Posts Tagged ‘field recordings’

Cathnor Vignettes series, review 2, Lee Patterson – “Egg Fry #2″

December 2, 2009

Just realized that’s a lot of commas in the title. Oh well.

This is the second installment of my review of the Cathnor vignettes series, and also, my second real review for this site (cue boos and general dismay). For those not worried about this prospect, my plan for reviews in general is to review whatever I feel like talking about whether new or old. I don’t have a huge philosophy behind that or anything, I am just occasionally struck by a record or label, and when I am, I hope to write about it here. In the case of this series, I just really like what Richard is doing with the label. It’s pretty cool to see someone step it up and take their passion for this music to the next level, and it’s great to be able to hear the recorded results.

Now to the review… Egg Fry #2, is a real treat, but for a few reasons, somewhat difficult to write about. Firstly, the sounds produced by the egg frying in the pan, sound almost like they are being made by an ensemble. There are many different sonic approaches, and different locations in the stereo field from which the sounds emerge. But there is no ensemble, and no instruments to pinpoint, thus it’s difficult to say, “i like when the _____ goes _____.” Not that that is the soul of a review, but you know…

The recording in general is really well done. Background noise never becomes intrusive, and the sounds by and large sound defined and transparent. (the nerd in me would love to know what setup Patterson used for this recording) Compositionally, this piece reminds me in certain ways of Jason Kahn’s recent (and wonderful) “Vanishing Point”, in that the overall shape of the piece is an accent from silence to fullness, and then a descent back to silence that is equally as carefully paced and just as long if not longer. I really like the psychological effect this produces, as it helps to focus my attention to detail throughout the end of the piece, until i am peeking through the silence at the end for the last few pops and sputters, like scraping a plate after a good meal.

The sounds presented here are a mix of (a very nice version of) what you’d expect, with a handful of surprises. There are a lot of images of musicians evoked for me here, and sometimes I can’t help my mind from imagining Axel Döerner somewhere in the mix. Or, Robin Hayward, or to a lesser extent Otomo Yoshihide and Martin Tetrault on turntables. The overall effect reminds me of older more laminal improv where players would find a space and remain in it for a while almost as if the were staking their claim to a space within an instantly emerging composition. Certain sounds are nearly ever present, which is quite alright by me, as in general due to (I imagine) the physics of what is taking place they are always changing slightly in what can almost sound like an investigatory manner. The pops, shuffles, splutters and whirs, dance around one in such a way however, as to never become too staid or boring. And occasionally we are treated to a blast or plonk that seems to come out of nowhere and upset the works at just the right moment.

An added bonus bonus to this disc is that it can benefit from being listened to both quite soft, and quite loud. Soft, it can blend so nicely with background sounds as to sort of enliven the ambience of your surroundings, yet still manages to draw you in. Loud, it can be an exciting noise-fest, and an engrossing and intense experience.

While always being open to hearing sound recordings of all kinds, I expected to find this disc interesting on the surface. After listening several times now though I am quite impressed by the level of complexity to explore below.

Great packaging too! :)

Indeterminate Improvisation

December 9, 2008

One of the issues with improvisation that i have been (and doubtless will be) grappling with, is the issue of non-intention, and indeterminacy. As a bit of a Cage devotee, I of course, find these things to be very important in the kind of music I make, but there is always the question of how and why they are utilized. Initially I think my instinct in music making was toward picking up instruments with which I had no relationship, and exploring the sounds they made as a total novice. While this approach can certainly be effective, even very effective at times, I found that it never ended up growing a real relationship with the instrument that continued past the initial novelty. At some point, the stumbling about as indeterminacy, wears thin, as you become more familiar and therefore more determinate in your playing. You either have to resist this, or become more focussed in your approach, and there are plenty of arguments for both sides (but that’s not what I want to get into here).

I suppose then, that this may be a good explanation, for why I appreciate accidental sound sequences so much. They get to be so fresh and sometimes so beguiling, with no effort to remain true to any praxis, and no overanalyzation. The sounds don’t worry about themselves.

This interest has lead me to experimenting with various strategies for incedental sound making and recording. One device i have been using a bit of late, is the utilization of contact microphones to pick up the sounds of othwise mundane activity. An example of this technique could be contact micing your dinner table, while you and a friend have dinner, thus transforming all of the incedental movements you make into a sequence of pseudo-random sound. Sometimes these techniques work surprisingly well on their own, but often times they really work well, when combined with other sound sequences, so that the sounds “collaborate” in interesting ways.

Here are a couple of examples I think work particularly well, and that I have found very enjoyable to listen to:

Accidentals 1 (4:34)
Stereo contact mic recording of myself working on the computer/Stereo contact mic recording of myself unloading dishes from the dishwasher.

This piece is full of interesting moments. The space between sounds becomes very charged at times, and may be intereupted by forceful and precise bursts of sound. I find this piece to have a delightfully in-human sense of space and timing. It upsets my expectations still after multiple listens, something I have been appreciating a lot recently. I also like how small each “instrument’s” pallette is. There is a relatively small variety of sounds, and yet somehow this restriction works as more an asset than a drawback.

Accidentals 2 (6:08)
Edited stereo field recording/Shortwave radio scan

While the first piece is thick with charged silence, this piece has none. The shortwave scanning is constant, and was not initially intended to be an improvisation. It was recorded up at a friend’s cabin in the Poconos, as I searched for interesting signals. The field recording is assembled from incedental sounds resulting from the disassembly of an oil tank and the silences that surround them. Sometimes the sounds are gentle, sometimes not. The radio here forms a range of sounds from soft pads of detailed texture, to blasts of unruly static, distant voices, and contaminated music. While the field recording plays agitator with unpredictable pin pricks of sounds and occasional sheet-metal roars.

enjoy!

Dictaphone cassette collage part 2

September 28, 2008

So, it’s been nearly a year since I first mentioned this technique, and since then, I’ve been in quite a few places and recorded a ton of audio snippets. Funny thing is, I’m still not even near filling up a tape, and at this point, I’m in no rush. I have however, ripped what i’ve done so far and edited it some, and i really like it. It’s strange listening back now, and not remembering what half of it even is. It’s a delightfully screwed-up ride through the past year of my life.

Once I was done, I wanted to hear it in stereo, so i chopped the track exactly in half and made a stereo file. This one is particularly enjoyable. I love the random sonic collisions that take place. Sometimes the placement of sounds is so perfect, I wonder if I some how composed it intuitively, but I know that’s just not possible.

So, now that i’ve gone and done this, I feel like I have finally gotten it out of my system, and I don’t really need to do it anymore. The funny thing is, that I can’t stop recording sounds! I may go back to the loop cassettes and start building a sound catalog, but I can’t help thinking I’ll wind up back on the same old tape, in exactly the place i left off, continuing the journey.

- Dictaphone Cassette Collage Mono

- Dictaphone Cassette Collage Stereo

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

Field recording: Oil tank dismemberment

July 14, 2008

Recently, a friend of mine invited a group of people (myself included) down to his family’s shore house in the Chesapeake bay, for a weekend of grounds upkeep and some general merriment. One of the tasks that he sought to accomplish in that weekend was the dismantling of a five by twenty foot oil tank, that had washed ashore some twenty-five odd years earlier, and which had been eating up prime shore space for (obviously) far too long.

The plan was that everyone who owned one, would bring a Sawzall, and we would spend the better part of saturday, cutting it into movable pieces. Of course, me, being who I am, brought a mini-disk recorder to capture all the noise. We worked for nearly three hours straight on it, and i’d say we were able to remove about a quarter of it. Sawzalls, as awesome as they are, are just not made to cut through 3/4 inch steel ribs.

I began recording as soon as we started, and as soon as I could, moved the mic to the inside of the tank. I recorded a full discs worth of sound from various locations in the tank. The overall effect is what you might imagine, a grandiose cacophony, but there is something about the pacing and the incidental sounds made by the removal of a panel, or the constant drone of the waves, that is kind of magical.

The only thing that bothered me when listening to it, was the sounds of us. Talking, trying to figure stuff out, making dumb cheers when we got a big chunk. It was too distracting from the overall sound. So what I’ve done for the purposes of my own listening pleasure, and this blog, is cut out all of the human sound (or as much as I could). I have also cut the length down considerably of course, choosing to focus on some of the more interesting chunks. I have made an effort however to keep as much of the silence in tact as possible, so that the pace still feels natural and organic.

- Oil tank dismemberment

I also, as I listened to this may times, fell in love with all of the incidental, “non-cutting” sounds. They are just so random, robust, and wonderful sounding. So I did an edit, where I removed everything but them and the spaces around them. In doing this, the sound of the waves became very un-natural sounding, so I experimented with removing them using a noise gate. I really liked the effect. It’s kind of unnerving at times, and totally unnatural, but I like it nonetheless.

- Oil tank incidentals 

Enjoy!

Tibetan protest field recording

June 11, 2008

Tibetan protesters at the National Constitution CenterA couple of weekends ago, I got a call from my friend Al, informing me that there was some kind of Tibetan protest down at the National Constitution Center, and that they were doing some chanting he thought I might like to record. I had some time so I rolled down to see what was going on. I can’t really say I know much about the situation in Tibet, so for the purposes of this post, I’m not going to talk about the political significance of this event.

When I got down there, I heard them before I saw them. A low drone perking up from beneath the din of city traffic. When I got to the National Constitution Center, there they were, sitting one after the other in a line facing the street, holding flags and chanting a harmonic drone that I found quite pleasing. They had a PA set up and two of them were chanting (maybe intoning is a better word?) what sounded like one base repetitive chant, with an improvised chant over it, but I’m just guessing. (If anyone knows what it is that they are chanting, I’d love to know.) They also had a stringed instrument, which they never ended up playing unfortunately for me.

The group was fairly loud, but I knew I’d end up with lots of other stuff on my recording like the passing cars or idling trucks behind me. Not to mention the very high wind that day. So at some point I decided not to try to avoid any of that, but to allow it to in a way be an indeterminate instrument playing along with them.

I’ve been fascinated recently with this kind of change of perspective that alters how one perceives sound. This had a great effect on my appreciation of this recording, when I finally encoded it. Instead of being annoyed at all of the sounds encroaching upon what I wanted to hear, I now can appreciate fully, all of the wonderful and mysterious background accompaniment that appears on this recording. And in many cases, it is quite wonderful. I especially like when my mic and the mics of the performers are both being overloaded by the wind at one point.

- Tibetan Protest music vs. Market St.

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.

It’s been a while, but many interesting things are going on

May 3, 2008

Yes I’m still alive and kicking. I’ve been quite busy still, lots of things going on. Some of which will end up on this blog sooner or later. Here’s a bunch of stuff to look out for here, hopefully I’ll make enough progress soon to do some more posts.

My Sound-Lab Mini-Synth problem
Ray Wilson\'s Sound-Lab Mini-Synth front panelI got one of the PCBs for this a couple years ago. It’s still not built. In fact I put it on the shelf for a very long time and ignored it. Recently I picked it back up and dedicated myself to finishing it before I began work on any more projects. (You can see the effect it had on this blog) Well, I’m about 6 or so hours into panel wiring and I realized I’m in so far over my head that I have about a .0001% chance of ending this with a functional synth.

The root of my problem is that being ambitious as I am, I didn’t want to do the “simple” version, I wanted all the mods! So mine was patch-able, had signal inputs and all other manner of bells and whistles. Well, that’s all great, but I only have a very minor understanding of electronics, and all the info on these mods is pretty sketchy if you don’t. So I came to a resolution the other day (while working on it). I’m ripping out all the wires, and building up the simple version. The fact of the matter is, I’d need a book just to figure out how to make my pervious effort fuction, even after it was built. I’ll be starting this coming week probably… wish me luck.

Al’s 8-track recorder and new compositions
An image from Al's scoreAl has a fairly decent digital 8-track recorder that has been kicking around the practice room since we started playing. he apparently got it some time ago, made a few (very nice) recordings on it, and then didn’t touch it for years, and forgot how to use it. He recently enlisted my assistance in helping him figure it out as I’m good at gadgets.

After a half-hour or so, we got the recording and playback thing/saving down and since then we have done two very nice “blind-improvisations” (playing along without listening). One that is about 5 minutes long and involved us taking turns, basically performing for one another on a variety of instruments. The other is about 14 minutes long and involved us doing duo improvisations, and then overdubbing them with more duo improvisations. The result of this technique has always astounded me, no matter what, it always sounds like we were somehow listening even though we weren’t. I’ll see about posting these when I get a chance to transfer them.

Now that he has his trusty 8-track back in business, Al has also 

An image from Al's score

begun to think up some scores we can record on it. The first of his scores involves a time grid, and instruments, durations, etc. governed by chance operations. We are still trying to decide whether to assemble it or to attempt to perform it. An accurate performance is nearly impossible with two people, which could have interesting results, but we may do both, just so we can hear the piece realized accurately. In duo form it would most likely be a composed piece of improvised sections, as the score makes no mention of *how* to play.

Traveling
My wife and I went to morocco for 11 days, a few weeks back. What a time. We saw and heard so many amazing things. The proliferation of fantastic local music there is staggering. If only we had this kind of community in America.

I of course recorded as much audio while there as I could, and I happened to catch some amazing musicians in Jamaa al-Fna square, in Marrakech. I have alot of audio to sift through though, so it may be a while before it ends up here. We also took a ton of photos some of which I may post later as well.

Experimenting with “Straw Reeds”
I have been looking for an easy way to excite vibration in objects, to be able to play them like horns. I have tried a few methods, but nothing has worked out quite well enough for me to use it often. But after we came back from Morocco, I realized the thing had been sitting right under my nose for a long time.

A “straw saxophone” is something I learned how to make in some art class ages ago. Basically you take a drinking straw, flatten one end by squeezing, and or biting it (biting works best but don’t overdo it) almost flat for about the last inch of the straw length. The take scissors and cut the flat end to a triangular point. If done right you should have to evenly pointed tips nearly touching, parallel to eachother. It may take a little experimentation, but you should be able to blow into the straw and cause it to sound due to the vibration of the end you just made.

Ok, so big deal… it makes a single toot sound. Well this is where some Moroccan ingenuity comes in. I discovered this mounting technique on an instrument I brought home. Find a pipe or something reasonably close in diameter to your straw, so that your straw can slip inside of it. Now, wrap the un-altered end of your straw with masking tape until you can fit it in the pipe securely. The instrument I had, got close with the masking tape, but finishes it up with wrapped thread, which looks much nicer and i’m sure works better, but just masking tape works great.

Now, if you blow into the mouthpiece, you will sound the pipe you are using. Play around you can make many different sounds. If you can make a slider or cut holes in your pipe, you can make different pitches as well. I have been trying this on every cylindrical object in the house recently, and finding lots of interesting sounds.

Here’s a clip of me playing it attached to a 3 foot long pipe.

So that’s some of what I have been doing. There’s still a bunch more, but I’ll have to save that for some other posts. Al and I have been getting some great LPs recently, so I should do some reviews of those at some point to. Cheers!

 

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

Christian Marclay’s “Ensemble” at the ICA

November 17, 2007

ensemble

I recently had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the sound installation “Ensemble” curated by Christian Marclay. Here’s the rundown from the ICA:

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) is pleased to present “Ensemble,” a group exhibition of works that make sound, guest curated by artist and musician Christian Marclay. Marclay has been selected as the inaugural curator of the Katherine Stein Sachs CW’69 and Keith L. Sachs W’67 Guest Curator Program, a new initiative designed to bring outside points of view to ICA. Marclay is a leading figure in the worlds of performance, visual art and experimental music.

Likening his approach to that of a composer, Marclay has chosen a variety of sculpture and installations based on their sound quality and compatibility to sonically inhabit the same large first floor gallery. Visitors are invited to interact with some of the works, others are triggered by motion detectors, or set on timers. The installation will create an ambient sound environment, intermittently producing a wide range of sounds, from the very quiet notes of a music box to the loud ringing of a bronze bell. They have been selected so that they can share the same resonant space and interact like the various instruments of a musical ensemble. It will include iconic works by artists such as Harry Bertoia, Yoko Ono, and Michelangelo Pistoletto, as well as new works by the current generation.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect based on the description, these kinds of things can take a myriad of shapes, but what was in my mind wound up being fairly close in nature to what i experienced at the show. This is a very dynamic sound landscape. Almost unrelenting at times. During some of the denser moments it’s almost claustrophobic due to the resonance of the space. As the descritpion says, pieces range from very quiet to very loud. While this was sometimes interesting, I found the louder pieces to be almost oppressive at times and they were in general the least thought out, volume seeming to be a concept in and of itself. While there is certainly something to be said on both sides of this arguement, I felt that the quiet pieces were so much more powerful and so much more enjoyable that the loud ones, and unfortunately kept getting drowned out.

This however did not hamper my enjoyment very much at all, and there were moments when it was quiet enough to hear all of the small stuff, which for the most part was a real treat. My absolute favorite of all the exhibits, was also one of the simplest. A pool, filled with dishes and bowls that was being “stirred” constantly by a compressor.

ensemble

The resultant sound is as delicate and wonderfully aimless as windchimes, but with an almost gamelan-like sound. I could have sat and listened to this for hours. In fact, part of my wants to build a replica of it for my house. Smaller of course.

Other pieces of notice were; a tongue drum table which was shaped like and acoustic guitar body and had 5 seperately tuned sets of tonuges (I want this for my dining room… in my dreams), a set of three metronomes, set to different timings (mini Steve Reich), and a system of dangling bits of china, agitated by spinning record players.

ensemble

Aside from some overly loud sounds (why a siren?) and some pieces that were either broken or too hard to figure out to keep interest, it was a really wonderful show. It was great just to be in a gallery full of clamor afterall, considering most art shows sonically have the same quality as funerals. It was exciting and envigorating to be so immersed in such an experience of sound, and to just walk around and hear the “mix” of sounds shift as you went.

The show runs through december (more details on the ICA site) so if you are near philly you should certainly go. If you are not and you can’t, you are in luck, as I recorded a walkthrough of the space for you to hear. I have to appologize for the sound quality as there is some hiss in the background… I was having problems with my MD that day. For the most part all of the talking has been cut out, so it is basically a theater of sound for you to sink in to. I like the recording very much, I hope you will too.

- Ensemble


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