An Article In The Oxford Handbook Of Music And Virtuality


I have an article in The Oxford Handbook of Music and Virtuality (2016), edited by the late Sheila Whiteley and Shara Rambarran. The book’s thirty-one chapters, write the editors, examine “the intersections, mutations, and transmigrations of the virtual and the real” by offering “a kaleidoscope of interdisciplinary perspectives from scholars around the globe on the way in which virtuality mediates the dissemination, acquisition, performance, creation, and reimagining of music.” My article “From Environmental Sound To Virtual Environment Enhancing” explores the history, design, uses, and social meanings of Ambiance, a popular soundscape app.

You can read more about the book here.


On Writing As Flying


Imagine you’re an attentive bird.

You love flying because flying is what you do—it’s what you’re designed for.

You’re soaring high above a landscape—riding the air currents, maybe somewhere in rural England, or Western Canada.

You look down and notice the rolling hills, a stream that flows through them, and just off in the distance, a small forest.

You decide to take a closer look at it all so you swoop downwards—swoosh!—quickly and effortlessly descending from a height of several hundred feet to about twenty.

Now you’re in the thick of it.

Here you can see the texture of everything; you can smell the grass on the hills; you can feel the chill of the water and hear its gurgling sound.

Following the stream you notice a few humans standing along its banks, gesturing and talking and acting like they own the place. Under the flowing water you also spot fish moving quicksilver, steady and silent.

It’s all so perfect.

You keep gliding above the stream until it leads you to the edge of the small forest.

From above, the forest looked like a dense dark green patch, but here close to the ground all you see is its trees.

So many trees!

Angling your wings from side to side—you do this intuitively—you slip into the forest, darting in and around and up and over those trees, taking in their complex arrangement of space and the density of their canopy.

There’s so much going on in the thicket, so many levels of information that you could easily get lost.
Maybe you are lost. It’s chaotic but makes sense when you’re in it.

After a few minutes you make an abrupt upward turn and shoot towards an opening to the sky.

You climb and climb, riding the currents in a straight vertical ascent. Thrilling!

Higher and higher you go for the great view—the perspective—that it affords.

Once again above forest, now super high in the sky, you careen back towards direction from which you came.

Everything below looks tiny again.

You see the stream and how it flows through the rolling green hills, but you no longer feel the cold of the water.
You see the hills and the forest receding in the distance but no longer sense their complexities.

The humans standing on the banks are just little specks. They’re still gesturing and talking though.

You have perspective now—you can take in at a glance the order of things—because this is what you, an attentive bird, this is what you do.

You began high up, flew down below, then returned to a distance.

Someday you might remember the details of what you felt when you got close to everything–
a trace of what you noticed about those hills, the stream, or that forest will come back to you.

This is how writing is like flying.

Curating The Week: Composed Music, Building Acoustics, Underwater Noise, And Spaced Repetition


An article that proposes “Composed Music” to describe classical music.

“Composed Music’s primary virtue is its blunt veracity. It is what it says it is: works by a singular mind, fixed and promulgated in written form. When you think about it, that is probably the one and only thing that unites all eras and styles of so-called Classical Music. Composed Music covers everybody and every work we’ve ever described as Classical Music, plus anything written in the 20th and 21st century, right up through right now, without privileging any era or style.”

A brief article about Derek Sugden, an acoustic engineer, about how buildings sound.

“The sound is as important as the surface and the feel. It’s important because our ears define for me the nature of space.”

An article about the effects of underwater noise pollution on whales.

“Constant noise is upending the way whales and dolphins hunt, navigate, and form social bonds. Imagine trying to converse with a friend—or even think straight—while the subway train passes by.”

An article about the power of spaced repetition as a study/memory technique. (The article cites research from here.)

“Spaced repetition is simple, but highly effective because it deliberately hacks the way your brain works. It forces learning to be effortful, and like muscles, the brain responds to that stimulus by strengthening the connections between nerve cells. By spacing the intervals out, you’re further exercising these connections each time.”

Notes on Dennis DeSantis’s “Making Music: 74 Creative Strategies For Electronic Music Producers”



Making Music is not a collection of vague aphorisms. Instead, it combines motivational ideas about the philosophy and psychology of music-making with hands-on tools and techniques that musicians of all kinds can use to really get work done.”
– Dennis DeSantis, Making Music

Making Music: 74 Creative Strategies For Electronic Music Producers (2015) by Dennis DeSantis is a conceptual guide for musicians who make music using a computer. DeSantis brings to his writing the full range of his experience as a percussionist, composer, electronic musician, and head of documentation at Ableton, the company behind Ableton Live software. Making Music is beautiful in both the rigorous clarity of its content as well as its minimalist design. (The book is published by Ableton.) It’s a book of encouragement, a book of confirmation, a book of suggestion and direction, a book of thoughtful inquiry about the creative process, and a book of pragmatic pathways for action.

Divided into three sections, Problems of Beginning, Problems of Progressing, and Problems of Finishing, Making Music presents brief (and unnumbered) chapters, each of which tackles a different issue a musician might face when creating music. Every few pages a new problem is posed and then a solution is offered. For example, in the first section the chapter “Arbitrary Constraints” considers the problem of computer software offering far too many options. DeSantis suggests that we deliberately limit our options through various kinds of constraints. Another chapter, “Goal-Less Exploration” considers the problem of boredom by suggesting ways of micro-exploring without a set goal. The second section considers problems relating to creating variations (e.g. “Mutation Over Generations”), programming rhythms (e.g. “Linear Drumming”), melody formation, sampling, and more abstract topics such as “Tuning Everything”, “Maximal Density”, and “Dramatic Arc.” The concluding section presents problems of arrangement and form with a view to completing a musical project. Overall, the format and chapter themes of Making Music generate a wealth of good questions and equally stimulating and elegant answers. At times the playful way these questions and answers unearth creative strategies for making music with a computer evokes the oblique strategies that Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt devised in the 1970s. Like Eno’s prompts (e.g. “Honour thy error as a hidden intention”,” What to increase? What to reduce?”, “Work at a different speed”) as well as the philosophy of John Cage (who drew on Zen teachings), DeSantis’ book has a pleasing sense of calm about it, as if its meta-message is: No matter how your music is going at this moment, something (interesting) will work out if you think about it differently. Get beyond yourself, let the work flow.

Making Music is certainly a practical book that could be useful to any musician, regardless of the kind of music they make. A beginner would love this book, as would an expert, and the material is equally appropriate to a hip hop producer as it is to a composer of left-field soundscape recordings. (Or a producer of left-field hip hop that incorporates soundscape recordings.) But Making Music also resonates on levels deeper than its how-to format might suggest. One of these levels rattles around the questions: What is composing in the 21st century? What does composing technique look like in the digital age? DeSantis has articulated 74 ways in which music software is a unique environment and possibility space in which to think through composing. Another deep level on which the book resonates is how it provides insight into the texture and tempo of accomplished musical thinking. DeSantis doesn’t talk about his own compositions per se, yet the way he systematically offers and then analyzes examples demonstrates how we too might rigorously think through the many permutations latent in our musical materials. In short, Making Music is an inspiring and very musical book because it faithfully models sound musical thinking.

Curating The Week: Criticism Of Music Criticism, Music In Advertising, And The Oldest Known Song


1. An article that considers the significance of the recent critical attention paid by (serious) music journalism towards (serious?) pop music. Case in point: the New York Times’ article and video documentary on the making of Justin Bieber’s “Where R  Ü Now.”

“The New York Times’ pieces challenge us as to how seriously we are prepared to take music that isn’t ostensibly academic. It is one thing to produce elaborate ambience, shattering, hammering techno, or abrasive concept-led noise — yet it is another, arguably even harder, task to condense an idea into its most simple, ‘pop’ form.”

2. An article on the use of electronic dance music in advertising.

“Not since the hip-hop boom of the early 90s have corporations leapt on a scene so vigorously. It’s easy to see why: EDM – a hybrid of house, dubstep and trance – trades in safe, inclusive, upbeat music that is played at extravagant live shows to vast crowds. It is largely language-free so it has global reach.”

3. An article about the oldest known song, a 3,400 year old Sumerian cult hymn.

“The 7-note diatonic scale as well as harmony existed 3,400 years ago…flies in the face of most musicologist’s views that ancient harmony was virtually non-existent (or even impossible) and the scale only about as old as the Ancient Greeks.”

Here is a MIDI rendering of the music:

100 Metaphors For Thinking Through Creativity


Creativity is a balancing act.
Creativity is a candle that burns for a while.
Creativity is a circuit.
Creativity is a difference that makes the difference.
Creativity is a game.
Creativity is a key.
Creativity is a lone voice.
Creativity is an encounter.
Creativity is an outpouring.
Creativity is a radar system.
Creativity is a renewable resource.
Creativity is a response to a call.
Creativity is a series of small victories.
Creativity is a sum more than its parts.
Creativity is a weather system.
Creativity is additive and subtractive.
Creativity is adjectival.
Creativity is aiming.
Creativity is anticipation.
Creativity is anti-cliché.
Creativity is attitude.
Creativity is broad strokes.
Creativity is changing the frame of reference.
Creativity is coming up short.
Creativity is concept-stretching.
Creativity is contagion.
Creativity is conundrum.
Creativity is coping.
Creativity is cyclical.
Creativity is data management.
Creativity is deep fishing.
Creativity is derivative.
Creativity is designing.
Creativity is dialogue.
Creativity is disinterested.
Creativity is distillation.
Creativity is distortion
Creativity is doing it in a series.
Creativity is endurance.
Creativity is enthusiasm as a compass.
Creativity is exponential.
Creativity is everyday.
Creativity is fermentation.
Creativity is flow.
Creativity is focus.
Creativity is fractal.
Creativity is granular.
Creativity is harmonics above the fundamental.
Creativity is hidden competition.
Creativity is hyperlinking.
Creativity is hypothesizing.
Creativity is improving.
Creativity is incremental.
Creativity is judging proportion.
Creativity is juggling ideas.
Creativity is juxtaposition.
Creativity is leaping.
Creativity is learned.
Creativity is lift under the wing.
Creativity is liminal.
Creativity is linking.
Creativity is measuring.
Creativity is minimalism and absence.
Creativity is multitasking.
Creativity is pattern recognition.
Creativity is neural firing.
Creativity is noticing.
Creativity is numerical.
Creativity is off-road driving.
Creativity is ordering.
Creativity is overhearing gossip.
Creativity is playing the odds.
Creativity is polyphonic.
Creativity is pruning.
Creativity is question-asking.
Creativity is redirected desire.
Creativity is refraction.
Creativity is remixing.
Creativity is resourcefulness.
Creativity is rhizomatic.
Creativity is rolling the dice.
Creativity is round shapes into square pegs.
Creativity is seeing the two faces instead of the vase.
Creativity is spotlighting.
Creativity is step-wise.
Creativity is sui generis, a one-off.
Creativity is swimming against the current.
Creativity is switching gears.
Creativity is sympathetic resonance.
Creativity is tessellation.
Creativity is textural.
Creativity is therapy.
Creativity is timing.
Creativity is tinkering.
Creativity is toil.
Creativity is travel.
Creativity is tuning/turning the dial.
Creativity is uncertainty.
Creativity is variations on a theme.
Creativity is wonder.

Curating The Week: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Clocks And The Body, And Chris Watson

1. An interview with Ryuichi Sakamoto.

“It was one of my uncles who is a big music lover and record collector. Since the age of three or four I often visited his room to play his piano and pick some vinyl records to play. The first music I got really into was Bach. I was impressed with the music of counterpoint, with its way of writing. After that I studied harmony and counterpoint. All these experiences deeply affected me in the way of thinking and expressing music. I always think about music horizontally and vertically at the same time. Also, to me, it’s very important the connections of harmony in time which is two-dimensional. Because similar to language, a meaning would be totally different if you change the syntax. The same thing happens in music.”

2. An article about how the clock has affected the human body.

“The clock’s ubiquity legitimized time discipline and naturalized it, making it banal and commonsensical. It made sure that no one escaped the tempo.”

3. An interview with sound recordist Chris Watson about the connections between human music making and the sounds of the natural world.