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: voice

Aliens Were Among Us

Don't let them fool you. Every day can be Record Store Day.

My lucky find at the record shop yesterday. This full-length album was released, in 1977, because the previous one (note this is “The Second Whale Record”) had sold some 100,000 copies, a surprise hit in its day. The alien intelligence of these voices strains my capacity for description and comprehension. Fascinating to imagine the voices had such a command of the public’s imagination that this translated into actual record sales. A bit like Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (the Bulgarian women’s ensemble) a decade or so later, only this choir is submerged.

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I Was on Darwin Grosse’s Podcast

Talking about art and music and technology (and print magazines, and music communities, and pop music) on the Art + Music + Technology podcast

Just this past Monday, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Darwin Grosse for his excellent, longrunning podcast, Art + Music + Technology, and the episode went live today.

For a sense of the scale of Grosse’s podcast, my entry in the interview series is number 271. I’ve enjoyed Grosse’s interviews for a long time. Past participants in the Art + Music + Technology podcast include frequent Nine Inch Nails collaborator Alessandro Cortini, creative technologist Cassie Tarakajian, Monome developer Brian Crabtree, synthesis researcher Curtis Roads, and keyboard legend Herbie Hancock.

Grosse and I talked a lot about the Disquiet Junto music community I’ve been moderating since 2012, about my book on Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and about my time as an editor at Tower Records’ magazines. One subject I especially enjoyed when listening back to the audio this morning was about the future of music communities online, since the flaws of social media have become widely known in recent years. Here is a quick transcription of that part of the interview:

Grosse: Just to finish up, then, where do you think communities can go. Because it seems like you really enjoy being part of communities and being part of growth environments, right? And introducing people to things and stuff like that.

It seems like in a way we’ve almost hit a point where we’re not sure how to grow beyond that. We’ve seen things that are massive, like Facebook, end up being … not feeling satisfying because it becomes either a place where you can be taken advantage of or a place that’s just plain too overwhelmed with people. Or we have places that are so small that they end up feeling insular.

What do you think is the kind of community growth that can happen that provides an interesting next step?

Weidenbaum: It’s an interesting question. One thing that comes to mind as I’m formulating a response is that when I look at music technology these days, one of the ways I gauge how entrenched it is or how promising it is, is by the quality of the conversation on the forum related to that hardware or software. It’s not always a direct relation because there are sometimes people who are very yappy about things that actually maybe don’t prove that effective, but by and large, I think there is some really interesting information to be culled when you’re considering buying a synthesizer module or considering buying a piece of software or some other piece of hardware, a stomp box or something. You can look at the conversation online, usually on the forum that’s from the website of the manufacturer of that software or hardware, and get a sense of the culture of that content.

I think the issue there, for me, is that, as somebody who writes for a living, I think that writing can be highly overvalued. And I feel that one of the reasons the Junto exists as a model for this is that I feel that musicians communicate to each other through music primarily. And I feel that there’s an opportunity in communities for people to communicate in non-verbal ways.

Instagram is a nice step in that direction, though a lot of the pleasure of Instagram is actually the captions for the image like, “Oh now I’ve seen this beautiful picture; where is it from or what’s the context?” But I feel like one of the things that I’m trying to do with the Junto and one thing I’d like to see more is that it isn’t just a bunch of people chatting about presets and how they use tools, but their actual participation in the community is somehow nonverbal, that through images and sound and code, they’re participating, which is why GitHub is a community but it’s often not considered alongside [others]. … People talk about these massive communities and GitHub rarely comes up in the list alongside Facebook and Reddit and all these other. It’s interesting because GitHub, to me is just as much a community as these others. You know, a pull request is a form of participation.

Grosse: And communication.

Weidenbaum: Yeah, exactly.

You can hear (stream or, for free, download) the full, 45-minute podcast here: artmusictech.libsyn.com. Many thanks to Darwin for the invitation and the great conversation.

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Diva of the Sublime

A track from Ana Roxanne's new album

The Leaving Records label selected the lovely song “Nocturne” as its SoundCloud post to represent the seven tracks that comprise ~~~. That’s the new solo album (and that is, indeed, three tildes in a row) from Ana Roxanne. It’s a beautiful performance, Roxanne’s elevated voice — a mix of choir-schooled, pitch-perfect tonality and casual, approachable, often speech-like intonation — filling the track from start to finish. There is a vaguely Celtic sensibility to Roxanne’s singing at times, but its primary quality is a kind of ethereal affection. There’s a definite solitariness to it, but it is by no means remote or rarefied. Roxanne’s vowels are echoed deeply into the vast distance, sometimes with a pleasingly artificial rigidity to the rippling effect, and all the while a slow, percussive drone under⁣girds the piece, thrumming at a low level.

Get the full album at anaroxanne.bandcamp.com. It’s available digital, and while the first pressing of 69 cassette tapes sold out, a new run is now available. The website lists March 15 of this year as the release date, but it’s all already streaming in full. More from Roxanne at instagram.com/frincess.

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Grouper Subdivides

Thirteen segments across a new work credited to Nivhek

The music is credited to one Nivhek, which reverts on the Bandcamp website to the account of Grouper, which is the name employed by Liz Harris when pursuing all manner of murmured and strummed folkloric musics. The Nivhek album, After its own death / Walking in a spiral towards the house, released earlier this month, is two extended suites. On the vinyl version, which has sold out, these suites are divided in half, one on each side of two LPs. On Bandcamp, the suites’ elements are divvied up to the third decimal point of their time codes, the first piece into nine subsets, the second into four:

After its own death

0 – 7:48:544 Cloudmouth
7:48:544 – 8:19:489 blue room
8:17:503 – 11:27:011 Night-walking
11:27:011 -16:41:254 Funeral song
16:41:254 – 26:00:991 Thirteen (version)
26:00:991 – 28:39:125 Crying jar
28:39:125 – 29:29:394 Entry
29:29:394 – 37:33:056 Walking in a spiral towards the house
37:30:846 – end Weightless

Walking in a spiral towards the house

0 – 3:14:509 Night-walking
3:14:509 – 8:37:153 Funeral song
8:37:153 – 12:59:510 Thirteen
12:59:510 – end Walking in a spiral towards the house

It’s helpful to listen to the second work first, as it’s more approachable. “Walking in a spiral towards the house” is tonal, even melodic, built from bell- or gong-like sounds, each tuned to a musical purpose but retaining a functional, call-to-assembly quality. They are heard individually and in rudimentary chords, sometimes triggered in near unison, but more often gathering parallel ripples of tone as they slowly fade. Often those fades are left to occur until their natural end: digital silence. At other times, the fades are curtailed, truncated, the bells re-rung before they are rung out. Toward the end of the penultimate subset, labeled “Thirteen,” which is the minute that occurs shortly after the segment ends (and also the total number of subsections between the two suites, and also the name of one of the subsets of the first piece, “After its own death”), those bells pile up in a way that bears little resemblance to what has preceded the incident. It’s an ecstatic moment in an otherwise genteel setting. It challenges the order of things, but doesn’t break the order’s spell.

“After its own death” is likewise built — at first — from a singular source, in this case choral vocals, all apparently Harris’ own, layered to dark-ecclesiastical effect. But the voice is not all that is there. Like the score to a film by Nicolas Winding Refn or Ridley Scott — or perhaps the two teamed up — the music gathers a deep, raspy bass line that is full of narrative portent. It’s the sound of a vengeful figure stalking the plains. As the first half of “After its own death” begins to close, it introduces some of the bells explored with more focus on “Walking in a spiral towards the house.” The second half opens with the familiar sound of Grouper’s trademark super slow guitar work, simple lines let to sketch something at once personal and symphonic — the intonation is singular, but the reverberations suggest a vast endeavor. And she’s just getting started. There is far more ahead: bells, coughing, what might be footsteps, and that thunderous bass, distorted as only a broken amplifier and intense feedback could accomplish. There is whispering and sudden silence. It’s a challenging piece, a collection of fragments, in brutal contrast to the linear “Walking in a spiral towards the house.”

These are two opposed parts, “Walking in a spiral towards the house” and “After its own death”: one offering welcome solace to those broken after a complex challenge, one offering a welcome challenge to those pulling themselves from solace’s anesthetized embrace.

Album available at grouper.bandcamp.com.

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Diegetic-Like

More on the subtle musicality of Issa Rae's great HBO series

The musicality of the HBO series Insecure took a bit of a hit when the character Daniel exited stage left earlier this season, the series’ third. A love interest for Issa, Insecure‘s main protagonist, the aspiring music producer Daniel helped, simply through his presence, to transform the show’s wall-to-wall backing tracks into plot points, whether he was busy at work, or arguing with another musician about the arrangement of a new composition, or seducing Issa from behind his production desk.

With Daniel now gone, we still have composer Raphael Saadiq’s score and Kier Lehman’s music supervision to artfully thread the needle between diegetic and non-diegetic sound, between what’s happening on-screen and what Insecure‘s writers want us to think and feel at any given moment. But this past week’s episode, “Obsessed-Like,” the season’s penultimate, leveled things up during one brief, spectacular moment.

Insecure has always played with Issa’s inner monologues, which often occur when she’s alone in the bathroom. Those moments are tender not just because they are private, but because they show a more forthright and secure Issa than she generally acts in public. They often come in the form of short bursts of fledgling rap lyrics, part poetry slam, part self-aware stand-up comedy. They hint at where Issa the character may be headed. Perhaps — as with the Jerry of Seinfeld — the character Issa will become more like the actress Issa who portrays her.

In the episode “Obsessed-Like,” as its title suggests, Issa is anything but secure. She’s reeling from another recent relationship, with a guy named Nathan, one she didn’t herself choose to conclude. Much of the episode is a battle between her somewhat deranged inner thoughts and what’s happening around her. Many of the scenes are filmed as if through her eyes, to emphasize that she isn’t seeing things clearly. (It’s the first episode of the season written by Insecure showrunner Prentice Penny, who perhaps has the most freedom to push beyond the show’s narrative toolbox.)

At one climactic point we see Issa in Nathan’s bedroom, where she is frantically trying to guess his laptop’s password. Her best friend, Molly, walks in on her, and to signal the way this moment presents an emotional rock bottom, Issa’s inner and public voices finally converge in an expression of utter shame — the “uh” of her internal monologue and the “uh” of her verbal response to a question from Molly harmonize with each other. They’re seen here in captions, the italics having, throughout the episode, signaled when Issa is talking to herself inside her head. Issa hasn’t recovered fully, but the delusions with which the episode opened seem to have been reconciled with — come into harmony with — reality.

This evening, HBO will air the final episode of the third season of Insecure (which has already been renewed for a fourth). It is directed by Regina King, who played a lead character in the series Southland, the rare hour-long TV drama to air, for its full five-season run, without any background score. I wrote previously about the character Daniel’s presence on Insecure as a nuanced secondary figure we see making music.

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