My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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


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The Neural Synthesizer and Orchestral Chimera

I was interviewed by Wired about Google's latest Magenta undertaking

It was a pleasure to be interviewed by Wired‘s Cade Metz for a piece he was writing about AI at Google, specifically part of Google Magenta. Magenta is an attempt on Google’s part to make the tools of machine learning accessible to people who make art and music. Metz was researching the NSynth, a “neural audio synthesis” technology the Magenta folks were debuting this week at Moogfest in Durham, North Carolina (see: AI is one of Metz’s main beats, and he’s soon to move from Wired to the New York Times, where he’ll continue to report on the subject.

Part of the promise of NSynth is the ability to merge the sonic, timbral qualities of multiple existing instruments in the pursuit of previously unheard sounds. On the NSynth website it’s described as follows:

Learning directly from data, NSynth provides artists with intuitive control over timbre and dynamics and the ability to explore new sounds that would be difficult or impossible to produce with a hand-tuned synthesizer.

Here, for example, is what a flute and an organ combined might sound like:

Metz and I had a good chat about the promises and potentials of the technology. In brief, I think it’s helpful to think of NSynth in the context of what conductors and composers have done for centuries to create an unidentifiable sound by combining instrumentation. Someone from Google does contradict this point directly in Metz’s article — I just think there’s a grey area worth exploring between comparing and contrasting orchestral chimera and algorithmic chimera.

To experience NSynth check out the Sound Maker (at, an online instrument that lets you play with the instrument-merging tools:

I also think it’s especially exciting that Google is up to this sort of work, because where Google leads others generally follow. Furthermore, whereas it’s hard these days for a company to compete against Gmail or (other than Apple’s iOS) Android or many other of Google’s entrenched accomplishments, music provides a lot more opportunity for a new technology to distinguish itself, especially this early on in the realm of the AI arts.

You can read Metz’s full piece, which was published on May 15, at

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Disquiet Junto Project 0281: Pattern Interruption

Create a pattern, loop it, and intersperse alterations.

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.

Tracks will be added to this playlist for the duration of the project:

This project’s deadline is 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, May 22, 2017. This project was posted in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at

Disquiet Junto Project 0281: Pattern Interruption
Create a pattern, loop it, and intersperse alterations.

This week we’re exploring the interruptions of patterns. The project was proposed by Lin Mu. It is inspired by CRISPR, the prominent gene-editing technology. The word CRISPR stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.”

Step 1: First, create a brief musical pattern of individual notes that will be looped. The pattern should be a palindrome in form — that is, its center-most point should serve as a mirror’s edge, so that its latter half repeats the first half, albeit in reverse.

Step 2: Create a piece of music in which that initial loop from Step 1 plays several times in a row. It should then continue to loop, but you should add notes in its midst as it proceeds. Some of these sounds might be added to the loop, thus breaking the palindrome form. Other introduced sounds might never repeat.

Five More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: If you hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to include the project tag “disquiet0281” (no spaces) in the name of your track. If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to my locating the tracks and creating a playlist of them.

Step 2: Upload your track. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your track.

Step 3: In the following discussion thread at please consider posting your track:

Step 4: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 5: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, May 22, 2017. This project was posted in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Length: The length is entirely up to the participant.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0281” in the title of the track, and where applicable (on SoundCloud, for example) as a tag.

Upload: When participating in this project, post one finished track with the project tag, and 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 preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

Linking: When posting the track online, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 281st weekly Disquiet Junto project — “Pattern Interruption: Create a pattern, loop it, and intersperse alterations” — at:

This week’s project was proposed by Lin Mu.

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

Subscribe to project announcements here:

Project discussion takes place on

There’s also on a Junto Slack. Send your email address to for Slack inclusion.

Image associated with this project is from Wikipedia:

By James atmos – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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Sound, After Rauschenberg

Scanner live during his Captiva Island residency

If you’ve listened to the second episode of the Disquietude podcast, then you’ve heard a piece by Scanner recorded during his residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation on Captiva Island in Florida. This video was also recorded during that residency, and it shows Scanner doing a performance that occurred at the close of the extended visit, when he and the rest of his cohort presented some of what they had been up to. In this case many of the source audio segments in Scanner’s piece were things he’d recorded in Florida during the residency. You can hear surf and birds in the mix, along with a singsong mix of waveforms. The use of found materials seems appropriate, given the Rauschenberg’s artistic legacy. Scanner describes it a bit at his website:

Something I found surprising and fascinating about my stay was how it altered my listening habits. Whilst working on my new book I found that much of the music I would ordinarily listen to seemed wrong for the location. With nature in its rawest form all around, with osprey, vultures, dolphins, manatees, racoons, woodpeckers surrounding me, it was a challenge to find other music that might work.

The first episode of the Disquietude podcast featured a piece recorded by another artist, Marcus Fischer, at the same residency, albeit a month or so earlier.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at More from Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, at

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Patti Kilroy’s Echoes and Premonitions

A track for layered voice

Like a lot of solo musicians working with electronic equipment, Patti Kilroy manages to expand her palette by becoming multitudes. The layers of her voice in “Blahudio” accumulate with consummate subtlty. At times it can sound like just one person, except then instances of her intoning seem to occur with a peculiar sequential nature: you realize that you’re hearing something you expect to hear, the initiation of a riff, after or during that which would normally succeed it. Now, “riff” might be overstating it: these are modulations more than melodies, wisps that shifts up and down a slender scale. There are deep echoes and premonitions in the piece, and a harmonic intensity that produces shivers in the listener.

Track originally posted at More from Kilroy, who is based in New York, New York, and whose primary instrument is violin, at

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Gamelan Hypnotism

A "Bell Study" by Dave Seidel

This “Bell Study” by Dave Seidel, aka Mysterybear, uses light echoes of looped gamelan samples to create a quiet, peaceful sonic space that has a rhythmic component even as it suggests itself for reflection and contemplation. In theory, or at least based on the barest of descriptions, the combination of melodic percussive tones and a fairly rapid sequencing should gather the listener’s attention rather than what happens here, which is that it provides a kind of gentle lull. It’s music that you can focus on, but also music that encourages you to not focus. The result is hypnotic. The tones themselves have a similarly self-contradictory beauty, in part richly tonal and at the same time lightly sour, especially when the loops allow for beading and overlays that expose subtle harmonic dissonances.

Track originally posted at More from Seidel, who is based in Peterborough, New Hampshire, at

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