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: February 2018

Excursion into Dust

A page from Szymon Kaliski's 2018 studio diary

The Polish multimedia artist Szymon Kaliski is keeping a 2018 studio diary, uploading an entry per week to his SoundCloud account. The latest, “Week 08,” is an excursion into dust. On first listen, it might sound like background noise that lacks a foreground. The experience is akin to entering a dark room — not merely a dark room, but an unfamiliar one — and letting your eyes adjust. You don’t survey such a room in the same way you do a well-lit one. You don’t have the option to take it in as you see fit. You grasp onto what data — visual in the room, sonic in the case of the Kaliksi track — presents itself. Initial elements are disparate, their dimensions unclear. Then you begin to make connections. You get a sense of the place’s scale, of its decor, of the density of its furnishings.

The light never turns on in Kaliski’s “Week 08,” but it is a room, a virtual sonic space, you’ll want to spend a lot of time in. With repeat listens — the track is less than two minutes in length — elements make themselves apparent, like objects making themselves known in the dark. There’s a lush, slow piano line. There is crackling partially akin to vinyl surface noise, but also to flying insects, at times taking on the quality of a drone in both senses of the word. Unlike in the room that provides the extended simile above, scale has no practical boundaries when it comes to Kaliski’s track: it can be both massive and intimate at the same time. It is as vast as a hectic train station heard through thick earmuffs, and as precious as an archaic Victrola given one last spin before retirement.

Track originally posted to soundcloud.com/szymonkaliski. He’s also collecting the weekly entries into a playlist. More from Kaliski, who is based in Poznań, Poland, at szymonkaliski.com and twitter.com/szymon_k.

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What Sound Looks Like

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


Urban neighborhoods that serve as homes to multiple immigrant communities can have a stoic quality to them. This isn’t always the case, but cultures that are vibrant unto themselves can take on more of a remote cast when coming into ongoing mutual contact. There is a level of communication, of connection, that entrenched cultural distance fails to afford. This is true of spoken language and body language alike. In a dense city, such myriad disconnections can result in faces that are doubly blank: failing to read others and resisting being read. You may see a Russian Orthodox priest eating a burrito, or a sushi chef checking out Hollywood blockbusters at the neighborhood library; these individuals are, however, members of groups that live alongside each other and, yet, apart from each other.

This doorbell is from the front gate to a multi-unit apartment building in just such a neighborhood. The doorbell bears the aspect of a place that has more urgent things to be attended to than its outward appearance. The doorbell buttons have long since been bleached by the elements of their associated apartment numbers. Presumably the units run in descending columns from left to right. Presumably as well, the one button that lacks a label was at some point replaced — due to wiring complexities or sufficient landlord laziness, for which there is an admittedly low threshold — by the larger plastic device to the left. It stands there with a simple message for anyone who tries to catch its gaze: “I have things to get done; announce yourself, or move along.”

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

The audio-visual byways of synthesizer modules

A post shared by Scott Campbell (@scttcmpbll) on

The myriad peculiar names might be dismissed as goofy gimmicks, but applied neologisms certainly do simplify the act of tracking synthesizer culture. Listening in on what musicians, during our search-enabled era, are making with something called the Bitbox, or the ER301, or, yes, the Morgasmatron, is pretty straightforward, compared to keeping pace with LFOs, VCOs, and VCAs, to list a few of the generic building blocks of a modular synthesizer.

This video is a short Instagram piece by Scott Campbell. Its accompanying hashtags (click through to see) note some of the utilized modules and their manufacturers. This lush sequence of melty xylophone-like tones, atop a foundation of chordal haze, brings to mind a lost Julee Cruise backing track or the loudspeaker music at a particularly well-curated holiday ice-skating park. (Campbell knows something about synth nomenclature himself, having developed the Ondes Magnétique cassette-tape manipulation machine, which I wrote about a couple years ago.)

To click on a hashtag such as #squarppyramid or #morphagene is to enter audio-visual corridors where you can check out what other musicians are doing with same tools as Campbell. And while Instagram’s algorithm leaves much to be desired, the recently introduced ability to track favorite hastags means the tools you’re intrigued by will populate your feed with work by musicians of whom you might not previously been aware.

Video originally posted at to the Instagram account of Scott Campbell, more from whom at scttcmpbll.com, twitter.com/scttcmpbll, and etsy.com. Campbell is based in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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The Visual Jitter

Watching waveforms swap in and out

A post shared by Benjamin Mauch (@bennymauch) on

Based in Richmond Virginia, Benjamin Mauch is seen here reworking bits of samples to spectral effect. For even the least technologically informed listener, the blinking lights and the twin displays lend context for what is going on: when a given loop’s seam begins again, what the shape of the sounds’ waveforms are. The sense of sonic jitter is reinforced when those waves frequently swap out as the piece — not a piece, really, not in the sense of a finished work, but a fragment of a recording — proceeds. The visuals remove some of the ambiguity in the audio. When the source audio is new, the visuals confirm it.

Track originally posted to Mauch’s instagram.com account. More from Mauch at sparenoexpanse.bandcamp.com.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0321: Let’s Active

Make a short piece of music that decreases the mind's tendency to wander, based on research by Dr. Liila Taruffi, PhD, and her colleagues.

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.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on Monday, February 26, 2018. This project was posted in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, February 22, 2018.

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

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0321: Let’s Active
Make a short piece of music that decreases the mind’s tendency to wander, based on research by Dr. Liila Taruffi, PhD, and her colleagues.

Step 1: This week we’re making music that decreases the mind’s tendency to wander. The project was developed in coordination with a Dr. Liila Taruffi, PhD, based on a paper she and her colleagues published in Nature Scientific Reports.

Step 2: No, you absolutely don’t need to have read the 10-page research paper or its 60 footnotes to participate in this project. But … in you’re interested, you can find the PDF here:

http://rdcu.be/xXHf

Step 3: Record a piece of instrumental music (no voices, no words) based on the following constraints. Use samples, simulations, or approximations of the recommended instrumentation if the instruments are not available:

Instrumentation: banjo, piccolo, xylophone, celeste, glockenspiel, ukulele, toy piano, baritone saxophone, tambourine

Instruments number: max 6

Speed of music: 130-180 bpm

Key: major

Length: around 2 min

Recommended musical/acoustic features: bright timbres, high pitches, much pitch variability, rising pitch contour, fast tone attacks, medium-high sound level, very little microstructural regularity

Here’s some additional background from Dr. Taruffi: “Mind-wandering” or “daydreaming” (i.e., our mind’s tendency to engage in thoughts and images that are unrelated to the here and now, are spontaneously evoked, and naturally flow over time) is incredibly omnipresent, reaching up to 50% of our waking mental activity. Mind-wandering is an internally-oriented cognitive state somehow opposite to focused attention on a task or on a specific sensory input. In the study entitled “Effects of Sad and Happy Music on Mind-Wandering and Default Mode Network”, we (Liila Taruffi, Corinna Pehrs, Stavros Skouras & Stefan Koelsch) tested the idea that music, via emotion, can function as a mediator of these inwardly-oriented mental experiences. In three experiments (two in which participants described their mental state immediately after listening to sad-sounding and happy-sounding music, and a third in which other participants’ brains were scanned as they listened to sad and happy music pieces) we found that sad music, compared with happy music, is associated with stronger mind-wandering and greater activity of the nodes of the Default Mode Network (the main brain network responsible for mind-wandering). Thus, our results demonstrate that, when listening to sad music, people withdraw their attention inwards and engage in spontaneous cognitive processes.

Six More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0321” (no spaces or quotation marks) in the name of your track.

Step 2: If your audio-hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to also include the project tag “disquiet0321” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation a project playlist.

Step 3: Upload your track. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your track.

Step 4: Please consider posting your track in the following discussion thread at llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0321-lets-active/

Step 5: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 6: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Other Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on Monday, February 26, 2018. This project was posted in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, February 22, 2018.

Length: The length is up to you. The instructions suggest roughly two minutes. (Assume your piece can be played on repeat, or as part of a playlist of similar music.)

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0321” 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 321st weekly Disquiet Junto project (Let’s Active: Make a short piece of music that decreases the mind’s tendency to wander, based on research by Dr. Liila Taruffi, PhD, and her colleagues) at:

https://disquiet.com/0321/

More on Taruffi, music, and mind-wandering at:

http://liilataruffi.com/

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here:

http://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0321-lets-active/

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

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