Noise Altering

I’ve been thinking about noise: how much of it exists, its characteristics, and the lengths to which we go to remove it from our lives.

Not too long ago it was assumed that clean water’s not important, that seeing the stars is not that important. But now it is. And now I think we’re realizing quiet is important, and we need silence — that silence is not a luxury, but it’s essential.

Gordon Hempton — acoustic ecologist on a mission to “save quiet for the benefit of all life.”

Thinking about the above citation, it’s difficult for me to imagine a time when we assumed clean water was not important. It’s equally difficult to imagine that silence being important is a novel idea.

What feels more true is that silence is, by today’s standards, a luxury. For people who live in densely populated areas, finding an extended period of silence can be nearly impossible. To me this lack of silence is a function of two compounding factors:

  • Economic systems whereby being proximate to large numbers of other people is the most efficient form of having basic needs met.
  • Population growth.

Thus, the great majority of us live in places with other people; this is not novel, but a fact of life. And we’ve evolved to be unable to shut off our ears without technological intervention; we cannot close our ears like we can our eyes or mouths.

Since we have no way of eliminating it at its essence, I’m interested in exploring ways of reframing silence. Taking an oblique strategy might involve understanding and exploring its opposite: noise. I think sound whose intention has no purpose for the person experiencing it could be characterized as noise.


In 2014, I made a web-audio experiment with Laura Juo-Hsin Chen called “Tune in, tune out”. The experience would analyze the ambient environmental sound around the visitor, and use it as input into a musical experience — translating it into something remotely melodic.

Screenshot of the website

I’d like to revisit and update this experience, with a greater appreciation and attention to the sonic quality of the piece. Here was our original blurb:

We started idea of filtering out the “sound of the sound”. So much effort and energy has gone into our attempts to “escape” our immediate sonic environment: conversations, distracting noises, and try to drown out the surrounding chaos.

There’s no denying the need to focus, and there’s also no shortage of aural distractions, especially living in urban areas. “Tune In, Tune Out” offers an alternative to the music and tools we use to tune out the noise around us, channeling that very noise into a sonic landscape.

Leave Tracks

Whatever you choose to do, leave tracks.

And that means, don’t do just for yourself, because in the end it’s not going to be fully satisfying. I think you will want to leave the world a little better for your having lived.

And there’s no satisfaction that a person can gain from what people call “turning over a bug”, that’s equal to the satisfaction that you get from knowing that you have made another’s life, your community, a little better for your effort.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Thank you, for your effort, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Empty Plate Radio – August 2020

I recorded a mix for Empty Plate Radio that aired this past Monday. It’s all house and techno from Chicago and Detroit.

DJing has not been a main focus nor creative outlet for me these past few months given the current climate. Still, making this mix was cathartic and offered me a chance to reflect again on house and techno’s Black and Midwestern roots. I’m proud of it.

Tracklist

Nefarious Stranger – Theo Parrish
Niiko — Jay Daniel
Crushed (Original Mix) – KMFH
Nothing to Fear – Rick Wade
Higher — Black Loops
I Feel Rhythm – Ron Trent
Struggle 4 – DJ Bone, Subject Detroit
Struggle 2 – DJ Bone
Feeling It – Gene Hunt
Deep Subliminal – Rick Wade
Hysperia Soul (Kaytronik’s Violence Dub) – Jovonn, Karizma
Winston’s Midnight Disco – Waajeed
Nothing to Fear – Kyle Hall
Be Free (Mike Huckaby Edit) – Jovonn
Don’t Do It Like That (Do It Like This) – Nexus 21, Donna Black

The language for creativity

It’s a frequently cited trope that art derives from experiences of suffering and pain. The discussion of the conditions for the creation of great art is usually a tired one, painted in broad strokes with its participants citing heartbreak, conflict, suicide, poverty.

But the following passage from Ocean Vuong’s novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous takes a different turn and tone, opening me to consider how we else we can approach this question.

Once, at a writing conference, a white man asked me if destruction was necessary for art. His question was genuine. He leaned forward, his blue gaze twitching under his cap stitched with gold with ‘Nam Vet 4 Life, the oxygen tank connected to his nose hissing beside him. I regarded him the way I do every white veteran from that war, thinking he could be my grandfather, and I said no. “No, sir, destruction is not necessary for art.” I said that, not because I was certain, but because I thought my saying it would help me believe it.

But why can’t the language for creativity be the language of regeneration?

In the novel, the protagonist has clearly lived through many traumas — as the child of a single mother / refugee who beats him as a reflection of her own lived trauma of escape from Vietnam, to growing up queer with a first lover who is addicted to opioids, to the simple reality of not being white in America.

Seen through this lens, the question posed about the language of creativity is a hopeful one. Yet it is also rhetorical, loaded with the seemingly impossible attempt to live in harmony having experienced such trauma. Amplifying this struggle is the reality of a society that does not value justice and healing for those most vulnerable among us.


In my mind, the only real qualification for the creation of art is that it reflects the intention and experiences of its author. Perhaps it’s merely easier to reflect pain and suffering because there is so much of it; much harder to imagine harmony and regeneration because there are so few lived experiences of it.

Still, I’m left with a deep impression by this book and its protagonist having the strength and courage to ask the question differently.

Playing the Hot Hand

Book recommendations have been flowing lately given our collective rush to educate ourselves on systemic racism in America, a frenzied attempt to make up for the failures of our educational systems and previous lack of personal accountability.

While this is well-intentioned, it may be particularly challenging when a practice of reading doesn’t already exist within the reader.

My friend Kenneth told me about his strategy, which he calls “Playing the Hot Hand”. The idea is simple:

Read three books at a time.

Kenneth

This might sound obscene, especially if you aren’t accustomed to reading regularly. But by keeping multiple books in rotation and reading the most engaging book at any given moment, you decouple the habit of reading from book selection. I think this is crucial if you want to develop a sustainable habit of reading.

It’s easy to feel guilt or stagnation if you’ve lost some momentum or interest in a book. But by “playing the hot hand”, you can make slower progress on books you still have the intention to read, while increasing the likelihood that you’re reading something that fully captures your mind and attention.

I have a hunch this idea could benefit the development of any sustainable practice. Thanks Kenneth.

Minor Feelings

Minor feelings are also the emotions we are accused of having when we decide to be difficult — in other words, when we decide to be honest. When minor feelings are finally externalized, they are interpreted as hostile, ungrateful, jealous, depressing, and belligerent, affects ascribed to racialized behavior that whites consider out of line. Our feelings are overreactions because our lived experiences of structural inequity are not commensurate with their deluded reality.

Cathy Park Hong

Put another way, minor feelings are the ones we set aside to avoid making white people feel bad.

Say Their Names

Like so many others, I’ve spent much of the last week sitting with sadness, anger, anxiety, and great discomfort, catalyzed by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.

This moment in my country’s history feels both unprecedented yet so familiar. Set against the backdrop of a pandemic that is having an outsized impact on communities of color, I’m bearing witness to the pain and suffering of African Americans. Across the country, people are gathering in protest to demand justice and systematic change.

Over the weekend, I watched, read, donated, and spoke with friends, attempting to process what’s going on and how to respond. At a certain point, I could no longer sit still with the feelings. I felt that my actions online weren’t enough to express the pain and frustration that I feel towards the way this country treats its black citizens, so I joined the protests and marches happening across Brooklyn and Manhattan.

I’m one person and this is another chapter in a long struggle of racial injustice. Still, I want to name my reasons for showing up (beyond the self-evident ones). Given the added risk of spreading coronavirus, joining a mass public gathering ought to be a measured, intentional, and meaningful decision. My intentions at this time can be summarized threefold:

1. Listening and Amplifying

I believe allyship is crucial to social change. As a non-black POC, listening to the voices of the oppressed is foundational. Walking side-by-side, hearing their perspectives and pain, but mostly supporting through my physical presence, my body, my voice. And beyond listening, I can do more to amplify black voices in their struggle for justice, on social media and through protest.

2. Challenging Asian-American Complicity

I’m a first generation Asian-American. Historically, our silence as a community and complicity in matters of racial injustice and white privilege is a source of deep shame and disappointment for me. I’m sitting with these thoughts and feelings afresh from learning the circumstances of George Floyd’s killing. From my perspective, I watched an Asian-American police officer, stand by and let George Floyd die. The myth of the model minority and white-adjacent privilege are narratives that must be reckoned with in these events and the subsequent period of response.

3. Holding onto Hope

I want future generations of this country to not know the savagery, injustice, and inequality that African Americans continue to face at the hands of the police. Protesting and marching with others gives voice and face to a message heard directly by those who are responsible for it, and it gives me hope that there can be change.

What I Heard, Witnessed, Experienced

At the Barclays Center, a peaceful protest included a many people sharing not only their outrage, but also some powerful and practical messages. Some that stood out to me included (paraphrasing):

“Activism takes many forms. The work of combating racial injustice does not start and end with this protest.”

“Abstain from spending on the capitalist of the 4th of July.”

“Do not buy from large corporations as they reinforce white privilege and instead direct your dollar to black-owned businesses.”

“The U.S. spends $100B+ on law enforcement annually, largely by local governments. Defund the police.”

“If you are here, you are an activist.”

#BLM speaker

Not all of what I heard was encouraging. After seeing that protests were peaceful, a group of fully-armored and weaponed NYPD walked away. I overheard one cop smile and say to the group, “No fun today!” — my assumption was that, at best he has a poor sense of humor, and at worst, he finds the idea of forcefully breaking up protests to be “fun”.

“No fun today!”

Fully-geared NYPD officer upon witnessing a peaceful protest

Later, a two-mile person long march ensued across Brooklyn, going down Atlantic Avenue, snaking back through Prospect Heights, onto Flatbush and ultimately crossing the Manhattan bridge — halting traffic and shutting the bridge down. This was a powerful experience.

Marching through Brooklyn

Upon reaching Manhattan, the protest was ultimately cut off and diverted by the cops at Canal Street. As we neared Union Square, it quickly turned violent, the details and aftermath of which were detailed in the news.

What’s Next

Continue to protest and resist.

More reading, self-education and reflection on white supremacy and privilege.

Organize around how to activate Jewish community response.

Research and identify Asian-American partnerships focused on combating systemic racism and building communal trust.