Each year, my listening seems to get a little closer to the source. This habit, this tendency, goes back to my earliest music explorations. Enamored of a given album in my teens and early 20s, I’d track down music by the individual players on it. In part this pursuit was to expand my horizons, but in part, especially I recognize in retrospect, this was to narrow them; I had the sense that if I gained a comprehension of the individual player’s sound, I’d better understand their contribution to the initial album that seeded my interest.
Fast forward to 2020, and much of my listening is to sketches, to rough drafts, to works-in-progress that people post to SoundCloud and, increasingly, to YouTube of the most inchoate of musical inventions. In the case of this video, it is Nathan Wheeler documenting his participation in a coding circle. (That’s a social, mutual-improvement scenario adopted online from the classic sewing circle, in which people gather to do solitary creative work in a communal situation. The sewing circle was an influence on the Disquiet Junto, as well.) The circle in which Wheeler is participating originated on the excellent llllllll.co music community. Members were given about a month and a half to write a script for a shared hardware device — the details don’t matter, but if it’s of interest, click through above to llllllll.co and learn more — based on a few guidelines. These amount to a provided set of audio samples, and some broadly defined parameters: volume, brightness, density, “evolve,” and a switching between “worlds” (switching that the accompanying visuals are then intended to represent distinctly). The project is titled “drone in three worlds.”
Understanding those briefest of guidelines is more that sufficient to interpret the video, in which the worlds are depicted as eclipse-like, a receding perspective, and a rapid starfield. If you have more interest, you can read the llllllll.co discussion, and click through to the the GitHub repositories where the source code of the various project responses will be stored. GitHub being where, according to my lifelong trajectory as described above, much of my listening will likely being taking place within a few more years.
I mentioned yesterday the 2019 conference I spoke at, Algorithmic Art Assembly, on the topic “The Woodshed Is a Black Box,” about music communities as algorithms. The lineup of the second AAAssembly conference, to be held in San Francisco on March 27 and 28, has just been announced. I’m almost certain to attend both days. Here’s the flyer:
I’m particularly looking forward to Curtis Roads (author of Microsound, among other valuable contributions to computer music), Chris Carlson (creator of the Borderlands Granular iOS app), Cassie Tarakajian (running a Max/MSP workshop), Hannah Davis (generative musician), Amy Alexander (longtime computer-based artist), and Ruardih Law (of the Broken20 record label). Details will surface at aaassembly.org and grayarea.org.
And while I’m at it, I should mention for San Francisco Bay Area people that my friend Thorsten Sideb0ard, who puts together AAAssembly, is hosting an event with RM Francis and Shatter Pattern on February 9, 2020, at 180 Capp Street. Details at the event’s Facebook page.
The layering comes quickly in this video from Ryan Kunkleman. A button is pushed and the harmonica disappears off-screen. We hear a few notes, and we expect the playing to complete a phrase, for the player to pause for a breath. This doesn’t occur. Instead, before the original phrase ever ends another one is layered atop it. Looping has been enacted. There will be no pause for breath for the nearly 13 minutes of this piece. What there will be is a steady accumulation and movement between the held tones of the harmonica, chords giving way to phrases giving way to chords, little moments occasionally peeking (and peaking) through the sonorous clouds.
The tools, in addition to the harmonica and microphone, are a recent piece of software called Cheat Codes (github.com/dndrks), running on a Norns, an open-source sound computer from Monome (monome.org).
This is an alert from iOS informing me about the updates to the latest version of this white-noise app, which has reached version 7.6.2. Now I’m wondering how dark-theme white noise differs from regular white noise, and if we’ll get to a point where we start employing the retronym “light-theme white noise” for regular old white noise, and yes I’m joking.
I was interviewed yesterday morning for something related to the Disquiet Junto, and the interviewer began, appropriately, by doing that standard interview thing where they ask if it’s OK that they record your voice. I’ve done this countless times myself, and I’m still getting used to it, to being on the other side of the proverbial and literal microphone. It turns out (and this was news to me, hence my making note of it) Skype now has a recording feature built in, so there’s no need for a handheld recorder, or for using a second app (though I would still recommend a backup). For privacy’s sake, when your Skype interlocutor elects to employ this in-app recorder, a little alert pops up in your window. The image shown here is from the upper left corner of my screen (in this case an iPad) as it appeared when the interviewer hit the record button. (I had, in turn, asked my interviewer if I could take this screenshot.) The message is a little reminder. The color red here is a standard “currently recording” tell, but in our global moment of heightened surveillance awareness it feels, as well, like a warning. Which is to say, there might be a nicer way for Skype to frame such an interaction.
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
• February 5, 2020: The first session of the 15-week course I teach at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape.
• April 15, 2020: A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming 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.)
• December 13, 2020: This day marks the 24th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2021: This day marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming 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.
• At least two live group concerts by Disquiet Junto members in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the works for 2020.
• I have liner notes for a musician's solo album and an essay in a book about an art event due out. I'll announce as the release dates come into focus.
• The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.