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.

tag: field-recording

Listen Out a Window

Thanks to WindowSwap (dot com)

The great thing about isn’t necessarily the view. WindowSwap is a site where people can experience browser-spanning views out other people’s windows, and the folks sharing their view generally seem to leave the microphones on. So you don’t just see. You hear. You listen. When you have a glimpse out a window in Wangerooge, Germany, for example, you can hear water gurgling, as well as what seems to be office noise. When the feed switches to Haridwar, India, there’s birdsong. A siren passes, the source unseen, by someone’s pad in Mexico City, Mexico. There’s pots and pans rattling from a home in the Indonesian city of Tangerang. It goes on and on, around the globe and back again. It isn’t an endless itinerary, though. I’ve only used it a few times, and already come to notice repeat windows.

If WindowSwap brings the world close, details from the individual settings make the notion of distance (that is, of difference) more amorphous. The Tangerang kitchen has a radio playing, of all things, Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual.” The shot of Bangkok, Thailand, is as generic as might be: open laptop inside, dangling power cables outside; nearby are sounds of construction work. And then there’s the houseplants, which are universal, with an emphasis on pint-sized succulents. As it turns out, nothing is unusual.

Nothing is unusual in part because a shared aesthetic has kicked in. No human is in view, at least not on the inside of the buildings. The window in each is likely centered and fairly horizontal, or outside the frame of your browser. No brands are to be seen. And what we hear is quiet precisely because the people doing the filming are themselves, for the most part, keeping quiet. We’re hearing their world in a unique circumstance where they are doing their best not to be heard. It isn’t everyday life; it’s life minus us (with some exceptions made for actual activity, generally at least a room away).

It’s also not everyone’s life. It’s a self-selecting cohort who have the interest and time to participate, and whose domestic life allows for such a thing. The supposed quiet of right now, amid the pandemic, can be overstated. There is violence, and protest, and anxiety, and noise. To a degree, the windows viewed through on WindowSwap comprise the opposite of disaster tourism. It’s a depiction of placidity in a world that is, in point of fact, anything but. That siren in Mexico City is the rare discordant sound in all the videos I witnessed. WindowSwap is, in a manner of speaking, another form of peer-to-peer sharing.

That said, though, the service is beautiful, and serene at a time when serenity is in short supply. In my office-chair travel, I didn’t just tour the quiet world; I also came across some familiar views, one from far across San Francisco, where I live, and another from a window on a rainy evening in Manhattan. The latter was especially familiar, and then I noticed the name Nomadic Ambience in its corner. That’s a YouTube channel I subscribe to, one of several that post lengthy, uncut footage of stationary and ambulatory periods. It was a uniquely internet experience to run into not someone but someplace, someplace that was familiar, a place I’ve never been and yet where I have spent considerable time. I often have such videos running in slow motion on a secondary screen at my desk.

According to a Guardian story by Poppy Noor, WindowSwap’s developers, Sonali Ranjit and Vaishnav Balasubramaniam, are based in Singapore, and initially created it for friends during our extended pandemic, and later opened it up to submissions. The videos aren’t live, which explains why so many tend to be shot during daylight hours. The submission guidelines request the recordings be 10 minutes in length, long enough to immerse oneself in. And there’s a caveat, listed as an “update” on the submissions page, that brings up privacy concerns: “All videos have sound. So please make sure not to say anything private or sensitive. If you want your sound to be removed please let us know. Or record a video without sound. To safeguard your privacy, we will only display your first name in the credits. If you want your full name to be added, let us know.” Sound may have been a secondary consideration upon launch of WindowSwap, but it’s at least 50 percent of the experience.

Check it out at The above images are, from top to bottom, of Shanghai, Copenhagen, and Singapore.

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Current Listens: Noctural Tokyo, Philly Beats

Heavy rotation, lightly annotated

This is my weekly(ish) answer to the question “What have you been listening to lately?” It’s lightly annotated because I don’t like re-posting material without providing some context. In the interest of conversation, let me know what you’re listening to in the comments below. Just please don’t promote your own work (or that of your label/client). This isn’t the right venue. (Just use email.)

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NEW: Recent(ish) arrivals and pre-releases

Deborah Walker’s Starflux, on the Elli Records label, ends with a spectral reworking of the prior tracks, committed by Emanuele Battisti, who also mastered the record and, thus, knew Walker’s work intimately. The metronomic rhythms of the source audio are re-rendered with a halo effect, the earthy original material turned into something intergalactic.

This isn’t music, per se. It’s an hour-long video someone took while walking around a neighborhood in Yokohama, Japan, at night. There is sound, however, the associated field recording of overheard chatter, and footsteps, and crosswalk signals. I usually have something like this running at half speed on a second screen when I work. Even better in black and white.

An added treat: the recorder of these videos, who goes by Rambalac, posts a map of the route. Here’s the one for this footage:

A couple months ago I highlighted a set of Small Professor’s instrumental hip-hop, and then missed the arrival of a subsequent downtempo hip-hop collection, A Jawn Supreme (Vol. 1). As the title might suggest, Small Pro, who traffics in expertly reworked samples, is based in Philadelphia. One highlight is the fractured piano lead on “Reflection,” in which the producer’s hand is just as light yet present as that of the original pianist.

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4’33” on Ukulele

A sonic postcard from New Orleans

It’s World Listening Day tomorrow, July 18, coincident with the birthday of the important composer and acoustic ecologist R. Murray Schafer, who will turn 87 years of age. It was Schafer who helped us understand the world of sound around us as a consensual composition. Like John Cage, who was two decades his senior, Schafer helped us strive to hear through our cultural experience so we could gain perspective on it. It is to him we own the modern sense of the word “soundscape.” In this video, uploaded this evening, the night before World Listening Day, Todd Elliott performs John Cage’s 4’33”, and true to the original, he notes the change in the movements: he fingers new chords, but the music remains silent. Or does it? A point of Cage’s 4’33” (I hesitate to say “the” point, as doing so would be helplessly reductive) is to both recognize the contours of the performance, the cultural signifiers, and to hear through them, to hear the world framed by them (in his writings, Cage brings up the wire scupltures of Richard Lippold as a useful comparison). The beauty of this video is that the quietness tempts you to just leave it as is, and imagine it to be silent. But it isn’t silent, not in the sense of a digital void. Turn up the volume and hear the fan, a sliver of which is in view, haloing Elliott’s head. Gain a sense of the room tone. Note variations, like the uptick in the room’s hum that happens around the 2:30 mark. Part of the composition-ness of Cage’s 4’33” is the extent to which it is truly perform-able. There are rules to it, and the thoughtful performance considers them. It isn’t merely sitting still for the prescribed length of time. Elliott’s rendition is solid, including the brief bit of heard uke and the broad smile at the end.

Video originally posted at Todd is a friend who recently relocated to New Orleans, where this was shot. It serves as a parallel listening experience to the recent home-office field recording of another NOLA-based friend, Rob Walker.

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Listening from Afar

Via social media

Some of my earliest regular Twitter activities involved simply posting descriptions of what I heard: the whir of cars driving by, the droning inside a train, the birdsong outside a window. I consider such posts a form of field recording, just using words instead of a microphone (a perspective I wrote about at more length a few years ago at This activity happened back during a more civilized age, before social media became the conflicted zone it is today. These days it takes some solid muting and circumscribed attention to keep Twitter to something approximating useful and enjoyable. Once in a while I’ll go back to that old habit, and post what the world sounds like at a given moment. And sometimes the world answers back, not with an echo, but with reports from elsewhere, and not just on Twitter, but via Instagram and Facebook, where I’ll post as well. This is what I posted this past week:

Evening sounds: dishwasher and low-level electric hum. A single car passes, producing a light rumble, felt as much as heard*, neither all that much. Time passes. No foot traffic. No animal sound. No voices.**
*Yeah, hearing is a physical sensation.
**Yeah, humans are animals.

And these are responses I received:

1: the loud cyclical white noise pulse of the AC fan and it’s low frequency throb felt through my desktop. Rain splatter on the steel AC case, rain splatter on the window glass, rain splatter on the plastic over the hole in the plastic AC side panel, all three distinct filters

2: An indistinct, muffled thump from who knows where, a cat meowing repeatedly somewhere outside, the crunch of tires on gravel fades out into the distance, wind blows through the trees.

3: There is a heat wave going on where I am. Lucky to have air con, which has been running constantly. Reminds me of the sound inside the cabin on a long haul flight.

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Rob Walker Shares a “Sound Shot”

From his New Orleans office

Time passes, and it’s awhile since you’ve seen a friend. And then you get a sense of their life that fills in the gaps a bit. Sure, there’s phone calls, and email, and voice conferencing, not to mention second-hand glimpses of them through their work. But then there’s something special, something unusual: a field recording of what their daily life sounds like — say, for example, what their office sounds like on a Sunday morning. Such a recording was posted by Rob Walker yesterday, a week after it was captured. The brief track, just a minute, is a glimpse of quiet from somewhere else. (He lives in New Orleans. I used to. We both lived there at the same time, then we both moved away, and then he moved back.) The track is tagged “sound shot,” a term that will be familiar to readers of Walker’s book, The Art of Noticing (which included some nice words about some of my work with sound). It’s from a chapter about “sonic journalist” Peter Cusack, and the idea is to record the sound of a place much as one might take a photo of a place: a sound shot, in lieu of a snapshot.

Read more about “sound shots” in Walker’s email newsletter. Track originally posted at

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