New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • Disquiet.com F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

Monthly Archives: August 2021

Why This Week in Sound

Process, signal to noise, irony

The newsletter I send out, This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet), works for me because it helps me process all the material I come across in a given week. I collect a dozen or so key items, each an instance of sound in one or another of various realms. I do so as I read, and listen, and watch, and go for walks, and talk with family, friends, and colleagues. Some of these instances are sound in the purest sense: a gadget for delivery, something about the physics of audio reception or production. Others are more musical: a feature iteration of a streaming service, an innovative record release, an ingenious instrument. Others are about music or sound in another media contexts: a TV score, a bit of user interface, a sound art installation. From there the search branches out further, and the further the better: a military-industrial weapon of sound, the role of sound in urban planning, some means by which sound connects us to the natural environment, or lets us understand civilization’s history. The further afield from sound the sound appears, the more it is of interest to me. I come across more of such information each week than I know how to manage, and sending out the newsletter — preparing the newsletter — is the best way I’ve found to handle it all. Taking an hour or so to sift through and cull all but the most interesting observations and news items, and then excerpting and commenting on them, is how I make sense of them, how I piece them into a whole, how I notice patterns connecting them, how I come to absorb them.

There is an irony to the newsletter: The more often I send it out, the more emails I get from readers with tips, with bits of sonic awareness from their own lives and professions, regions and interests, cultures and perspectives. A historian of engineering tells me something about an early telephony apparatus. An elementary school teacher has observed something about pedagogy in the age of virtual conference calls. An architect has some details about a new noise dampening technique. It’s true that the more often I send out the email, the more information I receive, when all along I’m sending out the newsletter to deal with what is already an embarrassment of riches. However, the signal to noise ratio on the inbound information from readers is quite high, and I welcome it.

I go through spells of sending out my This Week in Sound email newsletter. I do it for a few weeks, then get overwhelmed, or distracted, and then the backlog of material becomes too great for me to get my head around it, and then time passes, and the process begins again. I got an issue out last week, and I have material prepped for Monday. We’ll see how it goes.

There are tons of newsletters these days, many on services designed with a commercial component. I do have a tip jar in mine, and the tips I get (financial, in addition to informational) are not so much an economic underpinning as a sign of life, a form of encouragement. The subscription model is, for the time being, less interesting to me. I got on the internet too early to have a natural inclination that involves a firewall, and firewalls are a key aspect of most newsletter subscription services. Some folks have helped me understand that subscriptions and firewalls aren’t intrinsically connected to each other, and I’m learning more as I compare services beyond Tinyletter’s bare-bones offering. I’m sorting it out as I go. It’s all an experiment, an ongoing one.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0504: Transform Formula

The Assignment: Take a sound, change it, and contrast that with the original.

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 the end of the day Monday, August 30, 2021, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, August 26, 2021.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0504: Transform Formula
The Assignment: Take a sound, change it, and contrast that with the original.

This week’s project was proposed by the musician Hainbach. It shares its theme, transformation, with his new album, Home Stories, on the Seil Records label.

Step 1: Listen to the world around you.

Step 2: Record a sound you find interesting. (In a situation where there is no notable sound, make your own sound without thinking. Just do something that will create noise.)

Step 3: Transform the sound by taking what interests you most about it and developing on it.

Step 4: Make it into a piece of music by contrasting the original and the transformation.

Here are some examples of transformations:

  • play the melody, rhythm, texture or the sound on an instrument

  • Convert the recording to MIDI and let it play

  • re-synthesise it into a new form

  • harmonize the overtones

  • notate and arrange the sound for more players

  • stretch it apart and filter until you find it’s secret

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0504” (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 “disquiet0504” (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 track in the following discussion thread at llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0504-tranform-formula/

Step 5: Annotate your track 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.

Note: Please post one track per weekly Junto project. If you choose to post more than one, and do so on SoundCloud, please let me know which you’d like added to the playlist. Thanks.

Additional Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is the end of the day Monday, August 30, 2021, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, August 26, 2021.

Length: The length of your finished track is up to you.

Title/Tag: When posting your tracks, please include “disquiet0504” 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 504th weekly Disquiet Junto project — Transform Formula (The Assignment: Take a sound, change it, and contrast that with the original) — at: https://disquiet.com/0504/

This week’s project was proposed by the musician Hainbach: https://www.hainbachmusik.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-0504-tranform-formula/

There’s also a Disquiet Junto Slack. Send your email address to [email protected] for Slack inclusion.

The image associated with this project is by Hainbach.

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Sound Ledger¹ (Quiet Parks, Australian Noise, Crowdsourced Audio)

Audio culture by the numbers

260: The number of places around the world being considered for recognition by Quiet Parks International (more in the most recent issue of This Week in Sound).

362: The highest penalty, in Australian dollars, for noise pollution by motorists. That’s in Victoria. It’s cheapest in Western Australia ($100).

1,500: The estimated number of crowdsourced audio elements in theatre maker Marike Splint’s immersive 32 Acres sound installation at Los Angeles State Historic Park

▰ ▰ ▰

¹Footnotes: Parks: cnn.com. Australia: au.news.yahoo.com. Crowdsource: dailybruin.com.

Originally published in the August 23, 2021, edition of the This Week in Sound email newsletter (tinyletter.com/disquiet).

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This Week in Sound: Deepfakes, Subways, NSFW

A lightly annotated clipping service

It’s been a while. Best way to dust off the This Week in Sound apparatus is to kick out a new issue, which I did last night (subscribe at tinyletter.com/disquiet). Things have been busy. A lot of writing, a lot of working, a lot of pandemic-era living. As always, tips on topics related to sound are always appreciated. Send them my way, please. They’re in no short supply, but the best examples often originate from sources deep into a seemingly non-sonic topic that ends up having unique sonic components.

There’s a company called Pindrop that was created to pinpoint the presence of deepfakes. They think they’ve sorted out which bits of the recent Anthony Bourdain movie, Roadrunner, were created artificially. The director, Morgan Neville, had said they would be “undetectable,” writes Tom Simonite, when Neville elected to have machines impersonate Bourdain to record things the late author and television personality had written but never spoken. Pindrop (and various online commenters) now think otherwise. As for the filmmaker’s ethics, this section of Simonite’s Wired story is especially solid: “[I]t is still possible to inform listeners about the source of what they’re hearing. At one point in Roadrunner, a caption advises viewers they are hearing ‘VOICE OVER – OUTTAKE.’ It’s not clear why Neville didn’t use a ‘synthetic audio’ caption for his AI-generated clips — or if disclosing them in the film, not just interviews in which he boasted they were undetectable, would have softened the backlash.”
https://www.wired.com/story/these-hidden-deepfakes-anthony-bourdain-movie/

I can’t remember the last time an article was shared with me more often than the recent New York Times online piece, complete with audio selections, about the sounds of subways around the world. It’s filled with choice details, such as how the “synthetic ‘doo-doo-doo'” of the Montreal system has its roots in a sound that was a byproduct of the circuitry. And with nuances regarding the employment of sound: “It seems to a layperson like a door chime is innocuous, but it’s a really critical part of keeping the capacity of the subway up,” reports a New York City Transit conductor. (Article by Sophie Haigney and Denise Lu, design by Gabriel Gianordoli and Umi Syam.)
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/08/13/arts/subway-train-sounds.html

Without quoting it directly, I will simply say there is a NSFW and highly satisfactory anecdote in Rebecca Mead’s profile of Jesse Armstrong, writer and creator of the HBO series Succession. I recommend reading the whole thing, but you can also just search for the word “slapping” and learn about the role of music in masking the sonic byproduct of certain group activities.
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/08/30/the-real-ceo-of-succession

R. Murray Schafer, to whom we owe the modern concept of the “soundscape,” has died at age 88. “In a way, the world is a huge musical composition that’s going on all the time, without a beginning and, presumably, without an ending,” he is quoted by Robert Rowat in this obituary. Schafer died a little under a month after his birthday, July 18, which has served, in his honor, as the date of the annual World Listening Day.
https://www.cbc.ca/music/r-murray-schafer-composer-writer-and-acoustic-ecologist-has-died-at-88-1.5404868

Quiet Parks International (quietparks.org) is identifying the “last quiet places” on our planet, ranging from the rural, such as the remote Zabalo River in Ecuador, to urban ones, such as Hampstead Heath in London. According to Nell Lewis, the organization has identified “260 potential sites around the world.”
https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/quiet-parks-quiet-places-noisy-planet-spc-intl/index.html

Hans Zimmer has written music for numerous movies, and now he’s added a book to his resume, alongside providing sounds for everything from apps to cars. He hasn’t written a book. He’s written music to accompany a book, specifically a limited edition art book on Denis Villeneuve’s forthcoming adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel Dune. Zimmer also scored the film, of course. And don’t fret the “limited” situation. Abbey White reports that it will be available for streaming and download.
https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/hans-zimmer-second-dune-score-film-companion-book-1234997876/

Windows 11 is due make users less “jumpy” thanks to a new suite of sound cues produced by sound designer Matthew Bennett. “The new sounds have a much rounder wavelength, making them softer so that they can still alert/notify you, but without being overwhelming,” according to a company spokesperson. Bennett shared some examples, including default beeps and calendar notifications.
https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/22/microsoft-delivers-calm-system-sounds-in-windows-11.html

The “quiet” of the title locale in journalist Stephen Kurczy’s new book, The Quiet Zone, is not literal. The town is Green Banks, West Virginia, and the “quiet” involves restrictions on “devices emanating electromagnetic emissions,” writes Don Oldenburg. This is all so as to not interfere with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. And as it turns out, this town is in many ways the opposite of quiet.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/books/2021/08/04/stephen-kurczys-the-quiet-zone-explores-town-without-cell-phones/5471413001/

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Immersive Cinema and Ghost Ship Anniversary

A review I wrote for The Wire of the 2019 Recombinant festival

Recombinant Festival
Various venues, San Francisco, US

Like many major cities, San Francisco is haunted by numerous defunct cinemas, left behind by technological and cultural shifts. These buildings linger as decrepit shells, occasionally refurbished as anything from batting cages to video game arcades and non-profit offices. Hollywood has fully divested; all that remain are the marquees.

One such theater, the former Grand in the city’s Mission District, was revived in 2014 as the latest home to Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. It has since become a key location at the contested intersection of tech and the arts by hosting concerts, coding workshops, and occasionally actual films.


Rrose is the center of attention.

Gray Area coordinates with two neighborhood galleries for the week-long Recombinant festival, founded by longtime immersive-cinema impresario Naut Humon, co-founder of Asphodel Records. Events range from sonic abstraction to trenchant dance music, the one constant a massive six by 12 meter screen in Gray Area’s seatless main hall. The satellite installations are expressly audiovisual: Ulf Langheinrich’s NIL, a stroboscopic barrage at the Ohio gallery, coaxes retinas toward altered states with vibrant color fields, while Earthworks, a multiscreen sprawl at the Lab, quivers and gurgles with amoeboid correlations to seismic data, a creation of Superconductor, aka the duo of Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt.

Each performer at Recombinant either embraces or evades the massive screen’s presence. Aïsha Devi bled images onto adjacent walls, challenging the surface’s dominion, her music a joyous torrent of cyber-spiritual extroversion. When musicians such as Hiro Kone, pushing out downtempo beats, and Marcus Schmickler, emanating artful noise, treat the screen as an afterthought, the relative absence feels intentionally spartan.

Most acts employ the vast canvas as a synchronized backdrop to sonic activities, like Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS on opening night, his cyclopean industrial momentum a score to journeys through environmental footage reminiscent of his color-coded album covers. Electric Indigo make a strong impression with what might be called sound-design techno, the screen occasionally reorienting to a dramatic beat. In the lobby, additional installations explored color-sound alignment, including therapeutic simulations from Li Alin and Craig Dorety.


Herman Kolgen mid-flight

The festival highlight is Herman Kolgen, who for two nights took over the hall, moving from large screen to stage to intimate set-ups. He commands the room, shifting attention as he roams from station to station. The show opened with accompaniment by William Winant and Antonio Gennaro on percussion, performing a sleek rendering of Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” to video of tragic locomotives (some damaged miniatures, others exploded CGI renderings). Kolgen’s “Isotopp” is a showstopping marvel, as he coaxes a corona-like glass circle into states of electrostatic ecstasy, and the audience along with it. Another highlight is Rrose, who the night before, courtesy of heavily protected floor cabling, performed a set of fierce, terse techno.


Drew McDowall and Florence To in their time machine

Recombinant’s final night coincides with the second anniversary of the Ghost Ship fire, which killed 36 people at a warehouse concert in nearby Oakland. Early in the evening, two acts — ichael Gendreau and the aptly named Infrasound — pay homage by pushing low-frequency audio to ceiling-rattling effect. Drew McDowall and Florence To closed the festival with Coil’s waveform-maximalist work Time Machines. To’s low-res images providing limited illumination, the dense and shuddering music served as a proper memorial, alternately numbing and euphoric.

There’s some additional context in a post I made when I first announced the article’s publication. This was my first article published in The Wire. I took all the above photos. None of them accompanied the article. I’m just fond of them, and while the one of Rrose isn’t great, it really captures for me my experience of the highly memorable moment.

This article I wrote originally appeared in the March 2019 issue (number 421) of The Wire.

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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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  • Current Activities

  • Upcoming
    December 13, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
    December 28, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

  • Recent
    July 28, 2021: This day marked the 500th consecutive weekly project in 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.)

  • Ongoing
    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.

  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

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  • 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.

    Recent Projects

  • 0511 / Freeze Tag / The Assignment: Consider freezing (and thawing) as a metaphor for music production.
    0510 / Cold Turkey / The Assignment: Record one last track with a piece of music equipment before passing it on.
    0509 / The Long Detail / The Assignment: Create a piece of music with moments from a preexisting track.
    0508 / Germane Shepard / The Assignment: Use the Shepard tone to create a piece of music.
    0507 / In DD's Key of C / The Assignment: Make music with 10 acoustic instrument samples all in a shared key.

    Full Index
    And there is a complete list of past projects, 511 consecutive weeks to date.

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