thinking through music, sound and culture

Curating The Week: Music-Related Stuff On The Internet

“We’re not in the music space, we’re in the moment space.”

2. An article about field recording.

“The idea of objective recording in the field, thankfully now problematised and rejected, still lingers though like a spectre haunting the ways many listeners consider recordings.”

3. An article about how we read in the digital age.

“‘Reading’ may not even be the best verb for reading, since the words we encounter on screens large and small usually come interwoven with images, videos, and other media. Do I read my Twitter feed? It feels more like I use it or consume it or maybe absorb it.”


Linking Two Modalities: Lewis Lapham On The Essay And A Roy Haynes Drum Solo

In his introduction to a piece about artists and scientists in their 80s (including drummer Roy Hayes, age 89) in The New York Times, “Old Masters at the Top of Their Game,” former Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham explains how essay writing is a way of knowing:

“The essay proceeds from the question ‘What do I know?’ and doesn’t stay for an answer until the author finds out what he means to say by setting it up in a sentence, maybe catching it in the net of a metaphor.”

In a musical analogy, here is a video of drummer Roy Haynes playing a solo that is another way of knowing:

Brett’s Sound Picks: Glenn Kotche’s “Anomaly: Mvt. II”


There’s a wonderful rhythmic insistence to this music–a rolling 6-beat feel with shifting accents that blends the sounds of string quartet (Kronos) with a multi-percussion drumset part. In its positive energy it evokes the homespun of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts mixed with the shimmer of Indonesian gamelan…

On Web Searches That Brought You Here


What is the relationship between music and discipline?

A great question! While it’s a cliché that in music, practice makes perfect, and that steady, mindful practice requires discipline, perhaps less remarked upon is how the act of playing music is itself a form of discipline. Making music disciplines one’s mind to focus on the sounds here and now, the notes on the page, or the interaction of oneself with one’s band mates. Making music is also discipline for the body to travel and re-travel certain paths along one’s chosen instrument(s), in the process developing a finely tuned sense of one’s capability to do musical things.

Wallace Stevens music.

The American poet Wallace Stevens did touch on music in his poetry. As I wrote in this blog a few years ago, “Stevens was quite interested in musical experience, writing about the power of music to encapsulate the unseen and unsaid. For Stevens, meaning is never a given, but rather something created, and he used music–that presence between body and spirit–as a figure for a desire of spectral power.” You can read more here.

What is perfect time in music?

There is, of course, no such thing as perfect time in music–unless you’re talking about the tick-tock of a metronome, which isn’t really music. Maybe perfect time in music is that sound that effortlessly flows like a stream, or like autumn leaves blown up and around in circles. Or perfect time is a group of musicians–a band, a choir–who work as one. Or perfect time is a musician who doesn’t need to count, but instead lets the music propel the moment.

Curating The Week: Music-Related Stuff On The Internet

1. A must-see video in which the jazz pianist Bill Evans discusses how to approach making music.

“They would rather approximate the entire problem than take a small part of it and be real and true about it.”

2. A video in which the Turkish musician Gorkem Sen demonstrates his remarkable-sounding acoustic instrument.

“The vibrations from the strings are transmitted via the coiled springs to the frame drums. These vibrations are turned into sound by the membranes which echo back and forth on the coiled springs. This results in a unique listening experience with a hypnotic surround sound.”


3. An article about a very young heavy metal band from Brooklyn.

“Music is music, and as long as you can express yourself in a way that you think is good for people to hear then it’s something you should do. I wish everybody could not be afraid to do the things they want to do.”

On Using Voices To Sell

For a few years now I’ve noticed TV commercials using the voices of well-known actors to advertise services and products. I started paying attention to these voices during the 2012 Summer Olympics. It was an ad for VISA, and the reassuring, trustworthy voice was that of Morgan Freeman:

There are other examples too. In an Esurance ad, we hear the voice of John Krasinski, better known as the character Jim from the NBC show, The Office.

In a Verizon ad, we hear the voice of Ty Burrell, better known as the character Phil Dunphy from the ABC show, Modern Family.

And in a TD Bank ad, we hear the voice of Matt Damon, best known as, well, Matt Damon.


I don’t generally pay attention to what is advertised in these ads–credit cards, telephone service, and banking services aren’t exactly in the sweet spot of my range interests and expertise.

But I do notice voices because voices contain so much subtle information that is impossible not to register. (Is sound more subliminally powerful that visual stimuli?) Listening to the ads I find myself thinking about how strongly voices signify different things and telegraph different affects out into the world. I don’t know Freeman, Kasinski, Burrell, or Damon, but I know their voices. In fact, their voices are familiar enough to me and millions of others through the characters these actors have played in films and on television that it feels as though on some level I/we actually do know them. Here, familiar sound nudges us towards trust. Trust the voice, trust the services and products.

What’s interesting in this regard is how the voices of these actors somehow aggregate together in my imagination into a single meta-voice of a character who is reliable, trustworthy, responsible, smart and a little knowing too (wink wink). Such is the power of sound that even though we don’t see the actors’ faces in the ads, their voices still manage to telegraph a sense of good sense. As I said, I don’t have any particular interest in the companies on whose behalf Freeman’s, Kasinski’s, Burrell’s, and Damon’s voices are speaking, yet the sounds draw me in with reassurance that at least in the case of VISA, Esurance, Verizon, or TD Bank–everything is, or will continue to be, smooth sailing.

Now that’s a sound sales pitch!

Alan Watts On Resonance As Consciousness


In his book The Tao of Philosophy, Alan Watts (1915-1973) talks about resonance as a form of consciousness:

“when I tap on this crystal, which is glass, it makes a noise. Now that resonance is an extremely primitive form of consciousness…when you hit a bell it rings, or you touch a crystal and it responds, inside itself it has a very simple reaction. It goes “jangle” inside, whereas we go “jangle” with all sorts of colors and lights and intelligence, ideas, and thoughts…” (8-9).

A Spontaneous Conversation About The Pragmatics Of Creativity


“How did you make this?”

“I made it through making a series of small decisions, one after the other.”

“Oh. But how did you know which direction to go in?”

“Each moment prompted a small decision in need of making, which in turn suggested a path forward along which to travel.”

“Did it take a while to travel along the path?”

“It did actually. A fairly long time. After all, there were a lot of decisions to make.”

“When you finished traveling along the path, had you arrived at a place that you expected?”


“Were you expecting anything in particular?”

“Not really.”

“So how then did you know you were finally done with your making?”

“It felt done. Plus I had a deadline and I just ran out of time.”

An Article About Electronic Music Fandom

My article “Autechre and Electronic Music Fandom: Performing Knowledge Online through Techno-Geek Discourses,” is available in the journal Popular Music and Society. You can view an abstract of the article here.



On Creative Constraints: Inhabiting The Midrange In Music


A few years ago I bought a pair of monitors for my computer for working on music. Since limited desk space was a consideration, I chose a small size: the woofer speaker on each monitor is only about 4 inches in diameter. The sound of the monitors is uncommonly rich and powerful though, with a capacity to reach volume levels higher than I’ll ever need. Overall, they’re great.

But as I worked on various projects I realized that as I descended into the lower range of my keyboard controller, notes would start disappearing. I’d press the key but there’d be no sound. It turns out that my monitors don’t have the extended frequency response necessary to reproduce low notes. In other words, the small woofers aren’t very good with bass–an element of music that is becoming more and more important for listeners. (Read more about this topic here.)

And so I simply stopped working with bass. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but rather a wanting to make music that sounds decent emanating from these particular monitors despite their limitations. As I think about it now, a lack of bass became a constraint that steered me towards a higher-pitched musical register.

Maybe one day I’ll have huge monitors and be way into bass tones. For the moment though, I’m inhabiting the midrange.


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