Archive for February, 2007

Shoddy field recording; Chinese New Year, NYC 02/18/07

February 23, 2007

Chinese New Year Crowd

My wife and I decided to go to New York this past weekend to attend the Chinese New Year celebration. It was kind of a whim, It has her birthday this past saturday,we wanted to do somehing special and we figured it would be a good time. I also figured it would be cool to record some of the drumming played for the Lion Dance that is traditional on that day.

Of course, I forgot my MD recorder (*o*). Somehow in the bustle to get packed and on the road at a decent hour, I overlooked this important detail. I happened to pick up an old tape recorder with a built in condenser mic on the way out, but the thought of lugging it around NY all day, was not in the least appealing.

I realized though, that while I did not have an audio recording device, I did have a video recording device in the form of a digital camera, that also recorded audio. I knew this was not optimal and would be crap quality comparatively, but anyone who reads this blog knows crap sound quality is not something that bothers me. To be more precise, I find pretty much any sound interesting. Be it midi or a cassette getting eaten by a recorder, it’s all interesting to me.

The celebration was total chaos. The really fun kind. Tons of people came out, which is really rad, and there were interesting sounds all over.

Lion Dancers in Action

When we first approached, we saw a Lion Dance taking place, but were blocked by baracade’s from reaching it. I was worried that if it was always that crowded around them with all the baracades, I would not be able to get a good recording. Luckily there were a bunch of different troupes making their rounds, so we caught up with one that happened to be heading right into the center of the action, and I filmed it all the way in to the fireworks.

The fireworks were awesome sounding! They basically just set off a million black cats. You don’t really get the full effect on the recording of how immense the sound was.

Black Cats on a Wire

What I got sounds better than I thought it would, although it is pretty tinny. I wish I could find out more about the structure of the rhythm. They are definitely playing a repetitve theme that must have some significance. It looked as if the main drummer in each troupe was most likely the head of the school, which I thought was very cool. They played the core rhythm and it looked as if the rest of the instruments were passed out in order of importance, ending with the yougest scrappiest looking guys with the smaller quieter cymbals.

I’m excited to use this audio in some sort of composition, though I’m not sure what. I have been warming up recently to the use of rhythm to psychedelic effect. Which ever way, I always like the idea of incorporating field recordings into my music.

Lion Dance

More four-track cassette looping

February 11, 2007

As had been my plan this weekend, I made a new loop cassette with the intent of once and for all figuring out if I could in fact use a four-track as a live looping compsition tool. I tried a Moebius loop this time, as it allows for greater length in the loop and i was interested to see the impact this could have on the overall outcome.

For some reason as my luck would be with tape lately, it behaved very strangely. Perhaps I used single sided tape, although i have no idea if that even exists, but it seemed to play for a bit, then go silent for a bit, off and on like that. I was frustrated even further with this, as the loop sounded really good and so the waste was even worse in my eyes. So I made another, this time a basic chandler loop, but in my typical fashion with added reels for greater tape length.

I also decided to build a punch-in footswitch, as the whole idea of the four-track looper as an improvisation tool hinges on it, the ability to start and stop recording without stopping tape playback, being essential. I made one out of a 3 pole, dual throw footswitch I had laying around, a battery and led (so i knew when it was on), a 1k resistor, and a bit of old mono cabling with a jack conveniently attached and housed it in an altoids tin (of course!). It is just the thing, and works very well, the indicator light, of course, being very useful as I tend to drift off mentally and forget what I am doing.

I tested this arrangement out as soon as I finished, and recorded the first loop here fairly quickly. I like the result, but of course my nice new loop is very crusty sounding for some reason. Not a bad effect, but one I wish I had some control over. I am impressed though, that the splice is damn near inaudible, oweing to me randomly using thin plasic packing tape to splice. The secret is, unlike most kinds of tape, it is thinner than the audio tape.

The second loop is now me attempting to use the controls on the four-track to switch tracks while the tape is rolling, and using only my footswitch to start and stop recording. This track is odd, because I had anticipated my newly recorded parts to tape over my old ones. instead i got this strange blend that you hear of the two. It even seems that my “sequential” recording of the tracks, utilizing my footswitch, actually laid the parts in sequence on the tape in a linear, horizontal fashion, instead of a vertical fashion. Meaning, instead of the four parts, going to four tracks, the went in order linearily, one after the other, and left the old loops tracks very much in place. I am stumped as to why this is, but I will continue to play with this system and I am confident that I will discover an answer at some point.

What I did discover is that the fourtrack cannot work in the way i had initially intended. The main issue is that it cannot play and record on the same track. This should be obvious, considering it only has a single playhead, but it is still a bit of a disapointment. Even with the punch-in footswitch set to not record, the track loops along silently. A shame. However, I quite enjoy this system for it’s quirks. It really is an interesting tool in it’s unpredictability.

If anyone who reads this knows of a fourtrack that will allow you to listen to the same track you are recording, let me know i’d love to get one that does.

Anyhow, til next time…. Enjoy!

Loop 1
Loop 2

Sorry, but I have been too busy to do a real update.

February 5, 2007

It’s true, usually saturday is my big day to sit down with some gear, come up with an idea and go for it. i tend to record and post in one fell swoop. This weekend however was just too complicated. I had dedicated myself to sitting down with the four track and figuring out how to improvise loops in real time and record it in a sort of stream of conciousness loop collage. well, it seems i better spend more time with the four track manual. It took me about ten minutes of fooling around before i could even get my input levels set right and figure out how to record to the right track. To make a long story short, i ran out of time with nothing to show for it besides some gained experience and a newfound respect for four track wizards everywhere. To get all DND on you… it’s a heavy sword to weild.

I am going to make a concerted effort though, this week, to get something out asap. Not just out of some weird responsibility to this blog, but also because I am hot under the collar to get this four track loop thing working efficiently. Thus far it is showing very exciting potential. To anyone who reads this PICK UP CHEAP FOUR TRACKS! You will not be sorry!

So as not to leave you high and dry this week, I present you with a video. Not that there is much to see here… more to hear. I only just recently started getting into Tony Conrad (i was busy okay?!?!) and WOW, I am really enjoying it. I love the overtones on this peice. It is like a naturally occuring symphony just below the surface. Enjoy!

I’ll be back with more sound experimentation soon!