My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Disquiet Junto Project 0113: Pretty Groundhog

Record a piece of music that slowly improves, in tribute to the late Harold Ramis' film Groundhog Day.

20140227-ramis

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.

Tracks by participants will be added to this playlist as the project proceeds:

This project was published in the evening, California time, on Thursday, February 27, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, Marc 3, 2014, as the deadline.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0113: Pretty Groundhog

This week’s project is dedictaed to the late Harold Ramis, and it takes as its theme his film Groundhog Day. In the film, the character played by Bill Murray gets up each morning and hears the same song on the clock radio. As the film proceeds, Murray’s character relives the same day over and over, slowly perfecting the day by making mistakes and then learning from his mistakes. This composition prompt is informed by that narrative.

Step 1: Extract the first 33 seconds of the track “Pretty Little Baby” as performed by Josephine Baker as housed on this web page:

https://archive.org/details/JosephineBaker-21-30

Step 2: Record a composition that follows the following format. You will play a few seconds of the track, and then insert a “mistake,” pushing the original composition in a direction other than the one documented in the recording. This “mistake” will proceed for a few seconds.

Step 3: The original composition will then be heard to begin again, from the start, and will play from the beginning for a few seconds more than the first time; again, when it reaches a certain point, you will insert a “mistake” and let it play for a few seconds.

Step 4: You will repeat this process several times, each time adding a little bit of the original recording, until the recording finally is heard to play in full.

Deadline: Monday, March 3, 2014, at 11:59pm wherever you are.

Length: Your finished work should be between 2 minute and 5 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 “disquiet0113-prettygroundhog”in the title of your track, and as a tag for your track.

Download: It is preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

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

More on this 113th Disquiet Junto project (“Record a piece of music that slowly improves, in tribute to the late Harold Ramis’ film Groundhog Day”) at:

Disquiet Junto Project 0113: Pretty Groundhog

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

The Disquiet Junto Project List (0001 – 0279 …)

Join the Disquiet Junto at:

Photo associated with this project from the following Wikimedia page:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Groundhog,_eating.jpg

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Even Waveforms Have Terroir

Liner notes I wrote for Dave Seidel's new album, ~60 Hz

20140225-60hz

Dave Seidel has released an album composed of sine waves, those near and about the ~60 Hz range. That’s the title of his album, ~60 Hz, and I was honored to be asked by him to write a liner note for the record’s release. The digital version went live today at irritablehedgehog.com, and CDs are for sale as well. The label, run by David D. McIntire, has released music by William Duckworth, Jürg Frey, Eva-Maria Houben, and Dennis Johnson, among others.

This is the music, streaming in full:

This is the text I wrote:

“The Waveforms in Your Neighborhood”

The operative information in the title is the tilde. The tilde means “sort of”or “nearly”or “in the neighborhood of.”What follows the tilde in the title are two digits and a pair of consonants, which collectively symbolize the neighborhood in question. What the “60Hz”refers to is a sine wave, categorically perhaps the simplest sound imaginable, a constant of equally balanced ebb and flow. The 60Hz does not merely refer to a sine wave. The 60Hz describes the sine wave succinctly. The contours of the sine wave are beside the point, because they are immutable, an eternal skatepark up and down and up that seems to have begun before time and that will continue after the heat death of the universe. What the 60Hz describes, however, is the nature of this exact sine wave, specifically what might more colloquially be referred to as its pace. The Hz in the title stands for the measurement Hertz, which is the number of wave cycles that occur in a single second. Thus, a 60Hz waveform cycles through 60 times in one single second.

60 per second of anything may signal speediness, but 60Hz proves quite lulling. The wave veers up and down, weaving sonic wool, a thick blanket of hazy warm noise that the ear succumbs to, and then the mind, and then the body. If the wave resembles the distant hum of a power line, that is because 60Hz is the standard frequency of the power infrastructure in the United States. If it does not sound like the whir of municipal undercurrent, that may be because you live elsewhere. Even waveforms have terroir.

The tilde in the title is the operative information because the tilde means that the sounds heard will, in fact, not stick to the 60Hz frequency. They will, instead, hover around 60Hz. What the little tilde means is that the listener will witness the resulting shifts and hedges, veering and layering, collisions and parallels as waveforms are added and set in contrast to each other. These contrasts will yield all manner of aural patterning.

In lesser hands, the patterns would have all the gee-whiz lab-coat charm of a 1950s stereo system vinyl test album. But these waves are not in lesser hands. They are in Dave Seidel’s hands. What we hear is the simplest sound form yielding myriad, tantalizing moiré patterns. Some of these patterns suggest the fervid activity of insectoid communication, others the humble drone of a mumbled mantra. There are pointilist percussive effects, and tones like nothing so much as a masterful solo organ recital. There are phase shifts like a Steve Reich violin piece, and torquing structures like an industrial rock band playing its third encore on the last night of a tour.

And there are echoes, of course, of science fiction. This is electronic music in the purest sense, electricity revealing itself as sound — science transmuted into art. One hears Bebe Barron and Louis Barron’s work on the Forbidden Planet soundtrack. One hears the note accrual inherent in the opening of the original Star Trek theme. One hears the hum of a lonesome space station while its inhabitants are deep in a timeless, cryogenic state.

For all the associative mind games, what is heard is simply a handful of notes taking the concept of minimalism at its word. The operative information in the title is the tilde, the tilde that itself rightfully resembles a tiny typographic sine wave.

Get the release at irritablehedgehog.com. More at Seidel’s website, mysterybear.net.

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Past Week at Twitter.com/Disquiet

  • These Divergent movie posters were designed to remind me what a role Robert Heinlein played in young-adult sci fi. ->
  • 5 years ago this week Max Neuhaus died and I first wrote about Diego Bernal's music: http://t.co/zCD4N5tyKQ. 15 years ago I wrote on "NP." ->
  • Arvo Pärt cover ("Fratres") attributed to A Winged Victory for the Sullen and ACME Ensemble: http://t.co/ff7kAZMk4v. ->
  • RT @hecanjog: First listen to SAWII after reading the first half of Marc Weidenbaum's SAWII book! #nowplaying ->
  • Fun is writing about a live event only to have someone who attended chime in in the comments: http://t.co/yZYl2PwJV1 ->
  • Hopeful that Alexandre Desplat's Godzilla score is more Syriana and less Monuments Men. ->
  • We should read JG Ballard's High Rise as San Francisco's One City One Book 2014. (Last year it was @doctorow's Little Brother.) ->
  • Yes, I paused the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer for the trailer in order to get a glimpse of the raccoon. ->
  • RIP, Bob Casale (61) of Devo: http://t.co/onRDD0Plgj ->
  • Tuesday noon siren in San Francisco: http://t.co/FrVmKgO1Mx ->
  • "A Rusty Obelisk Made Out of Angel Sighs": @editaurus has folks praise Aphex Twin SAW2 on its 20th: http://t.co/l3FEcCrkwh ->
  • Meant it more as a joke yesterday, but today just mean it: the 2014 One City One Book in San Francisco should be JG Ballard's High Rise. ->
  • My early experience of Devo was on tapes dubbed from vinyl by a friend. Years later I discovered the tapes were faster than the originals. ->
  • Read more »
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Aphex Twin SAWII Book in The Quietus, The Stranger, and More

Some recent coverage of my new book

I’ll post references to my Aphex Twin 33 1/3 Selected Ambient Works Volume II book on occasion. Here’s a batch that occurred during the book’s first week of publication. It came out on February 13, a week ago today.

. . .

The writer Ned Raggett at thequietus.com has written up an extended reflection on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II. He says, while pondering the wonderful track that has come to be known as “Rhubarb”:

If the ghost of figures like Eno inevitably hangs over anything that could be called ambient – much less a term that at the time seemed to only be a bad joke of a hangover, new age – what James did here, like others elsewhere, was to translate the impulse and suggest other ways to work with it. Miles away from ‘Digideridoo’, a whole universe away from ‘Windowlicker’ or ‘Girl/Boy’, it’s as close to ambience as gentle balm as one could want, but even then it’s not really that, enveloping in its stripped down beauty but so stately, so focused, warm and cold at the same time.

He also, thoughtfully, mentions my work:

A new entry in the 33 â…“ book series by Marc Weidenbaum does deeper delving into the album than I can even attempt here, so I encourage you to consider that if you want something more rigorous, as well as this 2012 interview preparatory to its release, where Weidenbaum notes something key I’ve turned over a few times as well: “I want to probe the one thing that is pervasively understood about this record, the “fact” that is synonymous with Selected Ambient Works Volume II, which is the idea that it has no beats. This is commonly asserted about it, that it has no rhythmic content. I think this is, simply, false. Much of the album has rhythmic content, even a consistent beat, if not two or more beats working against yet in concert with each other. I want to explore the perceived tension between ambient sound and rhythm.”

Weidenbaum hits this point that’s easy to forget, yet is terribly clear — there is rhythm throughout the album, actual beats at points as noted, but more often creating the kind of intertwined obsessive exploration that seemed – at least to me at the time – to be matched solely by the work Robert Hampson was doing more and more via Main. Where that duo, and eventually solo act, had as its sometime motto ‘drumless space’, there was never absence of rhythms, the space was disciplined, shaped and mutated constantly, an ever shifting nervousness. James had his own approach, and comparatively SAWII is more recognisably a world of ‘songs’, shorter in length, focused on key fragments or elements that never departed. But the further you went in, the further it wasn’t drumless space indeed – it was often just space. A black cold space, seemingly antithetical to the white cold space of the sleeves, but just as alien, and just as unnerving.

There was such a strong series of reader comments on the Quietus post and over on a thread at Facebook, that Ragett did a follow-up post on his Tumblr account.

. . .

Rob Sheffield (Rolling Stone) has written what I think may serve as the first proper blurb of the book:

. . .

Over at Sactown magazine, Stu VanAirsdale interviewed me about the book. I lived in Sacramento at the time of the release of the album, back when I was an editor at the music magazines at Tower Records. The article reads, in part:

“Half, if not more, of the book is about what happened after the record came out—how it’s been used in culture,”says Weidenbaum, speaking via phone from his home in San Francisco. “It’s about how fans were responsible for putting names to the tracks, which were originally untitled. It was about how filmmakers and choreographers and comedians have used his music in their work, and how classical composers have taken the music and done things with it.”

In his book, Weidenbaum describes SAW2’s sonic quality as “vaporous”—“hovering waves of sound” that float and rise and roil in a kind of haze or passing mist. But even in its relative shapelessness, Aphex Twin (the nom de plume of English musician Richard D. James) helped shaped a perspective on music that Weidenbaum seeks to refine for the audience of novice listeners and ardent fans alike.

. . .

And over at The Stranger, Dave Segal constructed a reflection — with the absolutely splendid title “A Rusty Obelisk Made Out of Angel Sighs” — on the album on its 20th anniversary with his own thoughts (“perhaps the most interesting, strange, and affecting advancement of Brian Eno’s mid-’70s ambient strategies to date”), extended quotes from various musicians and DJs from the Pacific Northwest (including Lusine, Solenoid, and Jeremy Moss, among others), and a reference to my study:

In his new book-length study of SAW2 for Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series, Marc Weidenbaum accurately observed that it “is a monolith of an album, but one in the manner of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, one that reflects back the viewer’s impression”¦. It is an intense album of fragile music.”And it is seemingly impossible to get sick of it. So many people have told me that they would play SAW2 every day for long stretches of time.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0112: Calendrical Score

Turn your week's dayplanner into music.

20140220-calendrical

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.

Tracks by participants will be added to this playlist as the project proceeds:

This project was published in the evening, California time, on Thursday, February 20, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, February 24, 2014, as the deadline.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0112: Calendrical Score

This week’s instruction is simple: Your past week’s calendar (February 13 – February 19) is your score. Each hour is a note or chord. Each quarter day is a measure. Please post an image of your calendar in the process — feel free, of course, to block out anything personal you don’t want to share.

Deadline: Monday, February 24, 2014, at 11:59pm wherever you are.

Length: Your finished work should be between 2 minute and 5 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 “disquiet0112-calendrical”in the title of your track, and as a tag for your track.

Download: It is preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

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

More on this 112th Disquiet Junto project (“Turn your week’s dayplanner into music”) at:

Disquiet Junto Project 0112: Calendrical Score

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

The Disquiet Junto Project List (0001 – 0279 …)

Join the Disquiet Junto at:

Photo associated with this project by Anita Hart, used via Flickr.com with a Creative Commons license:

http://flic.kr/p/5PoijB

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