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This Week in Sound

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

Monthly Archives: February 2022

Steve Swartz Inhabits the Landscape

On Desert Meditations

There’s an evident buzz above the surface of “Department of the Interior,” the first track off Steve Swartz’s album, Desert Meditations, that sounds like a fly circling the ointment, like your stereo has a bum speaker cone, like there is dust on your needle — like a musician has had enough of digital production techniques that emphasize frictionless grace and, in turn, inadvertently sever listening from the physical experience of sound in everyday life.

The drone that arrives is not mere drone — not that any great drone is mere drone, or a casual one for that matter, but the drone here is more than just reverberating ambience, even more than reverberating ambience with a dollop of rasty sonic discomfort. There’s an abundant, if willfully slow-moving, generosity to the shifting layers. There’s a flute (or flute-like instrument) somewhere in the mix, and not so deep to be pure texture. It brings to mind the more sublime efforts of R. Carlos Nakai as much as it does the 1970s ambient of Brian Eno.

Swartz apparently recorded the album while in the southern Utah desert. The full album, like this track, certainly correlates with the arid, the remote, but it also doesn’t stick with easy illustrations of desolate natural landscapes. This is not just dust and decay. It very much down in the dirt. The music emanates the impact of heat and isolation. A lot of music that is conceptually tied to a territory is said to “map” the landscape. This doesn’t merely map the landscape; it inhabits the landscape. It’s heady and spacious and meditative, certainly, but also of the body, through and through.

Desert Meditations is due for release on April 8, 2022. It’s available at swartz.bandcamp.com. More from Swartz, who is based in Detroit, Michigan, at swartzet.tumblr.com.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0530: Minimally Viable Music

The Assignment: How much less is just shy of too little?

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, February 28, 2022, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, February 24, 2022.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0530: Minimally Viable Music
The Assignment: How much less is just shy of too little?

Major thanks to Saga Söderback for having come up with this project. There is just one step:

Step 1: Make the thing you think is the minimum viable music.

Eight Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0530” (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 “disquiet0530” (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-0530-minimally-viable-music/

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.

Step 8: Also join in the discussion on the Disquiet Junto Slack. Send your email address to [email protected] for Slack inclusion.

Note: Please post one track for this 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, February 28, 2022, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, February 24, 2022.

Length: The length is up to you. Is longer more, or less?

Title/Tag: When posting your tracks, please include “disquiet0530” 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:

Major thanks to Saga Söderback for having come up with this project.

More on this 530th weekly Disquiet Junto project — Minimally Viable Music (The Assignment: How much less is just shy of too little? ) — at: https://disquiet.com/0530/

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-0530-minimally-viable-music/

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Let’s Get Lost

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt

I really need a glass-bottom rack. It’s unfortunate the flip side of synthesizer modules end up inside a box and out of view. Printed circuit boards are beautiful, or at least can be.

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Hail Fell Earlier

This evening

Hail fell earlier and unexpectedly, the small, tight drops pinging like a cellphone alert, like a nap had come to an end and a pre-selected digital signal was looping, looping in a way that the brain, still at best halfway out of that nap, could not quite process. On a walk afterward, not even a mile, the hail just a stain on concrete: an unusual quiet, as if more people than normal for the hour, not long after dark, had elected to stay home. The sense of decreased population was not confirmed but at least acknoledged at the burrito shop, where the three-person crew huddled near the counter, the tone of their chat suggesting they were deep into a conversation, that not only was no one else here presently, but that no one had been for some time. On the walk back: very few cars passed, and the few that did seemed to register that fresh rain following so many weeks (months?) of drought made for unsafe streets. Stop signs, newly reflective thanks to the brief shower, accepted the careful pause made by each vehicle, all electric, all emitting at most a low level hum. The hail had provided a moment to marvel; the afterward, a time for communal caution. Back home: the rush of the dishwasher, the creak of a house settling in for the evening, the TV making that crackling, torque-like noise as it cooled once turned off. No dialog from pedestrians outside, and the self-imposed moratorium on cars largely still in effect. When an engine is heard many homes away, it is less a disturbance than an echo that charts just how empty, how vast, the area is — the exception that lends scale to the rule. There is a major avenue a couple blocks away, lined with businesses. In another direction there is a rapid thoroughfare, its lights timed for maximum traffic flow. And yet the neighborhood is a hush. Even the gearheads have stuck to their garages tonight, rather than risk their beloved machines on the still slick ashalt.

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This Week in Sound: Emit Acoustic Waste

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the February 21, 2022, issue of the free Disquiet.com weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet).

As always, if you find sonic news of interest, please share it with me, and (except with the most widespread of news items) I’ll credit you should I mention it here.

“Much of the resentment traces back to film composing’s biggest open secret: Many of its brightest stars do not, in fact, write the music they are celebrated and remunerated for.” Mark Rozzo of Vanity Fair on the underpaid and often anonymous toilers who make music for film and TV. (Some have a moniker. Hans Zimmers’ go, apparently, by “Zimlings.”)
vanityfair.com
(Via Michael Upton)

ScanSoft and Nuance Communications, pioneer companies in speech recognition software, serve as examples of how Big Tech slows innovation:
technologyreview.com

The horror sound effects of radio dramatist Arch Oboler (1909-1987) are the subject of fascinating academic research by Amy Skjerseth.
uchicago.edu

“The LRAD is device that can put out a highly directional ‘beam’ of incredibly loud sound, up to 160 decibels (dB).” Lawrence English explains how Long-Range Acoustic Devices function. “Until very recently, the use of the LRAD in public settings in Australia has been largely nonexistent. Most use by police forces in Australia has been limited to disaster communication and for communication during events such as hostage situations. In 2020, however, this pattern of usage began to shift.”
theconversation.com

“Data centers emit acoustic waste, what environmentalists call ‘noise pollution,'” writes Steven Gonzalez Monserrate. He explains how the hum of data centers is quiet enough to not violate the law, even if its persistent presence is an experienced issue for those living nearby: “upon closer interrogation of the sound, some residents reported that the monotonal drone, a frequency hovering within the range of human speech, is particularly disturbing, given the attuned sensitivity of human ears to discern such frequencies above others.”
mit.edu

“To build his library of sounds, Stewart has trekked to more than 40 countries, often lugging audio equipment through rugged landscapes to reach remote locations or animals.” Corryn Wetzel profiles field recorgist Martyn Stewart, whose collected work is in the realm of 30,000 hours of recordings. “To capture a few minutes of a frog’s chirp or a dolphin’s clicks can take hours of work because of nearly constant interruptions from noise pollution. ‘Twenty or twenty-five years ago, if I wanted to record one pristine hour of sound it would take about three or four hours to get that one hour. It was a brilliant world.’ Today, Stewart notes that it would take around 2,000 hours to get a recording of similar quality.”
smithsonianmag.com

“Alexa’s wake sound … is based on the ubiquitous and very human ‘uh-huh.’” Chris Seifert, Senior Design Manager at Amazon, is profiled by J. Trew about the development of the sounds of Amazon’s Echo.
engadget.com

If you haven’t watched the TV series Archive 81, then you might want to wait until after before reading this helpful explainer by Sarah Shachat on how it employs sound. It’s an interview with supervising sound editor Mark Relyea.
indiewire.com

Spiders employ webs as surveillance technology, using their creations as an “auditory sensor.” Read the research paper:
biorxiv.org
twitter.com/crawlycreepy
(Via Bruce Sterling)

Trevor Mallard, Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives, played selections from a list of “The 25 Most Annoying Songs in the World” to break up an anti-vaccine protest, reports Megan LaPierre. On the playlist: Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” and Los del Río’s “Macarena.”
exclaim.ca

Sony’s latest earbuds use a low-tech way to make sure you can hear what’s happening around you: there’s “a 12-millimeter driver in the shape of a ring with a hole in the middle,” writes Andrew Liszewski.
gizmodo.com

“By bringing together existing libraries of fish, frogs and other marine species, it is hoped the library will help identify the lullabies, chants and anthems of aquatic ecosystems.” There’s a massive project afoot to collect and collate underwater sonic communication.
theguardian.com

Hoon. The sound of a foghorn lowing in the distance, warning of approaching menace.” Warren Ellis finds sonic portent in the surname of novelist JD Kirk’s protagonist, former Police Scotland Detective Superintendent Bob Hoon.
warrenellis.ltd

Randall Roberts looked into the claims of sonic wellness and found “bonkers numerology” (per Robin James) and “a total mishmash of metaphysics” (per Matt Marble), among other things.
latimes.com

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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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  • 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).

  • disquiet junto

  • 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

  • This is an image of three colorful rulers against a plain background. The rulers look normal at first, and then you realize they're sort of oddly colored. That's because they were made by an AI.
  • 0567 / Three Meters / The Assignment: Make music in 5/8, 6/8, and 7/8 time signatures.
    0566 / Outdoor Furniture Music / The Assignment: Imagine the ur-ambient Erik Satie musique d’ameublement concept en plein air
    0565 / Musical Folly / The Assignment: Make a piece of music inspired by this architectural concept.
    0564 / Octave Lept / The Assignment: Work an octave leap — or more than one — into a piece of music.
    0563 / Digital Magical Realism / The Assignment: What does this imaginary genre sound like?

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