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.

Listening to Kate Williamson’s Comics

Caught between pop music and ephemeral sounds in At a Crossroads

There is a lot of sound, a lot music, in Kate T. Williamson’s 2008 graphic novel At a Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents’ Place, but there are few if any actual sound effects. There are some “thump thump thump”s written into the panels during a brief anecdote about a squirrel infestation, and three little musical notes are rendered during a karaoke scene, where they could almost be mistaken for crumbs on the carpet. That’s about it. Yet despite the relative paucity of drawn sound, the book abounds with sound. It appears in the form of the sounds around her that she shares with the reader in keen descriptions that also reveal her state of mind. There are also numerous references to her favorite pop music, which serves as an emotional support structure.

Williamson, in the context of this story, could certainly use some support. She’s back home, living with her parents, and trying to finish a book. At a Crossroads is certainly a graphic novel, but it could easily be read as — mistaken for, considered — something other: a series of portraits and landscapes of suburban ennui rendered with captions and word balloons. The captions do tell a story, about a young woman dealing with Gen X dropout anxiety, and there are clear comic-book moments, multiple panels on a page or across pages that combine dialogue and figurative drawing. However, much of the book is comprised of extended, often silent or near-silent instances, like a two-page spread showing a house buried in snow, or another two-page spread of leaves on a few branches, or a New Jersey street scene depicted at night. Only the last of those examples features any text, a sentence or so at the bottom of the page in casual script. These spreads occasionally bring to mind the photographs of Duane Michals, who would write snatches of description onto his images, like scenes in a film — or, as it were, panels from a live-action comic.

It’s tough to publish a book about the anxiety about publishing a book, because the whole time the reader is thinking, “Uh, I’ve got the book in my hands. And the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, is pretty respectable.” This is the rare situation when the book itself is kind of a spoiler for the book. Still, Williamson’s analysis of her own heightened emotional state is handled solidly. The frequent appearances of pop music provide social filters (litmus tests for possible new friends), and acts of self-expression. One minute she’s doing karaoke, the next attending a Hall & Oates concert. It can be fun, and the presence of all the radio fodder is balanced by her meditative consideration of the near silence that exists around her most of the time. If the pop music is Williamson reflecting on her old self, the person she was when she previously lived with her parents, then the everyday noises are her consideration of loneliness, of her current, temporary, transitional state.

She is caught, in other words, between pop and her sonic awareness of place. The book moves back and forth between those very different sonic terrains: packaged pop on the one hand and quotidian soundscapes on the other. It feels meaningful, as a result, that at the very end of At a Crossroads Williamson listens to the soundtrack to a movie, a Wim Wenders film, Paris Texas, whose score was composed by Ry Cooder. In other words, at the close of a memoir in which the narrator either pays attention to ephemeral background noise or focuses on highly crafted pop music, Williamson takes solace in recorded music intended to serve as background.

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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from

An inset panel from Hulk #4 (2017), written by Mariko Tamaki, drawn by Nico Leon, who really get me. Alternate caption: “Superheroes, they’re just like us.”

An ongoing series cross-posted from
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Disquiet Junto Project 0305: Three Princes

Explore chance by exploring the roots of the word "serendipity."

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.

Tracks will be added to the playlist for the duration of the project.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on Monday, November 6, 2017. This project was posted in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, November 2, 2017.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at

Disquiet Junto Project 0305: Three Princes
Explore chance by exploring the roots of the word “serendipity.”

This week’s project explores the concept of serendipity. I was unfamiliar with the word’s etymology until I recently read the book Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths, which I recommend. Those language origins figure into this project’s formulation.

Step 1: The word “serendipity” has an interesting origin. Its coinage is credited to Horace Walpole, who apparently made it up based on a Persian fairy tale, “The Three Princes of Serendip.” In turn, “Serendip” is itself a Persian word for another place entirely, Sri Lanka, or Ceylon. To explore the nature of serendipity, we’re going to apply randomness to samples of Ceylonese music.

Step 2: Choose three tracks — one for each prince in the fairy tale — from this collection of music from Ceylon:

There’s a lot of it, 138 tracks in all, so it might help to employ chance routines to select both the the tracks you’ll use, and which segments you’ll extract from them.

Step 3: Extract a short piece of audio, between two and seven seconds, from each of the three tracks you selected in Step 2. Each extract should be of a different length from the other two. Again, you might do this by ear, or you might do it based on some sort of chance routine.

Step 4: Create a roughly two-minute loop of each of the three individual extracts from Step 3: that is, a two-minute loop of the first extracted piece, a separate two-minute loop of the second extract, and a separate two-minute loop of the third. (You might also accomplish these loops in some other manner.)

Side note: There was a typo in the original instructions calling for a three-minute loop of the third sample. This was an error. It was intended to be a two-minute loop, like the others.

Step 5: Layer the three loops from Step 4. Do so in a way that might allow you to subsequently manipulate the loops individually, should you choose to do so. Notably, the three tracks will be out of sync with each other.

Step 6: Listen through to the layered piece in Step 5. Pay attention for moments of chance intersection, of rhythmic ingenuity, melodic unlikelihoods, and textural congruence, among other potential results.

Step 7: Create a short piece of music, based on the observations you made in Step 6, that builds on those serendipitous results. This may be as simple as using relative volume to highlight the highlights, or you might add other musical elements.

Five More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: If your hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to include the project tag “disquiet0305” (no spaces) in the name of your track. If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to my locating the tracks and creating a playlist of them.

Step 2: Upload your track. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your track.

Step 3: In the following discussion thread at please consider posting your track:

Step 4: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 5: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on Monday, November 6, 2017. This project was posted in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, November 2, 2017.

Length: The finished track’s length is up to you.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0305” 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: It is preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

Linking: When posting the track online, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 305th weekly Disquiet Junto project (“Three Princes: Explore chance by exploring the roots of the word “serendipity”) at:

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

Subscribe to project announcements here:

Project discussion takes place on

There’s also on a Junto Slack. Send your email address to for Slack inclusion.

Photo associated with this project is a stereo image of a Ceylon sunset, courtesy of the Tekniska museet account on Flickr, thanks to a Creative commons license:

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This Week in Sound: Dementia Relief + Muted Violin +

oyster ears + mood music + the sonic weaponry that wasn't +

A lightly annotated clipping service

Sound Tonics: Up for debate in the scientific community is the extent to which listening to audio recordings (or watching videos) of loved ones might alleviate issues for individuals with dementia, per Dr. EO Ijaopo in the latest issue of Translational Psychiatry. … In health-related news, Dutch designer Marcel Wanders is creating a super-quiet (and quite beautiful) violin (shown below) for a friend whose hearing is threatened by her violin playing, per the current issue of Metropolis. I was wondering if it would help to use a MIDI violin, so the audio can be emitted from a speaker across the room, rather than directly into the player’s ear, or to perhaps have a violin where the sound comes out the bottom, so the audience hears it, but again the sound isn’t aimed at the player.

Clam Up: “Oysters can ‘hear’ the ocean even though they don’t have ears,” according to scientists at the University of Bordeaux in France, including Jean-Charles Massabuau, who used accelerometers to gauge the response of test subjects. Oysters appear to be sensitive primarily in the realm of 10 and 200 hertz (humans hear between 20 to 20,000 hertz). One result of this finding is the awareness of a broader range of sea creatures that are potentially impacted by noise pollution.

Music Moods: People’s minds wander less (if I’m reading this correctly) when listening to “happy” music than to “sad” music, according to researchers Liila Taruffi, Corinna Pehrs, Stavros Skouras, and Stefan Koelsch in a paper published this month in Scientific Reports. That’s a short summary for a long and detailed study that’s worth a read. The main takeaway: “In conclusion, we demonstrate that music modulates self-generated thought: During sad (vs. happy) music, listeners direct their attention inwards, engaging in spontaneous thoughts, which are related to the self and emotional aspects of life; during happy (vs. sad) music, listeners are more focused on the music itself and exhibit reduced mind-wandering levels.”

Sonic Weapon (Not): “The New Zealand Defence Force’s explosive ordnance disposal squad was flown to Dunedin by helicopter to carry out a controlled explosion of the cassette tape” — so goes the story of a noise musician named Dene Barnes, 44 whose recording set off a threat alert. More specifically, it was the poem accompanying the album, Street Noise, he released under the name LSD Fundraiser. He seems to be on Bandcamp (at, but that particular album doesn’t appear to be.

Kid Said, Her Said: Children are, appropriately, protected in the United States during our increasingly electronic age by various FCC regulations. Funny thing about regulations, such as those laid out in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, is they aren’t always future proof. A case in point is how voice assistants function. A computer has to retain a spoken command, even briefly, in order to act on it, as Jon Fingas outlined in a brief story.

Footloose in NYC: “A nearly century-old law that turned New York bars into no-dancing zones, prevented singers like Billie Holiday and Ray Charles from performing and drew protest from Frank Sinatra, is finally set to be struck down,” writes Annie Correal in the New York Times, or as an uncredited Times headline author put it: “After 91 Years, New York Will Let Its People Boogie.” The longstanding law has made it difficult for generations of bar owners and bar-goers to manage the impulse to, you know, dance. (I grew up on Long Island, went to college in the Tri-State Area, and lived in New York City before moving to California, so I know of the hassle that this could be.) Check out this statistic before going on to read the full story: “In New York City, only 97 out of roughly 25,000 eating and drinking establishments have a cabaret license.”

Big Listener: Facebook continues to struggle to convince people it isn’t listening in on conversations, writes Adrianne Jeffries at, citing anecdotes by people who seem to only recall saying things aloud and yet still having them show up in ads served to them on the platform. The strangest related thing that’s ever happened to me was when I was seated, shall we say, in my home’s bathroom and the word “bathroom” briefly appeared — I swear — on my phone’s screen. I imagined the phone’s operating system was somehow mapping my home, and I wondered if the sound of the room might be assisting that effort. Of course, it could all just be a delusion brought on by tech-anxiety.

Text-to-Speechless: In a humorous instance of the unintended consequences of text-to-speech, a New York Times’ reader’s comment to a news story began “Zero optimism that the Democracts …” before wending quickly into peculiar gibberish: “hello hi oh you’re there are you outside,” etc., etc. The commenter eventually returned to the thread and explained, “I was composing a message using the autospeak, and a friend arrived early at my house. I had no idea all that drivel was being recorded.”

Internal Branding: You can soon get a cochlear implant designed specifically to work from its “surgically embedded sound process” in tandem with iOS devices, writes Juli Clover at Give that my relatively recent generation iPod isn’t allowed to run the latest version of iOS, I wonder what assurance (or insurance) one has regarding upgrades.

Fade Out: I read the obituaries each morning over iced coffee. It’s a simple ritual. Perhaps much ritual is simple by definition? I’ve come to realize that I never copy/paste the names of these newly dead musicians when following up on the day’s obituaries. I always type out their names when searching for particularly informative write-ups, or for examples of their recordings. I use copy/paste all the time, of course, but something about this early-morning obituary ritual has me typing out their (often, to me, unfamiliar) names in full. Perhaps this ritual form of inscription is a gesture of respect. Perhaps it’s a superstition. Perhaps I have difficulty distinguishing between the two. … Deaths of Note: RIP, Hungrarian musician Lajos Som (b. 1947), of the bands Piramis and Neoton Família. … RIP, Daniel Viglietti (b. 1939), Uruguayan singer-songwriter. … RIP, funk musician [Keith Wilder] (68?), of Heatwave. … RIP, Raúl García Zárate (b. 1931); Andean guitarist popularized “Adiós pueblo de Ayacucho.” … RIP, Juliette Cavazzi (b. 1926), “wholesome” Canadian TV figure known simply as Juliette. … RIP, Mike Hudson (61) of the punk rock band the Pagans. … RIP, Fats Domino (b. 1928), a founding father of rock and roll. … RIP, Larry Ray (b. 1954) of the Detroit band Outrageous Cherry. … RIP, Robert Guillaume (b. 1927), TV and film actor, singer (The Lion King, Guys and Dolls). … RIP, Girija Devi (b. 1929), Indian classical singer, “Queen of Thumri.” … RIP, George Young (b. 1946), Easybeats member, “Friday on My Mind” co-writer, AC/DC producer. … RIP, guitarist Scott Putesky aka Daisy Berkowitz (b. 1968), of Marilyn Manson. … RIP, Al Hurricane (b. 1936), “Godfather of New Mexico music.”

This was first published in the October 31, 2017, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from

I’ve never been big on Halloween, personally, but even in advance of having a little kid I made peace with it. I’d go for the simplest costume I could imagine. For many years this meant wearing a colorful Superman t-shirt underneath a half-buttoned regular overshirt, which combined with my short dark brown hair and my eyeglasses made me scrawny Clark Kent. This year I’m going for a costume that’s even simpler still: a mere safety pin transforms me into Theodore Twombly, the character played by Joaquin Phoenix in the excellent 2013 Spike Jonze film, *Her*. With his cellphone suspended in breast pocket, Twombly can go for walks with his beloved, a highly advanced AI voiced throughout the film by the disembodied Scarlett Johansson. She in turn views the world through Twombly’s phone’s camera. And, no, I didn’t grow a mustache for the occasion.

An ongoing series cross-posted from
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