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: video-games

On now participating in the Gizmodo ecosystem

These are two things that I think Geoff Manaugh, editor-in-chief of the technology and design blog, didn’t know about me when he asked if I’d consider bringing beneath his website’s expanding umbrella.

1: My “to re-blog” bookmark file has been packed in recent months with scores of items from pretty much all of the Gizmodo-affiliated sites — not just Gizmodo, but, Lifehacker, Jalopnik, Gawker, and Kotaku. Probably Jezebel and Deadspin, too, but the file is too thick for me to tell.

2: Pretty much the first thing that I read every morning with my coffee — well, every weekday morning — is the “Morning Spoilers” at, the great science fiction website that is part of the Gawker network that also contains Gizmodo.

I knew Manaugh’s work from BLDGBLOG and, before that, Dwell Magazine. He’d previously invited me to involve the weekly experimental music/sound project series that I run, the Disquiet Junto, in the course on the architecture of the San Andreas Fault that he taught in spring 2013 at Columbia University’s graduate school of architecture. And I am excited to work with him again.

And so, there is now a cozy subdomain URL where I’ll be syndicating — simulposting — material from, as well as doing original straight-to-Gizmodo writing. I’m hopeful that members of the Gizmodo readership might further expand the already sizable ranks of the Disquiet Junto music projects (we just completed one based on a post from Kotaku), and I’ll be posting notes from the course I teach on “sound in the media landscape” at the Academy of Art here in San Francisco.

For new readers of Disquiet, the site’s purview is as follows:

* Listening to Art.

* Playing with Audio.

* Sounding Out Technology.

* Composing in Code.

I’ll take a moment to break that down:

Listening to Art: Attention to sound art has expanded significantly this year, thanks in no small part to the exhibit Soundings: A Contemporary Score at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. That exhibit, which ran from August 10 through November 3, featured work by such key figures as Susan Philipsz (whose winning of the Turner Prize inspired an early music compilation I put together), Carsten Nicolai (whom I profiled in the new Red Bull Music Academy book For the Record), and Stephen Vitiello (whom I’ve interviewed about 911 and architectural acoustics, and who has participated in the Disquiet Junto). But if “sound art” is art for which music is both raw material and subject matter, my attention is just as much focused on what might better be described as the role of “sound in art,” of the depictions of audio in various media (the sound effects in manga, for example) and the unintended sonic components of art beyond sound art, like the click and hum of a slide carousel or the overall sonic environment of a museum. Here’s video of Tristan Perich’s “Microtonal Wall” from the MoMA exhibit:


Playing with Audio: If everything is, indeed, a remix, that is a case most clearly made in music and experimental sound. From the field recordings that infuse much ambient music to the sampling of hip-hop to the rapturous creative reuse that proliferates on YouTube and elsewhere, music as raw material is one of the most exciting developments of our time. Terms like “remix” and “mashup” and “mixtape” can been seen to have originated or otherwise gained cachet in music, and as they expand into other media, we learn more about them, about the role such activities play in culture. And through the rise of audio-game apps, especially in iOS, such “playing with sound” has become all the more common — not just the work of musicians but of audiences, creating a kind of “active listening.” This notion of reuse, of learning about music and sound by how it is employed after the fact, plays a big role in my forthcoming book for the 33 1/3 series. My book is about Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and it will be published on February 13, 2014, just weeks ahead of the record’s 20th anniversary. As part of my research for the book, I spoke with many individuals who had come to appreciate the Aphex Twin album by engaging with it in their own work, from composers who had transcribed it for more “traditional” instruments (such as chamber ensembles and solo guitar), to choreographers and sound designers, to film directors.

Sounding Out Technology: A briefer version of the approach is to look at “the intersection of sound, art, and technology.” The term “technology” is essential to that trio, because it was only when I learned to step back from my fascination with electronically produced music and to appreciate “electronic” as a subset of the vastly longer continuum of “technology” that connections became more clear to me — say, between the sonics of raves and the nascent polyphony of early church music, or between creative audio apps like Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers’ Bloom and what is arguably the generative ur-instrument: the aeolian harp. With both Bloom and the aeolian harp, along with its close relative the wind chime, music is less a fixed composition than a system that is enacted. As technology mediates our lives more and more, the role that sound plays in daily life becomes a richer and richer subject — from voice-enabled devices, to the sounds of consumer product design, to the scores created for electric cars:

Composing in Code: Of all the technologies to come to the fore in the past two decades, perhaps none has had an impact greater than computer code. This is no less true in music and sound than it is in publishing, film, politics, health, or myriad other fields. While the connections between mathematics and music have been celebrated for millennia, there is something special to how, now, those fields are combining, notably in graphic systems such as Max/MSP (and Max for Live, in Ableton) and Puredata (aka Pd), just to name two circumstances. Here, for reference, is a live video of the Dutch musician and sound artist Edo Paulus’ computer screen as he constructs and then performs a patch in Max/MSP. Where the construction ends and the performance begins provides a delightful koan:

All of which said, I’m not 100-percent clear what form my activity will take. I’m looking forward to experimenting in the space. I’ll certainly be co-posting material from, but I’m also planning on engaging with Gizmodo itself, and with its broader network of sites. I’ve already, in advance of this post, begun re-blogging material from Gizmodo and from Gizmodo-affiliated sites: not just “sharing” (in the UI terminology of the Kinja CMS that powers the network) but adding some contextual information, thoughts, tangents, details. I’m enthusiastic about Kinja, in particular how it blurs the lines between author and reader. I like that a reply I make to a post about a newly recreated instrument by Leonardo Da Vinci can then appear in my own feed, leading readers back to the original site, where they themselves might join in the conversation. Kinja seems uniquely focused on multimedia as a form of commentary — like many CMS systems, it allows animated GIFs and short videos to serve as blog comments unto themselves, but it goes the step further of allowing users to delineate rectangular sub-sections of previously posted images and comment on those. I’m intrigued to see how sound can fit into that approach. (It’s no surprise to me that Kinja is innovative in this regard — it’s on Lifehacker that I first learned about the syntax known as “markdown.”) I think that all, cumulatively, makes for a fascinating media apparatus, and I want to explore it.

While I typed this post, it was Tuesday in San Francisco. I live in the Outer Richmond District, just north of Golden Gate Park and a little over a mile from the Pacific Ocean. The season’s first torrential rain has passed, and so the city sounds considerably more quiet than it did just a few days ago. No longer is the noise of passing automobiles amplified and augmented by the rush of water, and the roof above my desk is no longer being pummeled. But where there is the seeming peace of this relative quiet, there is also an increased diversity of listening material. The ear can hear further, as it were — not just to conversations in the street and to passing cars, but to construction blocks away, to leaf blowers, to a seaplane overhead, to the sound of a truck backing up at some considerable distance, and to the many birds that (unlike what I was accustomed to, growing up on the north shore of New York’s Long Island) do not all vacate the area come winter. It is shortly past noon as I hit the button to make this post go live. Church bells have sung a duet with the gurgling in my belly to remind me it is time for lunch. And because it is Tuesday, the city’s civic warning system has rung out. 

Dim sum, anyone?

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Disquiet Junto Project 0099: In the Key of X

The project: Compose an 8-bit melody based on the "E G D" startup sound of the Xbox One.


Each Thursday at the Disquiet Junto group on 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.

This assignment was made in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, November 21, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, November 25, 2013, as the deadline.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0099: In the Key of X

This project investigates video game sound — not the sound of video games, but the sound of game consoles themselves. The newly released Xbox One has its own distinct startup melody of just three notes: first an E, then a G, then a D. The project this week is to imagine those notes being the core of an original piece of music: What if the theme of the Xbox One were a song, and a lo-fi one at that?

The project instruction is as follows: Record a piece of music with an 8-bit flavor. It should begin with a replication of that same three-note Xbox One pattern (E G D), repeated several times, and then veer off into whatever direction you desire. As the track goes along, feel free to add common video game sounds like explosions, karate chops, crowd noises, engines revving and so forth. Try to keep the whole thing under 90 seconds.

Deadline: Monday, November 25, 2013, at 11:59pm wherever you are.

Length: Your track’s length should be between 30 seconds and 90 seconds.

Information: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud, 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.

Title/Tag: Include the term “disquiet0099-EthenGthenD”in the title of your track, and as a tag for your track.

Download: Please consider employing a license that allows for attributed, commerce-free remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

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

More on this 99th Disquiet Junto project (Compose an 8-bit melody based on the “E G D” startup sound of the Xbox One) at:

Disquiet Junto Project 0099: In the Key of X

Background: This project was informed by a post on by Kirk Hamilton:

More details on the Disquiet Junto at:

Associated image found via:

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Cues: Sound Motion, Book Audio, Dr. Eno, …

Plus: Google+, bugs, Windows EDM, more

â—¼ Sound Motion: Three videos of materials responding to sound:

First up, mercury: “The higher the frequency the more ‘nodes’ will appear along the outer edge of the mercury,” via

Second, what a speaker looks like when a 61 Hz tone plays at 60 frames per second, via, via Max La Rivière-Hedrick:

Third, “Non-Newtonian fluid meets subwoofer,” an experiment by Natasha Carlin (a student this semester in the class on sound I teach at the Academy of Art in San Francisco):

Note: the project was for an earlier class Carlin took, but she used as part of a student presentation in our class.

20130707-youâ—¼ Generative Fiction: This is a paragraph from early on in the novel You, written by Austin Grossman (Soon I Will Be Invincible). The novel is set in the world of video-game development. The paragraph is told from the point of view of the book’s main character and narrator. He’s a newb game designer who at this moment in the story, toward the end of chapter seven, is trying to sort out a bug in the software. The paragraph also seems to work as a playful metaphor for composers working in generative environments:

They could have been minor coincidences. I knew by now that a simulation-heavy game was unpredictable. A monster could wander too close to a torch and catch on fire; then it would go into its panic-run mode and anything else it bumped into might catch. Or a harmless goblin might nudge a rock, which then rolls and hits another creature just hard enough to inflict one hit point of damage, which then triggers a combat reaction, and next thing you know there’s an unscheduled goblin riot. The blessing and curse of simulation-driven engines was that although you could design the system, the world ran by itself, and accidents happened.

More on the novel at

â—¼ Reading Sound: This immediately movied to the top of my to-read list: Justin St. Clair‘s Sound and Aural Media in Postmodern Literature: Novel Listening, just out from Routledge. From the description:

This study examines postmodern literature— including works by Kurt Vonnegut, William Gaddis, Don DeLillo, Philip K. Dick, Ishmael Reed, and Thomas Pynchon —arguing that one of the formal logics of postmodern fiction is heterophonia: a pluralism of sound. The postmodern novel not only bears earwitness to a crucial period in American aural history, but it also offers a critique of the American soundscape by rebroadcasting extant technological discourses. Working chronologically through four audio transmission technologies of the twentieth century (the player piano, radio, television audio, and Muzak installations), St. Clair charts the tendency of ever-proliferating audio streams to become increasingly subsumed as background sound.

More from St. Clair at He’s an assistant professor of English at the University of South Alabama.

â—¼ Sound Matter: The publisher Noch bills itself as having a focus on “expanded listening.” Its first volume, What Matters Now? (What Can’t You Hear?), features 16 new writings (ranging from music criticism to short fiction, from visual poetry to art writing) by Cheryl Tipp, Chiara Guidi, David Toop, Francesco Tenaglia, Helena Hunter, Ivan Carozzi, James Wilkes, Luciano Chessa, Mike Cooper, Patrick Farmer, Salomé Voegelin, Sandra Jasper, Simone Bertuzzi, Stefano Scalich, Steve Roden, Tone Gellein. It’s edited by Noch founders Daniela Cascella and Paolo Inverni. Details at

â—¼ Dr. Eno: The BBC has some audio (one minute and six seconds) of Brian Eno’s The Quiet Room, an audio-visual healing installation at the Montefiore Hospital in Hove, England: It is very Thursday Afternoon. That’s a good thing. … While on the subject, the Soundcheck show from WNYC has been interviewing musicians about their guilty pleasures; Eno provides a welcome context to his answer: “I’m not really embarrassed about any of my tastes.” (Latter link thanks to Mike Rhode.)

â—¼ More Children: Nice little review by the Seattle Stranger‘s David Schmader of The Children Next Door, for which I did sound design with composer Taylor Deupree, at “it’s a masterpiece — smart, tough, fearless, and miraculously compact.” Directed by Doug Block, produced by Lynda A. Hansen. The film is playing there at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival 2013.

â—¼ One Liners: Keep an ear out for cicadas. â—¼ There’s now a page on Google+ for a fledgling presence: â—¼ Various Microsoft content projects apparently have an “electronic dance music” component ( â—¼ 19 musicians made tracks from just two tones and three beats in the 70th Disquiet Junto project, which ended last night.

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Cues: Deaf Gaming, Twang Bar Noise, Tank Preservation, …

Plus: a 30-part sound documentary on BBC, the history of Celluloid Records, and more

¶ Deaf Gaming: Interesting anecdote from a recent piece on the late video game creator Kenji Eno, written by Brandon Sheffield. The “Eno” in this is, of course, Kenji (not Brian), and the Saturn is the Sega game console from the mid-1990s:

“For his next game, Sega wanted to make it an exclusive — whatever it was. Eno had recently met with some sight-impaired folks who liked to play action games, and he asked himself, “What if you made a game that the blind and the sighted could play equally?” So he created the game Real Sound, which is an audio-only retail game, and made Sega promise that if he made the game exclusive to them, they would donate 1,000 Saturns to blind people, and he would supply 1,000 copies of the game. Again, this was an unusual idea for 1996, but he felt the stagnancy of the industry, and went to great lengths to shake it up.”

Surround Sound: The Tank is a 60’ x 30′ vessel — a “rusted steel water tank” in the words of its caretaker, Bruce Odland, who has made use of its inherent 40-second reverb since 1976. He’s set up a campaign to ensure its future use:

The campaign ends March 31, 2013. More on the project at (Thanks for the tip go to Joshua Izenberg, whose film Slomo just won the Documentary Short prize among the Short Film Jury Awards at the 2013 SXSW festival. Jeremiah Moore, the sound designer on Slomo, is apparently also involved in this Tank project.)

¶ Electretymologies: There’s a hair’s-breadth matter of word choice in today’s “playlist” by Jon Pareles in the New York Times. In a single column he reviews six records. For SuunsImages du Futur he mentions “the repeating synthesizer tones of early electro.” For How to Destroy AngelsWelcome Oblivion he mentions both “dank electronic sounds” and how “the electronics mostly give way to the acoustic.” And for Draco Rosa’s Vida he mentions “dipping into new wave, Caribbean styles, electronica and, at the end, hard-rock blasts.” The emphasis is mine. Those are four distinct terms, all variations on a core root prefix, all used in close proximity: electro, electronic, electronics, and electronica.

¶ Twang Bar Theory: This is pretty great. Over at, Adrian Belew (King Crimson, Talking Heads, Nine Inch Nails) as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival back in 2011, discussing the “history and future of guitar noise”:

The event opened with a guitar solo, to set the tone, as it were, for the event, and there’s a third section as well.

¶ Docusound Platform: Promotional video for the site, “a platform for producing and distributing audio documentaries”:

¶ Sonifying Auckland: Sound designer Tim Prebble, along with filmmaker Denise Batchelor, is a 2013 artist in residence of the Auckland regional parks system. Details at Here is description from the announcement: “He’ll record local native birdcalls, slow the recordings to allow notation and then ”˜play with this as the DNA of music’, embellishing and orchestrating it. On completion, his music will be played at a local venue and a CD, tentatively called The Bird Song Preludes, will be available after his residency.” More from Prebble at

¶ Celluloid Heroes: The first of two parts of a documentary about Celluloid Records, over at, featuring among others Bill Laswell, DXT (formerly Grand Mixer DST), and label founder Jean Karakos:

¶ Re-scanning: Great interview at with Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, about his range of activities. He goes project by project, talking about his early work with the technology from which he took his name (“The scanner was connected directly into a tape deck the whole time. This was ’91, ’92, this was anticipating an idea of the internet, there was no access to this kind of networked world that we’re so comfortable with today. These voices and accessing them suddenly took you into a very private place that you could never otherwise be in.”), collaborating with filmmaker Derek Jarman and artist Mike Kelley, and “re-soundtrack[ing]” the final two minutes of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse, and much more.

¶ In Brief: There’s a 30-part audio documentary titled Noise: A Human History being presented starting tomorrow, March 18, on BBC 4 by David Hendy of the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex: (via ¶ The provides a brief overview of a talk Rob Thomas (of Reality Jockey) gave in London about mobile music. ¶ In the Field: The Art of Field Recording is a new book containing interviews with artists whose work employs field recordings. Among those are Andrea Polli, Christina Kubisch, Francisco López, Hildegard Westerkamp, Jez Riley French, and Lasse-Marc Riek. (Thanks for the tip, John Kannenberg.) ¶ “Why Do People Use ”˜Nope’ Even Though ”˜No’ Is Shorter?” (at, via Quora). The short version is that “no” may have half as many letters but the hard stop at the end of “nope” arguably makes it more succinct. The author, Marc Ettlinger, has other theories as well, including an informative bit on “sound symbolism.” ¶ Robert Henke, aka Monolake, is coming to the San Francisco Bay Area as a visiting instructor at CCRMA, the computer music department at Stanford University. In a warm-welcome gesture, the department made the page announcing his course look just like a page from Henke’s own website. ¶ That White House petition to make unlocking cellphones legal, mentioned here recently, has gained President Obama’s support. ¶ The 62nd Disquiet Junto project had 44 participants, each making music from three sine waves. ¶ Here’s a recording of Steve Reich’s “Radio Rewrite,” his new adaptation of Radiohead’s “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” and “Everything in Its Right Place”: (Note, it’s audio only. Found via the indispensable

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Tangents: Fugazi Remixed, Riley Referenced, Kimbrough Punk’d, …

News, quick links, good reads

¶ In on the Remixer: More on this once I’ve fully consumed the entire recording, but in the meanwhile below are streams of three strong tracks off a forthcoming Fugazi-sanctioned album constructed entirely from remixes of instrumental samples from the hardcore band’s recorded output. The album, by Chris Lawhorn, is titled Fugazi Edits (likely because Repeater was already taken), and all proceeds go to charity (“one that works with senior citizens in Washington, D.C. and another that provides aid globally to folks impacted by disaster and civil unrest,” per the press materials). The tracks’ unwieldy, but fittingly literal-minded, titles are made up of the names of the songs from which they are derived.

“Steady Diet – Ex-Spectator – Latin Roots – Place Position” is Fugazi reimagined as a glitch-rock Oval side project:

“Give Me the Cure – Reprovisional -Recap – Modetti – Stacks” is especially, and blisfully, chaotic:

“Nice New Outfit – Greed – Walken’s Syndrome – Facet Squared – No Surprise” — this is the album’s opening track, and it makes the most of a whole lot of staccato source material:

Tracks originally posted at More at The release date is October 30.

¶ Riley’s Legacy: In his interview with Caribou/Manitoba/Daphni (aka/né Dan Snaith), Philip Sherburne notes favorable parallels between Daphni’s recent “Yes, I Know” and Terry Riley‘s early soul-refracting remix “You’re No Good,” which dates from the late 1960s.

“That’s an amazing record,” Snaith tells Sherburne of the Riley. “I wasn’t thinking about that when I made it, but thank you.” It may not have been on Snaith’s mind, but it’s notable that About Group did a cover of “You’re No Good” for Domino, a label for whom Snaith has also recorded, albeit several years prior to About Group’s Riley rendition. That bit of trainspotting, by the way, is not a comment intended to call out Snaith on anything; it’s to recognize the circuitous loop of popular soul music finding its way back into popular music via the avant-garde. Read Sherburne’s piece, “Caribou’s Dan Snaith on Daphni, Radiohead, and the ‘EDM Barfsplosion,'” at Video of About Group’s “You’re No Good.” And, for good measure, Theo Parrish‘s whizzy Detroit sci-fi remix of About Group’s version. Parrish’s comes closest to resembling the original — well, the original Terry Riley version, which is listenable to via Also on the video service is the original original, the song “You’re No Good” from the Harvey Averve Dozen album Viva Soul, which was the source for Riley’s version.

¶ Parallel Possuming: In news related to the Fugazi album, this 15-minute mix is an edit of work by late-era bluesman Junior Kimbrough by electronic duo Daft Punk:

Originally posted at The work was produced by Daft Punk for Yves Saint Laurent’s recent Spring/Summer 2013 collections, which debuted during Fashion Week in Paris. It was credited as “Music Junior Kimbrough Edited by Daft Punk.” There’s video of the event at

¶ In Brief:Impulse Buy: Please consider supporting the project Impulse by James Hillery. It’s an interactive music visualizer that turns your music into a video game. I’m in for $10. … USB Alert: Speaking of which, I’m excited that the “blink(1)” project I backed on passed its funding goal (by quite a bit). It’s a programmable little USB gizmo that can be set up to alert for various triggers and status reports. I’m partially intrigued because I’ve imagined such a thing as a part of a pair of eyeglasses, and also because I wonder about an audio version. … With a Cause: Music for Tom Carter is a compilation album raising funds for Tom Carter (of the band Charalambides), who is recovering from pneumonia. Highlights include the orchestral drone of “Places” by Jon Porras and a haunting live recording of “Mounds” by Common Eider, King Eider. Get the album at More at Also raising funds for Carter is the Lunar Jams for Tom Carter compilation, which includes the flanged-out folk of Simon Dallaserra‘s “It’s too Blue to Be Blue” and the spooked-out lo-fi psychedelic rock of Herbcraft‘s “Gossamer Web”; it’s at

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