Rain is something that can be thought of almost as an echo of itself. Like an extrovert who only exists when there is an audience to perform for, rain is not heard so much as it is heard in reaction to something: an umbrella, the ground, a window, or generally some other surface that it strikes. There is also the way rain combines with the sound of wind, and how cloud cover and other related factors can utterly alter the broader sonic environment: dulling edges, nurturing a sense of closed space, walling off further distant noises.
That’s a case made clear in this video from the always on the move Nomadic Ambience (834,000 subscribers on YouTube as of this writing), who wandered around Chicago on a rainy day and captured not just the rain as heard against the protective gear that keeps the camera lens dry, but also as it bounces off the sidewalk, and creates slick streets and shallow puddles that cars turn into sound sources as they pass by.
The video captures some thunderstorm noise, and various urban sounds, one highlight being a tour guide aboard a boat that passes under a bridge just as we, the viewer experiencing this all YouTube-vicariously, cross midway: “It’s a very well-designed building” goes the narration, before trailing off, absorbed by the whir of the rain.
▰ Ceiling fan whir + dishwasher racket + domestic HVAC drone = the lofi DJ Krush jam I didn’t know I’ve been looking for.
▰ It’s strange enough to be in the house you grew up in after this long, not just pandemic long, but life long. It’s stranger still for the old home to have, per chance, the same make of dishwasher you have in your current home. Thus, when the beep at the end of the cycle goes off, you have, briefly, no idea where you are.
▰ When a call comes, at least four lines ring out on two different floors, and the place is full, almost brazenly, with the once ubiquitous noise of the house phone. The last refuges of the landline are abundant with it.
▰ The one seemingly obvious thing this house alarm doesn’t do is tell you, upon entering, whether or not it is on (or, as the militaristic lingo goes: armed). A simple pair of opposed tones would more than suffice.
▰ It’s been a very long day, starting work in native New York time and ending in gone-native California time, all while you’ve been sitting still. You go for a walk in a suburban dark that swallows up much of the street lamps’ efforts. Waiting for the signal to change in your favor at an intersection, you glance up at a residence that predates the American Revolution. There is one light on, on the top floor. Through the partially closed shades you can see a violent single player shooter raging. The oncoming cars still have the right of way. The room briefly goes dark, and then the screen illuminates again. Even from a distance, you can tell some sort of character-review stage has been called up. There is no sound. The window is shut. The room goes dark again, and then the violence proceeds. And you continue your walk further into the night.
A weekly(ish) answer to the question “What have you been listening to lately?” It’s lightly annotated because I don’t like re-posting material without providing some context. I hope to write more about some of these in the future, but didn’t want to delay sharing them. (I haven’t done one of these in a while, and should get back in the habit.)
▰ Madeleine Cocolas’s 17-minute “Nebulous”, a new release on the Superpang label, is a suite that moves from sonic cumulus to UFO drones to cinematic minimalism.
I do this manually each Saturday, collating most of the tweets I made the past week at twitter.com/disquiet, which I think of as my public notebook. Some tweets pop up in expanded form or otherwise on Disquiet.com sooner. It’s personally informative to revisit the previous week of thinking out loud.
▰ At SFO, about to board a plane for the first time since March 2020. I’d track the travel-related sounds, but I’ve got some solid noise-cancelling headphones on, and I think I’m gonna stay inside my cozy sensory bubble. That’s a sonic story unto itself. Headed to NY to see family.
▰ Outside the JFK terminal, car after car pulls up, its driver speaking on a phone while looking to the curb. Each of us, traveling solo, knows a car with someone speaking behind glass will arrive for us. When it does, we nod goodbye to each other, having never actually said hello.
▰ What I learned when I returned from my weekend Twitter break is you can put work into expressing your thoughts and observations as tweets. Or you can just list a bunch of numbers, and then nearly 200 people will click the heart button, and many will reply and chat. So be it.
▰ I have a great Grendel sketch. I was at Comic-Con and Artists Alley was pretty packed, but Matt Wagner’s table had no one at it except him. He was just sitting there. I walked over and told him how much I liked his work and asked if he’d draw a sketch. Wagner said yes and for some reason he assumed I wanted him to draw Batman. I told him no, I wanted Grendel. He was somewhat surprised, happily so, and drew it for me. I love the picture, even though the memory always makes me a little sad.
Listen through the shimmer. Listen through the held tones, and the bell tones, and the swelling notes. Listen past the asynchronous patterning and the resulting chance chordal play. Listen instead for the frictives, the less sinuous textural elements, the way vinyl surface noise (or its approximate) moves across the stereo field. Listen for the clatter, and how it lends a sense of scale to the sonic space. Then listen to the more tonal material, and how the presence of the less inherently sedative elements bring out textures in the seemingly texture-less.
I don’t think I’ve re-upped a recording in a while, but I just love this piece, so having written about it back in April, I wanted to mention it again. This video is part of my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine live ambient performances. Video originally posted to YouTube by the talented Jae Ryan.
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. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media
• December 13, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
• December 28, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
• January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• July 28, 2021: This day marked the 500th consecutive weekly project in the Disquiet Junto music community.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
• A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)
• The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.