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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

A Certain Type of Ambient YouTube Performance

Also: I have a hard time listening to music I have a hard time listening to.

A bit more about how that YouTube playlist I’ve been doing of fine live ambient music performances originated:

It started with me trying to watch tutorials of music tech I was interested in, and the music in such tutorial videos being often not to my liking. I have a hard time listening to music I have a hard time listening to. Time and again, I’d see someone in concert use a piece of equipment, or discuss it in a BBS, and then I’d want to learn more. And then I’d find I’d need to listen through unbearable music in the tutorial to try to get to the technique, to the technology, to the instrument.

Over time, tutorial videos began to surface that I didn’t find hard to listen to. I also got better (somewhat) at dealing with the music in most tutorial videos. In the process, I came to notice a subset of performance videos that while not tutorials still shed light on process. Those videos all had something specific in common: while listening to this ambient music being performed, you got glimpses, and sometimes a full-frontal view, of the performance itself. Even with super quiet, near-static sound, the eye and ear correlated action and result. As of today, there are 203 videos in the playlist.


I remember during college watching a VHS tape of a King Crimson concert. Every time Robert Fripp, the band’s leader and guitarist, performed a solo, the video went psychedelic, obscuring the performance, the director clearly having no sense of what the audience was interested in. That stuck with me. These ambient videos are the opposite. In the videos I’ve focused my attention on, the image is more than decoration, more than a narrative or abstract decoration for (or complement to) the given track. Instead, the video was the music, was in sync with the music. This was valuable to me: informative and heartening (good combo).

By no means am I suggesting performance videos are a higher plane of music activity, for obvious reasons, among them:

  1. There’s a big audience for the music that many tutorials use. (I’m just not part of that audience.)

  2. Video needn’t document technique. (I’m just focused on the ones that do.)

  3. The studio is itself an instrument. (Live sets aren’t the be-all and end-all.)

The music I’m talking about, ambient music, tends to embrace and explore stasis. Watching video of stasis in action (yeah, stasis in action) is itself a form of exploration, providing a rough map to elusive territory, a loose timeline to something that aspires to timelessness.

Anyhow, it was a slow process, coming to this playlist — it originated with a disgruntled disinterest in one sort of cultural activity, which led to awareness of another sort. Even when I first started noting these live performance videos of ambient music, I didn’t fully sense the commonality.

I also admit it was also an act of encouragement, collating such a video playlist. If I made such a thing, maybe more people would make such videos.

The playlist is at youtube.com/disquiet.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • 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

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