New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • Disquiet.com F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

tag: voice

Disquiet.com 25th Anniversary Countdown (5 of 13): Our Lives in the Bush of Disquiet

An archival ambient advent calendar from December 1st – 13th, 2021

Just shy of 10 years after I founded Disquiet.com, I did something here I hadn’t done before: rather than write about music and sound someone produced somewhere else, I published music that I myself had assembled.

In 2006, Brian Eno and David Byrne posted (for free download) stems from one of my favorite albums of all time, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and asked people to remix them. I listened to what people had posted and I found nothing that was particularly appealing. Most of the tracks just slotted the provided raw material above rote 4/4 percussion. So, I sent the Eno/Byrne project news to some friends and musicians I corresponded with, and I asked if they’d participate. The response I got back was, in essence, uniformly: This is cool, but the tracks showing up on the official website leave a lot to be desired. So, I told everyone I’d post the results of their work on Disquiet.com instead. A dozen musicians participated, resulting in this collection:

  1. “Help Me Help Me” – AllThatFall
  2. “If You Make Your Bed in Heaven” – Roddy Schrock
  3. “Leftover Secrets to Tell” – Pocka
  4. “Secret Life Remix” – Stephane Leonard
  5. “The Black Isle (Byrne/Eno Remix)” – (dj) morsanek
  6. “Hit Me Somebody (Help Me Somebody Remix)” – MrBiggs
  7. “Being and Nothingness (A Secret Life Remixed)” – john kannenberg
  8. “Somebody Help Us” – My Fun
  9. “Hey” – Mark Rushton
  10. “My Bush in the Secret Life of Ghosts” – Prehab
  11. “Not Enough Africa” – Ego Response Technician
  12. “Helping (Help Me Somebody Remix)” – doogie

This was almost a year before SoundCloud launched, so the natural place to post the music was the Internet Archive, the offices of which are about a mile from where I live. (The offices are actually a block from where I lived when I first moved to San Francisco in 1996, but the building wasn’t the Internet Archive then. It was a church.)

It’s hard to describe what a transformation this collection was both for this website, and for my sense of how I relate to and communicate with musicians. In the following years, I’d release a series of other such compilation albums, largely inspired by the work of Hal Willner, and eventually I’d open up the format (moving from narrow commission to open call), resulting in the Disquiet Junto music community.

More details, and all the audio, in the original post. And major thanks to Brian Scott of Boon Design (boon.design) for the gorgeous cover.

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The Everyday Musicality of Autumn de Wilde’s Emma

And especially of Johnny Flynn

I really dug the recent(ish) Jane Austen adaptation, Emma (2020), with Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role and Johnny Flynn as (I’m about to risk a 170-year-old spoiler) her belatedly betrothed. What I only realized during the end credits is that’s the same Johnny Flynn who did the great theme song for the great TV series The Detectorists (for which he also co-wrote the score).

Emma itself did right by music, too, start to finish. There’s plenty of pop culture out there, from Riverdale to Downton Abbey, where everyday (“amateur,” horrid* word) musicianship is part of how communities gather around each other, with the roles of performer and audience ever in flux. In Emma, this topic is particularly well handled, how we witness the title character, plus Flynn’s George Knightley (in a duo with Jane Fairfax), performing in front of friends, frenemies, and family. Bonus points for how centuries are bridged with covers by Maddy Prior and June Tabor, and by the Watersons.

And yow, how the playfully genteel score by David Schweitzer and Isobel Waller-Bridge fills each moment that the film’s director, Autumn de Wilde, leaves for them. The music choreographs the internal reactions of characters, to always affectionately comic ends. It’s like emotional ballet.

Coincidentally, I’ve been re-reading a lot of Dennis Potter lately, and it’s no surprise Emma’s director came from pop music (via videos and photography). Like Potter, de Wilde gets (and gets at) how singing other people’s music is form of self-expression.

* “amateur” having become a near-synonym for “dilettante,” both words having lost association with their origins (love and delight, respectfully)

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Kenneth Goldsmith by way of PDQ Bach, and More

An early (April 2020) pandemic livestream review I wrote for The Wire

Happy Valley Band + Erin Demastes + Repairer of Reputations
Various locations/Twitch

The valley in the name of Happy Valley Band is for Silicon Valley. The happy today, April 18, 2020, is nominal, due to widespread Covid induced seclusion. Happy Valley Band, an AI-arbitered experiment, is headlining a live stream that features noises from Erin Demastes and synth flashbacks from Ryan Page, the latter performing as Repairer of Reputations. The live stream phenomenon, like the coronavirus itself, is still novel.

The concert, held by the experimental promoter Indexical, occurs on Twitch, a platform for watching other people play video games. The Twitch website is correspondingly colorful and antic. For those less engaged in gamer culture, it can also be confusing. Like a waiter missing the hint that you have no interest beyond the club’s minimum drink requirement, Twitch often pesters you about ways to level up, mystifyingly so.

Demastes’ opening set is brightly illuminated, and otherwise a stark contrast to the manic framing of Twitch’s interface. On screen, color fields shift slightly and meaningfully. She is patiently engaged in microsound, in closely miking textiles and other materials. Her audio is at first quiet, so much so that latecomers keep entering the Twitch chat room to ask if the sound is even on. It is. (One good thing about Twitch concerts is that musicians and audience can silence crowd chatter with a click.)

As the volume rises, more sounds are heard as she probes and amplifies things seen through a microscope. These are as curiosity-invoking as they are abrasive. An after-show interview sheds additional light. Demastes lists her tools. These include beads, Styrofoam, and corkboard (that “gross brown stuff,” she reminds us), as well as a Slinky, a lobster fork, and a doorstop.

Happy Valley Band go second. Like the audience, the group’s members have assembled, far and wide, from the comfort of private spaces. They appear in the all too familiar virtual-conference grid of torsos. David Kant, the band’s leader, sets a self-mocking tone: “We’re going to be here for the next … too long, destroying your favorite songs.” What Happy Valley do is play music as heard through artificial intelligence. The musicians — including Kant on tenor sax, Mustafa Walker on bass, Alexander Dupuis on guitar, and Pauline Kim on violin, among too many members to list here — play notation produced by software that listens to pop classics and spits out what the algorithms observe. The Happy Valley Band are Kenneth Goldsmith by way of PDQ Bach: cultural plundering in the service of joking forensic dismemberment. They churn through hits like Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” and James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” Much as synthesizers have an easier time inferring pitch from woodwinds than from multi-timbral instruments, the barebones nature of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” yields the least frantic results of the show: the chords are anything but standard, but do leave space for the ear to focus on individual elements. The bombast of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” however, yields frenzied mush.

Like Demastes, Page performs work where visuals and sounds are inseparable. Throughout his set, the screen fills with ancient cathode-ray images, snatches of what seems like a VHS tape of a forgotten Roger Corman horror flick. The occasional narration reads like the script to a text adventure (“You open the door. … As you enter, you are sure this is your house”). The eeriest thing, nonetheless, is just how period-perfect are the synth-score cues that Page plays to accompany the footage.

There’s some additional context in a post I made when I first announced the article’s publication (“This is the first freelance concert review I have ever written on the same device on which I witnessed the concert”).

This article I wrote originally appeared in the July 2020 issue (number 437) of The Wire.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0503: Sing Song

The Assignment: Record a song using only your voice transformed beyond recognition.

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.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is the end of the day Monday, August 23, 2021, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, August 19, 2021.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0503: Sing Song
The Assignment: Record a song using only your voice transformed beyond recognition.

Step 1: Prepare to record a piece of music using primarily your voice, albeit transformed beyond recognition. Disquiet Junto projects rarely involve singing. This one is an exception. All Junto projects are experiments, this one in particular.

Step 2: Your recording should consist of several layered tracks. Record one, perhaps a rhythmic one, to set the beat, first. Then layer two or three more. Keep each layer isolated, so you can process it later in the process. In the case of each layer, you might improvise your singing, or you might plan in advance with notation. Certainly you might need to do several takes of each track layer in order to get it right. Don’t think of your singing as the final audio. Instead, think of your voice as a sketchbook for a work-in-progress. You sing a bass drum, you sing a guitar line, you sing a synth bed, and so forth.

Step 3: For each of the the three or four layers you created in Step 2, process them drastically so the vocal elements no longer sound like the human voice.

Step 4: Mix the processed layers from Step 3 into a final track.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0503” (no spaces or quotation marks) in the name of your tracks.

Step 2: If your audio-hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to also include the project tag “disquiet0503” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation of a project playlist.

Step 3: Upload your tracks. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your tracks.

Step 4: Post your track in the following discussion thread at llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0503-sing-song/

Step 5: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 6: If posting on social media, please consider using the hashtag #DisquietJunto so fellow participants are more likely to locate your communication.

Step 7: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Note: Please post one track per weekly Junto project. If you choose to post more than one, and do so on SoundCloud, please let me know which you’d like added to the playlist. Thanks.

Additional Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is the end of the day Monday, August 23, 2021, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, August 19, 2021.

Length: The length of your finished track is up to you, with or without the Martian time-slip.

Title/Tag: When posting your tracks, please include “disquiet0503” in the title of the tracks, and where applicable (on SoundCloud, for example) as a tag.

Upload: When participating in this project, 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: It is always best to set your track as downloadable and allowing for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution, allowing for derivatives).

For context, when posting the track online, please be sure to include this following information:

More on this 503rd weekly Disquiet Junto project — Sing Song (The Assignment: Record a song using only your voice transformed beyond recognition) — at: https://disquiet.com/0503/

More on the Disquiet Junto at: https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here: https://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co: https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0503-sing-song/

There’s also a Disquiet Junto Slack. Send your email address to [email protected] for Slack inclusion.

The image associated with this project is by John, and used thanks to Flickr and a Creative Commons license allowing editing (cropped with text added) for non-commercial purposes:

https://flic.kr/p/2hMq7fw

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

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Speech-to-Text as the New Cut-up

Jamming algorithmic econo

Judging by this recent interaction with my phone, speech-to-text (STT) still has a long ways to go. Consider that the message being transcribed here was, with the exception of my name (Marc Weidenbaum, apparently aka “Mark we D Bond”), a rote automated robocall script that thousands of people have no doubt received. (That is “Mark we D Bond,” aka “Mark, we didn’t bun,” aka “Mark, we did one.) You’d think that after that many attempts by a system to transcribe the same audio over and over and over, the system would have accomplished a closer approximation.

A friend who saw me post this on social media, when it was a slightly more inchoate thought, pointed out that this STT incident was like the machine had written lyrics for the band the Minutemen (an especially ironic observation, since the band’s singer was D Boon and the Minutemen recorded for a label called SST). That idea made me think about the cut-up work of William S. Burroughs, and how with STT you could write rough-draft lyrics for a song by saying words along with the melody, and then have the transcription service make mincemeat gibberish of the rough draft, and then you could sing the resulting mincemeat gibberish with full conviction.

Oh, and the “Prima Newman” sentence was in Spanish, as was part of the preceding sentence. “Newman on the way day” is “número nueve” (number nine, number nine, number nine …). It is fascinating, and revealing, that the automated STT service can’t switch gears particularly well when the speaker, even an automated one, changes language so quickly. For individuals in situations (protests, authoritarian regimes, etc.) where they are trying to avoid STT surveillance (scenario: audio > STT > algorithmic filter > legal/police action), this multilingual approach seems like a potential tactic (along the lines of playing copyrighted material to avoid footage being archived publicly on YouTube, TikTok, etc.).

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  • about

  • 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

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  • Current Activities

  • Upcoming
    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
    • January 6, 2023: This day marked the 11th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

  • Recent
    • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier).
    • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly (aaassembly.org) at Gray Area (grayarea.org).
    • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the 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.
    • A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the 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.)

  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

  • disquiet junto

  • Background
    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.

    Recent Projects

  • 0541 / 10BPM Techno / The Assignment: Make some snail-paced beats.
    0540 / 5ive 4our / The Assignment: Take back 5/4 for Jedi time masters Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond.
    0539 / Control Breath / The Assignment: Let your slow breathing guide a piece of music.
    0538 / Guided Decompression / The Assignment: Get someone from tense to chill.
    0537 / Penitent Honk / The Assignment: Do sound design for "a missing gesture" of vehicular life.

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