One of the students in my sound course was in Tokyo over spring break and took these photos for me at two separate bookstores: one of a sizable display of my (translated into Japanese) Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works Volume II book (and in good company: the Yellow Magic Orchestra book), and the other of it nestled between Prince and Coldplay.
Uploaded tracks that contain pictures (or, better yet, video) of new gear get the most applause because they satisfy the fellow-musician audience’s interest in voyeuristic window shopping, and the non-musician’s interest in bright shiny objects, even impenetrably complicated and opaque ones.
When the new gear is, however, not a bright and shiny object but instead an initial go at coding, which in most circumstances is a snazzy word for typing, the innate attraction isn’t as strong.
So, kudos to Louise Rossiter for sharing this early sketch, titled “Rebirth.” According to the brief liner note accompanying the track, we know three things: (1) “Supercollider” (the language); (2) “First bit of coding” (where Rossiter is at); and (3) “Will become a piece eventually” (where “Rebirth” is headed). What starts as hesitant rhythmic pulses in a vacuum slowly gains spaciousness with wind-tunnel atmospherics and synthesized lightning strikes. The hum and crackle increase, lending cover to a smart array of torqued sonics.
That third bit, regarding this being a work in progress, may explain the fairly sudden cut-off a couple seconds shy of five and a half minutes, when the piece — till then a tumble of dense, irritable drones and just the sort of static that makes your laptop keyboard vibrate in a manner that makes you fear for your chipsets — ends cold. On the one hand, this may be pure drama (à la the Sopranos‘ finale, but after five minutes of aural abstraction, not six seasons of criminal escapades). On the other, it may simply be where the code thus far ends. Here’s looking forward to where Rossiter’s typing takes our ears next.
In Grant Morrison’s comics, even the tiniest thing is extravagant — unfolding in hyper-dimensions to reveal internecine complexities of psychedelic detail and epic ramifications — and this was apparently the case as early as his first serialized series. (This panel is from the first collected edition of Zenith, with art by Steve Yeowell, from characters designed by Brendan McCarthy. I’m catching up with very early Morrison comics, thanks to a friend’s recommendation. I’ve read much of what came after Flex Mentallo, but I’d never read Zenith, which was serialized in 2000 AD beginning in the summer of 1987.)
Awhile back I began collating a YouTube playlist of live ambient performances. The assortment, now numbering well over 100, quickly took shape as a collection of videos in which the techniques of the performer were evident to the viewer. The idea was to locate and celebrate instances of the action required by the performer to accomplish the seeming inaction — the stasis, the aesthetic limbo, the attenuated sonic pause — that so much ambient music telegraphs.
In time, the definition of “performance” expanded — well, it didn’t so much “expand” as that the word’s interior features became more detailed. Nothing as the playlist of included videos proceeded contradicted earlier interpretations of “live performance.”
This video, from an installation by Marcus Fischer, pushes the definition further, while staying true to the initial curatorial impulse. The audio is one take, while the video is a collation of elements. In other circumstances, that disconnect might be an issue, but here it makes perfect sense. The installation, titled “Multiples,” was set up at Variform in Portland, Oregon, last month, in a show curated by Patricia Wolf. The core of it is an array of naked speaker cones, each containing fragile little seed pods. The speakers both emanate sound and, as a result of the vibrations resulting from that sound, rattle the seed pods, each a tiny, nature-made maraca. We hear both the melty drone of the music and the waves of percussion that accompany it, and we experience the correlation between the two.
The causality between visual and sonic instance is less necessary here than in other sorts of live performance, because what we’re witnessing is more a system at work than a performance. If you watch a video of a train and hear audio of a train, even if the two weren’t sourced at the same time, you get that they are both simply moments in a much larger system, something that couldn’t be documented in full. Likewise, here we get the high-fidelity rendering of the audio, and the glimpses of the various facets that make it run.
As the video shows, there is still more at work than those speakers, including the reel-to-reel machine on which the audio is unspooling, and at least one additional seedpod hanging midair, still affixed to a branch, not to mention the full geometry of the work, which sets a visual stage for the sounds we are hearing. Above the speaker array is a series of parallel fluorescent bulbs, a grow-room aesthetic suggesting artificial light for artificial life.
When the crackdown got serious on peer-to-peer sharing, the peers went underground, and then underground some more. Hardware saw a resurgence in pass-around thumb drives loaded with chunks of cultural history, but wifi connections to the disparate network remained the preferred mode, albeit with heightened attention to security and privacy. The peers forsook all but the most rudimentary forms of sharing. Nothing was left to the servers of publicly traded companies. Nothing passed through software certified by the app stores baked into the firmware of mobile phones. Nothing was posted without being cleaned of all but the most essential metadata. Caution was taken, in particular, regarding which internet service providers were truly data-agnostic in their functioning, and safe harbor was marked in public spaces with a simple but effective graffiti.
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
• February 5, 2020: The first session of the 15-week course I teach at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape.
• April 15, 2020: 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. (Details at oup.com.)
• December 13, 2020: This day marks the 24th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2021: This day marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• 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. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
• At least two live group concerts by Disquiet Junto members in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the works for 2020.
• I have liner notes for a musician's solo album and an essay in a book about an art event due out. I'll announce as the release dates come into focus.
• 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.
• 0465 / You Thank / The Assignment: Make a piece of music for someone or something for which you feel thankful.
• 0464 / Blanket Song / The Assignment: Play over a song, and then remove the original.
• 0463 / Making the Gradient / The Assignment: Make a piece of music inspired by the concept of a gradient.
• 0462 / Vade in Pace / The Assignment: Write a short piece of music that gets slower and slower as it proceeds.
• 0461 / Goldilocks Zone / The Assignment: Navigate a sonic space between the hospitable and the inhospitable.