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.

field notes

News, essays, reviews, surveillance

Red Means Recording

UX, consent, and emotions

I was interviewed yesterday morning for something related to the Disquiet Junto, and the interviewer began, appropriately, by doing that standard interview thing where they ask if it’s OK that they record your voice. I’ve done this countless times myself, and I’m still getting used to it, to being on the other side of the proverbial and literal microphone. It turns out (and this was news to me, hence my making note of it) Skype now has a recording feature built in, so there’s no need for a handheld recorder, or for using a second app (though I would still recommend a backup). For privacy’s sake, when your Skype interlocutor elects to employ this in-app recorder, a little alert pops up in your window. The image shown here is from the upper left corner of my screen (in this case an iPad) as it appeared when the interviewer hit the record button. (I had, in turn, asked my interviewer if I could take this screenshot.) The message is a little reminder. The color red here is a standard “currently recording” tell, but in our global moment of heightened surveillance awareness it feels, as well, like a warning. Which is to say, there might be a nicer way for Skype to frame such an interaction.

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Sticker

Nostalgia for barely a week ago

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I Keep the Subtitles On at Night

A rare moment of dual diegetic ambience cues from Mindhunter

I keep the subtitles on at night. I do this to keep the house quiet, and I do this because, often as not, I’m watching some British show in which everything sounds to my American ears like an erudite mumble. In the case of Mindhunter, the Netflix serial-killer show now enjoying a second season, it’s the former. Everything stated in these East Coast accented voices is distinct and clear to my (natively) East Coast hearing — and the Southern voices, too, perhaps because the Southern accents are being spoken generally by people who want their utterances to be heard (whether they are beleaguered law enforcement, concerned bystanders, or vain convicts).

Late at night, the captions keep the living room’s televised noises from traveling too far around the house, and as a result I get glimpses at the way the hearing-impaired captioning is framing the on-screen action, the encapsulation of the sonic mise-en-scène.

This particular shot (from midway through season 2, episode 6) is a rare instance of dual caption cues. It’s far more the norm for a single sound — “footsteps,” “eerie music,” “fan rattling” — to be selected set the tone for a given moment, but here two distinct elements (“dogs barking in the distance,” “indistinct radio chatter”) combine to achieve the desired effect, the desired summary of effects, the desired way to read the scene. On TV, it’s generally the case that more than one sound is at work at a given time: score plus multiple bits of diegetic ambience, as well as dialog. (Jason Hill’s score to Mindhunter is the show’s main nod to contemporary aesthetics: all warped slivers of sound, synthesized haze, and other such meticulously designed treats.) In the moments when dialog is absent, such as here, the background sounds edge toward the foreground.

As watchers of mysteries, we, the audience, are the dogs in this picture, sniffing out (or, in this case, keeping an eye out for) clues. When two sonic cues appear, our eyes and ears are alerted simultaneously to the seriousness of the moment.

This is of course a David Fincher production, which is to say a hyper-detailed one in which the most mundane physical objects — a period vehicle, an abandoned warehouse, a small forest — is likely to be the result of hours of CGI transformation. At a moment like this, it’s not hard to imagine Fincher himself, the model of a Hollywood perfectionist, having made the call: “No, neither the dogs nor the radio alone is sufficient. We need both.”

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Daredevil Is in the Details

New creative teams stake their claim to the rare blind superhero

Whatever comics commentary I may have is generally going to be lagging behind fresh releases. In particular, my Marvel Comics reading is almost always off by six months or so, since that’s about how long it takes, I believe, for a comic to make it from the newsstand to Marvel Unlimited’s digital subscription service. A new Daredevil series just popped up, story by Chip Zdarsky, art by Marco Checchetto, and color by Sunny Cho. Any time there’s a new Daredevil creative team, there’s the opportunity for a new take on this rare blind superhero (with heightened hearing, among other senses).

In this early scene from the first issue, just two pages in, Zdarsky gives us a glimpse of Daredevil’s own perception of his super-senses. (Origin story in brief: as a kid, Matt Murdock “lost his sight in an accident involving radioactive chemicals,” and rather than dying of cancer like the rest of us would, he became an infamous New York City vigilante and, by day, a crusading lawyer). The pills depicted are pain medication for a recent injury. (I don’t know if there’s an addiction plot line coming, like the classic Iron Man alcoholism one, “Demon in a Bottle.” I’ve only read this first issue.) His comment gets at the diminished role that listening plays in dark, loud places (he’s in a dive bar at this moment, perhaps the last dive bar in the Epcot for aesthetes that is modern Manhattan), how it levels the sensory playing field. I especially like how other senses are of particular use in such situations, how “the smells fill in the cracks.”

Now, when he says, “Places like this are a picture,” he’s saying one thing to the woman he’s in the process of picking up, and something else entirely to the true-believer reader. To the woman, it’s an artful observation. To the reader, it’s a consideration of how echolocation gives Daredevil a sense of whatever space he’s in, a detailed sense, a “picture” as it were, due to his superpowers.

While the “picture” is largely inside Daredevil’s head in the comic, it becomes fairly literal in a tasty little treat in the back of the book, where there’s a four-page comic, both art and story by Zdarsky.

For example, spend a moment with these three panels:

And then compare that sequence with this one:

See how the first is a sound/echolocation depiction of the “visual” sequence? See how the tiny, lowercase (i.e., quiet) sound effects in the second sequence are dwarfed by the larger, all-caps effects in the first sequence? This back-section, four-page comic in Daredevil is actually two pages repeated twice: once as visual, and once as sonic. Interestingly, all four pages are not depicted from Daredevil’s point of view. The depiction is omniscient, with Daredevil in the frame. There are two standard pages, which is to say: two pages drawn as a sight-normative narrator/reader would experience the activity. Those pages then alternate with the same sequence as if the narrator/reader were viewing it in Daredevil’s blind-yet-enhanced state.

These distinct reproductions of the same sequence bring to mind Matt Madden’s excellent book 99 Ways to Tell a Story, while the focus on disability, as always, stirs memories of the great “deaf Hawkeye” work by Matt Fraction and David Aja, not to mention such characters as Alicia Masters, the blind secondary figure in the Fantastic Four comics, and Black Bolt, the nuclear-voiced Inhumans leader, and … well, the list goes on and on. Sound and comics, it’s a thing.

Anyhow, that’s just a peek into the way sound is depicted and employed in this new(ish) Daredevil series. I’m looking forward to the next issue.

. . .

After posting this initially on Twitter and then to my This Week in Sound email list, I was reminded of some earlier, related posts I’ve made in to Instagram, from two other first issues of Daredevil runs. This panel is from a 2014 issue of a different Daredevil #1, written by Mark Waid, drawn by Chris Samnee:

And panel this is from the 2016 Daredevil #1 issue from writer Charles Soule and artist Ron Garney:

This post is lightly adapted and expanded from a version first published in the August 26, 2019, issue of the free Disquiet.com weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet).

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Before and After Language

Highlights of LACMA's exhibit Beyond Line: The Art of Korean Writing

The above image is a detail from a contemporary piece of calligraphy by artist Kim Jongweon, who is working toward a new visual vocabulary born of ancient and modern Korean writing. Until dissuaded, I’m going to believe this character (in both the sense of a written character, and of an image depicting a human face) is playing some sort of woodwind, or perhaps is singing. Note the smaller, inset figure. It appears to be dancing. Also shown, below, for context is a photo of the full Jongweon piece, currently displayed as part of Beyond Line: The Art of Korean Writing, a large-scale exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. That one little dancer is but a filigree amid this expanse of orderly, buoyant drawings:

The exhibit is phenomenal, massive walls given over to single characters the size of a human body, glass cabinets with fine ancient texts, and rubbings of even older examples of Koreans expressing themselves with lines, lines that some day would evolve into writing, into an expression of voice as much as of thought. Try, for example, returning the gaze of a 7,000-year old face as seen in this petroglyph. I’m fascinated by the absence of ears. Is this how someone saw themselves? Is it a drawing of a mask? Stare back in time and time stares back at you:

A focus of the exhibit is hangeul, a modernized and simplified Korean lettering, or “phonetic script,” that dates back to the 15th century. It was developed in order to replace the classical Chinese that had long been the region’s lingua franca. (That’s not actually an accurate description. As a This Week in Sound reader, Anne Bell, helpfully clarified for me, via email: “The Korean language has always been distinct from Chinese but the elite used classical Chinese characters as the writing system for centuries. What hangeul did was mimic the actual sounds of spoken Korean, making it a true phonetic alphabet. The hangeul alphabet has 28 letters. Compare this to Chinese where basic literacy requires learning between 2500 to 3000 characters. This was huge in terms of democratizing the written word.”) I’ve always marveled at the pleasing geometry of the Korean language, and this exhibit brings it alive in a way I had long dreamed of. Look at these bold letter forms and ponder that this was published in 1446.

At times in the exhibit the connection between line and tongue is made explicit, as in this 1947 document (almost exactly 600 years later than the above book), which explains how “mouth movements” match various aspects of hangeul:

More on the exhibit at the museum’s website, which explains that due to how rare many of the displayed pieces are, the show will not be touring: lacma.org.

This is lightly adapted and expanded from an edition first published in the August 26, 2019, issue of the free Disquiet.com weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet).

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