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: February 2020

Where Industrial and Ambient Meet

And ambient takes control

There are spaces where industrial music and ambient meet. One such space exists where the drone of archaic, mechanized activity joins up with a concern less for the routinization of modern life, and more for the machinery itself. It’s less about, perhaps, the metronomic pulse of life, and instead more about the underlying hum of activity. Beats go by the wayside as an aesthetic affection for rust, for the texture of a grinding gear, for the serrated whir of equipment takes control. This is the industrial ambient of the first side of Session One, the album a pair of lengthy tracks (17 and nearly 13 minutes each) by Ariana van Gelder and Ars Troitski. Presumably Session One isn’t a split single — that, instead, the two musicians are acting in tandem, or at least trading files toward a singular, collaborative whole. The first side is a rich, slowly evolving soundfield, through which various airborne irritants make their conflicting paths, leading to a whorl of action in what might seems, on first listen, to be a portrait of stasis. The flip side (neither has a name, save “side a” and “side b”) is where a more familiar rendering of industrial rears its gearhead. After a slow build, it is all heavy klang, though even here the klang is still more about volume and power than about tempo. Gorgeous stuff.

Album originally posted at pomusic.bandcamp.com. P.O. is a record label based in Moscow, Russia. More from Ariana van Gelder at arianavangelder.com (I didn’t locate a link for Ars Troitski).

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Listened to While Listening

The annals of music publicity

I receive three PR emails for music recordings. Which of these would I be least likely to check out?

  1. A link to an audio stream.

  2. A downloadable press kit with audio files.

  3. A link that first alerts me that my email and IP address will be saved, processed, and forwarded to the “product owner.”

Understand that there are days when I get hundreds of such emails.

For the record, it’s #3: I see no need to grant approval for email and IP address alignment and tracking simply to listen to an advance recording. (Even if it is one of my favorite musicians — and experience has shown that in such rare cases, an email request from me will allow me to bypass the digital protections because, ultimately, the publicist is glad to have found someone interested.)

Once upon a time, bushels of CDs arrived, at great expense, the cost put on the artist, onerously and not always transparently. Now, today, when sending a digital file costs virtually nothing, there is, in some PR corners, a need perceived to track the personal information of the listener. Or, in the best of circumstances, an anonymized data cluster showing generalized habits.

I suppose that this way the PR agency can report data back to the artist, but the data doesn’t register the varied interest of people who simply opt out because such tracking is just an even more invasive branch of DRM (digital rights management, the thing you don’t have to concern yourself with if you download music from Bandcamp or SoundCloud).

The resulting data doesn’t even matter because PR doesn’t exist to tell artists whether or not (anonymous?) individuals are listening to the work. The PR exists to help the musicians get the word out. Anything to the contrary is specious at best, and counterproductive at worst. One needn’t be listened to while listening.

If as a recipient of such PR requests, you refuse such tracking, you get a word sent back the other direction: These practices are invasive and unnecessary. I’d rather wait until the music is out and be, heaven forbid, “late.” And the fact is, there’s plenty (vastly more) to listen to that isn’t secreted behind a veil of invasive protection. That’s where I’ll spend my listening time.

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This Week in Sound: Bracelet of Silence + …

A lightly annotated clipping service

This is lightly adapted from an edition first published in the February 17, 2020, issue of the free Disquiet.com weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet).

As always, if you find sonic news of interest, please share it with me, and (except with the most widespread of news items) I’ll credit you should I mention it here.

“I know the microphone is constantly on,” said one computer scientist to the other. They are spouses, and the microphone in question was in their home. So while much of society routinely accepts domestic surveillance as the price of convenience, Ben Zhao and Heather Zheng set out to find a solution, and in the process developed a “bracelet of silence” (much tidier than the old Get Smart cone), though still somewhat clunky, like the severed arm of a robot octopus. “[T]he bracelet has 24 speakers that emit ultrasonic signals when the wearer turns it on. The sound is imperceptible to most ears, with the possible exception of young people and dogs, but nearby microphones will detect the high-frequency sound instead of other noises.”

“A new kind of red light is going viral — one that stays red as long as drivers keep honking their horns.” If you follow the noise-pollution beat, you know that no English-language reporting amasses more coverage than that originating in India. Mumbai has taken a highly tactical approach to the problem: “The police hooked a decibel meter to the signal and said if the decibel level went over 85, the red light would get longer.” (Factoid side note: “Mumbai and Manhattan don’t even crack the top five noisiest cities, according to the World Hearing Index: ‘Guangzhou, China, ranked as having the worst levels of noise pollution in the world, followed by Cairo, Paris, Beijing and Delhi.'”)

“Square’s acquisition of Dessa comes after the financial tech company snatched up Eloquent Labs, a conversational AI services business founded by two leading natural language processing researchers.” AI startups are sometimes described as technologies in search of solutions. The company Dessa, born DeepLearni.ng, specializes in deepfakes, both visual and audio, and has been acquired by Square, the financial technology company led by Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey.

“Google has started adding an incredibly error-prone automatic punctuation feature to its voice typing input method that can’t be turned off, and it’s driving. People. Nuts.” If you’ve ever tried to insert punctuation with voice technology, you know the drill. Google has tried out a solution, but it’s. Causing. More problems. Than perhaps were. Expected.

“For X-Files fans and nerdy boys n’ girls who’ve crushed on Anderson for decades, it might all be too much.” Gillian Anderson has recorded ASMR to promote her new comedy, Sex Education.

“A telescope in Canada has found a source of mysterious fast radio bursts that repeat every 16 days, according to a new paper. It’s the first regularly repeating fast radio burst known to science.” The signal’s origin is reportedly about half a billion light-years away from Earth, so you have time to re-read Childhood’s End.

“Your personality’s central organ is your voice”: That’s one of numerous sentences that volunteers must repeat as part of a Northeastern University project to “donate their voices” for use by others who lack their own voices: “For someone who has never been able to speak due to conditions like cerebral palsy or severe autism, VocaliD can blend a donated voice with the nonverbal sounds from a recipient to create a personalized voice that represents what that person would sound like if she could speak.”

When the Oscars were being broadcast last weekend, I didn’t pay a lot of attention. I was cooking dinner. When someone called out the nominees for a given category, I’d take an educated guess as to who might win. That’s how the Oscar game is played. But when it came time for the best composer, I said I would guess not who I thought would win, but who I wanted to win: Hildur Guonadottir. Then her name was announced (for Joker), and I screeched loud enough to alarm the neighbors. She was the first woman to win in nearly a quarter century. Last year was a blockbuster for Guonadottir, who also did the music for the HBO series Chernobyl. (Forgive me for not including the accent marks, but at the moment the third letter in Guonadottir breaks my website’s content management system. I’ve been looking into it.)

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The Music of Tentacle

By novelist (and musician) Rita Indiana

Finally, this afternoon, finished reaching the short but dense and complex novel Tentacle by Rita Indiana (originally La mucama de Omicunlé), in a translation by Achy Obejas. I started it just over a month ago, and it’s the sort of book you read two chapters at a time, let them sink in, and then read some more.

Indiana is also a musician, and it shows on the page. There isn’t a heap of music in the book — there’s more contemporary art in this dystopian future — but when Indiana employs music in her story, as she does toward the novel’s end for a climactic party sequence, she locates a vibrant kinship between hybridized popular culture and the book’s more trenchant themes: Santeria, gender fluidity, and ecological collapse.

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How We Listen

And the failed promise of files

How we listen to music in 2020 differs significantly from how it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. And it differs from how we’ll listen in the future, doubtlessly. Over at an online, public discussion board where I regularly participate, someone introduced a conversation about how we listen right now. My initial sense was I listen on varied services today, whereas during the distant past of relative youth my listening was more unified. Then I began to do some forensics — that is, I thought before I typed my contribution to the discussion — and what I found differed from what I expected:

The Past: When I was growing up, I listened through four main ways: (1) the AM/FM radio in my bedroom, (2) the boombox cassette player (later with an LP player hooked into it) in my bedroom, (3) my parents’ LP/cassette player in the living room, and (4) MTV on the living room television. (Eventually a cassette Walkman and a CD player joined the mix. And later on: a CD Walkman.)

The Present: I set down that list to contrast it with the present. By definition, the present is more in flux than the past. These days, I note, it’s easier to categorize my listening habit by technology than by location. Someone replied in that same discussion that the transition “from place-based listening to product-based listening” is worth reflecting on. I agreed: I think the phone and the laptop are my main sources of distancing from music listening in this regard. Locations have disappeared because there is no spatial distinction. Sitting in the living room without either my phone or my laptop is a luxury I rarely take up — outside the house, even less so. By way of example, I typed my part of that chat on my phone as I walked to the barbershop. (For further example, three people at the barbershop were playing some racing game together on their own phones, as if the barbershop were their living room.) In any case, what follows is where my listening habit stands in mid-February 2020. It may change. It will. And I do need to treat my living room more like a cultural Faraday cage.

Laptop: Browser (SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube, etc.), plus a desktop Google Play Music (GPM gets me ad-free YouTube) application, plus an endless array of files that I have long since failed to keep organized. I play the files in VLC. (I would like something less clunky looking than VLC.) And there’s a CD player hooked up to my laptop, though I use it less to listen directly than to rip files (FLAC, thanks for asking) that I then listen to.

Phone: Same as laptop, minus the files (and less frequent SoundCloud).

iPad: Same as phone. (I have also gotten into setting up wholly unoriginal, very simple generative stuff that I think of as the semi-intentional releases of the software developers, but that’s a side topic.)

Other: Stereo in living room (LP, CD, cassette — though the cassette player is unplugged at the moment due to spatial constraints).

Notable Absence: I don’t really listen to podcasts. This may or may not relate to the fact that I don’t really listen to much music with words/voices in it. I do listen to a lot of audiobooks.

The Future: I am fine listening in lots of different places and formats. To be clear: I’m not really in any major way disappointed in my listening habits. The primary corrective fixation I have is the failed promise of digital files. I have a ton, and do not revisit them the way I do other formats. I want to have a better handle on my file-based listening. I’ve been on the hunt for a good cross-platform (iOS, Android, Windows in my current case, though it’ll inevitably change) options. I sometimes think a standalone portable device is a good idea for me. The MP3 player, once ubiquitous, is now such an antiquated concept that when I ponder it, my brain translates it into “a Kindle for music.” (I don’t have a Kindle. I’m waiting for when the Paperwhite gets the inevitable upgrade to adjustable warm light.) That said, I don’t really want to carry one more thing.

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