Posts Tagged ‘aleatoric music’

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!

Music for four performers and four laptops

May 4, 2008

All performers should be male, and should be selected because they have completed Mario Brothers previously. The four performers should perform in a rectangular (preferably square) room, with each performer positioned in each corner, facing inward.

Performers are to be outfitted with laptops (make and model up to what is available). Laptops are to be equipped with an emulator running “Mario Brothers”. A contact mic is to be placed on each laptop so as to pick up keystrokes as loudly as possible, and connected to an amplifier, pointing toward the center of the room. (sounds from the game itself are not to be included, performers may only use the computer keyboard for gameplay) 

Performers are to be to be instructed to race to successfully complete the game first. The piece is over when someone does, and their prize is whatever the take from the door is.

Possible visuals: images of the four player’s screens, projected on top of one another.

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…

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 

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