My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

tag: recommended stream

Drum Machine Ruler

20 centimeters of rhythmic wonder from ::vtol::

If you’ve ever plucked a metal ruler or banged it on the edge of a table, you know the vibrant, heady pulse of its taut rebound. The talented Moscow-based engineer Dmitry Morozov, who goes by ::vtol::, recognized the promise in that boinngggg and automated it. The result, a combination of processing power, two servo motors, and other items, is a programmable drum machine that makes all its sounds with a 20-centimeter metal ruler. This demo video shares some of its sonic and rhythmic potential.

Writes Morozov:

The device is based on the school experience of imitating bass lines at the desk and a fun way to disturb teachers. The instrument can be classified as an automated plucked contrabass monochord. Changing the pitch is done by quickly changing how far the ruler is extended relative to the nut. Movements, plucks and presses of the ruler along the nut are driven by powerful and fast motors, which allows playing pretty fast lines. 2 pressing motors can work simultaneously or selectively, which allows you to choose the register: the range and amplitude of oscillations depends on the place in which the ruler is clamped before the pluck. The sound is picked up by a small piezo element, which is getting hits by a ruler directly (the instrument has no resonator). The instrument is equipped with 12 touch keys, each of which can be reassigned to a specific length of the ruler. A small OLED display is used to select modes, tune notes, and indicate processes and states.

The device is called the RBS-20(cm), which stands for “Ruler bass synth, 20 centimeters.” Video originally posted at More details at

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At a Planetary Scale

Music from Nathan McLaughlin

The acoustic guitar is so prominent, so closely mic’d, so emotionally present, that the sounds circumnavigating Nathan McLaughlin’s playing may only become fully apparent to the listener when the guitar pulls back. They’ve been there all along, small atmospheric bits, like echoes, like shadows, like lens flares. But perhaps they’re something more, like glitches in the fabric of reality, because when the guitar does go away, the backdrop becomes the foreground, and the sheer beauty of what’s been running below the radar becomes fully evident, a rich, subtle, plaintive airing of tonal spaciousness. It’s a revelation.

Such is the first track on Saturn, McLaughlin’s remarkable new two-part EP of music played based on “planetary scales” (he cites Joscelyn Godwin’s Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: Mysticism in Music from Antiquity to the Avant-Garde in the liner note; the planetary scales are from work by Rudolf Steiner). Like the live performance of his I mentioned at the start of the U.S. response to the pandemic (“Minimalism and Its Echoes”), the music here sounds improvisatory, largely due to how it drifts from song form into something rangier and more free-flowing. But there’s no doubt, upon repeat listens, that this is deeply considered work, music in which the arrangement (notably the muted appearance, on the EP’s second track, of violin performed by Oliver McLaughlin) is paramount. Everything is in a keen balance with everything else. To listen to Saturn is to witness balance in action.

Album posted at More from McLaughlin at

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Current Listens: Ugandan Synths, Eno/Anderson Chat

Heavy rotation, lightly annotated

This is my weekly(ish) answer to the question “What have you been listening to lately?” It’s lightly annotated because I don’t like re-posting material without providing some context. In the interest of conversation, let me know what you’re listening to in the comments below. Just please don’t promote your own work (or that of your label/client). This isn’t the right venue. (Just use email.)

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NEW: Recent(ish) arrivals and pre-releases

A standout track on Nika Son’s new album, To Eeyore, is “Fake News,” built from slowly diverging and coalescing wave forms, to which she then adds disturbingly emotionless vocals, processed to create a sonic uncanny valley. In an interview at, Son, also known as Nika Breithaupt, explained a bit about the piece: “I don’t normally work much with my own voice, but for this piece I used it deliberately. As with the computer voices I am interested in experimenting with real languages, with words that by manipulation become a fantasy language, an uncontrolled instrument.” There’s also a video for the track, directed by Helena Wittmann. The album is on one of my favorite labels, Entr’acte.

Afrorack, aka Brian Bamanya, is a Uganda-based electronic musician who works primarily with DIY instruments. This live, 20-minute set ably traverses the common ground between noise and techno. It’s of a concert from the tail end of January 2020. (Peter Kirn re-upped this recently at

This is a Zoom call we all wish we’d been on. In an online conversation, Simon McBurney hosts Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno, and Nitin Sawhney on the broad topic of “ways of listening,” talking about sound and art during the pandemic. Anderson describes bird-watching as a social distancing sport, and Brian Eno extols a favorite smartphone app (Radio Garden, to which Sawhney immediately agrees with a big thumbs up). There’s even screen sharing, when Sawhney (experiencing some now universally familiar complications, including the stream eventually freezing) displays a work in progress. McBurney describes, following his experience staging The Magic Flute, his belief that Mozart felt that music can change people’s state of consciousness. And those are just a few of the subjects. It’s a wide-ranging and highly enjoyable conversation. (Hat tip to

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The Music Beneath Music for Airports

The hidden sonic curriculum of a modern classic

Be prepared to turn the volume up loud, very loud, because the sound is quiet, very quiet. The sound is surface noise from a vinyl record, and nothing else beyond that. Specifically, it is the surface noise — in the recording artist’s words, the “isolated crackle and surface noise” — of one of the classics in ambient music: the first track, “1/1,” off Brian Eno’s 1978 album Ambient 1: Music for Airports (“the original vinyl release,” we’re told).

What this is is the ambient beneath the ambient, the hidden sonic curriculum of a modern classic, all almost 17 minutes of it. It’s a piece titled “Vestigial Ambient 1” by the musician Ben Ponton. Listening to the sounds of the album provides not even a just-hovering-above-subaural hint of the source. There are simply clicks, tiny little pops, bits of aural dust, the sonic signature of vinyl, as the needle makes its circular course.

Filling the near void are thoughts about ambient music, its origins in the mid-1970s, and what “silence” meant then, both literally and metaphorically, versus what it does now, more than four full decades hence. I’ve long been of the mind that the arrival of the CD contributed greatly to the rise of ambient music, because the technology provided ready access to a silence that other formats, such as tape and vinyl, couldn’t dependably provide. Eno noted this himself, from a different angle, opting to put Thursday Afternoon out only on CD, so as not to interrupt its 61-minute runtime.

There is ambient music today that is sonically of a piece with the detritus that Ponton has unearthed. Music by Steve Roden and Alva Noto, among others, has aspired to this atmospsheric, pointillist mix of rhythmic precision and ambiguity, generally under the label of “microsound” or “lowercase” music. It’s helpful to remember, however, that when ambient was young, these sounds Ponton has shared were the backdrop. Ambient music eventually brought these sounds to the foreground, as subsequent generations of music explored the artistic potential, but first these sounds had to be relegated to the background.

Track originally posted at Track found via a repost by Jimmy Kpple.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0448: Seamless Bridge

The Assignment: Create a 20-second piece of music to connect two preexisting 20-second pieces of music.

Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group, 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. (A SoundCloud account is helpful but not required.) There’s no pressure to do every project. It’s weekly so that you know it’s there, every Thursday through Monday, when you have the time.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is Monday, August 3, 2020, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, July 30, 2020.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at

Disquiet Junto Project 0448: Seamless Bridge
The Assignment: Create a 20-second piece of music to connect two preexisting 20-second pieces of music.

Major thanks to 20×20’s Neil Stringfellow for proposing this project.

Since January 20, 2020, the 20×20 project has released an album every 20 days. They have just released the 10th album, and so are thus halfway through the series, which will run until February 2021. Each album released contains 20 tracks, and each track is 20 seconds long. To celebrate the halfway point, we’ll be producing the musical equivalent of halfway points: tracks that connect two pre-existing tracks.

Step 1: Select any two tracks from the 20×20 Bandcamp page, either by ear or at random. Each track should be by a different artist in the 20×20 series. One track selected will open the piece and one will close the piece. This is where to find the tracks. They’re downloadable for free.

Step 2: Consider which of the two tracks you’ve selected in Step 1 should be used at the start (the opening 20 seconds) and which at the end (the final 20 seconds).

Step 3: Create a piece of music that is 60 seconds long. It should have one track at the start (the first 20 seconds) and one at the end (the last 20 seconds).
Create a third original piece of music for the middle section of 20 seconds that acts as a seamless bridge between the two pieces.

Note: The bridge you create between the two pieces you’re using will need to cover at least the middle 20 seconds. However, you can introduce the sounds and elements from your middle piece before the first 20 seconds ends and continue these a bit into the last 20 seconds of the track.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0448” (no spaces or quotation marks) in the name of your tracks.

Step 2: If your audio-hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to also include the project tag “disquiet0448” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation of a project playlist.

Step 3: Upload your tracks. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your tracks.

Step 4: Post your tracks in the following discussion thread at

Step 5: Annotate your tracks with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 6: If posting on social media, please consider using the hashtag #disquietjunto so fellow participants are more likely to locate your communication.

Step 7: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Additional Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is Monday, August 3, 2020, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, July 30, 2020.

Length: The finished piece should be 60 seconds long.

Title/Tag: When posting your tracks, please include “disquiet0448” in the title of the tracks, and where applicable (on SoundCloud, for example) as a tag.

Upload: When participating in this project, be sure to 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. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Download: It is always best to set your track as downloadable and allowing for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution, allowing for derivatives).

For context, when posting the track online, please be sure to include this following information:

More on this 448th weekly Disquiet Junto project, Seamless Bridge (The Assignment: Create a 20-second piece of music to connect two preexisting 20-second pieces of music), at:

Major thanks to 20×20’s Neil Stringfellow for proposing this project. More on 20×20 at:

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

Subscribe to project announcements here:

Project discussion takes place on

There’s also a Disquiet Junto Slack. Send your email address to for Slack inclusion.

The image background for this project is the logo design for the 20×20 series. The logo is by David Barrington.

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