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

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tag: generative

Autechre elseq 1-5 Listening Diary

It's one thing to review a book, another thing entirely to review a library.


It’s coming up on 20 years since I interviewed Autechre, back in 1997 (“More Songs About Buildings”). Their music was then no less self-assured than it is now, but they were. Told their Chiastic Slide was due to be listed as the number one electronic album of the year in the magazine where I’d recently stopped being an editor, Tower Records’ Pulse!, the duo’s Sean Booth replied “What? That’s fucking ridiculous.”

This reaction had, perhaps, more to do with the venue, Tower Records, than with the music, but decades later the point is moot. The behemoth music retailers are gone, major record labels are struggling, and smaller labels face their own hurdles. However the deck seemed to have been stacked in the mid-1990s, it’s Warp Records — the label where Autechre has long maintained a home with Squarepusher and Aphex Twin, among others — that’s still kicking.

And as the record industry strains to find a path forward, Autechre strains the definition of a recording. Its most recent release is five releases in one, elseq 1″”5: 21 tracks, roughly four hours of music, the individual parts ranging in length from about five minutes to just under thirty. This massive set, released back in May, follows on something larger still: last fall’s AE_LIVE, which consisted of nine hour-long performances. Only in contrast to AE_LIVE can elseq 1″”5 be seen to deserve its lowercase title treatment.

The dimensions suit the subject matter. Autechre’s music can be all-consuming. It often lacks reference points other than the duo’s own fervidly brittle catalog. In the context of their releases, names of actual cities and dates of concerts — “AE_LIVE_KREMS_020515,” “AE_LIVE_DOUR_180715, “AE_LIVE_KATOWICE_210815” — on the live collection read less like places and timestamps and more like the fragmented, coded syllables and numerals that have long served as placeholders for their ecstatically broken beats (Envane and Cichlisuite, “Characi” and “Pen Expers,” “PIOBmx19” and “777”).

AE_LIVE used its oversized scale to announce the arrival of a dedicated Autechre store,, which is really front end for Warp’s venture, and a window into Bleep Dispatch, a physical distribution organization. Autechre’s music may sound like willfully broken music machines, but it is the harbinger of an aspiringly efficient cultural machine.

Now, elseq 1″”5 may be modest in comparison to the live collection, and a record that’s four hours long and is subdivided twice — into sets and tracks — doesn’t necessarily evade reviewing, but its capacious nature invites alternate approaches. It’s one thing to review a book, another thing entirely to review a library. To that end, what follows are listening notes, references and thoughts as I make my travel through the collection and back again. I hope to update it on occasion, as I find my way. I’ve listened many many times now, and will continue to as long as it continues to hold interest. For now, there’s no sign of the interest fading.

I’ve had the first two entries in this listening diary — on the first track of set 3 and the second track of set 4 — in the can for a while, and I had planned on having a third track written up before first publishing this, but I figure to just set this rolling and see where it goes.

Track: elseq 3 001 “eastre” (22:15)
September 10, 2016: The track is one phrase on repeat, a brief riff — about 12 seconds long, give or take — played over and over, a sequence of dependable modulations tweaked in utterly undependable manners. The theme is dramatic, with a portent not out of place in a Hollywood thriller. It sounds a bit like the duo is offering itself up to score, if not actually provide the theme song to, the next James Bond film. The tweaks are drastic, warping and quavering the riff, despite which the riff itself proceeds unaltered. It’s all about torque, all about the sound being submitted to a sequence of experimental stressors to witness how it responds. The repeated theme is so brief, it brings to mind the experience of playing a video game and being stuck on a level for so long that the music, a brief cue, plays over and over, adorned and filtered only by other on-screen sounds, by your relative position, and by the status of other players’ fates elsewhere in the game. Except here the level is designed for just such an experience. It’s a locked box, and you must settle in for the unsettling 22-minute ride.

Track: elseq 4 002 “foldfree casual” (09:50)
September 10, 2016: Among the earliest places to hear Autechre was the Artificial Intelligence series from Warp Records. Autechre was one of three acts to have two tracks on the first Artificial Intelligence compilation (10 tracks total), back in 1992, and their first proper album, Incunabula, was part of the Artificial Intelligence series a year later. The term “AI” served largely as a touchstone for trippy science-fiction daydreams at the time, but with Autechre’s intricate, digital productions it became an inspiration for generative systems of music making — systems that despite not being alive achieve a lifelike quality. In other words, what sounds “broken” in Autechre’s music isn’t really broken; it’s expertly engineered — it just reflects a metric logic, an internal clock, that has more in common with an organism than with a machine. What makes Autechre’s music thrilling is how that organic quality plays out in machine noises. At first “foldfree casual,” with its opening vapory horn-like yet blithely synthetic intonations, sounds like their bid to score the forthcoming sequel to Blade Runner, another AI touchstone. Those lines give way to this prismatic noise that has a randomness closer to speech than to melody, fragments that suggest a generative process at heart, noises reacting to some interior, software-based narrative, rather than to mere filter processing or traditional compositional intent. They gather heft, and as vocaloid music will do, bring to mind John Williams’ first-contact music from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The phrases are increasingly near-verbal as they proceed, and even more so they’re deeply emotive (not exactly a realm Autechre is often associated with). The track “foldfree casual” is akin to witnessing to an artificial intelligence gain sentience in less time than it takes to get a pot of water to boil. With sentience comes an instinct for self-preservation, and more insistent, militantly rhythmic percussion kicks in around the six-minute mark; my mind pictures something struggling in captivity. Whether the next shift is due to external sedation or internal meditation, the urgency gives way to calm in the closing minutes. Eventually it’s back to those opening, hazy chords: The android dreams.

Track: elseq 3 002 “TBM2” (06:45)
September 12, 2016: Toughest tracks to write about are your favorites. I’ve played this one hundreds of times at this point, often for an hour or two at a time. I tend to listen on repeat, usually to focus my imagination, to listen intently and as background. In this case, it’s more addiction than analysis. This is swaggering cybernetic reggae at quarter speed, the strange melodica-like element a frayed thing losing itself in the mix. At six minutes, the track is half the length of the preceding track yet feels twice as long — in a good way. I don’t really want to just write about this track; what I want to do is to figure out how to make a long poster, a visualization, that depicts the subtle shifts in this industrial techno, the elemental phases of these noise metrics, the production tweaks of this cyclopean beat, the countless variations that unfold as it plays. I imagine something sprawling that wraps around the walls of my office. Despite the trenchant, tightly huddled affect of the track, “TBM2” suggests a deeply immersive study. Nothing else amid the vast expanse of elseq has hit me the way this track has.

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10 Seconds of Salvation

In the hands of Amulets, repetition is a form of repurposing

Like his earlier reworking of Tony Robbins self-help tapes, Amulets’ New World Translation repurposes a piece of spoken word audio on cassette and transforms it into something that fits into the contemporary world of experimental cassette music — not just music released on cassette, but music in which the cassette is the instrument.

This recording is a 10-second tone set on loop, playing (per his video) on a four-track recorder. The loop is a snatch of symphonic white noise, an orchestral drone, like a string section in a deep cistern holding a note until, collectively, they mark the loop’s repeat with a momentary swell.

When Brian Eno wrote that “repetition is a form of change,” part of what he was getting at is how the ear hears new things when subjected to the same sound over and over. In the hands of Amulets’, that change is more practical, but no less evocative. As he write in a note accompanying the video: “the endless tape loop flutters, fluctuates, and slowly degrades over time.”

Here’s the excerpt on YouTube. It’s the latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.”

And the full 50-minute version:

Video originally posted at Amulets’ channel. It’s available for purchase as physical cassette and download at The flipside of each cassette is the unmolested original audio from a series of Jehovah’s Witness Bible tapes. The length of the A-side depends on the length of the individual tape, ranging from 30 to 45 minutes. More from Amulets at Amulets is Randall Taylor of Austin, Texas.

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Disquiet Junto 0235: Dice Music

The Assignment: Create a piece of music based on a structure determined by the roll of a single die.


Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group on and at, 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. 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 this playlist for the duration of the project:

This project was posted in the early evening, California time, on Thursday, June 30, 2016, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, July 4, 2016.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at

Disquiet Junto 0235: Dice Music
The Assignment: Create a piece of music based on a structure determined by the roll of a single die.

This week’s project requires one die (that is, singular of dice).

These are the steps:

Step 1: Roll one die to determine the length of your piece in minutes.

Step 2: Roll two dice to determine the number of sections to your piece. Their length should be equal.

Step 3: For each section roll one die to determine the number of layers.

Step 4: For each layer roll one die to determine the number of different notes played. A note is only played once per layer, but it can be held for as long as desired within that section.

Step 5: Bonus: Create additional dice-based rules and mention them in the notes associated with your finished track.

Step 6: Create an original piece of music based on the result of Step 1 through Step 5.

Step 7: Upload your completed track to the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.

Step 8: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 9: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Deadline: This project was posted in the early evening, California time, on Thursday, June 30, 2016, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, July 4, 2016.

Length: Length is determined by the first step in the project.

Upload: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud, only upload one track for this project, 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.

Title/Tag: When adding your track to the Disquiet Junto group on, please in the title to your track include the term “disquiet0235.”Also use “disquiet0235”as a tag for your track.

Download: It is preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

Linking: When posting the track, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 235th weekly Disquiet Junto project — “Create a piece of music based on a structure determined by the roll of a single die”— at:

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

Join the Disquiet Junto at:

Subscribe to project announcements here:

Disquiet Junto general discussion takes place on a Slack (send your email address to for inclusion) and at this URL:

Image associated with this project by Chris Gladis, used thanks to a Creative Commons license:

Found die

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The Circuit Board Record Album

Tristan Perich on Loud Objects, machine art, and the aesthetics of code

Tristan Perich - Noise Patterns - 7 - Headphones

The Noise Patterns album, plugged into a pair of headphones

Tristan Perich’s Noise Patterns comes in a clear jewel case, but it isn’t a CD. It’s a small, matte-black circuit board. Powered by a watch battery, it produces a series of musical compositions built from the on/off operations on the minuscule chip at the center of the device, the same sort of chip you might find in a microwave oven.

What follows is a lengthy, detailed interview in which Perich talks about the development of Noise Patterns, and various other aspects of his artistic efforts, which range from full-scale museum installations of drawing machines and “microtonal walls,” to live performances in which he builds circuits in front of the audience.

In Perich’s telling, his previous circuit-board album, 1-Bit Symphony, was built from “tone” while Noise Patterns, as its name suggests, is built from “randomness,” from what sounds like white noise twisted and tweaked to Perich’s design.

There will be a more detailed introduction to this interview posted here soon, but in the interest of time — there is a party/concert celebrating the release of Noise Patternstonight at (Le) Poisson Rouge in Manhattan, with guests, Robert Henke, Karl Larson, Ricardo Romaneiro, Leo Leite, and Christian Hannon — the transcript, along with annotated images from the production of Noise Patterns and other aspects of Perich’s work, is being posted today.

01 - Tristan Perich - Microtonal Wall at MoMA

Perich’s Microtonal Wall, installed at MoMA in Manhattan

Tristan Perich - Noise Patterns - 1 - Angle

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A John Cage Master Class (on the Junto Slack)

Mark Lentczner recounts an hour-long meeting with the bard of chance.


This thread is extracted from a conversation yesterday on the recently launched Disquiet Junto discussion Slack — that is, on the platform (if you’re interested in joining in, send me an email at [email protected]). The subject of “randomness” or “chance” in music was brought up by J. Siemasko (aka Schemawound), and then fleshed out in conversation between Joe McMahon, Ian Joyce, Anatol Locker, Robert M. Thomas (aka Dizzy Banjo), and others. And then Mark Lentczner said he had a story about John Cage he wanted to share.

Around 7:30pm Lentczner (aka mtnviewmark on the Junto Slack) did exactly that, recounting an encounter with Cage at Harvard where Lentczner studied with Ivan Tcherepnin. The above photo (from shows Tcherepnin, right, and his two sons, on the left, with Cage. The photo below (from shows the Harvard Electronic Music Studio from that era. This is Lentczner’s story about Cage visiting a music class he was attending (“in the early 1980s”), along with some interstitial comments from other Junto Slack members.


mtnviewmark [7:33 PM]
Randomness is the topic of the day

SO – Once, a long time ago, in a land before MIDI, I studied electronic music.

(This is early 1980s)

One of the assignments in the electronic music class taught by Ivan Tcherepnin was to make a realization of Cage’s ”‹Variations I”‹

If you don’t know this piece, it involves taking a square piece of paper with splattered ink drops on it, and overlaying it with five pieces of acetate, on each of which is a single line. The idea is the dots represent musical events. You then overly the first acetate sheet, and measure the distance from each dot to the line- the closer it is the sooner in the piece the note occurs, the further, the later. Then you repeat with the second line, only here distance from the line gives the pitch of the event. Third is volume, fourth is duration, and fifth gives timbre.

So essentially you generate a random collection of musical events (perhaps notes), from this very random process… and then you play it. On whatever instrument(s) you want.

So – every year the dozen students in the course would do this. Some would tape splice carefully. Others would turn knobs on the modular synth to match events. And so on… And it was always interesting the day the assignments were played where we’d listen to these dozen realizations of a “random” piece.

[Strikes me like Cage was writing us a Junto…. eh?]

After having done this myself, my first year. In a subsequent year (I was at this point not in the class, just studying 1-on-1 with Ivan), I decided that I would “get at the heart of this piece” by ”‹automating the randomness”‹: I programmed an Apple ][ (pre-Mac, folks!), to make the spatters, draw the lines, do the measurements, assemble the notes, play the tones (covering occurance, pitch, duration, and volume), and output CV to a modular synth (for timbre), which processed the whole output.

Essentially, you hit play, and…. it’d played a 90 second ”‹Variation I”‹ realization. Press it again, and you got another.

It so happened this year that we were to be treated to a very special experience: A week or two after the class did ”‹Variations I”‹, Ivan arranged for John Cage to come visit and talk with the class.


Over the course of the afternoon, Cage talked with us, and listened to us – and at some point the class played their ”‹Variations I”‹ realizations and there was wonderful discussion.

But then…. Ivan had also arranged that after the class was over, Cage would spend an hour or so with just me, in the small side studio I now used for my computer and synth work.

Of course, I was brimming to tell him, and play him, my automatic ”‹Variations I”‹ program. I explained how it worked, what it did… and how I loved that “by listening to variation after variation, as the randomness played out across the space, eventually the listener would come to hear the ”‹essence”‹ of the piece, the ”‹composition would show through”‹ the randomness.”

To me, this was obviously wonderful – indeed a key to randomness in music: We want to add variation, with some degree of unpredictability, to elicit a kind of feeling in the music – whether it is just tiny sample & hold added to our percussion patches to make the drums sound less mechanical, or it is random melodies choosen by Markov chain – this is a kind of controlled-unpredictable algorithmic composition.

Ahhhhh…. and I had done it for this great work, ”‹Variations I”‹ by the great master, John Cage.

(can you see where this is going….?)


marc.weidenbaum [7:53 PM]
@mtnviewmark: I think so, but I hope I’m wrong.

mtnviewmark [7:54 PM]
Cage listened, and in his incredibly thoughtful, quiet tone, being the great teacher who doesn’t aim to teach, but is just before their students….

qdot [7:54 PM]
braces himself.

mtnviewmark [7:54 PM]
…pointed out that I had completely missed the point of the piece, and my realization was just wrong.

For ”‹his”‹ aim, in employing randomness, was not to employ a controlled chaos in service to his composition. But to get away from it ”‹being his composition”‹. To remove his ego from his composition as much as possible [his direct phrasing].

He did not want a different set of random notes on each repetition. He wanted exactly the set of notes the randomness determined when the performer prepared the work. He wanted the audience to listen to ”‹that”‹ exact musical line. To hear it, for what ”‹it”‹ is, not for what ”‹he”‹ composed.

natetrier [7:58 PM]
So the preparation was crucial, in his perception. Almost like a ritual. Interesting.

mtnviewmark [7:58 PM]
Yes – and needed so that it wasn’t ”‹him”‹ we were all applauding at the end. But the experience.

I can’t begin to tell you how profound this hour with Cage was for me.

For not only did I now begin to understand what his work was truely about.

But I began to think about what was my work about, for me, what was I doing, and why.

And it was an incredible expansion of my understanding of what it could mean to make music.

I hope the story helps bring that expansion in some small way to you.


marc.weidenbaum [8:03 PM]
That is really great. Thanks, @mtnviewmark.

qdot [8:03 PM]
Wow. :smile:

mtnviewmark [8:04 PM]
Most welcome! So glad to have finally found a community, lo these many years out of college, who are into thinking so much about music. Thank you again, @marc.weidenbaum!

qdot [8:04 PM]
And I mean, I consider you energetic /now/. I can’t imagine back then, as opposed to quiet, reserved Cage. :slightlysmilingface:

marc.weidenbaum [8:04 PM]
I have to ask, did he inquire at all about the effort you put into your realization, the employment of that early Apple?

mtnviewmark [8:05 PM]
He was quite interested in the means of preparation, he was genuinely interested in any means to make music.

We also talked about some of my other algorithmic works and I played some for him – I think he liked using anything to come to music.

leerosevere [8:11 PM]
Great story! It reminds me of his love of employing the I Ching method for composing almost anything. I would love to read a book of personal Cage stories.

mtnviewmark [8:12 PM]
I was using Forth on an Apple ][, after meeting with David Behrman in NYC (his loft studio was like a wonderland to me at the time – to be living in a warehouse loft in NYC surrounded by analog music devices all day…..) I’m pretty sure that Cage knew of Behrman’s work at the time.

Dave Wilson had built for me this giant interface board for the Apple ][ – something like 16 CVs out, 8 CVs in, and I think 12 triggers in each direction

it was a monster – but it enabled us to interconnect the Apple ][ to the Serge Modular .

marc.weidenbaum [8:15 PM]
So cool. So very cool.

mtnviewmark [8:17 PM]
But I admit the impact of that discussion, and implications for my philosophy of music, overshadowed anything else we talked about.

mtnviewmark [8:27 PM]
@leerosevere: I had found a book on the I Ching as an 11 year old in the bottom of a box of contents from a county auction. Dutifully cut yarrow stalks and followed it. Imagine my surprise in college discovering musical works made with it!

jicamasalad [11:08 PM]
@mtnviewmark: Thanks for sharing that beautifully Cage-ian episode – I can’t begin to imagine what a treasured experience that must be for you. I’ll throw in my (second-hand) Cage moment because it speaks to the same heart of his art: A good friend worked on the union stage crew at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall in the early 1990’s; there was to be a performance by Merce Cunningham’s group with a new work by Cage employing something along the lines of 50 or so loudspeakers on the stage. My friend, being well aware of Cage’s music and methods, wanted to make sure everything was set up just right, and summoned the courage to approach the master as the speakers were being brought in. “Excuse me, Mr. Cage,”he said, “do you have a stage plan, layout or instructions for how these 50 speakers should be set up for the performance?” JC turned with his characteristic kind and open smile and said: “It makes absolutely no difference whatsoever.” !! I think of that nearly every time I get myself stuck on some detail or other”¦.

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