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: June 2019

This Is a Third Test

This is a test. This is only a test.

We’ll see how this test goes. Like the previous ones, it’ll get deleted.

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Two Free Hours of Early Autechre

Warp Tapes 1989-1993, fresh from Warp's NTS takeover

Listening to these early Autechre recordings is like the start of the old movie Gremlins, when those little fuzzy beasts are still all cute and friendly. You know, before the various rules are broken and they turn into frightful, feral, and even more memorable itsy bitsy monsters. The rules, if you don’t recall: no bright lights, no water, don’t feed after midnight.

When I first made that joke on Twitter earlier today, I accidentally typed “fuzzy beats” instead of “fuzzy beasts.” The error was, no doubt, Freudian, for the beats comprising these early Autechre recordings are, indeed, fuzzy. They’re fuzzy like an adolescent’s chin. A few years would pass before the Autechre, the duo of Sean Booth and Robert Brown, would gain the electronic-music equivalent of a full beard. Before they showed their true, feral side.

What early Autechre recordings, you may be asking? This past weekend the duo was part of the three-day residency in which the Warp Records label took over the British online radio station NTS (nts.live). Autechre shared two hours of audio dating back to 1989 and up through 1993. Subsequently the audio, in the form of a single zip archive that weighs in at well over a gigabyte (it contains two separate .wav files, each exactly an hour long), was posted for free on Autechre’s page on Bleep, which is Warp’s long-running digital-audio storefront.

To access the tracks, go to autechre.bleepstores.com and scroll down to the bottom, which at the moment means directly below the five thumbnail images, vaguely reminiscent of Joseph Albers’ covers for Enoch Light’s Command Records label, representing the elseq 1-5 collection from 2016. The link goes to an Autechre page on WeTransfer, which provides push-button access to the audio.

The music is almost entirely vocal-free, with some occasional spoken and sung samples, notably on the first of the two tracks. The emphasis is beats, here in the form of contrarian glosses on hip-hop and various club styles. You’ll recognize the period drum machines, but you’re hearing them in a slightly different context. To a degree, that context is far more recognizable in hindsight, in that at times you can hear antecedents of the harsher, stronger, more abstract Autechre to come, notably a favor for metallic percussion, and the deep pleasure of putting those thudding rhythmic elements through a sequence of filters. In this period, Autechre wasn’t quite breaking rules yet, but they were sure getting ready to.

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Cyberdeck 2019

My [social network named for birds]’s locale is set to Tokyo, where I am not, so that the “trends” are unintelligible to me.

I refer to companies by concisely describing their logos.

I use a VPN.

Life has become a mundane cyberpunk novel: on the run from algorithms.

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The Chernobyl Effect

Scores that draw sonic material from the environments in which they're set

The first few years I taught my sound course, I found it interesting to observe which topics each new semester were natural to fold into the syllabus of the previous semester: a fresh employment of sound in product design, a further development of domestic surveillance amid the Internet of Things, a new advertising campaign aimed at pricking up consumers’ ears. Hildur Guonadottir’s excellent score to HBO’s Chernobyl mini-series provides a very different source of pedagogical intrigue: which once-abstract topics have, along the way, become normalized.

This is because as time has gone on, it’s become even more interesting (to me, that is) to observe which once-new (“new” to students, that is) topics have become familiar, even commonplace. And then, in turn, to probe how such familiarity alters the subjects at hand.

Each semester in my sound course I have taught, side by side, the scores to two very different thrillers, both of them set on submarines: Jeff Rona’s for the movie Phantom and Robert Duncan’s for the TV series Last Resort. Both scores draw from submarine field recordings as source audio for the music. The composers recorded sounds of the antiquated environments, capturing claustrophobic room tones and banging on equipment, and then tuned those tracks and turned the resulting sounds into digital instruments.

The similarities and differences between the Phantom and Last Resort approaches to submarine source audio are highly teachable, surfacing (pun!) various matters, such as how they extract sound, as well as the inherent musicality of everyday listening.

Of particular value during class discussion is the manner in which this approach manages to blur the distinctions between the diegetic (i.e., sounds with an on-screen source, like machinery and conversation) and the non-diegetic (i.e., sounds external to the action, such as score and voice-overs). And better yet: how the end results differ between films, despite the shared approach.

That last bit is important, because if the end results were the same, if Phantom and Last Resort sounded the same, the aesthetics would be reduced to something causal, and the technique to a matter of mechanics.

The films, however, do not sound similar at all. Duncan’s Last Resort is very much a classic, epic, retro-orchestral vibe, whereas Rona’s Phantom is more ethereal, bearing a Fourth World influence, perhaps from his time as a collaborator with Jon Hassell. Even more interestingly, the old-school music of Last Resort serves a story set in the present, whereas the highly contemporary, even futuristic, music of Phantom serves a story set way back in Cold War. As a result, in class discussion we can talk about how the approach of sampling the environment serves varied narrative needs, about expectations of genre norms, and about how the composers’ (and directors’) proclivities come into play.

There are mini-documentaries on both Phantom and Last Resort, and they’re worth watching for the parallels and divergences. Here’s the Rona/Phantom:

And here’s the Duncan/Last Resort:

They’re valuable to watch in tandem, great in the classroom as concise encapsulations of the technique.

Now, however, thanks to the well-deserved acclaim for Guonadottir’s work on Chernobyl, by the time next semester of my sound course begins, come February 2020, the students will be all “Oh, like Chernobyl,” when the subject arises of using place as source audio for the creation of music and atmosphere. Of course, I won’t know until class begins where students’ thoughts are, what they’ve collectively and individually taken as the new normal, versus what they see as “gimmick” (skepticism is a common response, and can be a healthy one), versus what they are, in fact, not familiar with. No doubt, though, I’ll show or assign in class something like this interview with Guonadottir, where she talks about working with Chris Watson to capture the sounds of one nuclear reactor in order to tell the story of another, much as Rona and Duncan did with submarines:

At a structural level, this “score” segment of my course usually occurs during the third week, toward the end of the sequence on “Learning to Listen” (it’s a three-part course: weeks four through 10 are “Sounds of Brands,” which is also the title of the course, and weeks 11 through 15 are “Brands of Sounds”). Perhaps I’ll move this part earlier, or perhaps it’ll make sense to move it later. I don’t know yet. Certainly, though, the praise for Guonadottir’s Chernobyl score will encourage other composers to adopt the process, and alert non-specialist newspapers, magazines, and blogs to composers also doing such things. Which is to say, there will almost certainly be even more material (call it the Chernobyl effect) to slot into discussion by next year. It’s a long eight months between now and the next semester. I have time to plan, and to listen.

Just as a side note, because Twitter can be an excellent place if you tweet the Twitter you want and work to avoid the rest, when I first explored these topics on Twitter, I ended up in conversation with Rona himself. Among other things, he described the compositional process as exploratory: “I think with my score, and I’d like to think it’s similarly true with the others, is that the genesis of it is a ‘what if’ process. I had no idea what it would sound like to sample a submarine and use it as the primary ‘instrument’ of a score. And as it happened it worked. That’s not always the case. I took it as a challenge to my process to use the various sounds I could get and somehow come up with a way to make them not only musical, but cover a fairly broad range of emotions.”

Asked if he’s explored approaches that haven’t panned out, he replied, “Literally every score I’ve done begins with an experimental phase with several casualties prior to the one path chosen.” He also drew an interesting connection between the mechanical source audio of Phantom and one of his solo albums: “Certainly the project that showed me a different way to find that musical path on any given project. My solo album Projector is done very similarly to Phantom in that it relies heavily on manipulation of organic sounds – in this case field recordings of the upper Amazon river.”

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Disquiet Junto Project 0390: Pace Quickens

The Assignment: Take an old song (or field recording), and make it faster, and then add something.

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 Monday, June 24, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

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 0390: Pace Quickens
The Assignment: Take an old song (or field recording), and make it faster, and add then something.

Step 1: For this project you’ll be reworking either a field recording or an old piece of your own music. The slower the better, as far as the original recording is concerned. Reading through these instructions first may aid in your selection process.

Step 2: Choose a field recording or and old piece of music of your own. (Define “old” as you like. “Preexistence” is the main factor.)

Step 3: Speed it up considerably (at least by a third, maybe by more).

Step 4: Add one or two new elements that proceed at the piece’s new pace.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0390” (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 “disquiet0390” (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: Post your track in the following discussion thread at llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0390-pace-quickens/

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

Step 6: If posting on social media, please consider using the hashtag #disquietjunto so fellow participants are more likely to locate your communication.

Step 7: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Additional Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is Monday, June 24, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Length: The length is up to you. Shorter is often better.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0390” 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: Consider setting your track as downloadable and allowing for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution, allowing for derivatives).

For context, when posting the track online, please be sure to include this following information:

More on this 390th weekly Disquiet Junto project — Pace Quickens / The Assignment: Take an old song (or field recording), and make it faster, and add then something — at:

https://disquiet.com/0390/

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-0390-pace-quickens/

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

Image associated with this project adapted (cropped, colors changed, text added, cut’n’paste) thanks to a Creative Commons license from a photo credited to Graeme Ellis:

https://flic.kr/p/G74biR

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

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