The pure sonic foam of this Ambalek video, “The Hidden Path,” can, like much great quiet music, appear unassuming at first. Dispense, please, with the sense as a listener that something this quiet must be played quiet, as if there is some cultural balance to be maintained, to be adhered to. Turn it up. Turn it up, and immerse yourself in the shifting strata of sound, the cloud formations and serene textures that play atop, alongside, and against each other. And if you’re interested in the process, be sure to scroll down on the video’s page, where Ambalek goes into detail on the tools and techniques employed.
February, July, September, and December were my favorite months this year. Not this year meaning this year, but this year as memorialized in a dozen tracks, one for each month, on Philadelphia producer Nex Millen’s 2020 HindSight Millennium Beat EP. From tightly clasped hi-hats to loungey keys, jittery atmospheres to nearly subaural bass line melodies, refracted guitar samples to vocal playfulness, stereo hijinks to ratatatat percussion, those four tracks are among the album’s moodiest. Each, presumably, map’s Millen’s state of mind over the course of 2020’s countless horrors. Now his instrumental hip-hop is something to relax to, to recuperate to. There’s much more to 2020 HindSight than just those four tracks, but they’re the ones helping me make it through the last few weeks of the year.
“A Vessel in the Fog” was the title of a live video that Orbitalpatterns, the Michigan-based synthesizer musician, posted back in July on his YouTube channel. Shortly after its initial release, I praised how its textures “twist and turn like clouds of smoke, turning in the air before vaporizing and being replaced by something else, something similar and yet apart.” That track now is one of seven that comprise Bitter Magicians, a fine album of exploratory compositions. Many of the pieces evolve considerably as they advance. Take how “The Magicians Notebook” moves from wispy and hesitant to something denser, more full-throated, or how the singsong sway of “Demi-Gods Ramble” gets more orchestral as it presses on. Which isn’t to say, as an atmosphere-minded musician, Orbitalpatterns (aka Abdul Allums) shys away from the sublime. If anything, the final track, a warpy treat titled “That Last Mile Will Go On Forever,” is engulfed by its own echoes by the time it slurs to a close. Bitter Magicians is a tremendous collection throughout.
A weekly(ish) answer to the question “What have you been listening to lately?” It’s lightly annotated because I don’t like re-posting material without providing some context. I hope to write more about some of these in the future, but didn’t want to delay sharing them. (This weekly feature was previously titled Current Listens. The name’s been updated for clarity’s sake.)
▰ TA2MI’s Kanchi | Complete Cure explores downtempo, instrumental hip-hop with a freshness that will not just appeal to but even push the comfort level of DJ Krush fans, the samples all the noisier, the beats all the more broken. TA2MI is Tatsumi Akinobu, based in Yatsushiro, Japan.
▰ Simon Farintosh adapts various works for classical guitar, including music by Aphex Twin. Here’s a gorgeous, romantic take on “Flim,” off the latter’s Come to Daddy. Farintosh, who was born the year after the release of Selected Ambient Works Volume II, lives in British Columbia.
I do this manually each week, collating the tweets I made at twitter.com/disquiet of which I want to keep track. For the most part, this means ones I initiated, not ones in which I directly responded to someone.
▰ I was listening to a movie score (all instrumental) and noticed it was labeled E (meaning Explicit in music, unlike in video games, where it means Everyone, which yes is very confusing). Why E? Because one of album’s 14 tracks had a four-letter obscenity (the F one) in the title. There are edited versions of songs and albums available in a variety of genres, where the sung/spoken obscenities are bleeped or replaced. But far as I can tell, this instrumental album exists only as E(xplicit), and all due to this one word in a track title.
▰ “It is possible that some 8,000 years ago, in this acoustically resonant haven, people not only hid from passing coastal thunderstorms, they may have used this place to commune with their dead — using music.” The exploration of sound in archeology: sapiens.org. Also: “New technological developments can also bolster a music archaeologist’s case as to whether an object produced sound: Repeated use leaves tell-tale signs on the objects, microscopic friction marks that hum their history.” (via Lucas Gonze)
▰ The computer’s dictionary recognizes the brand names of most of the products in the pantry, but not the word “soundscape.” This truly is David Foster Wallace’s world, and we’re just living in it.
▰ “A Fifth of Beethoven” on the composer’s 250th birthday. This 1976 hit was, for many of us, an entry point into classical music, up there with John Williams’ score to the first Star Wars movie the following spring.
▰ I have no idea what NaN degrees is, but apparently my phone has finally acknowledged that it doesn’t understand San Francisco weather.
Actually, I do know. It’s NaN as in “not a number,” and not as in cloudy with a chance of flatbread (which would also require and extra a).
▰ The New York Times’ Electoral College map apparently reimagined democracy in light of Conway’s Game of Life. Despite concerns, faithless cellular automata failed to materialize, and the system has been confirmed Turing complete (and, as a side note, outdated).
▰ I’m used to hitting forward 8 or 9 times each episode of Star Trek: Discovery, to bypass the opening credits, but I hung around this week for the mirror-universe sequence. Reminded me, of course, of those Fringe alternate-universe episodes and how they had alternate opening credits (blood red for several seasons, then concrete grey later). Fringe also used different music (notably for a flashback ’80s episode, which had its own credits).
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
Upcoming • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com. • January 6, 2023: This day marked the 11th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
Recent • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier). • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly (aaassembly.org) at Gray Area (grayarea.org). • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation. • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community. • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community. • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the 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.)
Background 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.