I started creating tracks for the Disquiet.com Junto in January 2012 upon the group’s founding by Marc Weidenbaum, a San Francisco music, technology and culture writer. A former editor of Tower Records’ Pulse! magazine, he has written for Nature, Boing Boing, and The Atlantic online, and he also lectures on the role of sound in the media landscape. Marc is most recently the author of the 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II and since 1996, he runs the website Disquiet.com about the intersection of sound, art, and technology.
The Disquiet Junto is an online music community in which members respond to weekly composition prompts posted every Thursday devised and designed by Marc. Participants have just over four days to complete each project. As of this writing, ~460 musicians and sound artists from all over the world have joined in, creating over 3300 tracks that have been uploaded and shared via soundcloud.com. The playlist above has my contributions, and updates in real time with the most recent (an playlist unstuck from time in a post about Disquiet seemed appropriate).
Participation in the Junto for members is not compulsory, and artists jump in and out at will. The Junto makes it ok to take tremendous risks with creativity, though, so many of us keep coming back for more. As of this post, I’ve done ~50 of the 135 challenges, and a few of the resulting tracks ended up on my last two records, which are released under Creative Commons currently at Bandcamp and the Free Music Archive.
I followed Marc’s writing and blog for years. As a rock and pop songwriter, I was an outlier for the Junto, but always aspire to abstraction and harbor fascination with electronic music and sound manipulation. So after his initial call, I listened from the sidelines for few challenges, then conjured the courage to create a track.
Avant-garde and abstract expression are often low-hanging fruit for ridicule, tossed off as the butt of jokes while dismissed as misplaced fealty to impracticality. Explaining the Junto is not always easy. A couple people – people who should know better – have said “it sounds like a cult,” after I entreated them to check it out.
I told the last one, “Never mistake something cult for a cult. Anyway, what happened? You used to be so cool.”
The Junto reminds me that in writing music and “songs,” I also create sound(s). These sounds have texture and personality and interact in mathematical and metaphysical ways. I am way more aware of my compositional process now, and every week I mine Junto tracks for technique and marvel at the output. Even when not able or capable to participate in a given challenge, the assignments themselves are enough to spark lanterns otherwise unlit. I’ve also found friends. It’s made the internet not such a cold, commercial place.
Just when you think you couldn’t grow…
This video of Marc speaking in April 2014 at the SETI institute about the Junto is a definitive explanation of its intent and impact: