Bill Fontana on Industrial Beauty (MP3)

Balancing Act: Depiction of artist Bill Fontana’s Sonic Shadows installation in the bridge at the SFMOMA

In a recent one of its Artcasts, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art interviewed sound installation artist Bill Fontana about the alchemy inherent in his work, and in particular the beauty of mechanical sound (MP3).

[audio:|titles=”SFMOMA Artcast”|artists=Bill Fontana]

He discusses his use of the accelerometer in his piece “Sonic Shadows,” which he describes as a “kinetic acoustic wall drawing.” (There’s also an M4A version of the podcast, which includes embedded images.) The above photo is a still from a massive (114 MB) video document of the installation, available for download (MOV), and showing the set-up from a variety of angles. It opens with the question “What ambient sound does the museum generate?”

“Sonic Shadows” was commissioned by SFMOMA as part of its 75th anniversary. As the museum describes the piece: “This sound sculpture uses moving ultrasonic speakers and vibration sensors to transform the space below the dramatic circular skylight, surrounding the fifth-floor pedestrian bridge, into an acoustic drawing in real time. As visitors cross over the bridge, their footfalls contribute to real-time recordings of ambient sounds.”

Work such as Fontana’s seems especially appopriate for an anniversary of an institution, as it will be impressive to individuals who have spent significant periods of time in the building previously yet not been aware of this sonic aspect of the place.

A press release attributed to curator Rudolf Frieling goes into more detail:

Speakers installed in the ventilation holes above the bridge are paired with moving ultrasonic speakers below whose narrowly focused audio beams reflect off of the surrounding surfaces, creating what the artist describes as a transparent, acoustic wall drawing in which “the shapes of the architecture become sound.”As visitors cross the bridge their footsteps contribute to the live composition. Exploring the internal resonance of structural elements, the piece mixes real-time recordings of sounds produced by the bridge, the walls, and the pipes in the boiler room hidden behind the opposite wall. Whereas some of the artist’s past sound sculptures integrated recognizable sounds from nature or urban locations, this site-specific piece transforms more abstract, mechanical noises into an ever-changing dreamscape complemented by shifting patterns of sunlight and shadows. Fontana activates this transitional, non-gallery space, producing an immersive sensory experience of the museum itself.

There’s also video of Fontana working in the bowels of the museum at, in which he discusses the influence on his work by Italian Futurists and their symphonies of industrial noise.

Future Present: An image of artist Bill Fontana in the boiler room of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The piece opened on November 20, 2010, and will run through October 16, 2011. More at

More on Fontana at his website,

The Best RjDj (& Inception) App Scenes (& Dreams) — According to the Developers at RjDj

RjDj is an iOS app that takes the sounds around you, transforms them, and then plays them back to you. The process is referred to as “reactive,” because the transformations occur in real time — i.e., they react to your (sonic) environment, as well as, in some cases, to more common iPod/iPhone/iPad techniques like touching the screen and moving the device.

RjDj is an app, but to borrow a phrase, or two, from Walt Whitman — who taught us to sing the body electric — it contains multitudes, because RjDj contains within it a growing library of “scenes,” each of which reacts to the world in a different way. When you install RjDj on your iPhone, it comes with a few scenes. Then you explore the RjDj library and select new ones. And, if you get adventurous, you can design your own scenes.

The incredibly popular Inception app, released last week, is a descendant of RjDj — it’s essentially a bespoke edition of RjDj, tailored to the sounds and aesthetic of the brain-twisting summer flick; each “dream” in Inception is, essentially, what would be a “scene” in RjDj.

Given how many RjDj scenes there are out there, with more every day, I asked the crew that develops software — at the company Reality Jockey, based in London — to recommend their favorite RjDj scenes and Inception dreams:

Michael Breidenbrücker, CEO (

Favourite RjDj Scene: Dimensions (by Kids on DSP). Why?: There is a part in it where the microphone input drives the synth — I like that. More Info: Favorite Inception Dream: Travelling Dream. Why?: Whatever you are traveling with becomes an instrument. The music is composed and designed for exactly that situation: travelling. There is so much to say about this piece of music you could write a book about it, but it just sounds simple and super, too, which is the reason why I won’t write a book about it. :-)

Robert Thomas, CCO, Reactive Music Producer (,

Favourite RjDj Scene: Eargasm (by Damian Stewart) Why?: Eargasm was the first RjDj scene I heard while beta-testing it as a user in 2008. It completely blew me away. I used to listen to it for hours at a time. The sensation Damian Stewart created, of reality musically glowing — almost revealing a secret inner beauty in everything — is really special and has certainly touched a lot of people. More Info: Favorite Inception Dream: Sleep Dream Why?: I like a lot of the dreams we worked on for Inception for different reasons, but the Sleep Dream is especially fascinating because of the pervasive ways people are using it. Many people are actually going to sleep with this dream on and using it as a way to induce dreams. It’s very abstract sonically — reality is twisted into a vast intricate texture where time is reversed. It’s extremely surreal. Its also incorporates music from the movie in a very interesting way, stretching it out into huge granular soundscapes.

Martin Roth, CTO:

Favourite RjDj Scene: Echolon (by Günter Geiger) Why?: This is one of my favourite RjDj scenes, not because it is some technical tour-de-force or an artistic masterpiece, but because it is so simple and yet so addicting. Echolon is a bundled scene in the RjDj player and has become the most popular scene of all time. The basic effect is one that echoes your surroundings around you, pitching everything up and down. You hear different versions of the echo in your left and right ears. Sounds in your environment are pitched, giving the impression of a musical world. Possibly the greatest reason for the success of Echolon is that it provides a very striking effect, but that it is also relatively easy to understand. Everyone knows what an echo is, but few people seem to have had the opportunity to hear themselves or their surroundings echoed on demand. So here’s to you Echolon, the little echobox that could! More Info:

Christian Haudum, Graphic Designer and Web Development (,

Favourite RjDj Scene: Aware (by Florian Waldner) Why?: It’s very relaxing listening to it in the office. You get a nice spherical soundscape and you are connected to the “outside” to a very high degree. More Info:

Dominik Hierner, iOS developer (

Favourite RjDj Scene: Replay Atlantis (by Kids on DSP ft Kirsty Hawkshaw) Why?: Atlantis throws you into the deep sea and you feel surrounded by a nice bass, relaxing melody and mermaids. This scene was like the first scene that really puts you into a complete new world. Replay Atlantis has kind of a story within it; it is an adventure, an experience rather than “just music.” And it also sounds great when the real world around you does not give the music something to react on. More Info:

Joe White, Reactive Music Producer:

Favourite RjDj Scene: Seduction Part III (by Shuga) Why?: I like the idea of actively performing with someone else’s music as you listen to it. Seduction Part III has this cool r&b groove where you can add cheeky drum fills, synth lines and whooshes. It’s great to learn the interaction of the synth; after a while, you can create own your expressive melodies. More Info:

Florian Stege, Intern:

Favourite RjDj Scene: Nothing on We (by Chiddy Bang) Why?: I like the groove of this hip-hop track and the way you can manipulate the beat and play with the instruments. I also like the variety of the different parts of the track. It gives you the opportunity to create a really nice, perfect individualized backing track for your vocals. More Info:

More on Reality Jockey at Get the RjDj app at, and the Inception app (

A Brief RjDj Overview (MP3)

Tomorrow, for RjDj app fans and for those new to reactive audio (likely thanks to the debut of the Inception app), there will be some special RjDj coverage. But in advance, what exactly is RjDj? Here’s a podcast overview from back in September of the reactive iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPhone) app that is the, well, inception point of the Inception app (MP3). RjDj is an app that serves as a software platform for various “scenes,” and the majority of those scenes use algorithms to transform the sound that exists around you, creating a new layer of sonic experience that enriches everyday reality. And as complicated as that may sound, it’s really quite simple: install the app, put on your headphones, and hit play. As the podcast host puts it, “for my money, the best experience of augmented reality is auditory.” Podcast originally posted at My story about Inception: “Music Apps Killed the MP3 Star.”

[audio:|titles=”September 24 2010″|artists=99% Invisible Podcast]

And a little background on the Boing Boing piece: “Liked the Movie, Loved the App.”

Liked the Movie, Loved the App: Inception

Have a piece up from this morning at taking a look at the brand new iOS app for the film Inception. The app is no mere highly branded phone fodder (you know, the ones packed with framed still images, weak interactive mini-games, and links to trailers for unrelated movies). It’s a lovingly realized rendition of the RjDj app, done in collaboration with the folks behind the film, including director Christopher Nolan and the film’s composer, Hans Zimmer, overseen by Michael Breidenbrüker of RjDj parent company Reality Jockey. Full piece: “Music Apps Killed the MP3 Star.”

Dream Machine: Four screen shots from the iOS app for the film Inception

A cursory search of this site finds almost two dozen mentions of RjDj since September 2009, most of them Twitter observations typed somewhere out in the world, where the software has taken a busker’s trumpet and turned it into a cellophane ribbon of ambient sound, or has echoed a pneumatic drill until it’s a dank minimal-techno beat. Often as not, these moments have felt filmic, bringing to mind sequences in Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46, when the light technological mediation of experience was enough to make one feel just ever so slightly in the future.

The adoption of RjDj as a part of the massively popular Inception franchise is a great opportunity for reactive sound to reach a broader audience.

It’s also a useful reminder of how context is essential in adapting to new ways of thinking about, and participating in, sound (and, yes, a marketing budget and Leonardo DiCaprio‘s blue eyes do help). As of this writing, the Inception app has a four-star average rating: 36 five-star, 11 one-star, 12 in between — and at least two of those negative reviews are purely technical (Bluetooth and iPhone functionality issues). The latest version of RjDj has, by coincidence, exactly the same number of five- and one-star reviews, but far more (38) in between — and out of the 8,631 reviews that RjDj has received thus far (Apple lets you see the ratings for the latest version of an app, and for the app over the history of its iterative upgrades), it has a three-star average rating, but there are more one-star reviews (2,187) than there are any of the other stars (five-star comes in a close second, at 2,160).

Sound, it’s worth noting, was an essential part of the structure of Inception. The film signaled a shift between dream levels by using an orchestration of a maudlin Édith Piaf pop song heard elsewhere in the film, slowed down almost beyond recognition (see: “On the Sudden Popularity of Glacial Sound”).

Anyhow, the full piece: “Music Apps Killed the MP3 Star.”

PS: I also realize that somehow I’ve managed to write two times in as many days about things that resolve back to the prog rock band Yes. In the Boing Boing piece on Inception, I reference Zimmer’s association with the band the Buggles, which was founded by two people who worked with Yes (Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes), and the day prior I interviewed the Bad Plus, who covered Yes’ “Long Distance Runaround” on its 2008 album, For All I Care.

Tangents: Gordon’s Psycho, Gordon’s Miami, Albers’s Covers

The winner of the Northern Arts Prize for 2010 is Pavel Büchler, whose recordings of applause were the subject of an entry here back in October 2008 ( Büchler’s works in various media, and his “You Don’t Love Me” is “an installation that uses a reel to reel tape deck, a bottle of whisky and a loop of found audio tape” (, via

Following up on the Chris (Cabaret Voltaire) Watson South Pole entry earlier this week (, here’s streaming audio from below the Antarctic ice: “Providing an acoustic live stream of the Antarctic underwater soundscape is a formidable challange. (sic) … Underwater sound is recorded by means of two hydrophones by PALAOA, an autonomous, wind and solar powered observatory located on the Ekström ice shelf”:

A visual interface collecting numerous radio stations from around the world that stream their signals, from ABC Classic FM 93.9 on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific to Africa No.1 106.7 in Yaounde, Cameroon: (via

Forget the “Funky Drummer” sample and the “Amen break.” Check out the folk music that Béla Bartók used as compositional launching points: “The composer’s vast archive of Hungarian folk music has been digitized,” writes The Rest Is Noise author Alex Ross, and a fair number of his phonographic recordings have been uploaded in MP3 format”: (via

Oddly old-fogyish comment from Geoff Dyer in his New York Times review ( of Don DeLillo‘s new novel, Point Omega: “This prologue and epilogue make up a phenomenological essay on one of the rare artworks of recent times to merit the prefix ‘conceptual.’”Which begs this question: “Rare”? The subject of his comment, and of DeLillo’s book, is “24 Hour Psycho” by Douglas Gordon, who has produced a vast body of work that employs similar approaches to retooling existing familiar film — an approach that is, while often humorous and sometimes revelatory in Gordon’s hands, a fairly common approach in video art, and needless to say an even more familiar approach in remix- and appropriation-friendly contemporary music (witness the 24-hour rendition by Leif Inge of Beethoven‘s 9th Symphony, aka “9 Beet Stretch”:

Cory Arcangel, Sam Durant, Christian Marclay, Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto), and Pipilotti Rist are among the artists participating in this project of using the Frank Lloyd Wright‘s interior design of the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan to their own ends. The show Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum will allow them, and many others, to “imagine their dream interventions in the space for the exhibition.” Also part of the show is Hypermusic: Ascension, a March 11 rotunda collaboration by Harvard physicist Lisa Randall, Spanish composer Hèctor Parra, and artist Matthew Ritchie (

Documentary coming this summer on industrial-rock band Ministry, titled Fix: (It doesn’t appear to be listed in the database yet.)

An album of music made on the Monome, created to raise funds for Haiti (

Review of Kenneth Kirschner‘s album Filaments & Voids, for which I wrote the liner notes, alongside Radu Malfatti‘s Wechseljahre einer Hyäne. The author suggests, quite rightly, that the “the importance of silence can easily be overstated here”:

New blog from the prolific creator of Palm Sounds: (via

A lot of coverage coming out of New York on the Unsound festival, including this review of the Moritz Von Oswald Trio: “Their shared improvisation only hinted at the dance floor. It was sci-fi ambient music, with a background wash of pink noise like interstellar dust and puffy tones, pitched and unpitched, arising out of the static”: (Previous Unsound overview: More recent coverage of Andy Warhol footage set to music:

Bang on a Can composer Michael Gordon reflects from a very personal perspective on his return to his native Miami for a concert of his work, as part of the New York Times’s blog ( … Another Bang on a Can associate, composer Peter Wise, has posted streaming audio for a project at MASS MoCA (, via

First podcast from the creators of RjDj: … A petition that Apple allow audio-file sharing for music apps. I strongly support this initiative:

Art critic Joseph Masheck on an exhibit at Minus Space in Brooklyn ( of Josef Albers‘s album covers for the old Command Records label. The exhibit ran through the end of January: “Albers was doing a job, and took it seriously.” (, via I’m not sure Masheck does justice to how well the geometry and implied motion of the Albers covers reflect the ecstatic stereoscopic experimentation (by lite-music star Enoch Light) contained on the records they adorn.

The website has been including background sounds as part of its ongoing attention to improving work productivity, including recent posts on whether its readers “use ambient sounds to concentrate” ( and a Mac-only piece of software titled Ommwriter that combines a blank writing space and ambient noise (

The netlabel has set a May 1, 2010, deadline for its open-source remix project.

I’ve finally got proper and channels going, with “favorited” recommendations popping up on a regular basis. Twitter, as always, is at More social-network coordinates at