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

tag: doorbell

About Today

(I made this before the noise started.)

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When the Doorbell Tolls for Itself

A domestic requiem

You don’t miss you water ’til your well’s run dry, and you don’t miss your doorbell until it’s no longer capable of being rung. But before the doorbell gets to such a state, there is, apparently, a death rattle, as I’ve now learned firsthand.

In the case of the doorbell in the home where I have lived for nearly 13 years, this rattle took the form initially of a long held note, and a dense one at that — not so much handfuls as bushels of overtones. The doorbell was rung one recent afternoon, and many seconds passed before I realized it wasn’t receding. It wasn’t quieting. It rang, and then it held, like a violin played with an endlessly long bow — or to borrow a term from synthesizers, as if some tiny, granular segment of it had been captured and then looped so as to give the illusion of an extended pause. I was caught within a frozen, eternal moment of doorbell-ness. Part of me didn’t want it to ever end. Part of me feared it never would. Part of me knew this was the end, or close to it. This was the sound of a doorbell when it tolls for itself.

I woke from the spell when I recognized that while the doorbell may be on a kind of held pause, whoever had cause it to ring was outside the time-loop bubble, or at least outside the front gate. I opened the door to receive the inevitable package, and then headed back upstairs. There, at the end of the hall, above the entrance to the kitchen, the doorbell continued to ring. It was such a strange presence, this all too familiar sound — even when I knew someone was due by for a visit, it would shock me and send the hair of my arms up on end — heard in a new way.

As it played on, and on, my sense was this was no mere blip. This was the end. It was the end, but it just wasn’t over yet. The ringing was orchestral. It felt like it can be to watch ocean waves churn over and over: in constant motion, yet in many ways never really changing, and all along giving only a hint of the depths they cover.

And then the drone of this former bell, the held tone of this former terse chime, began to settle, like a balloon deflating, like ice melting, so slowly that there came a point when I couldn’t tell if it was still ringing, or if I was just remembering the impression of its ring.

And then briefly it surfaced again, fading in, rising to a substantial volume, though with none of the strength it had moments before, only to fade out with an unambiguous finality. This fade was the end. There was a memory, but there was no illusion of presence. No pressing of the buzzer outside could revive it.

When someone rings it currently, if the house is quiet, there is a distant buzz. There is, of course, no ring. A replacement needs to be selected, and installed, but there’s time for that. Replacing it too soon feels a bit like replacing a recently deceased pet. A respectful void is necessary before one truly moves on. For now there’s near silence, and I could get used to it, impractical as it may be.

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“I’m On”

Even if "I" seem to be off, or even a little off

Time and again I’ve learned that the surest way for people to interact with technology is for them to experience the technology as not just a useful tool, but as a presence that is eager to help. I saw a fascinating presentation a few years back by a researcher who showed that simply adding a pair of stick-on googly eyes to a device would significantly increase the likelihood that people would interact with it.

There is a lot of discussion about matters of gender in the roles of today’s personal digital assistants, such as Siri and Alexa, though less so about the tone of those interactions, the balance they strike between authoritative resource and obsequious servant. The intelligences that animate our phones and “smart home” devices walk a tightrope that is suspended across the deep chasm we have come to call the Uncanny Valley (the scenario in which certain approximations of the human by the digital have the opposite effect of the googly eyes: repelling us rather than enchanting us).

As time passes, these digital assistants will serve as interpersonal middleware, along the lines of the Google Duplex service, which can initiate and make a call on your behalf, communicating a request to someone on the other end — and perhaps at some future date, to a digital assistant serving your intended interlocutor. The two parties’ mutual assistants might have numerous communications before their human guardians ever might speak to each other directly.

The humble doorbell, a device that serves as a technological messaging tool, is a model of such interaction. The tradition intercom, by extension, facilitates communication without itself participating, to varying degrees. In the case of this apartment building’s aftermarket solution, one takes for granted that the “I” in “I’m on” is not one of the human inhabitants, but the device itself. This intercom’s screen may have gone dead, but its purpose, its utility, lives on, and someone sorted out that by telling the visitor so in an enthusiastic tone would improve the intended interaction.

Also: Note the nose-like protuberance that is the exposed lock mechanism, a bit of chance anthropomorphism. Also: Note that one doesn’t “just” push the apartment number; one also pushes the hashtag (né pound, as in one must pound the button to make certain it has its desired effect).

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twitter.com/disquiet: Museum Dreams, Lawnmower Jam, Atwood x Anderson

From the past week

I do this manually each week, collating tweets I made at twitter.com/disquiet, my public notebook. Some tweets pop up (in expanded form) on Disquiet.com sooner. It’s personally informative to revisit the previous week of thinking out loud.

▰ Weirdest side effect of getting my first shot of the Moderna vaccine on Saturday morning was that for the rest of the weekend I found myself daydreaming being in various rooms at SFMOMA.

▰ Ooh, the upcoming Disquietude ambient music podcast episode will have its first entirely original piece of music (that is, first heard on the podcast).

▰ Lawnmower jam: Saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews, Bela Fleck) noticed his neighbor’s lawnmower was in A flat, so he decided to accompany her. (Thanks, Brian Biggs!)


▰ A trick to navigating the modern internet, one that’s even more addled with targeted ads than anything Neal Stephenson imagined when the ‘net was young, is to regularly search for a few things you already own and love. Then you’ll be inundated with reminders of them.

▰ I love this detail in this piece (nytimes.com) by writer Max Gao on the upcoming Kung Fu TV series: ubiquitous actor Tzi Ma has no children, despite having “played the father figure for a bevy of Hollywood talent” (e.g., in The Farewell, Meditation Park, and the live-action Mulan).

▰ “So, 1981. We had the radio on while cooking dinner, when an eerie sound came pulsating over the airwaves.” Because we’ve been good, we get Margaret Atwood writing about Laurie Anderson: theguardian.com. “Do you want to be a human being any more? Are you one now?”

▰ I’m pretty enamored of wind chimes. As I wrote about in my book on Selected Ambient Works Volume 2: If as Brian Eno has said, repetition is a form of change, then wind chimes can show that change is a form of repetition.

▰ The first track is up on the latest Disquiet Junto project and it includes the sentence “I added a phaser effect to the dishwasher track” and this is how I know I’ve found my people.

▰ RSS 4 Life

▰ It’s cool to have some new Twitter followers following yesterday’s lengthy thread about the benefits of blogging, and I should note for the record you’re now following someone who gets excited about: refrigerators humming, doorbells, silence, TV captions, hold music.

▰ OK, have a good weekend. Listen to some poetry. Read some TV. Seek out some birdsong (while masked). And if you’ve got time and interest, play a recording of wind chimes on a speaker and record how it interacts with your own environment: disquiet.com/0484. See ya Monday.

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twitter.com/disquiet: Slough, Hildur, Weegee

From the past week

I do this manually each week, collating the tweets I made at twitter.com/disquiet (which I think of as my public notebook) that I want to keep track of. For the most part, this means ones I initiated, not ones in which I directly responded to someone. I sometimes tweak them a bit here. Some tweets pop up on Disquiet.com sooner than I get around to collating them, so I leave them out of the weekly round-up. It’s usually personally informative to revisit the previous week of thinking out loud, especially these days, when a week can feel both like a year and like nothing whatsoever has happened or changed.

▰ Last week I mentioned I’ve learned many things about myself during pandemic shut-in life, and key among them is that I’m way more into Miss Marple than into James Bond. The very next episode up of Marple, as if to make good on my personal realization, featured none other than Timothy Dalton as guest star (as a would-be successor to Churchill), no less. (Former Bonds do seem so relaxed once the Bonding period is over.)

▰ Not surprised Mick Herron listens to Gavin Bryars (theguardian.com). The Slow Horses books have a lot of attention to sound in them, and ECM Records gets particularly name-checked (Arvo Pärt and Keith Jarrett). I just finished book 6, and look forward to 7.

▰ Got some new noise-canceling (over-the-ear) headphones with this seemingly nifty feature: you run a finger up or down an earpiece to adjust volume. Except that interfaces unintentionally proves much louder (and more audibly annoying) than traditional buttons.

▰ Got new headphones. Been listening to Hildur Guðnadóttir all day (Without Sinking). Will through Wednesday, at least. Except when sleeping. And maybe even then.

▰ Q: “What Happens Now to Michael Apted’s Lifelong Project ‘Up’?” (nytimes.com)

A: A live feed from Nest doorbells installed at the entryway to each of their homes.

▰ If I did the math right, then the 500th consecutive weekly Disquiet Junto project will begin on July 29th of this year. Ooh, and this means the 500th project somehow manages to end on August 2nd, one day before my birthday.

▰ The wind crazy at 4:30am, the house rattled like a kid’s toy. I grabbed earbuds and listened to the audiobook of a spy novel, my eyes too tired to focus on my Kindle. I slowed its speed to that of a sleep story: “left … crumbled … tarmac .. in .. its …wake.” Oddly soothing.

▰ The longstanding ban on public performances of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” will be temporarily lifted tomorrow, January 20, 2021, for a period of 12 hours, from noon until midnight, Eastern Time.

▰ Getting an extra light for Zoom calls has helped, but when I actually step back and look at my desk, it feels like Weegee is probably in the hallway snapping photos for the morning edition.

▰ Yeah, I downloaded DC’s version of Marvel Unlimited

▰ I’m not signaling anything, just asking a question. If SoundCloud suddenly disappeared tomorrow, people should post their Disquiet Junto tracks to their:

The poll has now ended.

▰ And a poll from the week prior I neglected, it appears, to archive here:

▰ Glad to see that portrait of the guy who came up with the concept of a “Junto” in the first place hanging in the newly redecorated Oval Office (via washingtonpost.com.

▰ I am now at peace (via twitter.com/GuyBirkin)

▰ Have a great weekend, folks. See you Monday. Or heck, maybe Tuesday. Listen to some captions. Read some music. Play some textures.

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