Disquiet Junto Project 0579: Memory Serves

The Assignment: Rerecord a piece of music.

Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto music community, 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 6, 2023, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, February 2, 2023.

Tracks are added to the SoundCloud playlist for the duration of the project. Additional (non-SoundCloud) tracks appear in the lllllll.co discussion thread.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0579: Memory Serves

The Assignment: Rerecord a piece of music.

Step 1: The goal of this project is to simply perform and record again something you’ve performed and recorded previously. Think about something you’d like to revisit.

Step 2: Now rerecord the piece of music you decided upon in Step 1.

Eight Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0579” (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 “disquiet0579” (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-0579-memory-serves/

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:

Length: The length is up to you.

Deadline: Deadline: This project’s deadline is the end of the day Monday, February 6, 2023, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, February 2, 2023.

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 579th weekly Disquiet Junto project, Memory Serves (The Assignment: Rerecord a piece of music), at: https://disquiet.com/0579/

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-0579-memory-serves/

Essential Ingredients

Tape, plastic, metal — all the essential ingredients of a warm welcome. There’s so much going on here, so much aftermarket iterative change, from the built-in doorbell button, to the intercom speaker, to the standalone button reinforced in a protective container and then labeled “BELL” because the whole thing has gotten so complicated — and heck, why not replace the key with a keypad while one is at it. This is a marvel of domestic hodgepodge, of the not so much dark side as the deeply mundane side of DIY. It takes a lot of care to not care this much.

Another Conversation Ends

RIP, Cindy Williams (1947-2023)

Cindy Williams, best known for her role as the latter half of the comedy duo who comprised Laverne and Shirley (1976-1983), died last week at age 75. For those especially attentive to the way sound is employed by filmmakers, she is perhaps more specifically niche-famous as half of a quite different couple, the one at the center of the intrigue that was Francis Ford Coppola’s classic 1974 film The Conversation (the other half is the gentleman wearing a tie in this still — not the mime). To watch The Conversation is to hear their conversation over and over, each time the phrasing gaining new meaning, thanks in large part to the ingenuity of sound designer Walter Murch, who worked right around the same time with Williams on George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973).

It was in American Graffiti that Murch put what he called “worldizing” into effect. This meant that the sound of, say, a car radio was heard as if it were right there in the car seen on-screen, lending new realism to the storytelling, bringing the viewer ever more into the sensorium of the characters. In The Conversation, the potential of sound as a narrative tool emerged fully formed, at the behest of the character Harry Caul, played by Gene Hackman. To watch The Conversation is to hear the same sentence over and over — a sentence spoken to Williams (who infused the role, as Ann, with an essential tenderness), and scrutinized to distraction by an obsessed Caul: “He’d kill us if he got the chance.”

A Minor Technical Victory

Adding a mic to the Dirtywave M8

Cable Guy: Connecting my phone and my synthesizer

This weekend I surprised myself by sorting out a solution to a technical problem I’ve been bothered by. There’s a small piece of music equipment called the M8, which is the sole product made by a small company called Dirtywave (dirtywave.com), based in Los Angeles. The M8 is a “tracker,” a term for a manner of sequencing music. Working in a tracker looks sort of like composing in a spreadsheet, which may sound unappealing, but if you’ve gotten good at working in a spreadsheet then you know how just how powerful muscle memory can be, much as is the case with “traditional” instruments. (I put the word “traditional” in quotes because trackers have been around since the late 1980s, over 30 years. I’m not sure when something becomes “traditional,” but trackers are by no means new.) I used to play with a tracker on my various Palm Pilots back in the day, but hadn’t used one in a long time, even as they’ve recently experienced something of a resurgence in popularity.

What appealed to me about the M8 (versus the Tracker from Polyend, or the software Renoise that could run on my laptop) was its portability. As shown in the photo, it’s not much larger than a phone. In addition, the keyboard has been reduced to a literal handful. The software, which Dirtywave has updated regularly, is quite powerful. And as has become essentially required of new music equipment, there is a great online forum where users discuss the M8, and share tips and examples of their work.

Two things, however, have bugged me about the M8: one hardware, one software. The software matter is that, far as I can tell, it can’t process live sound. I can record music into the M8 and process it, but I can’t process music live. Perhaps that will change with future upgrades. (It also may not solely be a software issue.)

The hardware issue involves recording: for all its inputs and outputs, the M8 doesn’t have a built-in microphone. And for it to use an external microphone, the mic has to be powered (that is, at “line level,” rather than “mic level”). So, not only do I have to use an external microphone to record audio as samples, that mic must be powered. I wanted a portable mic, and I couldn’t find a powered, line-level mic that would fit in the M8’s case. Part of the beauty of the M8 is its portability. A large mic reduces portability.

And now I’ve sorted out a good solution to the “easily portable microphone for the M8” matter: By using a simple mic app and a Lightning-to-audio dongle, I can turn my phone into a mic and plug it directly into the M8. When I first tried to do this, the feedback was alarming. The key thing is to turn the speaker in the microphone app to zero. That nixes the feedback. I can also just record to the phone and play back into the M8 this way. It works really well (I have an iPhone, but it would work with Android, too). And yeah, I’ll likely use feedback on purpose down the road. (The reason the cable in the photo is so long is that I briefly experimented, earlier in this process, with putting my phone really far from the M8 to avoid feedback, before I realized I could fix things by turning off the app’s speaker function.)

Technically, I haven’t found a microphone that fits in the M8 case, my original goal, but since I’ve always got my phone with me anyhow, this is a totally acceptable solution — and better yet, I didn’t need to make any additional purchases, aside from the microphone app, which cost just a couple bucks.

On Repeat: Glassbirds, Schulz, Santaolalla, Westerkamp

From the past week

Brief mentions each Sunday of my favorite listening from the week prior:

▰ There are concept albums, and there is Me and the Glassbirds, forthcoming from Heejin Jang, who imagines “a laboratory in which she hatches birds from a bricolage of painted sounds.” These are the title “glassbirds,” and this is a collection of their activities: “These glassbirds are constructed with parts that are fragile, transparent, and frequently malfunctioning. As some break and others are disassembled, new glassbirds emerge on their own, eventually combining and forming a mirror image of their creator.” The result is a clanging industrial noise of the highest caliber. Three tracks are already online, in advance of the March 3 release.

https://heejinjang.bandcamp.com/album/me-and-the-glassbirds

▰ Jeannine Schulz’s first release of the year is out. She’s prolific, so presumambly there’s more to come. According to the calendar, we’re still in January. The three tracks, one of which is refered to as a “bonus,” are collected under the title Clicks and Tones, which properly sums up the material: rough drones, full of their own quiet drama, play host the the simplest of crackling beats on track “A” and the bonus entry, whereas “B” largely dispenses with plosives in favor of what could be a dusty vibraphone turned into a windchime.

https://jeannineschulz.bandcamp.com/album/clicks-and-tones

▰ Watching The Last of Us on HBO has sent me back to the score of the originating video game, by the great Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain, The Motorcycle Diaries). This slow collection of gentle yet eerie tones is one of my favorite cues:

▰ An interview by Mack Hagood with composer, field recording figure, and acoustic ecologist Hildegard Westerkamp, veteran of the World Soundscape Project, recorded in 2021 shortly after the death of R. Murray Schafer, and featuring excerpts of some of her music. (OK, this one I only listened to once, but it did lead me to revisit of her albums on repeat.)

https://phantompod.org/hildegard-westerkamp-life-in-soundscape-composition/