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

Upcoming Activities

A talk, and some books

And … this post is already out of date, as I’ve added some additional items to the Current Activities sidebar.

The left-hand sidebar on Disquiet.com lists things that are coming up, and as there have been some interesting updates, I wanted to bring attention to them in a proper post. The highlight is a trio of books that contain material on the Disquiet Junto:

Upcoming
• March 22, 2019: I’m giving a talk at the Algorithmic Art Assembly, two days of events in San Francisco: aaassembly.org.
• May 7, 2019: This day sees the release of Rob Walker’s book The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday (Knopf), which has entries about the Disquiet Junto.
• May 22, 2019: Final day of the semester of the 15-week “Sounds of Brands” course I teach once a year at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.
• December 13, 2019: This day marks the 23rd anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2020: This day marks the 8th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto.

Dates TBA
• A chapter on the Disquiet Junto (“The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice,” by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell.

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About the Proprietor

And some some updated FAQs

Disquiet.com is in its 23rd year online, and I think for the first time I’m adding a proper bio to the site. There is now a brief summary in the left-hand sidebar, and then the full text at disquiet.com/about. I’ve also updated the site’s two FAQs. This bio will change over time, but here’s how it reads as of today:

Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com 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 that explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. Its activities have been covered by The Wire, Buzzfeed, CDM, and Bloomberg Businessweek, as well as in books published by Knopf and by Oxford University Press.

A former editor of Tower Records’ music magazines (Pulse!, on which he was a senior editor; Classical Pulse!, which he co-founded; and epulse, the weekly email newsletter that he founded in 1994 and which ran for a decade), he is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II (Bloomsbury, 2014, later translated into Spanish and Japanese), and he has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, Downbeat, NewMusicBox, Art Practical, and The Atlantic online, among other periodicals.

Weidenbaum’s sonic consultancy has ranged from mobile GPS apps to coffee-shop sound design, comics editing for Red Bull Music Academy, and music supervision for two films (the documentary The Children Next Door, scored by Taylor Deupree, and the science fiction short Youth, scored by Marcus Fischer).

His sound art has been exhibited at galleries in Dubai, Los Angeles, and Manhattan, as well as at the San Jose Museum of Art. He teaches a course titled “Sounds of Brands,” on the role of sound in the media landscape, at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

Originally from New York, he’s a longtime resident of San Francisco, California.

There is a Disquiet.com FAQ and a Disquiet Junto FAQ.

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The Algorithms We Call Music Communities

Friday, March 22, in San Francisco at Gray Area Foundation for the Arts

I’m continuing to work on the talk I’ll be giving at the upcoming Algorithmic Art Assembly in San Francisco. I’ll be speaking on Friday, March 22, in the afternoon. The two-day event (half afternoon speakers, half evening performances) will be held at Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. My working title and description for the talk are as follows:

The Woodshed Is a Black Box
How a rules-based system formed, shapes, and fuels the long-running online music community known as the Disquiet Junto.

And that’s what it’s about. It’s a talk about the way rules shape online interactions in groups of collaborators, how those rules change over time, how some rules are more self-evident than others, and how seemingly small changes can have significant impact (positive and negative).

The Disquiet Junto, formed in 2012 and run weekly since, takes its name from the original Junto, an organization formed in 1727 by Benjamin Franklin with an emphasis on “mutual self-improvement.” The classic model of self-improvement in music is the woodshed, and it is historically a solitary pursuit. The woodshed is where you go to practice, and from which you emerge changed. It is as much a verb as it is a noun.

What, though, does focused practice mean in an always-on, always-connected culture? In a networked community, is there such a thing as a network of woodsheds? How does an online community structure and support this activity, and how do rules structure and support the online community?

More details at aaassembly.org — and here, as it comes together.

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The Walls of Solomon’s Delicatessen

Memories of Tower Records

There’s now a Solomon’s Delicatessen in Davis, California, named in honor of Russ Solomon, the legendary founder of Tower Records. I was an editor on Tower’s magazines — Pulse!; Classical Pulse!, which I co-founded with the opera critic Robert Levine; and epulse, the email newsletter that I founded in the paleolithic days of 1994 and that ran for a decade — from 1989 to 1996, and then continued in a freelance capacity until 2004, when it all came to an end in the company’s bankruptcy. A friend texted me this afternoon from the deli with this photo (also on his Instagram account) of the wall, which is plastered with old Pulse! covers, many of which stories I wrote (White Zombie, among them), and many more of which I edited (that Ministry one, for example, written by the great science fiction novelist Richard Kadrey). I’m pretty sure the Aphex Twin story listed on the Pavement cover is the one I did that decades later led to my 33 1/3 book on Selected Ambient Works Volume 2, but I’ll have to look back, as I don’t recall which issue it was.

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The Ambient Craft of Spy Dramas

Case in point: Berlin Station

The clock is nearing 11pm on a Saturday, and another episode of Berlin Station cycles up, following immediately on the end of the previous one. Season three of the TV series, a spy drama, is underway, set in a brightly lit, contemporary Estonia under a creeping, old-school Russian curtain — or at least so things seem. It’s still early on.

There has been a break in the week’s heavy wind and rain this evening, and the house is especially quiet, little to any sound inside or out. The show’s own audio, as a result, is all the more present in the living room. The actors’ voices are hushed, anxious. The stereo spectrum of European café scenes brings the steam of espresso machines within reach. The echoes of hospital hallways on the screen are on loan to the dimly lit room in which the TV hangs.

Spy dramas, like horror movies and romances, are filled with extended sequences containing little to no dialog. Unlike the other two, spies often never reach a climax. At their best, such thrillers are often all suspense — which is to say, all suspension: not action, but the holding off of action.

Striving honorably for a proper audience to get it to another season, Berlin Station has its share of fisticuffs and explosions, but it also has a lot of attenuation — the mapping of questionable territory, enough skulking to max out a Fitbit, detailed surveillance maneuvers (the above image is from the show’s opening credits: ears are everywhere). The thing built up to by the ever-heightening if still deeply sublimated drama might simply be a piece of paper folded and handed from one palm to another surreptitiously, or a fragment of chalk being used to mark a wall in an innocuous neighborhood, or a file disappearing suddenly and almost imperceptibly on a network.

And such sequences are where the show’s composers — Reinhold Heil, who first came to prominence with Run Lola Run, on the first two seasons, and then Joseph Trapanese (Shimmer Lake) on season three — are at their best. There’s only one collection of Berlin Station music so far, from the first season, released back in 2016. Early on in it is a track titled “Dirty Laundry,” segments of synths and strings and muffled percussion that suggest something big is about to happen — and it may, but it never sounds big. (Bizarrely for 2019, this track by Heil doesn’t appear to be on YouTube, which is why I haven’t embedded it here, but it is on all the major streaming services.)

This is all a roundabout explanation — following my own recent realization — why I so enjoy watching spy dramas and related thrillers, and why I so enjoy listening to their scores. It’s why as much as I love Cliff Martinez’s music for Solaris, it’s his The Company of You Keep and Arbitrage scores that I listen to most often. The sublimated intensity that these narratives call for in their soundtracks is exactly what can make for excellent ambient music. The genre is often conflated with new age or spiritual or relaxing, but it can be very tense, as well. And like a good spy, Berlin Station‘s Heil and Trapanese do their best work in the shadows.

Update: A little over a week after this was posted, I learned that while Heil did the first two seasons, the show’s showrunner changed with season three, and with the new showrunner came a new composer, Joseph Trapanese. The article now reflects that.

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