Pajarito (disquiet0139-techtechnique)

Think about a specific technique that you are proud of having developed, perfected, or in some way folded into your work.

Listen to the beginning 80 seconds of my track “Pajarito” which I released in 2008. It was originally created in late 2006.

What technique am I talking about? There’s three things here in Pajarito that make it different from my earlier work and it’s an artistic pivot point for me.

First: If you listen to that low arpeggio – it’s not perfect. It goes out of time. That’s the way I arranged it. I wanted it to be imperfect. Rhythmically, it’s much more interesting to me. It’s repetitive yet shifting because of the imperfection of going out of time.

Second: I’ve always enjoyed pitch-shifting loops down. Something about the lower frequencies connects with me. I got my hearing tested last year, you know, just to check, and the hearing’s fine, but in my right ear I can’t hear higher frequencies. It “drops off” as they say. And now I see why I pitch shift down audio and loops in my work. Every loop that’s multi-tracked on Pajarito is pitch-shifted down an octave, a couple octaves, and even 4 octaves from the original sound.

Third: I incorporated a field recording in the background. If you’re familiar with my work and the track “Machine Symphony” then there you go, that’s the sound. And that is a recording of a faulty air exhaust fan in a bathroom at work about a decade ago, recorded on Minidisc (!), and I pitch shifted it down 4 octaves and it’s still got some high end on it. I’ve used that so many times since then.

So there you. The technique is a blending of 1. Allowing sound to go “out of time”, 2. pitch-shifting lower, and 3. incorporation of field recordings.

More on this 139th Disquiet Junto project — “Create and upload a track that exemplifies one key creative process you’ve developed″ — at:…139-techtechnique/

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

My Fickle Friend, The Solar Wind (disquiet0089-vger)

Nod to Johnny Mercer with the title.

Track was crafted entirely out of source audio, which was captured via one of those YouTube to MP3 programs. Chopped up in Sound Forge. Played around with in Paulstretch. Layered and mixed in Acid Pro.

When I was in elementary school I used to go with my dad to the old Science Center in Des Moines where the Astronomy Club met. That’s where I saw my first VCR in the mid 70’s, likely showing a videotape of something involving Pioneer 10. I would watch the presentation on the TV screen, usually involving those nifty NASA animations, and then took off for the “dumb terminal” computers when the adults starting talking. I’d play hi-lo, 21, and make the computer say “Yes Or No Please”. You could say I was more into the computers.

More on this 89th Disquiet Junto project, in which the sounds of interstellar space are used to make “goodbye music” for the Voyager 1 space probe, at:

Source audio courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Iowa via:

Special thanks to Mark Ward ( for having suggested this material as the subject for a Disquiet Junto project.

National Poetry Month: Mark Rushton (disquiet0067-odysseymachine)

More on this 67th Disquiet Junto project at:…67-odysseymachine/

My process: Per the rules, I rolled a combined “8” for Book VIII, and with the 3 die I ended up with line 80, which is:

He set before him, next, a polish’d board
And basket, and a goblet fill’d with wine
For his own use, and at his own command.

After looking at numerous online text-to-speech tools, I ended up using and eventually settled with UK-en voice “Peter” with speed set at -4. Later on, I added a touch of reverb and some chorus in Sound Forge.

It was important that I found the right voice and at the right pacing. I wanted older, British, slow, perhaps having downed a few drinks already, and I got it. The pacing was controlled by the way I arranged the text on the screen. After recording, there was only one tiny split-second glitch that got excised.

I help produce a literary audio magazine, Bound Off – it’s been published monthly since 2006 and presents short fiction read aloud by the authors or other readers. I perform audio editing of the stories, when needed, and half the battle of what I do is being aware of the pacing, editing out any mistakes of the readers, and trying to doctor whatever recording I receive the best I can.

The other thing I like is when readers slowwwww ddddddown. Slow down so I can hear it. Slow down so I can understand it. Slow down so I can enjoy it. So it was nice that enabled me to “slow down” UK Peter. That’s really key. Especially when it comes to poetry. Particularly when you’re only presenting one line.

As you can see, the setup was really crucial.

The music? Eh… I am biased in that I don’t like music or sounds to overwhelm words or poetry in this sort of a presentation. I kept it very minimal. I loaded up the recording in Samplr on my iPad and recorded off some audio. 4 different loops were mixed in, although they are at a very low volume. It would be disrespectful to UK Peter -4 to compete. So I made a decision to put most of my effort in the “reading” rather than the “music”.

More details on the Disquiet Junto at:

This project was inspired by the National Poetry Month event at SoundCloud, more details on which here:

The source text for this project is William Cowper’s translation of The Odyssey of Homer, available here:…4269gut/24269-0.txt

Sad European Movie Soundtrack (disquiet0055-twoscrews)

This week’s project involves a shared set of source material. The source audio is the free solo piano album ‘Screws’ by Nils Frahm.

Frahm, who’s based in Germany, posted the nine-track album of short solo works for free download while he was recuperating from busting one of his thumbs. He subsequently created a site to house all the remixed/reworked versions that admirers sent to him, as well as the videos and other responses that he received.

This remix almost didn’t happen. I made a number of attempts, but was unhappy with the results.

Initially, I chopped out some sections of the tracks “Do” and “Re” and put them in the Samplr program on my iPad. Later, I recorded off some of the altered (and not-so-altered) unmixed sounds within Samplr into my Zoom H1, and then transferred those files to my DAW for mixing.

After some false starts, I watched the movie The Descendants, which I hadn’t seen before. It was a really sad movie. I like sad movies. I figure it was the saddest movie I’ve seen since The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, except the Diving Bell movie was much artier.

So I thought I’d try to come up with something based on the idea of a Sad European Movie Soundtrack. I wanted the recording to be real stark. Minimal piano. Like you’re watching a lonely old French or Italian black and white movie where the soundtrack was transferred from an old worn out print.

It was fairly straightforward to create once I got the idea down. And I got lucky with a brief dissonant section about 2/3s of the way through.

More on this 55th Disquiet Junto project at:

Central Discount 120915 [disquiet0037-asrealasitgets1]

Central Discount is an Amish-run salvage grocery store located about 15 miles SW of Iowa City. Bent And Dent is what the Iowa City townies call it. The store is open 3 days a week: Mon, Wed, and Sat.

It’s a very plain and white metal building. Inside, there are no electric lights, only skylights, and not many of them. Concrete floor. Metal carts. It’s a cavernous space. Half the shelves have nothing on them, so it’s reminiscent of old scenes of Soviet-era grocery stores. They don’t take plastic, only cash and checks. There’s no bar code scanners. No beeping. No music playing overhead. No intercom.

Saturday is the worst day to shop as it’s packed. And no, the Amish don’t really shop here. You get the occasional Mennonite mom & kids during the week. Mostly, it’s the well-fed (non-Amish) looking for a deal. And they’re constantly in your way.

It has all the usual boxed foods, chips, soup cans, salad dressings, and whatnot. It comes from different stores, Meijer and Walgreens and others, likely from Chicago. In the past I’ve seen and bought the occasional odd Indian snack food. It’s not uncommon to see things originally priced at $4.29 marked down to 25 or 35 cents, but staples like boxed scalloped potatoes will run 75 cents. Most, but not all, have passed their marked expiration date.

I wasn’t sure how this recording would work out. The day before, I made field recordings at Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville (a suburb of Iowa City) and got an excellent recording of a Zamboni smoothing the ice at the skating rink that’s openly adjacent to the food court. I wasn’t sure I could top that (largely an undulating drone punctuated by passing voices), but I think this recording at Central Discount does. Plus this recording has more of the “store recording” feel that was sought.

Down the first long aisle, it’s a jam. Lots of people pushing carts, or not pushing carts and getting in the way. Near the end, I got under an odd-looking ceiling fan moved by a piston with an electrical cord that likely runs out to the generator along the side of the building. Yes, the building does have electricity, but not much. Cash registers and the ceiling fans are about it.

This ceiling fan made a sound that was irresistible to me, but it was a mess of people and carts and noise when I first went by. I did some shopping in another part of the building and came back when the crowd had moved through. I stood there trying to conceal the Zoom H1 that I held, and pretended to look at the boxes and packaging.

It’s an excellent rhythm, I think. Vaguely middle eastern or Indian with a slight hint of jazz. And since the crowd had largely moved on, I got a nice “store ambiance” coming from the rest of the interior of the building.

This Disquiet Junto project was done in association with the exhibit As Real As It Gets, organized by Rob Walker at the gallery Apex Art in Manhattan (November 15 – December 22, 2012):

More on this 37th Disquiet Junto project at:…7-asrealasitgets1/

The “2005” Interview

Originally published in early 2005:

It’s 2005.  Where is your music going?
Podcasts.  I create a show where I play a couple of pieces of my music and talk about them.  They’re made available via a RSS feed so that anybody can subscribe.  It’s a great way to hear from the artist and to check out new music.

I’m probably also ready to start working towards some kind of a music publishing deal.  I have nearly 175 titles entered into the ASCAP database.  There’s even more to add, so the final number will soon be near or over 200.  That’s a lot.

Live shows.  I’ve been asked to provide music for a visual arts show in Cedar Rapids in late January, and I’m hopeful there will be more events as the year progresses.  So far I’ve been unable to win over the coffeehouses or wine stores in the area, but they’ll come around.  I’d like to have or be a part of an electronic music showcase in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area during 2005, but that will take some planning and effort.

Perhaps a new album.  I completed The Driver’s Companion by March 2003, but I didn’t “release” it until a year later.  Since early 2003 I’ve probably created enough decent music to fill 3 or 4 CDs and that doesn’t include all the Yamahopper, Caswell, and Metro Man tracks I’ve worked on.

It’s difficult for me to think of things in terms of albums.  It’s such an old concept and it really doesn’t apply to the way that I want to present my music.  It used to be (as late as the 1980s) that you released a 12″ vinyl record and it usually had two sides.  Each side had about 17-22 minutes of music and sometimes one side sounded different than the other.  I grew up with that concept.  Then along came the CD with the shrunken graphics and 74 minute running times that everybody eventually filled up.  You didn’t have sides anymore, you had tracks.  Now, with iPods, MP3 players, minidiscs, and file-sharing services, you can pick and choose whatever you want, in what quantity, and in what order.  Graphics have been totally replaced by the ID3 tag.  And how long has this change taken?  20 years.  Not long at all.


So if you’re not going to do an album, what are you going to do?
Oh, I’ll probably make an album.


What would you do with the album?
My focus with The Driver’s Companion was to put out an album via so that I wouldn’t have to deal with buying 1000 copies from some pressing plant and having to hawk them all to local shops or give them away to radio stations who wouldn’t play it.  I liked having zero up-front costs and the quality with CafePress is outstanding.

Along the way I found out I could put a few copies at and they could get me onto iTunes, Napster, Connect, and the other download services with a small fee.  This has been very worthwhile and actually more profitable than even selling CDs.

The next album would probably be done the same way, unless of course some label wanted to try and hawk 1000 copies on my behalf!


Why would you continue do it this way if the last album wasn’t successful?
I want to present my music in an innovative way, and that way may not necessarily the most commercially viable.  That’s why I’m on iTunes and do Podcasts and offer lots of MP3s available for free.  This is the future.

The future for me isn’t spending thousands of dollars on a pile of CDs I’m going to give away and be ignored or collect dust.  I don’t want inventory.  I knew that from the beginning.

Listen, I sent out my CD to numerous college radio stations, especially those in Iowa or those with electronic shows, but the response was next to nothing.  The only station in Iowa that played me, that I’m aware of, was KUNI.  Bob Dorr’s show, Down On The Corner.  He had very nice things to say on the radio about my music.  He’s The Man and knows quality.  I’ve listened to him for over 20 years.  I don’t know how to connect with all of these MDs, PDs, and DJs at college stations who would rather just play the CMJ Top 200.  I get a far better response to my music when I offer it for free and post a message in any of the message boards that deal with electronic music.

It would be nice to get some acceptance at the college radio level, but I’m now resigned to the fact that it takes a professional label with a particular kind of reputation and a backing of certain critics in order to make things happen.  You also have to be willing to tour.  I have no desire, nor the time with my day job and family, to do that sort of thing.

I figure I’ll keep the ball rolling and stick to my guns.  It’s been a lot of learning and a lot of fun over the last few years.  As long as I do the work and it’s quality and interesting for me, that’s all that really matters, right?

Synthtopia Interview January 2005

Originally published in January 2005 at Synthtopia:

Mark Rushton – Podcasting Electronic Music

Podcasting is a new technology that’s becoming popular among owners of iPods and other portable media players. Podcasts are a way of automating the delivery of audio content to portable audio player. Mark Rushton is a electronic musician that’s jumped into the world of podcasting. Rushton is based out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but he is using podcasts to expose his music to people around the world.

A podcast is just a collection of audio files, usually in MP3 format, connected by a text file that provides information about the programs. The podcast content can be music or any other audio programming.

Podcast software lets you subscribe to a podcast, and then your computer will automatically check for new programs and copy them to your portable audio player. This lets you listen to the program at your convenience. Podcasting is an easy way to keep fresh content on your player.

Rushton created his first podcast in December 2004. His program features an informal mixture of music and discussion. The shows introduce listeners to Rushton’s style of hybrid modern instrumentals, along with providing some insight into Rushton and his thinking.

Rushton believes podcasts are a great way to promote independent music. “Since I put out my first podcast in December 2004, traffic to my site has gone way up and I’ve seen an increase in CD sales and positive feedback as a result,” he notes. “People are hungry for free yet quality programming, and I’m happy to provide it.”

We recently asked Mark about his music, podcasting and being an electronica/ambient artist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

Synthtopia: Mark, can you tell us a little about yourself and your music?

Mark Rushton: I’m in my late 30s, married, and have a couple of young daughters. My job is in software testing, so I’m generally able to listen to music all day long while I work. In the past I’ve attended art school and been a DJ. I still paint and have been in a number of regional exhibitions over the past year. I’ve played different instruments, mostly woodwinds, since grade school, so I’ve always had a music background.

Since 2000 I’ve had an interest in creating music using my computer and have produced nearly 200 completed pieces and remixes during that time. Most of my music falls into the ambient, electronica, downtempo, and avant-garde genres.

Synthtopia: How do you create your music?

Mark Rushton: Everything is assembled from audio pieces and loops and mixed using ACID 4.0 Pro. While a lot of the loops come from libraries and collections I’ve acquired over the years, I also like to make “homemade” loops using the various keyboards and instruments I have in my studio or abuse library loops using Sound Forge. I also carry around a Sony Minidisc recorder and microphone so I can acquire “found sound” at various locations.

I’ve tried to get into MIDI, VSTs, and even bought a copy of Reason at one time, but all of it became boring. Nothing could be more dreadful for me than trying to compose a melody using a sequencer or programming a drum machine for hours on end. I’ve always said that I wanted to be a remixer, and that’s where I derive the most fun when I’m creating music.

Synthtopia: Is it tough being an electronica artist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa?

Mark Rushton: Creativity-wise, I have no problem being inspired. When it comes to things like live appearances or promotion, it is very difficult. Last year I bought a very nice sound system for live appearances, the Bose PAS, and started sending out promo CDs and requests to play my music in coffee houses and such but I got zero response back. I sent out my CD to practically every public/college radio station in Iowa and only one of them has played me. Luckily it was the coolest DJ in Iowa, Bob Dorr on KUNI-FM, so I was thrilled.

It doesn’t matter all that much if I’m not accepted where I live. I realize that I work in a specific niche, and that niche has fans of the kind of music I produce worldwide thanks to the Internet. I’m sure there is a market in my area for unobtrusive and upscale hybrid instrumental music while people chat, sip their lattes, and surf the Internet, but they just don’t know it yet. This may sound strange to those living in larger cities or college towns, but Cedar Rapids only got a couple of decent coffee shops in the past year or two.

There is a thriving DJ culture in the region, and it sort of shocked me when I discovered it. Radio certainly doesn’t play that kind of music at all. Commercial radio stations here are extremely parochial, like they are in most of the United States these days. How does somebody discover techno and chillout when the local radio stations force feed corporate schlock? It’s a mystery to me.

Synthtopia: How did you find out about podcasting?

Mark Rushton: It was an article on Wired’s web site, I think. Once I understood the concept I Googled around to find out more and it sort of snowballed rather quickly.

Synthtopia: Do you have any favorite podcasts?

Mark Rushton: Other than my own? Not so far.

I’ve downloaded a few things here and there. A lot of the shows are still in their infancy. Mine included. Things will mature over time.

Synthtopia: What are you trying to do with the podcast?

Mark Rushton: When I was in college and working at the radio station we’d play a weekly show that was sent to us by a record company. It would feature music by different bands, along with an interview featuring the artists or some factoids by the announcer. That’s sort of what I’m trying to do with my podcast, but on a single artist scale.

Having a musician talk about their own work is difficult, but it’s probably a good discipline. I never know where listeners are coming from as a frame of reference, so I try to be colloquial about it, although I do write my thoughts out before I read them so that I’m not doing 10 takes. It’s really acting as a “musician as curator” which has a lot of possibilities.

As far as the podcast angle, most radio stations these days are computer-controlled, so it doesn’t take that big of a stretch of the imagination to realize that eventually community/public/college stations will soon be gathering and playing syndicated content from the web. NPR has already played a podcast. There’s bound to be more.

Synthtopia: What sort of response have you been getting from your program?

Mark Rushton: The first podcast, which I put out at the end of December, had nearly 1000 downloads in the first 3 weeks with minimal promotion. It was a long program – almost 30 minutes and 30MB in size. I’ve since cut the length of the program back to the 12-15 minute range and limit the choices of music to 3 pieces. The emails I’ve received have been very positive. It’s also fun to look at the stats and discover that people from other countries around the world have been downloading the podcasts.

Synthtopia: Is podcasting something that you think other musicians should check out?

Mark Rushton: Sure! But there’s a lot of things to think about before doing a podcast.

How long of a show do you want? How often would you do it? Do you have the space to host the file? Where will you produce it? How will it be structured? Can you stand the sound of your own voice? Do you tend to ramble on? There’s a lot of factors to consider.


“15” Interview from November 2004

Originally published in November 2004:

Hello.  Where are you?
In my studio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

It’s our round.  What are you drinking?
A glass of Vouvray [a white French wine] – 2001 Champalou.

Can you remember what you were doing 15 years ago?
I had just begun dating my now-wife and was working at a college radio station in Iowa City.  I made digital sound collages and spliced-tape promos in the station’s recording studios.  It was a blast.  Spent a lot of time at Joe’s Place and the Deadwood [two Iowa City college bars] programming the juke box for things like Revolution #9 by the Beatles, the Hawaii Five-O Theme, and anything by Stevie Ray Vaughn.  Oh, and playing Nintendo, mostly Tetris.  We were flat broke.

What was the worst thing about being 15?
Not having my driving license yet, but I learned the bus system in the town where I lived [Des Moines, Iowa] very quickly.

Did anything good happen to you when you were 15?
I became a DJ at a local public radio station (KDPS 88.1 FM in Des Moines), and while my tastes certainly weren’t as broad and refined as today, at least I had the good sense to play “Out Of The Blue” by Roxy Music as my first tune.

What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
Computers, software, and the like.  Back in 1982 computers were very expensive, had little memory, and you really couldn’t do much with them.  Our school had mostly the Commodore 64 and a couple of Apple II machines.  Today there is so much opportunity, and it’s a great thing.

What’s been the highlight of the last 15 years?
Oh, so many.  The birth of my two daughters.  Meeting and marrying my wife, Ann.  Living in Kansas City for a number of years and attending art school.  Making music.  Showing art.

What’s the best record of the past 15 years?
Probably “Luxa” by Harold Budd.  I love everything Budd has released, but this is the best of the bunch.

What’s your worst fashion faux pas of the last 15 years?

Where do you see yourself in 15 years’ time?
In another part of the country, hopefully, perhaps some place a little warmer.  Still making music.  Still making art.  Still doing something to keep the mind open and active.

What question do you hate being asked?
Would you like to buy some vinyl siding?

If you weren’t a musician what would you be?
A painter.

What’s your personal motto?
Don’t worry about it.

When was the last time you listened to your old radio shows?
A couple years ago I transcribed some cassettes of shows onto CD via computer.  One of my co-hosts from the KDPS days, Kris, and I had been in email contact and I sent her a number of CDs.  They were rather sloppily done, but I think she liked them.  I have some 30-odd shows from my high school and college days on cassette.  Some day I’ll get them all converted.  The music’s still good.

What music are you listening to now?
A lot of XM satellite radio – mostly jazz, alternative rock, classic country, and techno.  Christmas music with the kids (it’s late November).  Polka music on Sunday mornings (local radio show catering mostly to the Czech/German population in Cedar Rapids).  As for individual artists or albums, I love the new Dosh CD called Pure Trash.  He’s amazing.

What do you think of Radiohead?
Not really on my radar anymore.  They’ve done a bit of a Pearl Jam, haven’t they?

Sum up the last 15 years in one word:

What’s next?
A live laptop appearance at the Cherry Building in downtown Cedar Rapids on December 4, 2004.  Hopefully many more appearances in 2005.  Lots of music on the hard drive waiting to be finished.  Equipment on order.  Music publishers, please get in line to start your bidding war!