Vicky Chow’s Piano Is a Machine

A work by Adam Basanta

Vicky Chow performs the 20-minute “This Machine Breathes to the Rhythms of Its Own Heartbeat,” a recent composition by Adam Basanta. Basanta’s website describes the work a being “for solo piano, electronics, and two surface transducers.” What that description lacks is mention of the voice with which the piece begins — a monologue that serves as the contemporary classical equivalent of the sort of procedural introduction to an episode of a show like Dragnet or, more recently, Southland. It lays out the facts, which have the plainspoken quality of the piece’s title, with limited emotion, a distance that lends the everyday a peculiar level of depth and intensity, of foreboding. The music then does those suggested qualities full justice. “This machine will not communicate. All it knows to do is turn on and off. This machine does not operate according to our timescale,” and so on. From there a mix of droning feedback and rarified piano figures alternate, the former no doubt originating in the latter. The result is an exploration of vibrant mechanical activity, from the white noise of strong feedback to the snare-drum-like rattle of open chords to isolated keys that echo like pin drops.

Track originally posted at More from Basanta at More from Chow at

What Is Julia Mazawa Reworking?

Glitch chamber music from Oakland, California

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Glitch isn’t inherently entropic. Glitch may sound like things falling apart, but in capable hands it can also sound like things coming together. In more neutral terms, glitch may be considered a means of taking stock of something by considering as its underlying structure not the work itself but the reciprocal connection between the work and the medium on which it was recorded and reproduced. “Mere Anarchy” is the title of Julia Mazawa’s gracefully broken bit of chamber music, a piece heard as embedded in vinyl and then looped in small fragments thanks to digital technology. In Mazawa’s piece, the sounds heard being reworked are not unlike a memory playing over and over in one’s head, slowly reassembling after some extended period of disregard. Tiny flecks of strings are looped, at first a few seconds of alternating moments, then a more extended excerpt, then just after the eight-minute mark a separate violin, pitched higher and more foregrounded. The format of the memory is vinyl, evident in the scratchy surface noise that, with each repetition, takes on the semblance of a percussive element. Mawawa performs a kind of ecstatic exploratory surgery on the original, never quite revealing it, but laying the parts bare and reveling in their inherent qualities. I had it in mind to send Mazawa an email asking her to help identify the source material, but decided to first see if anyone reading this might recognize it.

Track originally posted for streaming at Mazawa, who is based in Oakland, California, opened the final night of the recent San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, and has a piece in the “Sonic Frame” installation that I developed for the 45th-anniversary exhibit Momentum: an experiment in the unexpected, which opened October 2, 2014, and runs at the San Jose Museum of Art through February 22, 2015.

Disquiet Junto Project 0146: Swyping Silence

The Assignment: Make a short piece of music based on a typographic symbol for the word "silence."


Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group on and at, 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.

This assignment was made in the evening, California time, on Thursday, October 16, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, October 20, 2014, as the deadline.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at

Disquiet Junto Project 0146: Swyping Silence
The Assignment: Make a short piece of music based on a typographic symbol for the word “silence.”

In this week’s project a symbol for the word “silence” will be probed for its sonic associations. The image is available at this URL:

As is evident in the image, this is the “Swype” gesture for the word “silence.” Swype is an alternate text-entry system in which a single stroke along the various keys that spell a word trigger the word’s appearance, in contrast with the traditional keyboarding method of typing with one keystroke after another. The resulting symbols for words can take on a certain familiarity and even a kind of enchantment as time passes and frequency of use increases. The symbol that results from the word “silence” has many characteristics, including bit not restricted to the sideways hourglass timer, the inherent asymmetry, and the mix of sharp angles and curves.

The steps for this week’s project are as follows:

Step 1: Consider the symbol that results from using the Swype technique to enter the word “silence” on a keyboard, as shown in image at this URL:

Step 2: Develop sonic associations with this symbol.

Step 3: Produce a short piece of music informed by those associations.

Step 4: Upload the finished track to the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.

Step 5: Listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Length: Your finished work should be between one and three minutes long.

Upload: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud, only upload one track for this assignment, and 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, please include the term “disquiet0146-swypingsilence” 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, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 146th Disquiet Junto project — “Make a short piece of music based on a typographic symbol for the word ‘silence’” — at:

Disquiet Junto Project 0146: Swyping Silence

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

Join the Disquiet Junto at:

Disquiet Junto general discussion takes place at:

Asynchronous Serendipity + Piano Beats

Getting Screws, again – a French reworking of Nils Frahm

Nils Frahm’s 2012 Screws EP is the gift that keeps on giving, not just because it was made available for free download, and continues to be available for free (at, but because variations on his intimate themes, all recorded on piano when one of his fingers was inactive due to an injury, continue to pop up at unexpected intervals. Such asynchronous serendipity is one of the underlying pleasures of music produced amid a culture informed by the Creative Commons, in which non-commercial reworkings of existing material is encouraged, even rewarded. Back in January 2013, shortly after the year anniversary of the Disquiet Junto weekly music project series, we did a group take on the Screws audio, and 51 of those tracks are still online. More recently, as an example of the album’s continued existence as a source of inspiration, Fred Yaddaden of Lyon, France, committed an elegantly rhythmic reworking of the Screws track “Fa.” It opens with some scratchy sounds, resembling the surface noise often employed as a signifier of authenticity in hip-hop, but here quite likely lifted from the noises that result from Frahm’s penchant for using close microphones to capture the gestural intimacy of performance. From there he curtails much of the willfully meandering original and structures from it a simple, patient new track.

Track originally posted for free download at More from Yaddaden, who is based in Lyon, France, at