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.

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The Walls of Solomon’s Delicatessen

Memories of Tower Records

There’s now a Solomon’s Delicatessen in Davis, California, named in honor of Russ Solomon, the legendary founder of Tower Records. I was an editor on Tower’s magazines — Pulse!; Classical Pulse!, which I co-founded with the opera critic Robert Levine; and epulse, the email newsletter that I founded in the paleolithic days of 1994 and that ran for a decade — from 1989 to 1996, and then continued in a freelance capacity until 2004, when it all came to an end in the company’s bankruptcy. A friend texted me this afternoon from the deli with this photo (also on his Instagram account) of the wall, which is plastered with old Pulse! covers, many of which stories I wrote (White Zombie, among them), and many more of which I edited (that Ministry one, for example, written by the great science fiction novelist Richard Kadrey). I’m pretty sure the Aphex Twin story listed on the Pavement cover is the one I did that decades later led to my 33 1/3 book on Selected Ambient Works Volume 2, but I’ll have to look back, as I don’t recall which issue it was.

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Aphex Twin (in Japan)

What appears to be my book's Japanese translation

I do believe this may be the cover of the upcoming Japanese translation of my 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin’s landmark album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Having spent much of the early 2000s working in manga, which is to say helping shepherd the translation into English of Japanese books, I’d say it’s nice to finally be sending a book back in the opposite direction.

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Stasis Report: Hecker ✚ Sprague ✚ Classic AFX

Four new tracks and one Aphex Twin favorite newly added to the ambient playlist on Spotify and Google Play Music as of September 30, 2018

The latest update to my Stasis Report ambient-music playlist, on Spotify and Google Play Music. The following five tracks were added on Sunday, September 30. Four of the tracks are new, and one is a classic from almost a quarter century ago:

✚ “Synth Two” off the new Emily A. Sprague album, Mount Vision: I wrote a bit about its title track during its prerelease. (This track wasn’t initially on the Google Play Music version of Stasis Report because the album wasn’t, but eventually it popped up.)

✚ “Mend,” the closing track from Care, the new album from Klara Lewis and Simon Fisher Turner on Editions Mego:,

✚ “Through the City,” the track by Marcus Fischer on the new Field Works collaborative album, Pogue’s Run:

✚ “Is a Rose Petal of the Dying Crimson Light” off the new Tim Hecker album, Konoyo, on the Kranky label:

✚ As of this installment of the Stasis Report, I’m going to start introducing one archival track most weeks, starting with “Tree,” the 10th track on Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 from Aphex Twin. The album was originally released in 1994, and is the subject of my 2014 book in the 33 1/3 series:

Some previous Stasis Report tracks were removed to make room for these, keeping the playlist length to roughly two hours. Those retired tracks (by Anna Meredith, Robert Rich, Olafur Arnalds, Simon Stalenhag, Mary Lattimore, Ellen Arkbro, Mark Van Hoen) are now in the Stasis Archives playlist (currently only on Spotify).

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Disquiet Junto Project 0350: Selected Insomniac Works

The Assignment: Make very quiet music for very late at night for very fragile psyches.

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, September 17, 2018, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on. It was posted just before noon, California time, on Thursday, September 13, 2018.

Tracks will be added to the playlist for the duration of the project.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0350: Selected Insomniac Works
The Assignment: Make very quiet music for very late at night for very fragile psyches.

Step 1: It’s the middle of the night, long past dusk and long before dawn. You can’t sleep.

Step 2: Think about what kind of music you’d want to hear right now — super quiet, super subtle, unlikely to wake you, potentially to ease you back to the comfort of your pillow, or at least to calm your mind.

Step 3: Record the sort of music that Step 2 made you imagine.

Six More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0350” (no spaces or quotation marks) in the name of your track.

Step 2: If your audio-hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to also include the project tag “disquiet0350” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation a project playlist.

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

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

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

Step 6: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Other Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is Monday, September 17, 2018, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on. It was posted just before noon, California time, on Thursday, September 13, 2018.

Length: The length of your track is up to you.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0350” in the title of the track, and where applicable (on SoundCloud, for example) as a tag.

Upload: When participating in this project, post one finished track with the project tag, and 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: Please consider setting your track as downloadable and allowing for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution, allowing for derivatives).

Linking: When posting the track online, please be sure to include this following information:

More on this 350th weekly Disquiet Junto project (Selected Insomniac Works / The Assignment: Make very quiet music for very late at night for very fragile psyches) at:

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

Subscribe to project announcements here:

Project discussion takes place on

There’s also a Junto Slack. Send your email address to to join in.

Image associated with this project is by Helen Cassidy, used thanks to Flickr and a Creative Commons license:

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Highlighting Selected Ambient Works Volume 2

The Aphex Twin book, that is — my book

My book on Aphex Twin’s landmark album Selected Ambient Works Volume II came out four years ago this month as part of the 33 1/3 series from the publisher Bloomsbury. Some friends and colleagues who’ve published more books than I have suggested that it can be informative to look at the “popular highlights” made possible in the Amazon Kindle app, and so I did just that. These are the passages my Kindle app is telling me have been highlighted most frequently, and some consideration of them as items on which people have focused their thoughts:


The wind chime is, by most accounts, the original “generative” instrument: it is the original device that serves dual essential purposes, as composition and as tool.

That’s particularly satisfying, as the wind chime is to me, in terms of both the SAW2 track on which it manifests and the instrument itself, a deep well: as a music-making device; as a proto-ambient, pre-electric technology; as a cultural touchstone; as a unique sound unto itself; and as a metaphor and enactment of generative art, among many other things.


The majority of the record is of a piece with Evening Star, the collaboration between Brian Eno and Robert Fripp that dates from 1975, Eno’s great year — the same year he released Another Green World and Discreet Music.

Thomas Tallis’ Spem in Alium, which he explained he first heard in the sound art project by Janet Cardiff, who set up 40 speakers to invoke an immersive environment, allowing the listener to navigate the choir as a ghost or a character in The Matrix might. And he recommended Richie Hawtin’s prolific Plastikman moniker.

The intervals between notes bring to mind “Silent Night,” which puts this solidly in the realm of Unsilent Night, composer Phil Kline’s secular year-end music, which manages to be reflective and seasonal without having a sectarian, devout, or otherwise irreconcilably spiritual affect.

A good number of the highlighted entries seem to focus on subsequent listening.


Hassell introduced the term “Fourth World music” to this sort of endeavor. It is future music, music from a time and place where rituals are brought to bear through unintended uses of new technologies, especially of castaway materials.

Jon Hassell’s music was on a list of potential subjects when I was pondering what album to pitch to 33 1/3. Having failed in a previous round, when I proposed to write about the debut album from the Latin Playboys, I had aimed this time around to push for a more commercially successful and more broadly culturally active subject. Had I not, something by Hassell may very well have made the final cut, and it’s nice to know that he surfaced as a point of interest for readers.


Raves were less concerts than what has become fashionable to term temporary autonomous zones, and this was especially true in the era before the predominance of the cellphone, when the autonomous aspect had as much to do with being cut off from the world as it did with being part of a self-organizing civic space built with its own internal rules.

Raves were dark, murkily architected, often expansive spaces in which sensory overload and disorientation was a common goal. One could as easily lose touch with one’s friends as with oneself.

Ambient music defines the space in which it is heard, in part simply by making demands on that space, that it be conducive to quietness. Raves are often quite a contrast to ambient, but as sonic environments they have much in common with it.


[I]t has been proposed that Selected Ambient Works Volume II on CD is intended for both sides to be played at the same time, that the track breaks align, and that parallels are self-evident, each side enhancing the other, a jigsaw puzzle with just two very long complementarily individuated pieces.

It’s good to know the old myths still have life in them.


The music of Aphex Twin works effectively in the film precisely because it need not come across like music. It sounds like neighboring power stations and internal anxiety.

The film in question is Devil’s Playground, the 2002 documentary by Lucy Walker about Amish rumspringa, a teenage rite of passage. Aphex Twin is frequently quoted as having likened the album to “standing in a power station on acid.” In the able hands of Walker, herself an illbient musician before becoming a filmmaker, that acid experience is slowed down to the emotional turmoil of rumspringa’s most fragile participants.


And that covers it. Perhaps there will be other frequently highlighted passages as the years pass. The overarching theme of my book is what came of the album after it was released, what listeners, and technology, and other artists did with it, changed how we heard it, even those of us — like me — who heard it when it was first released, before all the anecdotes and myths and knowledge had accumulated around it. It’s nice as my little book now itself gets older to see what bits have stuck.

And if you’re interested in reading more about the book before picking it up, I recommend the interview that Mark Richardson did with me at Pitchfork shortly after the book was released.

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