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

Jurisdiction Inquiry

Where ends and begins

If you have thoughts on this following topic, I’d appreciate them. The topic is where the jurisdiction of ends and where this site’s,’s, begins. I’ve run since 1996, and its emphasis has over the years come to encompass not just the “ambient/electronica” of its origins but the broader intersection of sound, art, and technology — things that correlate with, that grew out of, ambient music’s emphasis on technology, on the bleed between foreground and background, on music and sound that has a functional purpose, on generative systems, on the Creative Commons.


The site I run as a satellite operation to, and it’s intended as a lightly annotated linkblog related to “sound in the media landscape”; I do the Tumblr blog in coordination with a course that I teach at the Academy of Art (“Sounds of Brands, Brands of Sounds”) here in San Francisco. (The first class of the new semester will be on September 11, 2013.)

The thing is, much of what I post at makes sense at, but the occasional things that don’t — well, there’s the rub. It’s easier to explain with examples.

These are links to recent sound.tumblr.posts that easily would fit within the confines of, in that they focus on real-world sounds, on the history of ambient music, on sound as a part of a user interface, and so on:

â—¼ the sounds of the fragrance dispensers at the International Perfume Museum in Grasse, Southern France

â—¼ an airport in Albany that switched its in-house music after 15 years of consistent classical recordings

â—¼ a brief history of the cover of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp’s 1973 album, No Pussyfooting

â—¼ an interview with the developer of the Coffitivity app, which broadcasts the background sound of cafes

â—¼ Sam Flax extended a pop song of his severalfold to serve as the score to an Yves Saint Laurent fashion show

â—¼ an overview of Red Bull Music Academy in the New York Times

â—¼ sounds of cable cars in advance of the 50th San Francisco Cable Car Ringing Contest

â—¼ on the website of The New Republic, each article has a prominent “listen” button

â—¼ Sonoport introduces “Sound-as-a-Service”

â—¼ how the sounds of slot machines make losers feel like winners

This is the full text of a short post I wrote about a review of a book about neon:

Sound was an unintended part of the design of the neon sign, and yet became part of its signature. Katrina Gulliver notes this in the closing paragraph of her review at of Flickering Light: A History of Neon, a new book by Christoph Ribbat.

“Neon was one of the ways businesses personalized their identity, but our retail landscape is now dominated by chains, whose business model depends on replicating branches across the country without individualization. Perhaps the reason people felt so strongly about losing the Pepsi-Cola sign was that it was a lingering remnant of an age of urban decoration now lost. Video displays like those in Times Square offer us television in the street—but old neon signs became part of the street. We are now so often surrounded by moving images they can no longer draw us in, but neon still offers a distinctiveness that we could see and hear, its faint buzzing giving it a tactile there-ness that technologies ever newer and newer can’t match. Compared to LED and video, gas in glowing tubes feels real.”

One follow-up note: I don’t agree with the assessment described by Gulliver above. Much as the sound of neon was not an intentional part of its design, aspects of the “ever newer and newer” technologies to come will almost certainly have their own unintentional, sublime qualities, discovered after they are adopted.

By contrast, these recent posts seem out of place on, especially as standalone entries, in large part because the emphasis is so squarely on commerce:

â—¼ audio ads in city buses

â—¼ a member of OK Go says brands are easier to work with than record labels

â—¼ Lou Reed at Cannes on the merits and demerits of the post-MP3 era

â—¼ country music is the sole genre, besides rock, to show increased sales in 2012 in the U.S.

â—¼ an interview with the person who programs the music in Chipotle

â—¼ Budweiser signed Rihanna to a global promotion deal (but who is promoting whom)

One of the issues may be my very use of Tumblr. Most of the Tumblr blogs I follow are generally context-free (i.e., they present posts of material sourced from elsewhere, without much in the way of explanation or comment), and they tend to be highly visual (emphasizing photos and video and animated GIFs, not quotes from news articles).

Rihanna singing a deal with Budweiser sure seems out of place on — though, when we talk about the functional purpose of sound, key among the most prominent of those functions is commerce, and talking about the Creative Commons approach without also discussing the commercial context seems shortsighted. Anyhow, thoughts appreciated, either via email or in the comments section below. Thanks.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tag: / Comment: 1 ]

One Comment

  1. Steve Hamann
    [ Posted July 15, 2013, at 9:15 am ]

    I like the idea of a digest post on here weekly or monthly highlighting the tumblr posts that fit in on this site.

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website 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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