The Future of the Past

Sci fi during the Bicentennial, and other '70s treats

I didn’t say “stoked” in the ’70s, but I’m stoked to be part of Hilobrow.com’s “Kojak Your Enthusiasm” series on TV shows “of the cultural era known as the Seventies.” My piece on Ark II, a short-lived Saturday morning sci-fi treat, will be online soon(ish).

Other contributors include Lucy Sante (Police Woman), Douglas Wolk (Whew!), Peggy Nelson (The Bionic Woman), Kio Stark (Wonder Woman), Carl Wilson (Lou Grant), and Vanessa Berry (In Search Of…). There are 25 in all. Full list at Hilobrow.com.

Ceramicist Edith Heath’s Economic Model

And thinking about small-scale manufacturers of electronic music instruments

Haven’t played hooky from work in a while, and yesterday was a good day to do it. I spent much of the afternoon at the Oakland Museum of California, over near Lake Merritt. Oakland is close to where I live in San Francisco, at least as the satellite mapping service flies, but it can be quite the trek by car.

After lunch in Berkeley at the always awesome Vik’s Chaat House, I headed to OMCA, as it is supposed to be abbreviated (though OMOC or OMoC seem to make more sense). The main draw at OMCA currently is an exhibit of Edith Heath (A Life in Clay, January 29, 2022 – October 30, 2022), whose namesake pottery studio remains, even after her 2005 death at the age of 94, a major presence in the San Francisco Bay Area, and elsewhere. The firm was purchased from her in 2003 and continues to this day.

Heath inhabited a unique middle ground, as Rosa Novak, an artist and reseacher, explained in a video about Heath Ceramics that is part of the exhibit. Heath was not a major mass manufactured line like Russel Wright. Nor was Heath herself the sort of potter who simply crafted pieces intimately by herself and never explored scaling up an operation. Fully committed to being an iconoclast, she produced work at a company that she and her husband, Brian Heath, oversaw. There are numerous hallmarks of Heath ceramics, from the mid-century silhouette, to the economical color palette, to the earthy textures. In combination, they manage to be something special without drawing attention to themselves. And yet, much as it’s been said that Thomas Edison’s greatest invention was in fact his laboratory, there is much to learn from the Heath operation itself. If at first I was disappointed there was more documentary than pottery on display at OMCA, I quickly realized just how creative was their approach to business.

If you’ve read this far, you are no doubt wondering how I might tie my day at the museum looking at ceramics back around to electronic music. One thing that struck me when taking in the exhibit, which is more focused on history than on the objects themselves in many ways, was this economic, artistic, and business model that Edith and Brian Heath arrived at, and in turn how it brings to mind the scale that some small producers of electronic music hardware and software aspire to: neither one-off bespoke instruments, nor mass-market items, but somewhere in between.

It might be a stretch to compare the sourcing of chips and other components to the Heaths’ dedication to the region’s clay deposits — one of my favorite quotes in the exhibit reads: “When we came to California, Brian and I spent weekends driving to wherever we heard that there was a clay pit” — but it isn’t a stretch to consider the independent solo and small teams that design and make a lot of synthesizers, guitar pedals, and other instruments, and who are more often than not musicians themselves. It is, in fact, quite informative to think about how these other small creative businesses seek to find a means by which they can make things that larger companies might not recognize value in or find a fit for.

At the heart of the Heath’s company was always a creative tension between intimate and behemoth, between the hand and the factory. Note the language in the Heath flyer reproduced above, specifically the bit at the end about the desire to be “free of mechanistic tyranny.” There is much to meditate on in the trail that the Heaths blazed for themselves, and how it can inform small operations to this day.

Clearly, this is not a situation where an instrument company like Noise Engineering, or Monome, or Koma, or ADDAC, or Bastl, or Orthogonal, or Empress Effects can be mapped directly to what the Heaths did. Someone can easily point out differences, like how some of these firms (though not all) have devices manufactured at least in part overseas. But the point isn’t to suggest they’re the same, just to note that the Heaths located a balance, a mix of human-scale intimacy and broad accessibility, that many small electronic instrument manufacturers themselves actively pursue.

Disquiet Junto Project 0534: Transition Capsule

The Assignment: Record music to help people efficiently reorient between two zones.

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

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0534: Transition Capsule
The Assignment: Record music to help people efficiently reorient between two zones.

Step 1: This project looks at the new normal of office life, in particular back-to-back virtual conference meetings. Even if such circumstances don’t define your own life, there is a captive audience looking to manage the loss of mental transitions that gaps between meetings used to provide. Keep that audience in mind.

Step 2: In the new normal, one is less likely to change rooms, to walk down a hallway, to use public transportation, or to otherwise travel between meetings. Consider the benefits that such transitions used to provide before virtual conferences took over the lives of many professionals. Think about the way that a break or change in scenery or other transition used helped the brain process what has just happened and prepare for what’s about to happen.

Step 3: Imagine you could provide an easily consumable mental aid to ease the transition between meetings. Think of it as a Transition Capsule, which artificially induces the sort of reorientation that used to be provided by breaks and travel between meetings.

Step 4: Now, compose a piece of music that serves as a sonic Transition Capsule.

Eight Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0534” (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 “disquiet0534” (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:

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co: llllllll.co: https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0534-transition-capsule/

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

Length: The length is up to you. How long a transition do you want to assist with?

Title/Tag: When posting your tracks, please include “disquiet0534” 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 534th weekly Disquiet Junto project — Transition Capsule (The Assignment: Record music to help people efficiently reorient between two zones) — at: https://disquiet.com/0534/

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-0534-transition-capsule/

This Week in Sound: School Acoustics, Sound Eclipse, BAFTA Bully Pulpit

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the March 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.

“Sound Eclipse is a new prototype device that aims to give city dwellers a chance to fight back against the noise and reopen their windows. Designed by Moscow-based industrial design firm Kristil&Shamina, it’s a noise-canceling orb that’s meant to hang elegantly in a window, with the smooth black curves of a high-end stereo.” The device produces sound that canels out what the device’s microphone receives. It can reportedly lower volume by up to 15 decibels. ➔ fastcompany.com

“[A]coustics is equally as important as lighting or air quality, and perhaps even harder to get right. If you are cold you can put on another piece of clothing, or open a window if you are hot. But in the case of acoustic comfort, it is very complicated to change the room to make it more comfortable.” From an interview with Professor Arianna Astolfi, whose work led to the current acoustic standard for schools in Italy. ➔ acousticbulletin.com

“I have a suggestion — perhaps next weekend don’t just go see a movie … go hear a movie.” That was Mark Mangini when he, Ron Bartlett, Theo Green, Mac Ruth and Doug Hemphill accepted the BAFTA sound award for Dune earlier this month.

“We want to give people cues that are familiar, but also communicate electric power.” Car manufacturers are sorting out the right balance for the sounds that new electric vehicles are designed to emit. ➔ freep.com

You need to complete this “interactive puzzle and sound toy brought to you by Google Developers” to reveal details about the company’s upcoming I/O 2022 event:

io.google/2022, businesstoday.in

“Supporters of the crypto plant promised an expanded tax base and job creation. What residents say they got was the constant din from massive computers and equally massive cooling fans.” ➔ washingtonpost.com

“Contrary to popular belief, roosters — this one included — do not just crow at dawn; they crow all day.” Ryan Kost on how a loud bird added one challenge atop so many others that define life in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. “Roosters, it so happens, are legal in San Francisco. (This is not the case in Oakland, or in the city of Portland, one of the epicenters of the urban farming craze.)” ➔ sfchronicle.com