Archive for the ‘found sound’ 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.


iPhone noise study (amplified using Audacity)

Cage on Branca

August 1, 2009

I received  a message from a friend today, telling of a performance by Glenn Branca in new york that is to happen soon, and inquiring as to whether i’d like to attend. As I can’t stand not knowing precisely what I’m getting into (especially when in nyc) in terms of music, I looked it up. the piece turned out to be “Indeterminate Activity of Resultant Masses”. I searched around for clips, and found a boomkat listing for the album and was surprised to find that said album contained an apparently venomous audio critique by John Cage. After some more net digging I was about to find the audio clip on ubuweb (of course!) which I present to you here.

Now, in general, I side with cage based on what he says here about musical politics, but having not heard the complete work and in ignorance of Branca’s thesis, I won’t comment further (Momus does a great job of it here already) . Instead, I wanted to offer this piece up to those who have not heard it, as a piece of music in and of itself, as while listening to it I was continually moved and confounded by it from a purely musical standpoint (though I did appreciate the text). In a way it is almost as if Cage and his foil Wim Mertens are making a live textural improvisation with the sounds of the surrounding area.

There is such an odd tension about this whole back and forth. Notice the absolutely odd timing of each phrase, as if Cage himself planned them indeterminately. How cage leaves you to hang almost indefinitely between phrases as if it could be the end, or left only with his dry rhythmic chuckle that oft times goes on just beyond the comfort level. And what of his partner? Possibly the most patient person of all time! Waiting, endlessly, for his counterpart to unfold his idea, and never being a hinderance, not even for a second. Though his flemish accent is dry, he (in his relatively few appearances) nearly rivals Cage in his sensuous working of the english language. Both men talk as if they are savoring the feeling of each word in their mouth while forming it. A sound that has a pacing and tonality that for me recalls a quiet slow solo. There is something about listening to the sound of these two men talking that especially today was a great pleasure.

Of course, one cannot speak of this “piece” without mentioning the third of it’s stars. The background noise. For whatever reason it sounds pleasingly in tune with both voices. It is a multilayered din, with the occasional clang, snatch of passing chatter, or bus sound, but the real star is the persistent short tone that repeats in the near background. Also somewhat in turn with the other sounds it provides a strange meter that seems to break up the rest of the parts into some form of process that I do not understand, but thoroughly enjoy. It is so insistent that it is almost maddening, and yet it’s imperfection keeps it standing just on the brink of annoyance without falling over. In a way it sounds like a Radu Malfatti solo sped up in it’s odd spacing and timbre.

An excellent listen, and if only for this recording, I am glad that the Branca piece exists, and that cage Attended, and that Wim recorded.

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

So Do You Think the Future of Music is Dead?

January 6, 2008

Hahaha, made you groan! Ok, so this is kind of ridiculous, but I had to do it for the sake of… well, ridiculousness! A friend of mine turned me on to the above video the other day (1st part of like a 5 or so part series). It’s an interview with Mike Patton from like ’92 or something. It is HYSTERICAL! It goes something like this… Interviewer asks dumb question, Patton gives dumb answer in between bites of a really gross looking sandwich. It’s brilliant! At one point (after Patton says a series of really disparaging things about the state of music today) the interviewer asks if Patton thinks the future of music is dead. 

I’m just going to let you stew in the brilliance of the question for a moment…  

aaaaand we’re back. So Patton then gives one of the best answers to that question I think possible. Anyway, I was laughing my head off. So for some reason this exchange inspired me to make the following rip off of “It’s Gonna Rain” with the question and response. If you can actually listen to this whole track you deserve an award. I have to say though, if you do… at about the 3 minute mark your brain will start doing really weird things with you perception of time, it’s quite strange. Anyway, here it is… 

The worst thing about music…

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.

The musical life of hard drives

March 26, 2007

This is a segment of an image my computer spat out one time after it had crashed. The original image was about 15 feet long!

My hard drive makes noise constantly. Sometimes it’s barely audible, and sometime it sounds like it is puting up a terrible fight. I have the tendency to record directly into my laptop mic to capture quick thoughts or try out sketches of ideas (a lot of which make it here). I also am almost always recording in the vicinity of my computer. This means that in some form there is always hard drive noise on everything I record. I have made my peace with this. After thinking extensively about it, I came to the conclusion that either I was going to record “poorly”, or less frequently. I opted for “poorly”. I also thought about what a recording was and why we try to make it so hermetic and I realized that the some of the recordings I like best sound natural, like they have been field recorded, noise and all. I like the idea of the acceptance of noise as a fact of life, or even more simply, just life.

I had been planning on recording some of my hard drive’s noise for a while, but I didn’t attempt it until this past week. I was expecting a certain kind of noise and for some reason, I expected it to be alone, like it’s own “thing” coming from a central source. Thinking back on it, that’s pretty naive really. What I found, was a whole variety of noises, coming from a bunch of different centers on the keyboard (my computer is a laptop). They don’t seem to change much in themselves and they sit in fixed positions almost in direct relation to the keyboard layout. I could see it even being possible to “play” the noises by mapping the “noise centers” on the keyboard.

Some of the noises are louder, or more dense than the others. They all have sort of rhythmic structures, but they are not all the same. I was really excited by the sounds. There was something exhilarating about them, or maybe overwhelming is more the word. Either way I felt an excitement when playing them that I had not expected.

Another thing which I did not expect was that if I tried to record over the trackpad, it would crash my computer! I’m really fascinated by this. I’m guessing it has to do with either magnetism, or some kind of feedback loop. It’s scary none-the-less. Be very careful if you attempt to do this, because I cannot be certain it is not harmful.

I recorded for about 15 minutes straight. The result is two tracks; one of trying to record all the different colors of noise, and the other is just improvising with them and getting a feel for how they could be played. Overall, I am pleased with the sounds I got. I think they could definitely be used compositionally, and I may use them in the near future. The only thing that bothered me a little, was that the latency in my recording setup made the noises sound so much richer than what you hear on playback. This could be added with the inclusion of about a half second delay, but i’d be cooler if it was natural.

Different Colors

Surprise! Strikingly beautiful sounds in “Vernon Florida”

March 15, 2007

One of Vernons Characters

I love finding beautiful sounds in unlikely places. Sometimes when you least expect it, you find something that knocks your socks off and adds to your musical map in a way you could never predict. It sometimes amazes me, how the original capturers of these sounds underestimated them and therefore gave them less than their due, or included them only as spice. Like that scene in Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Look Back” when he is playing an almost ambient deconstruction of american blues music on the piano, that I don’t think ever got developed (at least not in this manner). In the movie it lasts all of a minute and is just in there for color. Where is the rest of that scene? Why is it unimportant? Is anyone but me dying to hear the rest of that?

I had a moment like that again last night watching “Vernon Florida”. The intro to the movie shows a bunch of shots of Vernon… pretty standard. However, the music that was playing in the background was stunning. It sounds as if a man is humming and playing harmonica the same time, complete with beautiful, rural background noise. The combination of this strange technique and what he’s playing – a slow, mournful, soulful take on some old spiritual – is breathtaking. I’m not sure which one of the “characters” from the movie is playing/ from the credits it looks like it may be Claude Register. Either way I can only imagine that he is playing in a little known regional technique that he is probably one of the last to have mastered.

While I am thrilled to have found this even very short sample, I’d love to hear more. And I wonder… is anyone documenting this stuff seriously? Sublime Frequencies? Folkways? I sure hope someone is at it, otherwise this amazing sound could very well die away completely.

If anyone happens to know of any labels, individuals, ect. documenting this kind of thing, I’d love to know. I’m sure it’s being done, but probably too little and fearfully too late.

Claude Register(?) – Intro to “Vernon Florida”

Jazz and the degradation of tape. Or; Jazz Two Ways.

December 30, 2006

I read somewhere that clear blog post titles are very important for driving traffic to your blog. I guess I’m failing miserably. hahaha. Clarity and ease of communication is easy when your content is boring, which I assure you this next bit is not.

I decided this morning that I was going to start listening to some of the reel to reel tapes I found in the trash the other day. What’s more I listened to them on my newly acquired Wollensak 3M reel to reel recorder, which I just rehabilitated. (Note: a little lubricant will fix a lot of old mechanical things :))

Wollensak 3M tape recorder and Mac

I really never expected to find really cool audio on the first tape, but low and behold… The tape seems to be a compilation of jazz pieces. However, the tape is so old that the iron-oxide is starting to shift and re-polarize and the result is bleed from each side into the other. Effectively, you hear side two of the tape playing backwards in the background of side one and vis versa.

What is remarkable about this common event, is how well the two sides blend together at times. It is almost like it was meant to be this way. Before I realized what was happening I thought I was hearing some odd instument playing it this jazz combo. I hate to keep harping on this, but this is why i collect tapes! This was in the garbage! No one would ever have heard it again. Now, is it not only out of the garbage, it is on this blog and hopefully preserved forever, or at least a good bit of time. Unless you are as obsessed with this stuff as me, you will probably never hear anything like this again. I hope you’ll give it a listen.

I have gone a little crazy and decided to present this as an album. I have created artwork for it and everything. The artwork is below and also encoded in the mp3s. There are 9 (yes 9!) tracks in all, in glorious mono. I present to you, “Jazz Two Ways”. I hope you all enjoy!

Jazz Two Ways Cover

– Jazz Two Ways No. 1
– Jazz Two Ways No. 2
– Jazz Two Ways No. 3
– Jazz Two Ways No. 4
– Jazz Two Ways No. 5
– Jazz Two Ways No. 6
– Jazz Two Ways No. 7
– Jazz Two Ways No. 8
– Jazz Two Ways No. 9

Why I collect tapes. Finding left field music in unlikely places.

December 23, 2006

As I have mentioned here before…

I love tape.

One of the many reasons, is that over the past 50 or so years it has made it possible for different kinds of people all over the world to document their rich and varied existences. From the aspiring metal band in a garage or basement, to the lovingly crafted mixtapes from one dreamer to another.

Recently my wife called me to inform me that she had found a reel to reel recorder in the trash on the way to work and saved it for me (awwwww… i LOVE my wife). She said I should stop by the place she found it, because they had lots of cassettes and reel to reel tapes.

I grabbed a big bag and biked down. There was a ton. I filled my whole (large messenger) bag up. There was absolutely no more room. I wound up with about 15 or so reel to reel tapes, some recorded on, some not, and about 20-30 cassettes.

The reel to reel tapes were mostly jazz, R&B and soul recorded either from LP or the radio. The cassettes were either unmarked, or church cassettes. These I was pretty excited about, so I put a few on as soon as I got home.

After going through a few, I found one of the things I had hoped to find; a gospel organ rave-up. The tape is unmarked, so I cannot tell what the event is, but it sounds special somehow. The first side is a sermon by a male preacher, which so far has not been interesting enough to listen to all the way through. The second side is what I can only describe as organ assisted prayer.

The speaker is a woman this time. She seems to be “prophesying”, meaning she is using a form of extra-sensory perception to know what people need to be prayed for and how.

At some point in each prayer the organ kicks in and drives everyone into a frenzy. I’m sure to be there must be an amazing feeling. Being surrounded by all these people with so much joy and devotion in them, radiating waves of excitement out in all directions. Still, in a way it is surprising that these people are all getting this down to what is basically folk-experimental music.

All about context
Here we have a church full of lower to middle class black people in an urban area. Not the average demographic for left-field music, or performance art (generally white, upperclass, academic), but here we have them becoming enraptured in amorphous waves of sound and being driven on to the heights of slain-spirit by the shouts and hollers of an accidental-shaman.

This is ethnic-psychedelic music at it’s most pure. There is no record label to persue. No fans or critics. No intellectual questions. No stylistic dogma. Just pure, unadulterated, trancendental aural magic.

Maybe it is all of the questions, pressures, poses, etc. that can make any music boring. Maybe it’s the idea that something is in a package because you are supposed to think it’s good, that makes listeners resentful. maybe it’s the need for a sellable format that makes most music crap. Maybe the reason average people don’t like experimental music is because its in the wrong context.

Anyhow. I’m not here to give any answers. All I can say is that the people on this tape got something right. And, of course, they got it on tape. so I present it to you now. Enjoy!!!

Edited version (removed some of the talking)
– Gospel Organ Freakout Edit

Unedited version
– Gospel Organ Freakout Full

Sounds from Egypt

November 23, 2006

For our honeymoon, my wife and I went to Egypt. I hadn’t been outside of the US much, so this was of course an amazing experience for me. We first went on a Nile cruise, where we pretty much toured ruins every day, Then to Sharm el Sheik, where we pretty much lay on beaches all day. It was pretty awesome. I think the part we enjoyed most was probably the ruins. As wonderful as being in the sun on an inexplicably beautiful beach is, it just doesn’t compare to seeing the temples of Egypt.

We pretty much toured constantly that week. The cruise liner went from town to town and there were up to three optional tours a day. I think we only missed one.

Kom Ombo Temple

Out tour guide was a man named Rabbi (pronounced “Robbie”) of Nubian decent. He was one of the best parts of the trip. He basically took us through the temples and explained the history of them and what the major portions of heiroglyps meant. There was something about the way he did it though that took it beyond what one normally experiences.

Maybe it was his odd, but endearing manner of speaking, his willingness to help you learn, or the way he retold the mythology (I hate that word) of the early Egyptians as if he was there. But, hearing Rabbi talk was something we looked forward to every day.

Rabbi Lecturing 1

I of course being as obsessed with sound as I am, brought a minidisc recorder along, and was happy to, on a few occasions, record Rabbi doing his thing. He even took me to a temple for prayer, (I stayed outside of course) so I could record the sounds coming from the Minorettes.

Listening back to these now, transports my mind even more than our photos (all 400 some of them) to the temples and Rabbi’s story telling.

Rabbi Lecturing 2

Here are a few bits of what I recorded while in Egypt. The first is of course Rabbi. This time, telling us the story of creation from the perspective of the early Egyptians, and explaining the sucession of the kings. The second is from outside the mosque where Rabbi brought me to record the minorettes. As you can hear, they are so close to one another that you can hear another one about two blocks away. The third is intoned prayer from the Hanging Church, which is a Coptic church and the oldest in the area. In this one you can hear our latter tour guide who kinda sucked and whom I remember very little about. (ha) Enjoy!

Rabbi on creation and kings

Duelling minorettes

Intoning at the Hanging Church

And of course with such good source matterial, I had to fool with it. This next track is the intoning slowed down and played backwards with delay and reverse reverb. It sounds pretty evil. I hope you enjoy it.

Satan speaks really slow doesn’t he?