“Alternative Musical Interfaces”: Disquiet @ GAFFTA (San Francisco, September 19)

Panel discussion at the new media hub

On Wednesday, September 19, there’s a panel discussion in San Francisco at the Grey Area Foundation for the Arts on “Alternative Musical Interfaces,” and I’ll be serving as moderator.

The panelists include the highly talented trio of Michael ZbyszyÅ„ski (mikezed.com), Peter Nyboer (see his bayimproviser.com entry), and Spencer Salazar (see his ccrma.stanford.edu page) — more on whom at gaffta.org.

It’s all under the auspices of GAFFTA’s Sound Research Group. GAFFTA is located at 923 Market St, Suite 200, which is between 5th and 6th Streets. The event runs from 7:00pm until 8:30. Tickets are $20, but GAFFTA has a solid “no one turned away for lack of funds” policy.

I’m excited to be headed back to GAFFTA. I last took part in a discussion there in August 2011, when I presented some thoughts on “Sound as Commentary.”

Update (2012.07.25): The following description of the event has been added to the GAFFTA page at gaffta.org:

We’ve seen many shifts in ways to control sound over the millenia; everything from animal skins and bones to hacked Game Boys and everywhere in between. We find ourselves positioned at an interesting point in time for how we manipulate sound in a post-instrument world. The topic of alternative musical interfaces has been discussed by those attempting to redefine how we’ve shaped sound since the tribal era, but the discourse seems to be thriving. We’ve brought together three specialists (see below) who have dedicated large portions of their lives to the noble task of constructing new musical interfaces and pushing musicians to interact with their instruments in new and different fashions. The object of this evening is to gather together those interested in redefining our physical relationship to sounds and music. If you are interested in audio we recommend that you come join in the discussion with us.

Tangents: defining electronica, jamming speech, updating apps, …

News, quick links, good reads

Jargon Watch: Last week I happened to watch an episode of CSI (the “original” series). Titled “Trends with Benefits” it was a foray into the interpersonal impact of surveillance culture, and into the perceived — perhaps the best word is “purported” — generational technological gaps. The key episode-specific character, the dead body around which the narrative circles, was a precocious Las Vegas college student who aspired to the gossip profession (the TMZ enterprise was name-checked). His dorm room was found to be loaded with prosumer technology, including cameras and various other recording devices. One of the CSI staff (the character named Greg Sanders, shown above) observed the collected digital equipment and said of it, “The kid had all kind of electronica.” It’s worth noting that this Sanders character is on the young end of the CSI staff, and was displayed in stark counterpoint to the character played by Ted Danson; Danson’s character isn’t quite sure what “trending” meant in regard to social networks, and he sometimes holds a smartphone like it’s the first time he’s ever been handed a pair of chopsticks. This usage, by Sanders, of the term “electronica” in this manner is interesting, and promising. (The episode’s script is credited to Jack Gutowitz, who according to IMDB.com spent a lot of time on Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.) It employs it to describe not a specific and dated subset of popular electronically produced music, but the broader flotsam of general digital-era activity. That is along the lines of the sense in which I use the term, and why I have resisted the urge, over the years, to remove it from this site’s logo.

Speech Jam: Geeta Dayal, author of the 33 1/3 book on Brian Eno’s Another Green World, has taken residence at Wired’s website, which is good news. In one of her first wired.com posts, she covered the “Japanese speech-jamming gun” and smartly highlights precedents ranging from J.G. Ballard to Karlheinz Stockhausen. (Additional coverage at technologyreview.com and io9.com.)

App Updates: These are all iOS, though some if not all also apply to their Android versions. Thicket has added three new modes. NodeBeat has added MIDI support, and expanded the number of savable recordings. Ambiance has added the ability to record sounds and to play sounds in “background” mode, among other things. The eDrops app has added new sounds and the ability to load and save patterns. Audioboo seems to have mostly focused on infrastructure for its latest update. Air has added AirPlay support. Reactable has added access to the community area, “save and view” performances, and more.

Social Bullet: I wrote the following to someone asking for how to “use” “social media” to “promote” their music: “The whole social media thing is complicated. There is no generally applicable answer. I would say the following, broadly: make sure you participate. For example, the Junto project had rules, and to have posted on it without reading the Info page was a matter of not really participating. Make sure if you’re on Twitter and Facebook and SoundCloud that you actively participate: post, reply to other people’s posts, comment on their music. This will, in time, lead to a stronger sense of community. You’re find musicians with whom you have things in common, and you’ll support each other in your pursuits.” (The context was correspondence with someone who had posted a track to the Disquiet Junto project on Soundcloud.com that didn’t have anything to do with the current project.)

2011 Resolutions: 1. Upgrade Streaming Music

These aren’t quite resolutions, but there are several things I intend to do a better job of on Disquiet.com in 2011 than I have in the past:

1. Feature more streaming-only music. True, there is arguably no such thing as streaming music. It’s all downloadable, since the audio you’re hearing is on your computer (or other web-enabled device) by some means. In many cases, all you need to do is look at a streaming-only page’s source code (Ctrl + U in the Firefox browser) to locate the URL for the streaming media.

But even if the distinction between downloadable and streaming is artificial, an illusion, it is still a distinction made consciously, one way or the other, by people who post their music online. This site honors such decisions, aside from the occasional gray-market tip regarding particularly remarkable items that have long been out of print. This site also favors, to a great degree, downloadable music over that which is only intended for streaming. (There’s a whole department dedicated to it, Downstream, much as there is for commercial music, The Crate, which has far less coverage, and there’s no section for streaming-only.)

Part of this decision to pay more attention to streaming audio is curatorial: There’s an enormous amount of streaming-only music available. Part of the decision is practical: Once upon a time, the distinction between downloadable and streaming-only was a matter of what was and wasn’t portable: downloadable music you could pop onto your iPod (or semi-equivalent MP3 player), whereas streaming music was only available while you sat in front of your computer. With the rise of the smartphone, especially in our age of 4G/Mobile-WiMAX/LTE/etc. connections, it’s arguable that the tables have turned: the downloadable file is now a weighty object that needs to take up precious space on a device, whereas streaming audio is available (allowing for some hyperbole) in any place at any time.

In the past, there’s been this sense that downloadable music is part of a community that takes open-source culture seriously and that non-downloadable (i.e., streaming-only) music can, as a result, have a sense of being promotional, but that divide no longer seems to hold. (Please don’t read anything into this about the fate of the Downstream section — it will continue to exist, a new item each weekday.)

In any case, I’m hoping that in 2011 I’ll spend more time acknowledging, critiquing, recommending, and otherwise paying (and directing) attention to audio that is streaming-only … such as this track by Chris Herbert, titled “Shortwave Study for Scott Morgan.” Scott Morgan is better known loscil, and he and Rafael Aton Irisarri are compiling a compilation titled Air Texture II for spring 2011 release, and this is a rough sketch of something that Herbert is working on for them. It’s a lovely, low-key bit of near-silent ambience, all slow gusts of aether with occasion additional tones and textures and bits of voice.

More on the track on the page where it is hosted, soundcloud.com/chrisherbert.

How to Submit Music (& Apps) for Review on Disquiet.com

This site’s been experiencing a significant uptick in correspondence about how to submit music (as well as apps) for review. I just updated the Disquiet.com F.A.Q page (i.e., Frequently Asked Questions, at disquiet.com/faq) in this regard. Here are the key sections:

4. Can I send you music for review consideration? I would love to hear your music. However, just to get this clear from the outset, I am a horrible correspondent. I simply don’t have the time to engage in ongoing back and forths via email about whether I plan on covering your music. I get an enormous amount of music from musicians and their record labels, and that doesn’t count all time I spend seeking out music (and sound-related art), so I can’t promise to write back in a timely manner. Honestly, I can’t promise to write back at all. What I can promise is the following: I will listen to what you send to me, and I will consider it for coverage. So, how do you send me music? My preference is that you email me a link to a Zip file containing 320kbps MP3 files. If you feel the need to send me a CD (or vinyl, or some other physical format), you can email me (visit the Contact page) to get my address in San Francisco, where I live. Do not send MP3s as attachments: they clog up my email, and I just delete them. In closing, I do want to hear your music — but I also want to hear other people’s music, and the less time I spend in correspondence, the more time I can spend listening.

5. Do you review sound/audio/music-related apps? Yes, certainly — apps as well as applications. The intersection of sound and interactivity (aka games) is an important one. Since at least July 2000, I’ve been tagging such content on the site with the term “audio-games.” I can currently review apps written for Apple’s iOS operating system (I have an iPod Touch) and for Android (I have an Android mobile phone), and applications written for the Apple and Windows operating systems (I really should have a proper Linux set up, but currently do not). Just get in touch with me via the Contact page.

Full F.A.Q. at disquiet.com/faq.

Tangents: Listening Day, iOS Thawing, Creative Commons, …

Recommended reading, news, and so forth elsewhere:

Just a reminder that this coming Sunday, July 18, will be World Listening Day: worldlisteningproject.org. The date was selected because it is the birthday of composer and sound ecologist R. Murray Schafer. … Peter Kirn at createdigitalmusic.com looks into whether, and if so to what extent, Apple’s iOS is allowing apps to access the iTunes music library. … In related news, an iOS (aka iPhone/Touch) app, Soundstations, that allows you to mix nature sounds with your music: appscout.com. … Now this is noise-metal, all the songs on a single Slayer album played simultaneously: noiseforairports.com. … An installation by artist Luke Jerram, in coordination with the charitable organization Sing for Hope, brought 60 pianos to the streets of New York City: cnn.com (via twitter.com/soundscrapers). … Details on the Christian Marclay exhibit running at the Whitney through September 26: whitney.org (plus a photo essay at nytimes.com). … Alan Wexelblat at copyfight.corante.com continues the discussion about my position that, as he puts it, “even if the current record industry structure went away there would still be music, still be musicians.” … I weighed in on a discussion about ASCAP’s absurd targeting of Creative Commons as some sort of enemy of musicians, over at Molly Sheridan‘s artsjournal.com/gap.