Twenty five years ago I stood on the rooftop of the Diva hotel in San Francisco and interviewed Brian Eno while a photographer did his best to take advantage of the light.
We were there to discuss Wrong Way Up, the album Eno had just released with John Cale of the Velvet Underground. I was on assignment for Down Beat magazine, and the article appeared in the January 1991 issue. I’ve just now uploaded it to Disquiet.com, backdating it to the original publication — hence this small note of its (re)appearance.
The record is a lot of fun, but apparently the daggers depicted on the cover were appropriate, as neither Eno nor Cale came away from it with warm feelings. Said Cale, whom I interviewed by phone:
“With Brian, I think what happened is that he would listen to what you said, but he really didn’t have much patience with it. His idea of listening to what you said was eventually, you know, slam the door and come out with a solution. I haven’t figured out yet what Brian’s notion of cooperation, or collaboration, is.”
Read the full piece: “Reconcilable Differences.” If I can track down my tapes of the interviews, I’ll transcribe them and post them, too.
Ted Laderas, who goes by OO-Ray when he’s piping his cello through layers of effects and, in turn, breathing out reams of lovely music that’s half classical and half shoegazer, has a new EP out soon, a half-hour cassette titled Vespers. The album’s name, taken from the early evening prayer, is certainly appropriate, as his music often has the aura of a cathedral, in both its sense of space and its contemplative presence. This two-minute sample of Vespers does not disappoint, with deep echoing of subsumed sawing, the effect as much like an organ as like a chorus.
Murkok’s “A Forest with Water and Rocks” is nearly five minutes of ambient roil — it is at once soothing and seething, placid and active. It’s almost all gaseous sounds, but they churn at a rapid rate. The result is a sense of heightened awareness, as if a storm is coming in and you’ve just noticed it on the horizon. Slipping through the overwhelming cloud effect are micro shards, like a rain of distilled white noise, and occasional sharp moments, a bell hit hard, a seeming chorus or slammed door heard from deep in the mix, a high tone flying overhead. The track continuously lulls you and alerts you, over and over, often at the same time — a lullaby on a rocky ship.
The singing bowl is one of the major proto-ambient instruments. A bowl, rubbed or struck, emits a purely tonal sound that has no attack — no hard starting point, as would a struck guitar string or a piano key — and that sound, in turn, lingers for a long time. Noise Jockey has used a variety of electronic tools and performance techniques to update and amplify the singing bowl. His “The Crying Bowl” turns an everyday salad bowl into an otherworldly vehicle for tonal expression. In this case, the bowl is serving less as an instrument unto itself and more as an amplifier, providing, in Noise Jockey’s words, the “resonant body” from which the source audio emanates.
That source audio is from a gorgeous touch-sensitive instrument called the Tocante Phashi, designed by Peter Blasser of Ciat-Lonbarde, and pictured here. The Phasi, along with other instruments in the Tocante line, employs capacitors (the exposed circuit board) to control a large number of oscillators. It also has a built-in solar panel for charging its internal battery.
Someone adds an entry about a cooking magazine from the 1950s? Boom …
Someone corrects the release date in the discography of James Taylor? Bleep …
Someone undoes a spelling correction in an entry about an undersecretary from a mid-century U.S. presidential administration? Bong …
Audible tones and expanding, colored circles are used in tandem to announce changes to the vast collaborative encyclopedia thanks to the great online tool Listen to Wikipedia (listen.hatnote.com), one of the best examples of realtime sonification on the web. Developed by Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi, it’s the subject of a short recent interview from radio station KQED. The conversation with Hashemi goes into the background of the tool. He talks about the software’s actions, and how it serves both as an expression of Wikipedia and as a response to the economic focus of Silicon Valley.
There’s something very pleasing and centering about the placid surveillance of Listen to Wikipedia, all that communal and often rancorous activity transformed into dulcet tones. Sometimes I just let it run on a side screen as I work. Sometimes I also run this pure geographic visualizer, at rcmap.hatnote.com:
Up at the top of this post is a sample still frame of Listen to Wikipedia in action. Here is an example of the sort of realtime information that Listen to Wikipedia parses:
This documentation summarizes how the sounds and related images of Listen to Wikipedia correlate with actual edits:
Bells indicate additions and string plucks indicate subtractions. Pitch changes according to the size of the edit; the larger the edit, the deeper the note. Green circles show edits from unregistered contributors, and purple circles mark edits performed by automated bots.
Here’s a short video of Listen to Wikipedia in action:
• October 13, 2016: This day marks the start of the 250th weekly Disquiet Junto project.
• November 16, 2016: I'll be sharing the mic at Adobe Books in San Francisco with my fellow 33 1/3 author Evie Nagy for an evening hosted, from 7pm to 10pm, by Marc Kate (facebook.com).
• December 1, 2016: A likely speaking engagement. Details to come.
• December 13, 2016: This day marks the 20th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 5, 2017: This day marks the 5th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto.
• Ongoing: The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.