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: December 2019

Broken Media and Entering the Past

Two reminders of technology's mediation

Two blasts from the media past in one day: a CD and a dongle.

(1) I purchased a CD of the score to Breaking and Entering, the Anthony Minghella film, on eBay because the music isn’t on Google Play Music (which I subscribe to), or on Spotify, or on any equivalent I’ve found. I’m a big admirer of Underworld and of Gabriel Yared (all the way back to Betty Blue), and after listening to rips of the Breaking and Entering tracks on YouTube I wanted to be able to listen to it in full. This is from 2006, the year before Underworld scored Sunshine for Danny Boyle, who a decade earlier had helped inculcate them into the vocabulary of film with Trainspotting (true, “Cowgirl” was in Hackers the year prior).

The Breaking and Entering CD arrived still wrapped in its original prophylactic cellophane, affixed with a price tag of nearly $14, or more than twice what I had paid, including shipping, to some semi-anonymous eBay “store” (aka someone with a packed closet or garage across the country from me).

The CD came with a 12-page booklet containing a lengthy essay by Minghella about the role of music in his creative process (it opens: “I find it very difficult to write the screenplay for a film I’m directing until I can hear what the film might sound like”), and about how he brought Underworld together with Yared, much as earlier Minghella films had led to other pairings for Yared (with trumpeter Guy Barker for The Talented Mister Ripley and T-Bone Burnett for Cold Mountain, not to mention the role Marta Sebestyen’s voice played in The English Patient).

Were Breaking and Entering on a streaming service, none of this material would likely have been present (the essay’s length would push the norms even of Bandcamp), nor the detailed credits, including an attribution to Martin Cantwell for “Atmospheres,” which I’m a bit desperate to know more about. Currently Google has all of seven returns in a search for “‘Martin Cantwell’ atmospheres ‘breaking and entering'” and it will have eight as soon as I hit publish on this post. (There are more returns for a random subtitle from a TV show I mentioned in my previous post.)

If the universal-jukebox promise of streaming services and Google searches had already failed me, trying to rip the CD to my computer’s hard drive was another reminder of the gaps that technology inserts into our knowledge. A service did manage to populate the tracks’ titles, but in the process listed Underworld as “artists” and Yared as “composer,” which has no basis in reality, as Minghella himself recounted. He joked they became a fully collaborative trio: “Undergab” or “YaredWorld.”

(2) The other item is a little converter dongle that will let my jack-less mobile phone (currently an Android Pixel 2 XL, though users of iPhones and other devices know the same pain) use cabled headphones. “Cabled headphones” is a retronym, in light of the rise of the Bluetooth variety. Bluetooth has its uses, but the fact is that at some point during a long day, my earbuds’ batteries are likely to run out. Also, I have a really nice pair of cabled headphones at home.

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[investigatory synth music]

The joy of non-diegetic subtitles

This is a screenshot from the third episode of the fourth and current season of The Expanse. That’s Amos, one of the series’ main characters, with his back to the screen, surveying the wreckage of a spacecraft that came hurtling down to this questionably habitable planet at the opening of episode one. We already know something is amiss, and if you’ve read Cibola Burn, the book on which this season is largely based, you know the anger and heartbreak yet to come.

As is often the case, mere note symbols aren’t used in the subtitles to signal what the score, by Clinton Shorter (District 9, Colony), is offering up in terms of emotion and narrative. Here, even the standard “[moody music]” apparently wouldn’t do. At some point along the production Gantt chart, someone wrote and presumably someone else approved a description, “[investigatory synth music],” that is so literal (the characters are, indeed, investigating, and the music is, indeed, quite evidently performed on synthesizers) that it transcends its own literalness and suggests a whole new genre. (One that would retroactively include, for example, the entire run of The X-Files.)

The moment also reminded me of a comment by one of the two writers who, under the shared pseudonym James S.A. Corey, write the Expanse books and collaborate on their translation from page to screen. This is Ty Franck speaking, and the Daniel is Daniel Abraham, Franck’s co-author: “I know Daniel had a real epiphany when he realized that all the prose tricks to convey the emotional state of a scene could be replaced with a good musical score. And I love finding ways to lay a scene out for the camera instead of a reader. Cameras are very literal. It’s a completely different way to think of story.”

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23 Years of Disquiet.com

Remembering blogging before blogs

Even if you don’t have a lot of time, it’s good to take a moment, at least, to note an anniversary. Twenty three years ago today, December 13, I bought the URL for Disquiet.com. It was the winter of 1996. I had recently moved to San Francisco from Sacramento, where for the previous seven years I’d worked at Tower Records on their magazines. Initially that was Pulse!, and then Classical Pulse!, which I co-founded with my friend Bob Levine, and then in 1994, as the World Wide Web (capitalized thusly) was beginning to happen, a weekly email newsletter I founded called, naturally, epulse, which ran more or less weekly for a decade.

I’d moved to Sacramento from Brooklyn in 1989, a little under a year after graduating from college. Moving, years later, to San Francisco was disorienting, and it took a few weeks, maybe even a few months, for me to realize what was disorienting about it: I’d benefited for a long time, at that point, in having a music publication as part of what I might call my identity, my self-identity. Suddenly I didn’t have such a thing, and the only solution I could come up with was to create my own, and that was Disquiet.com.

This all got started about three years before the word “blog” formally entered the vocabulary (2019 marks the word’s 20th anniversary). Initially I was just reposting to Disquiet.com things I published elsewhere, like Pulse!, which I continued to write for right up until Tower went bankrupt. In time, though, I started writing things directly for Disquiet.com. At some point along the way my always insightful friend Jorge Colombo suggested I add dates to my posts (again, this was before blogs normalized and codified such things).

From 1996 until 2007, the whole site was hand-coded by me in HTML, even the index pages and the RSS feed. In 2007 I paid someone (Nathan Swartz) to translate it all into a WordPress site, and then a few years after that someone else (my friend Max La Rivière-Hedrick) did a beautiful revision of the WordPress theme so the site would be as readable on mobile phones as it was on a computer screen.

Each year on December 13, if I have the time, I write a brief summary of my memories of founding Disquiet.com. I don’t re-read previous such summaries while doing this writing; I just write it again from scratch. If it’s cut’n’paste, it isn’t a memory.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0415: Seasonal Metal

The Assignment: Tinsel is your latest instrument.

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, December 16, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, December 12, 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 0415: Seasonal Metal
The Assignment: Tinsel is your latest instrument.

There is just one step this week: Make a piece of music that explores tinsel for its sonic properties.

Of course, feel free to interpret this as literally or figuratively as you desire.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0415” (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 “disquiet0415” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation of 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-0415-seasonal-metal/

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, December 16, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, December 12, 2019.

Length: The length is up to you.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0415” 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 415th weekly Disquiet Junto project — Seasonal Metal / The Assignment: Tinsel is your latest instrument.:

https://disquiet.com/0415/

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-0415-seasonal-metal/

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

The image associated with this track is by Stuart Rankin, and is used (image cropped, text added) via Flickr thanks to a Creative Commons license:

https://flic.kr/p/iGd3e4

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

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Disquiet Junto Project 0414: Mod Cons

The Assignment: Compose one or more sounds for an appliance/device/gadget of your own choosing.

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, December 9, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, December 5, 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 0414: Mod Cons
The Assignment: Compose one or more sounds for an appliance/device/gadget of your own choosing.

Thanks to Junto member Iain Holmes for having proposed this project.

Step 1. You’re going to create sound for an appliance. Choose the appliance. Maybe it’s something you own, maybe something you don’t, maybe something that doesn’t exist and you made up. A washer, a game console, a microwave, an electric skateboard, a jetpack, whatever you’d like.

Step 2. Decide what sound or sounds you’re going to compose. Maybe it’s the start-up tone, or an alert, or maybe you want to come up with a whole suite of related sounds.

Step 3. Consider the environment in which the device from Step 1 is employed.

Step 4. Compose one or more sounds for the device you decided upon in Step 1, taking into consideration the context of Step 2.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0414” (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 “disquiet0414” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation of 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-0414-mod-cons/

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, December 9, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, December 5, 2019.

Length: The length is up to you.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0414” 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 414th weekly Disquiet Junto project — Mod Cons / The Assignment: Compose one or more sounds for an appliance/device/gadget of your own choosing:

https://disquiet.com/0414/

Thanks to Junto member Iain Holmes for having proposed this project.

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-0414-mod-cons/

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

The image associated with this track is by Dan Machold, and is used (image cropped, text added) via Flickr thanks to a Creative Commons license:

https://flic.kr/p/9BsKBb

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

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