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

Ezekiel Honig on Listening to Make Music

From his 2014 book, Bumping into a Chair While Humming

Finished reading the book Bumping into a Chair While Humming: Sounds of the Everyday, Listening, and the Potential of the Personal, a slim yet rangy 2014 collection of thoughts by the musician Ezekiel Honig. Honig is based in New York City. I bought the book from someone in Boston, only to find that a friend here in San Francisco printed the letterpress cover. It’s a small world.

It’s also a world filled with sonic potential. The way that everyday sounds can become raw material for music is the subject of Honig’s book. The title uses the experience of knocking into something physical, such as a chair, for the happy accident of being struck by sound in a way that registers with you personally. The book is written with musicians in mind, but the concepts are more broadly applicable and accessible. Four things stuck with me on an initial read:

  1. How Honig characterizes an emphasis on the value of listening: “We become so concerned with what is in front of us that we forget about what is around us.” He’s referencing “the degree to which our hearing communicates the contours of our world.” That framing of listening’s geographic, spacial, and temporal qualities is a helpful reminder.

  2. My favorite chapter is the third, “Hidden Expressions of Objects.” In it Honig uses a specific example (sampling paper related to his father, a former professor) to show how the source material that provides audio brings with it contextual information, including personal feelings, anecdotal experience, and history, which is infused into the work, even if at a level of detail that isn’t conscious on the part of the musician or self-evident on the part of the listener.

  3. “It isn’t mimicking a space. It is one.” Tools such as reverb and delay can provide a sense of space, and yet have become so ubiquitous that the space is more conceptual than physical. Honig asserts that using the echoes and other qualities of actual physical spaces, such as hallways and rooms and the outdoors, shouldn’t be neglected.

  4. “To finish is to essentially abandon a relationship that you’ve built up with the work.” There’s a whole section toward the close of the book about, naturally, the difficulty in finishing something. This is a subject I don’t think about a lot in the context of music, in large part because my own music-making is purely exploratory, with no particular intention on my part to perform or record, and because the Disquiet Junto music community is expressly focused on starting things, and on finishing them only in the context of having a deadline, not in the context of the work in any way feeling completed.

Side note: I occasionally misplaced the book while reading it because it has no print on the spine. I realized I have several books with blank spines. I rounded up a few and I’ll start keeping them in one spot on my shelf. Right now this includes, along with Honig’s book, two exhibit catalogs: Bill Beckley: An Accidental Poet (1968) and Sound: An Exhibition of Sound Sculpture, Instrument Building, and Acoustically Tuned Space.

More on the book at ezekielhonig.com. The physical edition was limited to 300 (I got number 101), but helpfully there’s an ebook version, too.

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The Mute Siren

San Francisco's Tuesday noon siren has begun a two-year hiatus.

Today as noon approached, I left home and walked to the bus stop. The downtown bus wasn’t due to arrive for another 10 minutes or so, but rather than linger indoors, I stood outside and waited for not just the bus but the hour to arrive. I waited for the confirmation that, indeed, at noon, nothing would be heard. Not nothing, mind you, just not the something that has rung out every Tuesday at noon for years.

That something is the unique one-two punch of the Outdoor Public Warning System here in San Francisco. First comes the siren itself, and then the announcement, like something out of a Godzilla movie: “This is a test, this is only a test,” and so forth. Well, not “comes.” Came. Came, past tense. The OPWS is on hiatus for two years. Last Tuesday, December 10, it rang out one final time, across nearly 120 speakers spread around the city, and then was turned off. The whole system is being updated, and until that work is complete, the siren will be mute.

A “mute siren” sounds like some tragic story out of mythology, and there is indeed something monumental to the siren’s presence, and something fable-like to its combination of ubiquity and transparency. The massive speakers that exist solely to emit its signal hide in plain sight. The sound itself often goes unnoticed. I regularly meet people who have lived in San Francisco for months, even years, and who never knew the siren rang out. Once they hear it, of course, they know it’s there, and in that instant they join a community of listeners. Subsequently, they listen for the OPWS each Tuesday, and they are conscious of missing it when they happen to be indoors, or underground, or out of town at the appointed time.

You can hear what it sounds like in this recording I made back in 2013. Note the suggestion of an echo, which is in fact the presence of multiple speakers heard at varying distances:

For the next two years we’ll all miss what can be termed a true “soundmark” of San Francisco. R. Murray Schafer, the acoustic ecologist and composer, defines the “soundmark” as “a community sound which is unique or possesses qualities which make it specially regarded.” Other regional soundmarks will abound, from the deep drones of foghorns on the bay to the rattle of the cable cars. We’ll have to see what we make of the OPWS when it returns. Will it sound the same? Will it continue to be offered, in some neighborhoods, in both Cantonese and Spanish? Will its eventual return feel like a rupture, given its extended absence? Or will it again settle into the city’s soundscape (a better-known term of Schafer’s), pervasive and hushed, insistent and invisible, threatening and comforting.

Read more about the projected two-year hiatus of the San Francisco Outdoor Public Warning System at sfdem.org/sirenshutdown.

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Avian Collaborators

Diane Moser plays along

You have to listen fairly closely to hear the birds, but chances are that no matter how closely you listen, you won’t do so with the fully committed simpatico of pianist Diane Moser.

That’s Moser on piano in the audio, responding to what she reports are a chipping sparrow and a black capped chickadee. The track is barely a minute long, but the give and take between human and avian collaborators is so charming, it’s the sort of thing you put on repeat and let the marvel of it erase whatever negative concerns you may have about humans and the environment. The percussive play of her piano, the little filigrees she emits, match the birds’ singing, not just in shape and key, but tonality and presence.

This isn’t a momentary flirtation for Moser, who posted a second track (“Dancin’ with Sparrows McD beginnings”) the same day. She’s released a whole album dedicated to the approach (Birdsongs, with Anton Denner and Ken Filiano). In describing the experience at a residency that led to Birdsongs, she wrote: “Every day I improvised with the birds outside my studio in the woods. I really just wanted to be a part of their ‘band,’ and was hoping I wasn’t too intrusive.” That temperament, that quality of listening, is a hallmark of her more recent bird play-alongs as well.

Track originally posted to soundcloud.com/diane-moser. More from Moser at dianemosermusic.com.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0408: Fritiniency Tronics

The Assignment: Were "fritiniency" ("the chirruping sound made by birds or insects") a musical genre or technique, what would it sound like?

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, October 28, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, October 24, 2019.

Tracks 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 0408: Fritiniency Tronics
The Assignment: Were “fritiniency” (“the chirruping sound made by birds or insects”) a musical genre or technique, what would it sound like?

Many thanks to Michael Upton for having initiated this project.

Step 1: Familiarize yourself with the word “fritiniency.” It was described in a tweet by the author Robert Macfarlane as follows:

Word of the Day: “fritiniency” – “the chirruping sound made by birds or insects; an ambient creaturely hubbub (17thC English; from Latin “fritinnīre”, onomatopoeically meaning “to twitter”). “Fritiniency is a chirping like a Swallow” (Blount, Glossographia, 1656)

The original tweet is here:

https://twitter.com/RobGMacfarlane/status/1185797836585213953

Step 2: Now imagine the word “fritiniency” to be a musical genre or technique.

Step 3: Record a short piece of music that would qualify as an example of the genre or technique you imagined in Step 2.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0408” (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 “disquiet0408” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation of 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-0408-fritiniency-tronics//

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, October 28, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, October 24, 2019.

Length: The length is up to you.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0408” 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 408th weekly Disquiet Junto project — Fritiniency Tronics / The Assignment: Were “fritiniency” (“the chirruping sound made by birds or insects”) a musical genre or technique, what would it sound like? — at:

https://disquiet.com/0408/

Many thanks to Michael Upton for having initiated this project.

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-0408-fritiniency-tronics//

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

Image from the Flickr account of Gregory Perez, used (text added, cropped) thanks to a Creative Commons license:

https://flic.kr/p/XssE

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

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Disquiet Junto Project 0406: Phoneme Home

The Assignment: After a visit to Yellowstone National Park, you send a sonic report back to your planet of origin.

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, October 14, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, October 10, 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 0406: Phoneme Home
The Assignment: After a visit to Yellowstone National Park, you send a sonic report back to your planet of origin.

Step 1: You’re an extraterrestrial visiting Earth from your home planet. Like many tourists, you’re in awe of the beauty of Yellowstone National Park. You make a bunch of audio recordings of the wildlife. You surreptitiously post those recordings at the following URL. Check them out:

https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/photosmultimedia/soundlibrary.htm

Step 2: Since this is your first trip to Earth, you can’t really tell one animal from another, bird or human or wolf. Create a report back to your home planet consisting of material drawn from those audio recordings. It can take whatever structure you’d like: collage, song, cut-up, analysis. Be sure to employ alien technology when constructing your report.

Thanks to Lowell Goss for mentioning the kottke.org post that brought this resource to my attention.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0406” (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 “disquiet0406” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation of 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-0406-phoneme-home/

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, October 14, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, October 10, 2019.

Length: The length is up to you.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0406” 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 406th weekly Disquiet Junto project — Phoneme Home / The Assignment: After a visit to Yellowstone National Park, you send a sonic report back to your planet of origin — at:

https://disquiet.com/0406

Thanks to Lowell Goss for mentioning the kottke.org post that brought this resource to my attention.

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-0406-phoneme-home/

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

Audio via the United States’ National Park Service, used via:

https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/photosmultimedia/soundlibrary.htm

Image by John J. Audubon, used via the Internet Archive:

https://archive.org/details/brooklynmuseum-o84177-white-headed-eagle

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