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. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram
This Week in Sound

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

Mystery Train

A field recording as readymade score

While working, I often have something playing on a secondary computer screen just for ambient visuals, like a live airfield webcam in Chicago (which is silent) or a live watering hole in a Kenyan national park (which pipes in the wind and bird calls, plus occasional mammalian utterances), or the great Listen to Wikipedia, which both visualizes and sonifies (“sonificates”? — nah) occurrences, in real time, from the highly used communal encyclopedia.

Increasingly over the past three or four years, my secondary-screen peripheral viewing has consisted of videos from the burgeoning assortment of YouTube channels run by people who wander around cities (my preference), as well as nature, recording as they go. Unlike the webcams and live data sonification mentioned above, these YouTube channels don’t contain “live” videos. That is, they record live, but they don’t stream live (i.e., in real time). There’s something quite pleasing about having Seoul (on a sunny day) or London (during heavy rain) or the Black Forest (crunchy leaves underfoot, and planes overhead just as Gordon Hempton warned us) pass by as you sit in your chair attending to your computer-fixated duties.

These videos can be comforting in unexpected ways. This past year I’ve had to travel more than I expected, for family reasons, and sometimes sitting with the same familiar footage of Madrid at night by my side served as a digital mutation of Ray Oldenburg’s concept of a Third Place: it was neither my home or work, nor where I was presently, but another location I could virtually transport to easily from either. (And I’m fully aware that my bastardization of Oldenburg’s richer observation proposes a solitary venture rather than the intended social one. Forgive me. I’m just thinking out loud.)

At a low volume level, the sounds from these YouTube flâneur/voyeur videos become truly ambient: neither focus nor absent. Your ear may prick up to an unfamiliar emergency siren from a faraway land or to some pedestrians kibitzing while waiting for the traffic light to favor them, but by and large the sounds, like the visuals, are pleasingly secondary.

Sometimes, though, there is a true surprise, and a delightful one.

For example, something magical happens at the 58:16 mark (that is, just shy of an hour) in a newly posted video by Rambalac titled “Japan – Wandering in countryside Iruma, Saitama.” Rambalac is the name of a prolific (one of the channel’s playlists has nearly 600 videos) and popular (584,000 followers to date) exponent of this YouTube flâneur category. In the Iruma video (named for the city in which it was shot), Rambalac, as always out of view, wanders around slowly, capturing the local environment with a keen eye (and ear), here for back alleys and urban parks. We never see Rambalac, though sometimes we catch a shadow, complete with film equipment (timecode: 14:17), or a hand playfully holding up a bottle of newly purchased tea (54:12).

It may very well have been the sounds from that vending machine transaction that woke me from my work trance. This beverage stop occurs very close to the end of the video. Ramblac then begins heading back to the train station. At almost exactly 58:00, someone with a backpack comes into view after running across the narrow street ahead, and this person’s presence — at the risk of getting all film theory about it — seems to relocate the video’s point of view, briefly becoming a sort of stand-in for Ramblac. They’re walking down the same street, their paces evenly matched.

We hear footsteps and chatter, and then at 58:16, a repetitive tone emerges. It sounds like nothing so much as if the minimalist composer Philip Glass had been hired to score the closing scene for a willfully quotidian spinoff of Koyaanisqatsi. What it is (and I confirmed this with Rambalac via the video channel’s Discord, and with a friend who lives in Japan) is the sound of the train crossing signal. It gets considerably louder as Rambalac (along with the person in view) approaches the station, and then it gets almost entirely subsumed by rail noise and conversation.

I realized, when I went back to watch the video again, that this same sound occurs, briefly and more quietly, at the very opening — by all appearances when Rambalac first arrives in Iruma. As we learn from watching such videos — and considering field recordings as compositions unto themselves — the two appearances of the signal/Glass sound are quite distinct. At the opening, it’s happenstance, but at the end, it takes on a narrative quality. The whole video is recommended, but if you just want to witness (and appreciate) the music’s arrival, start a little earlier, at around 57:42. Doing so sets the room tone, as it were, for the city, before what might be thought of as the readymade score appears. I never actually thought this was music, but I did — and do — think that in the context of the video, it has been meaningfully transformed into something more than merely overheard locomotive-operation detritus. Which is to say: it’s quite beautiful.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , , / Leave a comment ]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Subscribe without commenting

  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website 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

  • Field Notes

    News, essays, surveillance

  • Interviews

    Conversations with musicians/artists/coders

  • Studio Journal

    Video, audio, patch notes

  • Projects

    Select collaborations and commissions

  • Subscribe

  • Current Activities

  • Upcoming
    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of
    • 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 ( at Gray Area (
    • 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

  • 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?

  • Full Index
    And there is a complete list of past projects, 567 consecutive weeks to date.

  • Archives

    By month and by topic

  • [email protected]

    [email protected]

  • Downstream

    Recommended listening each weekday

  • Recent Posts