Chris Watson Brings East Africa to Santa Cruz

For 24 hours only

“What I do is trivial. We’re talking about one of the most ancient deserts on the planet. I’m sort of tinkering with aspects of that.”

Those are the words of Chris Watson, the great British field recording artist, sound artist, and musician (and long ago of Cabaret Voltaire and the Hafler Trio), whom I had the pleasure of interviewing yesterday. The occasion was an installation of his, “Namib,” named for a 2,000-mile stretch of East Africa that he visited repeatedly over the course of nearly a decade. Sounds he documented there have now been shaped into a quadraphonic exhibit, which is being shown at Indexical in Santa Cruz this Friday and Saturday as part of the label Touch’s 40th anniversary. You can read the interview at, which I’m always happy to write for. More details at

RIP, Justin Green (1945-2022)

A truly great American comics artist, and a dear friend

When we’re young, if we’re fortunate, terms like “heavy heart” and “heartbroken” are just that: language on the page, perhaps language overheard. As we age, those words take on meaning through experience. It is in that sense that I note the death of Justin Green, a great American comics creator, and also an old friend of mine.

Justin was one of the earliest comics memoirists, best known for his 1972 Binky Brown and the Holy Virgin Mary. I met him 20 years later, when I was a few years out of college. I’d moved to Sacramento, California, in 1989 to help edit the music magazine published by Tower Records, called Pulse!, and after a few years, I started to introduce comics that I edited. The first comic was by Adrian Tomine, still in high school at the time. His piece ran in the February 1992 issue of Pulse! It was the start of a monthly three-year collaboration that bridged him starting college at Berkeley.

The next issue, in March 1992, Justin Green debuted the first of what would end up being a decade straight of comics in the magazine. His first piece was about when Benny Goodman met Charlie Christian. He’d proceed over the years to tell stories about everybody from Leadbelly to Elvis Presley to Buddy Holly to Mezz Mezzrow. Like his friends and fellow cartoonists R. Crumb and Bob Armstrong, Justin favored old American music. This meant comics about John Philip Sousa, and Stephen Foster, and Fats Waller. Occasionally I could nudge him out of his comfort zone, especially when I wrote a piece for him, like the one I did about Philip Glass still driving a taxi cab after the premiere of Einstein on the Beach, or the one I did about an imaginary retirement home for old corporate mascots, as a means to tell a concise, not very serious story about the history of the 8-track cassette tape. These were later collected in a book, Musical Legends, published by Last Gasp. I left Pulse! in 1996, but continued to write and edit freelance for Tower. At some point after I left for San Francisco, where I still live, the talented editor Bill Forman began to also work with Justin on his comics. I continued to edit the Flipside comics that appeared on the last page of every issue. (These started with Peter Kuper in 1993 and ended with Jeff LeVine in 2002, the final issue of the magazine, for which I wrote the cover story, which was an interview with Missy Elliott. I’ve posted a semi-complete index of them.)

Like Adrian, Justin lived in Sacramento, which is where Tower was based. Technically Tower was in West Sacramento, but the original store was in Sacramento, and that’s where I lived. I first contacted both Justin and Adrian because they were local. This was before email was a norm, and back when fax machines were still a daily tool at the office. I wanted to work with local cartoonists, in order for us to be able to meet in person and go over the illustrations and shape the stories. I’d noticed Adrian lived in town because I saw his address in his self-published zine, Optic Nerve.

As for Justin, realizing he lived in town was a huge surprise. I had recently purchased the latest issue of Raw magazine. In each issue, on the table of contents, Raw listed the location of the various contributors. It was usually New York City, Paris, London — maybe Berkeley and Barcelona. And there in that issue, volume 2, number 3, was “Justin Green, Sacramento” — directly above Gary Panter, below whom was a collaboration between Alan Moore and Mark Beyer.

I first had coffee with Adrian at a local cafe, and I had no idea he was as young as he was until we met. (He later told me he mistakenly had thought I was wearing my Slayer t-shirt ironically.) I first visited Justin, who lived with his wife, the incredible comics artist Carol Tyler, and their then young daughter, Julia, at their home. I remember walking around back, where the house was protected by a discarded Colonel Sanders statue. Justin was as surprised at how young I was as I had been when I met Adrian. He talked me through his process, and then we began to discuss the sort of work he would do.

I’m very sad as I write this, and while memories are flooding back, they’re also straining against a lot of emotions. At this stage, I want to pause the reminiscence, or at least try to. His death is still very fresh — I just learned today when Carol announced it on Facebook — and the 30 years since I met him have collapsed on themselves in a way that is confusing and surprising to me. One thing I recalled today was that originally, Justin didn’t intend to do biographical sketches each month. His original idea was to tell the story of a fictional blues musician. We roughed out some concepts, but ended up going in another direction. We never revisted that fictional blues musician, and I haven’t thought of that character — still inchoate after all these years — in the longest time. It’s like he’s still there, half-formed in my imagination. It’s uncanny.

I miss Justin terribly. The last time we were in touch was in November of last year. I’m working on a project that might have enabled me to visit him in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he’d moved awhile back. He reported that he was in poor health, as well as having “the standard woes of a septuagenarian regarding energy levels, sore feet, occasional bouts of rage that verge on Tourette’s symptoms” — the latter something anyone who’s read Binky Brown would appreciate. He also sent me a recording of a song he was working on. Justin was concerned he just didn’t have the project in him, but still, he wrote, “If it’s really really really important to you that I sign on, I’ll give it a go.” I could tell this was not a good idea to push for, and I let him know I appreciated it. And that was the last we corresponded.

There’s much more I want to recount about what I learned from Justin, professionally and personally, and I want to share some examples of his comics. That will have to wait. I’m wiped out. I was young when we met, and now I’m older than he was then, a warp of time that my mind can’t quite make sense of. For many years I had a piece of paper on which he had written something that summed up his work ethic. It said, in as many words, that if you’re in your 20s you should be pulling one all-nighter a week. I don’t pull all-nighters anymore, but there’s still a lot of Justin in me, and I cherish every ounce of it.

This Week in Sound: Reduce Distracting Bodily Noises

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the April 25, 2022, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (

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.

A story about the bullying of a cheerleader through the use of deep fakes expands into a cautionary discussion about voice privacy, ranging from cloned voices confirming million-dollar transfers, to the radio host’s voice being used to say read the script automatically. ➔

A 19-year study with 31,387 yields concerns about the correlation of noise pollution and mental health: “The study provides strong evidence of a negative mental health effect of perceived residential noise, and the results have implications for healthy home design and urban planning.” The research was undertaken in Australia. ➔

We’re generally programmed, thanks to evolution, to be inured to the noises we ourselves produce, but Sennheiser apparently thinks it has one-upped Mother Nature with its new wireless earbuds: “the open ear adapters will help reduce distracting bodily noises such as footsteps or your heartbeat while still allowing you to hear the ambient sound of your surroundings.” ➔

“The device is constantly listening to the sound of your voice, aiming to make you aware of ‘uuh’ fill words.” This is a gadget called “Mind the ‘Uuh,'” developed by by Benedikt Groß, Maik Groß and Thibault Durand. ➔

The world’s first “bioplastic” vinyl record format has been (via Nathan Moody)

A voice actor known for her screams (in Free Guy, Paranormal Activity, and Scream) on the less-than-inherently-safe nature of the gig: “We are like stunt people, doing the hard stuff that could be damaging to an actor’s voice or is out of their range.” ➔ (via Saga Söderback)

Religious leaders in India aren’t the only ones being hit by noise compliance crackdowns. In Noida, 17 DJs were addressed by police action. The regulations date to 1986: “The Act has defined ambient acceptable noise levels, silence zones, restrictions on the use of loudspeakers, horns, sound-emitting construction equipment, and bursting of crackers.” ➔

Sound Studies Review: An International Peer-Reviewed Music Journal is a new academic journal, edited by Mark A. Pottinger and Luca Lévi Sala of Manhattan College, and due to be published twice each year. “The main mission of the journal is to publish critical and engaging work at the intersection between musicology, music theory, audio technology, acoustical research, and media studies.” ➔

How about a script for an open source music machine that “does one thing — emitting a tone with a pitch that represents the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere”? ➔

“Privacy advocates say voice prints collected by smart home tools like Alexa and Google Nest could be used in police investigations with impunity unless biometric identifiers can be governed in at least the same way as other forms of evidence.” An update from Ireland. ➔

Google’s Android mobile OS has been removing apps that record phone calls, focused on apps that use the accessibility settings as a work-around. ➔

And since you’ve made it this far in a lengthy issue, your reward is an index of 1,200 sound effects from Don Martin’s Mad Magazine comics, ranging from “AAAGH! EEEEEOOOW ACK! UGH UGH MMP AGH! AEEK!” (“Removal of a Deep Rooted Tooth”) through “SPLAZOOSH” (“Woman Pouring Water on Fire”) through “ZZZZZZZZZZZ” (“Three Girls Sleeping”). In a article on the archive, Peggy Nelson investigates and praises its “early internet” construction. ➔, (Thanks, Peggy!)

Space Less Constrained

Saturday afternoon, April 23, 2022

An afternoon by a local lake in Golden Gate Park, traffic behind me and filtered through trees, joggers and baby carriages this way and that but not too numerous, the more prominent motors heard here not of street vehicles but of tiny little remote-controlled boats that enthusiasts bring to the manufactured water feature and race around regularly amid geese, turtles, and the occasional surface-breaching fish. The scene this past Saturday afternoon, banh mi and ebook in hand, was much more idyllic in person, I assure you. The birdsong was more prominent and diverse. The sense of space was less constrained. And the growling gusto of those hobbyist machines was significantly reduced in the context of the boats’ minuscule size.

Central Listening Device

And what I'd give for dependable sync

As always, in between descriptions of his voracious reading and hints at ongoing projects, Warren Ellis wrote in his April 24 Orbital Operations email newsletter about his everyday practical habits. This time around that meant the way his phone is optimized as a central listening device. And after sharing a screenshot of one of the screens on his phone, with all the apps and widgets aligned, he included a parenthetical that made me smile: “(It’s possible that even Marc Weidenbaum is looking at me like I’m nuts right now).”

And as it turns out, I do have a screen on my phone that is not particularly dissimilar from his:

One swipe right from my phone’s home screen is, indeed, a music-specific page. Let’s break it down:

The top widget is for YouTube Music. There are a lot of streaming services. I’ve tried most of them. I find them largely dispiriting (due to the lack of contextual information), insufficient (the widely hailed and also economically suspect “universal jukebox” has bizarre voids, such as the instrumental tracks I often buy hip-hop and r&b 12″s to access), and not particularly distinct from each other (though kudos to those services that do, at least, list the record label, even if it isn’t clickable to access a full catalog, as I vaguely recall used to be the case with Rdio). So, of all of ’em, why do I subscribe to YouTube Music? (Especially since I now use an iPhone, my first ever, having previously been on a sequence of Androids, all the way back to the G1.) The main benefit of YouTube Music is the subscription gets me ad-free YouTube.

The bottom widget is for Apple Music. I don’t subscribe to Apple Music, but I do, for the time being, have the annual subscription to iTunes Match, which lets me upload my own audio files to the cloud. When I receive a promotional copy of interest from a musician, record label, or publicist, I drop it into the Music app on my laptop and eventually — this may be vaguely seamless, but it’s not time-unintenstive — it becomes available to me more widely. Also in there are some old records I bought on iTunes when DRM roamed the Earth. (If anyone has recommendations for better ways to do this on an iPhone, lemme know. I’ve tried lots of options — see two paragraphs down — and none of them have been much better. I do know that I have close to zero interest in yet another gadget, so carrying a separate device just for music is close to a non-starter for me. But, as Romeo Void sang, never say never.)

Between the two widgets are some apps and app folders. I buy music on Bandcamp with some regularity, and also get a heap of promotional copies through the service. I mostly listen to SoundCloud via my laptop browser, but it’s handy to have on my phone (the app has a lot of shortcomings, most notably that there’s no access to the DMs). I don’t listen to many podcasts; thus far, the Apple Podcasts app has been sufficient. I don’t listen to a lot of pop music, but when a song catches my fancy out in the wild (which these pandemic days generally means: as part of a TV show or movie while I’m seated on the couch), Shazam keeps track of things I’ve perked up to. Mixcloud is often a good place to find music I like in new contexts, leading to me finding out about adjacent artists whose work I might not know, or just hearing the music I like in a different aesthetic continuum than I think of it as being part of. (And if you’re looking at the tiny album covers closely: yes, I do listen to a lot of movie scores, with Cliff Martinez and Clint Mansell always in rotation.)

The “Etc.” folder is for apps I’ve tried to replace Apple Music with for syncing, to little avail. It’s also got the Apple Music and YouTube Music apps in there, if I wanna pull them up, rather than revisit a recent listen from the widgets. And the “Meditation” folder is as it seems (Calm, Insight Timer, and four apps that Brian Eno did with Peter Chilvers, the original Bloom still being my favorite).

Also worth noting is what the screen doesn’t contain: YouTube, where I do a lot of my listening, and any audiobook apps (Audible, Hoopla, Libby). Those are elsewhere on my phone, and I spend a lot of time in them. Also not on this screen are any of the possibly hundreds of apps I own for making music. They’re on my iPad for the most part, though I have a few of ’em elsewhere on my phone (I have a few setups I use for producing generative background music, but my phone is optimized for battery life). And also not here are any white noise apps. I used to employ them frequently, but since switching to an iPhone, I just use the iOS Background Sounds feature.

So, that’s my central listening device. And it’ll probably look different in a couple weeks. Do you have a music/listening screen on your phone, and if so, what does it look like?