There are many great murals across the city of San Francisco. The one dearest to me, by far, is what I think of as the Coit Tower of graffiti. Shown here is but one view of the ongoing communally decorated staircase to the Luggage Store Gallery on Market Street, just up from Sixth Street. Regulars in the local electronic and experimental music communities know the Luggage Store Gallery as the location of the great weekly Luggage Store Creative Music Series (listings: outsound.org), which convenes each Thursday around 8pm. This shot, looking down toward the front entrance, doesn’t do justice to the full surround experience of the festooned and vertiginous staircase. It’s best experienced between the two sets any given Thursday when you’re coming back from one of the nearby markets with a beverage.
I mentioned yesterday the 2019 conference I spoke at, Algorithmic Art Assembly, on the topic “The Woodshed Is a Black Box,” about music communities as algorithms. The lineup of the second AAAssembly conference, to be held in San Francisco on March 27 and 28, has just been announced. I’m almost certain to attend both days. Here’s the flyer:
I’m particularly looking forward to Curtis Roads (author of Microsound, among other valuable contributions to computer music), Chris Carlson (creator of the Borderlands Granular iOS app), Cassie Tarakajian (running a Max/MSP workshop), Hannah Davis (generative musician), Amy Alexander (longtime computer-based artist), and Ruardih Law (of the Broken20 record label). Details will surface at aaassembly.org and grayarea.org.
And while I’m at it, I should mention for San Francisco Bay Area people that my friend Thorsten Sideb0ard, who puts together AAAssembly, is hosting an event with RM Francis and Shatter Pattern on February 9, 2020, at 180 Capp Street. Details at the event’s Facebook page.
If yesterday’s video in this series was an exercise is extreme stasis, today’s marks a contrast. In yesterday’s, a hand occasionally appeared from the bottom of the screen to ever so slightly adjust the relative volume of four inbound cassette tapes, all in the pursuit of an ambient drone whose ethereal qualities occasionally betrayed a more complex, a rougher, texture than at first made itself apparent.
In today’s, the musician Dustmotes works furiously to nudge and transition a hovering tone, occasionally inserting new swells and the rare percussive element. Overall the music is no less subtle than yesterday’s, but this toolkit requires numerous controls to be tweaked and attended to in order to achieve Dustmotes’ goal. (Interestingly, for comparison’s sake, the musical instrument used here, the Elektron Digitone, is the same as was used to produce the audio on the cassette tapes in yesterday’s piece.) This tension between that activity and simplicity, between action and inaction, is exactly the sort of thing that my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music was created to document and explore.
It begins, as do all worthwhile cassette tape experiences, with a click, and a hard one at that. This video captures the recording of an ambient performance that consists of multiple tapes being layered in real time, their relative volumes adjusted each occasion that a hand briefly enters the screen from below. The sounds are frayed and angelic, weary and ethereal, testing the ear’s alertness to fissures in the mist. There are four different audio sources, lending different elements to the overall ensemble.
When I first started compiling such examples of recommended live performances of ambient music found on YouTube, the intention was (and remains) to share examples of the tools and skills required, and to investigate the tension between action (the musician’s effort) and inaction (the sonic stasis to which so much ambient music aspires). Needless to say, the light touch in this piece by the Glasgow-based musician who goes by Blicero represents an extreme in terms of inactivity on the part of the performer. Then again, missing is the effort that went into recording the original loops, testing the balances in advance, and doing post-production.
This short video is of two simple loopers that are ever so slightly out of sync. By the point at which the video begins, both of the loopers had accrued several layers of audio, all of it culled from an electric guitar. Some of the audio is shared between the two loopers, and some is unique to each separately. The starting point of each of the two loops is signaled when the given looper’s light briefly blinks. Shortly after the midpoint of this recording, the two loops can be seen to come into sync, and to then proceed to drift apart — to shift, to phase — again.
The looper used here is the original Ditto from TC Electronic (due to its popularity, several variations on the Ditto followed). I bought my first one used a few years ago, and have always enjoyed how simple yet effective its controls are. Despite having just one button and one knob, the Ditto comes with a manual that is nearly a dozen pages long, because different combinations of button clicks cause different processes. When I found another inexpensive secondhand Ditto, I picked it up just this afternoon with the express purpose of exploring asynchronous loops such as this one.
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
• February 5, 2020: The first session of the 15-week course I teach at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape.
• April 15, 2020: A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)
• December 13, 2020: This day marks the 24th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2021: This day marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
• At least two live group concerts by Disquiet Junto members in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the works for 2020.
• I have liner notes for a musician's solo album and an essay in a book about an art event due out. I'll announce as the release dates come into focus.
• The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
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.
• 0424 / Fluctuating Rhythm / The Assignment: Employ nature as your conductor.
• 0423 / Hold Noise / The Assignment: Record music intended to sound just as garbled as the hold music on a phone call.
• 0422 / Chapter Cascade / The Assignment: Make a piece of music made up of tiny alternating parts.
• 0421 / Marquee Ghosts / The Assignment: What sounds haunt a discarded movie theater in the middle of the night?
• 0420 / Luna Tick / The Assignment: Make music that proceeds according to the phases of the moon, in celebration of Lunar New Year.