Improvisation for speakers, vessels and contact microphones

Well, I have to say it’s almost a little embarrassing to be back after such a long, unannounced hiatus. I think that the time has come again to shift gears slightly to keep this blog going and relevant, as my experimentation is becoming a bit less frequent due to an overall increase in the complexity of the work. More on that in a future post.

In the past months as I have mentioned I have been increasingly interested in the possibilities of kind of free improvisation. As I have been reading and thinking and opening my ears this past year, I have come to a nearly complete acceptance of all sounds. I am finding music everywhere now. Just being alive and walking around has become a new and exciting experience, as now I’m always looking for interesting sounds. Of course, now I’m tempted to carry a recording device constantly to try to capture these things, but I’m wary of the obsession that could become, and the possibly frustrating results.

In thinking recently about what makes sounds acceptable to myself and others, I have been fascinated by people’s approach to feedback. Well deployed feedback during the swell to crescendo in a rock show, can make people ecstatic, whilst the unintentional feedback of a microphone on a stage at a seminar, can make people recoil – and even think the speaker a hack for somehow not being able to control the main tool of his trade!

I think what makes most people adverse to, or even afraid of feedback, is what excites me about it – it’s unpredictable behavior. In a way, working with feedback is like sculpting. There’s a real physical component to it that can be shaped and manipulated if one is careful… but there is always the danger of it collapsing in on itself into uncontrollable high-pitched squeal. But is the squeal so bad really? Or are we just convinced to think that it’s bad by the behavior of those around us in response to it.

I decided last saturday, that I was going to set up a stereo-feedback system and record myself basically wrestling with it. Sometimes trying to control it, but other times letting it loose and then dealing with the results. I set up two amps about four feet apart, facing eachother. I connected two contact mics one to a thin brass bowl, one to a cup made of tin-foil, and plugged them into a couple overdrive pedals and to my mixer. I ran lines out of the mixer, left and right, one to each amp, and another set, out to my recording device. I hit record and started grappling. Through the course of the improvisation, I tested various movements, treatments, etc. Due to the system being stereo, I had the option of panning feedback between the two amplifiers. With the fuzz boxes, I had various levels of overdrive to experiment with. So I played, and tested, and pushed, and pulled, and waved my arms around, feeling the sounds actually bouncing off my hands, shaping them by redirecting sounds with other vessels or body parts.

Most importantly for me, I faced the squeal head on. Sometimes I would sit there and let it burn my ears for a minute, like hot sauce on the tongue, looking inside it for some kind of aspect I had missed before. Looking for what was bad about it, and what was good.

The improvisation lasted around 25 minutes, which was a surprise to me, as I would have guessed more like 10 minutes if you’d asked. The results range from droney, to gurgling, to ear-cleaningly shrill, but there’s something else. I don’t know if it’s my continued intrigue with this substance, but I can’t stop listening to this recording. In fact, I think I may actually release it in some form. I have been thinking about starting some kind of net-label, and this may be a good first release.

Anyway, for now, you get it for free (and probably for the foreseeable future, as I’m not at all into the idea of depriving people of experience). Play this loud and on a stereo if you can, at least for the first go. There are some pretty beautiful timbres and sonorities in here if you are willing to look. The sound is physical, so walk about in the room while you listen, It enhances your interaction with the piece. Please enjoy!

- A spear through the purple indefinite 

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8 Responses to “Improvisation for speakers, vessels and contact microphones”

  1. startlingmoniker Says:

    This is great– you’ve written a “falling in love” story for noise fans. Can’t wait to hear the recording, which I’m bringing in now.

  2. howsthatsound Says:

    thanks dave! hope you enjoy the piece,

  3. HarS Says:

    Totally agree with Dave on this. I enjoy the thoughtfulness of your approach and your description of it as you go through the process of playing and recording. It must have added quite a bit to my enjoyment of the piece, as when listening I could actually almost *see* you doing it … :-)

  4. howsthatsound Says:

    ha, thanks HarS! hope you enjoyed it.

  5. startlingmoniker Says:

    Hey, your readers miss you! Come back!

  6. howsthatsound Says:

    thanks dave! i need to enforce some kind of schedule for myself for posting here. it’s just gotten to easy to say i’ll post something tomorrow. i have some post ideas, so i will be back soon. in fact, i’ll post again on saturday! how’s that?

  7. startlingmoniker Says:

    No pressure, just wanted to make sure you weren’t laying in a gutter. Blogging leads to that, you know? LOL

  8. Liveblogging! Commentary for “ITDE” 6/21/08 « Startling Moniker Says:

    […] Szczepanik — 05 10 GRKZGL — Live at Cafe Independent, Tokyo Ethan Tripp — A Spear Through the Purple Indefinite Miya Masaoki — While I Was Walking, I Heard a […]

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