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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Drones as Background Noise as Context

Putting the ambient sound in ambient awareness

One of the pleasures of following Dizzy Banjo (aka Robert Thomas, aka the Chief Creative Office at Reality Jockey, aka the home of the RjDj app) on soundcloud.com is having an ongoing sonic sense of his whereabouts. This is because Thomas/Banjo is keen to post brief snippets of field recordings. His SoundCloud account is a stream of tidy segments of real-world audio. Each track’s title generally serves as sufficient explanatory context. Like, most recently as of this writing, “Drone from loud air conditioning unit on bus at London,” which is 25 seconds of said industrial whir.

The thing about real-world sound is how much our ears edit out what we think we hear from what we’re actually hearing — the distinction not only between listening and hearing, but between something even less conscious, something about how our brains process the inputs at a purely functional level. A fascinating exercise is to carry a tape recorder with you, tape 10 minutes during which you pay attention to the sounds around you, and to then listen back to the tape. Not only are the things you missed suddenly evident, but the relative prominence of the things you were aware of often differs significantly as well. Part of this is purely mechanical, as two different microphones will also record different sonic vantages. But much of it is perceptive. To hear Thomas’ audio recordings is to get a sense of what he, aesthetically, edits for: the sounds he elects to extract from the broader world he inhabits. And, of course, because Reality Jockey has as its focus the way real-world material can be processed digitally, his SoundCloud posts also give us a glimpse into the kind of world Thomas is thinking about as he develops RJ projects.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/dizzybanjo.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • 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

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