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

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Monthly Archives: December 2010

Scelsi Drones (MP3s)

Ángel Faraldo provides limited documentation for his beautiful Scelsi Remix: 7 Mantras, named for the late Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi. Faraldo states that each mantra, or chakra, in the collection takes a color as its theme, and that each piece is based on that color’s “light frequency,” when adjusted from the visual spectrum to the audio spectrum. The result is seven individual tracks that have a haunting, halo-like quality — they are short, self-contained drones enacted as if by symphony orchestras. Here, by way of example, is the fifth in the series (MP3):

[audio:|titles=”Ham”|artists=Ángel Faraldo]

They appear to have been intended either as backdrops to work by [email protected] 21, aka saxophonists Pablo Coello and Rafael Yebra, or as “interludes” played between pieces performed by the duo.

The full set is available as a Zip archive at More on Faraldo at

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Marcus Fischer’s Elegance: Hardware & Sound

Marcus Fischer once had this art-a-day thing going on, throughout 2009, in which he made one creative thing a day for a year. For most people, that would be a challenge. In retrospect, with Fischer, who is so prolific in his efforts and tidy in his executions, it seems more like a willful act of restraint — i.e., whereas for many people it would be a struggle to do one thing a day, for him the primary demand was to limit himself. In any case, an example of his tireless efforts is this lovely object, shown above and below, which he calls his minimalistic guitar pedal (originally posted at his blog, And to accompany the photos, he posted this recording of him utilizing it:

[audio:|titles=”12_02mf-excpt”|artists=Marcus Fischer]

The recording (MP3) comes from a live performance at a December 2, 2010, record-release show for his great album on the 12k label, Monocoastal. It’s an elegant, lightly glitching atmosphere, tempting one to correlate his equipment with his sonic aesthetic.

More on Fischer at

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Past Week at

  • I'm taking next 2 weeks off Twitter. Going Twitter-dark. And largely Internet-dark. 2011 approaches. See you on the other side. Back Jan 5. #
  • Managed to get a best-film-scores of 2010 list done, too. Will post it soon. (TV music doesn't get enough love. But that's for another day.) #
  • My buddy's site, which I helped him rig up, got a nice nod from @io9 today #capes #nopictures #
  • Evening sounds: laptop hard drive, TiVo hard drive, crunching and rattle of toy in baby's hands, car doors of people getting home from work. #
  • Autocorrect is the pocket calculator of the present time. #
  • Need to get some really nifty looking rechargeable batteries to put inside my clear, new Buddha Machine. #naked #
  • About to go record shopping with my daughter. She's 16 weeks old today. This should prove interesting. #
  • Great musician-wanted ad: "@djrupture We're looking for someone who plays keyboard, triggers samples, dislikes jazz & loves repetition #NYC quot; #
  • Tuesday noon siren in San Francisco: funny it should happen during this rare break from the rain. It signals, "Look outside everyone!" #
  • Forum-generated list of movie scores converted to CD from LP for first time in 2010 Day of the Locust, Once a Thief, … #
  • "2010: A year with no new movies scored by Gustavo Santaolalla or Cliff Martinez". Retracted: There was Santaolla, just no Martinez. #
  • 2010: A year with no new movies scored by Gustavo Santaolalla or Cliff Martinez. #
  • Dear @googlenews — If I opt out of main sports section, maybe your algorithm should limit sports showing in my local San Francisco feed? #
  • One of the best iPhone/Pad/Touch sound apps of 2010, Thicket, is free today via @creativeapplications & @thicketapp #
  • If you're in Charleston, WV, it's Unsilent Night tonight. @myunsilentnight #
  • Six ways of drawing the moon. Introducing Galileo, earliest known Oubapo artist @mmaddencomics (via @boingboing) #
  • Our sonic @TelegraphNews rebuttal has first bonus track, courtesy of @ethanhein: "Sigh Beats" #philipsz #lowlands #turner #
  • Susan Philipsz won Turner Dec 6. Richard Dorment of @telegraphnews dismissed it Dec 7. Yesterday we responded in sound: #
  • Going Twitter-dark in 12 hours. Looking forward to two slightly less technologically mediated weeks. (Not wholesale; e.g., still on email.) #
  • Evening sounds: plane passing slowly (making that infinite descending-bomb drone), baby's breathing, refrigerator on hum. #aanechoic #
  • RT @BoingBoing "An experimental musical petri-dish" [In which I wrote about the glorious] #
  • "@geetadayal: sound artists "answer record" responding to critic's dismissive Susan Philipsz review" Thanks, Geeta! #
  • Susan Philipsz's installation won Turner Prize. Richard Dorment of @telegraphnews dismissed it. We respond: #
  • What's more plein air than field recording? Aside, perhaps, from simply listening. #
  • Distant Traffic (Netbook Hard Drive and Fan Mix) #
  • 4'33" enters chart at #21 John Cage would be proud. The 21st I Ching hexagram "indicates how obstacles are forcibly removed in nature." #
  • Ace beatmaker Diego Bernal is running for San Antonio City Council District 1. Support his campaign: @dbernalmusic #
  • I love Google Tasks. As @lifehacker has shown repeatedly, the best form of list-making is often paper. Google Tasks is like paper + sync. #
  • Our sonic-activist "answer album" to Megan McArdle article about music industry gets best-of-2010 nod: from @vuzhmusic #
  • The @nytimes Year in Ideas includes Turbine-Free Wind Power that does away with noise/vibration issues #hallelujah #
  • Sampling: it's a cover version, not a crime. #
  • Just posted a five-minute (stationary mic) recording of last night's Unsilent Night in San Francisco: @soundcloud #fluxus #
  • If you're in Salt Lake City, San Diego, Vancouver or Los Angeles, it's Unsilent Night tonight. @myunsilentnight #
  • Sequencing our little sonic-activist project, 11 tracks (potentially a few more coming by end of day). Should be live tomorrow or Tuesday. #
  • If you were at the Unsilent Night in San Francisco, could you get in touch with me? I have a couple questions. Thanks. #
  • [email protected] Want a good take on environment in which Dead took shape, read Lesh's autobiography side by side with John Markoff's Dormouse. #
  • Three and a half hours until Unsilent Night. Load up your boomboxes. #
  • Cute THX 1138 joke in this morning's Clone Wars episode. 99 is more interesting than any character introduced in the 3 Star Wars prequels. #
  • Four, maybe five, days until I go Twitter-dark through the end of the year. Looking forward to it. #
  • Umi Nom = restaurant with "nom" in its name. Gotta love it. I guess "umi nom" means "drink" in Tagalog (per @newyorker)? It's in Brooklyn. #
  • Woo! It's Unsilent Night tonight in San Francisco: @myunsilentnight Also: Charleston, SC; Dallas, TX; Manhattan, NY. #
  • After the whole thing, find myself disinclined to type the word "yahoo." What to do? "Yay"? "Neat"? "Woo"? I'll go with "woo." #
  • The adjectives "indie" and "enterprise" bug me to equal degrees. #
  • Morning sounds: heater, netbook hard drive, a few cars, footsteps, ice against glass. Also notable: absence of last night's intense wind. #
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Minimalist Beatmaker Supreme: Philly’s Y?Arcka

The conflict in the music of Young Architect, aka Y?Arcka, aka WHY?Arcka, aka Philadelphia-based Shawn Kelly, is between the modesty of his materials and the intensity of his intent. He does more with less than any other beat-minded producer I’m aware of. You can hear little bits of NERD in there, with his metronomic pulse and his affection for classic soul, and you can hear DJ Premier, with his ability to utilize acoustic instruments without losing their looseness, and you can hear J Dilla, with his taste for broken beats. But more than any of that you hear him.

Here’s just one track, “We Used 2 Be (Hip Hop),” off his delectable Half Order Out of Chaos:

[ Normally there would be a player embedded here that would play the track, but the Bandcamp one seems to be messing up this site’s HTML for some reason right now. To hear the track, proceed to ]

The way he uses tiny snippets of a vocal and builds this flowing rhythm of pointillist misdirection simply deserves far more attention than it’s currently receiving.

Get the full set at

More on him at,,

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Best of 2010: 10 Best Film Scores

There are two subsets of ambient/electronic music that often get overlooked in discussion. One is the instrumental backings of hip-hop (and, increasingly, r&b and pop songs), which are constructed from fragments of samples in a manner that would make John Cage or John Oswald proud — and whose inherent abstractions become self-evident when relieved of the songs’ vocal content. Much of my music-buying every month is of instrumental hip-hop tracks, yet year in year out I never seem to make much progress on putting an end-of-year list together of my favorites.

In any case, the other subset is soundtracks, not just to films, but to television, video games, advertising — and, increasingly, to consumer devices, such as alarm clocks. Easily one of the most intoxicating electronic “hits” of the year was Chilly Gonzales’ “Never Stop,” which appeared in several iPad commercials. I, personally, consume far more television than I do movies, and I need to pay more attention to television incidental music. That is, I pay attention to it — I’m especially fond of the late Rubicon, of The Walking Dead, of Big Love, of Fringe and, of all things, of CSI: Miami, the latter of whose sound designers have been out of control lately — but, again, I never seem to manage to get a proper list together. (NCIS, by the way, deserves some credit, too; that show has an almost vaudevillian approach to music timing.) Perhaps next year.

Now, there may be far fewer films — and, thus, far fewer film soundtracks — than there are non-soundtrack CD releases each year, but like any such list, this one is still hampered by how much time I have. (It’s also hampered by how many scores are actually released commercially, though I’ve come to understand that’s become less of an issue thanks to digital-only albums.) There are many 2010 movies I didn’t have a chance to see, especially ones with work by some of the leading composers in the realm of so-called underscoring, in which the music bleeds into the sound of the film, such as Gustavo Sanaolalla (Biutiful), David Holmes (The Edge), and Lisa Gerrard (Oranges and Sunshine), just to name a few.

All of which is to say, here are the 10 movies scores of the year — scores that employed tenets of an ambient/electronic approach, alphabetized by movie title.

1. The American Herbert Grönemeyer (EMI) No major motion picture this year confronted silence — or at least the absence of speech — with the elegance and coherence of The American. The story of a mercenary gun craftsman on the run in Italy, it probably has less dialog than does any other movie to open in the top three, let alone the number one spot. Grönemeyer, as a result, has vast spaces to fill, but he does so without ever letting the audience lose a sense of the sounds of the world, whether it be the workspace where the gunmaker plies his trade in secret, or the city and rural environs he finds himself in. One particularly great scene has him timing his efforts so that he can mask his hammering with the ringing of church bells. Of course, that scene’s credit goes to the movie’s director, Anton Corbijn, but it provides a sense of the silence-coaxing context in which Grönemeyer was composing.

2. Black Swan Clint Mansell (Fox Music) Martin Scorcese’s Shutter Island wasn’t the only film this year to take classical music and let it serve a psychological thriller. Here, it is, of course — we are talking about ballerinas — Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, but mixed with Mansell’s trademark electronic textures. It isn’t quite chopped and screwed, but it’s enticingly on its way there.

3. The Fighter Michael Brook (Relativity) Michael Brook is one of those few composers whose scores are always listenable unto themselves, apart from the films they serve, and yet they serve the film nonetheless. It was very risky for this particular film’s director, David O. Russell, to align his movie’s desperate realism with Brooks’ fourth-world dreaminess. But Russell no doubt heard in Brooks’ tonal sketches something akin to the flow of blood in one’s ringing ear.

4. The Illusionist Sylvain Chomet (Milan) This is, on the surface, by far the least technologically mediated of the soundtracks listed here, but it’s not only for association with the winning Triplets of Belleville score that director Chomet draws attention. His take on jazz and chanson pastiche emphasizes atmospheric content over song content in a manner that’s quite conscious of the functional purpose of popular music: as a soundtrack to goings-on, as a mood-setter. There’s also, for all Chomet’s love of swing, an animator’s metronomic pulse in everything he does. Just listen to the pitter-patter xylophone in “Blue Dress,” or the piping piano of “Paris London.”

5. Inception Hans Zimmer (Warner Bros.) No score this year got more attention, and deservedly so, for its accomplishment in taking narrative structure to heart. Inception would be receiving major year-end praise if only for its utilization of elements of “Non, je ne Regrette Rien” by Edith Piaf to seem as if Zimmer had majestically slowed it down, matching the relationship that the film suggested between nested dreams and temporal experience. But, in addition to that, Inception is simply one of Zimmer’s best scores. Along with Sherlock Holmes, it shows that he’s moving away from the synthesizer-driven material with which he’s long been associated. (And, in a true act of dedication, he and director Nolan then teamed up with the crew behind the iPhone reactive-audio app RjDj — more on which when I post the best iOS apps of the year.)

6. The King’s Speech Alexandre Desplat (Cutting Edge/Decca) The rare orchestral score that is subdued, truly subdued — not Mahler-subdued, all that inner turmoil, but Satie-subdued. The movie is about a British royal overcoming a speech impediment. The work probably served as a good balance as Desplat toiled around the same time on the score to a film about another anointed one overcoming childhood trauma and gaining leadership skills and self-confidence: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

7. Shutter Island various (Rhino) Not a particularly great film, but a fascinating score. No original music, just various greatest hits of 20th century (and some 21st century) classical music. To use Ingram Marshall’s “Fog Tropes” (performed by the Orchestra of St. Lukes, conducted by John Adams) in a psychological thriller would be obscene, only if you live in a world that cherishes the self-ghettoizing of classical music. Also here: Nam June Paik, Brian Eno, John Cage, and Max Richter, among others. The approach brings to mind Stanley Kubrick (think of all that Ligeti in 2001: A Space Odyssey, forcing out poor Alex North’s original music), though apparently it was not the film’s director, Martin Scorsese, but instead Robbie Robertson (of the Band) who put it all together.

8. Social Network Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross The movie is directed by one of the most formally accomplished filmmakers, David Fincher, and written by one of the contemporary screenwriters most comfortable with theatrical staginess, Aaron Sorkin. So who better than rock’s romantic figure with the drum-machine heart to score it. Reznor and his colleague Ross turn in a spectacle of cold-bloodedness, emotional short circuits, and frayed nerves. (The one unfortunate thing about the score to Social Network is how frequently it is attributed solely to Trent Reznor, when in fact it plainly bears a dual credit between Reznor and Atticus Ross. So, also check out this year’s The Book of Eli, which Ross scored by himself. Lackluster movie, but a bracing score; Ross funnels ragged industrial pop into a song-less space that is rich and vibrant.)

9. The Tempest Elliot Goldenthal (Zarathurstra) Goldenthal is one of the most scene-chomping film composers of our time, and yet there’s always a detail-mindedness to his work. There’s something about his broad palette, his mix of rock’n’roll energy and minimalist patterning, that makes him a kind of Hollywood kin of the Bang on a Can folks. He especially goes all out when he teams with his wife, director Julie Taymor, as he does here.

10. 127 Hours A.R. Rahman (Interscope) It isn’t a surprise, after the triumph that was Slumdog Millionaire, that its director, Danny Boyle, would re-team with its composer, A.R. Rahman. What is a surprise, one that speaks to Boyle’s counter-intuitive imagination, is that he brought Rahman, one of the major figures in Bollywood movie music, to work on a film that takes place in desolate Moab, Utah — and that Rahman would, for the most part, rein in his penchant for the boisterous in favor of a story-appropriate aridity.

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