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

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tag: comics

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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Disquiet Junto Project 0268: Walking Music

Take a stroll and describe it in sound, paying tribute to the late manga great Jiro Taniguchi.

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, February 20, 2017. This project was posted in the late morning, California time, on Thursday, February 16, 2017.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0268: Walking Music
Take a stroll and describe it in sound, paying tribute to the late manga great Jiro Taniguchi.

Step 1: This week’s project pays tribute to Jiro Taniguchi, the great Japanese manga creator whose numerous works include an adaptation of a Natsume Sōseki novel, dark crime stories, and a widely celebrated and largely dialog-free volume titled The Walking Man. The Walking Man in particular is the inspiration for this week’s Junto project. Taniguchi died on February 11, 2017, at the age of 69.

Step 2: Take a leisurely stroll and record — whether through sound or observation, or both – what you see and experience.

Step 3: Create a short piece of music that reflects the route and experiences of your walk in Step 2.

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 “disquiet0268” (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 llllllll.co please consider posting your track:

http://llllllll.co/t/in-tribute-to-jiro-taniguchi-disquiet-junto-project-0268/6533

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, February 20, 2017. This project was posted in the late morning, California time, on Thursday, February 16, 2017.

Length: The length is up to you, depending on the approach you decide upon.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0268” 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 268th weekly Disquiet Junto project, “Walking Music: Take a stroll and describe it in sound, paying tribute to the late manga great Jiro Taniguchi”:

https://disquiet.com/0268/

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:

llllllll.co/t/in-tribute-to-jiro-taniguchi-disquiet-junto-project-0268/6533

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

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Disquiet Junto Project 0247: Waltz, Maybe

Interpret as a graphic score an illustration drawn upon waking by Lark Pien.

lark-piene-waltz-maybe

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 was posted in the morning, California time, on Thursday, September 22, 2016, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, September 26, 2016.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0247: Waltz, Maybe
Interpret as a graphic score an illustration drawn upon waking by Lark Pien.

Project Steps:

Step 1: Look at this illustration drawn upon waking by Lark Pien. It’s titled “Waltz, Maybe.” When she posted it online, she said, “woke up to music, drew it quickly”:

https://goo.gl/djQ31Y

Step 2: Record a short piece of music interpreting the illustration as a graphic score.

Five More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Per the instructions below, be sure to include the project tag “disquiet0247”(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 llllllll.co please consider posting your track. (Assuming you post it on SoundCloud, a search for the tag will help me construct the playlist.)

http://llllllll.co/t/a-cartoon-graphic-score-disquiet-junto-project-0247/4647

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 was posted in the morning, California time, on Thursday, September 22, 2016, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, September 26, 2016.

Length: The length is up to you. Three minutes seems like a good length.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0247”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 247th weekly Disquiet Junto project — “Interpret as a graphic score an illustration drawn upon waking by Lark Pien”— at:

https://disquiet.com/0247/

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:

http://llllllll.co/t/a-cartoon-graphic-score-disquiet-junto-project-0247/4647

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

Image associated with this project is the (unintended, but used with approval) graphic score by Lark Pien.

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This Week in Sound: Superheroes, Maps, Freesound(s), …

A lightly annotated clipping service

”¢ Heroic Jingle: Kudos to readers of ign.com for noticing the small text on the poster for the Avengers: Age of Ultron movie and discerning from it that Spider-Man may very well be in the film. Why? Because there’s a credit for composer Danny Elfman, who wrote the theme for the modern Spider-Man films:
http://www.ign.com/articles/2015/02/24/behold-the-new-poster-for-marvels-avengers-age-of-ultron

”¢ Sound Trip: My friends Nick Sowers and Bryan Finoki are now using sound to investigate the urban environment with a series at Design Observer. The first takes them to San Francisco’s Mission District:
http://designobserver.com/feature/infringe-01-the-new-mission-soundtrack/38775

Ӣ Tracking Sound: This is a bit old, dating from late December, but I just came across the news that Freesound.org, a massive shared database of field recordings and other sounds, now allows users to track specific tags and users. Useful if you have a fetish for creaking doors, foghorns, or particular species of bird:
http://blog.freesound.org/?p=532

”¢ Mapping Sound: The National Park Service has mapped the quietest places in the United States of America. The word “sonification” is a useful one in discussing the way sound can be employed to explain data, but in this case it is, in turn, a simple visualization that best depicts how the west is far more quiet than the east:
http://www.citylab.com/commute/2015/02/the-quietest-places-in-america-mapped/385620/

This first appeared in the February 24, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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Do You Want Punk or Do You Want the Truth?

I wrote the introduction to a 58-artist Minutemen tribute comic

20141202-dnotdcover

The talented artist Warren Craghead, whose comics I edited a million years ago, recently published a small book — “a drawn tribute” — in which 58 artists drew the 48 songs from the now 30-years-old album Double Nickels on the Dime by the Minutemen. The contributors included several other artists whose work I have edited in the past — among them Gabrielle Gamboa, John Porcellino, and Dean Westerfield — and such talented folks as Josh Bayer, Marc Bell, Luke Ramsey, and Sarah Boyts Yoder, just to name a few. Craghead invited me to write the collection’s introduction. I was tempted, of course, to connect mini-comics and self-published art to the “econo” mode of the Minutemen, but in the end I took another route, based more directly on my own experience of the music when it was first released. Here is the text of my introduction:

“Do You Want Punk or Do You Want the Truth?”

I never saw the Minutemen play live, but I did get to witness Mike Watt carry the flame in the years that immediately followed their tragic, premature dissolution.

I started college a few months after the album Double Nickels on the Dime was released. Double Nickels was something of a soundtrack to that first year of school. While the dormitory quad echoed with dueling boomboxes — there was an ongoing rivalry between recent live releases by Bruce Springsteen and Talking Heads — the college radio station was more partial to the Minutemen. Those taut, ever so brief songs that populate the album popped up regularly on the radio, like public service announcements: short, direct, impassioned. The title of the album’s “#1 Hit Song”might have been intended as a jokey self-defeatism, but on college radio it was something of a fact.

And then, well into the first semester of my second year at college, the Minutemen’s legendary singer and guitarist, D. Boon, passed away. I happened to attend school where Kira, of Black Flag, was originally from, and she’d recently returned to town. She and Watt, in the process of recuperating from losing Boon, formed a group called Dos, which as the name suggests consisted just of their two basses. Seeing Dos perform live off campus was the first time I ever saw Watt play in person. It was a very disorienting experience, because the rollicking, intense, chaotic sound that I recognized from the Minutemen was, in the form of Dos, funneled into something far more meditative and reflective, more subtle and remote. If the Minutemen were like funky beatnik Woody Guthries, Dos was as if Johann Sebastian Bach had hooked a pickup to a cello.

And to be frank, at barely 18 years of age, I had found Double Nickels on the Dime extremely befuddling at first. Like with many records that would later become favorites — Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II — I was by no means immediately smitten. It was less love at first listen than it was an immersive, confounding experience that I felt a strong desire to wrestle with. Unlike with Brew or SAW2, the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime isn’t something I ever really managed to wrestle to the ground. Instead, I simply managed to come to grips with it, to make peace with its intensity. To this day the pummeling language, the short songs, the changes of sonic environment — live audience here, tiny garage there — all combine into a persistently formidable listen. We all make our way into a record this intense in our own ways. It was, really, only through the musical language of Dos that I came to begin to understand Double Nickels on the Dime, to appreciate the individual instrumental lines, to recognize the play between guitar and bass, bass and drum, and to hear Boon’s booming innuendos and admonishments as one among many rumbling forces in the fierce assembly.

Pick up a copy of the book at doublenickelsforever.tumblr.com.

This first appeared in the December 2, 2014, edition of the free Disquiet email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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