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: sounds-of-brands

Sounds of Brands: Initial Concepts

The blackboard after reviewing the first three weeks of the semester

The course I teach each spring, “Sound of Brands,” passed an early milestone this past Wednesday, February 27. Our fourth weekly class meeting, it marked the end of the first major arc of the syllabus and the start of the second arc.

The first arc is “Listening to Media,” three weeks during which students work on their listening skills. They accomplish this by starting their sound journals, which they are to write in four times per week, and by exploring two primary topics: first, a time line of sound and its relation to the nature of being human; second, a more compact time line of sound and its relation to film (and other media).

This Wednesday began the second arc, which is the core of the curriculum, the six-week stint (out of fifteen three-hour sessions total) from which the course takes its name: “Sounds of Brands.” In this arc we explore how things use sound to express themselves in the media landscape. We’ve already looked, to date, at film and television, and a bit at video games, but now we’re looking at products and services and corporations and so forth. (I use the word “brands” because it provides a broad stroke. That said, I do suggest that if the word “company” works fine in a given situation, then please say “company” instead of “brand.” There’s something uncomfortably anthropomorphic about the term “brand,” and something narcissistic to that particular anthropomorphism. When it’s useful and necessary, use it, certainly. When it’s not, don’t feed the beast.)

To make that shift from the first arc of the course to the second, we paused at the start of class Wednesday to reflect back on concepts we worked through during the first three weeks. This blackboard displays what accumulated during about 45 minutes of discussion that I led. Looking at it now, I realize it’s essentially three things: a lot of neat ideas, and a bunch of super-accomplished thinkers, and Dragnet. The board was getting packed and we needed to shift to the new material, so I should mention one additional concept that should have been on there: “sound design as score,” the TV series Southland, associated with it, much as Dragnet is here associated with “voice over,” which in turn is associated with “non-diegetic.”

And while on the subject of diegetic sound, I should mention something else. Now, “diegetic” and “non-diegetic” are useful, hallowed terms in film studies. In case they are not familiar, “diegetic” refers to sounds that correlate with action happening on screen, in the story as it is unfolding (dialog, sound effects, etc.), while “non-diegetic” refers to sounds that are separate from whatever realism you want to attribute to the filmed image. Classic examples of “non-diegetic” sound include the score and, yes, voice-over narration.

I just want to note some issues with characterizing “voice over” as expressly non-diegetic. I think the diegetic/non-diegetic pairing, while useful, suggests a binary when there’s really more of a continuum. There’s an argument to be made that voice overs are sometimes expressions of thought of a character who is part of the story, not an omniscient narrator, and that thought is sometimes concurrent with what is on screen, and that what is on screen is sometimes out of sync with everyday conceptions of time.

In any case, with that over, we moved on to the origins of the jingle. I’m not doing a week-by-week online summary of the course here this semester, but I am mentioning material on Twitter, and will likely do a few more focused write-ups in the coming months.

Oh, and yes, the classroom I’m teaching in this semester does have an actual blackboard, and I am filthy with white dust at the end of each session. There’s a pencil sharpener hanging on the wall, too.

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Talking About Talking About and Working with Sound

Title slides from a presentation I gave last week

Last week I had a great opportunity to give a talk about various projects I’ve done in sound, from working on the score of Brett Marty’s science fiction film Youth with Marcus Fischer, Ted Laderas, and Paula Daunt; to teaching a course I designed for the Academy of Art here in San Francisco about the role of the sound in the media landscape; to helping a coffee shop make decisions about what music to play; to moderating the weekly compositional-prompt music community the Disquiet Junto; to editing comics for Tower Records’ Pulse! magazine, Red Bull Music Academy, and other publications. Those are some of the projects I walked through, and these are the title slides from my talk:

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Sound Class: Extra Credit

Create a sound walk

I just gave an extra-credit assignment to the students in my sound class.

Maybe you wanna do it, too:

For my students the assignment is due by 10am on Wednesday, May 24, 2017, the last day of class.

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I’m Talking About Sound + Film at the Disposable Film Festival

That's April 8 in San Francisco at the Bay Area Video Coalition

dff2016

“Eyes are forgiving, ears less so. Eyes want to be seduced. Ears are sensitive to incongruity, discontinuity, artifice. How can sound reinforce narrative? How can sound be narrative? How can sound design serve as score? We’ll explore the past and the technologically enabled promise of film sound.”

That’s the opening of — and abstract for — a talk I’ve been invited to give at the Disposable Film Festival this coming April 8 in San Francisco from 4pm to 5:30pm. The title of the talk is “Sound + Vision: A Master Class with Marc Weidenbaum.” It’ll be at Bay Area Video Coalition, whose address is 2727 Mariposa Street, San Francisco, CA 94110.

I’ll be talking about usefully adventurous examples of creative employment of sound in film and about new technologically mediated opportunities. The audience is likely to include a higher than average percentage of people interested in making films, so I’ll also be outlining a variety of creative prompts to spur original sonic experimentation in the service of narrative.

As examples I’ll be drawing on work I’ve done in music supervision and sound design on the new science fiction film Youth, directed by Brett Marty, and on the documentary The Children Next Door, directed by Doug Block.

You can register to attend the talk here: attendease.com.

The full festival lineup is here: disposablefilm.com.

dff2016-bavc

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Sound Course, Week 2 of 15

A Brief History of Listening

IMG_20160210_145505

Each week I summarize the lecture and discussion from my course on the role of sound in the media landscape. In cases where I’ve already documented the discussion fairly thoroughly, as with week two, I’ll link to the full summary, and do a more concise one here.

The second week of sound class is the first full lecture, the first week of sound class having been a combination of an extensive overview of the syllabus and a compacted run through the use of music in the work of JJ Abrams, from the “un-theme” of Lost’s opening credits to the highly “originalist”(“ur-theme”) adherence to John Williams’ modus operandi in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The second week’s lecture takes a long view. Titled A Brief History of Listening, it covers in less than three hours about 200,000 some odd years of human development, physiologically (the development of hearing and speech), technologically (from homing pigeons to moveable type to recorded sound), and culturally. The latter bit, the cultural facet, focuses on two subjects. The first discussion is about how Socrates’s anxiety regarding the move from oral to written culture can be mapped to contemporary concerns about transitioning into a digital world. The second discussion is on John Cage’s 4’33”, about the work’s conception and reception, about the idea of an anechoic chamber, and about the way Cage connects, in his book Silence, the ideas inherent in 4’33”beyond music to architecture and sculpture.

As I state occasionally in the early weeks of this course, I’m not trying to convert students to work in sound full time. I don’t need a single student ever to decide to go into sound design or sound engineering to feel that I’ve accomplished something. Quite the contrary, I’m trying to develop sleeper agents who will bring a creative conscientiousness in regard to sound to whatever field they choose to pursue — art direction, design, and so forth.

The big challenge early on in the course is shepherding the students’ off-site work, specifically in the sound journals they’re required to maintain, four days a week, for the full length of the course. For the first entries I ask that they simply list the sounds around them. Inevitably these come back not as sounds but as sources of sounds: door, not door creaking; fan, not fan whirring; baby, not baby cooing. Moving from source to sound, from sound to description, from description to meaning is where we’re headed. It can be painstaking, but learning about sound is like learning a language or achieving a significant improvement in an athletic pursuit. It’s all about dedication and persistence. It’s about practice.

Today’s class (week 3, more on which in next week’s This Week in Sound newsletter) narrowed the scope: last week was 200,000 years; this week was just about 100 years, as the subject was the role of sound in film and television. The timing of today’s class may have been fairly timely, because I was just approached by an organization to give a talk about the past and future of sound in film, and I’m now piecing together an approach for the talk. Here’s a first-draft summary:

Eyes are forgiving, ears less so. Eyes want to be seduced. Ears are sensitive to incongruity, discontinuity, artifice. How can sound reinforce narrative? How can sound be narrative? How can sound design serve as score? We’ll explore the past and the technologically enabled promise of film sound.

And, yeah, when I say “promise” I’m using alliteration as a way to get out of saying “future.” More on this as it comes together.

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the February 17, 2016 (it went out a day late), edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound”email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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