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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Disquiet Junto Project 0047: Party Muted

The Assignment: Turn the muffled voices of a distant party into the foundation of a recording.

Each Thursday 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 in the Junto is open: just join and participate.

The assignment was made in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, November 22, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, November 26, as the deadline. (There are no translations this week.)

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto).

Disquiet Junto Project 0047: Party Muted

This project has two steps, and the first one will require the use of a microphone — a contact microphone is with considering, and a hydrophone might also be a good choice.

Step one: record the sound of conversation, preferably rowdy, through a wall — or, if using a hydrophone, from inside a glass of water. The goal is to have the sense of distant human activity. There’s a party going on, but you’re on the sidelines.

Step two: record your own accompanying music, with your instrumentation of choice, that mingles with the sound of the human voices, that treats the muffled conversation as an instrument unto itself.

Deadline: Monday, November 26, at 11:59pm wherever you are.

Length: Your finished work should be between 1 and 4 minutes in length.

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 “disquiet0047-partymuted”in the title of your track, and as a tag for your track.

Linking: When posting the track, be sure to include this information:

More on this 47th Disquiet Junto project at:

Disquiet Junto Project 0047: Party Muted

More details on the Disquiet Junto at:

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Disquiet Guest DJ Set on KUSF in Exile

Originally broadcast at midnight on November 21, 2012

(Update: I learned on March 23, 2013, that the archived version of this broadcast had gone offline, so I uploaded it to my soundcloud.com/disquiet account.) Last night at midnight, the excellent radio show “The World of Wonder” aired on schedule at KUSF. A few things were different. To begin with, as has been the case for some time now, the show aired not at 90.3 FM but online, at savekusf.org, because of conflict between the station’s longtime volunteers and the university. For another, its co-host, Matt Davignon, had handed me the microphone, metaphorically speaking. I was to be guest DJ. (You can skip the rest of the following contextual information and just download my two-hour set here.)

“The World of Wonder” describes itself as follows:

“A wide range of unusual music, often bridging the gap between experimental and pop, with many points in between.”

I’ve been meaning to get into podcasting for some time now, so this provided a good test run. I was a DJ for many years on KDVS and, before that, on WYBC, and it was exciting to be back in it for a couple hours. Given that the show airs at midnight, I focused on quiet, and approached the set as a sequence of minimalist audio. Here’s how I introduce the broadcast after its opening chimes ring for 30 seconds:

The music in this two-hour episode will range amid various forms of minimalist sound. This will include drones as well as lightly augmented field recordings and low-key rhythmic play — there are associations throughout to contemporary classical, to noise music, and to ambient and ambient techno. All of the music is from the past three years, the majority from 2012. Several of the tracks originated in an online community called the Disquiet Junto that I founded at the start the very first week of 2012.

Here’s a downloadable stream of the set:

And here’s the set list:

0:00:00) Opening Chimes

0:01:47) Dance Robot Dance “Ukulele Duet, One”, 2012

0:07:56) Emma Hendrix “Nearly There (Remix),” a reworking of “Nearly There” by Marcus Fischer, 2012

0:15:31) Garth Knox “Homage to Jack Vanarsky”from “Solo Viola”, 2011

0:23:23) Analogue 01 “13.1.d Grid Music”, 2012

0:29:35) Naoyuki Sasanami and Karmic Hints “Rustling”, 2012

0:33:49) Kate Carr “Pin Prick” from “Things Are Bad in Haiti”, 2010

0:38:22) Anton Lukoszevieze “For Fred Sandback”, 2012

0:53:23) Jared Smyth “For Saturday Afternoon Bleedthrough Broadcasts”, 2012

1:01:44) Scanner “Anthem”, 2012

1:12:17) all n4tural “My Shreds Flew Past Her Fingertips”, 2012

1:15:42) Agnosie “The Dance of Apraxia”, 2011

1:25:54) Dowsabel “Anam Cara”, 2012

1:28:52) Natalia Kamia “Invisible Study X”, 2011

1:38:52) jmmy kpple “22.9459 Square Dot Operator”, 2012

1:42:47) Moca CL “Chun”, 2012

1:47:47) Ethan Hein “Voting Booth”, 2012

1:52:28) Inlet “Boblolaw”, 2012

1:55:27) Linda Aubrey Bullock “Mimolette and the Birds”, 2012

1:59:25) Closing Chimes

I want to thank Matt Davignon for inviting me to do the show. (The show’s other host is DJ Catsynth.) He is a intrepid explorer of the drum machine’s artistic potential, and one of the organizers of the Luggage Store Gallery Music Series, a long running weekly concert series here in San Francisco (the Luggage Store will host a Disquiet Junto concert on December 6).

More on KUSF in Exile at savekusf.org. Podcast archived at Davignon’s podomatic.com.

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Rain, Fire? Futuresequence.

A study in low-level noise by Celeste's Fall

The track is propulsive in its beauty, but the propulsion is caught in decisively slow motion, just a rangy lope of a rhythm, like a thick metal bowl being spun slowly — or perhaps spun speedily and caught on film and played back at a more remote pace. The track is “A Pond Begging You to Leap,” and it’s credited to Celeste’s Fall, which is two people working in tandem: Sam Landry (leberger.org) and Pascal Savy (staticsound.net). There’s an intense underlying noise to the work, like the surface clatter of vinyl, or a rain outside a creaky studio, or the deep hum of an wire that refuses to be sufficiently grounded.

Let’s go with the latter option. While the track is romantic, with its held tones and pizzicato murmuring, it isn’t inherently nostalgic, which nixes the vinyl interpretation. Rain is a possibility, but there’s nothing necessarily moist about this sound; it could be the rush of precipitation, but more likely the snapping of fire. Yes, the burr of a hum seems electric in its intensity, a force entirely of potential energy occasionally showing the tips of its serrated fangs. What better metaphor for the underlying anxiety inherent in ambient music than the wire that won’t yield to grounding?

The track was posted for free download at Landry’s account soundcloud.com/leberger, and is part of the Sequence 5 compilation, available at futuresequence.bandcamp.com.

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Stems: Eno Studies, Aural Antagonism, Sonic Diptychs, …

Plus: update on my recent film project, TV sound, politics, more

â–¼ Imminent Audio: Saying “Tuesday at midnight” or “Wednesday at midnight” can mean different things to different people, so to be clear: On the midnight when Tuesday, November 20, meets Wednesday, November 21, I will be guest DJing for two hours on the web-streamed radio show “The World of Wonder” on KUSF in Exile. Thanks to drum machine innovator Matt Davignon for inviting me to handle the duties. It will stream at savekusf.org. The show will emphasize various aspects of minimalist sound: quietude, rhythmic simplicity, texture, and more. And that’s Pacific Time. And it will be archived within a day of the broadcast, and I’ll post that here when it’s available. The show includes music from, among others, Dance Robot Dance, Emma Hendrix, Garth Knox, Kate Carr, Anton Lukoszevieze, Scanner, all n4tural, Natalia Kamia, and jmmy kpple.

â–¼ Two Disquiet Concerts: More on these very soon, but if you’re in Manhattan or San Francisco, please note that Disquiet Junto concerts are coming your way, soon. The Manhattan show will be at the gallery apexart on November 27, a Tuesday, at 6:30pm. The lineup: Brian Biggs (aka Dance Robot Dance), Ethan Hein, Shawn Kelly (aka Whyarcka), Kenneth Kirschner, Tom Moody, and Roddy Schrock (with Joon Oluchi Lee). The theme will be mechanized music made from field recordings of retail spaces, as part of the “As Real As It Gets” exhibit, organized by Rob Walker. â–¼ The San Francisco show will be at the gallery the Luggage Store on December 6, a Thursday, at 8:00pm. The lineup: Cullen Miller, Clarke Robinson, Jared Smith, Subnaught, and Andrew Weathers (see facebook.com). The theme is yet to be announced.

â–¼ Site Maintenance: A minor note, but this section of occasional tidbits and observations has long been called “Tangents,” and will no longer be. Now it’s going to be called “Stems.” The old term, “tangents,” suggested something that dissipated over time. The term “stems” comes from music production; it refers to a subset of material that’s been mixed down (collated, reduced) to aid in the subsequent production process. It’s a mid-stage, and thus it’s closer to the “outboard brain” (I think that’s a Cory Doctorow coinage) approach the “Tangents” postings have long served. (And if I appear to be doing these more often than I had in awhile, it’s true. I credit much of this activity to my adoption of the markdown “text-to-HTML conversion” approach, which speeds up things considerably. Seriously considerably.)

â–¼ Eno-ology: One of the great things about a great new Brian Eno album — in this case, Lux — is the inevitable flood: a lot of writing about Eno. Geeta Dayal, in what I think is her first slate.com piece, notes that falling asleep to an Eno album is a compliment, not a criticism. â–¼ Of course, Eno is ubiquitous, meaning that sometimes coverage of his work simply happens to coincide with him being in the news for a particular reason; in his plos.one blog, NeuroTribes, Steve Silberman queries 10 authors on the music they work to, among them David Dobbs, who notes not only Eno’s fixed recordings but his software:

… I rely on two staples:

First, a shuffled play of Brian Eno’s ambient albums, such as Music for Airports; second, an ingenious iPod app Eno made called Trope. You tap and rub the screen for a moment, fingerpaint-style, to set the texture for a Music for Airports-like ambient soundscape that will play indefinitely. I’ve done some great planning and some of my better writing lately with that going. The one danger is that the fine ambience and healthy relaxed Zenlike state it produces can convince you you’re getting good work done when it turns out … well, you’re not. A couple times I fell asleep.

When that happens, I get up, turn the volume up to 11, and put on some Led Zeppelin…

â–¼ Sonic Weapons: I tend to disagree that the world is louder than it used to be. I think noise pollution is often a matter of individual perspective, of mood, of context. To be clear: I am not denying that humankind is leaving more of a prominent mark in places, zones, territories, it once left sacrosanct, or simply neglected — I’m speaking specifically of the built environment, of places (towns, cities, public spaces, workplaces) that are by definition humankind’s territory. In a New York Times essay (“The Quiet Ones”), Tim Kreider, a frequent flyer in the Quiet Car on Amtrak, describes how despite his concern for what he perceives as an annoyingly louder-than-ever world, he found himself “on the wrong side of the fight”:

I was sitting in my seat, listening to music at a moderate volume on headphones and writing on my laptop, when the man across the aisle — the kind you’d peg as an archivist or musicologist — signaled to me.

“Pardon me, sir,”he said. “Maybe you’re not aware of it, but your typing is disturbing people around you. This is the Quiet Car, where we come to be free from people’s electronic bleeps and blatts.”He really said “bleeps and blatts.”

“I am a devotee of the Quiet Car,”I protested. And yes, I said “devotee.”We really talk like this in the Quiet Car; we’re readers. “I don’t talk on my cellphone or have loud conversations — “

“I’m not talking about cellphone conversations,”he said, “I’m talking about your typing, which really is very loud and disruptive.”

After each reproach they would lower their voices for a while, but like a grade-school cafeteria after the lunch monitor has yelled for silence, the volume crept inexorably up again. It was soft but incessant, and against the background silence, as maddening as a dripping faucet at 3 a.m.

For the record, as I’ve said in the past, I think perceiving this matter of “noise versus silence” as a fight is part of the problem. Noise is metaphor as much as it is a visceral experience. Noise is, in many ways, antagonism — and a fight is often a matter of antagonism, whichever “side” you’re on.

â–¼ Hearing Aid: Light may travel more significantly more speedily than does sound, but Seth S. Horowitz argues that what’s heard is experienced more quickly than what’s seen:

Studies have shown that conscious thought takes place at about the same rate as visual recognition, requiring a significant fraction of a second per event. But hearing is a quantitatively faster sense.

That’s from his recent (and widely circulated) essay “The Science and Art of Listening” from the New York Times. Horowitz is the author of the excellent book The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind.

Like Kreider above, Horowitz is concerned about the pressures of modernization on the senses (“Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload”), but he is more attuned to the role context and consciousness plays: “your brain works like a set of noise-suppressing headphones,” he says. He argues in part for listening as a skill an individual can acquire, in contrast with the more systemic approach that Quiet Car devotee Kreider seems to be aiming for.

â–¼ Curses, Foiled: Speaking of noise as metaphor, the website wtflevel.com provides “Real-time updates on twitter swearing.” Since I tend to curse more out of enthusiasm than anger, I am intrigued by how the service adjusts for this. In any case, the website is pretty f’ing awesome. Sample data output here:

I think the waveform could be of use in a future Disquiet Junto project — read it as a graphically notated score, like we did the polling data from the recent U.S. presidential election.

â–¼ Moon Unit: Quick little interview at greyshading.com with Moon Zero, whose “Budapest” drone was noted here fondly recently. Turns out the city played a role in his sonic development:

I want the audio to take on a life of its own, to be constantly pulsing and shifting. I love contrasts as well, beautiful sounds hidden by noise, things like that.

I’m at a strange place at the moment because my sound seems to be more and more influenced by religion, which is funny as I consider myself an atheist. I think its their sense of “epic”that inspires me. Big spaces and big bombast. It started when I was staying at a friends house in Budapest a couple of months ago. On Sunday morning this huge sound woke me up. His flat was next to St Peters Basilica and the sound was the bells tolling. It was so intense, but beautiful at the same time. I’ve recorded in churches in the past and this is something I’d like to do more of, although sadly it’s not easy finding one that’s sympathetic to ambient music.

â–¼ Tech-nique: Mark Rushton continues to report on his use of Google Hangouts, and in this case on his employment of a newly popular iOS app, Samplr.

â–¼ Math Tip: If you’re trying to add lengths of various tracks (e.g., combine the length of a handful of songs when estimating the length of a planned podcast), this is a handy tool: dollartimes.com.

â–¼ Surreal Politik: Old news, but nonetheless: the irony when a political campaign doesn’t fully comprehend the provenance of its source music extends beyond the opposition by pop stars to staples of the American classical repertoire: theatlanticwire.com.

â–¼ Sonic Diptychs: The great youtubemultiplier.com site was introduced to me by the talented and insightful Samuel Landry, and since his initial mention I’ve seen and received many others. The service lets you easily play two or more (up to eight) YouTube videos side by side, simultaneously. The previous link goes to a Landry (aka @le_berger on Twitter) cocktail of Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, and Stephan Mathieu. The service is wonderful if only for letting me now, whenever I want, play one of my favorite sonic diptychs: Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon + DJ Krush’s Kakusei.

â–¼ Doc Update: The documentary film The Children Next Door, for which I handled music supervision and share sound-design credit with the talented Taylor Deupree, won a special jury prize at the DOC NYC last Thursday. Trailer here:

It shares the award with the film Julian. DOC NYC said of the pair: “two powerful and intimate short films that capture the struggles of a pair of families as they battle through emotional confusion following devastating and violent tragedies” (docnyc.net). More at thechildrennextdoor.com. The movie was directed by Doug Block and produced by Lynda Hansen. So far it has shown at three film festivals: the Hamptons, Denver, and DOC NYC. Major thanks to the DOC NYC Shorts Competition category’s jurors: Natalie Difford (Cinereach), Vikram Gandhi (Kumaré), and Dan Nuxoll (Rooftop Films). And there’s a wonderful review of the film at sundancenow.com by Anthony Kaufman: “Though only 36 minutes, The Children Next Door attains a level of pathos as deep as any feature-length documentary.”

â–¼ Listening to TV: (1) The Good Wife, in the episode a week and a day ago (“Anatomy of a Joke”), did a solid, humorous job of handling matters of censorship. As “ripped from the headlines” TV goes — there’s been increasing talk of late of networks easing their standards regarding adult material — it managed to be both outlandish and subtle. In the opening sequence, a character played by Christina Ricci is on the stand, under oath, being prosecuted for exposing her breasts on national television. When the opposing attorney interrogates her, she asks him what words he finds offensive (“What do you mean ‘vulgar’?”) and he can only muster, “It rhymes with ‘bits.'” She asks if we’re eight-year-olds here, and proceeds to say the offending word out loud (four letters, but only in the plural form), and not only does traffic noise obscure the verbalization, but the camera passes so that her face is momentarily covered by the attorney’s back, just at the moment she would be mouthing the word. The room’s guards are seen, as if in a Laurel and Hardy film, repeatedly trying to close a window to keep traffic noise from interfering. â–¼ (2) Last week’s episode of NCIS: Los Angeles (“Rude Awakenings”) was the second part of a two-part sequence, focused on previously undisclosed personal matters involving the character of an agent played by LL Cool J. The show has more to its credit than it gets credit for, though its primary pleasure is likely the fact that on weekly basis the most unlikely pairing of LL Cool (“Mama Said Knock You Out”) and Linda Hunt (The Killing Fields) can be seen sparring or scheming, sometimes both at the same time. In any case, pretty much every episode of NCIS: Los Angeles ends with a little voiceover by Hunt’s characer, Hetty, after the screen goes dark. In a telling bit of tension-building, this time around, the credits were silent. It’s a small thing, but sometimes in sound design, the small things are the biggest things, especially when they’re silent, especially when that silent is a nod to, an acknowledgement of, the audience’s attention. In addition, there was a nice little bit at the start of the episode when a character previously disguised as a delivery person approached a home, presumed to be owned by a sleeper Soviet (yes, Soviet — not modern Russia) agent, and the pace of the music exactly matched her footsteps. Again, a small moment, but given how much TV music can sound like it was selected from a catalog with all the nuance of a Google image search, a good moment — especially when paired with the employment of Heddy’s silence at the episode’s end. â–¼ (3) Finally, as @solidsignal noted on Twitter, Fringe did it again:

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Jukebox Hero

How Paul Lamere's genius web app mimics the human brain

It’s been tremendous to watch Paul Lamere‘s Infinite Jukebox get covered so widely. Brian Eno’s widely reviewed recent Lux album is getting rightful credit for bringing the concept of generative sound (back) into public view, but Lamere’s Jukebox is doing so not through the alternate backdoor aesthetic of ambient music, but right through the front door by employing standard pop songs as its source material. The Infinite Jukebox web application takes an individual song (feel free to upload your own) and creates an endless version by breaking it into segments and locating “pathways” that can be linked to each other in an ever-changing, random sequence.

I don’t have much to add on it at the moment except: (1) I think the major pleasure of the project may be how it replicates how our memories actually play back songs in our heads: not as pristine or even “worldized” recordings, a la Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective) or Walter Murch (American Graffiti), but as snatches that replay at an inconsistent pace and with varying attention to specific elements; (2) I am intrigued by the copyright ramifications — how do you bill/charge or otherwise claim royalty payments for such usage; (3) in my experience you can glitch up the Infinite Jukebox by playing it in a Chrome browser tab that isn’t the front-most tab; this causes the tune to skip, or in contemporary parlance, to enter an especially narrow, recursive pathway; and (4) do start using it: at echonest.com.

The Infinite Jukebox was developed by Lamere, who is Director of Developer Platform at Echo Nest. More on it at his musicmachinery.com website.

And speaking of which, there’s was a great feature on the company in a recent issue of Fortune (PDF) by Rob Walker, who organized the current “As Real As It Gets” exhibit at apexart in Manhattan, for which the Disquiet Junto provided sound design.

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