My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

Monthly Archives: September 2017

Don’t Listen So Much as Submerge

A brief aquatic setting by Sweden-based Pythagora

Part squishy aquarium gurgle, part off-kilter rhythmic patterning, part droney melodic quaver, “Nord” by Pythagora is a brief glimpse at a synthetic sound world. Its component parts are so distinct from each other that the finished piece feels more like sound design than like a musical composition, in that it seems more about setting a sense of place than about expressing a narrative — which, come to think of it, is a fine alternate definition of ambient music. Now, virtually any music can be said to suggest a place, whether through direct or indirect association, through genre or lyrical content. What makes a piece like “Nord” ambient is its emphasis on place and mood above all else. (Presumably it is part of a larger construction, because it ends quite suddenly.) There is no development, per se, though some elements do appear to shift in relative importance. What there is is a depth that situates the listener amid the composition. You don’t listen so much as you submerge.

Track originally posted at Pythagora is Dan Henry Pålsson of Malmö, Sweden.

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The Self-Education of Synthesist Emily Sprague

A great podcast interview on Sound + Process

Emily Sprague patches her modular synthesizer, sets it running, and checks in on it hours, even days, later to figure out where the generative invention has meandered and matured, what strange familiar-yet-unfamiliar music it’s gotten up to. She initiated her relatively recent self-education by mainlining module manuals and studying the videos of a handful of people (notably Lightbath and r beny) whose aesthetic and approach appealed to her (i.e., largely ambient, if gently melodic, and lacking a fixed rhythm). She says she likes tap tempo, for the organic feel, and certain filters, for their ability to self-oscillate. She began to share videos of her own work in part to replenish the well from which she’d drawn, and also out of an awareness that modular synths are a male-dominated thing.

Here’s an early such video, from May 2016:

And here’s a gentle, burbling track from about a year ago:

These are just some of the things we learn in the excellent eighth episode of the Sound + Process podcast hosted by Dan Derks. Interspersed in the podcast are demos of the music that will appear on her forthcoming solo modular synth album. Sprague, who also is part of the folk-pop band Florist, talks about gaining fluency with patching by buying and selling modules, seeing what works for her and what doesn’t, and how warm and welcoming the synth community, in particular on the (also known as Lines) message board, has proved to be.

And after listening to Sprague speak for an hour, you also can check out some of her band Florist’s music, and hear that same voice sing. This track is “What I Wanted to Hold,” off the forthcoming Florist album If Blue Could Be Happiness, which is to be released on September 29, 2017:

More from Emily Sprague at and, and her YouTube channel. Subscribe to the Sound + Process podcast via iTunes or RSS.

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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from

The San Francisco airport, SFO, regularly features engaging exhibits. There was one recently about the art of ouija. Titled The Mysterious Talking Board, it brought a halo of sound to the topic, insinuating the notion of the “voice” of the unseen, otherworldly interlocutor. Currently in Terminal 2 there is a show that calls out for a sonic complement. The Typewriter: An Innovation in Writing (which runs from May 13, 2017, through January 28, 2018) displays dozens of typewriters from numerous stages of the technology’s development and, like this Chinese item shown here, from various places where characteristics of specific languages put unique demands on the underlying concept. I came away from it excited for another glimpse after my return flight, but also wishing I could hear what these different machines sounded like when in use.

An ongoing series cross-posted from
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Live Classical Remix

Snatched from the radio, rendered on a Digitakt

What might be a bowed cello or, perhaps, a deep horn opens this track solemnly. The quick initiation of a repeating fragment, the appearance of an audible seam where a loop ends and then again begins, makes it clear this is a remix. What it is is the musician taking a bit of classical music recorded off the radio, and through improvisation in one sitting layering and reworking it into something else entirely.

It is literally one sitting, which we know because the track appears as a video, documentation of a musician coming up to speed on a relatively new piece of equipment. The instrument is the Digitakt, a drum machine and sampler from the company Elektron. You don’t need to know the Digitakt’s interface in order to correlate some of the live actions with what we’re hearing. Often it’s self-evident, as when, around the 2:00 mark, one sample is slowed ever so slightly, or at the end when the volume decreases for a slow fade out.

The strings are the majority of the piece. They are sequenced to avoid any easy sense of metrical certainty, and they are copied and pasted well beyond the number of players present on the original recording. Remixing is like magic: smoke (filters) and mirrors (sampling). The result is a digital fantasia, material mixed as the memory might, favorite snatches on repeat, connections and contrasts between formerly sequential elements emphasized through simultaneity.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted on the corduroyfarmer YouTube.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0299: 10bpm Waltz

Make super slow music in 3/4 time.

Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group, 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. (A SoundCloud account is helpful but not required.) There’s no pressure to do every project. It’s weekly so that you know it’s there, every Thursday through Monday, when you have the time.

This project’s deadline is 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on Monday, September 25, 2017. This project was posted in the morning, Denver time, on Thursday, September 21, 2017.

Tracks will be added to the above playlist for the duration of the project.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0299: 10bpm Waltz
Make super slow music in 3/4 time.

Step 1: This project is intended as a way to contribute to the 10 BPM Dance Club announced at and Tracks submitted to One Take Records will be included at an inaugural event in Copenhagen at the end of this month, September 2017.

Step 2: Consider what 10 beats per minute means, what the pace of 10 beats per minute feels like. Think about the instance of the down beat. Think about how 10 bpm differs from, say, 20 bpm, or from 40 bpm.

Step 3: Think about how 3/4 time differs from 4/4 time, and for that matter from 6/8 time. Think about what 3/4 time means when slowed down extremely, all the way down to 10 bpm.

Step 4: Having reflected on the concepts described in Steps 2 and 3, proceed to compose and record a piece of music that is 10 bpm and in 3/4 time.

Step 5: Share your track with the Copenhagen event by sending it to [email protected], per the instructions at

Five More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: If your hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to include the project tag “disquiet0299” (no spaces) in the name of your track. If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to my locating the tracks and creating a playlist of them.

Step 2: Upload your track. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your track.

Step 3: In the following discussion thread at please consider posting your track:

Step 4: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

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

Deadline: This project’s deadline is 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on Monday, September 25, 2017. This project was posted in the morning, Denver time, on Thursday, September 21, 2017.

Length: The length is up to you.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0299” in the title of the track, and where applicable (on SoundCloud, for example) as a tag.

Upload: When participating in this project, post one finished track with the project tag, and be sure to 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.

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 online, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 299th weekly Disquiet Junto project — 10bpm Waltz: Make super slow music in 3/4 time — at:

Thanks to all the folks in the Junto Slack for proposing and helping to shape this prompt.

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

Subscribe to project announcements here:

Project discussion takes place on

There’s also on a Junto Slack. Send your email address to for Slack inclusion.

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