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

Did Someone Say Circuit Bent Smoke Alarms?

Better yet: "circuit bent smoke alarm ... ringtones"?

Dylan Sheridan recognizes that the ubiquitous line of defense against residential fires is, in fact, a low-grade computer chip that sounds like a (very) early arcade video game. In Sheridan’s capable and purposeful mishandling, the generic smoke detector is transformed into a device for stuttering, glitchy, gloriously broken noise. The shrill sound of the alarm, designed to be annoying so as to cut through all other noises and alert the human ear to the presence of danger, is here rendered raw material for playful, ebullient noodling. As John Zorn is to the duck call, Diamanda Galás to the human throat, and Adrian Belew to the guitar, so is Dylan Sheridan to the smoke alarm.

This all was accomplished through circuit bending, the trial and error process of getting the inner guts of devices to do things they weren’t intended to through experimental rewiring and other techniques. As for the results of Sheridan’s fiddling, they sound alternately like anxious geese (“call_6”), cartoon geese (“call_7”), Morse code (“call_13”), a balloon losing air post-singularity (“call_17”), the world’s most shrill grindcore singer (“msg_9”), and actual video games (“call_8,” “call_14,” and numerous others).

No doubt aware that these sounds might not be all that enjoyable at length, Sheridan has limited them to the dimensions of ringtones. The meatiest of the 26 tracks on the album Circuit Bent Smoke Alarms – Ringtone Collection is just 22 seconds long. The majority are under 10 seconds. And many are so brief that the Bandcamp website registers them at a length of 0.

The album is available for whatever price the user chooses at The above image accompanied the release on Bandcamp. More from Sheridan at (And many thanks to Danny Clay for recommending this album to me.)

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Encountering the Console

A panel sequence from Ebony Flowers' Hot Comb

Discovering the pleasures of vinyl in Ebony Flowers’ recent book, Hot Comb (Drawn & Quarterly), which collects short, very personal comics. I love how oversized the stereo console is when initially compared with the young girl learning to use it. It’s bigger than her, bigger even than the bed, or so perspective makes it seem. It’s all about perspective, whether geometric or emotional. In Flowers’ depictions, the shapes of everyday objects are just as loose and ever-shifting as are the lines that give form to her all too human characters. There’s a palpable messiness, always tactile, sometimes joyful, often heartbreaking, to the stories she tells.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0397: Numbers Racket

The Assignment: It's 808 Day. Do it up.

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, August 12, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted shortly in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, August 8, 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 0397: Numbers Racket
The Assignment: It’s 808 Day. Do it up.

Step 1: It’s 808 Day today, August 8, the start of the latest Junto project. Let’s make it last through Monday.

Step 2: Make music with or about or somehow in the spirit of the Roland TR-808.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0397” (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 “disquiet0397” (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, August 12, 2019, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted shortly in the early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, August 8, 2019.

Length: The length is up to you. Shorter is often better.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0397” 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 397th weekly Disquiet Junto project — The Assignment: It’s 808 Day. Do it up — 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 Brandon Daniel via Wikipedia:

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Technology and Its Discontents

The whine of my hard drives

SoundCloud: Why isn’t there an [account]/stream page that can ignore all the reposts? Reposts are great, but some people repost so much it buries everyone’s original posts, including their own.

Also SoundCloud: The maximum number of accounts one can follow has been stuck at 2,000 for years. The number of SoundCloud accounts has gone up. The follow limit should follow suit.

Windows: My laptop often disconnects from my USB audio interface when it comes back from sleep. What’s up with that?

Android: These phones are powerful. I should be able to play music and listen to an audiobook at the same time. My phone can play an audiobook while I receive audio directions from a map app, so clearly simultaneous audio sources does work.

This is lightly adapted from an edition first published in the August 4, 2019, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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Listening to and in the Mars Trilogy

How technology mediates discourse

I’ve begun re-reading the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. I’ve been listening rather than reading: revisiting by having a story I already know read to me. This following chunk of a paragraph stood out, and I hit pause on the audiobook so I could locate the exact words. It’s an insightful depiction of the interaction of two individuals in space-suits (Mars-suits?) as they travel across the planet’s surface:

Michel drove the jeep and listened to Maya talk. Did conversation change when voices were divorced from bodies, planted right in the ears of the listeners by helmet mikes? It was as if one were always on the phone, even when sitting next to the person you were talking to. Or — was this better or worse — as if you were engaged in telepathy.

In case you haven’t read the series, it might help to know that Michel is the lonely French psychologist assigned to the 100-person crew setting up camp on Mars at the start of the first book, and that Maya is a captivating and highly driven Russian member of the international assortment of captivating and highly driven characters who populate the novel and the planet.

A few paragraphs earlier, the narrator set the stage for this depiction — two people next to each other, and also quite isolated from each other — as follows:

Michel asked the questions that a shrink program would have asked, Maya answered in a way that a Maya program would have answered. Their voices right in each other’s ears, the intimacy of an intercom.

The way the technologically mediated conversation assists in dehumanizing the characters, turning each into a “program,” is further emphasized by that verb-less standalone clause that comes immediately after. The impact of the observation is further heightened because just two pages earlier still we were told:

intimacy consisted of talking for hours about what was most important in one’s life.

Robinson (or Stan, as he likes to be called, as I learned when I interviewed him over the course of several conversations a few years ago: “The Man Who Fell for Earth”) always gets deserved credit for the scientific knowledge and imagination he brings to his depiction of how Mars might be terraformed, how it might be made habitable by humans. What makes the novels really work, though, is his awareness of technology at not just an industrial or societal level, but at an interpersonal one as well: how technological change impacts the individuals as much as it does the planet. To remake Mars is to remake ourselves.

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