December 02, 2014

Disquiet / 2014.12.02 / Double Nickels on the Buddha Machine

Disquiet / 2014.12.02 / Double Nickels on the Buddha Machine
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This is the occasional email newsletter of 

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

My name is Marc Weidenbaum and I live in San Francisco. Thanks for reading, and for passing this to anyone you think might have an interest in the intersection of sound, art, and technology. 

1. DOWNLOAD LOTTERY: I'm got some music to give away. Just shoot me a note at with "Dec 2 Disquiet Downloads" as the subject line to be eligible to win a copy. Both the China-based duo FM3 (the musicians behind that marvel of consumer-grade sound art, the Buddha Machine) and the Milwaukee, Wisconsin–based trio Geodes have provided me with some download codes for their recent albums. These are the digital single Rauksvahks by the Geodes, featuring computer, autoharp, synthesizer, and voice, and the six-track Ting Shuo (听说) from FM3, their first album in a decade.

2. DO YOU WANT PUNK OR DO YOU WANT THE TRUTH?: The talented artist Warren Craghead, whose comics I edited a million years ago, recently published a small book — "a drawn tribute" — in which 58 artists drew the 48 songs from the now 30-years-old album Double Nickels on the Dime by the Minutemen. The contributors included several other artists whose work I have edited in the past — among them Gabrielle Gamboa, John Porcellino, and Dean Westerfield — and such talented folks as Josh Bayer, Marc Bell, Luke Ramsey, and Sarah Boyts Yoder, just to name a few. Craghead invited me to write the collection's introduction. I was tempted, of course, to connect mini-comics and self-published art to the "econo" mode of the Minutemen, but in the end I took another route, based more directly on my own experience of the music when it was first released. Here is the text of my introduction:

"Do You Want Punk or Do You Want the Truth?"

I never saw the Minutemen play live, but I did get to witness Mike Watt carry the flame in the years that immediately followed their tragic, premature dissolution.

I started college a few months after the album
Double Nickels on the Dime was released. Double Nickels was something of a soundtrack to that first year of school. While the dormitory quad echoed with dueling boomboxes — there was an ongoing rivalry between recent live releases by Bruce Springsteen and Talking Heads — the college radio station was more partial to the Minutemen. Those taut, ever so brief songs that populate the album popped up regularly on the radio, like public service announcements: short, direct, impassioned. The title of the album’s “#1 Hit Song” might have been intended as a jokey self-defeatism, but on college radio it was something of a fact.

And then, well into the first semester of my second year at college, the Minutemen's legendary singer and guitarist, D. Boon, passed away. I happened to attend school where Kira, of Black Flag, was originally from, and she'd recently returned to town. She and Watt, in the process of recuperating from losing Boon, formed a group called Dos, which as the name suggests consisted just of their two basses. Seeing Dos perform live off campus was the first time I ever saw Watt play in person. It was a very disorienting experience, because the rollicking, intense, chaotic sound that I recognized from the Minutemen was, in the form of Dos, funneled into something far more meditative and reflective, more subtle and remote. If the Minutemen were like funky beatnik Woody Guthries, Dos was as if Johann Sebastian Bach had hooked a pickup to a cello.

And to be frank, at barely 18 years of age, I had found
Double Nickels on the Dime extremely befuddling at first. Like with many records that would later become favorites — Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II — I was by no means immediately smitten. It was less love at first listen than it was an immersive, confounding experience that I felt a strong desire to wrestle with. Unlike with Brew or SAW2, the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime isn't something I ever really managed to wrestle to the ground. Instead, I simply managed to come to grips with it, to make peace with its intensity. To this day the pummeling language, the short songs, the changes of sonic environment — live audience here, tiny garage there — all combine into a persistently formidable listen. We all make our way into a record this intense in our own ways. It was, really, only through the musical language of Dos that I came to begin to understand Double Nickels on the Dime, to appreciate the individual instrumental lines, to recognize the play between guitar and bass, bass and drum, and to hear Boon's booming innuendos and admonishments as one among many rumbling forces in the fierce assembly.

Pick up a copy of the book at

3. Office/Bus Playlist: Current favorites.

- The sheer glisten of “Warm Tranquility” by Carbonates on Mars suggests it almost immediately as holiday music, as year-end background sounds suitable to the fulcrum-like moment when one year slows considerably, almost to a halt, so as to ease transition to the next.

- The Laughing Khokmah Ensemble has placed another fine set of gloriously broken instrumental hip-hop up on Bandcamp. Atmospheric rhythmic incongruities:

4. THIS WEEK IN SOUND: An occasional, lightly annotated clipping service.

One-Track Mind: SoundCloud recently added a "repeat single track" function to its web player. This means that if you're listening to something on SoundCloud you can click a button to have it repeat when it ends, rather than have the service automatically move on to another track. This is a very welcome turn of events. When it comes to audio streaming, we often don't really hear something the first time we hear it, and often get lost in the continuity. The ability to repeat a single track in some ways having a chance to really pay attention through repetition.

Replicant Soundscape: Speaking of listening on repeat, this following track has been online since August, but I only just learned of it via an post about a related subject. The account of "crysknife007" on YouTube is filled with great "ambient geek sleep aids" such as the sound of the Starship Enterprise's engines running for 24 hours straight. What follows is the sound of Rick Deckard's apartment in Blade Runner playing for half a day, so you can imagine you're a cyberpunk gumshoe when you're really just sitting at home paying some bills. Though YouTube comments are rightly avoided, a useful follow-up to the track did note that this same sound was later used in Alien for the Nostromo's medical bay.

Ambient Comedy: The BBC has produced a retrospective of Chris Morris (Blue Jam, Four Lions), the British satirist. I had very much hoped to interview Morris for my recent book on the Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works Volume II because he used music from the album in his radio and television sketches to especially haunting effect, but sadly he wasn't available. The BBC retrospective is three hours long and, according to the BBC webpage, will be online for another four weeks:

New Heights in Eavesdropping: A thorough overview of the U.S. government's system "Automatic Speech recognition in Reverberant Environments," aka ASpIRE, an advance speech-recognition tool. 

4. CURRENT FIXATIONS: text-to-speech ... "always on" listening devices ... the not-quite-silences of conference calls ... sound effects in comics ... sound design of TV shows ... getting reacquainted with the sound of rain

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