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.
▰ The Turkish musician Büşra Kayıkçı is the latest musician featured in the excellent Project XII series from Deutsche Grammophon. Her new single, “Bring the Light,” is a propulsive, athletic take on Philip Glass’ arpeggio-heavy minimalism. Listen for how she carves out space for individual notes amid the flurry. It’s tremendous.
▰ There’s not much in the way of liner notes for That Which Remains, a new EP by Circuitghost, but over on the llllllll.co message board, it’s explained to be remnants from a previous EP, All That We Lost. It’s a beautiful amalgam of small sounds in which textures are put to percolating, rhythmic use.
▰ This 2017 collaboration between the Quiet Club, an Irish collective, and Stephen Vitiello, the American sound artist, just popped up on Bandcamp. Titled Black Iris, it’s an ever-changing assortment of sound objects, from bells to scifi wiggles, borrowed audio narrative to dramatic creaking, footsteps to feedback, just to name a few, improvised live.
I do this manually each Saturday, collating recent tweets I made at twitter.com/disquiet, my public notebook. Some tweets pop up (in expanded form or otherwise, which happened several times this week) on Disquiet.com sooner. It’s personally informative to revisit the previous week of thinking out loud.
▰ A sunny-side-up egg over a piece of jalapeño cornbread is not a bad way to start the week.
▰ Taking momentary break from Sounds “Я” Us coverage to confirm, yeah, the smell of fire is with us, this now being what what has come to be called “fire season.” Not sure if the nearby Pacific Ocean breeze is keeping it inland or saving us from the worst of it.
▰ New-to-me pandemic soundmark: Waiting to be the last to sign off of a Webex meeting, so you can enjoy the cascade of beeps as others exit before you.
▰ When the owner of the banh mi place recognizes you despite your mask and absurdly long pandemic hair a year-plus since you were last there
I love when I get to write in this typeface. My review of Jennifer Lucy Allan’s splendid new book on the history of the foghorn, The Foghorn’s Lament, is out in the latest issue of The Wire magazine (issue number 448, June 2021, the one with Van der Graaf Generator on the cover, appropriate since her book includes a bit about Michael Faraday).
So, about the quote from The Prestige that inspired the week’s Disquiet Junto project. In brief: transcribing it is complicated. I love the description that opens the movie, which was directed by Christopher Nolan. I’d listen to Michael Caine read the phone book. Better yet for him to intone sagaciously on the trappings of magic. Listen here in this clip of the film’s first few minutes:
The thing is, the quote is widely mis-transcribed. A lot of transcriptions insert the word “great” early on. I hear it quite clearly as “Every magic trick consists of three parts.” But there are numerous instances in which it’s presented as “Every great magic trick consists of three parts.” Most of these seem copied and pasted.
Weirder still, a large number of these appearances online of the quote attribute the overall statement not to the 2006 movie, but to Christopher Priest, who wrote the novel, published in 1995, that inspired the movie. The text spoken by Michael Caine does not appear in the book. There is a sequence like it in the book, but it is worded quite differently.
Here is the movie version of the “Prestige quote” on Goodreads, which is a website of books, not of movies, nonetheless attributed to Priest: goodreads.com. (While not as egregious, the mistake feels a bit like Costanza’s failed end run around actually reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s.) And here’s an explanation about TED Talks that uses The Prestige as a model, and attributes the quote to Priest: medium.com. I suppose the tweet thread where this post originated was my TED Talk. :)
So, Priest didn’t write the text, and “great” doesn’t even appear in the movie where the text is spoken aloud.
It’s very Christopher Nolan that there would be an error within an error in plain sight around the world.
Again, I’d listen to Michael Caine read anything, and listening to him speak this text is a masterclass (as distinct from a TED Talk) in making someone else’s text one’s own (in this case: someone else’s text based on someone else’s text). When I re-transcribed it for this week’s Disquiet Junto project, using the widely re-posted “Goodreads version” as my template, I paid attention to each pause, each transition. Some of the pauses signaled em-dashes, one an ellipsis. Distinctions needed to be made for how Caine speaks, versus how Nolan breaks up the speech with brief snippets of imagery. Some are pauses of utterance, while others are more akin to hitting pause.
And sometimes I really couldn’t quite tell what was said. That’s the thing about speaking. It’s like a trick, like magic. You can say two words at once. You can say a word in a way that suggests another word, layers them. You can hint at a word, and then change direction. You can say a familiar word, but mean it different from how it appears on the page. You and I might do these things by instinct as much as by mistake. When Michael Caine does it, it’s … well, it’s just amazing, right? It’s a mastery of phrasing. The way he pauses before “or a man” is mastery. Had Caine done nothing else in his career, I think that pause would have earned him his knighthood. (Not that I’m into knighthoods or regal pageantry, which is why I haven’t called him Sir here.)
So, do listen through the audio. Listen to the micro-utterances, the granular nuances. While doing so 20 or 30 times over the course of a day and a half, I thought a lot about Ethan Hein’s writing about the tuning of voices in rap, the expressiveness of tiny shifts and pauses.
You may hear the text different from how I do. You might transcribe the opening speech of The Prestige differently to match what you hear. For example, I’m not sure Caine says “unaltered.” He may say “not altered.” I’m pretty sure it’s “unaltered.” It’s sort of both. That’s the art of it. In other words, that’s the magic of it.
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
• July 28, 2021: This day marks the start of the 500th consecutive weekly project in the Disquiet Junto music community.
• December 13, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
• January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th 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.
• 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.)
• 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.