Archive for the ‘recordings’ Category

Submitting some music to the Dictaphonia microcassette comp series

January 9, 2010
Dicataphonia 5

Image, courtesy: Hal McGee

This isn’t something I’d normally do. These kinds of open request comps tend to be largely comprised of acts whose music no one else is willing to release. While I certainly fit snugly into this category, I by no means want to end up one of those people who submits to every open comp for this sort of thing that happens by. (one of the reasons I’ve never contributed to the IHM comps)

So why this and why now? Well, one, I love working under restrictions. There is something about limited formats that appeals to me. I also love gritty lo-fi sounds, and of course, tape. I also noticed in a quick glance-over that there is really not much like what I do on these comps, and in general I’m not seeing my approach to this kind of thing taken by anyone. So why not try and present something different?

Over vacation, I’ve been recording a bit with my microcassette recorder, trying to come up with a track that is the right combination of length, and musical interest. So far the length thing has been the most difficult. The approach I decided to take here is similar to what I’ve been doing recently in general; using only the object of focus produce sounds, usually by means of some form of preparation, with as little “gesture” as possible. The object of this approach is to (hopefully) produce music that is not only interesting, but that unfolds as if it is happening by some natural process outside of human intervention. This is of course very difficult, and my success rate is spotty, but that’s the goal.

In my attempts to produce something for the comp, I have generated a bunch of tracks that are just too long (I’m trying to play within the bounds without editing), though I find them all to be quite interesting in their own way. So I’ve decided to post them here for your enjoyment. Enjoy!



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)

Prepared Walkman Improvisation

August 21, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improvisation for walkman (without tape)

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

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 


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.