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This Week in Sound

Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

tag: installation

Where the Work Ends and the World Begins

Chris Wood explores the many signals of Brussels

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There is just enough noise that none of it stands out, and just few enough noises that the ears strain for distinctions. There are children playing, and a news report, and music from various genres and languages. There is a thick static that seems to want to become music; it hangs low, a sonorous drone, whining like a wounded animal hoping for just a little affection. Sirens pass, and the whole range of noises just keep going, stalwart despite their modest proportions, their simplicity, their everydayness. This is “Oscillating Cities” by Chris Wood. This is, in fact, “Oscillating Cities” heard amid the sounds of the city. Where the work ends and the world begins is unclear, and that may very well be part of Wood’s point.

In an explanatory post, Wood explains how the piece came to be: “Osciallating Cities is a dynamic sound environment built from local radio, field recordings and internet radio from distant locations retransmitted over FM. It was performed on the square at Comte de Flandres, Brussels in June 2014.” The work was made at the behest of iMAL, the Brussels-based interactive Media Art Laboratory, more on which at imal.org.

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The mix of source material isn’t the extent of Wood’s mediation. There are, he explains, various aspects of the employment of radio, which influence the quality of the signal, and some of the source audio is filtered through delays and other treatments. Still photographs and footage evidence the sculptural quality of the generic radios placed around the plaza. A video documenting a series of related works features a short interview with Wood (at timecode 5:29):

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/wordthecat. More from Chris Wood, who is based in England, at wordthecat.com and twitter.com/whirringcat.

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How Sound Frames Vision

My "Sonic Frame" collective audio installation at the San Jose Museum of Art

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Since October 2 I’ve had a sound installation at the San Jose Museum of Art. Titled “Sonic Frame” it will, through February 22, 2015, be on display at the museum as part an expansive 45th-anniversary exhibit titled Momentum: An Experiment in the Unexpected. I was invited to be one of the museum’s “intervenors.” Other intervenors include comics artist Lark Pien, San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Damian Smith, and poet David Perez. Our role as intervenors was to create new, original works that responded to works that are part of the museum’s permanent collection. I selected Josh Azzarella’s video “Untitled #8, 2004.” The video is two minutes and thirty one seconds long, and shows a shape slowly morphing against a light blue background. My response takes the form of three small screens on which the video loops repeatedly. Each screen contains a unique set of seven different audio tracks composed to complement it, so each time the video plays anew it is accompanied by different sounds. Two of the three screens have headphones attached, one has a directional speaker, and all three have jacks allowing the visitor to plug in their own earbuds or headphones. The variety of scores, 21 in all, influence the viewer’s experience of the video. Of the 21 scores, 14 were selected from tracks contributed to a project of the Disquiet Junto, the weekly music collective I moderate, and 7 were contributed as the result of a direct request by me to the musician.

This is the wall text that accompanies the piece:

Sonic Frame, 2014
Original soundtracks on tablets
Chosen artwork: Untitled #8 (2004) by Josh Azzarella

For Marc Weidenbaum, Josh Azzarella’s video Untitled #8, in which a form slowly shifts, suggests a visual parallel to the ethereal nature of sound: perceptible yet intangible. Through his online collaborative project Disquiet Junto, Weidenbaum collected and curated original works of music and sound from an international community of colleagues, which he then added to unsynced iterations of Azzarella’s silent video. Intended to explore transformation and stasis, the sound elements create auras, halos, and contextual sonic frameworks that gently alter the viewer’s experience and perception of Azzarella’s video art.

Focusing on the intersection of sound, art, and technology, sound artist and author Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996. Through Disquiet, he initiated and moderates the Disquiet Junto group, inviting musicians to respond on SoundCloud to weekly compositional projects. Weidenbaum is also an instructor at the Academy of Art in San Francisco where he teaches a course on the role of sound in media.

In the development of Marc Weidenbaum’s Sonic Frame, almost eighty musicians from around the world contributed original recordings for potential inclusion. The majority of these recordings, seventy in all, were produced as part of a project in the weekly Disquiet Junto series. Each week the Disquiet Junto online community responds to a different compositional prompt. Another seven tracks were created by composers who Weidenbaum approached directly to participate in the piece. Some of these musicians had previously participated in Junto projects, and he wanted to ensure their involvement in this one. In the end twenty-one recordings were selected for inclusion, seven different ones for each of the three frames.

These are the participating composers, broken down screen by screen:

Screen #1 (Left)
Taylor Deupree
Van Stiefel
Natalia Kamia
Naoyuki Sasanami
Carlos Russell
Mark Rushton
Paolo Mascolini (Sōzu)

Screen #2 (Center)
Stephen Vitiello
Steve Roden
ævol
Marcus Fischer
Julia Mazawa
Westy Reflector + Lee Rosevere
Ezekiel Kigbo (The Atlas Room)

Screen #3 (Right)
Steiner (Stijn Hüwels)
Christina Vantzou
Scanner
Inlet (Cory K.)
Jean Reiki
Marco Raaphorst
Bad Trails

Here are some images of the installed work. My “Sonic Frame” hangs directly to the right of a large, 50″-screen display of Azzarella’s original video:

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And here are shots of the overall exhibit information, as displayed on walls at the museum:

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The museum has asked that I don’t post the combination of video and sound online, so that the work is unique to the exhibit, and I want to respect that request. Here is a set of all the tracks resulting from the Junto project:

And here is the original, silent video by Azzarella they were intended to accompany:

I received a lot of input and assistance in the development of the “Sonic Frame,” and in particular I want to thank Lauren Franklin for video editing, Paolo Salvagione for designing and producing the screen enclosures, Jonathan Odom for woodwork on the enclosures, and the staff at the San Jose Museum of Art for their support, advice, and attention.

Here are some images taken during the installation process:

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More on the exhibit at sjmusart.org.

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Tangents: Data Immersion, the Tuning of the Internet, Superloops, …

Plus: the emotional key of books, physical computer drums, quantum computer sounds, steampunk modular, and more

Tangents is an occasional collection of short, lightly annotated mentions of sound-related activities.

Data Immersion: Characteristically breathtaking video of a new work by Ryoji Ikeda, perhaps the leading installation poet of data immersion. This is of his piece “supersymmetry,” which relates to his residency at CERN, the supercollider. More at supersymmetry.ycam.jp:

In an interview he talks about the dark-matter research that informed his effort:

“Supersymmetry is being considered as a possible solution of the mystery of this dark matter. During the period I’m staying at CERN, there are experiments being carried out with the aim to prove the existence of as-yet undiscovered ‘supersymmetry particles’ that form pairs with the particles that make up the so-called ‘Standard Model’ catalogue of physical substances. Data and technologies of these experiments are not directly incorporated in the work, but I’m going to discuss a variety of things with the physicists at CERN, and the results of these discussions will certainly be reflected.”

Tones of the Internet: The tonal repository of the Internet is very different from the room tone of the Internet, which we explored in a recent Disquiet Junto project. Over at wired.com, Joseph Flaherty profiles Zach Lieberman, with an emphasis on his Play the World project, which scours the Internet for sounds — the music heard on radio stations — and then allows them to be played back. “Using the set-up,” Flagerty writes, “a person can literally turn the internet into a musical instrument.” What makes that sentence more than hyperbole is that the source audio is played at the note triggered by the user, though it’s by no means “the Internet” being played, and instead a fairly well-circumscribed and specific subset of the Internet. (The effort brings to mind the title of R. Murray Schafer’s classic book of sound studies, The Tuning of the World.) It’s part of DevArt, a Google digital art endeavor that has nothing to do with Deviant Art, the longstanding web forum for (largely) visual artists, or with Devart, the database software company. “Play the World, and several other DevArt projects,” reports Flaherty, ” will make their debut at the Barbican Gallery of Art in London in July, but the code is available on Github today.” There’s something intriguing about an art premiere that is preceded by the materials’ worldwide open-source availability. Here’s audio of the note A being played for 20 minutes based on a wide array of these sound sources. It appears to be from Zieberman’s own SoundCloud account, which oddly has only 15 followers as of this writing. Well, 16, because I just joined up:

The Singing Book: At hyperallergic.com, Allison Meier writes about an effort to extract the emotional content from writing and turn it into music. It’s a project by Hannah Davis and Saif Mohammad. Below is an example based on the novel Lord of the Flies. More at Davis and Mohammad’s musicfromtext.com. A few weeks back, the Junto explored a parallel effort to listen to the rhythm inherent in particular examples of writing, and to make music based on that rhythm:

Everyday Drum: The divisions between words like “analog” and “digital,” and “electric” and “acoustic,” are far more blurred than they get credit for, as evidenced by this fine implementation of an iPad triggering not just physical beats, but whimsically innovative ones made from bottle caps, buttons, grains tacks, and other everyday objects (found via twitter.com/Chris_Randall). The project is by Italy-based Lorenzo Bravi, more from whom at lorenzobravi.com:

LED Modular: Vice Motherboard’s DJ Pangburn interviews Charles Lindsay (the SETI artist-in-residence, who invited me to give that talk last month) on his massive LED installation, which involves the chance nature of modular synthesis applied to recordings of the Costa Rica rainforest. Says Lindsay:

“I love modular synthesis, the unpredictable surprises, the textures and wackiness,” he said of his heavily-cabled Eurorack modular synthesizer. “My rig is populated by a lot of SNAZZY FX’s modules. I’m part of the company, which is essentially Dan Snazelle, a wonderful genius, inventor and musician. We share an approach that says ‘let’s build these things and see what happens.'”

Also part of the LED exhibit, titled Carbon IV, is audio sourced from the quantum artificial intelligence laboratory at NASA Ames. Here’s audio from Linday’s SoundCloud account:

Superloops: Rob Walker shifts attention from the “supercut” of related material — like the “yeahs” of Metallica’s James Hetfield — to the superloop of standalone elements. “The opposite of a supercut,” writes Walker at Yahoo! Tech, “the superloop condenses nothing. To the contrary, it takes one brief moment of sound or video and repeats it.” It was an honor to be queried, along with Ethan Hein, in Walker’s research. I pointed him to the great sounds of the Star Trek enterprise on idle. … And in somewhat related news, in Walker’s “The Workologist” column in The New York Times, in which he responds to “workplace conundrums” from readers, he has some advice for someone bothered by an office mate’s gum chewing (“Other than the clicking of keys and occasional phone calls, it’s the only sound in an otherwise quiet office”); he writes, in part:

Because you’ve ruled out music, maybe a comfortable set of noise-canceling headphones — tuned to nothing — would be enough to blunt the irritating sounds. Or you could consider any number of “white noise”generators that are available free online. Noisli.com, for example, generates forest sounds, coffee-shop noise and the like. You also could do a little research on “ambient”music and use a service like Pandora to construct a nondistracting sound stream. Such approaches may be inoffensive enough that you can simply play the sound at low volume from your computer — no earbuds required.

Steampunk Modular: By and large, I tend to keep the threshold of coverage above the level of “things that look neat,” but sometimes that neat is neat enough that I can’t resist, especially when it’s tied to a fine achievement by a talented sound practitioner. Richard Devine has posted on Instagram this shot of steampunk-style effects module, encased in an old book, that he got from the makers of the Xbox One video game Wolfenstein: The New Order:

Synesthesia Robots: And here’s one from Kid Koala of his lofi visual interface for his sampler. Koala is a talented cartoonist as well as an ace downtempo DJ. Those efforts have collided in a score he’s made for a graphic novel, and in various staged performances he’s put together, and this achieves a functional correlation in a very simple manner:

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Disquiet Junto Project 0108: Free Bassel

Create a soundscape for the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.

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Each Thursday at the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.com 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.

Tracks by participants will be added to this playlist as the project proceeds:

This project was published in the evening, California time, on Thursday, January 23, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, January 27, 2014, as the deadline.

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These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0108: Free Bassel

For this week’s project, we’re going to create soundscapes for an ancient Middle Eastern city. And in the process, we’re going to raise awareness about an imprisoned open-source developer with strong ties to the Creative Commons community. Bassel Khartabil, before his arrest on March 15, 2012, in Damascus, was working on several projects, among them a 3D rendering of the ancient city of Palmyra. Much as Bassel was trying to revive an ancient world, you are, in essence, keeping one of his projects alive while he is incapable of doing so.

The project instructions are as follows:

Step 1: View this video for background on Bassel’s digital Palmyra project:

Step 2: If you aren’t viewing this instruction on the Disquiet.com project page, go to the following URL to view three still images from Bassel’s 3D work:

Disquiet Junto Project 0108: Free Bassel

Step 3: Create a soundscape of between one and three minutes that might be employed in an immersive, completed digital visualization of ancient Palmyra.

Deadline: Monday, January 27, 2014, at 11:59pm wherever you are.

Length: Your finished work should be between 1 and 3 minutes in length.

Information: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud, 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.

Title/Tag: When adding your track to the Disquiet Junto group on Soundcloud.com, please include the term “disquiet0108-freebassel”in the title of your track, and 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, be sure to include this information:

More on this 108th Disquiet Junto project (“Create a soundscape for the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.”) at:

Disquiet Junto Project 0108: Free Bassel

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

The Disquiet Junto Project List (0001 – 0279 …)

Join the Disquiet Junto at:

More on the campaign to free Bassel at

http://freebassel.org/

For their collaboration on this project, special thanks to: Niki Korth, Barry Threw, and Jon Phillips.

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10 Great “Sound (in) Art” Starting Points

For the Dubai-based Gallery of Light / DUCTAT

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The Dubai-based Gallery of Light, part of DUCTAC, the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre, is hosting a sound art exhibit this month, January 2014. The curator, Simon Coates, invited me to participate.

Artists featured include the British musician Scanner and the early musique concrète figure Dr. Halim El-Dabh, as well as Porya Hatami (Sanandaj, Iran), the British-Iranian Soosan Lolavar, Leopoldo Amigo Perez (among his works is a recreation of Arseny Avraamov’s 1922 “Symphony of Factory Sirens”), and Christina Kubisch (Germany). The exhibit will also include an installation of Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting in a Room,” with Lucier’s approval.

For my part, Coates requested that I hand write a list of 10 recommended works of sound art, the intended reader being someone somewhat new to the subject. His concept was to then print the piece large scale and hang it in the Gallery of Light, along with the other exhibited work. I expanded on his idea a little, and fleshed out the 10 recommendations with brief descriptions, plus an opening and closing statement. The title of it is simply “10 Recommended Works of Sound in Art.” Here’s what it will look like from across the room (click it and you’ll see the thing at a more legible scale):

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Here’s a detail:

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And here’s the text, along with correlating YouTube videos. The videos aren’t in the exhibit, just in this post.

. . .

“10 Recommended Works of Sound in Art”

I spent an afternoon once wandering the city of San Francisco with a pop musician who had begun to put aside song in favor of sound. I brought up “sound art” but he rebuffed me: genre, he said, was antithetical to the creative enterprise. I was confused until I, months later, recognized I was less interested in “sound art” than in “sound in art.” These 10 works are intended for listeners starting down a similar path. Marc Weidenbaum 2013.12.03

. . .

1. The Forty Part Motet
By Janet Cardiff
2001

Forty speakers stand in a room. Each emits the vocal line of a different member of a choir singing a 16th-century piece of music. Walk amid them like one of the angels in Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire.

. . .

2. Vexations
By Erik Satie
c. 1893

A short piece of music is played 840 times in a row, for close to 20 hours. Soon enough the music ceases to be music and takes on new purpose: installation, endurance test, mystic journey, wallpaper, irritant, lullaby.

. . .

3. Video Quartet
By Christian Marclay
2002

Bits of footage from numerous films run on four separate screens. Sound and motion are choreographed in a manner to make connections, and jokes, and even alternate narratives.

. . .

4. The Buddha Machine
By Christiaan Virant + Zhang Jian
2005

The Buddha Machine is a tiny box (also available as software) that plays brief sound loops. It is sound art on the go, an objet d’art that is practical and economical.

. . .

5. Deadly Edge
By Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake)
1971

“Up here, the music was just a throbbing under the feet, a distant pulse.”Thus begins the 13th novel in the Parker series: a rock-concert heist. All novels have a sonic component, especially novels about thievery.

. . .

6. Electrical Walks
By Christina Kubisch
2004

Participants in a walk around the city wear powerful wireless headphones that are sensitive to electro-magnetic fields. They discover the autonomous music that surrounds us.

. . .

7. Listening Post
By Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin
2003

Dozens of small screens display text pulled live from the web based on singular queries. Text-to-speech and music bring the data to life.

. . .

8. Test Pattern
By Ryoji Ikeda
2008

Sound, along with other source information such as text and photos, is turned into an immersive installation of barcode patterns.

. . .

9. The Rise and Fall of the Sounds and Silences from Mars
By Christof Migone
2011

All the audio-related words from Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles are extracted and displayed — in a book, in video, as an installation, on flag-like cards outdoors on a hillside.

. . .

10. Times Square
By Max Neuhaus
1977

Warm, enveloping drones emanate from below a midtown Manhattan grate that serves primarily as a steam vent for the subway. Passersby mistake the sound as municipal in origin, or luxuriate in its unique properties, or both.

. . .

I’d like to close with an exercise we do in a class I teach about sound in the media landscape. Sit somewhere and write down for 15 minutes everything that you hear. After the self-evident sounds are accounted for, it can become arduous — but then the world opens up again. The longer we go on listening, the more things open up to our ears: one’s home, one’s office, a street corner. Even a museum — and even a museum where no art is intended to make a sound.

. . .

Update (2014.01.08): Here’s a shot from the curator, Coates, of the individual notebook pages, each of which has been enlarged to the size of an A2 piece of paper. They’ll be hung shortly:

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. . .

More on the exhibit at Coates’ facebook.com page and at ductac.org/art.php. Coates’ home on the Internet is at simoncoates.com. Special thanks to Holly Leach of Albertson Design for the assistance with scanning.

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
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    • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier).
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  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

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    Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.

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