The Disquiet Junto music community began in 2012 in immediate response to a project I did at the end of 2011, and the project in 2011 was the culmination of a sequence of projects I started in 2006, so I’ll start there.
In 2006, Brian Eno and David Byrne made available some stems from one of my favorite albums of all time, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and they created a website where people could upload their own music made utilizing those stems. Today, this sort of promotion is common. In 2006, it was not. I was excited about the project, and immediately disappointed by the music people were uploading, so I sent notes to a bunch of musicians encouraging them to participate. The response I got essentially had two components: first, great idea; second, you’re right that the music people have been uploading is sorta depressingly generic, and I’m not sure I want my music alongside it. I took that as an form of encouragement, and I decided to create an online album, which became Our Lives in the Bush of Disquiet, which drew from the netlabel community at the time, and included a dozen tracks by, among others, Stephane Leonard, Roddy Schrock, John Kannenberg, Brian Biggs, and Mark Rushton, just to name a few. That turned out great, so I did a series of these albums in the subsequent years, and each originated as a kind of prompt. I’d always enjoyed interviewing musicians, and sending them creative prompts was like a conversation, just one in music instead of words. I did a bunch of these, excited by the work of Hal Willner and John Zorn, and then at the end of 2011, I did one that felt really special.
Up until that point, every project involved musicians I approached directly myself. In 2011, I worried I was being restrictive. So, I got word out, mostly on Twitter, that if people made ambient music and had Instagram accounts, they were welcome to participate in a new project, which became Instagr/am/bient. I asked all the participants to send me a single Instagram image. I then sent each participant a different image and said, “This is the cover of your next single. Now go record the single.” I loved that project, and it was downloaded and streamed over 100,000 times, but something negative someone said stuck with me. They said, “Oh, this got around because of Instagram,” like it was dependent on an association with a commercial enterprise for its success. I simply thought they were wrong, both about the popularity with an audience, and by extension about the enthusiasm of the participants. I thought what was important was this sense that the musicians were making music for each other. Not for an audience, but for each other, a kind of collective themselves. Not long after, I came up with the idea of the Disquiet Junto as a means to test that hypothesis: what if we start with the idea of musicians making music for themselves and for each other, and put aside for the time being any concerns about an audience. That was the plan.
Historically, I think a lot about the instructional writings of Yoko Ono and Pauline Oliveros, and the arts movements Fluxus and Oulipo. I think a lot about the concept of an etude, about a piece of music that is an encapsulation of a technique. I think about how pre-digital techniques foresaw sampling and remixing, like how orchestral and chamber composers simulated bird song, as well as the noise of city streets, and quoted pre-existing music in their own compositions. Same goes for jazz. All of that had a big impact on me. Speaking of more recent history, when the Junto started in 2012, I was a big fan of the Iron Chef of Music series and the Stones Throw Beat Battles. Those are both sample-based situations where people around the internet make music based on a shared set of material. In the Junto I wanted people to share more than samples. I wanted them to share the impetus for a track, the concept, which is to say: the prompt.
The above originated as my answer to a pair of questions (“How did Disquiet Junto first come about? Were there any historical precedents that inspired you?”) posed to me by Colin Joyce for an article he wrote for the online publication I Heard It In A Magazine (hii-mag.com). Cover images by Brian Scott of boon.design.