The Soundcite tool enables writers to place audio clips at precise moments that underscore the ideas and expressions in a text. As your readers follow along, they click highlighted lines to play audio, and they stop automatically.

Soundcite project screenshot
The “play” buttons shown in the text are live. Click through the image to see a demo.

This casual bit of narrative demonstrates the Soundcite tool. The highlighted portions can be clicked and embedded audio will play to audibly illustrate some of the ideas in the text.

I was twenty years old and on my first tour with a band. We were somewhere in Eastern Pennsylvania, headed toward New York. It would be the first time I would see New York, let alone play a show there. Crossing Pennsylvania is a seemingly endless drive, especially when it starts to get hilly. I was looking out into the mountains in the back of the van when TNT began to play from the CD player in the front of the van.

This was my introduction to Tortoise, a band from Chicago that I had known it was in some way my duty to hear, as a self-described “adventurous musician,” but until then Tortoise records were items of intrigue that I had seen and had not taken the time to hear. Shame on me. Their third record, TNT, comes on like classic atmospheric jazz: washes of cymbals and syncopated beats slowly emerging from an electronic ether, followed in slowly by guitar, Bass VI, four-string bass, and brass.

A band conceived without guitars, Tortoise was founded by bassist Doug McCombs and drummer John Herndon, who added drummer John McEntire, bassist Dan Bitney, and bassist Bundy K. Brown for the original lineup that recorded the band’s eponymous debut album in 1994.

The terms “jazz fusion” or “post-rock” are thrown about wildly by music reviewers and others who live in genres in describing this band. These are not just clichés, but also gross oversimplification. The band’s focus on percussion, with members breaking away to marimba and vibraphone, recalls the appropriation of Indonesian gamelan music by contemporary composer Steve Reich. They incorporate analog synthesizer soundbeds akin to Brian Eno. Their later records – finally fully embracing guitar with the addition of guitarist Jeff Parker – nod to 70s and 80s fusion, but in unique ways that deconstruct the genre. TNT was built via cut-and-paste of clips from countless hours of full-band improvisations in Soma Studios, the digital recording space formerly run by McEntire in Chicago. The result is a dense collage, like a 21st century Bitches Brew (a notorious experimental album created by Miles Davis in a similar way with hours of tape spliced into cohesive compositions). TNT, however, is a point of departure into a creative web of hip-hop, dub, Ennio Morricone soundtracks, and drum-and-bass music that is seamless as it is timeless.

Tortoise create something entirely alien out of this bag of tricks, firmly grounded in their influences, while completely original and even accessible. For me, this was a springboard into multiple streams of relatively obscure music history. It became crucial when I listened to music to seek out its influences and understand its origins. This takes a thirsty ear and hundreds of conversations, especially back in the relative infancy of the Web.

I have found some of my most beloved music this way, and discovered that much of what I had considered the future of music had been here for decades. Through Tortoise and the community of fans they foster, I also discovered the pioneering German improv group Can. I discovered their contemporaries Stereolab, whose breakthrough album Emperor Tomato Ketchup was recorded by McEntire. Stereolab made me appreciate the sound of Farfisa organs, led me another great German band, Neu! and music technology visionaries such as Suzanne Ciani.

For 25 years, Tortoise have created music that is interdisciplinary and diverse as well as ever-evolving. In doing so, they have led countless music enthusiasts down a great rabbit hole of sonic exploration.



We have found it helpful to use a simple audio editing tool such as Audacity or GarageBand to size clips to the desired length prior to uploading audio to your host. The interface on the KnightLab site allows us to enter stop and start times, but pre-sized clips yield the best results.

The tool is designed to incorporate clips directly from Soundcloud, but you may use your WordPress media library or other Web storage where a URL is created.

Soundcite guide (pdf – click to view or print)

Other KnightLab tools: JuxtaposeTimelineStoryMap

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