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

This Week in Sound: Silent Ride-sharing + Radio Games + …

A lightly annotated clipping service

Dead Media: In a widely circulated story that within days launched lawsuits, Jody Rosen in the New York Times looked back at a 2008 fire whose cultural toll is yet to be fully comprehended. Every few weeks there’s a new bit of history that clarifies for a younger generation (and reminds an older, nostalgic generation) that the pre-streaming record industry didn’t always have musicians’ best interests at heart. It may be a while before an article tops this one in that regard.

Bring the Noise (App): There’s a lot of talk about noise online, but Apple is being literal with a new health-conscious app named Noise, designed to let those with Apple Watches remain alert to sounds above a certain decibel level. How the app can tell such sounds from cuffs rubbing against the device is yet to be seen. The question is also how effective such a thing will be, and whether it’s really a gimmick designed to spur sales in response to a moral panic about sound. “I think that they’re trying to appease the public,” Larry Rosen, a California State University, Dominguez Hills, psychologist, is quoted in the article below. There’s, in addition, a question of how such an app balances against the very same industry putting speakers everywhere from our ears to our wrists to our kitchen counters. Perhaps a more useful app would be named Off.

Single Girl: Miki Berenyi of the band Lush and, more recently, Piroshka penned a detailed essay, utterly bereft of glamor, on the ins and outs, the triumphs and deeply felt antagonisms, of being part of a creative ensemble. (h/t Michael Siou)

Mute Point: As if there were any doubt that so-called ride-sharing services are built on and even exacerbating class divisions, Uber is now testing a tool that allows customers to inform their drivers, with the push of a button, of their desire that the driver cease speaking: “Uber claims it is responding to concerns from customers that drivers will give them low star ratings if they don’t want to chat; drivers meanwhile often fear entering into conversations with passengers for the same reason.”

Background Beat: You may get an ad-free experience if you pay for Spotify, but it doesn’t mean advertisers aren’t benefiting from what Spotify learns about you. Liz Pelly breaks down the process in a Baffler piece. Todd L. Burns, praising Pelly’s article in his Crambe Repetita email newsletter, focused on a particularly rich paragraph: “Jorge Espinel, who was Head of Global Business Development at Spotify for five years, once said in an interview: ‘We love to be a background experience. You’re competing for consumer attention. Everyone is fighting for the foreground. We have the ability to fight for the background. And really no one is there. You’re doing your email, you’re doing your social network, etcetera.’ In other words, it is in advertisers’ best interests that Spotify stays a background experience.”

Make Not: Maker Media, home to Make Magazine and the Maker Faire, has, reports say, essentially been shuttered. It’s a huge loss to the DIY world, though it’s also worth noting how much of what Make has accomplished will live on in the efforts of those it has inspired in its 15-year run. I moderated a panel at the very first Maker Faire, back in 2006, about homemade and circuit-bent musical instruments. It featured Krystyna Bobrowski, Chachi Jones (aka Donald Bell), and Univac. An audio recording appears at archive.org.

Sound Salvation: Alt-Frequencies is a smart new video game that takes turning the dial as a form of maneuvering truths: “And while it may play with an old-fashioned radio gimmick, each station essentially represents a Facebook group or a curated Twitter list. These channels essentially give the audience what it wants rather than what it needs, all while a populace is increasingly at one another’s throats.” (h/t Simon Carless’ Video Game Deep Cuts email newsletter)

The Hustle: “On July 12th 1979 disco records were destroyed as part of the in-match entertainment. It has come to be seen as an appalling act of prejudice,” per The Economist. Despite which, the Chicago White Sox just celebrated its anniversary with t-shirts emblazoned “Disco Demolition – the night records were broken.”

This is lightly adapted from an edition first published in the June 16, 2019, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • 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

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  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

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