Granular synthesis lends itself to music that is at once majestic and circumspect. By capturing the tiniest slivers of sound and holding them for extended moments, it puts the listener in a place akin to near stasis: not frozen, but froze-ish. It gives your ears the chance to luxuriate, and contemplate, sound as a surrounding expanse. The mingling of experiences, when implemented well, can balance the breadth of a landscape painting with the focus of a haiku. The new album You Were Away by Stray Wool is well implemented in this regard. Its four tracks — some a leisurely five minutes, others nearly twice that length — take their time, and ours, to explore crevices within piano samples and, presumably, other sources. The results range widely between emotional states. The collection opens (“A1”) with what sounds, at times, like fog horns pushed to the breaking point, and ends with platonic ideal of pastoral ambience (“B2”). For all the slow motion, though, it is not without a sense of humor. The penultimate track, “B1,” begins with a sample of what appears to be an ethnographic researcher interviewing a musician who performs Celtic mouth music: “There are no instruments at all?” we hear her ask in amazement. The piece then moves forward like metal being bent by a powerful force, moaning under the pressure. Depends, apparently, on your definition of “instrument.”
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
• July 28, 2021: This day marks the start of the 500th consecutive weekly project in the Disquiet Junto music community.
• December 13, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
• January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th 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.
• A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the 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.)
• 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.
• 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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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.
• 0499 / Out of the Landscape / The Assignment: Record a piece of music in which a sound emerges from a field recording.
• 0498 / Sonic Entomologist / The Assignment: Create a new hybrid insect from the sound of two different insects.
• 0497 / Benjamin's Glass / The Assignment: Pay tribute to Benjamin Franklin and his armonica
• 0496 / Isolation Room / The Assignment: Create new music around one strand of something you made in the past.
• 0495 / Protip Etude / The Assignment: Share a tip for making music or working with sound, and record a track that employs it.
And there is a complete list of past projects, 499 consecutive weeks to date.
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