Archive for the ‘devices’ Category

iPhone noise study

September 15, 2009

I love finding interesting sounds in the mundane. The other day on my commute back from work in New York, I plugged my mostly dead iPhone into the socket near my Amtrak seat, and hooked up my headphones in preparation for finding something long and interesting to watch on youtube. As I fumbled around on youtube, i noticed a very quiet noise coming through the headphones. I thought I must have accidentally engaged the iPod app, and was now listening to some of my music. I paused to try and descern what it was. I thought it could be Kevin Drum, or possibly one of the sessions on flat grey marked suspended pole holds tree. So I continued to listen, but could not identify the source, which I happened to be enjoying very much.

So I clicked over to the iTunes, and the sound changed. So I clicked on something else, and it changed again. I then realized that the sound was coming not from iTunes but from the device itself. So I grabbed one of my everpresent recording devices, plugged in, and began recording.

While recording, I played around with the different apps and things to investigate how the might change the sound. The sounds are screeches, clicks, bursts of white noise, little rumbles, and some almost turntablist sounding scratches. Playing with the touch screen affects the types of sound made, the volume, and the variation in pitch. In general though you can’t control these discretely, orvery precisely at all. It’s still fairly addictive to play with tho. While certainly not mindblowing, there is a nice range of sounds you can make.

I imagine this is some kind of grounding issue, which really should not happen, but it’s so quiet, it really won’t disturb most users. It also only occurs when the powercord and headphones are plugged in.

This is a pretty nice little study to listen to, and i think i may try playing with this a bit more in the future to see if i can get more sounds.

Enjoy!

- iPhone noise study (amplified using Audacity)

Prepared Walkman Improvisation

August 21, 2009

From the time I began circuit bending, I have been playing with walkmen. they are cheap and readily available, and there are a number of interesting things you can do with them. some of which has been previously documented here.

In the past though, I mostly did things which involved tape, as that was fairly obvious and direct. for an early experimenter there is a lot of fun to be had with a walkman and a simple tape loop. But as my interests have moved away from looping, constant sound masses, to more discreet utterances of sounds delineated by space, and focused on timing and texture, I have also moved away from tape.

Even still, the whole object of the walkman with it’s very common, even almost sad appearance, holds something for me. Perhaps it is history. It being the first playback device i owned, and part of my first forays into sound experimentation.

Because of this, I have been drawn back to it again. To attempt to wring from it the last quantities of available sound from beyond magnetic tape. Instead of once again firing up the loops (though I do plan on doing another loopscape at some point) I instead fired up the soldering iron and investigated the inner workings.

I have made walkman feedback devices before that did not require tape, but for this one I wanted to push into all the lesser known areas, and find things I’d never found before. So instead of attempting to build a finished device (which almost always dissappoint imo) I chose to create a kind of platform for continued exploration that left no routes closed off. i simply opened to back of the walkman to expose the board, and prepared it in several ways:
prepared walkman
I added a discrete motor control, and amplification knob and shutoff, a “bit crushing” knob, and inputs for up to two stereo devices. the devices currently include, a tape head, a contact mic, and a small speaker. I have also added metal posts to a few of the solder pads on the PCB so that I can easily attach alligator clips to them.

The following is an improvisation made using this device, and it’s various preparations, recorded direct to MD. In some ways it is still a study, but it is also a piece to listen to and enjoy many times. I have been listening to it occasionally for weeks, and it still confounds me. I hope it pleases you as well.

Be warned though, it starts quiet, but get’s quite loud. there are some very high pitches in here as well.

- Improvisation for walkman (without tape)

Mystery audio from second-hand tapes

August 10, 2008

I’m a total thrift store and flea-market junkie as you can well imagine from the contents of this blog. I can’t keep myself from any place that brings the world of second-hand audio junk closer to me. From time to time Al and I head out to one place or another and scour the shelves for noise-makers. On one such trip recently, we discovered a booth in a local flea market that was loaded with vintage audio toys. A stack of portable record players here, a stack of recording devices there, amps and speakers and mics everywhere, it was quite a find. Amongst other things, we both walked away that day with cool mini reel to reel players.

Als mini reel to ree

Al's mini reel to reel

I was excited to find another one that was so similar to one I owned already. My thought of course was to use it to make long tape loops during sound performances. Something i’ve been meaning to do for a long time. And of course, I’m still out of luck, because sadly, the one I bought does not work. I can get it to transport the tape, but it doesn’t make a sound, not even static, which is always a bad sign. I’ll probably end up using it for scrap.

Al had similar woes, as his worked, but did not transport at an even rate. It seemed like whatever was moving the tape was slipping intermittently, which while it was a cool effect, it was not what Al was looking for. It moved enough though for us to hear that the tape on it had been used, something that always excites me, because it means a weird audio snapshot of someone’s life is on there, just waiting to be released.

Since Al’s tape machine was working after a fashion, I took it to see if I could fix it. Often these old tape machines used some kind of oil that overtime becomes more glue-like than oil-like, and opening them and carefully oiling the moving parts can revive them, and sure enough it was the case here. Although this tape machine had the oddest transport system I have even seen. It had no belts and was driven only by friction, which of course means that it doesn’t transport very evenly to begin with. Actually a really cool effect, as you will hear later.

Once I got the machine running, I rewound the tape, and listened. It never ceases to amaze me the fantastic audio artifacts that can be stored on these things. It seems to me that pretty much the same fate befell them all. They were bought and a tape was installed, and a series of people recorded fragments of whatever on them, full in the red. Then when the tape ran out, they were put away and never taken out again. While this is sad if you are the type to anthropomorphize tape machines, it produces amazing audio collages. Wholly unpredictable sounds strung together… bits of history, amateur radio announcing, random unidentifiable noise, etc. This particular example starts with a birthday dedication (I imagine for the recipient of the recorder) and proceeds through television commercials, junk drum improvisations (!!!), a faux mission impossible message, and some badly sung Beatles. To me, it’s excitingly unpredictable, and oddly poetic. Almost like an accidental Williams Mix

Having such fantastic luck with that tape, I decided to encode the tape from my defunct reel to reel as well. Not quite as profound, more just plain funny, my tape was filled with a joke telling hessian! I imagine, one of the fellows who sold me the device to begin with (a somewhat magical thought in and of itself). That being said, there are (as usual with these tapes) so interesting accidental audio fragments that are fairly aesthetically pleasing to me. The first minute or so are on regular speed, the rest is slowed down considerably. I can barely make out the jokes, because as per usual, they are recorded full in the red for the most part. I have however, sped the tape up, so you can hear the second part properly. Enjoy!

- Al’s mystery tape

- My mystery tape

Everyday field recording with baby monitors

August 2, 2008

 

I have been working a lot with field recordings lately, especially the idea of sampling the space in which one is playing and using it in performance. A couple weeks ago, it occured to me that I could use a baby monitor, strategically placed, to pull in at will, sounds happening outside the performance space. I almost immediately went on ebay and purchased a Sony BabyCall monitor.

I selected this model because I’ve had good luck with being able to mod Sony’s products in the past, and because this model was supposedly battery opperated, and thus, I figured, I could plant the transmitter anywhere I wanted without having to worry about power. But the listing was misleading and it ended up having a battery opperated receiver, and an AC opperated transmitter. A bit of a bummer, yes, but I think I might be able to mod it eventually.

The other night I got the idea to plant it in by back yard over night, and record the output on my computer upstairs. I quickly mounted an output with a switch inside the receiver and got to setting it up before bed. I put the transmitter outside and connected the receiver to my laptop. I set up Sound Studio to auto record when the input went above background noise level and went to bed.

The sounds that awaited me in the morning were great fun. Planes, busses, and car horns, dominated the soundscape, but the monitor warps everything in such a way that even these fairly plain sounds sounded magical to me.

I decided to set it up again, this time while i was at work, to capture the sounds in my backyard during the day. The sounds were much more of the same, cars, airplanes, trolleys, the occasional dog bark, some frequency disturbance of some kind, etc, but more frequent and louder i think. There was even some random talking that appeared (probably my neighbor). The one other thing that wound up on the recording, was my wife throwing some bottles and stuff in the recycling bin. This part was particularly interesting to me for it’s haphazard percussive effect. 

So far, this has been great fun. I think my next step is either to successfully mod my monitor so that it can be placed further from my house, or build one of these. 

I am anxious to try these techniques in performance. I’m hoping when i do, it will be a nice source of random sounds, and i really like the idea that I’m interjecting something both real-time and random into the set. Enjoy the samples.

- Domesticity

- This is a back yard

While my ipod gently weeps

May 23, 2008

I’m travelling and don’t have time for a full post, but I recorded this a couple days ago and wanted to get it up. I rather enjoy it. I hope you do too. More on when I get back.

- Untitled

Edit:

So in case you hadn’t guessed by the mp3 filename, this track was assembled in real-time, or as I implied, improvised by my ipod. I selected three sound files to use as material and chopped them up into individual sound events.  I also gave a similar treatment to about four minutes of absolute silence. I took the sounds and the silence and made a playlist on my ipod containing all of those fragments. I then set my ipod to play the playlist at random, and began recording. I did this twice, hence the stereo version above.

The sound sources were:
- The ambience and chatter preceding a musical performance I recently recorded.
- The sounds of my dogs wrestling, which i fed through noise removal software
- the sounds of an overtone sax thing i made 

I’m pretty impressed by the results, and I think I may be working in this way more in the future. I’m always intrigued when I hear sound events happening without the burden of the human perception of time. There can never be any real “groove” or “vibe” or “flow” to random sound, so you never get into a scenario of sound events being predictable, and i like this element of surprise.

I’m going to do another one of these soon, but with four tracks, each one a different instrument. I’m looking forward to hearing the outcome of that.

Primer: Pitch-Bending a Walkman

January 24, 2008

Welcome to the first in a series of posts where I will highlight a specific technique I have learned and instruct you on how to to the same yourself. This first one is on pitch-bending tape recorders. There a couple ways to go about this, but i’m just going to outline my preferred method here. Firstly though, here’s a list of what you will need to do this project.

    1) A soldering iron/solder and some experience in using it. Radioshat ones are ok, but usually have a very large tip, all will be much easier if you get a nicer pencil tip iron from one of your many friendly online electronic parts dealers.2) A cheap walkman. The one pictured cost 5 bucks. Go to your thrift store. The early nineties models are great and really simple.

    3) Some hook-up wire. Either get it at Radioshat, or if you like scavenging stuff, buy and old parallel printer cable, cut off the ends, slice ‘er open and harvest the wire. It’s typically multi-colored, stranded, and thin, all good things. Plus you can get like 36 yards of it from one cable, that costs fifty cents at the thrift store. Not bad.

    4) A potentiometer, or pot for short. This is a bit more difficult. If you are not already an electronics nerd like me, you probably don’t have 100 different kinds of these just laying about, so you will need to get one. Hopefully you have something better than Radioshat near you and you can go and get a few different types for cheap, or, search for grab-bags on ebay. If you are anything like me, this will not be the last electronic project you do, so the leftovers will come in handy. The unfortunate thing about this project is that the pot you will need is entirely dependent on the walkman you have. The general range I have seen in pot values between walkmen, is anywhere from 2k to 10k. If you can’t find out, I’d go for 5k and hope for the best. Or if you happen to have an multimeter, you can measure what size you will need.

    5) Some kind of drill. A dremel would be best as they tend to have a bunch of bits, which is handy, but you could get by with a regular drill.

    6) Wire strippers/cutters. You can get by without these, but it will be easier with them.

    7) A desoldering system of some sort. I use a solder-sucker from Ratshat, but you can use whatever you like.

Ok, lets get started. Firstly, you will need to open your walkman. If you chose your subject well, removing the back panel from the walkman will expose the circuit board, solder side up, like the drawing below.

walkman with the circuit exposed

Once you have exposed the circuit board, look for a pattern resembling the three solder points (yellow dots on the image) in the highlighted area above. They will always have a hole in the center of them, as shown, and if you look through the hole you will see an object with a small slot, the size of a mini screwdriver blade in it. This is a miniature trimmer pot. Those three points are it’s three legs, which correspond to the three legs on a full-size pot.

potentiometertrimmer potentiometer

Desolder the mini-pot and remove it from the board. You will most likely need to remove the circuit board to do so, so be careful that in doing so you don’t dislodge any important components. Once you have dislodged the mini-pot, examine it closely to see if it has any indication of it’s resistance printed or stamped on it. This marking could be extremely small, so look close. If you do happen to find a marking, take note of it, and if you can, buy the same value for your new full-size pot.

Now you will have three empty solder pads on your circuit board. Cut three 5 inch or so, pieces of wire and strip an eight of an inch or so of the shielding from either end. Twist the ends some to “braid” them tight, and then coat them in solder. This will ensure a solid connection to the board. Now, insert the end of one of the bits of wire into one of the holes and solder it to the pad. Repeat this for the remainder of the wires. You should now have three bits of five inch wire sticking up from your circuit board. Take note, or mark the wire that connects to the furthest of the three solder pads from the others, this will be the middle lug of your pot.

Side note: Sometimes one of the solder pads has a resistor connected to it. If your walkman has one of these, test bypassing that resistor and soldering in front of it in the series, instead of directly to the corresponding solder pad. On walkmen that have had this feature, I have found it to greatly increase the pitch range of this mod. I’ve had some that had a speed range from nearly “fast-forward” speed to barely moving.

Now that we have established connections to the board for your pot, we need to find a good place to mount it. This can be quite tricky depending on what walkman you have. I have found that often the cheaper the walkman, the less sophisticated the circuitry, the more room under the hood. You may have to get creative with your pot placement, but be careful to check that when the pot is in place it is not inhibiting any of the other functions of the walkman. I can’t tell you how many times i have installed pots and then realized that once they are in there the case can’t be closed. Trust me, it’s a bummer.

Once you have made a place for the pot, solder the three wires to the three legs of the pot. It will help to make a solid connection, if you first coat each leg of the pot with solder. remember, that the wire coming from the furthest solder pad from the rest (the furthest right in my image) gets connected to the center leg of the pot. The others can be connected as you like, but i usually like to make it so that when i turn the pot right the motor speeds up and when left, it slows.

Now that your pot is connected and functioning, mount it in the spot you made for it, and seal the walkman up. Congratulations, you just pitch modded a walkman!

For even more fun, you can do the same mod, but instead of using a mechanical pot to replace the trimmer pot, you can use a photoelectric cell. If you have never heard of one before, they are potentiometers that look like very small solar panels and react to light. They sell these as grab bags at Radioshat. If you’d like to try this, it’s a bit easier that modding with a mechanical pot.

photoelectric cell

To use a photocell, just connect one leg of the photocell to the solder pad furthest from the others in the pic I posted and the other leg to one of the other of the three points i highlighted. Only one will work, and it depends on your walkman which it is, but there are only two options, so I’m sure you’ll figure it out. This kind of mod makes a sort of tape driven phototheremin. Record some tape loops of drones and play it by using your hand to shade the photocell.

This concludes our first Primer, I hope someone out there finds this useful. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments if something’s not clear.

Oh, and of course there has to be a sound sample! This is a few tracks of various tapes being played on the pitch-bent walkman that I layered up. Enjoy!

- Pitch-bent walkman

More prepared guitar

January 20, 2008

For some reason the idea of using a bicycle spoke as a guitar preparation entered my head yesterday, so i decided to sit down and record some improvisation. i was going to just stereo mic the guitar, but as i was watching the spoke vibrate like crazy whenever i hit a low note, i thought… why don’t i mic that? So I dug out two of my contact mics and put one on the body of the guitar and one on the spoke. This was a lot of fun, within a couple minutes I had found a few different ways of getting the spoke vibration to “accompany” my guitar playing, and as I continued to record, I found it quite easy and fun to utilize the spoke in various ways.

Recently, as I’m sure is evidenced by the way this blog has been of late, I have really been enjoying improvisation. I always sort of improvised. I could never really play anything in the classical sense and there’s very little that i’d want to play, that I actually could. So at some point, I sort of decided that if I were to continue to play the guitar, I had to come up with an approach and stick with it. I have always liked the idea of slow playing. Like Harold Budd but with a guitar and not as “pretty” or Derek Bailey, but painfully slow, and later as I would find out… Loren Connors at his least “traditional”. But I didn’t really want to play like any of those people really. I would just sit leaned back with the guitar and randomly pluck strings, bending them into tune and pulling rattley drones off with my thumb. Putting the guitar in odd tunings, just by ear, and almost never tuning it proper.

Of course, for the most part this was all a bit of fooling around. Some nice self amusement when I was bored. There was a point though when I began to really like that, and I was afraid to tell people, that I LIKED that. That I would record it and listen back to it myself for pleasure. I sort of made excuses for it… hid it. My mind was still sort of locked in this idea that “music” was supposed to be a certain way, and it was for other people to say that it was good and worth-while and nobody was going say that about what I did. But since I’ve started this blog and joined forces with Al, I’ve sort of gotten over that, and since then I have really been falling for Improvisation. I find it as difficult as learning to play “right”, but in a different way, and every time I play that way, I feel like I learn something. It’s also very freeing and fun… almost a serious form of fooling around. Anyhow, enough babbling…

This was recorded with two contact mics, direct to protools. No edits were made. reverb was added; 400ms at 25%. Enjoy!

- Woke up In a Strange Place

Dictaphone Cassette Collage

December 8, 2007

I’m always buying tape players/recorders/walkmen at thrift stores and hacking them up into various other things. Recently I found one that had a built in mic, speed control (!), and a built in speaker. Initially I was just carrying it around with a loop cassette in it and making little cassette loops of found sounds. Later on, however, it occurred to me to put a normal cassette in it and just collect a sequence of audio snippets. I just record a few seconds of something and then stop, and when i want to record the next sound I just pick up where I left off. This creates a sort of stream of consciousness sound collage, that keeps growing by the day.

Right now my collage is about 3 minutes long, but I’m hoping to fill up one side of the tape at least. It’s been a lot of fun just walking around with a recorder and grabbing bits of sound. It’s kind of sneaky in a way, especially if I’m in a shop or at work, which also kind of makes things interesting.

I find the more distant I get from some of the earlier sounds on the tape the more interesting they become as I can no longer identify them. I’m looking forward to when this is more like 15 minutes long, then I think it will really start to get interesting. I like the idea that it is sort of a different kind of musical improvisation. One which is really slow and very deliberate, but at the same time kind of indeterminate, in that you don’t know how what you are recording will sound until it is on the tape. Whatever the case, it’s definitely fun. I’ll post more as I get further in.

- Cassette Field-Recording Collage

Catching the radio wave

October 21, 2007

I have been infatuated with radios recently. The more of them I get, the more I want. Right now I have an AM/FM/VHF radio, an AM/FM/SW/VHF1/VHF2/UHF radio, and an AM/FM/SW/SSB/LW/MW radio. Sure the AM/FM bands are redundant, It’s mostly the other stuff I’m interested in. The last one is a digital PLL synthesized circuit radio; the Realistic DX-440. From what I can tell, this is the Pentax K-1000 of DXing. What is DXing? In short, it’s distance surfing for radio waves. The act of seeking out the furthest signal you can pull in. This may sound like a pursuit that would bottom out fast, but thats only if you don’t account for the constant change in weather (solar and otherwise) that affects what you can hear. For instance at a certain time of year, and maybe only for a day, you can pull in Radio Free Mongolia (totally made up) due to the weather condistions being just so.

As you can see, I’ve been nerding out again.

Funny thing is, due to the fact that I don’t have a nicer antenna (the bigger the better as with just about everything) the Realistic (my nicest radio) doesn’t pull in quite as interesting content as my no name AM/FM/SW/VHF1/VHF2/UHF radio. Lately it’s really been the VHF bands that have been interesting. Now you any be thinking… VHF, that’s TV isn’t it? Well… yes, but it’s a lot of other things too, like CB and Walkie talkie systems. I’ve heard a lot of odd broacasts, consisting of little more than… KSSCHT… Charlie, Baker, Washinton… KSSCHT!!! What are they??? I have no idea! I guess that’s what makes them so intriguing.

Today I got a similar and interesting one that consisted of some of those words-as-letters calls, and numbers too. A whole mass of people, some coming through loud and clear, and others way back submerged in fuzz. I had no idea what I was hearing. After listening to it for about 2 hours though, It finally dawned on me… it’s control towers and pilots! I’m guessing from the local international airport. Ok, so it’s not as cool as the Lincolnshire Poacher (what is?) but it was interesting none-the-less. I thought I could use it for something, so I recorded it for about 39 minutes and edited it down (lots of dead air) to about 12 or so. Here it is:

- Air traffic

If anyone checks this out and know it to be something different than what I believe it to be… please let me know.

Look out for more shortwave audio, there are some AMAZING sound floating around out there. I’ll post more soon.

Noise Removal Music

October 8, 2007

I have found through the course of my musical explorations, that one of my favorite musical experiences is the finding of music in unusual or almost non-musical places. Given the content of this blog that may sound like an understatement, however a good bit of the content of this blog involves modifying the perception to receive noise as music, and what i am talking about today is actually bending noise into something that comes closer to resembling music in the more agreed upon sense.

One of the ways this can be done is by applying modern technology in a process which in some way strips away layers (amplitude, time, pitch) of sound to leave other sounds and patterns which could not possibly have been heard previously. many devices are adept at this form of alchemy today with varying degrees of success. Reverb for example (as most prominently evidenced by Alvin Lucier in his piece “I am sitting in a Room…”) can be applied to mold sound in such a way as to exaggerate certain resonances and bestow as sort of “smoothing” effect that can make sounds appear to have a more “musical” quality. I find that it can be possible to apply very simple repetitive processes to almost any auditory content to distill from it sounds which are wholly alien, but very musical.

One such process in which I find endless enjoyment, is the application of the “Noise Removal” feature in the computer application, Audacity. Audacity is a simple sound recording program with very basic sound editing features. I find it mostly useful for compression and normalization, but having spent some time with it, I have experimented with many effects produced by “over tweaking” it’s various sound filters.

What is great about the noise removal feature in Audacity, is it requires you to define what you consider noise. Then using an algorithm, it dutifully chews through your chosen audio and removes it. While I have never used this tool for it’s prescribed purpose, I can say that it produces very interesting effects when applied to almost any component of any sound, specifically ones with a high quality of noise.

While editing the audio for my “Cymbal Ringer” post I rediscovered the noise removal featured and thought it could be interesting to apply it that the hailstorm of noise contained in that audio. After some tweaking of the noise definition and noise removal density features, I found that it was possible to pretty much zoom in on the shifting overtones in the rush of distorted cymbals I had created. The initial result sounded like a highly sped up chamber orchestra, so next I applied a time stretching function to give the notes produced in the audio more room to breathe. I went back and forth between those two filters, until I found what I was looking for.

The resulting audio sounds like a chance composed piece for Glass Harmonica. It has an arhythmic, lurching quality, that somehow seems to work perfectly with it’s odd but beautiful harmonic structure. When I first heard it I was floored. It took no effort on my part, no bending of the perception to accept this as music. It even sounded like something I would own! It’s a fantastic idea to think that there is such interesting music that could be hiding away in any sound. Just existing as if composed my nature itself.

Enjoy!

- Noise Removal Music


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