenneth Silverman's John Cage bio. But at 483 pages, it's the best case for ebooks I've experienced recently. #
  • Past-retirement-age dude at barber takes delight in Asian Art Museum's $ woes as a win for "real Americans"? #wowjustwow #
  • Plan for today: podcast prep, baby-doc visit, lunch with manga scholar, gallery visit, attend Cheryl Leonard presentation at #
  • Fun to imagine willful right-wing misreadings, like how @nytimes Dec 4 "Hack Day" is evidence of editorial malfeasance: #
  • So, "infant" is from Middle English (enfaunt) via Latin (infans) meaning "incapable of speech"; guess I misused "infantile" more than once. #
  • Wife and infant back asleep, cars passing outside with haste, dew dropping (mistaken initially as light rain), hard drive politely subdued. #
  • Sonifying 1995 Kobe quake data, Mike Rotondo (Treehouses) criticized for inferred humor: Q: When is data disrespectful? #
  • Thanks to Croatian author/illustrator Darko Macan for the original sketch that's my current Twitter background. Details: #
  • Finally read Jack Hawksmoor "secret history" graphic novel (6-part series). How he's attuned to cities should appeal to phonographers. #
  • Wanna say thanks, again, to Megan Kelso for the original kazoo illustration that has served as my Twitter background for the past month. #
  • Improvising third monitor by setting writing tool (Dark Room, a WriteRoom/Q10 equivalent) to 75% transparency, turning one monitor into two. #
  • Robert Fripp was so deep in looping in late '70s that when he posts non-loop archive audio he labels it a "Non Loop Idea" #
  • Mark Morse is documenting various guitar-prep techniques, including wooden spatula and knitting needle: #
  • In Windows: Start / Run / Edit. Type like it's 1995. I had no idea. (Thank you, @lifehacker) #
  • Almost done with two large-scale remix projects. Will share details when they're truly complete. Very excited about both. #
  • The Tuesday noon alarm in San Francisco sounds, and fades for so long you get the sense it's gonna rise up for another round. #
  • House especially quiet now that grandparents have flown the coop. #
  • How bats (may) hear: different roles for different neurons, "like a basketball team": #
  • [email protected] Thanks. Sontag's line re: disaster notwithstanding, bureaucracy at extreme feels like sci-fi. Loud ventilation just highlights it. #
  • Increasingly convinced the word "mama" has at its root the sad, curled-lower-lip moaning of an infant. #
  • Still haven't found time to watch last week's radio-signal episode of always sonically conscious Fringe. #
  • Lotta new "followers." Thanks/hi. I write on sound/music at, live in San Francisco. I appreciate your tweets re: sounds heard. #
  • Jury duty is over, over for awhile — to paraphrase John Lennon. #
  • [email protected] Yeah, cornet taxonomy — the Kelly book includes chart of traits adopted/introduced over time. Also neat chart on helmets. #
  • How'd did (and will) the gadget we call the trumpet evolve? We're discussing Kevin Kelly's book What Technology Wants at #
  • Jury-duty sounds: shuffling paper, muffled talk, shifting chairs, the HVAC of a space station. It's like Bleak House meets Solaris in here. #
  • Massive trucks are circling city hall here in San Francisco — honking as protest. Can't hear it from the belly of the Court House, though. #
  • The homeless in the park wake suddenly from their collective slumber as a fire engine rockets by, siren blaring. #
  • [email protected] Haven't read much of the others you mention, but I love Greg Egan; he's the Thomas Mann of singularity buyer's remorse. #
  • Headed to jury duty shortly. Hope to get on, but, "Please explain to the court why you listen to refrigerators hum." #
  • Love sound of bus at night. You know where it's going, as it doesn't meander, yet it passes redolent with questions of why, what, and who. #
  • Doesn't appear to be a Jack Hawksmoor action figure. That's unfortunate. He's the urbanist superhero, even more than Batman or Spider-Man. #
  • That silence in the house when infant is first asleep: city noise comes into focus, but each snore and fidget brings silence into question. #
  • Generative sound: noises your parents make when they play with your kid. #
  • Reading in backyard to urban score of birds, cars, one car alarm, and for a while a distant hum that must have been someone's vacuum cleaner #
  • Now sharing home office with wife, having turned her (former) office into baby room. Acclimating to sound of 4 hands typing. #modernromance #
  • House is never so quiet as day after a dinner party (in this case, mostly family: the mutual grandparents meeting their grandkid together). #
  • Sign on up, if the culture of free, as it relates to (electronic) music, is of interest to you: #
  • Epigraph to Kevin Kelly's new book, What Technology Wants, should be first stanza of "No New Tale to Tell" by Love and Rockets. #
  • RT @lucas_gonze Loving the ambient noise in this busy coffee shop. Conversation, classical radio, traffic. #eartwit #
  • RT @peterkirn Regular sound outside apt: entire racks of office servers, boards intact, being tossed into garbage truck compactors. #eartwit #
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