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.

Bring Out Your Blogs

The 20th anniversary of a habit worth renewing

Social media can be a good place if you tweet the Twitter you want it to be and work to ignore the rest. However, if there is something you really dig, I strongly encourage you to start a blog.

The year 2019 is, according to Merriam-Webster, among other sources that track such things, the 20th anniversary of the origin of the word “blog.” Anniversaries are welcome opportunities to renew vows, to rejuvenate traditions, and to build on foundations.

My website, Disquiet.com, began in December 1996, a few years prior to the arrival of the word “blog,” so it’s grandfathered in. (Prior to that I had, for a couple years, pages posted via FTP to a URL provided by my first ISP, mostly links to online comics and music resources.) I was resistant to the word “blog” at first, and while I still don’t employ it often, in spirit and practice I treasure it.

Technologies, like hemlines, go up and down. It was all about the web, then AOL, then “push,” then Web 2.0, then email was “dead.” Then came social media, then Slacks. Along the way newsletters popped back up, almost as if they were a new thing (my first one, which I founded while an editor at Tower Records, ran for a decade, beginning in 1994), and the podcast has had a second, robust economic and cultural life. Throughout, blogs just worked, even if they’ve seen better days. Self-publishing is at the heart of the healthy internet. It’s truly self-publishing when the URL and the means of production are your own. Celebrate the 20th anniversary of the word “blog” by thinking of something important to you and then blogging regularly about it.

It’s a common subject of conversation: “What music websites do you read?” The (sad) fact is, most music-coverage sites are burdened with literary equivalents of spam: hot takes and me-first news links, the sole “context” being maximizing eyeballs. (True of many subjects, not just music.) Algorithms existed before computers. Editors, writers, and publishers had a deep sense of what people wanted to read before social media and cookie analysis provided a digital window on our souls. It’s different today, but also no different. When I write about Autechre or Radiohead or Björk, I get way more communication/readers, even if the underlying topics (ideas, culture, technology) are widely applicable. It can be frustrating, but it’s also human. (We’re stuck with each other, so let’s make the most of it.)

But if big-league topics bring readers, they don’t necessarily bring better readers. When you blog you make decisions about what you’re writing. I believe that “why” should precede “what.” I believe that exploring ideas is a good reason to blog. Also sharing experience and asking questions.

The majority of what I read online is musicians, critics, coders, and others’ own sites, such as Ethan Hein’s ethanhein.com, Jason Richardson’s showcasejase.blogspot.com, Alex Ross’ therestisnoise.com, Westy Reflector’s westyreflector.net, aboombong’s penmallet.blogspot.com, Jessica Duchen’s jessicamusic.blogspot.com, Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s johnsonsrambler.wordpress.com, Robin Rimbaud’s scannerdot.com, Kira Grunenberg’s throwthediceandplaynice.com, Darwin Grosse’s alllthingsmodular.com, Richard Brewster’s pugix.com, and Simon Reynolds’ blissout.blogspot.com. There are tons more where these came from. But there used to be even more. Then came social media.

If this year marks the 20th anniversary of the word blog, next month marks the sixth anniversary of Google killing off Google Reader, despite it having been the most-used RSS tool. Around the time I read several tweets conspiratorially tracing the decline of the internet as a safe place for self-expression to that turning point, Reynolds penned a mea culpa about the lost act of “inter-blog conviviality,” as subsequently mentioned by Warren Ellis in his excellent weekly newsletter. I thought, in turn, about why I link less to other blogs than I used to, and I recognized it’s in part because there are fewer other blogs, leading to me being reminded it’s 20 years since the birth of the word blog, if not of the act. In any case, thanks to all them for the brain nudge and habit nudge.

My current RSS reader is packed with long-dormant links. Some return as zombies, filled with weird spam about eyelash extensions and carburetor parts. Some come back reborn. I’d love to see more old sites come back, and for new ones to establish meaningful presences.

Some of those above sites are professionals letting off steam and/or self-promoting. At their best, which can be very great indeed, they provide intimacy and insight. Other sites are of a smaller scale, but the intimacy and insight aren’t diminished. This paean to blogging doesn’t just apply to music. If you garden, blog it (please). If you have a pet monkey, blog it. If you are the repository of some dwindling or otherwise threatened culture, blog it. If you harbor considered thoughts about your profession, blog it. I think back to blogs I’ve encouraged friends and colleagues to start over the years: on gardening, relocations, engineering, arcane research topics. Few started, let alone continued, but I think it isn’t a coincidence that “gardening” is the one that I come back to. As Iago says in “Othello,” in a different context, “our wills are gardeners.” Blogs are gardens of ideas. (I mention gardens a lot when I talk about blogs. It’s because gardening is a key metaphor in generative music and my blog activism is a stealth campaign for generative music. Just kidding. Kinda. It’s mostly because it’s a useful metaphor for blogs, and I have a garden.)

I’m sure if we did wayback sleuthing we’d find lots of conference presentations in a range of professions and pursuits on how “blogging” isn’t a good use of time because of pageviews, or clicks, or SEO, or engagement, etc. Pay no attention to the man behind the podium. Just share what’s of importance to you. And don’t look at pageviews. Don’t seek claps. Don’t chase reposts. Don’t covet trackbacks. Seek the unique pleasure of having shared something you feel is worth sharing. And the conversations that sort of writing (that sort of blogging) encourages. And yes, it can take time. Good things generally do.

And don’t concern yourself with whether or not you “write.” Don’t leave writing to writers. Don’t delegate your area of interest and knowledge to people with stronger rhetorical resources. You’ll find your voice as you make your way. There is, however, one thing to learn from writers that non-writers don’t always understand. Most writers don’t write to express what they think. They write to figure out what they think. Writing is a process of discovery. Blogging is an essential tool toward meditating over an extended period of time on a subject you consider to be important.

In any case, part of blogging is knowing when you’re done with a post. I’ll begin to end by repeating something: 2019 is the 20th anniversary of the word “blog.” If you sense something went wrong with the internet along the way, you might ask yourself if that happened around the time blogging began to decline. It’s time to build back up the self-published web. Thanks for reading. And even more thanks for starting a blog. When you do, let me know.

This post originated as a thread I wrote at twitter.com/disquiet on June 13, 2019, between plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0389: Long Then

The Assignment: Take an old song, and make it (much) slower, and add something.

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.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is Monday, June 17, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, June 13, 2019.

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

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0389: Long Then
The Assignment: Take an old song, and make it (much) slower, and add something.

Step 1: For this project you’ll be reworking an old piece of your own music. Reading through the instructions first may aid in your selection process.

Step 2: Choose an old piece of music of your own. (Define “old” as you like. “Preexistence” is the main factor.)

Step 3: Slow it down considerably (at least by a third, maybe by much more).

Step 4: Add one or two new elements that proceed at the piece’s new pace.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0389” (no spaces or quotation marks) in the name of your track.

Step 2: If your audio-hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to also include the project tag “disquiet0389” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation a project playlist.

Step 3: Upload your track. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your track.

Step 4: Post your track in the following discussion thread at llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0389-long-then/

Step 5: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 6: If posting on social media, please consider using the hashtag #disquietjunto so fellow participants are more likely to locate your communication.

Step 7: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Additional Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is Monday, June 17, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, June 13, 2019.

Length: The length is up to you. Shorter is often better, though short may not apply this week.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0389” 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: Consider setting your track as downloadable and allowing for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution, allowing for derivatives).

For context, when posting the track online, please be sure to include this following information:

More on this 389th weekly Disquiet Junto project — Long Then / The Assignment: Take an old song, and make it (much) slower, and add something — at:

https://disquiet.com/0389/

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here:

http://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0389-long-then/

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

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Personal Soundtrack 3.0

More from Neal Stephenson's Fall: Or, Dodge in Hell

Raising the bar for adaptive video-game music: Your favorite composer is digitally resurrected near you in the Singularity, and proceeds to improvise a score to accompany your avatar’s actions. This passage connects with one much earlier in the book, when we first come across the music of a band called Pompitus Bombasticus, and the story digresses into various examples of how the music we listen to informs our perceptions at the time we are listening. This is the opposite of a spoiler. There was zero doubt at the moment Pompitus Bombasticus was introduced into what the book calls Meatspace that a parallel, or mirror, rendition wouldn’t surface later in the virtual/digital world. (From Neal Stephenson’s new novel, Fall: Or, Dodge in Hell, at roughly 55% of the way in. I’m occasionally collating observations about sound in the book as I make my way through its nearly 900 pages. See, previously: “The Hell of It.)

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The Analog Singularity

A phrase for our transitional time

The phrase “First Posthumous Track” feels uniquely 2019. It also feels like some analog process akin to the Singularity, witnessing celebrity as it beatifies into its purest form. I’m reminded of the extended period of time when I used to dutifully report to Twitter each morning every music/sound-related obituary I came across. I felt like once someone dies, their music becomes electronic music by definition.

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This Week in Sound: Silent Tires + Speech2Face + …

A lightly annotated clipping service

Don’t Tread: Despite the fact that sounds are being added to electric and hybrid cars to compensate for how quiet they are, Bridgestone has produced a new tire, the Turanza QuietTrack, designed to muffle the familiar noise of rubber on tarmac. Soon enough we’ll be adding electronic tire sounds to compensate for the newly quiet tires. Then perhaps we’ll replace car horns with what sounds like a parent screaming in the middle of the night upon stepping on a Lego tire.

Visage Thing: MIT researchers report they can deduce what your face looks like from what your voice sounds like: “The paper, ‘Speech2Face: Learning the Face Behind a Voice,’ explains how they took a dataset made up of millions of clips from YouTube and created a neural network-based model that learns vocal attributes associated with facial features from the videos. Now, when the system hears a new sound bite, the AI can use what it’s learned to guess what the face might look like.” (Via the Twitter account of Robin James, who appears to be understandably skeptical about this announcement.) Of perhaps more interest is the Fast Company article’s focus on the way “Voice privacy has taken a backseat to the push to regulate face recognition.”

Nay, Robot: The FCC appears to have taken steps to stem the tide of robocalls. Whether the actions will have an impact is yet to be seen. I have worried that robocalls will be impossible to regulate due to some obscenely broad interpretation of free speech. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. Nor should you be able to contribute to a denial-of-service attack on the household phone by loading it down with scam pitches and spoofed numbers.

Not OK: Apparently when the band Radiohead declined to pay a ransom, someone posted 18 hours of bootlegged rarities from their OK Computer recording sessions. (Update: Radiohead then went ahead and put the whole thing online, temporarily, at radiohead.bandcamp.com.)

To Beep: To coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, Fast Company has been running a series of stories on 50 related subjects, such as Tang and Velcro. The eighth such story is about “the birth of the electronic beep”: “The CBS News special devoted to the launch and impact of Sputnik opened with 18 seconds of the recorded beep.’Until two days ago,’ said anchor Douglas Edwards, ‘that sound had never been heard on this Earth. Suddenly, it has become as much a part of 20th century life as the whirr of your vacuum cleaner.'”

Fly in a Wall: A prototype sound proofing material has been derived from “the tiny sound absorbent scales found on the wings of a giant species of moth,” the African Cabbage Tree Emperor.

Two to Tango: The video game Dance Dance Revolution turns 20 this year. According to the New York Times, there are now only two remaining DDR machines at Manhattan arcades. The newspaper’s scrolling photo essay takes readers to the scenes. (Via Simon Carless’ excellent Video Game Deep Cuts weekly email newsletter.)

This was first published in the June 9, 2019, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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