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 2011

43 Sequences from Today’s Future (MP3s)

The excellent electronica site has compiled the second of its massive, overstuffed collections of alternately ethereal and unnerving sound. Sequence2, as the album is titled, collects some 43 tracks by numerous musicians who will be familiar to readers of this site (among these contributors being Nils Quak, the Oo-ray, Nobuto Suda, Guy Birkin, and Specta Ciera), and there are many more who will provide welcome new experiences. The sheer amount of music can be overwhelming, so what follows are five favorites drawn from the collection. It is intended not so much as a list of sure-fire “best tracks,” and more as a tool to navigate the embarrassment of riches by highlighting touchstones of its variety. (Sequence1 had 42 tracks, and was released earlier this year.)

Rhian Sheehan‘s “Liber” (track 2) is one of many dawn-break efforts in widescreen ambience here, and it is distinguished by its pizzicato texturing. Beautiful Bells‘s “Panic Attack 2” (track 10) has the muted future-jazz horn of an early Ben Neill. The sing-song nature of Josh Mason‘s “Freedom Time” (track 37) sounds like Brian Eno’s career in reverse, as if elegant pop experiments were slowly emerging from ambient explorations. Like Sheehan’s track, Zvuku‘s “Cold” (track 6) willfully jeopardizes its softness, here with not only what appear to be rough field recordings, but also modulations that seem take the apparent softness and manipulate it like the raw material it is. Thisquietarmy‘s “Aeronaut” (track 33) might be termed 8bit drone, at least for stretches of its admonitory run.

Get the full set at More on the Sequence2 project at

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Sketches of Sound 20: Michael Bartalos

Since April 2010, has hosted a monthly project called “Sketches of Sound,” in which illustrators, most of them comics artists, are invited to draw a sound-related object. I post the drawing as the background of my Twitter account,, and then share a bit of information about the illustrator back on Call it “curating Twitter.”

This, the 20th entry, features bicycle horns drawn by Michael Bartalos. Bartalos works extensively in the graphic arts in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. His design commissions include Swatch watches and postage stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service.

He also produces limited print editions and sculptural assemblages, and has created artist’s book editions with the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. 

For his NSF project, Bartalos collected re-usable discarded material from Antarctica to create a sequential sculptural work now in progress titled “The Long View” ( The work intends to raise awareness of resource conservation and eco-preservation practices on the Ice, and by extension, to promote sustainability worldwide. Structurally the artwork references the book form, paying homage to an early instance of polar recycling in which Ernest Shackleton fashioned wooden covers from provision crates to bind Aurora Australis, the first book ever published in Antarctica.

Bartalos is the California Academy of Science’s first Affiliate Artist and the Chair of the Imprint of the San Francisco Center for the Book. His work is online at

He also submitted the following three variations. I may swap in the digital entry on my Twitter page later in the month.

The previous “Sketches of Sound” contributors were, in alphabetical order, Jesse Baggs, Brian Biggs, Leela Corman, Warren Craghead III, Scott Faulkner, Owen Freeman, S.L. Gallant, Scott Gilbert, Brian Hagen, Dylan Horrocks, Megan Kelso, Minty Lewis, Natalia Ludmila, Darko Macan, Caesar Meadows, Justin Orr, Hannes Pasqualini, Thorsten Sideb0ard, and Gustavo Alberto Garcia Vaca. ”Ž

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Past Week at

  • Yeah, Apple's mail doesn't mark replies consistently, which is why (well, one of the whys) I've used Thunderbird. #
  • Ambient music is especially meaningful when perpetrated on tools that were previously relegated to a supporting role. #
  • Thunderbird is proving just as (un)stable in OS X Lion as it was in Windows 7. #
  • For Black Friday all MP3s in's Downstream department available for free download. Oh wait, that's true every day. #
  • Digital thanks for Soundcloud HTML5 player, genial Twitter correspondence, revival of Delicious, and 15 years of Disquiet. #
  • "Audio cassette" jack in back of cash register. #
  • Foil on pies in back of car rattling like snare drums. #
  • Read more »
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Tools Formerly Relegated to a Supporting Role (MP3)

The 20th issue of the journal Vague Terrain (at has 10 entries. They’re divided between, one might say, thought and art, between essays (plus one interview) about art, and then art itself. (One of the essays is mine. It’s titled “New York and New York, New York: A Midsummer Sound Diary,” and I wrote a bit more about it, and the overall Vague Terrain issue, earlier this week.)

This proposed distinction between “thought” and “art” is confused in part because the art here is, in most cases, accompanied by an essay written by the artist who committed it. Of the entries that fit in the “art” category, the MP3 provided for free download by David Kristian is placed in an especially self-aware context. Kristian knows his influences (“i.e Fripp & Eno, Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze’s early works,” he writes), and he explains how his career developed to the point where instruments are beside the point:

I use very little in terms of traditional electronic musical instruments to generate sound, preferring instead to rely on an ever-growing collection of effect units and guitar pedals. Everything you hear in the piece I submitted to Vague Terrain was made using pedals, with no actual synthesizers or sequencers, at least none with keyboards or other standard performance controls.

Which is to say, it isn’t so much a matter of instruments being beside the point as it is of traditional instruments being put aside in favor of less traditional ones. Even without the knowledge of the instrumentation (displayed up top, in the photo that accompanied the essay), the track, titled “In Your Sleep,” sounds heavily technologically motivated. The sine-wave phasing that provides much of its sound could easily be the noise on a song recorded in a poorly grounded studio. But in place of a song we have the noise. Or, more to the point, the noise becomes a song. With each subsequent listens the piece, which is just under 20 minutes in length, displays increasing variation, increasing warbles and inconsistencies in what initially seems to be an automated whole.

Between the track and the essay, one thing becomes clear: it makes perfect sense that much as ambient music draws attention to background sounds, ambient music is especially meaningful when perpetrated on tools that were previously relegated to a supporting role — tools such as the ones used here: “a variety of oscillator pedals, a sequenced ring modulator, fuzz(es), flangers, phasers, filters, choruses, delays, and reverbs.”

Get the track for free download in a Zip file, and read Kristian’s full essay at More on Krisian, who has created music and sound for film and video games (including Splinter Cell: Conviction; Army of Two: The 40th Day; and TERA: The Exiled Realm of Arborea), among other things, at

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All Rorschach Butterfly (MP3)

The waveform that accompanies “Dawn Chorus” by Nathan McLaughlin is, of course, well matched to its subject. The waveform isn’t an artistic impression of the sound, isn’t a depiction of the music mediated by an individual imagination. It is a mapping, an incomplete one, certainly, as are all mappings, and yet its fluttery shape, all Rorschach butterfly, prepares the listener for the work’s delicate flow of inconsistent repetition. That inconsistency, the “human” aspect, may be owed to the give-and-take that provides the track’s base, a to and fro like that of a moored raft in a light current. It sounds like the product of a bellows instrument, or a gently sawed string one (the tone brings to mind the cello work discussed here yesterday). And then there is the rough field recording that provides a base to that base. It’s a sound at once natural, in that we hear birdsong, and yet electronic, in that it seems mediated, tweaked with minor glitchy effects, perhaps a loop set on a semi-irregular repeat. The result is a play not only between foreground and rear, a common conceit, but on perceptions of artificiality. And it’s quite lovely.

Track originally posted at More on the release at the website of the cassette label that made a commercial version available,

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