SINCE AMBIENT MUSIC’S origins in the ’70s, its creators have felt compelled to distinguish it from Muzak or aural wallpaper. Ambient godfather Brian Eno, for one, conveyed this very anxiety in the liner notes for his 1978 release Music for Airports, where he famously argued that ambient music should be “as ignorable as it is interesting.” Where Muzak was made to fit any place and time, he declared, ambient music would honor the heterogeneity of sites, aspiring to a seamless integration with particular social and material landscapes. For Eno, site-specificity would be the new genre’s key distinction.

The Los Angeles–based sound-art and activist collective Ultra-red, while indebted to the ambient tradition, are political interventionists whose engagement with charged sites and subjects is anything but ignorable. Founded in 1994 by two members of the Clean Needles Now needle exchange in

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