Posts Tagged ‘home recording’

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!

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.

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!

 

Improvisation for speakers, vessels and contact microphones

March 22, 2008

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 

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

Random Ritual. Prepared Guitar and Voices.

January 5, 2008

I got bored of having my guitars in standard tuning a while back, and started to get interested in learning to finger-pick. Mostly because I finally turned an ear to John Fahey after ignoring him for a long time (for no reason at all, except maybe hearing his name too much) and got my head ripped clean off by the sheer perfection of the musical world this man was able to create. Not that I wanted to go out and be another Jack Rose or Ben Chasny (though, they are great) I just thought if most of my guitar playing is going to be done alone, mostly amusing myself, I might as well learn how to play so it sounds like it’s 3 people.

Anyhow, so that never really happened as it take some more of what I have not, (no, not talent) time. Though I still fully intend to learn to at least get by playing finger-style (and about a million other things). So what I ended up with was a guitar tuned to one of Fahey’s standards, that was slowly but surely slipping out of tune. For some reason though, it seemed to slip IN tune… just a different sound or something. One day a picked it up and sort of tuned it into tolerability, and it had a sort of koto-like sound. The for some reason of other, I thought it’d kind of sound more like a koto if the strings were muted some. So I crammed some paper between the strings near the nut like so:

prepared guitar

As soon as I began to play it, i felt like i was on to something. It has an interesting way of making what ever strings are open sound like an accompanying instrument and whatever is being fretted, some kind of lead. So I’ve been playing it like this for months now, whenever my computer is loading a big file (ha ha) and I’ve really grown to love it. I have no idea what the tuning is b/c it’s so far from normal tuning, even with a tuner I’m going to just get a bunch of pitches it will be nearly impossible to replicate again. (Maybe someone who has a good ear could tell me more) SO I’m basically keeping it like this at least for now.

I’ve been wanting to post about this tuning for a while, but I wanted you all to be able to hear it. Problem was, I just wasn’t getting around to recording it. So today I figured I’d do it quick and dirty. This is recorded through my computer mic (that’s what that hard drive crunch is in the background). It’s a track of guitar, improvised and unedited and a track of vocals done the same, but then delayed and reversed to make the third track. It’s pretty crunchy sounding, but I kind of like the ambience the noise seems to create. Enjoy!

 - Random Ritual

Season’s Holidays! Happy Greetings! A Gift for you and yours!

December 24, 2007

Holiday madness being what it is (work’s no party either) I figured I probably wouldn’t have the time to do a post pre-christmas. However, as I was thinking about it, I realized I do have something to share. Though I haven’t been posting them, Al and I have continued to record, almost weekly improvisations. I would post them all, I just like to, if I can, present them in a more “finished” state than I usually have time for. I thought I’d make an exception though, 1, because I haven’t posted anything form us in a while and 2, because I fear christmas delaying my posting even more than usual. So here we go…

This was recorded this past friday at Al’s house which has become the new recording place of choice for a number of reasons. The session is about 72 minutes long with a decent variety of sounds being made. Here’s a (probably incomplete) rundown of what is being played: four-track loops, realistic dx-440 radio, modified singing christmas ball, tape feedback circuit, brass bowl, wooden box, tongue drum, pig scraper, bells, chimes, cymbals, 4 oscillator noise box, wooden xylophone, saw-blade, vibes, organ, bell piano, harmonica, rams horn, kalimba, surfaces, various apartment furnishings, etc. The session has been loosely subdivided into six parts, though each part may encompass more than one discernible movement. Hope you guys enjoy this, it was a lot of fun to make.

latralmagog, session XVIII:

- part 1 

- part 2

- part 3

- part 4

- part 5

- part 6 

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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