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

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?

Also tagged , / / Leave a comment ]

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 tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

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 llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0378-blue-tooth-haze/

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:

https://disquiet.com/0378/

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-0378-blue-tooth-haze/

There’s also on a Junto Slack. Send your email address to twitter.com/disquiet 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:

https://flic.kr/p/2aKR98

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

Also tagged , , / / Leave a comment ]

Disquiet Junto Project 0372: Honeymoon Phase

The Assignment: Record a piece of music with (only) your most recently obtained instrument or music/sound tool.

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.

Tracks will be added to the playlist for the duration of the project.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is Monday, February 18, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on. It was posted shortly after noon, California time, on Thursday, February 14, 2019.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0372: Honeymoon Phase
The Assignment: Record a piece of music with (only) your most recently obtained instrument or music/sound tool.

Step 1: Locate the latest instrument, piece of music/sound software, or related technology that has come into your possession. (If there’s something inexpensive, like an app, you’ve been meaning to try out, this project might provide an impetus to do so.)

Step 2: Employ only the single thing identified in Step 1 to compose and record a short track.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0372” (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 “disquiet0372” (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 llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0372-honeymoon-phase/

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, February 18, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on. It was posted shortly after noon, California time, on Thursday, February 14, 2019.

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

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0372” 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: Please for this project be sure to set 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 372nd weekly Disquiet Junto project — Honeymoon Phase / The Assignment: Record a piece of music with (only) your most recently obtained instrument or music/sound tool — at:

https://disquiet.com/0372/

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-0372-honeymoon-phase/

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

Image associated with this project adapted thanks to a Creative Commons license from a photo by Thorsten Sideb0ard:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sideb0ard/10364491865/

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

Also tagged , , / / Leave a comment ]

The Evel Knievel of Tape Loops

Amulets lets a tape un-spool to its death.

Like the old Evel Knievel stunts of long-ago prime-time television broadcasts — well, sort of — the experimental musician Amulets announced in advance that today he would let un-spool, live on YouTube, a cassette tape that would, a bit like in the Mission: Impossible episodes that aired around the same time Knievel was jumping big rigs, self-destruct. (Or perhaps a bit like the old Saturday Night Live skit, also from that era, in which a lobster’s fate hung in the balance.)

The Amulets tape — more specifically a tape-loop, a few mere seconds of sound going round and round — would be encased in a device jury-rigged to slowly “erode” the material on which the sound was recorded.

When the video first aired (I did, indeed, tune in live, though it’s now archived for repeat viewing, round and round), there was drama to the slow-moving affair: Just how degraded would the audio get? (Pretty darn.) Would it be recognizable half an hour or forty five minutes into the process? (Yes, actually.) Would it snap before the full, planned hour of decay had played out? (Quite surprisingly: nope!) What does happen is that the sound falls apart in stages, so slowly that it’s only really recognizable when one compares and contrasts snippets five to ten seconds apart. Fortunately for the curious, even when streaming live, YouTube’s embedded player allowed you to back up to earlier in the recording, and then return to the current, live moment.

In a separate video, the process behind the loop scenario is revealed. Turns out it’s the same challenge that the musician Hainbach responded to last week (see: “Sandpaper Is a Form of Change.”) Making this sort of an answer song.

Like the cassette tape technology itself, what with its newfound revival in recent years, the cassette that Amulets experimented with proved indefatigable. Writes Amulets of the process, “Through a lot of trial and error I was able to design a self-destructive, self-contained cassette that not only eroded the magnetic tape, but could also be reused and reloaded with different loops for continued future experiments.” Here’s to the sequel!

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at the YouTube channel of Amulets, aka Randall Taylor of Portland, Oregon. More from Amulets/Taylor at amuletsmusic.com and amulets.bandcamp.com.

Also tagged , / / Leave a comment ]

Music Changed Weekly

Entering 2019 ...

Happy new year, everyone. I spent the last day of 2018 at the Musée Mécanique (museemecaniquesf.com) here in San Francisco, looking back toward various pasts of technology (sonic and adjacent) before we moved ahead. “Music Changed Weekly” — I especially appreciated the formulation of the text on this keyboard-less player piano. In its heyday, the phrase read like an assurance, a promise, whereas today it reads like a past-tense depiction of a distant era. All of which is to say, my extended social-media break is over, and I’m looking forward to this new year.

Tag: / Leave a comment ]