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: generative

The Generative Tuba

The glorious web video series of id m theft able

There’s a running series on the YouTube channel of user “id m theft able” that is one of my current favorite things on the internet. (I put quotes around that name simply so it’s clear where the name begins and where it ends, and also so it’s clear that the sentence constructed around the name isn’t disintegrating as you read it.) Each of the user’s videos in this series places a tuba somewhere, “with a microphone in it,” as the description always points out.

We then hear both the sound of where the tuba has been placed — along a river bank, adjacent to a waterfall, in the wind and rain, in the snow — and that sound echoing inside of (tracing the contours of, limning the deep recesses of) the tuba itself.

The footage generally runs, uncut, for about an hour. Which is to say, it doesn’t blink. YouTube is filled with nature footage. And if you spend time in the realm of ambient electronic music, there’s a lot that’s shot of battery-powered setups out in the wild. But the generative tuba is the rare drone music video that is, truly (an oft misused term), of nature.

There are 11 videos thus far: youtube.com.

Also tagged , / / Leave a comment ]

Friday Office Ambience

Video via my YouTube channel, youtube.com/disquiet

Friday office ambience. Six of FM3’s Buddha Machines, from left to right: indeterminate color gen2, light blue gen1, clear gen 3 (aka Chan Fang), dark blue gen 4 (the edition for Philip Glass’ 80th birthday), white gen5, and green gen1. At a reader’s suggestion, I let this one run on for over two minutes.

I may do another with the Gristleism box (FM3 + Throbbing Gristle) added on Monday, though a low-pass filter is probably required to have it settle in with the other members of the robot choir.

Also tagged , , , / / Comments: 2 ]

Generative at 35,000 Feet

SFO -> iOS -> LAX

There was no audio stored on my iPad or on my phone, and the plane’s wifi wasn’t functioning. The noise cancellation feature of my headphones helped, to some degree, in muting the tense political discussion unfolding behind me between what might, in Fight Club terms, be described as single-serving combatants. The poor newborn crying one further row away was, as well, kept at bay. There remained, however, room for improvement. It was a short flight, just from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but what was I going to listen to?

I pulled up two apps on my iPad. One, a sequencer, would send note values. The other, a synthesizer, would produce sounds in accordance with the sequencer’s directions. The sequencer, named Fugue Machine, can be slowed to a near-glacial pace. Its four independent lines send varying passes on the shared piece of music (depicted in “piano roll” form) they traverse. One of these might read the music in a standard left-to-right direction, another in reverse; some might ping-pong back and forth, while others might treat the note sequence as a refrain to be repeated over and over. I then set the synth, named FM Player 2, on a preset titled Eno’s Feelings: soft pads reportedly based on one of Brian Eno’s own sounds developed on the Yamaha DX7.

And then I just let it roll. Instant generative music, an ever-changing patterning of contrasting yet interrelated melodic and harmonic elements. In the absence of fixed recordings, I filled the noisy void with automated indeterminacy.

Also tagged / / Leave a comment ]

Interviewed for Wired

On generative apps and their discontents

I was interviewed for this Wired article by Arielle Pardes, published this morning, about a new wave of generative music apps, among them Endel and Mubert:

Marc Weidenbaum, a writer and cultural critic who studies ambient music, sees this adaptive quality reshaping the future of music itself. “The idea of a recording as a fixed thing should’ve gone away,” he says. With a generative music app, there is potential not just to listen to something organic and ever-changing, but something that strives to emulate your desired mind state exactly.

Weidenbaum says we may be seeing a surge in generative music because our phones are capable of more computational power. But another reason might be that the genre offers a way for companies, advertisers, and game-makers to skirt licensing issues when adding music to their products.

“That’s a little cynical,” he says, but “I think it has a lot to do with cost savings, control, optimization, and a veneer of personalization.” For the rest of us, these apps offer a pleasing surrender to the algorithms–ones that shape the world to our desires and ask nothing in return.

Now, to be clear, I love generative music. I was an early and strong supporter of the RJDJ app, which later evolved, in a manner of speaking, into the Hear app mentioned in the article. (RJDJ creative director Robert M. Thomas has been a frequent participant in and friend of the Disquiet Junto music community.) I’ve also avidly tracked and used Bloom, among other apps created by collaborators Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers. A central theme in my book about Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II is the wind chime, a pre-electronic tool for generative expression.

The distinction I’m drawing is between art and commerce. Art projects of course have financial restraints of their own, but it is modern commerical products and services that undergo rigorous cost-benefit analysis as part of their ongoing development and maintenance. This distinction is what led to my self-described cynical (perhaps a better word is skeptical) view of certain economically incentivized flourshings of generative music.

Much as Uber and Lyft are simultaneously employing countless drivers and pursuing driverless transportation, some activities in generative music seem less like artistic ventures and more like attempts to remove the need for human participation. If the clear primary goal is simply to cut costs through automation, that’s when I think the venture should be viewed (and, to mix the imminent metaphor, heard) through a keen, critical lens.

As a friend recently reminded me, ambient music has its foundation in the writings on cybernetics by Norbert Wiener, a mathematician and philosopher who inspired Brian Eno, the genre’s originator. A key text is Wiener’s 1948 book, Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, which developed a following in management theory. You might even say that the interest by corporations in generative sound in 2019 is the 70-year-old cybernetics concept coming full circle. Then again, in his later book, God & Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points Where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion (1964), Wiener employed the image of the golem, a pre-Frankenstein symbol of artificial life gone awry. Which is to say, skepticism isn’t unprecedented.

Read the full piece at wired.com.

Also tagged , / / Comment: 1 ]

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 , / / Comments: 2 ]