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Monthly Archives: July 2015

What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt


It’s a clean parallel, the Cylon faceplate speaker on the left and the nod to halcyon roadside full-service stations on the right. They’re both artifacts: the old face of the future, and the old face of the past. This photo was shot at a second-tier gas station in my neighborhood. I struggle to imagine a scenario in which it would make more sense to hit this button than to walk the 15 feet to speak face to face with the attendant in the room with two refrigerators and assorted snacks — small and dingy as that room is. The idea of the attendant even responding to the call seems highly unlikely. I considered asking the man on duty if anyone ever used it, but he was too busy looking at his cellphone for me to want to interrupt him. As for the device itself, the chrome is clean and the casing shows little wear. For that matter, it shows little use. Whoever requisitioned this intercom had either a strong sense of purpose or a mistaken sense of proportion, perhaps both.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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Disquiet Junto Project 0185: Memory Music

Summon up a memory, and then summarize it in sound.

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Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.com and at disquiet.com/junto, 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 will be added to this playlist for the duration of the project:

This assignment was made in the late afternoon, California time, on Thursday, July 16, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, July 20, 2015.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0185: Memory Music
Summon up a memory, and then summarize it in sound.

This week’s Junto is project proposed by Robert Thomas, a longtime participant. Having proposed the project, he’ll also listen to and comment on various posted tracks as the project unfolds.

A bit about him: Robert Thomas creates procedural music and sound systems. In 2010 he worked on Inception the App (5 million downloads), while at RjDj. He has worked with Hans Zimmer, Imogen Heap, Junkie XL, Air, Carl Craig, Jimmy Edgar, and Bookashade. His current projects are systems for VR, AR, health, meditation, and AI/robotics.

These are the steps for this week’s project:

Step 1: Remember a key moment in your life. It could be anything at any age.

Step 2: Conjure the sound of that moment in your mind, how you remember it, how you have come to remember it.

Step 3: Recreate that sound and feeling through sound design and music.

Step 4: Upload your completed track to the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud. Please take a moment to describe the memory in the text associated with the track.

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

Deadline: This assignment was made in the late afternoon, California time, on Thursday, July 16, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, July 20, 2015.

Length: The length of your finished work is up to you, but a length between one and two minutes is recommended.

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. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Title/Tag: When adding your track to the Disquiet Junto group on Soundcloud.com, please include the term “disquiet0185-memorymusic”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 185th Disquiet Junto project (“Summon up a memory, and then summarize it in sound”) at:

Disquiet Junto Project 0185: Memory Music

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

https://disquiet.com/junto/

This project was proposed by Robert Thomas, more from whom at:

http://dizzybanjo.com/

Join the Disquiet Junto at:

Disquiet Junto general discussion takes place at:

https://disquiet.com/forums/

Image associated with this post by Dennis Skley and used thanks to a Creative Commons license:

Durcheinander 6/52

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Drones of Drones / Drones by Drones

The unmanned aerial field recordings of Tim Prebble

We already have our jetpacks. We just happen to call them drones. Sure, these drones don’t carry us into the sky the way we were promised in our childhoods, but they carry with them our eyes, our imaginations, and our ambitions. Now that we live so much of our lives online, is it much of a stretch to suggest that drones take us up in the air?

Thanks to Tim Prebble, drones also carry with them our ears. Prebble is an accomplished field recordist who lives in Wellington, New Zealand, where he runs Hiss and Roar (hissandaroar.com), a sound design library of everything from fireworks and metal resonance to chimes and tortured pianos. His lengthy sound-design film credits include Antarctica: A Year on Ice, 30 Days of Night, and The World’s Fastest Indian. Prebble this week posted on Facebook a single photo of a small consumer-grade (i.e., non-military) drone carrying an audio recording device (the second still image down below). When I asked him for more details of what he was up to, he sent me a lengthy account, and many more photos, plus the two videos shown here. The video up top is a quick summary of experiments he’s been doing recording with drones, and recording the sound of drones. It’s a Doppler paradise.

Best experienced in headphones, the above video shows various settings for the drone recording, including an opening shot from the drone’s own perspective, while recording the audio effect of it passing by several microphones. Later on in a subsequent clip, the three-dimensional motion can be experienced as three-dimensional sound: stereo manages left and right, while relative volume accounts for foreground and background. Throughout, the primary sound is that of the drones themselves, a sound Prebble likens to that of bees. The results are striking.

In experimental electronic music, the word “drone” is virtually a genre unto itself, one that explores stasis in everything from field recordings to sine waves to layers of ambient textures. Since the word “drone” has come, popularly, to refer to flying devices, jokes are made regularly about “drones of drones.” Prebble has managed to make the joke real, and the result is no joke — it is alternately eerie and warm, anxious and majestic.

Here is Prebble himself, from an email he sent to me with permission to share, on what he is developing:

“The Bees Sound Angry”

While I’d seen plenty of drones & footage shot with them online, I never really appreciated their potential until I worked on a short film project recently where we wanted aerial footage but a helicopter was unaffordable. We ended up hiring an experienced drone pilot and after the first shoot I began dreaming about their potential, for image but also for sound.

DroneTP01

Once the project was finished I decided to get myself a quadcopter, a DJI Phantom 3 Pro. My first experiments were focused on technically learning to fly it, but also learning to deal with the discombobulation of having a set of eyes that can move remotely in three dimensions. I consider a camera drone akin to having a set of tracks & dolly (or a camera crane) which can move in any of the three dimensions without the constraints — the first video I shot was effectively a vertical tracking shot from outside my house…

One aspect of using a drone that can be problematic is that it tends to attract people, and avoiding slack jawed observers in shots can be a challenge. But it is often the sound of the quadcopter that first draws peoples attention – if you haven’t heard one close up, then the best description I can think of is that they sound like a small swarm of angry bees, and when you do fast movements the bees sound very angry! Ever since that first drone shoot I’ve been fascinated by quadcopter sounds, which led me to this experiment:

DroneTP02

From a sound designers perspective I LOVE the idea I can control & perform movements with this swarm of angry bees, so the first idea I am pursuing is to capture a library of sound effects, much as I would for a vehicle for a film. I am capturing a lot of variations of quadcopter start, take off, away, hover, approach and land, as well as doppler passbys & moves at various speeds. While the resulting library will be useful for practical purposes it will also be rich source material for manipulation & processing”¦.

DroneTP03

DroneTP04

But as with any vehicle recording, exterior recording is only half the story. When recording vehicles I happily capture onboard perspective sound to multitrack; placing mics in the engine bay, near the exhaust, near tyres and inside the cabin. Effectively capturing constant perspective, isolated elements to be rebalanced as per the needs of the film.

So that first photo above was an attempt at recording onboard, constant perspective quadcopter sounds. I’d first thought of using a pair of tiny DPA4060 lavalier mics but the recorder soon became the issue eg my Sound Devices 722 recorder weighs 1.2kg & while the Phantom 3 is powerful it was never going to carry more than its own bodyweight as cargo. So next I tried the Sony PCM D100, rigged to hang below the drone.

The results were surprisingly good – there was some wind noise, a 150Hz HPF got rid of most of that but more layers of Rycote wind protection will achieve that better & at the source. There was also a very small amount of motor whine & electrical interference from the camera gimbal, but once the rotors are working that sound is masked. The next iteration of rigging I suspended the recorder on rubber bungy rather than string, to avoid transmission of any vibrational noise, and I also experimented with different lengths, attempting to place the recorder & mics further from the prop wash.

DroneTP05

A secondary sound recording idea I am pursuing with the drone is purely as a transporter. Imagine placing your mics in the top of a 1000 year old Kauri tree, or on a small island in a lake. Both would potentially provide unique ambience recordings, but getting the mics into place is difficult. So I’ve been thinking about whether there is a way to have the drone carry my recorder to such locations, safely land & power down to allow clean ambience recording, and then fly home. The recorder hanging below the quadcopter means that landing is difficult – I’ve avoided this issue so far by hovering the drone within arms reach & simply grabbing it & powering off. With the extra weight I would want to be VERY confident before risking losing my drone & recorder – if it toppled over while landing then it would be a very tough decision to either abandon it, or risk life & limb to retrieve it!

DroneTP06

Suspect we will be seeing more ads like this in future!

More from Prebble at soundcloud.com/timprebble and hissandaroar.com.

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The Broken Beat

An exemplary track of rhythmic play from Bugaev

One of the great elusive pursuits in music is the beat that is not a beat. Too random, and it becomes percussive splatter. Too metronomic, and it looses any sense of creative chaos. Bugaev’s track “Zin” is in the “broken beat” category of metric play. The beat sounds are fairly succinct, synthesized plosives that aren’t all that far from white noise. They drop at a pace that would most aptly be described as lackadaisical. That causal quality translates into the rhythm itself: It sounds like something you might bob your head to, yet it evades any actual such synchronization. Apparent downbeats fall at any given moment, and sudden instances of rapidfire flourishes break down the system even further.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/n_bugaev. More from Bugaev (whose SoundCloud account lacks any geographic information) at ello.co/n_bugaev and phinery.net.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0184: Sets of Bars

Explore the relationship between segments that consist of 1 bar, 8 bars, and 4 bars.

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Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.com and at disquiet.com/junto, 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 will be added to this playlist for the duration of the project:

This assignment was made in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, July 9, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, July 13, 2015.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0184: Sets of Bars
Explore the relationship between segments that consist of 1 bar, 8 bars, and 4 bars.

This week’s Junto is project 184 in the series. We’ll explore the relationship between segments that consist of 1 bar, 8 bars, and 4 bars.

Step 1: Record three very short pieces of music: one that is 8 bars long, one that is 4 bars long, and one that is 1 bar long.

Step 2: Create an extended sequence of those segments that combines them at random. The overall total length is recommended to be between one and two minutes.

Step 3: You have a pair of options here:

Option A: Add one or two additional layers of sound/music that play off the sequence.

Option B: Develop your own rules/system (example: start an 8-bar tone each time the 1-bar segment plays).

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

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

Deadline: This assignment was made in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, July 9, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, July 13, 2015.

Length: The length of your finished work is up to you, but a length between one and two minutes is recommended.

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. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Title/Tag: When adding your track to the Disquiet Junto group on Soundcloud.com, please include the term “disquiet0184-setsofbars”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 184th Disquiet Junto project (“Explore the relationship between segments that consist of 1 bar, 8 bars, and 4 bars”) at:

Disquiet Junto Project 0184: Sets of Bars

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

https://disquiet.com/junto/

Join the Disquiet Junto at:

Disquiet Junto general discussion takes place at:

https://disquiet.com/forums/

Image associated with this post by Vladimer Shioshvili and used thanks to a Creative Commons license:

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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.
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    • 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.
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    0542 / 2600 Club / The Assignment: Make some phreaking music.
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