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: July 2020

The Music Beneath Music for Airports

The hidden sonic curriculum of a modern classic

Be prepared to turn the volume up loud, very loud, because the sound is quiet, very quiet. The sound is surface noise from a vinyl record, and nothing else beyond that. Specifically, it is the surface noise — in the recording artist’s words, the “isolated crackle and surface noise” — of one of the classics in ambient music: the first track, “1/1,” off Brian Eno’s 1978 album Ambient 1: Music for Airports (“the original vinyl release,” we’re told).

What this is is the ambient beneath the ambient, the hidden sonic curriculum of a modern classic, all almost 17 minutes of it. It’s a piece titled “Vestigial Ambient 1” by the musician Ben Ponton. Listening to the sounds of the album provides not even a just-hovering-above-subaural hint of the source. There are simply clicks, tiny little pops, bits of aural dust, the sonic signature of vinyl, as the needle makes its circular course.

Filling the near void are thoughts about ambient music, its origins in the mid-1970s, and what “silence” meant then, both literally and metaphorically, versus what it does now, more than four full decades hence. I’ve long been of the mind that the arrival of the CD contributed greatly to the rise of ambient music, because the technology provided ready access to a silence that other formats, such as tape and vinyl, couldn’t dependably provide. Eno noted this himself, from a different angle, opting to put Thursday Afternoon out only on CD, so as not to interrupt its 61-minute runtime.

There is ambient music today that is sonically of a piece with the detritus that Ponton has unearthed. Music by Steve Roden and Alva Noto, among others, has aspired to this atmospsheric, pointillist mix of rhythmic precision and ambiguity, generally under the label of “microsound” or “lowercase” music. It’s helpful to remember, however, that when ambient was young, these sounds Ponton has shared were the backdrop. Ambient music eventually brought these sounds to the foreground, as subsequent generations of music explored the artistic potential, but first these sounds had to be relegated to the background.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/ben_ponton. Track found via a repost by Jimmy Kpple.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0448: Seamless Bridge

The Assignment: Create a 20-second piece of music to connect two preexisting 20-second pieces of music.

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, August 3, 2020, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, July 30, 2020.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0448: Seamless Bridge
The Assignment: Create a 20-second piece of music to connect two preexisting 20-second pieces of music.

Major thanks to 20×20’s Neil Stringfellow for proposing this project.

Since January 20, 2020, the 20×20 project has released an album every 20 days. They have just released the 10th album, and so are thus halfway through the series, which will run until February 2021. Each album released contains 20 tracks, and each track is 20 seconds long. To celebrate the halfway point, we’ll be producing the musical equivalent of halfway points: tracks that connect two pre-existing tracks.

Step 1: Select any two tracks from the 20×20 Bandcamp page, either by ear or at random. Each track should be by a different artist in the 20×20 series. One track selected will open the piece and one will close the piece. This is where to find the tracks. They’re downloadable for free.

https://20x20project.bandcamp.com/

Step 2: Consider which of the two tracks you’ve selected in Step 1 should be used at the start (the opening 20 seconds) and which at the end (the final 20 seconds).

Step 3: Create a piece of music that is 60 seconds long. It should have one track at the start (the first 20 seconds) and one at the end (the last 20 seconds).
Create a third original piece of music for the middle section of 20 seconds that acts as a seamless bridge between the two pieces.

Note: The bridge you create between the two pieces you’re using will need to cover at least the middle 20 seconds. However, you can introduce the sounds and elements from your middle piece before the first 20 seconds ends and continue these a bit into the last 20 seconds of the track.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0448” (no spaces or quotation marks) in the name of your tracks.

Step 2: If your audio-hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to also include the project tag “disquiet0448” (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 tracks. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your tracks.

Step 4: Post your tracks in the following discussion thread at llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0448-seamless-bridge/

Step 5: Annotate your tracks 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, August 3, 2020, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, July 30, 2020.

Length: The finished piece should be 60 seconds long.

Title/Tag: When posting your tracks, please include “disquiet0448” in the title of the tracks, and where applicable (on SoundCloud, for example) as a tag.

Upload: When participating in this project, 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: It is always best to set 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 448th weekly Disquiet Junto project, Seamless Bridge (The Assignment: Create a 20-second piece of music to connect two preexisting 20-second pieces of music), at:

https://disquiet.com/0448/

Major thanks to 20×20’s Neil Stringfellow for proposing this project. More on 20×20 at:

https://20x20project.bandcamp.com/

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here:

https://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0448-seamless-bridge/

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

The image background for this project is the logo design for the 20×20 series. The logo is by David Barrington.

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An Elegy for the Foghorn

By scholar Jennifer Lucy Allan

Jennifer Lucy Allan recently completed a PhD focused on the social and cultural history of the foghorn. A new BBC Radio 4 piece this week gives us glimpses into both what she’s learned along the way, and how she learned it. “Life, Death and the Foghorn” take us through the real life consequences of fog, as well as the poetry the horns inspire, how a generation raised in the horns’ growing absence copes with their faded glory, and how a composer can employ them as an instrument.

A lot is packed into the half hour, and we’re left with the clear impression there is far more in store. I’m hopeful Allan’s dissertation will make it to book form. One highlight of the BBC broadcast is hearing her converse with a former seaman who can’t quite comprehend the nostalgia and affection that we landlubbers associate with the foghorns. To him, they are an indelible reminder of the majority of his nearest career-ending (and, one imagines, life-threatening) experiences at sea.

Listen at bbc.co.uk. The piece was uploaded yesterday, Tuesday, June 28. It’s unclear for how long it will be available in streaming form. If the foghorns have taught us anything, it’s that nothing lasts forever. More from Allan at jenniferlucyallan.co.uk.

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Tennis for the Blind

Thanks to the imagination of Håkan Lidbo

The always inventive Håkan Lidbo has conjured up a proposed tennis “game concept” for the blind and vision-impaired. The game, called Invisiball (note the double l), is played in a highly prepared physical space, one in which sounds simulate the presence of a physical ball. That is, the sounds don’t help locate a ball in physical space. The sounds are the ball, simulating travel within three-dimensional space.

Lidbo explains in detail:

InvisiBall is a game concept for two persons. It’s a game played in a dark room, on a court with loudspeakers in the 4 corners, blindfolded or by blind people. The ball is represented by a tone, mimicking earthly gravity. If the racket, that plays a tone depending on it’s position in height, hit the ball at the right pitch, depth and left/right-orientation, it will fly back to the other player. The referee is a musical robot voice that also keep track of the score – and the whole game is built around music that change with the score between the players. With some training the players can serve, return, smash or lob the “ball” – and even bounce it on the ground. As the ball is invisible the game has a 3d visual interface for the audience. The game serves a training tool for those who have to adapt to a life without eye sight, due to illness or accident – and for us who can see, better understanding the challenges and possibilities of training our hearing sense.

Sound and sports are on people’s minds right now due to the attempts by various professional leagues, including Major League Baseball, to provide some verisimilutude of live, in-person events when the pandemic has required severe restrictions. Baseball is going cross-platform by employing sounds from an official, long-running video game series, MLB The Show. (The game’s title is interesting in this context, suggesting an awareness that baseball is, in fact, a show, long before it was, aside from some cardboard cut-out audience members, only a show.) A player on the Milwaukee Brewers has commented that “pure silence was tough for some guys” before sounds were added.

In Lidbo’s Invisiball, however, sound isn’t merely a backdrop that serves a utility purpose. Sound is the game, the framing conceit, the underlying structure, and the focus of the players’ attention. Lidbo collaborated with Magnus Frenning and Jonatan Liljedahl, who developed and programmed Invisiball, and by “young blind swedes.” It was supported by the PTS Innovation Prize (which aims “to promote digital inclusion”).

Video published to Lidbo’s YouTube channel. More from him and about Invisiball at hakanlidbo.com. Last month I wrote about his “hat for social distancing.”

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The Wall Behind My Synthesizer

Or an atlas of my brain?

There’s heaps more old paperbacks on other shelves: Le Guin, Heinlein, Egan, Bear, Butler, Disch, (Spider) Robinson, Vonnegut.

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