Disquiet Junto Project 0022: Sonic Decay

The Assignment: Record an instrument. Then degrade the recording, and make something of the result.

Each Thursday evening at the Disquiet Junto group on Soundcloud.com a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership to the Junto is open: just join and participate.

The 22nd weekly Disquiet Junto project focuses on the recording process, specifically the manner in which different recording media deteriorate over time. The goal is for the musicians to contrast how a degraded recording and a relatively fresh one contrast, and from the combination create something new.

The assignment was made late in the day on Thursday, May 31, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, June 4, as the deadline. View a search return for all the entries as they are posted: disquiet0022-sonicdecay.

These are the instructions that went out to the email list. They appear below translated into Czech, German, Spanish, and Turkish, courtesy of Katerina Janouskova, Allan Brugg, Norma Listman, and M. Emre Meydan, respectively:

Disquiet Junto Project 0022: Sonic Decay

(Down below are the instructions translated into four additional languages: Czech, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Turkish, courtesy of Katerina Janouskova, Allan Brugg, Naoyuki Sasanami, Norma Listman, and M. Emre Meydan, respectively.)


Deadline: Monday, June 4, at 11:59pm wherever you are.

This project is about sonic decay. Follow these four steps:

Step 1. Select a single instrument and a specific recording process (cassette tape, answering machine, cellphone, MP3, etc.).

Step 2. Record yourself playing the instrument with that recording process.

Step 3. Submit the finished recording to some manner of degradation or decay (i.e., if it’s a cassette tape, then damage the tape or influence the playback machine in some way; if it’s an MP3, use compression or file conversion).

Step 4. Record a new track that combines artifacts of the degraded recording with new material recorded with the same original instrument.

Length: Please keep the length of your piece to between one and four minutes.

Information: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto.

Title/Tag: When adding your track to the Disquiet Junto group on Soundcloud.com, please include the term “disquiet0022-sonicdecay”in the title of your track, and as a tag for your track.

Download: As always, you don’t have to set your track for download, but it would be preferable.


More details on the Disquiet Junto at:


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Digital Scissors (MP3)

Little slivers of words caught between rhythmic blades

The metric security of much electronic dance music can feel rote — no less rote than a drone or a guitar solo, but rote in its own way. Creative deployment of its rhythmic elements requires thoughtful attention to what those beats suggest, how they are frequently taken for granted, and the interpretive and compositional suggestions that they might provide. In the hands of Humeka, the snip and snap of digital beats take on the effect of a pair of slicing scissors. In “Non Organic,” spoken text is cut, pasted, heard in snippets, and layered incidentally. The words aren’t layered atop the instrumentation, at least not at first. Instead, they appear in minute segments aligned with or awkwardly adjacent to the beats: little slivers caught between blades.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/humeka. It’s part of the third Dance Upon a Time collection from the Miniatura netlabel. The full album is available for download at archive.org. More on the label at miniaturarecords.net.

Rumble and Whine (MP3)

Cosmology Device fiddles with the Tyrell Nexus 6

Cosmology Device is a musician of indeterminate geographic origin, based online at soundcloud.com/cosmology-device and with just two tracks to its (his? her?) credit, along with no outbound referential links to, say, Twitter or to a proper home page. The second of those two tracks, posted a few days ago, takes its name from the software that it employs, a synthesizer that takes its name from Blade Runner. The track and the software are named “TyrellN6,” short for Nexus 6. One could ponder the software synthesizer as a kind of sonic replicant. Or one could just get lost in the industrial whir of Cosmology Device’s music. Here the Tyrell Nexus 6, one of whose screens is replicated above, is employed to produce an admirably churning mix of rumble and whine.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/cosmology-device. More on the software, which is free and which came out of a community-based collective effort, at amazona.de (albeit in German), u-he.com, and createdigitalmusic.com. There’s a multi-part tutorial on youtube.com.

808 Heartbreak (MP3)

Experiments in just intonation and stochastic composition

Subnaught‘s “Septimal (808 Heartbreak)” is nearly 16 minutes long, collecting a series of what the musician describes as “experiments with just intonation and stochastic composition.” Those are two favorite alternative schemas of exploratory composers. The former is in contrast with the equal temperament that is the grounding of most Western music, and the latter is an embrace of chance occurrences. In combination they work to provide a dually disorienting listening experience, lacking the chordal reference points and metric milestones generally provided by Western music. Still, “Septimal” by no means goes suddenly off the tracks. It employs its variant source approaches with delicacy and restraint.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/subnaught. More on Subnaught at subnaught.org.

What Kind of White Noise? (MP3)

John Dombroski plays guitar and plays with sound

Is that a submerged train playing along in the role of rich, if emotionally remote, sound bed at the opening of John Dombroski‘s “That Lonely Guitar at 4AM”? The main focus of the track is elegant acoustic guitar phrasing, but what’s beneath the guitar — what’s beneath the melody — attracts attention as well. There is some sort of white noise, and which type of white noise lends potential meaning (meanings, of course; this isn’t a matter of Newtonian causality), much as the sound in question itself, a white noise that waxes and wanes, adds texture.

Public transport suggests the guitar as the work of a busker, plying the world’s 15th or 16th oldest profession at an hour unlikely to be of much profit — less busker than busker understudy, busker intern, busker moonlighter. There’s also the similarity to the whir of surf, which sets a contrast to the more backwoodsy six string; try as it might, the ocean cannot suggest this as a Beach Boys sketch — it’s more John Fahey than “Sloop John B.” And then there’s the more neutral white noise of errant technology, the white noise of a radio tuned to a dead channel, to borrow a comparison.

That might prove to be the best reading of the noise, since around the four-minute mark the noise subsumes the guitar entirely, in a manner that does nothing to clarify its source, even as the transition makes it clear the noise is as comfortable in the foreground as in the background. The transition makes it clear that the noise has compositional agency. What follows is a dreamy flow of muffled melody, melody reaching out from under the noise. At times it’s a thick drone, at others (notably around the 14-minute mark) it is a bright static, like campfire sparks, or the surface tension of a vinyl record player. If the white noise started as a sound bed, at some point Dombroski flipped the mattress.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/johndombroski. More on Dombroski, who is based in Baltimore, Maryland, at dombroskij.com.