New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • Disquiet.com F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

tag: noise

Cues: Deaf Gaming, Twang Bar Noise, Tank Preservation, …

Plus: a 30-part sound documentary on BBC, the history of Celluloid Records, and more

¶ Deaf Gaming: Interesting anecdote from a recent gamasutra.com piece on the late video game creator Kenji Eno, written by Brandon Sheffield. The “Eno” in this is, of course, Kenji (not Brian), and the Saturn is the Sega game console from the mid-1990s:

“For his next game, Sega wanted to make it an exclusive — whatever it was. Eno had recently met with some sight-impaired folks who liked to play action games, and he asked himself, “What if you made a game that the blind and the sighted could play equally?” So he created the game Real Sound, which is an audio-only retail game, and made Sega promise that if he made the game exclusive to them, they would donate 1,000 Saturns to blind people, and he would supply 1,000 copies of the game. Again, this was an unusual idea for 1996, but he felt the stagnancy of the industry, and went to great lengths to shake it up.”

Surround Sound: The Tank is a 60’ x 30′ vessel — a “rusted steel water tank” in the words of its caretaker, Bruce Odland, who has made use of its inherent 40-second reverb since 1976. He’s set up a kickstarter.com campaign to ensure its future use:

The campaign ends March 31, 2013. More on the project at kickstarter.com. (Thanks for the tip go to Joshua Izenberg, whose film Slomo just won the Documentary Short prize among the Short Film Jury Awards at the 2013 SXSW festival. Jeremiah Moore, the sound designer on Slomo, is apparently also involved in this Tank project.)

¶ Electretymologies: There’s a hair’s-breadth matter of word choice in today’s “playlist” by Jon Pareles in the New York Times. In a single column he reviews six records. For SuunsImages du Futur he mentions “the repeating synthesizer tones of early electro.” For How to Destroy AngelsWelcome Oblivion he mentions both “dank electronic sounds” and how “the electronics mostly give way to the acoustic.” And for Draco Rosa’s Vida he mentions “dipping into new wave, Caribbean styles, electronica and, at the end, hard-rock blasts.” The emphasis is mine. Those are four distinct terms, all variations on a core root prefix, all used in close proximity: electro, electronic, electronics, and electronica.

¶ Twang Bar Theory: This is pretty great. Over at youtube.com, Adrian Belew (King Crimson, Talking Heads, Nine Inch Nails) as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival back in 2011, discussing the “history and future of guitar noise”:

The event opened with a guitar solo, to set the tone, as it were, for the event, and there’s a third section as well.

¶ Docusound Platform: Promotional video for the site docusound.org, “a platform for producing and distributing audio documentaries”:

¶ Sonifying Auckland: Sound designer Tim Prebble, along with filmmaker Denise Batchelor, is a 2013 artist in residence of the Auckland regional parks system. Details at scoop.co.nz. Here is description from the announcement: “He’ll record local native birdcalls, slow the recordings to allow notation and then ”˜play with this as the DNA of music’, embellishing and orchestrating it. On completion, his music will be played at a local venue and a CD, tentatively called The Bird Song Preludes, will be available after his residency.” More from Prebble at musicofsound.co.nz.

¶ Celluloid Heroes: The first of two parts of a documentary about Celluloid Records, over at youtube.com, featuring among others Bill Laswell, DXT (formerly Grand Mixer DST), and label founder Jean Karakos:

¶ Re-scanning: Great interview at thequietus.com with Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, about his range of activities. He goes project by project, talking about his early work with the technology from which he took his name (“The scanner was connected directly into a tape deck the whole time. This was ’91, ’92, this was anticipating an idea of the internet, there was no access to this kind of networked world that we’re so comfortable with today. These voices and accessing them suddenly took you into a very private place that you could never otherwise be in.”), collaborating with filmmaker Derek Jarman and artist Mike Kelley, and “re-soundtrack[ing]” the final two minutes of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse, and much more.

¶ In Brief: There’s a 30-part audio documentary titled Noise: A Human History being presented starting tomorrow, March 18, on BBC 4 by David Hendy of the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex: bbc.co.uk (via bl.uk). ¶ The palmsounds.net provides a brief overview of a talk Rob Thomas (of Reality Jockey) gave in London about mobile music. ¶ In the Field: The Art of Field Recording is a new book containing interviews with artists whose work employs field recordings. Among those are Andrea Polli, Christina Kubisch, Francisco López, Hildegard Westerkamp, Jez Riley French, and Lasse-Marc Riek. (Thanks for the tip, John Kannenberg.) ¶ “Why Do People Use ”˜Nope’ Even Though ”˜No’ Is Shorter?” (at slate.com, via Quora). The short version is that “no” may have half as many letters but the hard stop at the end of “nope” arguably makes it more succinct. The author, Marc Ettlinger, has other theories as well, including an informative bit on “sound symbolism.” ¶ Robert Henke, aka Monolake, is coming to the San Francisco Bay Area as a visiting instructor at CCRMA, the computer music department at Stanford University. In a warm-welcome gesture, the department made the page announcing his course look just like a page from Henke’s own monolake.de website. ¶ That White House petition to make unlocking cellphones legal, mentioned here recently, has gained President Obama’s support. ¶ The 62nd Disquiet Junto project had 44 participants, each making music from three sine waves. ¶ Here’s a recording of Steve Reich’s “Radio Rewrite,” his new adaptation of Radiohead’s “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” and “Everything in Its Right Place”: youtube.com. (Note, it’s audio only. Found via the indispensable rgable.typepad.com.)

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Signal Tapper (MP3)

Lifelike emanations amid the very low frequencies, by Dan Tapper

20130313-dantapper

The latest from the excellent Chicago-based broadcast/podcast Radius may be its most quiet yet. “Recording the Spirit Level” is Dan Tapper’s excursion into “very low frequency”” (VLF) signals. As the site explains:

These signals are generated through electromagnetic fluctuations, or changes in magnetic signals produced naturally by the ionosphere, including lightning strikes and the Aurora Borealis. Collected using a homemade loop inductor, the raw magnetic sounds collide with interference produced by man-made technology to illustrate the relationship between humanity and the natural world.

The result is more akin to the soundscape of remote pond life than to an industrial grid, or perhaps more to the point a shallow pond near a single whirring electrical post. It’s all light glitching, amphibious burps, amid a low-level hum of nuanced communications effluvia.

The great things about listening to Radius, which is organized by Jeff Kolar, is the way each project provides a different aspect of the myriad ways that radio signals can provide the starting point, rather than merely a means to transmit, artistic practice.

Episode originally posted for free download at theradius.us/episode37. More from Dan Tapper at magneticsignals.tumblr.com.

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TheAtlantic.com: “Toward Silent Computing”

“Toward Silent Computing” is a piece I had published today at theatlantic.com, the website of the magazine The Atlantic. It’s a combination of news-you-can-use tips on quieting a laptop that’s running the OS X Lion operating system, and a reflection on the unintended consequences inherent in sound design: Remove one sound, and others appear. The background becomes the foreground. In the case of the laptop that is the subject of the piece, my month-old Macbook Air, the removed sound is that of the hard drive and, by extension, the computer fan that is often called into service when the drive or CPU go into overdrive.

Here is the first paragraph:

I changed laptops about a month ago. I had a Windows netbook, and I opted up, as it were, to a Macbook Air. Part of the attraction of the Macbook Air was its solid-state drive. Unlike a traditional hard drive, which is in effect a high-tech LP player with read-write capability, the SSD has no moving parts — well, except at the level of the electrical charge that allows data to be stored. (If you can hear that, please get in touch while the next X-Men movie is still in pre-production.) The lack of a physical interface means the SSD is silent, and also less likely to trigger the computer’s fan, which in most cases is the primary producer of computer noise on a laptop or desktop. (Note: You can, indeed, upgrade netbooks to SSD drives, but the one I had, a slim Acer, had its drive buried so deep in the device that it was beyond my abilities and my time.)

I then cover three particularly annoying sounds: the trackpad click, the boot-up sound, and the plink that accompanies the raising or lowering of the machine’s volume.

Here’s a fourth tip that didn’t really fit in the article:

Once upon a time, in Apple’s OS you could hold Shift+Option while raising and lowering the volume of the computer (speaker or headphone jack), and you’d quadruple the scale at which it shifted up or down. This didn’t make it louder, or quieter for that matter — it just provided a more gradated range between silent and whatever the machine’s loudest level was. That may sound unnecessary, but the fact is that at midnight, if all is quiet, the difference between silent and just a notch above silent can be significant. Unfortunately, Shift+Option doesn’t work in OS X Lion. I tweeted something to this regard (“OS X Lion could use 1/16th the number of keyboard-lighting settings and 16x the number of volume-level settings”), and got a prompt reply from Lin Mu (aka @linmu), directing me to an anonymous post at hints.macworld.com from this past August that provides a hack to regain the finer-grain volume shifting. (For the record, I haven’t actually tried this approach yet.)

Amid all this detailed trivia about the sound design of Apple’s operating system, it’s worth noting that Apple’s OS outdoes Spinal Tap. Its volume control goes to 16:

For a long time, DownBeat (founded: 1934) was the oldest magazine I’d ever written for. Then it was Nature (founded: 1869). But The Atlantic was founded in 1857, so it’s now the oldest I’ve been published in (again, technically, I wrote for its website).

You can read “Tower Silent Computing” at theatlantic.com.

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Tangents: Lunch Sounds, Shuffler.fm, Polluting Noise, …

Audio Flaneur: The excellent soundscrapers.blogspot.com by Nick Sowers is three deep in a new series of “Lunchwalks.” What’s a lunchwalk? Explains Sowers, “Got an hour? Take a walk. Inside of a thirty-minute radius, an infinitely detailed (though finitely bound) landscape is within reach.” On each walk, he records the sounds he encounters. He maps the walks, and takes photos, which tend to feature his microphone, which in turn takes on the appearance of Sowers’ fuzzy walking buddy (see above). His descriptions are splendid (“The gear boxes and cable junctures add a constant hum to the background static of the city”), and he also posts samples of the audio, such as this from his third walk:

Read them, as his walking progresses, at soundscrapers.blogspot.com.

Banner Music: I don’t look too deeply into the statistics for this site. When you write about free music and about galleries that require no entry fee, as well as commercial music that often sells in the under-500-unit zone, the whole notion of pageviews can be an exercise in misdirection, if not futility. I do take note, because the dashboard in WordPress (the publishing tool that is this site’s backend) puts the information front and center, that this site seems to get a lot more visitors via Facebook than Twitter, even though I dedicate more time to Twitter than to Facebook. (Perhaps the automated posting of Disquiet’s RSS feed to Facebook that currently occurs is something I should do more of on Twitter? Somehow that doesn’t seem right. My approach to Twitter is conversational.) Anyhow, in the mix of sites sending somewhat significant traffic to this one is a service that was previously unfamiliar: shuffler.fm. The site is an aggregator of blog-filtered music (it bills itself as an “audio magazine made by music blogs”). You can search and sort by artist, genre, blog, and so forth. And, niftily enough, you can end up navigating this very site with a top bar that lets you listen to the music on a given page and navigate the site that way. The following link, unlike the previous one in this entry, will take you to an example: shuffler.fm. For the time being, the shuffler.fm service doesn’t seem to be infringing on this site’s non-commercial Creative Commons license, though there is a page on the site that talks about advertising.

Outside Man: Perhaps the craziest thing about the movie Bunraku isn’t its surreal set (part Kill Bill, part Sin City), its peculiar cast (Demi Moore and Ron Perlman and Woody Harrelson and Josh Hartnett), or the voice of its narrator (Mike Patton, of Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, etc.), but that the score is by trumpeter Terence Blanchard, best known for his numerous Spike Lee films. (The New York Times called the movie “a potpourri of genres that ends up a morass of clichés”) Back in reality, Blanchard is also tied to Red Tails, about the African American Tuskegee Airmen.

Dark Portal: The second and third freely downloadable volumes of the score to the excellent video game Portal 2 are available at thinkwithportals.com. The first volume was covered here in late June, in the Downstream department. (Via joystiq.com and nobuooo.com.)

Polluting Noise: Noise pollution is a subject that gives noise a bad name. A story in a local news site in my area, the San Francisco baycitizen.org, touched on how emotions color perception of noise: “On Sept. 12, 2001, no flights took off at San Francisco International, but complaints were lodged nevertheless.” The science-and-scifi site i09.com has been noting how birds and dolphins have shown adverse effects of human-made sound.

The Listener: Author Warren Ellis has launched a new podcast. Second episode came out the 5th of this month, at warrenellis.com, featuring such Disquiet.com favorites as Daphne Oram and Scott Tuma. Episode one had Moondog and Tangerine Dream.

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Blurry Images from the Right Coast

As we know from William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, sometimes fuzzy images that you come upon courtesy of the Internet carry the greatest meaning, if only in terms of mystery.

The following two arrived in quick succession from my mother this evening, straight from her BlackBerry, with no additional information:

She and my father live on Long Island, and I knew they were headed to a concert that evening, so I guessed that the blurry shots of junkyard metal were from the performance of Magnus Lindberg‘s Kraft, which has three performances this week in Manhattan by the New York Philharmonic. (More on the dates at nyphil.org.) Though the work’s composition was completed a quarter century ago, this is its New York premiere. There’s a great video on youtube.com of Lindberg in which he talks about, among other things, the influence of Einstürzende Neubauten on Kraft:

 

In a PDF of program notes provided by the Philharmonic, some text from that video is transcribed:

I was living in Berlin in those days, and that was the time when the alternative music scene in Berlin was very strong,with a kind of post-punk music and groups like Einstürzende Neubauten. They had drills on stage, and they made an amazing noise with a kind of non-tonal pop music, and this aspect of it I found very fascinating. In a way, it was a shock for me to see that this kind of music was going on, and I was jealous about the sound — the impact of the sound and the huge forces they managed to put together. And I thought, “Why couldn’t we do this with the forces of the symphony orchestra, which has so much potential in different types of sound?”

After the concert, I received an email confirming my guess. Wish I could have been there.

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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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    • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the 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.
    • A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the 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.)

  • 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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