Past Week at

  • Crazy white noise filled the living room in the near dark at 6:10am as I was typing. The Tivo machine was, briefly, a sonic blast furnace. #
  • I've learned much from the Instagr/am/bient project. One key thing: @soundcloud sets would benefit from "shuffle play" mode. #
  • interviews department redesigned. Highlights full list of 72 since 1992: (More TK from archive.) #
  • Our new compilation of original music, Instagr/am/bient, has almost 2,000 listens on @soundcloud, in under 24 hours: #
  • The first remix production, Our Lives in the Bush of Disquiet, has had almost 35,000 downloads since its 2006 release. #
  • The facts of the contemporary home stereo. #soundcloud #
  • Somewhat overwhelmed by amount of Instagr/am/bient correspondence. This is good. #
  • Thanks for warm Instagr/am/bient response. 1200 plays in first half day, not counting downloads: #
  • Instagr/am/bient is 25 musicians making sonic postcards inspired by each other's @instagram photos: #
  • Major thanks to @boondesign for the visual heavy lifting. The 10MB PDF he put together for Instagr/am/bient is gorgeous #
  • Thanks to @mapmap @benjamindauer @ooray @wcraghead and everyone else who made Instagr/am/bient possible. #
  • Promised myself I wouldn't do a Disquiet multi-musician project until Lisbon one's done but this congealed fast/nicely: #
  • Despite possible mistaken impressions, I'm new to Instagram. If you do it, I'm @dsqt over there. Here, of course, I get to keep my vowels. #
  • It's time to share something a whole lotta people have been working on #
  • Instagr/am/bient 5×5. #
  • Coming soon. #netlabel #ambient #instagram #
  • Momentary break from Twitter-silence. Graphic genies at @boondesign & I are nearing completion on Instagr/am/bent. Release to appear soon. #
  • Tools. #

Best of 2011: The 10 (or 12) Best Commercial Ambient/Electronic Albums

This is the first in a series of best-of lists to be published for 2011. There will also be lists of best free/netlabel music, best movie scores, and best iOS sound apps. And for the record, so to speak, the word “best” is used in the colloquial sense: It simply means my favorites of the year.

There has likely been less commercial music discussed on in 2011 than in any previous year since the site’s launch, almost exactly 15 years ago, in December 1996. This relative absence wasn’t intentional. It doesn’t even particularly reflect my daily listening habits. But it does, in retrospect, reflect my imagination. I listen to enormous amounts of commercially released music, much that is sent to me for promotional purposes, much that I hear online, and much that I myself purchase. My email inbox is overrun with inbound, unsolicited, but often welcome, invitations to listen to the commercial music for free (un-commercially, as it were, though in the end, the whole act of promotion is itself a commercial enterprise).

Yet still, there is something about a commercial record that felt inherently stolid in 2011 — not all commercial records, and not the music specifically. The music can be dynamic, adventurous, but the enterprise can still feel rote or calculated or misguided, or some combination thereof.

I spent a lot of time listening to, and thinking about, and interacting with, the music than emanates from generative sound apps (those based in Internet browsers, and those that come in the form of mobile-device apps). I spent a lot of time listening to, and thinking about, the music that emerges from various outposts of the “free music” movement/phenomenon (from netlabels in particular, and also general Creative Commons work, as well as work that is released for free with no apparent tie to or, perhaps, even knowledge of either of those philosophically informed communities). I spent a lot of time listening to commercially released music, but rarely this year did I think about it with the energy that I did my other listening.

All of which is in no way intended to diminish the 10 (or 12) commercial recordings listed below. Nor is it my sense that following list could easily be swapped out with two or even four more lists of fascinating sets of 10 albums from the past year. These were selected because any other such lists would still have some sense of absence. The music here touches on a variety of approaches, which is part of what makes it feel whole. There is voice-infused music, and sound art, and something not too distantly related to dance music, and noise, and elegant ambience, and contemporary classical, and remixes — and more. There are small-scale recordings, and recordings for which institutional financial support was necessary. In two cases two albums are listed, because they are by the same artists and were released this year and feel of a piece with each other. (And it at least one of the two cases, they were subsequently packaged together by the releasing record label.)

All of which is to say, in a year when I didn’t write about much commercial music, when it came time to list my 10 favorites, the list expanded to 12. They are listed here in alphabetical order by musician. Yes, “musician,” singular. One thing that struck me when I completed this list is that all these albums are, with the exception of the ECM remix collection, solo records.

Julianna Barwick‘s The Magic Place (Asthmatic Kitty): Julianna Barwick is a choir of one. She makes music in which layer upon layer of her singing, vaguely druid in its tonal quality, form slow cascades of seemingly wordless invention. The effect is both meditative and cathartic. Other elements make themselves heard, including a minimalist piano that sounds like Harold Budd at work on one of Tom Waits’ detuned barroom favorites. This is music that could all to easily lapse into treacle, but it shows restraint, not in its ambition, but in its affect. … More on Barwick at Listen to the album in full at More on the record at There’s also a collection of remixes, Matrimony Remixes, which I cannot recommend; the beats just make all the songs sound like the closing music to a Disney animated film.   Jefferson Friedman‘s Quartets (New Amsterdam): The collection contains two complete string quartets and a pair of remixes. The quartets (which date from 1999 and 2005) are alternately fierce and pastoral, and they distinguish themselves with the extent to which the instrumentalists are treated as equal partners, and the extent to which the arrangement is the music: theme and melody rarely stand out above the musical interplay. They are performed here by the Chiara String Quartet, for whom they were composed. The Matmos remixes are some of the duo’s strongest recent work, especially the closing track, “Floor Plan Mix,” which achieves a spectral quality in its distillation of the source material. … More on the musicians at,, and Listen to the album in full at More on the album at   Grouper‘s A I A : Dream Loss and A I A : Alien Observer (Yellow Electric): Between their titles and approach, these are at least companion collections and more like parts of a whole (think how with the final two thirds of the Star Wars or the Lisbeth Salander trilogies, neither half is particularly satisfying without the other). Grouper is Liz Harris, and her two 2011 full-length releases, though available separately, deserve consideration as a whole, not simply because their titles and covers suggest them as halves of a pair, or entries in a series, but because they similarly eke songs, or song-like formations, from quiet accumulations of vocals and supporting sounds. There is a lot of freak folk, or “drone folk,” out there in drone world. These recordings are closer to “drone singer-songwriter.” … Both albums are sample-able at the music retailer, among other places: Alien, Dream.

Tim Hecker‘s Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky): Hecker took source recordings he made of a pipe organ in Iceland and then went to work on them. Each glitch is a synapse-firing crisis of faith. Each echo maps the architecture of the place. Each mass of synthesized material fills the empty church in your mind. The cover shows a piano being pushed off the edge of the building, which makes for a colorful (or, in this case, black-and-white) polemic. There is tension in this music for certain, but it’s more likely to instill in experimental musicians the desire to explore pipe organs than to dispose of them. … More on Hecker at The music is sample-able at, among other retailers.   Jacaszek‘s Glimmer (Ghostly): In traditional terms, this is the prettiest album on this list. It is built from harpsichords and string sections and other classical instruments, which in combination lend it a storybook quality. It’s less fragile than it is dainty, but the daintiness is undergirded with filmic tension, like something out of the Quay Brothers at their most romantic yet mischievous. And the “traditional” instrumentation is just part of the sound design, mixed in with all manner of knocking and general acoustic haze. … More on the album at, where it is also available for streaming. More on the composer at the somewhat out of date

Eli Keszler‘s Cold Pin (Pan): Based on a massive sound-art installation by Keszler, the album comes in two parts: a recording of his invention (“14 strings ranging in length from 25 to 3 feet are strung across a 15 x 40 curved wall, with motors attacking the strings, connected by micro-controllers, pick-ups and rca cables”) and a recording of Keszler performing freely improvised jazz alongside the sculpture with Geoff Mullen, Ashley Paul, Greg Kelley, Reuben Son, and Benjamin Nelson. The artwork is impressive, and the album is a model for documenting site-specific installations. … More on the album (including sound and video) at More on Keszler at   Israel Martinez‘s El Hombre Que Se Sofoca (Sub Rosa): Six tracks of resplendent noise. The pieces range from deep washes of grey haze to jittery and anxious scattered samples. Melodic and cinematic washes give way to harsh deadspace. The impact is true to the title’s depiction of suffocation. A major album by the Mexican sound artist and musician, who is also a co-founder of the adventurous record label Abolipop. … More on the album, including two sound samples, at the record label’s website. More on Martinez at and   Andy Stott‘s We Stay Together and Passed Me By (Modern Love). Two albums of closely related yet disparate takes on club music. At its essence, this is the most minimal of minimal techno, but it seems more interested in exploring aridity than dankness, a rare and particularly welcome variation in this arena. … Listen to Together and Passed at their respective Soundcloud set pages.
  Amon Tobin‘s ISAM (Ninja Tune). It was almost as tempting to list this album under “best scores of 2011” as it was to list Kid Koala’s own recent Ninja Tune release (a soundtrack for a graphic novel he wrote and drew) simply as a commercial album. ISAM, in essence, is a recording of the music to Tobin’s audio-visual concert performance of the same name. It is brash and moving and, more than anything he has done previously, free of riffs intended and required to signal affiliation with a particular techno genre. … More on Tobin and the release, including streaming music and video and a free download, at   Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer‘s Re: ECM (ECM): The repeated use of the “re” prefix on this album — every one of the 17 tracks on its two halves — suggests that someone at the company still thinks of remixing as a purely post-production undertaking, rather than part of the artistic process. But still, it is a good thing that the estimable ECM label let DJs Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer wander through its back catalog, unearth samples, and render from them sonic tapestries. The music, with its constant presence of dust formations, has the texture of affectionate archival research. (It’s very close in spirit to Bill Laswell’s Panthalassa stroll through Miles Davis’ work.) … Discussion and music at More on the record at

Instagr/am/bient: 25 Sonic Postcards

25 ambient musicians respond to one another’s evocative Instagram photos.

25 ambient musicians created original sonic postcards in response to one another’s evocative Instagram photos.

An Introduction to Instagr/am/bient:

Photos shared with the popular software Instagram are usually square in format, not unlike the cover to a record album. The format leads inevitably to a question: if a given image were the cover to a record album, what would the album’s music sound like?

Instagr/am/bient is a response to that question. The project involves 25 musicians with ambient inclinations. Each of the musicians contributed an Instagram photo, and in turn each of the musicians recorded an original track in response to one of the photos contributed by another of the project’s participants. The tracks are sonic postcards. They are pieces of music whose relative brevity—all are between one and three minutes in length—is designed to correlate with the economical, ephemeral nature of an Instagram photo.

The result of the 25 musicians’ collective efforts is an investigation into the intersection of technology, aesthetics, and artistic process. What parallels exist, for example, between the visual filters that Instagram provides users to transform their photos and the sound-processing tools employed by electronic musicians?

In many cases here, the musicians employ sonic field recordings as source material for their music. In the case of both their photos and their compositions (photography in one case, phonography in the other), documents are altered to emphasize their atmospheric qualities: to eke a modest art out of the everyday.

Thumbnails of the 25 Images:

The full collection is also streaming at

The 25 MP3s are downloadable for free individually and as a Zip file at

Download a 58-page PDF with full-page reproductions of the images and additional information on all the participating musicians: PDF.

A Project Commissioned by Marc Weidenbaum

Design/ Cover Photo/Brian Scott

This project in no way intends to imply any formal association with Instagram.

The Elevator to the Techno Gallows (MP3)

Sometimes the best rhythmic tracks are hiding in plain site. New York’s Myroslaw Bytz caught nearly a minute of MTA Escalator at Times Square on Monday at 5am. It’s a slow, gangly beat, like a chain being pulled a long distance, or like some old gears shuffling in place. Sisyphus wears a reflective orange vest.

It’s a rhythm that suggests itself as metronomically precise but that, in fact, soon reveals itself to be a slurry mass of inaccuracies, a wonder of mechanical imprecision. The presence in the recorded track of a rote municipal announcement, apparently spoken by a woman, provides a keen parallel to the soundbite shout-outs of standard dance music. In place of 4/4 beats and diva proclamations, we get the mundane chaos of public transportation.

Track originally posted at More on Bytz at and

(Photo via the Creative Commons and

When Sayonara Might Mean Hello (MP3)

The beauty of is the extent to which its fluid interface and communal spirit seems to inspire musicians to post works-in-progress. For every full-length album that is posted for pre-purchase streaming, there are hundreds of rough sketches (perhaps best considered both descendents from and precursors to what were once called “demo tapes”). For example, the Japan-based musician Saito Koji (whose work has been mentioned here on more than one occasion) recently posted what appears to be his first track (or he has long had an account and wiped it clear — either way, there is only one track as of this writing at It’s just 38 second in length and features a slow, reflective acoustic guitar line against a thick wave of white noise — the latter aspect could be traffic, or, based on the photo that accompanies his site as of this moment (see above), it could be surf. It could also be an oscillator functioning in the depths of an apartment building. One doesn’t know. What one senses, though, is the isolation and meditative cast to the music. Given its brevity and the terse sensation at its close, it is more likely an experiment than a miniature, more likely a piece of a future whole than something intended to be considered on its own. The song might be titled “Sayonara,” but one hopes it is, in fact, a beginning.

Track originally posted at