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.

What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from

This photograph was shot in New York after I landed at JFK a few weeks ago for a short visit from San Francisco. We touched down late, later even than planned, and so my memory is a little foggy. I’ve pieced together the first stages of the itinerary from the timeline that is automated Google photos backup (a fairly dependable course of action in such circumstances). The timeline exception is when photos are added from other services, like those edited in Instagram or another app, or transferred over from SMS or email — and those would only appear reverse-anachronistically later in the timeline, anyhow, not earlier. In any case, I’m fairly certain that this was shot not on the intra-JFK train that shuttles you from your arrival terminal to where you gather your bags and head out into the world (maybe such a thing doesn’t even exist — like I said, I was pooped), but on one of the city’s subway trains. This shot is a closeup of a well-worn sticker fixed next to an older, larger, metal speaker/button combo labeled only in all-caps English: “Emergency Intercom,” with the additional instructions “To Talk / Press and Release Button / Wait for Steady Light.” (That last bit suggests itself for poetic treatment.) This instructional infographic — instructographic? — does a good job of connecting speaking to pushing, thanks to the red color coding, though I must note that in real life the red button is a far darker shade. The little bright green light does its assigned job of reaffirming the text, which is to say it’s just as confusing, especially in, you know, an emergency. What seems to be missing from the image is any sense of, well, emergency. The demeanor of the cartoon human seems to be that of someone serenading a favorite device (Her: The Musical, now on Broadway), not alerting authorities to the existence of a suspicious package. Also worth mentioning: the red, waveformy, RSS-logo-ish speaking pattern seems to treat the microphone (below) and speaker (above) as equals.

An ongoing series cross-posted from
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A Modular Bloom

A piece by Lightbath

This elegant, gestural piece for modular synthesizer cycles a bit of low-key, atmospheric glitch several times in a row before a joyous little rupture occurs. When that happens, just prior to three minutes into this nearly four-minute piece, the whole sense of time shifts. What had felt slow and relaxed takes on a more sublime bearing. Once you know what’s hidden beneath the surface, it’s impossible to not sense its presence on repeat listens. What had been calm and collected now feels anticipatory, like a stop-motion image of a flower that quite suddenly, in strong daylight, blooms.

There’s also a lovely, misty video for it on YouTube:

Track originally posted at More from Lightbath, aka Bryan Noll, at

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The Organ as Installation

Olivia Block at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel

The opening roar of this excerpt of a recording suggests a crowd going wild, not so much at a concert as at a vuvuzela-filled soccer stadium. In this case, the stadium is a stately gothic structure, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago, and the ecstatic noise is coming from its E.M. Skinner pipe organ, in an original piece of music by Olivia Block. Advance notice of the performance, which was recorded live on April 21, 2017, described it as something that “straddles the line between musical composition and sound installation.” The installation aspect is in part related to how Block’s use of the organ explores the contours of the space, and also how speakers distributed throughout the building suggest that attendees wander amid the sound to hear it from different vantages. The work, as reproduced in this stereo document, moves from recognizable organ tones to fantasms of eager, treble-piercing waves. Live performances are difficult to reproduce, spatially informed ones all the more so. This recording, by Alex Inglesian, gives us a sense of the work’s breadth and impact.

Track originally posted at More from Block, who is from Texas and lives in Chicago, at and, and on the piece at

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“HVAC Cosplay”

Where the duct ley lines create a confluence of overtones

I’ve come to recognize that the sounds I aspire to make on my modular synthesizer are, often as not, the sounds that I hear in public transportation and HVAC systems. I had several titles planned for this, but in the end it is HVAC cosplay. It is a synthesizer disguising itself as a semi-industrial drone, the drone the product of the infrastructure of some imagined generic place, an office building, a hotel, a school, that works very hard to disguise the presence of its infrastructure. The drone is the evidence of infrastructure that seeps into view — into hearing view, that is, into earshot — when your elevator is stuck between floors, or you find yourself in a subbasement because of poor wayfinding signage in the staircase, or most opportunely at a particular spot in a hall where the duct ley lines create a confluence of overtones. The sound may not even be present in the world; it may be specific to how your ear receives and contorts the sound. You alone may be witness to a particular signal.

More practically, the overtones here are the result of three different oscillators on my modular synthesizer being heard in unison, impacting each other, and being impacted by a handful of low frequency oscillators. Some frequency bands within those main oscillators themselves are being impacted by variations on the low frequency oscillations, and then amid it all one of those three main oscillators occasionally is triggered to move up and down an octave, at times suggesting a tonal center, at others testing the contours of the system’s comfort zone.

More specifically, for those playing along at home, the three oscillators are: an Intellijel Dixie II, a Hikari Sine, and a Pittsburgh Oscillator. The LFOs are all courtesy of a single module, the Xaoc Batumi (I just installed it last night; this is my first patch with it). The filter bank is an ADDAC 601. There’s a Doepfer A-121 and a Circuit Abbey Invy in the mix, too, as well as a 2hp Filt. They keyboard is a QuNexus, doing its thing on the Dixie II. I’ve long fiddled with oscillators to try to engender dense, rich tones, and this is closer to what I’ve been trying for than anything I’ve done until now.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0279: Word Interiorities

Dissect the sonic properties of a single spoken word.

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 this playlist for the duration of the project:

This project’s deadline is 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, May 8, 2017. This project was posted in the morning, California time, on Thursday, May 4, 2017.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0279: Word Interiorities
Dissect the sonic properties of a single spoken word.

Step 1: We’ll be composing short explorations of sound by taking apart the recording of a single spoken word, excavating it for its components, and then exposing them through various techniques, such as repetition, elongation, and contrast. The first step is to choose your word. You can choose your own, or you can follow these chance instructions, which require a single dice. First, roll the dice once. That number tells you which of the six chapters in Luciano Berio’s book Remembering the Future contains your word. Then roll the dice three times; the combined values of those three rolls (e.g., a roll of 3 and a roll of 4 and a roll of 2 yields 9) is how many words to count into the chapter to find your word. You should be able to access a digital copy of the book via Google Books at this URL:

If the first page of a chapter isn’t available, then simply begin counting from the first available page of the chapter. You can also see if your local library has a copy — or maybe there’s already one on your bookshelf.

Or just choose your own word (preferably one that is family-friendly), or use the chance operation with another book.

Step 2: You don’t need to know much if anything about the composer Berio to do this project. However, it may be helpful to know that he has said that phonemes were more important than syllables when composing for lyrics.

Step 3: Record a short piece of sound/music exploring your selected word, using the ideas described in Step 1 and Step 2, and/or any other approaches you wish to employ.

Five More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: If you hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to include the project tag “disquiet0279” (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 wherever you are on Monday, May 8, 2017. This project was posted in the morning, California time, on Thursday, May 4, 2017.

Length: The length is entirely up to the participant.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0279” 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 279th weekly Disquiet Junto project — “Word Interiorities: Dissect the sonic properties of a single spoken word”– 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.

Image associated with this project is a detail of a public domain photo of Luciano Berio, from:

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