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 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

Read more »

Also tagged , , , / / Leave a comment ]

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”¦.

Also tagged / / Comments: 3 ]

In the Key of G(enerative)

The software patch as live performance

“System has decided to generate in G.” G is the key, and generative is the mode. That line is one of the many captions that illuminate the software patch in action in this video. You don’t have to fully comprehend, or even read, the text to appreciate the correlation between the virtual patch (signal flows, triggers, and such) and the sounds that emerge as the piece proceeds.

The text and patch, both by Siegfried Mueller, depict the inner workings of GenAura, Mueller’s “Generative Ambient System.” The video is almost half a decade old at this point, and the interface of the toolset, Max/MSP, in which the software was coded has come a long way since then, but the music remains nuanced and entrancing, and Mueller’s concise distillation of process is a great example of how watching a generative tool enact its own decision-making is a form of live performance.

The word “indeterminate” is often associated with generative music because chance is a key factor in many generative systems. The thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to GenAura it can be said that the music is determined — it’s just determined by the decision-making of the software itself, which of course extrapolates decisions built into the DNA of its code by Mueller.

It’s the latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.” Video originally posted five years ago on YouTube by Siegfried Mueller, who developed the software.

Also tagged , , / / Comment: 1 ]

This Week in Sound: Mapping Silence

+ RJDJ + MIT sound + Wainwright Syndrome + speech control + pre-acoustic + Spotify protip

A lightly annotated clipping service (fairly brief edition this week):

RJDJ Return: This video is just a tease, but it’s a promising one. The makers of the RJDJ augmented-reality audio app have a new app in the works, named Hear, that processes everyday sounds through filters. There’s been much talk of an “Instagram for sound.” This has a sense of that wish being fulfilled. Video found via Ashley Elsdon’s (Post-script: since this note first appeared in the This Week in Sound email newsletter, the app has gone live on iTunes’s App Store. Unfortunately the app is not, for the time being, compatible with my fifth-generation iPod Touch, so I haven’t had a chance to use it yet.)

Sound Studies: Geeta Dayal interviewed Mouse on Mars’ Jan St. Werner, who is teaching a course at MIT called “Introduction to Sound Creations.” Says St. Werner, “I think it’s great that the visual-art world has embraced sound more, but there is the risk of that becoming a novelty. There’s also a great chance for sound, to see it as its own art form. It doesn’t need anything that makes it agreeable. That’s the great opportunity we see at the moment.”


Mapping Silence: At the Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham writes about a map commissioned last year by the National Park Service “of what the United States would sound like if you were to remove all traces of human activity from the picture,” pictured above. (Via Steve Ashby)

Wainwright Syndrome: Slightly removed from sound, though as always sound is vibration so buzzing is sound, and phones buzzing are doubly sound since the buzz is a stand-in for a ring(tone): at, Cari Romm writes about phantom phone vibrations: “These imagined sounds and sensations are examples of pareidolia, the phenomenon of perceiving a pattern within randomness where no pattern exists (seeing the man on the moon, for example, or hearing satanic messages in a record played backwards). For this particular pareidolia, there are a few things that make some people more susceptible than others.”

Always On: As someone who is rarely a foot from his phone, I still find the voice activation aspect of phones alarming in a privacy sense, but Google keeps upping the ante: “Google Announces Voice Access Beta—Control Your Phone Completely by Voice” (

Pre-Acoustic: If you’re near University of Copenhagen, there’s an interesting symposium happening there in two days, on April 21: “The field of sound studies often gets restricted to sound practices, listening experiences and auditory dispositives after the advent of modern acoustics, established as an academic subdiscipline of physics in the 19th century. Yet unsurprisingly, auditory knowledge was present and impactful in cultures of the middle ages, the renaissance, and early enlightenment”:

Spotify Protip: Since I’ve been on and off tracking my use of Spotify (following the demise of the Rdio service), here’s a Spotify protip. If you’re having issues with the offline sync (which lets you store tracks or albums on a device, as I do on my iPod Touch, which is the primary way I use Spotify), the issue may be that you have too many devices associated with your account. I had four. Once I reduced it to three everything worked fine.

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the April 19, 2016 (it went out a day late), edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound”email newsletter:

Also tagged , , , , , / / Leave a comment ]

The Pure Data of Svetlana Maraš

One minute to stream, and software to run for free


You have to click through to the blog of Svetlana MaraÅ¡ to hear her recent piece “Nymphae,” but don’t mistake that non-embeddable scenario for the work of someone who’s overly concerned about proprietorship. Maras, who is based in Belgrade, Serbia, has more than one SoundCloud page, and posts audio frequently. For “Nymphae,” not only has she uploaded the entrancing, minute-long sample of fractured glistening to stream, she’s also posted for free download the underlying tools anyone can use to accomplish the same sonic ends. Well, anyone with a copy of Pd (Pure data, a “real-time graphical dataflow programming environment,” itself freely downloadable), and the skills to employ it. The tools come in the form of a patch, which looks like this:


She describes the project as follows:

Nymphaea is one in a set of 7 works made under the title Ethereal Information. These works are Pure data patches, and they are generative sound works functioning by the rules of partially fixed algorithms. Each of the patches leaves the space for user’s input that will influence certain aspects of the work. Patches can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution license, as part of other works, in installations, galleries, public spaces or wherever you find them suitable. These works are highly minimalistic. They praise the simplicity of production and effectiveness of realization. They are to be appreciated for their audible but as well visual content that is in this case the structural element of the work that reveals work’s internal characteristics.

More from MaraÅ¡ at I wrote about her work previously in February 2015, regarding sound design she’d been working on for a film that never saw completion. That audio is still online. The image up top is from an interview with MaraÅ¡ by Theresa Beyer, published in 2014 at Pure data is available at

Also tagged , , / / Leave a comment ]