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: gadget

Dummy Jack

A modern fetish

When I received an invitation from asking if I wanted to participate in one of its occasional Project:Object series, I knew immediately the identity of the object I’d want to write about: a little dummy jack made of plastic and metal.

The Hilobrow endeavor originated as Significant Objects, which its founders, Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, have described as “a literary and anthropological experiment.” For each round of Project:Object, participants write about some item of interest to them, according to some theme. James Hannaham wrote about Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band’s 1978 album, Meets King Pennett, for a series on Political Objects. Annalee Newitz wrote about a remnant of a car bomb for a series on Illicit Objects. Ten years ago, William Gibson wrote about a military-industrial ashtray. The current series is Fetishes.

The essays are very short, around 500 words, so I’m not going to quote much of mine here. It begins “Sometime around the turn of the millennium I was plagued by a very turn-of-the-millennium hassle: laptops that made unwelcome sounds when turned on.” The full piece is at

This dummy jack object was in my possession when the first Significant Object series rolled out, and in some deep lizard brain pocket of my memory, it was already associated with the endeavor when I got the invitation. As I note in the essay, I have been incapable of sorting out why the Realistic tape recorder the jack originally accompanied came with it in the first place, what purpose it once served. I did reach out to some engineering-profession friends, and we didn’t arrive at any useful conclusions, except to the extent that the absence of an explanation burnished the object’s aura of mystery, which reinforced its value to me as a fetish.

I had recalled one old friend, the incredibly talented Jorge Colombo, used to employ a makeshift such object, forged from snipped headphones, to keep water out of his iPhone when drawing illustrations on his screen in inclement weather, so I asked him about the practice via email. He quickly replied:

You are all correct about the dummy jacks, great memory. Rendered unnecessary once Apple move headset orifices to iPhone bottoms (before that the main problem was shooting photos in the rain) but I still have some.

And he shared this photo of his collection:

I was fully aware that the dummy jack as a concept has an understood purpose: making a connection or interrupting a signal without introducing a new signal. Shortly after I submitted my Hilobrow Project:Object essay for publication, I happened to obtain a new (to me) module for my synthesizer, and I was reminded me of this utility. A detailed survey of the device’s functionality included two references to means by which a dummy cable (which is to say, a cable used as a dummy jack, in that half of it isn’t plugged into anything) can have an impact on the circuitry. For example:

Tip: if you want an inverted copy of a signal–such as a gate stream–but you want it in the positive voltage domain (0-5v), use these same patch approaches, but insert a dummy cable in LEFT to defeat the -5V offset. Voila!

Voila, indeed.

In any case, I love the Project:Object series, and it was a thrill to participate. There are 25 contributors in all for the Fetish series, and these include Kenneth Goldsmith, Beth Lisick, and Shawn Wolfe. Read the introduction and check out the full index at

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Ornament and Candy

Soon to be upgraded, and eaten

Why, yes, a five-star review on to the person from Poland who included the lovely rainbow power cable and a bonus region-specific candy bar* with my, speaking of candy, (mini) Ornament and Crime synthesizer module (due to be updated momentarily with Hemispheres alternate firmware, though by “momentarily” I mean after work, and though “after work,” this being Friday, will likely mean this weekend, which is to say before Monday, if I’m lucky).

*”Milk chocolate bar with creamy flavoured filling (contains alcohol).”

Update: Who knew? Updating the Ornament and Crime module to the alternate firmware called Hemispheres took approximately five minutes, tops. I’m all set.

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Modular Synthesizer Statistics

In a nutshell

Number of comments when the module is teased: 1,000

Number of comments when the module is announced: 100

Number of comments when the module is released: 10

Number of comments when an album comes out using the module: 1

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Why Do We Listen Like We Used to Listen?

Or: When your phone teases an alternate present

This is a screen shot off my mobile phone. What it displays is the active interface for the Google Play Music app. Visible are the cover images from four full-length record albums, all things I’ve listened to recently: the new one from the great experimental guitarist David Torn (Sun of Goldfinger, the first track of which is phenomenal, by the way), an old compilation from the early jam band Santana (for an excellent live cover of Miles Davis and Teo Macero’s proto-ambient “In a Silent Way” – more tumultuous than the original, yet restrained on its own terms), and for unclear reasons not one but two copies of Route One, released last year by Sigur Rós, the Icelandic ambient-rock group.

If you look closely at the little icons on top of those four album covers, you’ll note two that show little right arrows. That’s the digital sigil we’ve all come to understand instinctively as an instruction to hit play. And you’ll note that both copies of Route One are overlaid with three little vertical bars, suggesting the spectrum analysis of a graphic equalizer.

What isn’t clear in this still image is those little bars are moving up and down – not just suggesting but simulating spectrum analysis, and more importantly telling the listener that the album is playing … or in this case the albums, plural. Except they weren’t. Well, only one was. While I could only hear one copy of the Sigur Rós record, the phone was suggesting I could hear two. Why? I don’t know. I felt it was teasing me – teasing me about why we still listen the way we used to listen, despite all the tools at our disposal.

Now, if any band could have its music heard overlapping, it’s Sigur Rós, since they generally traffic in threadbare sonic atmospherics that feel like what for other acts, such as Radiohead or Holly Herndon or Sonic Youth, might merely be the backdrop. All these musicians have hinted at alternate futures, though in the end what they mostly produce are songs, individual sonic objects that unfold in strictly defined time.

It’s somewhat ironic that Route One is the album my phone mistook as playing two versions simultaneously, since Route One itself originated as an experiment in alternate forms of music-making. It was a generative project the band undertook in 2016, described by the Verge’s Jamieson Cox as follows: “a day-long ‘slow TV’ broadcast that paired a live-streamed journey through the band’s native Iceland with an algorithmically generated remix of their new single ‘Oveour.'” The Route One album I was listening to contains highlights of that overall experience. An alternate version, with the full 24 hours, is on Google Play Music’s rival service, Spotify.

What this odd moment with my phone reminded me was that it’s always disappointing, to me at least, how little we can do – perhaps more to the point, how little we are encouraged and empowered to do – with the music on our phones.

Why don’t our frequent-listening devices, those truly personal computers we have come to call phones, not only track what we listen to but how we listen to it, and then play back on-the-fly medleys built from our favorite moments, alternate versions in collaboration with a machine intelligence?

Why can’t the tools time-stretch and pitch-match and interlace alternate takes of various versions of the same and related songs, so we hear some ersatz-master take of a favorite song, drawn from various sources and quilted to our specifications?

Or why, simply, can’t we listen easily to two things at the same time — add, for example, Brian Eno’s 1985 album Thursday Afternoon, an earlier document of an earlier generative system, to that of Route One? Or just add one copy of Route One to another, as my phone suggested was happening, one in full focus, the other a little hazy and out of sync.

Why aren’t these tools readily available? Why aren’t musicians encouraged to make music with this mode in mind? Why is this not how we listen today? Why do we listen like we used to listen?

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Disquiet Junto Project 0378: Blue(tooth) Haze

The Assignment: Experiment with the sonic qualities of a failing signal.

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, April 1, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, March 28, 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

Disquiet Junto Project 0378: Blue(tooth) Haze
The Assignment: Experiment with the sonic qualities of a failing signal.

Step 1: Find some sort of Bluetooth-enabled audio connection that is available to you. It might be headphones or microphone or other devices. The important thing is that audio can be sent to one device from another device by Bluetooth.

Step 2: Experiment with a sound sent via Bluetooth using the connection decided upon in Step 1. Work to find situations in which Bluetooth begins to fail, where the sonic signature of that signal failure becomes apparent. This will likely be due to distance, but you may find other creative approaches to achieve the distortion.

Step 3: Use the situation(s) located in Step 2 as the basis for an original piece of music, stressing an audio signal and then recording the way that signal distorts due to the failure of Bluetooth.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0378” (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 “disquiet0378” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation 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

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, April 1, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, March 28, 2019.

Length: The length is up to you. Short is good.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0378” 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 378th weekly Disquiet Junto project — Disquiet Junto Project 0378: Blue(tooth) Haze / The Assignment: Experiment with the sonic qualities of a failing signal — at:

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

Subscribe to project announcements here:

Project discussion takes place on

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

Image associated with this project adapted (cropped, colors changed, text added, cut’n’paste) thanks to a Creative Commons license from a photo credited to Russell Davies:

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