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. • Disquiet.com 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.

tag: current activities

twitter.com/disquiet: Tangles, X-Ray, Thelonious

From the past week

I do this manually each Saturday, collating most of the tweets I made the past week at twitter.com/disquiet, which I think of as my public notebook. Some tweets pop up in expanded form or otherwise on Disquiet.com sooner. It’s personally informative to revisit the previous week of thinking out loud. This isn’t a full accounting. Often there are, for example, conversations on Twitter that don’t really make as much sense out of the context of Twitter itself.

▰ “The two of you, like headphone wires tangling, caught up in this something.”

Very much enjoying Caleb Azumah Nelsons novel Open Water.

▰ Maybe it’s just me, but I’m having situations where to log onto Bandcamp (through Safari, on a current MacBook Pro), I have to click through as many as a dozen different captcha screen things. What is up?

▰ Each time I start learning a new song in guitar class, the first thing I do after the session (well, after I record myself playing the difficult bits before I forget them) is to search for the song at ethanhein.com.

▰ And sometimes you just need to put on Souled American’s 1988 album, Fe, marvel at the sheer personality of Joe Adducci’s bass, and listen to what Scott Tuma is up to (and extrapolate from there to what’s ahead for his own music). Such an incredible record.

▰ The X-Ray shorts tucked into the final season of The Expanse are enjoyable glimpses of the private lives of many characters. Also, observing Avasarala catnap and Peaches mourn in solitude provides ample opportunity to get immersed in the ambient sound of the spaceships they call home.

▰ I’ve learned of Elliot Harmon’s death, via Niki Korth. Elliot, while at Creative Commons (before EFF), was supportive of her exploration of Disquiet Junto activities, leading to a lengthy 2014 conversation (creativecommons.org). My thoughts go out to Harmon’s family and friends.

▰ The year is 2022. It’s inexcusable for spellcheck to not recognize “Thelonious.”

▰ Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water and Neal Stephenson’s Termination Shock are two very different novels, and I like how both books wait until just about the midway point for the title phrase to appear in the story.

▰ There will be another edition of the This Week in Sound email newsletter on Monday. Topics include:

  • hold music tyranny
  • Beethoven synesthesia
  • military noise pollution compensation
  • European cases of Havana syndrome
  • more

Subscribe (free) at tinyletter.com/disquiet.

▰ And on that note, have a great weekend.

  • Pick a favorite novel and re-experience it as an audiobook
  • Rank your home appliances in terms of relative melodiousness
  • Watch a favorite TV show episode with an esoteric (to you) voice-over language
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twitter.com/disquiet: Echo, Novels, Airplanes

From the past week

I do this manually each Saturday, collating most of the tweets I made the past week at twitter.com/disquiet, which I think of as my public notebook. Some tweets pop up in expanded form or otherwise on Disquiet.com sooner. It’s personally informative to revisit the previous week of thinking out loud. This isn’t a full accounting. Often there are, for example, conversations on Twitter that don’t really make as much sense out of the context of Twitter itself.

▰ Flashback to three years ago today, when I went to SFMOMA and stumbled on a lesson about how to pack a characteristically massive Richard Serra sculpture for shipping.

▰ The doorbell rings. It’s mechanical and takes time to decay. There’s a light echo in the hallway. A few minutes later there’s another echo, a text message beeps to note delivery had occurred. I kinda wanna change the text ringtone to match the doorbell: a more literal echo.

▰ I wander into the kitchen and think, as I often have for 22 months now, of home as spacecraft, specifically the Rocinante. I float in, refill my water bottle, get some dried fruit, and return to my station: monitors on, feeds enabled, tasks ahead. (Sound design by dishwasher.)

▰ That moment after guitar (Zoom) class, where I hold my left hand in position and then, after signing off, use my right hand to take a picture of my left hand before I forget the chord.

▰ Over breakfast I finished reading the third and final volume of Fonda Lee’s Jade trilogy, Jade Legacy. I took the last three chapters slowly just to stretch them out. What a run, what a ride. So many great characters, so many moments when the author didn’t take the easy way out. Now that I’m done with reading the final Jade book, it’s time for the ninth and final Expanse novel. That’s two epic series done with, and I read both in real time, as they were released, rather than after the fact. Both are excellent.

▰ The pandemic has really made me lose interest in participating in longterm interstellar travel.

▰ I think a lot about the Matthew McConaughey character in Interstellar listening to field recordings of Earth to keep his mind off the thin metal wall between him and the void. The thin wall would, yes, weird me out but the monotony in that cabin is what holds decreasing interest.

▰ Not that I’m going to movies yet, but I sure do love my neighborhood.

▰ Hate can’t be promised to die in a vacuum, but at least it suffers in a vacuum.

▰ Start of a thread of novels I finished reading, 2022 (habit borrowed from Jeremy Bushnell). The first week of the new year is when you finish reading books you almost finished reading over the holiday break.

No. 1 Jade City by Fonda Lee. Three words: triad boardroom fantasy. One more: awesome.

No. 2 The Last Tourist by Olen Steinhauer. Septuple agents, quadruple crosses. If thriller plot intricacies were an Olympic gymnastic event. Fourth book in Milo Weaver series. Benefits from intriguing introduction of occasional first-person perspective of a new, junior character.

▰ I’ve been one on plane trip since March 2020, so I’m here on the couch listening to the white noise of an airplane interior through headphones while I type away. I’m thinking of passing buses as clouds, and of the occasional emergency vehicle sirens as cockpit announcements.

▰ That’s pretty cool. Well under 24 hours after sending out yesterday’s This Week in Sound email newsletter, half the 2100+ subscribers had opened it. Tinyletter has minimal tracking, which is fine by me. Just nice to know it’s not falling on deaf inboxes, so to speak.

▰ Exactly four days later, the newsletter has a 54.5% open rate, which apparently is pretty good. If you’re into the role sound plays in culture, technology, politics, science, ecology, storytelling, warfare, art, and elsewhere, get This Week in Sound via tinyletter.com/disquiet.

▰ Topics for this coming Monday’s This Week in Sound email newsletter will include:

  • audio fakes by birders
  • phone surveillance prophylactics
  • sound of snowflakes
  • listening for broken windows
  • more

Subscribe (free*) at tinyletter.com/disquiet

*I just have a tip jar. No paywall.

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twitter.com/disquiet: Thiebaud, Dickinson, Clang.gg

From the past week

I do this manually each Saturday, collating most of the tweets I made the past week at twitter.com/disquiet, which I think of as my public notebook. Some tweets pop up in expanded form or otherwise on Disquiet.com sooner. It’s personally informative to revisit the previous week of thinking out loud. This isn’t a full accounting. Often there are, for example, conversations on Twitter that don’t really make as much sense out of the context of Twitter itself.

▰ RIP, Wayne Thiebaud, who died on Christmas at age 101 after bringing so much pleasure to so many eyes. I only got to speak with him once, on the phone while writing a profile of painter Mel Ramos, his lifelong friend, for sactownmag.com.

▰ If IMDB indexed furniture, the entry for Emeco chairs would be the longest page on the internet

▰ Dishwasher (two rooms over) to the left of me, rainstorm (outside living room window) to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle again

▰ I am totally down for Mos Espa parkour.

▰ I’m 67% (45% when I first tweeted this) of the way through Fonda Lee’s third Jade novel, Jade Legacy, and it’s truly thrilling. It never takes the easy way out. On the one hand, I’m sad to see the series come to a close. On the other, I’m so glad to see how compelling and transportive it is, how far it goes.

▰ There’s a lot I love about Dickinson, the TV series, and right now everything else takes second place after the jazz that plays every time Walt Whitman speaks.

▰ Excited to spend more time in Bogdan Raczynski’s new https://clang.gg community in the coming year. For fun, here’s an email interview I did with Bogdan 22 and a half years ago: “Turning Japanese.” (In response, Raczynski likened decades-old interviews to high school yearbook photos.)

▰ My day began with @’s related to poetry (via Rachael Nevins) and to livecoding (via Bogdan Raczynski), which is alright by me.

▰ So glad Bruce Levenstein is digging the trio of Michele Rabbia, Gianluca Petrella, and Eivind Aarset on the 2019 album Lost River. One of my favorite albums of the past few years. The guitarist Eivind (autocorrects to Divine) Aarset is great as a leader and often at his best as a collaborator and supporting player.

▰ Mornings sounds, last day of the year: external drive beeps and whirs as it reboots; a bus’ breaks bring it to a stop briefly (clearly no one was waiting to board, nor did anyone disembark); a car speeds west on the wet street at pedestrian-defying clip; house creaks as it warms.

▰ This week in the annual end-of-year project, Disquiet Junto music community participants are stitching together year-end retroactive sonic diaries by concatenating brief snippets from existing tracks to represent the past year. Playlist in progress at soundcloud.com.

▰ Only three episodes left of our Dickinson holiday spree*. :(

*née binge

▰ Only two now. :( :( On the bright side, when they’re over there are exceptional leftover Salvadoran tamales for lunch.

▰ Wow, Dickinson is a treat. TV has no shortage when it comes to flights of fancy, genre blending, hi/low mashups, public-domain spelunking, self-aware reboots, and professional-grade fan fiction. Dickinson is all of those, and it makes good on its source material and its conceit.

▰ Best receipt font of 2021

Side note: The “little spicy” following “medium spicy” is apparently how the kitchen is signaled to find the zone between medium spicy and very spicy.

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Ring Out the Old

434 posts in 2021

And it’s a wrap. 2020 was the first year since I founded Disquiet.com in 1996 — this month having been its 25th anniversary — that I posted at least once each day. Today, the last day of 2021, marks the first time I’ve done so two years in a row. I imagine evolving priorities may change things at some point, but the habit got me through these two tough years. This year the activity came to a total of 434 posts, including this one. (I may be counting a couple of unpublished drafts in there, but they’ll see the light of day eventually.) And on that note, have a great evening and a great start to 2022.

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My Troubles with MP3s

An archival conundrum

MP3s continue to be a source of confusion — consternation? apathy? entropy? all of the above? — for me. I should be clear that by “MP3s” I mean any fixed digital documents of audio. So, by “MP3s,” I also mean WAV files, and FLAC, and ALAC, etc. Actually, I specifically don’t mean WAV, because WAV files don’t play nicely with metadata, and files (at least cultural, third-party files) that don’t include self-explanatory contextual information seem inherently problematic. But in any case, I’m using “MP3” here as shorthand for fixed audio files that have contextual information (in this case, things like artist, title, album, year of release, etc.).

I struggle with MP3s to the extent that I have failed over the course of two and a half decades to actually employ them in the long term, to engage with them repeatedly, casually, in an active archival manner, as I have, by comparison, with CDs and vinyl. MP3s are fine to download, to preview music, to listen to for a while — but actually returning to them? Scanning through a collection of files as one might a wall full of alphabetized spines? That was barely a habit for me in the age before and of the iPod, and even considerably less so today.

Yes, physical formats involve their own shortcomings. I have tons of old CDs packed away I haven’t listened to in years. The organization of my LPs is sloppy at best. I recall one time, back in the late 1990s or early 2000s, when a friend mentioned how I hadn’t talked about a certain type of music in a while. Initially I was confused by the comment, but a week or so later I noticed I had, indeed, at some point put boxes of research materials directly in front of the lower wall racks where those particular CDs were stacked. I hadn’t listened to the music because it was out of sight and, thus, out of mind. With MP3s, which bear no physical form besides pixels on a screen, out of sight is an even bigger issue.

There are technical matters, as well. Time has not been kind to CDs. The media was plagued with rumors that they would decay when the years passed. The years have passed. As someone with thousands of them, I have never experienced a single one going bad; perhaps there is a ruined one buried deep in my collection, but I’ve yet to come across it. However, the things we play CDs on don’t work forever. The multi-CD changer in my living room died recently, after 30 years of service, and finding a good single-CD replacement has been tellingly difficult. It’s easier to locate a good turntable these days than it is a proper CD player. I bought a cheap DVD player to fill the void in my stereo system, but only temporarily: it doesn’t even have a readout of where you are in the disc. I have my eyes out for a used one.

Now, part of this MP3 issue is about my own listening habits. I’ve always been listening forward, listening ahead, dipping back on occasion, but doing so more instinctively and for research. I’ve always been focused on new releases, part by predilection, part because I’ve written professionally about music since 1989 and did so in college beginning in 1985, and for the high school newspaper before that. I listen back, yes, but what’s coming up is where my ears are directed. As a result, I am not naturally inclined to collate, to tend the garden. And MP3 collections require tending.

And I’m not alone. If there were more of a common habit of managing our MP3 (etc.) collections, there would be better tools to accomplish the task. There are tools, mind you. Apple Music does a fine job even if you don’t subscribe, and there are contenders like Vox (vox.rocks), but their usage pales to streaming. Streaming, in the modern sense of the word, on services like Spotify and YouTube Music, is more like how I imagine exploring my own hoard of digital music files, and yet a useful system to accomplish has never worked for me: RAID discs accessible like a private cloud, nested folders on Dropbox, sync’d across devices like Apple Music and Vox. All nice, or nice enough, in theory, and yet for all my listening, and I listen a lot, not one approach has stuck. And not for lack of trying.

When I purchase an album from Bandcamp, or receive one as a cloud-accessible Zip archive from a musician, or download a set of tracks from a blog, the online place where those files originated is part of the way I think about them henceforth. In the absence of a physical object, the connections between bits of information provides a semblance of an object. I have a few albums I associate with the places where I purchased them (a Laurie Anderson box set I got at a steal used when I could not have afforded it new, a few LPs still bearing the labels of the stores where I snagged them), but it’s different with MP3s. MP3s sort of scream out for context. These lighter than air files that contain music benefit from tethering; additional information — a cover image, a title, the musicians’ own comments — gives them something akin to weight. Best I can, I have tried to gather notes and documents, and set them alongside the tracks in a folder, much as I’ve occasionally slotted interviews, reviews, and other (flat!) artifacts inside album sleeves, not just LPs but CDs as well (folding one-sheets to fit inside a jewel box is a hard-earned skill). These additional files aren’t generally accessible from within whatever app I use (or, more accurately, try to use) to organize my MP3s, so it’s a bit of a fool’s errand — which may be the fact of MP3 collecting more broadly, as well.

So, another year ahead, and along with it more files. Will they linger on hard drives, or will they gather into something useful? I don’t know.

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