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: science-fiction

Malka Older / Junto Team-Up

A gronkytonk sequel with the author of Infomocracy

I’m very excited to announce that the upcoming 400th consecutive weekly project in the Disquiet Junto music community will be a collaboration with Malka Older, author of the excellent science-fiction trilogy the Centenal Cycle, and who’s now working on Orphan Black: The Next Chapter at Serial Box, for whom she previously created Ninth Step Station. The Junto members will be doing something along the lines of what we did with another novelist, Richard Kadrey (Sandman Slim, The Grand Dark), for the 200th Junto project, back in October 2015. It’s going to be great.

The Junto community did a project based on Older’s novel Infomocracy, the first book in the Centenal Cycle, back in December 2017, for the 302nd consecutive Junto. In that project, Junto members tried to imagine what a genre of music might sound like. The genre, “gronkytonk,” was mentioned in passing in Infomocracy. The author graciously thanked the Junto in the third and final Centenal book, State Tectonics, which came out in 2018.

The Disquiet Junto is a group in which musicians respond to weekly, fast-turnaround assignments to compose, record, and share new music. The idea is to use constraints as a springboard for creativity. It has run weekly since January 2012. Project announcements are emailed each Thursday via tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto.

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Listening to and in the Mars Trilogy

How technology mediates discourse

I’ve begun re-reading the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. I’ve been listening rather than reading: revisiting by having a story I already know read to me. This following chunk of a paragraph stood out, and I hit pause on the audiobook so I could locate the exact words. It’s an insightful depiction of the interaction of two individuals in space-suits (Mars-suits?) as they travel across the planet’s surface:

Michel drove the jeep and listened to Maya talk. Did conversation change when voices were divorced from bodies, planted right in the ears of the listeners by helmet mikes? It was as if one were always on the phone, even when sitting next to the person you were talking to. Or — was this better or worse — as if you were engaged in telepathy.

In case you haven’t read the series, it might help to know that Michel is the lonely French psychologist assigned to the 100-person crew setting up camp on Mars at the start of the first book, and that Maya is a captivating and highly driven Russian member of the international assortment of captivating and highly driven characters who populate the novel and the planet.

A few paragraphs earlier, the narrator set the stage for this depiction — two people next to each other, and also quite isolated from each other — as follows:

Michel asked the questions that a shrink program would have asked, Maya answered in a way that a Maya program would have answered. Their voices right in each other’s ears, the intimacy of an intercom.

The way the technologically mediated conversation assists in dehumanizing the characters, turning each into a “program,” is further emphasized by that verb-less standalone clause that comes immediately after. The impact of the observation is further heightened because just two pages earlier still we were told:

intimacy consisted of talking for hours about what was most important in one’s life.

Robinson (or Stan, as he likes to be called, as I learned when I interviewed him over the course of several conversations a few years ago: “The Man Who Fell for Earth”) always gets deserved credit for the scientific knowledge and imagination he brings to his depiction of how Mars might be terraformed, how it might be made habitable by humans. What makes the novels really work, though, is his awareness of technology at not just an industrial or societal level, but at an interpersonal one as well: how technological change impacts the individuals as much as it does the planet. To remake Mars is to remake ourselves.

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Staring Down the Future

I’m committed to my sonic stare-downs with robocalls. These are the steps:

  1. Pick up the phone.
  2. Say nothing.
  3. Listen intently to the call’s background static for the ghost in the machine, for some sense, some signal, of the system on the other end as it cogitates its next move.
  4. Rejoice when it almost inevitably hangs up.
  5. Put another notch in belt.
  6. Sometimes ponder if this is a Roko’s basilisk scenario.
  7. Sometimes ponder if there is a correlation between which particular textures of background static trigger Roko-anxiety, and if that’s some sort of ESP equivalent of a Turing test.

We’re so conscious of self-learning algorithms and of nascent digital sentience these days, I do wonder if the phrase “ghost in the machine” has much traction any longer, or if the phrase is shifting to mean something slightly different from what it once did.

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Personal Soundtrack 3.0

More from Neal Stephenson's Fall: Or, Dodge in Hell

Raising the bar for adaptive video-game music: Your favorite composer is digitally resurrected near you in the Singularity, and proceeds to improvise a score to accompany your avatar’s actions. This passage connects with one much earlier in the book, when we first come across the music of a band called Pompitus Bombasticus, and the story digresses into various examples of how the music we listen to informs our perceptions at the time we are listening. This is the opposite of a spoiler. There was zero doubt at the moment Pompitus Bombasticus was introduced into what the book calls Meatspace that a parallel, or mirror, rendition wouldn’t surface later in the virtual/digital world. (From Neal Stephenson’s new novel, Fall: Or, Dodge in Hell, at roughly 55% of the way in. I’m occasionally collating observations about sound in the book as I make my way through its nearly 900 pages. See, previously: “The Hell of It.)

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The Analog Singularity

A phrase for our transitional time

The phrase “First Posthumous Track” feels uniquely 2019. It also feels like some analog process akin to the Singularity, witnessing celebrity as it beatifies into its purest form. I’m reminded of the extended period of time when I used to dutifully report to Twitter each morning every music/sound-related obituary I came across. I felt like once someone dies, their music becomes electronic music by definition.

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