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On the Benefits of Being Incomplete

A firm deadline is both a taskmaster and an alibi.

This is a short note at the start of the fourth year of the Disquiet Junto. Right now, as I type this, musicians around the world are working on the 157th consecutive weekly music assignment in the Junto. As of this writing, there are already 25 tracks in the project, by 25 different musicians from places like Murwillumbah, Australia; Norwich, England; Munich, Germany; Stockholm, Sweden; Bolzano, Italy; and, in the United States, Denver, Colorado; Brooklyn, New York; Montpelier, Vermont; and Iowa City, Iowa, just to name a sample of the locations.

The first project this fourth year is the same as the first project the very first year, and at the start of the series’ second and third years: “Record the sound of ice in a glass and make something of it.” The point of repeating this same project at the start of each year is to note the ritual of it all, the macro annual ritual that wraps around the weekly ritual that is the Disquiet Junto, which itself suggests a potential model for the everyday ritual of making music, of producing creative work. Each Thursday there is a new project, and each following Monday there is a pressing deadline. Few combinations prove as effective in getting creative people producing new work as the trio of a firm deadline, a firm assignment, and the awaiting support of a collegial audience — in the case of the Junto, fellow makers of music.

Many months into the launch of the Junto, back in 2012, I came to recognize that one of the key factors in the group’s welcome acceptance by so many musicians — at this stage almost 500 actively participating SoundCloud accounts, over 800 email list subscribers, nearing 2,000 SoundCloud group members — is that the Junto provides a place where people feel comfortable risking failure, even pursuing failure. A deadline is both an impetus and an excuse, both a taskmaster and an alibi. The deadline is an opportune means to explain that a posted piece of work is unfinished, incomplete.

And speaking of incomplete, I started writing this note to mention something specific, which is that there should be no pressing sense on the part of any Junto participant that they do every Junto — all 52 — in a given year. The point of the Junto’s weekly schedule is that it’s there, dependably, when participating members have the time to drop in. The projects are structured, as well, so that they are self-contained. You can show up at any point between a Thursday and the looming Monday and start and complete the project. Occasionally there is a specific task that may take some time, such as visiting a shopping mall to make a field recording or recording oneself sleeping, but never does a Junto project require any time beyond the time frame of the given project. Almost every project can be started and completed within an hour or so, though many musicians give far more time to them.

Anyhow, this explanation is sort of having it both ways. On the one hand, I’m saying don’t worry about doing every project, week in, week out. On the other, I’m saying don’t worry that the work doesn’t feel done, which is to say don’t hesitate to post something. Either way, I hope you feel welcome.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • 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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    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
    • January 6, 2023: This day marked the 11th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

  • Recent
    • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier).
    • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly (aaassembly.org) at Gray Area (grayarea.org).
    • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
    • A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)

  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

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    Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.

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  • 0544 / Feedback Loop / The Assignment: Share music-in-progress for input from others.
    0543 / Technique Check / The Assignment: Share a tip from your method toolbox.
    0542 / 2600 Club / The Assignment: Make some phreaking music.
    0541 / 10BPM Techno / The Assignment: Make some snail-paced beats.
    0540 / 5ive 4our / The Assignment: Take back 5/4 for Jedi time masters Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond.

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