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.

Zines Then and Now

A paper memory

You do anything for long enough, you live through transitions. Generally these are revealed to you in hindsight, when a recollection is distinct enough from the current moment for the shifts, the fissures, to have come into focus. Sometimes, though, you experience these transitions in real time.

I have probably told this story before, but it’s a short one, so I’ll give it another go. Not long after I started, back in 1989, working for the Tower Records retail chain, we were visited at the company’s home office, in West Sacramento, by representatives of one of the country’s major music labels. Shifts were happening in the record industry, not just generic business pressures like consolidation, marked by mergers and acquisitions of record labels, but also key among the threats such familiar terms to us denizens of the 21st century as mobile, video, and technology.

However, those words didn’t mean in 1990, when the visit occurred, what they mean now. Mobile meant the prevalence of the Walkman and its ilk, and the perceived accompanying rise in home taping. Video meant MTV, and the oversize influence of a single network. Technology meant the compact disc, which was enticing music fans to buy their entire record collections all over again, to the point that even long sedate classical labels were becoming cash cows.

Wherever there are that many threats, there must be others, and it was these unknowns that were on the minds of our visitors that day.

As they toured our office and spoke with our senior staff — I was a junior editor on Tower’s music magazine, Pulse!, mostly handling its letters page and the Desert Island Discs lists from readers, when not imploring my coworkers to let me cover musicians in the orbit of the Knitting Factory — our visitors inquired about what we were listening to, and how we had come to discover it.

I wasn’t surprised, decades later, when researching my book on Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, to learn from Clive Gabriel, who signed Aphex Twin to the publisher Chrysalis, that Gabriel himself had come to Chrysalis’ attention thanks to his writing for British music magazines. It may seem a catch-22 that a label would look to a music critic for hints at the future, since by definition much of the music being written about would already be on a label. But that isn’t always the case, and even when it is, the myopia of big labels can make them blind to the wide field of smaller ones.

In any case, I found the perspective of the visitors fascinating. I lingered in the open area of the Pulse! offices to listen in. And at some point I heard one of our visitors begin to put forward a question in a tentative tone. “Do you,” it was asked, “read … zines?” I put the ellipsis there because there was a definite pause, as if someone were testing out a newly learned term from a foreign language. What I can’t do except through comparison is note that the word was pronounced in a dramatic and sudden hush, much like the mother of Ally Sheedy’s character says “cancer” at the dinner table in the movie St. Elmo’s Fire. And what I can’t do except through description is to note that the word wasn’t pronounced “zines” as in the third syllable of “magazines,” from which the term emerged, but as “zines” with the “i” like “eye,” which is to say, a word so alien that its source and meaning were truly obscure to the person speaking it.

There’s far more to be said about zines at the start of the final decade of the 20th century, but not right now. I will note it was especially appropriate that day for the visitors to have asked this question because, unbeknownst to them, just one building away from ours was the Tower warehouse, where a vast zine distribution project was underway thanks to the vision of an employee named Doug Biggert.

I remember this visit as if it happened yesterday, even though it was three decades ago, and I am remembering it right now because just this weekend I received a package containing two zines: the first and second issues of Deft Esoterica, a project by Claude Aldous, of Canton, a city in upstate New York. I’ve been enjoying reading them, but I had to put down the stapled pieces of 8.5×11″ paper to get my memories typed out because they were distracting me from what was on the page.

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All the Mod Cons

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt

When a prospective* choice for a shower head looks a whole lot like an old-school telephone. Alexa truly is everywhere.

*No, not really my style.

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Layers by the River

Video and audio by Jason Richardson

Every week in the Disquiet Junto, there’s a playlist of the contributing musicians’ tracks. That playlist consists of all the tracks submitted on SoundCloud, and thus it doesn’t relate all the tracks completed, because some folks post tracks elsewhere, including Bandcamp and, in the case of the prolific Jason Richardson, YouTube. Each week, not only does Richardson dependably respond to the current prompt, he does so in the form of a video. This week, he did two videos, one of which was his interpretation of the current project — using nature as your metronome — and the other of which took things a very creative and, for his audience, rewarding step further.

He reached back to a much earlier project. In the April 2016 Junto, the compositional prompt, proposed by Brian Crabtree, developer of the Monome suite of hardware and software music tools, recommended a unique artistic technique: you record the same piece of music several times, and then layer them. The deviations between the versions yields a subtle, cloudy flow. So, in Richardson’s video, not only do we hear him playing the part simultaneously in several takes, we also see the various Richardsons overlapping, as well. And since this includes outtakes culled in favor of the prefered single take, we experience, at the end, when Richardson has to move his gear out of the way to let a guy on his motorcycle get across the bridge.

Up above is the layered version. Here, below, is the single take. What Richardson is up to is, inspired by the current Junto project’s instructions, letting the “feeling of the breeze” on his face inform the pace at which he plays:

Videos originally posted to Jason Richardson’s YouTube channel. More from him at bassling.blogspot.com.

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Reverse-Engineering Musical Composition Prompts

A response to a frequent Disquiet Junto question

Someone recently asked if the well of Disquiet Junto projects, now numbering 424, will ever run dry. I get asked that on occasion, so I took a few minutes to respond about the thought process that leads to Junto projects. The short answer is no, it likely won’t run dry, in part because of the generative nature of impetus for the majority of the projects, and in part because projects also originate from members of the Junto and third parties.

For background, the Disquiet Junto is an online music community in which participants each Thursday receive via email a compositional prompt, and then they have roughly four days or so to respond with a recording. I started the Junto back in January 2012, and it’s been running weekly ever since. The ongoing flow of prompts comes up on occasion as a topic of discussion, so I thought I’d post a lightly revised version of my response here.

The best way I have come to explain the Disquiet Junto project development process — how the weekly prompts come to be — is that the vast majority of the projects result from a kind of “reverse-engineering” scenario. Something – a natural phenomena, a bit of math, a cultural or historical tidbit, a bit of text in a novel, a report in the science pages, a stray observation – is noted, and then I work to figure out how that source concept could become a Junto project: How can we probe the source concept by investigating it through music and sound and, by extension, online collaboration. Then, having selected one of these topics, I break it down into steps. Each weekly prompt consists of those steps.

This approach goes back to the start of the Junto. When the Junto began, an especially important founding concept was the idea of non-verbal communication. The Junto was a way for us to communicate across cultures musically/sonically, and to pursue ideas musically/sonically. (If you’re interested in the topic, there’s video online of a presentation I gave at the SETI Institute.)

An example would be helpful: There’s an upcoming project that resulted from the t-shirt a friend happened to be wearing one day. The shirt depicted a common mathematical sequence in an unfamiliar (to me) way. Soon, we’re going to take that unfamiliar way (it’s visual rather than numerical), and imagine it as a graphic score. That way we’ll “hear” the source mathematical concept in action.

I spend a lot of time thinking not only about the individual projects, but about the sequence of projects: making sure they’re balanced, that we alternate heavy concept ones with straightforward ones, and ones that require wholly original production with something sample-based, and so forth.

Sometimes we repeat past projects, or tweak previous ones. Some are proposed by other people, such as the 424th, which was proposed by an artist we’ve worked with in the past. I regularly add to a long list of potential projects, and often those are delayed because other ideas present themselves and are acted on immediately.

Proposals for prompts are always appreciated, both from Junto members and observers, and from folks interested in having their ideas acted upon by a diverse, global community of curious, talented, experimental musicians who are generous with their time and creativity.

Read more at the Disquiet Junto FAQ.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0424: Fluctuating Rhythm

The Assignment: Employ nature as your conductor.

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, February 17, 2020, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, February 13, 2020.

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 0424: Fluctuating Rhythm
The Assignment: Employ nature as your conductor.

Step 1: Compose or choose a work of music. (The work can involve any number of instruments or can be purely electronic.)

Step 2: Perform the work outdoors, employing nature as your conductor. (Any natural phenomenon may be enlisted to keep time during your performance. Examples include the sway of a tree in the wind, the flow of a stream, or the circling of a flock of birds before a storm. Consider a phenomenon that fluctuates with environmental conditions, such that your rhythm varies in ways that situate your work in the landscape.)

Background: This is a collaboration with the artist and experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, who is working on a global initiative to enlist natural systems as official time standards. Read more here:

http://nautil.us/issue/79/catalysts/philosophy-is-a-public-service

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0424” (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 “disquiet0424” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation of 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-0424-fluctuating-rhythm/

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

Step 6: If posting on social media, please consider using the hashtag #disquietjunto so fellow participants are more likely to locate your communication.

Step 7: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Additional Details: Deadline: This project’s deadline is Monday, February 17, 2020, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, February 13, 2020.

Length: The length is up to you. Shorter is often better. Let nature take its course.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0424” 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: 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).

For context, when posting the track online, please be sure to include this following information:

More on this 424th weekly Disquiet Junto project — Fluctuating Rhythm / The Assignment: Employ nature as your conductor — at:

https://disquiet.com/0424/

This is a collaboration with the artist and experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats.

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-0424-fluctuating-rhythm/

There’s also a Disquiet Junto Slack. Send your email address to twitter.com/disquiet for Slack inclusion.

The image associated with this project is by Chris Murphy.

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