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

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The Disquiet Junto Turns 10

That's 523 consecutive weekly music projects

This is a bit of a ramble. Tomorrow, January 6, 2022, marks the 10th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto. A decade ago, I sat at a coffee shop, having put together this idea I had about how musicians communicate online, how they provide each other with mutual support, how they thrive thanks to indirect, asynchronous, long-distance communication. And then I proposed something.

It was the first week of January 2012, six years after I started sending proposals to musicians to respond to a prompt — a concept, an inquiry, an idea — in musical form, in sound.

The first time was to rework some Brian Eno and David Byrne stems, off their album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. The stems weren’t themselves the impetus. The impetus was how much I didn’t like the music I heard that used the stems. See, Eno and Byrne posted the stems for free use as part of an anniversary promotion. I let some musicians know about the source material, and they all told me they liked the idea, but agreed the resulting music was lacking. And so we released it ourselves at the Internet Archive, under the title Our Lives in the Bush of Disquiet.

Subsequent projects happened when I felt that writing about something didn’t satisfy my desire — my need — to fully address the given topic. Each time, having musicians respond to the topic was satisfying in a way that writing hadn’t alone fulfilled.

Up until 2011, each of these projects was what I think of as “select commission” mode, in that I selected the list of musicians I hoped might participate, and then invited them to respond. At the end of 2011, I took a different approach: I opened it up to anyone who wanted to join in. The idea at the end of 2011 was to get musicians to collaborate indirectly. This led to [Instgr/am/bient]: 25 musicians were given an Instagram image that another participant made, and then they were told: “Here’s the cover of your next single. Now go record it.”

The Eno/Byrne stem remix project in 2006 was a response to a communal sense of an idea that had fallen short: That the music was lacking because it was unmediated by any editorial perspective. Five years later, in 2011, Instagr/am/bient was founded on my then strong disinterest in Instagram. Some friends, notably Ted Laderas, made me think about it from another perspective. In particular, I came to realize that aesthetically speaking, a lot of Instagram images looked like the music I liked to listen to sounded. By that I mean that Instagram images were, at the time (long before “stories” loaded with people dancing in sync), pictures of everyday scenes, often taken amid nature, put through digital filters. Field recordings put through digital filters is, in essence, a solid chunk of my listening.

And so, to explore this parallel, we did Instagr/am/bient, to forge that connection between vision and sound, and to do so in a way that explored the aesthetic inherent (then) in a technology platform. It was also new because, as I mentioned above, I opened the invite wide. It wasn’t select anymore.

Instagr/am/bient, for reasons too detailed for an already long reminiscence, got a lot of attention. Hundreds of thousands of streams and downloads. And so I decided the open-call nature worked in 2011 in a way it hadn’t in 2006. I think this had to do with a sense of community. The result of it was: what if I opened it even wider, still. The Instagr/am/bient project required coordination. We had a beautiful PDF designed by my friend Brian Scott, of Boon Design. What if, instead, it was simply people uploading music themselves?

Like Instagram. SoundCloud has changed since 2012, and not entirely for the better. Part of what changed is what it no longer has: Groups. When it had Groups, people were able to communicate where they posted their music. Back in 2012, SoundCloud was, to put it succinctly, pretty freaking awesome. I’d been online almost 20 years at that point, since 1993 or 1994, and I’d loved the pre-blog days of nascent digital self-publishing, and, later, the rise of netlabels. Netlabels happened when internet connections were so slow you had to download music before you listened to it, whereas hosting was cheap enough that posting music was easy. That combination was magic. A glorious time.

OK, hosting wasn’t easy. The interface at the Internet Archive, for example, was finicky, but it worked. I do sometimes wonder if difficulty is a virtue: a filter on intent. If something is a little harder, if you have to wait a bit, both to post and to download, then you kinda need to mean it. SoundCloud, in any case, made posting and streaming easy, and that was meaningful. I don’t think there would have been a Junto without it.

And so, that sunny day in 2012, sitting in a cafe with a friend (Susan Blue) on Valencia Street here in San Francisco, I shared a concept, mostly on Twitter, but also on my website, which had just turned 15 years old the month prior. Come to think of it, Disquiet.com just turned 25 years old last month (on December 13, 2021), meaning it is now as old as Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was when I did the first communal (proto-Junto) Disquiet project back in 2006. (What’s the emoji for jeepers?)

The “Disquiet” in Disquiet Junto comes from The Book of Disquiet, written by that exquisite loner (a loner containing multitudes), Fernando Pessoa. The “Junto” comes from a club that Benjamin Franklin, the enthusiastic and prolific founder of organizations, formed in 1727. There were a lot of approaches I drew from. High on the list were sample-based groups, notably Iron Chef of Music and what was then called the Stones Throw Beat Battles. Also on my mind were art movements, notably Fluxus and Oulipo, and mail art, too.

I truly had no idea that first week if anyone would participate in the Disquiet Junto. The image in my head was being stuck with supplies for a party that no one attended. Instead, people did show up (in internet terms), and we’ve gathered every week since. There are way too many people to thank for their support, encouragement, and guidance. I’ve met so many amazing people since starting the Junto, made friends, collaborated on projects, and learned more than I could recount. I’ve given talks, and been interviewed for magazines like The Wire and Bloomberg Businessweek. We’ve done concerts, and a San Jose Museum of Art exhibit, and an Apex Art gallery installation (major thanks to Rob Walker for that invitation), among other escapades and satellite operations.

And while SoundCloud no longer has Groups, we’ve got the llllllll.co community and a Junto Slack, and plenty of communication in various other forms, including Twitter, which is where a lot of the early Junto momentum got rolling. Of course, all that communication takes a back seat to the weekly tracks uploaded by participants, because ultimately, the idea of the Junto is to communicate through music. That’s what we do every week. That’s the Disquiet Junto.

Tomorrow will be the start of the 523rd consecutive weekly Disquiet Junto project. Every Thursday I send out a project assignment, and musicians post their tracks by the following Monday at 11:59pm (their local time). Ethan Hein summed up the process best, and I’ll paraphrase what he said here: I write record reviews of music that doesn’t exist yet, and then internet strangers make it real. You can become one of those strangers. Sign up at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto to receive the weekly instructions. Join in.

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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  • Current Activities

  • 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.)

  • 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

  • 0548 / Drone Vox / The Assignment: Make a drone using just your voice.
    0547 / Genre Melee / Combine two seemingly different genres.
    0546 / Code Notes / The Assignment: Make music that includes a secret message.
    0545 / Unself-Awareness / The Assignment: Learn from feedback intended for others.
    0544 / Feedback Loop / The Assignment: Share music-in-progress for input from others.

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