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.

What Sound Looks Like

Cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt

Buh buh but I need to hear the alarm that inspired such a fierce visual representation.

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This Week in Sound: Silent Ride-sharing + Radio Games + …

A lightly annotated clipping service

Dead Media: In a widely circulated story that within days launched lawsuits, Jody Rosen in the New York Times looked back at a 2008 fire whose cultural toll is yet to be fully comprehended. Every few weeks there’s a new bit of history that clarifies for a younger generation (and reminds an older, nostalgic generation) that the pre-streaming record industry didn’t always have musicians’ best interests at heart. It may be a while before an article tops this one in that regard.

Bring the Noise (App): There’s a lot of talk about noise online, but Apple is being literal with a new health-conscious app named Noise, designed to let those with Apple Watches remain alert to sounds above a certain decibel level. How the app can tell such sounds from cuffs rubbing against the device is yet to be seen. The question is also how effective such a thing will be, and whether it’s really a gimmick designed to spur sales in response to a moral panic about sound. “I think that they’re trying to appease the public,” Larry Rosen, a California State University, Dominguez Hills, psychologist, is quoted in the article below. There’s, in addition, a question of how such an app balances against the very same industry putting speakers everywhere from our ears to our wrists to our kitchen counters. Perhaps a more useful app would be named Off.

Single Girl: Miki Berenyi of the band Lush and, more recently, Piroshka penned a detailed essay, utterly bereft of glamor, on the ins and outs, the triumphs and deeply felt antagonisms, of being part of a creative ensemble. (h/t Michael Siou)

Mute Point: As if there were any doubt that so-called ride-sharing services are built on and even exacerbating class divisions, Uber is now testing a tool that allows customers to inform their drivers, with the push of a button, of their desire that the driver cease speaking: “Uber claims it is responding to concerns from customers that drivers will give them low star ratings if they don’t want to chat; drivers meanwhile often fear entering into conversations with passengers for the same reason.”

Background Beat: You may get an ad-free experience if you pay for Spotify, but it doesn’t mean advertisers aren’t benefiting from what Spotify learns about you. Liz Pelly breaks down the process in a Baffler piece. Todd L. Burns, praising Pelly’s article in his Crambe Repetita email newsletter, focused on a particularly rich paragraph: “Jorge Espinel, who was Head of Global Business Development at Spotify for five years, once said in an interview: ‘We love to be a background experience. You’re competing for consumer attention. Everyone is fighting for the foreground. We have the ability to fight for the background. And really no one is there. You’re doing your email, you’re doing your social network, etcetera.’ In other words, it is in advertisers’ best interests that Spotify stays a background experience.”

Make Not: Maker Media, home to Make Magazine and the Maker Faire, has, reports say, essentially been shuttered. It’s a huge loss to the DIY world, though it’s also worth noting how much of what Make has accomplished will live on in the efforts of those it has inspired in its 15-year run. I moderated a panel at the very first Maker Faire, back in 2006, about homemade and circuit-bent musical instruments. It featured Krystyna Bobrowski, Chachi Jones (aka Donald Bell), and Univac. An audio recording appears at archive.org.

Sound Salvation: Alt-Frequencies is a smart new video game that takes turning the dial as a form of maneuvering truths: “And while it may play with an old-fashioned radio gimmick, each station essentially represents a Facebook group or a curated Twitter list. These channels essentially give the audience what it wants rather than what it needs, all while a populace is increasingly at one another’s throats.” (h/t Simon Carless’ Video Game Deep Cuts email newsletter)

The Hustle: “On July 12th 1979 disco records were destroyed as part of the in-match entertainment. It has come to be seen as an appalling act of prejudice,” per The Economist. Despite which, the Chicago White Sox just celebrated its anniversary with t-shirts emblazoned “Disco Demolition – the night records were broken.”

This is lightly adapted from an edition first published in the June 16, 2019, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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A Furious Stasis

The tension between action and inaction

If yesterday’s video in this series was an exercise is extreme stasis, today’s marks a contrast. In yesterday’s, a hand occasionally appeared from the bottom of the screen to ever so slightly adjust the relative volume of four inbound cassette tapes, all in the pursuit of an ambient drone whose ethereal qualities occasionally betrayed a more complex, a rougher, texture than at first made itself apparent.

In today’s, the musician Dustmotes works furiously to nudge and transition a hovering tone, occasionally inserting new swells and the rare percussive element. Overall the music is no less subtle than yesterday’s, but this toolkit requires numerous controls to be tweaked and attended to in order to achieve Dustmotes’ goal. (Interestingly, for comparison’s sake, the musical instrument used here, the Elektron Digitone, is the same as was used to produce the audio on the cassette tapes in yesterday’s piece.) This tension between that activity and simplicity, between action and inaction, is exactly the sort of thing that my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music was created to document and explore.

Video originally published at YouTube.

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Tapes in Concert

A live performance that is largely hands-off

It begins, as do all worthwhile cassette tape experiences, with a click, and a hard one at that. This video captures the recording of an ambient performance that consists of multiple tapes being layered in real time, their relative volumes adjusted each occasion that a hand briefly enters the screen from below. The sounds are frayed and angelic, weary and ethereal, testing the ear’s alertness to fissures in the mist. There are four different audio sources, lending different elements to the overall ensemble.

When I first started compiling such examples of recommended live performances of ambient music found on YouTube, the intention was (and remains) to share examples of the tools and skills required, and to investigate the tension between action (the musician’s effort) and inaction (the sonic stasis to which so much ambient music aspires). Needless to say, the light touch in this piece by the Glasgow-based musician who goes by Blicero represents an extreme in terms of inactivity on the part of the performer. Then again, missing is the effort that went into recording the original loops, testing the balances in advance, and doing post-production.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally published at YouTube.

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We Belong to the Sound of the Words

A vacation week at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Over the past 12 months, I’ve slowly undergone a quite unexpected later-in-life conversion, specifically to the works of William Shakespeare. Especially unexpected if you happen to have known me in the insufferable ages between 18 and 21.

Once upon a time, I got my degree in English at a good school having managed to wend my way through its curriculum, both overt and hidden, while severely limiting my Bard input. I didn’t take a single course dedicated to Shakespeare’s work, requiring some caginess on my part, given that many of the school’s buildings were designed to look like we actually were in Great Britain, and that one of my more famous professors would later, enacting exactly the sort of arms-race overstatement that turned off a young student such as myself, attribute to Shakespeare the very “invention of the human.”

And yet, several decades later, the plays and poems (the characters and the tales, the words and the culture, the institution of the theater and the mechanical opportunities of iambic pentameter) are all new and alive to me. (The how and why of it comprise a separate story.) I got to see a gender-swapped “Hamlet” at the Globe in London last July, featuring a deaf Guildenstern, a casting gambit that resulted in a cascade of ingenious minor text and staging decisions (bonus: Pearce Quigley of The Detectorists as Rosencrantz), and it closed with a choreographed jig (an Elizabethan norm, which Takeshi Kitano fans will recall from the ecstatic end of his 2003 Zatoichi remake) so emotionally overwhelming that I found myself not just clapping along but … crying. Crying? The only tears I previously associated with Shakespeare were the rare moments in college when, despite my course-catalog subterfuge, I was forced to read the stuff. That same England trip I got to visit the Bard’s home turf of Stratford-upon-Avon. Now, don’t worry. I didn’t go all Jerusalem Syndrome. Or Arden Syndrome, or whatever the horrible Anglophile equivalent might be. I just took a bunch of tours and ate a lot of savory pies.

And then this past week I spent three nights watching as many evening productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the lovely, if dense with pollen (the true serpent underneath those innocent flowers), town of Ashland: first “All’s Well That Ends Well,” then “Macbeth” (lacking a jig, sadly), and finally “As You Like It.” The music and sound were strong with this festival, these highlights in particular:

“All’s Well That Ends Well” (directed by Tracy Young) took place in a mix of period and present day, the sets and characters a steampunk-lite combination of courtly and current. One musical through line was, of all things, Pat Benatar’s mid-1980s pop hit “We Belong,” a sample of which was looped and used as a background cue, before the song itself erupted from the mouth of Helen(a), as performed by Royer Bockus. The multi-talented Bockus has so much music in herself, her skills perfectly fit director Young’s many stratagems: feminist upstart, class-system defier, adolescent fantasist. Amy Altadona is credited as both composer and sound designer, so presumably the Benatar bits were a collaboration between Altadona and Young. In addition, Maudlin, played by Jane Lui in an expanded role, performed mid-scene accompaniment from a keyboard visible up in one of the faux-Tudor set’s balconies. If Helen’s penchant for breaking into song (part Glee, part Dennis Potter) brought to the production a fully fleshed character shuffling off the bounds of both eras’ societal and gender strictures, Lui’s performance (veering humorously between diegetic and non-diegetic, between duties on-screen, as it were, and off) tied the whole thing together.

Roughly one half of the musical revelations in “As You Like It” are Palmer Hefferan’s; the other half are Rachel Crowl’s. Hefferan is the production’s composer, serving director Rosa Joshi’s apparent desire to draw a stark distinction between the stultifying rigors of the court and the free-flowing nature of, well, of nature. The production opens with incredible clockwork ensemble choreography, essentially the exact opposite of the Elizabethan jig: rather than closing with catharsis, it opens in bondage. The daunting ticktock of the superb clock-like music (think The Prisoner or Watchmen as scored by Michael Nyman) finds its alter ego with large, loose-hanging chimes in the trees of Arden, the forest where Rosalind, now disguised as Ganymede, runs into Orlando, her life-altering crush. While their romance unfurls comically, it is Crowl whom the audience falls for. She is credited as both the banished duke (on-stage) and music captain (behind the scenes). Her considerable authority, all generous grinning swagger amid the makeshift woodland family, finds purpose in the guitar-strumming leadership of the misfit characters’ musical troupe.

I’m guessing this won’t be the last time my newfound affection for Shakespeare will bleed into my writing about sound. I have photos, for example, to post of the door knocker of the church where the Bard was buried. There’s an interesting story (a relic of sonic culture) associated with it, one that doesn’t require moving bones to excavate. That’ll have to wait, though. This journal entry has reached its necessary end.

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