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.

From Louise Rossiter’s Keyboard to Our Ears

When the new gear is a language

Uploaded tracks that contain pictures (or, better yet, video) of new gear get the most applause because they satisfy the fellow-musician audience’s interest in voyeuristic window shopping, and the non-musician’s interest in bright shiny objects, even impenetrably complicated and opaque ones.

When the new gear is, however, not a bright and shiny object but instead an initial go at coding, which in most circumstances is a snazzy word for typing, the innate attraction isn’t as strong.

So, kudos to Louise Rossiter for sharing this early sketch, titled “Rebirth.” According to the brief liner note accompanying the track, we know three things: (1) “Supercollider” (the language); (2) “First bit of coding” (where Rossiter is at); and (3) “Will become a piece eventually” (where “Rebirth” is headed). What starts as hesitant rhythmic pulses in a vacuum slowly gains spaciousness with wind-tunnel atmospherics and synthesized lightning strikes. The hum and crackle increase, lending cover to a smart array of torqued sonics.

That third bit, regarding this being a work in progress, may explain the fairly sudden cut-off a couple seconds shy of five and a half minutes, when the piece — till then a tumble of dense, irritable drones and just the sort of static that makes your laptop keyboard vibrate in a manner that makes you fear for your chipsets — ends cold. On the one hand, this may be pure drama (à la the Sopranos‘ finale, but after five minutes of aural abstraction, not six seasons of criminal escapades). On the other, it may simply be where the code thus far ends. Here’s looking forward to where Rossiter’s typing takes our ears next.

Track originally posted at Louise Rossiter is a recent PhD (at De Montfort University) based in Leicester, U.K. She has two albums out on the Xylem label: Mondes Intérieurs and Traces.

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What’s in a Name?

An ongoing series cross-posted from

In Grant Morrison’s comics, even the tiniest thing is extravagant — unfolding in hyper-dimensions to reveal internecine complexities of psychedelic detail and epic ramifications — and this was apparently the case as early as his first serialized series. (This panel is from the first collected edition of Zenith, with art by Steve Yeowell, from characters designed by Brendan McCarthy. I’m catching up with very early Morrison comics, thanks to a friend’s recommendation. I’ve read much of what came after Flex Mentallo, but I’d never read Zenith, which was serialized in 2000 AD beginning in the summer of 1987.)

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Speaker Cone and Seed Pod

Documenting Marcus Fischer's "Multiples" installation

Awhile back I began collating a YouTube playlist of live ambient performances. The assortment, now numbering well over 100, quickly took shape as a collection of videos in which the techniques of the performer were evident to the viewer. The idea was to locate and celebrate instances of the action required by the performer to accomplish the seeming inaction — the stasis, the aesthetic limbo, the attenuated sonic pause — that so much ambient music telegraphs.

In time, the definition of “performance” expanded — well, it didn’t so much “expand” as that the word’s interior features became more detailed. Nothing as the playlist of included videos proceeded contradicted earlier interpretations of “live performance.”

This video, from an installation by Marcus Fischer, pushes the definition further, while staying true to the initial curatorial impulse. The audio is one take, while the video is a collation of elements. In other circumstances, that disconnect might be an issue, but here it makes perfect sense. The installation, titled “Multiples,” was set up at Variform in Portland, Oregon, last month, in a show curated by Patricia Wolf. The core of it is an array of naked speaker cones, each containing fragile little seed pods. The speakers both emanate sound and, as a result of the vibrations resulting from that sound, rattle the seed pods, each a tiny, nature-made maraca. We hear both the melty drone of the music and the waves of percussion that accompany it, and we experience the correlation between the two.

The causality between visual and sonic instance is less necessary here than in other sorts of live performance, because what we’re witnessing is more a system at work than a performance. If you watch a video of a train and hear audio of a train, even if the two weren’t sourced at the same time, you get that they are both simply moments in a much larger system, something that couldn’t be documented in full. Likewise, here we get the high-fidelity rendering of the audio, and the glimpses of the various facets that make it run.

As the video shows, there is still more at work than those speakers, including the reel-to-reel machine on which the audio is unspooling, and at least one additional seedpod hanging midair, still affixed to a branch, not to mention the full geometry of the work, which sets a visual stage for the sounds we are hearing. Above the speaker array is a series of parallel fluorescent bulbs, a grow-room aesthetic suggesting artificial light for artificial life.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at Fischer’s YouTube channel. More from him at I’m proud to have worked with Fischer on the sound design and score to the science fiction short Youth. He will be exhibiting in the Whitney Biennial this year, from May 17 through Sept 22.

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Safe Harbor

An ongoing series cross-posted from

When the crackdown got serious on peer-to-peer sharing, the peers went underground, and then underground some more. Hardware saw a resurgence in pass-around thumb drives loaded with chunks of cultural history, but wifi connections to the disparate network remained the preferred mode, albeit with heightened attention to security and privacy. The peers forsook all but the most rudimentary forms of sharing. Nothing was left to the servers of publicly traded companies. Nothing passed through software certified by the app stores baked into the firmware of mobile phones. Nothing was posted without being cleaned of all but the most essential metadata. Caution was taken, in particular, regarding which internet service providers were truly data-agnostic in their functioning, and safe harbor was marked in public spaces with a simple but effective graffiti.

What Sound Looks Like: An ongoing series cross-posted from

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The Uprooted Orchestra

Liner notes I wrote for a new album by Michel Banabila

This past week a new set of liner notes I wrote went live. They accompanied the pre-release announcement of a tremendous new album by Michel Banabila. I’ve collaborated with Banabila, who is based in Rotterdam, in various ways over the years, and this new album from him is one of my favorites. Here is my brief essay that accompanies the record, titled Uprooted. The album is available digital and on a limited-edition CD. Tomorrow mark’s the album’s official release.

“The Uprooted Orchestra”

“Orchestral.” The word’s an adjective, certainly, an unambiguous one. It depicts amassed instruments working in synchrony according to a fixed document prepared in advance.

But what if “orchestral” were uprooted? What if “orchestral” referred to what we heard, not how it was recorded? What if “orchestral” welcomed electronic instruments not just into the pit, but into the compositional process?

For that is the sound of Michel Banabila’s Uprooted, this album of beautiful, striated, patient music — patient on the surface, deep with turmoil underfoot. When bass clarinet and harmonium rise above a misty string section halfway through “Breathe,” that’s orchestral. When woodwinds trill and pulse against piano on “Dragonfly,” that’s orchestral.

Over the years, Banabila has made his share of experimental ambient, wherein future roots cultures are foreseen through a low-tech looking glass. On Uprooted, the tech is transparent. The album has touches of Fourth World, most notably on “Collector” and “Breathe,” but Uprooted is orchestral, full stop.

It’s also an album entirely forged of material sampled by Banabila from improvisations by invited musicians. Those samples were then constructed into a whole by Banabila, layered sinuously rather than triggered on a rhythmic grid. The fixed orchestral document here is the recording, and it marks the close of the composer’s efforts, not the start of the performers’.

The Uprooted album features contributions, by way of the samples mentioned in my essay, from Peter Hollo (cello), Alex Haas (synths & electronics), Gareth Davis (bass clarinet), Oene van Geel (viola & stroh violin), Stijn Hüwels (guitar & electronics), and Gulli Gudmundsson (el.bass, double bass, e-bow), with Banabila on MIDI instruments, sampling, and electronics.

Get Uprooted at More from Banabila at

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