Both the album title, Microphone Permission, and the title of its lead track, “Forever Listening,” get at Jasmine Guffond’s interest in surveillance culture. The former is something we grant devices and apps without giving the decision, such as it is, much thought. The latter describes the state of tools, such as smart speakers, we allow so that they can seem to anticipate our needs. These concepts feed, in “Forever Listening,” a droning piece lace with muffled voices and occasionally riddled with something like a shot from a video game.
An accompanying video, by Ilan Katin, uses what appears to be dated footage from a security camera from a store to make its point: we’re being watched at the most mundane moments. If this tense area of study suggests a sense of alarm, Guffond meets that with the sound of one just before the track comes to a quietly vibrating close.
Yow, what a showing in the latest Disquiet Junto. Each of these is one person creating a duet based on another person’s solo track. The number is more like 104, due to two tracks not on SoundCloud plus another two added later in the day. And that is, indeed, over five hours of music. This is from the 430th consecutive weekly Disquiet Junto project: Solitary Ensembles x 2. (To be clear, this was an unusual Junto project, in that people were invited to produce up to three tracks, but it’s still a lot of collaboration.)
Two observations: First, YouTube definitely doesn’t count repeat plays by individual accounts in its “views” for a video, because this archived live stream from the musician Junklight (aka Mark John Williamson) was on repeat here all day, filling the home office from before work on to after, and it’s still registering under 20 plays, despite being not even 10 minutes in length. Second, if there’s a piece of seemingly quiet but actually quite layered and bountiful music that can run all day, at varying volumes, and serve both as not just background music but domestic sound design and, when turned up, as it is now that the day has begun to close, as something to dive into and study, then it is the very definition of ambient: loops of granular synthesis played like a futuristic pipe organ.
There’s a scene, as my friend Westy Reflector reminded me via email recently, in many zombie films, among other tales of life after a dire change, when the story flashes back to “the days right before” — how, as he put it well, “all the signs are apparent in retrospect.” Those days before for me are the ones I spent in New York at the very end of February. The Disquiet Junto was due for a get-together, something I try to arrange when I travel, and a very small crew of us gathered on that frigid Friday night at a bar in Brooklyn, right across the bridge from where I was staying in Lower Manhattan. The place was virtually empty, as the restaurant in the hotel had been the prior afternoon for lunch, and as had been the flight from San Francisco, and as would be the train I’d take out to Long Island the next morning. We spent the evening talking about ancient synthesizers, and cover versions, and online collaboration, and musical mentors, and many other topics, including escape plans, and at the end of the night we headed over to pay up. Across from the cash register was this pinball machine. It stood there, humorously ominous in its bright silence. I’ll always associate it with the night before.
Like a lab rat accessorized by scientists with some sort of mind-machine alpha-stage, pre-release technology graft, this humble, generic, ubiquitous model of doorbell has been raised to the ranks of high security thanks to the unlikely pairing of a digital touch pad. The pad comes with a sentience- and surveillance-suggesting red light. There are two other spots to its left where additional lights may appear, or maybe they are slots for cameras. Perhaps if you know the entry code, you’re aware of their purpose. Or perhaps that bit of knowledge is reserved for yet a higher tier still of security clearance.
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
• February 5, 2020: The first session of the 15-week course I teach at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape.
• April 15, 2020: A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming 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.)
• December 13, 2020: This day marks the 24th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2021: This day marks the 9th 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.
• At least two live group concerts by Disquiet Junto members in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the works for 2020.
• I have liner notes for a musician's solo album and an essay in a book about an art event due out. I'll announce as the release dates come into focus.
• 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.
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.