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 Benefits of Deviations

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are

The cover image to this week’s Disquiet Junto project features more text manipulation than has generally been the case this year. Here’s to further deviations — visual, sonic, and procedural — in 2018.

It’s Thanksgiving in the U.S. today, and I want to say thanks to everyone who is part of the Junto — past and present, long-timers and new arrivals. As I say each week in the email newsletter of the Junto, thanks as always for your generosity with your time and creativity.

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This Week in Sound: Naughty Gadgets

+ RIP, HAL + RIP, FMA + RIP, the free time of Autechre fans

An annotated clipping service

It’s been far too long since I last hit sent on an email to this list, not since mid-July.

Disconnect Me: Shakespearian actor Douglas Rain, the voice of HAL in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, has died at the age of 90: nytimes.com. This year, 2018, marks the 50th anniversary of the movie’s release.

Naughty List: Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser, has created a list (at mozilla.org) of smart devices in an effort to gauge consumers’ sense of their “creepy” factor. The items range from the Nintendo Switch to the Parker Teddy Bear. (Via Next Draft.)

Volume Off: The Free Music Archive is reportedly closing down: theverge.com.

Robot Overload: A few days ago, the British electronic duo Autechre revealed it had uploaded 444 (yes, 444) new (yes, new) videos to YouTube, totally more than 13 (yes, you know the drill) hours of music. The result brings to mind a neural network’s combination of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s horizon-view ocean photography and Brian Eno’s colorful light installations. As is the case with many an internet Easter Egg hunt, the communal scrambling to make sense of the ambiguous material is reminiscent of the mysterious Russian video footage at the heart of William Gibson’s 2003 novel, Pattern Recognition.

This was first published in the November 20, 2018, issue of the free weekly (well, kinda weekly, in a hopeful way) email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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Red Noise

Tuning the domestic environment in light of the environment environment

There is an industrial-strength air purifier running in the back of the house. The machine fills the room and the adjacent spaces with a ceaseless stage whisper. This is not the harsh, bristling whir of white noise, but the more rooted whoosh of its feminized alternate, pink noise. It is noise, nonetheless.

This purifier has sat there for years, retained for the occasional days or even weeks when the neighborhood’s plant allergens are particularly heavy in the air. These days, the air itself is heavy and the purifier is running far more often than usual — once all night by mistake, an industrial-music lullaby on repeat. The air is heavy with particulate fallout from the fires that raged some 175 miles to the northeast of where I live.

Today the particulate level — the environmental DEFCON — is registering as red, having nudged up from orange. The color red signifies merely “unhealthy.” Across the bay it has been “very unhealthy,” signified on maps and in advisory alerts by a deep purple. (Cue “Smoke on the Water.”) One level higher is some sort of maroon, meaning “hazardous.” It was deep purple here a few days ago, causing the schools to close, public transportation to be free, and museums to forgo admission fees. If TV is the opiate of the masses, apparently fine art is its vaccine.

Home for me is in San Francisco, not far from the ocean and quite close to the park. The fires were in the town of Paradise, California — the sort of geographic marker that would induce groans in a fictional film of our current narrative, and yet one that triggers as surreal in, well, what appears, through the smog, to be real life.

. . .

There is a second air purifier, borrowed, at the front of the house in the living room, where the windows are of a more recent vintage, but the smell and taste of smoke lingers still. Those pathogens are of external origin. The low-level noise pollution, by contrast, is self-induced.

The house is empty at the moment except for me — me and the twin air purifiers. An album of ambient music, recently released, is playing in the kitchen on a small counter-top speaker. It is a newly purchased “dumb” speaker, which is to say it lacks any AI functionality. This speaker connects in the simplest ways to the internet, and it is not part of the so-called internet of things. It does not reply when I speak. It does not ask questions. It merely channels audio from various devices.

This is today: We process our air, and we seek out products that lack intelligence, the way we want foods lacking in nitrates, un-tinged by antibiotic overflow, their genetic makeup non-modified — unprocessed, in other words.

. . .

I was in a bookstore across town, a rare venture out during the worst of our current health crisis, and having finished drinking a bottle of water, I crumpled up the bottle, folding it into itself like one would roll up a tube of toothpaste, and then capping it, so the re-sealed vacuum would keep it compacted. One of the store’s clerks rushed around the corner of shelves. She looked at me, and then at my hands, and then at me. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought I heard the crackling of fire.”

I was at the bookstore to attend a mid-day concert by a pair of local electronic musicians whose quiet, abstract work often hovered in the realm of white noise. I wondered later if their music had so settled our ears on a subtle palette, that we became, unintentionally, all the more sensitive to intruding noises.

. . .

The house is full of pink noise, byproduct of air purification. For a moment, I forget music is even playing. This is ambient music, music intended — in Brian Eno’s orienting definition — to be of use both in the background and as the subject of focused attention. The current background, however, is challenging the music’s subtleties — swamping them, frankly.

I turn up the volume on the kitchen speaker. I then move to another room. I go back to the kitchen, and turn the speaker up higher, and the music ceases to be the first category of ambient (i.e., background) and does its best to satisfy the demands of the second category (i.e., subject of attention).

The kitchen speaker at this volume reveals sharp pitches amid the album’s seemingly placid tones, or perhaps the music’s sharp pitches reveal the speaker’s shortcomings. The device is new, keeping opportunity for comparison is limited. This whole scenario is new, by which I mean the broader environmental issues.

Either way, an arms race is underway: the pink noise of domestic infrastructure against the sound design of contemporary popular music.

We’ll need new genres of music in our climate-punk future, genres that can conjoin or deflect the presence of the machines that we’ll employ to save us from what our machines have wrought.

The sad fact is that the pink noise seems like it should signify quiet on its own, and yet a pummeling inner momentum has risen to to the noise’s surface. There is an evident, anxious churn to the pink noise that is in contrast with the two devices’ purr-like quality. Perhaps the emotional tension is more contextually based: the presence of the noise having brought to mind the need for the device in the first place. The pink noise is a byproduct of a device to clean the air of the byproducts of fire. Distant fires are made more proximate by our need to adjust to their impact.

If there is a momentum to the purifiers’ noise, could something offset them? Pink noise, like white noise, serves as a mask for sound. The constant randomness of its myriad scatter-shot audible content — sonic particulate, a parallel to the atmospheric particulate the machines are to cancel out — can reduce the sensed presence of other noises. The churn inherent in the noise has no set tempo, but still implies one. Could something grasp that fungible tempo and render it slower? Could something cancel out further the higher register of the noise, much as pink noise reduces the harsh upper level of white noise? Could something carve music from the pink noise itself?

This cultural question is a tiny vestige of a larger discussion underway, a discussion addressing the caustic cycle: industrialization yields environmental consequences, and adjustments are made to counteract or sublimate those consequences, yielding further consequences. The question, of course, is how far one tunes one’s personal environment in light of the environment — the environment environment? — before one has, in effect, tuned out the environment.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0354: Rituals & Canticles

The Assignment: Make music using instruments from a future that doesn't fully remember our present.

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 Monday, October 15, 2018, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on. It was posted shortly before noon, California time, on Thursday, October 11, 2018.

Tracks will be added to the playlist for the duration of the project.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0354: Rituals & Canticles
The Assignment: Make music using instruments from a future that doesn’t fully remember our present.

Background: Nathan Moody didn’t create a concept album when he recorded his recent album, The Right Side of Mystery, but he had a framework for deciding how to make his instruments, and even how he composed. He imagined a future American tribe living in the ruins of our current civilization, scrounging for materials to make instruments for their rituals, from everyday events to significant milestones of years and lives. The music itself would be incorrectly remembered combinations of past musical traditions and styles, melded together.

Step 1: Consider that scenario of the future.

Step 2: Check out instruments that Moody made to act out his imagined future:

Step 3: Download the sonic source material that Moody recorded with those instruments, and that he has made available to participants in this Disquiet Junto project:

http://bit.ly/junto-moody-revised

Step 4: Roll one six-sided die, which will determine which of these tribe events/rituals you’ll compose music for:

1 = Marriage
2 = Death
3 = Lullaby
4 = Solstice or Harvest
5 = Coming of Age
6 = Coronation

Step 5: Re-read the background description up above, and compose a piece of music for the event assigned to you in Step 4 using the sounds from Step 3. Bonus interim round: create your own instrument modeled after Moody’s.

Six More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0354” (no spaces or quotation marks) in the name of your track.

Step 2: If your audio-hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to also include the project tag “disquiet0354” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation a project playlist.

Step 3: Upload your track. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your track.

Step 4: Post your track in the following discussion thread at llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0354-rituals-canticles/

Step 5: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 6: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Other Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is Monday, October 15, 2018, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on. It was posted shortly before noon, California time, on Thursday, October 11, 2018.

Length: The length of your track is up to you. (Think of the amount of time associated with the event/ritual assigned to you.)

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0354” 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: Please consider setting your track as downloadable and allowing for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution, allowing for derivatives).

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

More on this 354th weekly Disquiet Junto project (Rituals & Canticles / The Assignment: Make music using instruments from a future that doesn’t fully remember our present) at:

https://disquiet.com/0354/

Thanks to Nathan Moody (noisejockey.net) for proposing and providing the sounds and images and ideas for this project.

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here:

http://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0354-rituals-canticles/

There’s also a Junto Slack. Send your email address to twitter.com/disquiet to join in.

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Lori Scacci x Victoria Keddie

Pushing the Desire Loop to the breaking point

Lori Scacco’s album Desire Loop was released back in early July. The singular nature of the title served in marked contrast to the variety of sounds contained within. This wasn’t Desire Loops. It wasn’t a collection of source material. The title’s suggestion of a compositional technique was revealed as something more personal.

The album is inherently electronic. It isn’t just played on synthesizers. It is synthetic to its core. “Tiger Song” is drenched with waveforms that long into their blissful stasis give way to a poppy little beat and, then, to a proper melody, as if two rich strains of 1980s music (minimalism and new wave) had been yoked together to their mutual benefit. “Interactivity in Plastic Space,” two songs earlier on Desire Loop, manages computer whistles and vocaloid warbles above an overtly digital, and head-noddingly patient, rhythm track.

One album highlight is sandwiched between the two: “Back to Electric,” built on a bracingly looped thumb-piano beat and shot through on occasion with the ecstatic trill of some long lost silicon-chip tribe. “Back to Electric” isn’t just a highpoint of Desire Loop. It’s a highlight, as well, of the subsequent remix collection, Interpretations Vol III – Desire Loop, on which Victoria Keddie takes the original and, after an extended, playfully murky introduction, pushes its metrics to a polyrhythmic breaking point, until it all but evaporates. There are also remixes on Interpretations Vol III by William Selman, Helado Negro (aka Roberto Carlos Lange), A Grape Dope (aka Tortoise’s John Herndon), and Certain Creatures (aka Oliver Chapoy). Both Selman and Certain Creatures have previous albums and remix records on Mysteries of the Deep.

The albums are both available from the Mysteries of the Deep label (mysteriesofthedeep.bandcamp.com). More from Lori Scacco at loriscacco.com and from Victoria Keddie at victoriakeddie.com.

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