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 2019

The Happenstance Ambience of Corruption

The Japanese noise musician, that is

I went to Japan quite a bit in the latter half of the first decade of the 2000s, and I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but top of the list for some time now of musicians I would want to locate should/when I go again is Corruption, whose sprawling SoundCloud account — that’s soundcloud.com/corrption, minus the “u” — has accumulated a substantial (630 tracks as of this writing) and enigmatic (in a resolutely plainstated way) mix of messy, broken dubby noise music and snatches of everyday din, and at Corr(u)ption’s best it’s often difficult to tell into which of those two categories a given recording falls.

Take “170620_004lewe,” which surfaced a week and a half ago and plays like the score to a three-minute art film tracking some fleeting mid-morning moments of a dissolute urban life — and to be clear, should that ever need to be translated from English, the description is intended as the highest of compliments.

There are high-pitched noises that are either aliens among us or electrical interference amid an apartment packed with computer equipment, and hard clicks that suggest tape machines being manhandled, and for much of it a droning presence as if we’re listening in on someone else listening to something else the whole time.

There is, indeed, a voyeuristic aspect to Corruption’s work, in part because lacking any photographs of Corruption (the oeuvre comes across as deeply anonymous, at least from this side of the Pacific), everything that Corruption does seems to be from that individual’s point-of-view. This track’s title, resembling the timecode from a digital recorder, does nothing to diminish the impression.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/corrption. More from Corruption at corruption-scrapbook.tumblr.com, though by “more” is meant artfully affect-less city-dweller photography and short videos replete with hissy, happenstance ambience.

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The Module’s Underbelly

The wriggly life of synthesizer printed circuit boards

Yesterday I said goodbye to another synthesizer module. I packed it up into a box and now it is on its way to the interior of Japan, where a new owner will nestle it into a new rig and where it will make new sounds in a new context, amid a new set of modules. I bought this module used from Toronto. I don’t know where it was before that.

Many modules will emit some sort of sound on their own if you push them hard enough — well, almost all still need to be connected to a speaker somehow — but almost all modules are intended for use with other modules, as a local network passing audio as well as commands in the form of electricity. When a module is in the rig, its innards go out of view. I often joke I wish I had a Lucite case for my modular synthesizer, so those innards, the close stacks of printed circuit boards (PCBs), were always available to be pored over. Part of the joke is I can’t stand Lucite, but the real impossibility of the joke is that a rack’s power supply, interior wiring, and structural support would occlude even the most transparent of synth boxes. Once a module is installed, its underbelly is disguised by a faceplate, knobs, and jacks.

Some of those synthesizer PCBs are wildly colored and arcanely inscribed, while others are as generic as the materials that allow your microwave to heat popcorn. Much of this is purely aesthetic, but aesthetics mean something. If the utilitarian appearance of one speaks of a company’s goal to reduce costs and perhaps a mission to make widely available what was once lavishly expensive, the filigrees of another’s speak of the whimsy, the fantasy, at the organization’s — often, an individual creator’s — heart. I’ve wondered about the intentionality and readability of these visual characteristics previously (at length — see my article “Is the Printed Circuit Board a Form of Musical Notation” at NewMusicBox) — and the upturned module reminded me of just how much I still have to learn.

This module in my hand is of a fairly homebrew variety. It is from the Ieaskul F. Mobenthey family, designed by the inventive Peter Blasser. Some are made by Blasser himself, while others are built in synth workshops that he runs, like some PCB Johnny Appleseed. The module goes by the name Fourses, because it is designed around a quartet of oscillators, the circuits that produce the frequencies we experience as sound.

Before I mailed off this module, I did what I always do during a sale. I investigated it for any shortcomings. What struck my eye were the paramecium-like formations of this tiny machine’s even tinier components. A chip resembles a little bug under most circumstances, but the asymmetrical, angled gang here have the look of things scurrying intently. Exposing the underbelly of the module felt like pulling a rock from a garden and exposing all sorts of wriggly life. The relative sizes and shapes of these things, how they’re all nestled together as part of coherent integration, suggest the presence an ecosystem. And the lines seen in the green of the board, often committed with rectilinear certainty, here have a topological quality, the squiggles of a mapmaker making sketches of new territory — territory explored subsequently by the people who, over time, invite the module into their sonic world.

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Upcoming Activities

A talk, and some books

And … this post is already out of date, as I’ve added some additional items to the Current Activities sidebar.

The left-hand sidebar on Disquiet.com lists things that are coming up, and as there have been some interesting updates, I wanted to bring attention to them in a proper post. The highlight is a trio of books that contain material on the Disquiet Junto:

Upcoming
• March 22, 2019: I’m giving a talk at the Algorithmic Art Assembly, two days of events in San Francisco: aaassembly.org.
• 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.
• 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.

Dates TBA
• 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.

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About the Proprietor

And some some updated FAQs

Disquiet.com is in its 23rd year online, and I think for the first time I’m adding a proper bio to the site. There is now a brief summary in the left-hand sidebar, and then the full text at disquiet.com/about. I’ve also updated the site’s two FAQs. This bio will change over time, but here’s how it reads as of today:

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 that explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. Its activities have been covered by The Wire, Buzzfeed, CDM, and Bloomberg Businessweek, as well as in books published by Knopf and by Oxford University Press.

A former editor of Tower Records’ music magazines (Pulse!, on which he was a senior editor; Classical Pulse!, which he co-founded; and epulse, the weekly email newsletter that he founded in 1994 and which ran for a decade), he is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II (Bloomsbury, 2014, later translated into Spanish and Japanese), and he has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, Downbeat, NewMusicBox, Art Practical, and The Atlantic online, among other periodicals.

Weidenbaum’s sonic consultancy has ranged from mobile GPS apps to coffee-shop sound design, comics editing for Red Bull Music Academy, and music supervision for two films (the documentary The Children Next Door, scored by Taylor Deupree, and the science fiction short Youth, scored by Marcus Fischer).

His sound art has been exhibited at galleries in Dubai, Los Angeles, and Manhattan, as well as at the San Jose Museum of Art. He teaches a course titled “Sounds of Brands,” on the role of sound in the media landscape, at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

Originally from New York, he’s a longtime resident of San Francisco, California.

There is a Disquiet.com FAQ and a Disquiet Junto FAQ.

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The Algorithms We Call Music Communities

Friday, March 22, in San Francisco at Gray Area Foundation for the Arts

I’m continuing to work on the talk I’ll be giving at the upcoming Algorithmic Art Assembly in San Francisco. I’ll be speaking on Friday, March 22, in the afternoon. The two-day event (half afternoon speakers, half evening performances) will be held at Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. My working title and description for the talk are as follows:

The Woodshed Is a Black Box
How a rules-based system formed, shapes, and fuels the long-running online music community known as the Disquiet Junto.

And that’s what it’s about. It’s a talk about the way rules shape online interactions in groups of collaborators, how those rules change over time, how some rules are more self-evident than others, and how seemingly small changes can have significant impact (positive and negative).

The Disquiet Junto, formed in 2012 and run weekly since, takes its name from the original Junto, an organization formed in 1727 by Benjamin Franklin with an emphasis on “mutual self-improvement.” The classic model of self-improvement in music is the woodshed, and it is historically a solitary pursuit. The woodshed is where you go to practice, and from which you emerge changed. It is as much a verb as it is a noun.

What, though, does focused practice mean in an always-on, always-connected culture? In a networked community, is there such a thing as a network of woodsheds? How does an online community structure and support this activity, and how do rules structure and support the online community?

More details at aaassembly.org — and here, as it comes together.

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