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.

Ann Annie Makes Tape Loops Blossom

In this new performance video

If you follow Ann Annie’s music, then you may recognize the little tape cassette to the left of the deck in the new performance video “Blossom.” Just over a week ago, a couple dismembered Maxell tape cassettes — also pink in accent color — were visible in one of Annie’s Instagram photos, with a “feelin loopy” caption. Today the music that resulted has appeared.

feelin loopy /

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The product of that whimsy is now evident in this footage, almost seven minutes of exceptional sonic transformation, as the tape loop is mixed with dense oscillations, all of which is shifted, looped, glitched, and warped. There are terse bell tones and effluent white noise, lens-flare grace notes and ecstatic birdsong to “Blossom,” which true to its name expands as it proceeds — what starts as loose and gentle gets more chaotic and rambunctious as time passes. The beauty of the video isn’t merely the color and framing, but how active Annie’s left hand is, adjusting settings on various synthesizer modules, tweaking the balance of the tape deck, and lending a conductor-like visual narration to the piece.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted on Ann Annie’s YouTube channel. More from Ann Annie at instagram.com/annnannie, facebook.com/modularanne, and annannie.bandcamp.com.

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The Color of a Sequence

A brief Buchla synthesizer study from Andreas Tilliander

This short droning synthesizer piece from Andreas Tilliander, aka Repeatle, is largely autonomous, much like the video I shared a few days ago. Early on in it, you see a hand come into sight and click a couple switches on the Buchla synthesizer interface, but after that it’s entirely the Buchla’s show, up until the very end when the hand returns. We have a knob’s eye view for the length of the composition, all rows of faders, banks of switches, and distant cables.

The thing about synthesizer autonomy is that all the activity is happening underneath the hood, as oscillators and filters and other facets of the collective instrument collectively make the drones and pulses, textures and tones, come to life. The primary external signal comes in the form of a few colored lights, in different colors, which align with aspects of the patch as the piece unfolds. On first listen, you might just take in the shuddering noise machinations, but upon repeat it’s worth keeping an eye on those lights and sensing how their pace and strength, how that coordination or lack thereof, can be mapped to shifts in the overarching sound.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at youtube.com. More from Tilliander/Repeatle, who is based in Stockholm, Sweden, at repeatle.com, soundcloud.com/tilliander, and twitter.com/tilliander. And here’s an interview I did with him back in 2002: “Click It”.

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“Fever Pitch”

A guitar + modular track I recorded today for Weekly Beats and the Disquiet Junto

For the second week in a row, I’ve participated in Weekly Beats. Whether I make it the remaining 50 is yet to be seen, but I’ve enjoyed it so far. Unlike the Disquiet Junto, the weekly music composition prompt series I’ve moderated since 2012, there is no set theme in Weekly Beats. There are optional themes, but the main idea is simply to encourage making music as a way to learn to make music, along with the support that comes from other people doing so at the same time, and commenting on each other’s work. (I also submitted it to the Disquiet Junto for this week’s project, which is to produce something that will become part of a trio co-composed asynchronously by other participants.)

My second Weekly Beats track is, like the first, an attempt to combine electric guitar and modular synthesizer. The glitchy under beat is a bit of trigger sequencer, along with the byproduct glitches inherent in the looper. The main guitar line is heard with various aspects of the audio spectrum being modulated by medium-paced LFOs, and being sent through the looper for additional effects, all echoes and stutter. And then at the end a snippet of a chord is sent through a different looper, providing a simulated tape-loop fade-out. There’s more going on, like the primary guitar line being put through a filter, but that’s the gist of it.

And here is a photo of the synthesizer patch employed in this piece:

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What Sound Looks Like

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

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This week I visited a friend at a location where the front entrance features a battery-powered, Internet-connected doorbell. I rang it once at five minutes of the hour, when we were due to meet, and then again right on the hour, also to no avail. I then texted my friend to confirm the time and location of our appointment. When my friend texted back to verify I had my calendar correct, I mentioned I was out front.

The short version: “This thing works great, except you have to replace the batteries pretty often.” Slightly longer version: between my two clicks of the doorbell, and extended up until my friend confirmed my understanding of the calendar and retrieved me, I sensed myself becoming increasingly self-conscious that the doorbell’s camera was capturing me in all my Neo-Luddism. At best, I was expressing the impatience of someone still not fully accustomed to new-fangled doorbells. At worst I was using one inappropriately — or had messed up the calendar, another digital faux pas. As it turned out, it was the doorbell that was coming up short. If I was being inappropriate, it was the way an adult might be with a child: This nascent technology may deserve some coddling until it comes of age. (Whether its designers do is another story.)

There are many things to be sorted out between now and the potentially inevitable fairly-informed-if-not-truly-smart home, and one of them is the way these devices make us feel. An old-fashioned doorbell, for all its shortcomings, confirms you have pressed it. A doorbell that depends on battery power loses this ability the second the battery is dead. Digital devices aspire to excel at functions and features, but they often fall short in terms of affordances, at the broader, contextual, environmental range of interactions.

The traditional, “analog” doorbell isn’t great, by any means. And yet it has survived potential replacements for nearly a century — and it may very well survive the Internet of Things because it has turned out to have taken into account aspects of the interaction that potential replacements, such as the battery-operated doorbell, have quite utterly failed to.

Still, things at my friend’s place could have been worse. There could have been a doorbell that does what the one pictured here is doing, which is going utterly haywire. The camera doesn’t do justice to the hyperactivity — the tantrum — of its malfunction. I’ve taken a lot of doorbell pictures, most of them emphasizing decay, and when doing so I have taken a bit of time to frame the image, to adjust for light and geometry. This one I shot quickly, because it felt rude after dark to intrude on a residential doorstep in a way it doesn’t during the day. This is, however, a picture of decay, just of rapid decay, digital decay. The elements didn’t have time to have their way with this doorbell. It did itself in.

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

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What Sound Looks Like

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

The Goodwill thrift store seemed like a good place to find old cassettes. I wanted to purchase a few in order for them to be unspooled and employed as test subjects in the production of tape loops. There were plenty of dead media items present, lots of LPs, and CDs, and DVDs, and Blu-rays, not to mention books both hard- and paperback, as well as a variety of videogame formats, some behind glass to signify if not necessarily bestow value. What there was not was a tape cassette. Not a single one to be found. As for the LPs, they were beyond well-worn. Most of them had been very old decades back when I first started purchasing records, and they looked to have been bought and sold several times over in the intervening years. Above them was this sign listing the price: $2.99. The sign looked like it was simply yet another item for sale, so out of whack did the dollar amount seem in relation to the LPs themselves.

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

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