New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

search: unsilent Yeager, RIP + Jersey Noise

From the past week

I do this manually each week, collating the tweets I made at of which I want to keep track. For the most part, this means ones I initiated, not ones in which I directly responded to someone.

▰ There are key moments in the history of sound in the 20th century. Among the top, certainly, is Chuck Yeager’s breaking of the sound barrier on October 14, 1947. RIP to a legend ( Also, because thinking of sound in the 20th century invokes John Cage, it comes to mind that Cage has reportedly said that his development of 4’33” originated that same year. And yes, Glamorous Glennis is my new John Cage cover band.

▰ “Mystery of booming sound in New Jersey apparently solved” is my kinda clickbait. This one is like if had a weather-hacking category. The guilty party has “been firing off the sonically loud cone-shaped contraption — which blasts shock waves up to the sky — to break up cloud formations and scare away birds that nibble his grapes.” Full article at (thanks, Michael Upton).

▰ Still sorting out if Gibson, Doctorow, Older, or Newitz wrote our current reality. Upon reflection, I think my money is on Rita Indiana: “Orders for a Brazilian pig-feeding robot, which plays classical music while dispensing meals, soared this year as farmers strove to cut costs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.” Full article at

▰ Nice. I was wondering what would come of Unsilent Night in the time of necessary social distancing. This is from the San Francisco event’s Facebook group:

▰ Not surprisingly (#pandemic), the art school where I’ve taught my sound class (Sounds of Brands / Brands of Sounds: The Role of Sound in the Media Landscape) since 2012 had to nix it for 2021, along with a lot of other people’s courses. I was thinking about putting together an ad-hoc version of the course, but I’m gonna take this as a sign from the universe to focus on writing.

▰ We’ll see the end of Fonda Lee’s three-novel Jade series in 2021, and James S.A. Corey’s nine-novel Expanse. And now I’m up to date on both. I need to find a new ongoing series to dig into (besides Slough House, which I’m closing in on, and isn’t scifi).

▰ Apparently I was only partially viewing this film about a drummer with partial hearing:

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Ambient Yule Log

An Unsilent Night you can let unspool at home

Just this past Saturday night I participated in the annual caroling event known as Unsilent Night. Created by composer Phil Kline for a downtown Manhattan performance back in 1992, the work now occurs in numerous cities all around the globe. More than 40 Unsilent Nights are scheduled this year, according to the list at Here in San Francisco, it’s been running annually since 2002 (one year prior to my moving back after four years in New Orleans).

How Unsilent Night functions is as follows. Kline created four complementary ambient-chamber compositions, which collectively comprise the work. Everyone who showed up for Unsilent Night with a boombox used to be handed a cassette tape with a random one of the four parts. At the appointed moment, everyone would hit play, and the various tracks, all slightly out of sync, and resounding from devices of varying sound quality, would produce a kind of robot choir.

Now, in the age of ubiquitous audio equipment, people can use cassettes, but more likely they’ve download one of the tracks to their phones. The underlying concept of Unsilent Night remains the same. If anything has changed in the decades since Unsilent Night began it is (1) the fidelity of the recordings has increased and (2) the procession begins and ends with the ceremonious sound of Bluetooth speakers engaging and disengaging.

All of which came to mind when the excellent Burbank, California, music equipment shop Perfect Circuit posted a video yesterday of the seasonal audio installation currently running in its showroom. What it is is a bunch of boomboxes with droning, glistening loops of varying lengths. The video runs for 15 minutes, occasionally focusing in on a bit of motion, like a reel spinning slowly, or a counter ticking up one digit after another. If it weren’t for the company’s sonic logo at the video’s opening, it would be eminently loopable, an ambient Yule log.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally published at YouTube.

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Highlighting Selected Ambient Works Volume 2

The Aphex Twin book, that is — my book

My book on Aphex Twin’s landmark album Selected Ambient Works Volume II came out four years ago this month as part of the 33 1/3 series from the publisher Bloomsbury. Some friends and colleagues who’ve published more books than I have suggested that it can be informative to look at the “popular highlights” made possible in the Amazon Kindle app, and so I did just that. These are the passages my Kindle app is telling me have been highlighted most frequently, and some consideration of them as items on which people have focused their thoughts:


The wind chime is, by most accounts, the original “generative” instrument: it is the original device that serves dual essential purposes, as composition and as tool.

That’s particularly satisfying, as the wind chime is to me, in terms of both the SAW2 track on which it manifests and the instrument itself, a deep well: as a music-making device; as a proto-ambient, pre-electric technology; as a cultural touchstone; as a unique sound unto itself; and as a metaphor and enactment of generative art, among many other things.


The majority of the record is of a piece with Evening Star, the collaboration between Brian Eno and Robert Fripp that dates from 1975, Eno’s great year — the same year he released Another Green World and Discreet Music.

Thomas Tallis’ Spem in Alium, which he explained he first heard in the sound art project by Janet Cardiff, who set up 40 speakers to invoke an immersive environment, allowing the listener to navigate the choir as a ghost or a character in The Matrix might. And he recommended Richie Hawtin’s prolific Plastikman moniker.

The intervals between notes bring to mind “Silent Night,” which puts this solidly in the realm of Unsilent Night, composer Phil Kline’s secular year-end music, which manages to be reflective and seasonal without having a sectarian, devout, or otherwise irreconcilably spiritual affect.

A good number of the highlighted entries seem to focus on subsequent listening.


Hassell introduced the term “Fourth World music” to this sort of endeavor. It is future music, music from a time and place where rituals are brought to bear through unintended uses of new technologies, especially of castaway materials.

Jon Hassell’s music was on a list of potential subjects when I was pondering what album to pitch to 33 1/3. Having failed in a previous round, when I proposed to write about the debut album from the Latin Playboys, I had aimed this time around to push for a more commercially successful and more broadly culturally active subject. Had I not, something by Hassell may very well have made the final cut, and it’s nice to know that he surfaced as a point of interest for readers.


Raves were less concerts than what has become fashionable to term temporary autonomous zones, and this was especially true in the era before the predominance of the cellphone, when the autonomous aspect had as much to do with being cut off from the world as it did with being part of a self-organizing civic space built with its own internal rules.

Raves were dark, murkily architected, often expansive spaces in which sensory overload and disorientation was a common goal. One could as easily lose touch with one’s friends as with oneself.

Ambient music defines the space in which it is heard, in part simply by making demands on that space, that it be conducive to quietness. Raves are often quite a contrast to ambient, but as sonic environments they have much in common with it.


[I]t has been proposed that Selected Ambient Works Volume II on CD is intended for both sides to be played at the same time, that the track breaks align, and that parallels are self-evident, each side enhancing the other, a jigsaw puzzle with just two very long complementarily individuated pieces.

It’s good to know the old myths still have life in them.


The music of Aphex Twin works effectively in the film precisely because it need not come across like music. It sounds like neighboring power stations and internal anxiety.

The film in question is Devil’s Playground, the 2002 documentary by Lucy Walker about Amish rumspringa, a teenage rite of passage. Aphex Twin is frequently quoted as having likened the album to “standing in a power station on acid.” In the able hands of Walker, herself an illbient musician before becoming a filmmaker, that acid experience is slowed down to the emotional turmoil of rumspringa’s most fragile participants.


And that covers it. Perhaps there will be other frequently highlighted passages as the years pass. The overarching theme of my book is what came of the album after it was released, what listeners, and technology, and other artists did with it, changed how we heard it, even those of us — like me — who heard it when it was first released, before all the anecdotes and myths and knowledge had accumulated around it. It’s nice as my little book now itself gets older to see what bits have stuck.

And if you’re interested in reading more about the book before picking it up, I recommend the interview that Mark Richardson did with me at Pitchfork shortly after the book was released.

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Past Week at

  • Today's Aphex Twin SAW2 track has a beat made from a vocal—this on an album often described as beatless + vocal free: ->
  • Duet for rain drops and distant siren. ->
  • rainy day -> Augustus Pablo ->
  • RT @touchmusic: Android version of Touch app now available here – ->
  • 5 days, 5 tracks to go in Aphex Twin SAW2 countdown. Today, the Fourth World rhythmic aura of "Grass": ->
  • still raining -> Augustus Pablo -> Dub Narcotic Sound System ->
  • Man, it's been 5 years since this incredible graphic-notation score exhibit at New Langton in San Francisco: ->
  • It's fun looking back 5/10/15 years each week. Love this quote from Greg Egan's Schild's Ladder: ->
  • I'd pretty much go back to Japan for any reason, but this exhibit looks especially interesting: ->
  • Read more »
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Past Week at

  • "Building a Stairway to Hearing," "Take 5’s": titles in upcoming Acoustical Society of America's technical meetings: ->
  • It's a Kev Brown instrumentals morning. ->
  • Google Hangouts is nifty but, based on recent experience, response time and interface are not SMS-ready yet. ->
  • Oval put up his great "hyperreal" band release the Oh EP for free download: Free for a limited time. ->
  • Thanks! MT @bldgblog: And @disquiet will be hosting some acoustic thoughts and electronic sonic ambience on @Gizmodo: ->
  • It's 2013 and people still freak when an email list accidentally goes from one-to-all to all-to-all. (For the record, not one of my lists.) ->
  • Read more »
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