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: software

RIYL Streaming

Introducing a new ambient music playlist on Spotify: Stasis Report

What would make a useful streaming ambient-music playlist format?

I’ve tried in the past on various services, including Spotify, Google Play Music, and Apple’s, and I’ve never felt like I got to something useful. So then I’d stop. By way of contrast, I have in mind the YouTube playlist I maintain of fine live ambient music performances in which the music technology employed is in plain view. That playlist came out of a need and served a purpose. The need was that most of the music technology videos I watched involved music I couldn’t stand, and the purpose was to explore the tension between the near stasis of ambient music and the activity employed to produce it.

With a Spotify/etc. playlist. the main need and purpose are less clear, in that they’re no doubt satisfactorily fulfilled already — by humans, and by algorithms, and by the hybrid thereof. The need and purpose are the same: a collection of regularly updated, recommended ambient music to listen to, presumably while doing something else. Between readily available full-length recordings and algorithmic dispensing of RIYL “discovery,” there’s plenty background music to listen to and to pay attention to if you want to. (I’ll continue to put quotes around music “discovery” until the quotes’ presence is widely presumed.) Which makes me wonder what would make an ambient playlist distinct — because, furthermore, the very nature of streaming services arguably turns all music into, if not ambient music, then certainly background music. Perhaps the answer of the purpose question is largely related to the selection, but it feels like the context of the selection is also part of the purpose, part of the process. It’s not just about a set of items; it’s about their context in the reader’s life, in the music’s life.

I posted a rough draft this thinking on Twitter today to get the thoughts out, to see if anyone had input (which they did). I figure there would be two playlists, not one. There would be a main playlist, defined perhaps by length: 90 minutes or so of peace, for lack of a better word. The main ambient playlist would be time-sensitive — a somewhat ironic concept for music that aims for a genre-defining sense of timelessness. In any case, the main playlist would be recent releases, and music timed to events (birthdays, deaths, milestones, news, anniversaries). The second playlist is where tracks go after they’re no longer timely.

Part of the complexity I’ve faced in doing a Spotify playlist is that I don’t listen to many playlists. I like knowing what I’m listening to, and most playlist functionality is defined by its active dearth of context. (Now, Active Dearth would make an excellent playlist name.) And when I say Spotify, I mean any of the streaming services, more or less, since each has its own plusses and minuses.

Anyhow, yeah, a big part of what led to my development of my YouTube ambient-performances playlist was my having gotten into active — systematic, enjoyable, anticipatory — viewing on YouTube. Rather than YouTube being a thing I ended up on on occasion, I started subscribing to channels and checking my subscription items each morning. In contrast I still use music streaming services mostly as a way to catch up or to fill in a mental blank. Each week I get more music (because I write about music) and buy more music (perhaps merely m-m-my generation’s habits) than I could hear in a week. Streaming, in contrast, has been, for me, a supplement.

Backing up to the “why” of this hypothetical playlist, the answer is fairly simple. Once upon a time as a music critic, you wrote about music and you reached an audience who read it. Today, as a music critic, you can (also) make a playlist and reach people who might never have read what you would have written. That’s why I always liked DJing — in college on WYBC, later on KDVS when I moved to California. (And, yeah, I did a couple podcast episodes and plan to get back to it, but that’s really a separate story from playlist production.) Anyhow, this is what’s on my mind, and thinking it out in public can be productive. If you have thoughts about what would constitute an ambient playlist, it’d be appreciated.

For the time being, the playlist is called the Stasis Report. It launched today with music from Brian Eno and Marcus Fischer, Madeleine Cocolas and r beny, Lisa Gerrard and William Basinski, Emily A. Sprague and Grouper, among others. There is a secondary playlist, to which tracks are moved after they’re out of circulation on the Stasis Report. That playlist is called the Stasis Archives.

Also tagged , / / Comments: 2 ]

Snakes & Oscillators

A glimpse at a video-game music interface by Jon Davies

A post shared by Jon Davies (@jonpauldavies) on

Just to follow up yesterday’s post of an Instagram video depicting a tiny robot band playing artfully arranged instrumental music, here’s another solid example of the miniature musical-technological (a slightly more humane appellation than “music-technology”) wonders found on the social network.

As you listen to the clip, a brief synthesized melody is being modulated in real time, the sound warping at the whim of a controller. The familiar shape of the x/y control pad is viewable in the lower right hand corner of the illuminated grid device. What it controls is this snake, familiar from video games like Centipede, the early-1980s classic. The snake can be aimed at a little stationary reward, whose consumption by the snake ushers in a new phase of the melody, which appears to move up the register a step at a time, or something along those lines.

The rules of this game-composition aren’t entirely clear, but it does appear that while you can aim the snake to hit that reward light right on the schedule that the rhythm suggests, you can also delay doing so, letting the standing melody extend for awhile. It’s nice to imagine how an audience in a live setting would get engaged in such a performance, becoming aware of the process and enjoying the occasions of delayed gratification as the snake takes its time to consume its prey. It’s also interesting to think how the scenario can train a player to keep time, or adeptly veer from it, along the lines of Guitar Hero and other so-called rhythm games.

Video found via a post by Scanner Darkly on the boards. Software by Jon Davies, on whose Instagram account the clip was published. The device is the open-source Monome Grid controller (more at Davies says the code will soon be shared publicly, for those who want to play along at home.

Also tagged , , / / Leave a comment ]

A Free Album Made with a Free Virtual Modular Synthesizer

It's the Klirrfaktor's Lost Identity, made on VCV Rack

Rudimentary sources are a thing this week. Over at, Philip Sherburne surveyed albums recorded on a single synthesizer, among them three Korgs, a Clavia, and a Casio. Meanwhile on Twitter, there were endless variations on the theme of “This is where I recorded and mixed the album and all the gear I used.” The resulting memes ranged from Tron to Teletubbies. Some, like Four Tet’s tiny studio with a view, were even believable. (My own contribution was a nested loop, beginning here.)

And then, over on Bandcamp, the Klirrfaktor uploaded a nine-track album, Lost Identity, completely recorded on a single piece of software, one that is still deep in beta. Named VCV Rack, the software is a virtual modular synthesizer developed by Andrew Belt and contributed to by a growing number of module creators. You could argue that with numerous modules, VCV Rack isn’t exactly a single instrument, but Klirrfaktor gets points for putting it to substantial use so quickly — and for eschewing rote 4/4 rhythm tracks in favor of dank industrial spaces and ominous sound design.

Currently in version 0.4, VCV Rack (shown above) offers a variety of true basics, like oscillators and mixers, as well as adaptations of more specialized gear, like granular synthesizers and matrix sequencers. Both VCV Rack and the Klirrfaktor album are also entirely free. You can download VCV Rack at And if you make something you’re happy with, there’s a compilation due out that you can contribute to, details at

Album originally posted at More from the Klirrfaktor at and

Also tagged , , / / Leave a comment ]

Dead Radio

Lost signals, social media, and finding wave lengths

I started reading Nadine Gordimer’s novel July’s People this week simply because I’d never read her, and many friends had recommended her. In terms of the stack of books sitting here waiting to be read, reading about end of apartheid seemed like a useful filter on the world. To read meant to look away from work (which was easy, as I was on vacation), but also to look away from media, especially social media. Gordimer’s writing demands attention. She’s like if John le Carré wrote about interpersonal relations — and if he did so at a tenth the speed and several times the level of detail. Both are writers of, simultaneously, micro and macro politics, of the personal and the global. Both explore nuance and codes within communication. But she does so across impenetrable emotional voids and with zero interest in titillation.

In turning away from Twitter, I entered the deep emotional grasses of her book, and found amid the narrative strains two parents. They’re lost in many ways, foremost without a working radio. They fight over the device, searching for stations, checking “wave lengths.” More to the point, the radio works, but the stations don’t. There are no signals to be received. This is both fact and metaphor. All along, during my reading, my social media is out of control. I take breaks from it to read about the dead radio. Then I take breaks from the dead radio of Gordimer’s book to take in the fire hose of our current moment. I alternate. I think about taking a social media break, which I’ve done on occasion, but this seems like a time to be aware, to be aware of being aware. I’m intrigued by mediated awareness, I suppose.

The most quoted tweet I had was years ago, in the Arab Spring. At the time, Twitter was more about consumer goods and personal expression. I’d mentioned how “I used to look at Twitter to see what tech gadget has been released, and now it’s to see what country is on fire.” Or something along those lines. Anyhow, it’s pretty clear which country is on fire now. I might turn off Twitter, but of course when I choose to turn it, or the radio, on both would function. If the dead radio in July’s People suggests one form of broken interpersonal communication, what is the hyperactive Twitter a metaphor for? More to the point, the radio in July’s People seems dead because there are no signals. Social media seems to work because there are signals. The main thing I’ve come to appreciate is that something can function and still be broken.

Also tagged / / Leave a comment ]

Disquiet Junto Project 0293: Emerge/Immerse

Make music for Paige Dansinger's Palmyra 3D/VR images, paying tribute to the late Bassel Khartabil.

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.

Tracks will be added to this playlist for the duration of the project:

This project’s deadline is 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, August 14, 2017. This project was posted in early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, August 10, 2017.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0293: Emerge/Immerse
Make music for Paige Dansinger’s Palmyra 3D/VR images, paying tribute to the late Bassel Khartabil.

Step 1: This is the first of two consecutive projects we’re undertaking, following the news of Bassel Khartabil’s death. (If you’re new to the Junto, Bassel was an open-source coder who did a lot of work in CGI before being imprisoned in Syria. Word of his execution just recently became public.) Paige Dansinger is making VR drawings in Tilt Brush inspired by Bassel’s Palmyra CGI work, drawing from her own interest in making a better world. For this project we’re going to make sound, in Bassel’s honor, to accompany her 3D work. View Paige’s pieces at:

Step 2: Think about the sort of sound that might accompany, contribute to, or otherwise be a component part of a VR experience. Now, record a short piece of music, up to two minutes, that is about something emerging — something being brought to life, or coming out of a cave, or otherwise coming into being.

Five More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: If your hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to include the project tag “disquiet0293” (no spaces) in the name of your track. If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to my locating the tracks and creating a playlist of them.

Step 2: Upload your track. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your track.

Step 3: In the following discussion thread at please consider posting your track:

Step 4: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 5: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, August 14, 2017. This project was posted in early afternoon, California time, on Thursday, August 10, 2017.

Length: Keep your piece to under two minutes.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0293” 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: For this project, please make sure your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution). This is aligned with Paige Dansinger and Bassel Khartabil’s work.

Linking: When posting the track online, please be sure to include this information, along with details of your source audio, including links to it:

More on this 293rd weekly Disquiet Junto project — Make music for Paige Dansinger’s Palmyra 3D/VR images, paying tribute to the late Bassel Khartabil — at:

Thanks to Niki Korth, Jon Phillips, and Barry Threw for encouraging this project, and to Paige Dansinger for the collaboration. View Dansinger’s 3D drawings of Palmyra here:

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

Subscribe to project announcements here:

Project discussion takes place on

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

Image associated with this project is by Paige Dansinger, more on whom here:

Also tagged , , , / / Leave a comment ]