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.

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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt


This photograph was shot in New York after I landed at JFK a few weeks ago for a short visit from San Francisco. We touched down late, later even than planned, and so my memory is a little foggy. I’ve pieced together the first stages of the itinerary from the timeline that is automated Google photos backup (a fairly dependable course of action in such circumstances). The timeline exception is when photos are added from other services, like those edited in Instagram or another app, or transferred over from SMS or email — and those would only appear reverse-anachronistically later in the timeline, anyhow, not earlier. In any case, I’m fairly certain that this was shot not on the intra-JFK train that shuttles you from your arrival terminal to where you gather your bags and head out into the world (maybe such a thing doesn’t even exist — like I said, I was pooped), but on one of the city’s subway trains. This shot is a closeup of a well-worn sticker fixed next to an older, larger, metal speaker/button combo labeled only in all-caps English: “Emergency Intercom,” with the additional instructions “To Talk / Press and Release Button / Wait for Steady Light.” (That last bit suggests itself for poetic treatment.) This instructional infographic — instructographic? — does a good job of connecting speaking to pushing, thanks to the red color coding, though I must note that in real life the red button is a far darker shade. The little bright green light does its assigned job of reaffirming the text, which is to say it’s just as confusing, especially in, you know, an emergency. What seems to be missing from the image is any sense of, well, emergency. The demeanor of the cartoon human seems to be that of someone serenading a favorite device (Her: The Musical, now on Broadway), not alerting authorities to the existence of a suspicious package. Also worth mentioning: the red, waveformy, RSS-logo-ish speaking pattern seems to treat the microphone (below) and speaker (above) as equals.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt


This is the doorbell of a friend’s home, where I managed to crash on the couch a week or so ago while traveling. My friend wasn’t present the entire time, so I didn’t have to ring the bell when I arrived. I just used the key that had been left for me. This is an apartment I’ve visited many times, and rarely ever have I had to actually ring that bell. Usually by the time I’ve made my way up via elevator, the door has been left open a crack, my arrival having been preceded by an announcement from the doorman. On occasion I have rung it, but each time it felt like I was expressing an impatience I didn’t actually feel. I did once ring it purposefully, many years ago. Someone else, by all evidence a resident, was lingering in the hallway, and I got the sense that I was being viewed with suspicion. Pushing the doorbell provided a signal of belonging, sufficient enough that I sensed my onlooker begin to relax. I spent three nights here last week, and by the end felt a bit like a resident myself. No one visited me during my stay, so I never heard the doorbell ring. When I finally left, I had been instructed to put the key under the door. I did so and then, after a moment’s consideration, pushed the doorbell and listened as it resonated in the rooms that I was fully aware were entirely empty.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt


Belated image for Record Store Day. This is a detail of a 1948 photo by Todd Webb (1905-2000) of 6th Avenue in Manhattan. The full image, a semi-panorama of sorts showing the complete block between 43rd and 44th Streets, including a second record store, is on display currently at the Curator Gallery on West 23rd as part of the exhibit Down Any Street: Todd Webb’s Photographs of New York, 1945-1960, curated by Bill Shapiro. Note the window advertisement above for Brown’s Talking Picture Operating School. That sharp line to the right of the store, between it and the bar newly listing “television” among its attractions, is a cut where two images were placed next to each other to allow Webb to achieve the effect of showing the entire stretch of 6th Avenue as if viewed from across the street.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt


People who try to express information on an XY grid eventually learn this lesson, often the hard way: sometimes the only option for accuracy is to access the third dimension. That realization was made, as well, by whoever was tasked at some point in the distant past with adding a fifth button (yes, fifth — note the semi-obscured circle at the bottom) to this already beleaguered assemblage. It’s unclear if this location is home to two or five individual addresses, or somewhere in between. The bottom set, if you perceive them as a set, could be three iterations of fixing a doorbell’s serial failures: first the main, boxy unit; then the second narrow sliver; then the side button. Then again these could be incremental sublets, the most recent an overpriced closet with the benefit of being near a major public transportation hub. The fact that none of the five buttons is labeled lends some mystery. While we may not know what the landlord is up to, clearly the next logical step is to go full tesseract.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt


Some buildings are born as multi-unit dwellings. Others have multi-unit dwelling-ness thrust upon them. Amid that second subset are entrances that don’t live up to the challenge. This location has at least three additional addresses where there once was likely but a single residence. How you alert unit one to your arrival is unclear (since its button is missing entirely), as is how to access unit two (since its button is kaput). Adding to the mystery is the sequencing for units two, four, and three. The pièce de résistance isn’t the fact of that additional button for unit four, or even the quotidian instructions to “Hold for 3 seconds” (what happens if you hold longer?), or the readymade collage (RIP, James Rosenquist) where unit three’s identity is layered. It’s a one-two combo: First, how the “3 seconds” confuses the eye, carrying directly over from the 2 on the left, and briefly makes your brain think the center unit is, indeed, number three. Second, how the additional button for unit four is situated so as to serve as the noun in the instructional sentence — it’s virtually a doorbell emoji. As the shadows might suggest, this photograph was shot as the daylight was coming to an end, which seems appropriate to this location.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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