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:
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
• I was on Vivian Host's Peak Time show (on Red Bull Radio) on March 11 to extol the timeless virtues of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and related works. You can listen to a recording here: redbullradio.com.
• My latest article is a review in the March issue of The Wire magazine of the week-long Recombinant Festival (held in San Francisco), whose performance highlights included Herman Kolgen, Rrose, and Electric Indigo.
• March 22, 2019: I'm giving a talk at noon on Friday at the Algorithmic Art Assembly, two days of events (Friday and Saturday) in San Francisco: aaassembly.org. The talk is titled "The Woodshed Is a Black Box" and this is its description in the program: "How a rules-based system formed, shapes, and fuels the long-running online music community known as the Disquiet Junto."
• May 7, 2019: This day sees the release of Rob Walker's book The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday (Knopf), which has entries about the Disquiet Junto.
• May 22, 2019: Final day of the semester of the 15-week "Sounds of Brands" course I teach once a year at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I post occasional updates here. Follow the tag #sounds-of-brands.
• December 13, 2019: This day marks the 23rd anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2020: This day marks the 8th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto.
• A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell.
• 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.
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.
• 0376 / Pi Filling / The Assignment: Celebrate Pi Day.
• 0375 / Despite Yourself / The Assignment: Make a piece of music that sounds as unlike you as you can accomplish.
• 0374 / Glitch Glitch / The Assignment: what happens when you glitch something that's been glitched?
• 0373 / Copernican Music / The Assignment: Record a piece of music intended for an alien species.
• 0372 / Honeymoon Phase / The Assignment: Record a piece of music with (only) your most recently obtained instrument or music/sound tool.