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. • Disquiet.com 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.

Does All Work and No Sound Makes Jack a Dull Typist?

The New York Times’ lead consumer electronics reporter, David Pogue, mined simultaneously two of his major interests this week: gadgets and musicals. The theme was what he (or the editor) titled his column: “The Fading Sounds of Analog Technology.” In itemizing all the sonic cues slowly disappearing from what once was, not so long ago, daily life, he noted the “rewind/fast-forward gibberish” of tape, the scratching of vinyl, the dial tone, and “modem-dialing shrieks.”

And he opened his article with this description of the opening of Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical, Company. Its first sound is that of a phone’s busy signal:

After a few repetitions of that insistent, one-note beep, the overture begins building off its rhythm. The busy signal became a musical theme for the entire opening number. But when I went to see the revival of the show in 2006, the busy signal was gone. Mr. Sondheim later told me that nobody knows what it is anymore.

Sounds, of course, don’t always get forgotten. Sometimes, as Pogue himself notes, they move from fact to metaphor: “Cash registers don’t go ‘ka-ching’ anymore, either. But we still say ‘ka-ching.'” Much as we say that phones “ring off the hook,” even if they don’t ring, and even if there is no hook.

Pogue did not mention Jean Cocteau’s play “La Voix humaine,” which Francis Poulenc adapted as an opera — it’s performed solo by a woman on the phone, talking to her lover. One wonders how the work would have been shaped had it first come into existence today, in the age of the cellphone: rather than trapped in a room, the phone cabled to the wall, she might wander the streets, having the conversation on a cellphone — perhaps not even speaking, but texting. Perhaps such an adaptation has already occurred.

Pogue also didn’t mention the typewriter, but the very first commenter on the Times post, someone from Brooklyn who went by Brooklyn Guy, did:

Also add to the list, sounds of typewriters or impact printers used in action movies when some text needs to be displayed on the screen.

Well, the sound of typing’s past, at least, is having something of a digital afterlife. Word processors are increasingly employing it for verisimilitude. The iPad, for example, comes with the volume of its clackety virtual keyboard turned on. The shareware software Write Monkey (available for Windows 7), which I use daily, offers a variety of typing-sound sample sets (“schemes,” they’re called) as a bonus for paying customers. These include a teleprinter, an Olympia, a daisywheel, and, among others, a bubble keyboard. Though the implementation requires payment, over a dozen of the schemes are available for free download as Zip archives of millisecond-long WAV files at writemonkey.com.

Personally, I type silent. No disrespect to the developer of Write Monkey, which is a fine program, but I think of the canned typing noise as the data-processing equivalent of Instagram, a retro flourish of nebulous nostalgia.

That is, I don’t opt to turn on software-enabled keyboarding sounds. My laptop makes a typing sound, as does my desktop computer. Virtual keyboards are another story, but I also don’t employ sounds to augment the near-frictionless surfaces of my mobile touchscreens. The devices aren’t truly silent. These aren’t sounds we once thought of as typing, certainly, but they are sounds that we will, in the future, realize we had thought of as typing.

(Above photo by Paulo Brabo, thanks to the Creative Commons, at flickr.com. He titled it the “piano of letters” — well, “piano de letras.”)

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , / Comment: 1 ]

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 Disquiet.com 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, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
    • January 6, 2023: This day marked the 11th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

  • Recent
    • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier).
    • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly (aaassembly.org) at Gray Area (grayarea.org).
    • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of 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 oup.com.)

  • 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

  • 0544 / Feedback Loop / The Assignment: Share music-in-progress for input from others.
    0543 / Technique Check / The Assignment: Share a tip from your method toolbox.
    0542 / 2600 Club / The Assignment: Make some phreaking music.
    0541 / 10BPM Techno / The Assignment: Make some snail-paced beats.
    0540 / 5ive 4our / The Assignment: Take back 5/4 for Jedi time masters Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond.

  • Full Index
    And there is a complete list of past projects, 544 consecutive weeks to date.

  • Archives

    By month and by topic

  • [email protected]

    [email protected]

  • Downstream

    Recommended listening each weekday

  • Recent Posts