Posts Tagged ‘chance opperations’

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.



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

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


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.

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.

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.

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!


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…

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.


– Noise Removal Music

I’m not dead (I’m just moving extremely slow)

August 23, 2007

Some of you may have noticed I have not been posting with the usual frequency. I appologize and by no means have I abandoned this blog. I have however taken a big hit to my available time by re-entering the workforce. While this new development certainly limits my time for doing more interesting things, such is life and I will as I have for much of my past, attempt to work around it.

Personally, I like Keith Rowe’s perspective on the situation. The following is an excerpt from a talk he gave at the Slought Foundation in philadelphia a little while back:

“I’ve always had a job… like always. From the time I left the art school… Actually, I really enjoyed that… The idea of being an amateur… You could have a kind of obscurity. If there was kind of a slogan of the art school i went to, it was, the definition of success is to be middle-aged and obscure.”

Of course, this got quite a laugh, but I think the re-definition of success he is portraying here is pretty inspirational, and I find it aligns very well with my current attitudes toward “art” or “craft” as a thing of and for common people.

One of the non job related plusses to having a job located in the city, is the variety of interesting sounds one encounters. My first week, I has riding my bike home when i passed a truck with some huge compressor in the back making a huge sounding drone as it ran, that was just loaded with dancing overtones. I could have listened to that for quite a long time. I was kicking myself for not having a minidisc recorder with me. It would have made a great piece to post here. Suffice to say that I now have the MD with me at all times, and hopefully I will be happening upon some other sound of note soon enough.

This leads me to another unfortunate reason why I have not been posting as much of late. Latralmagog. With weekly recording sessions and a new motivation to crank out new sound making devices, it has become quite difficult to find time to post. And I certainly don’t want to turn this into a latralmablog (har!) by only ever posting our recording sessions. Of course, my increased instrument production rate has provided me with a bunch of new sounds that could be posted, but I’m so behind on documenting things I’ll never catch up. Sigh… jobs. I always wonder if there could be a way I could just do what I do and make money for whatever value I am able to provide people… maybe some time in the distant (distant) future.

That’s enough ho-hum for now, on to things exciting. AL and I this past week both played our first show, and released our first official packaged recording. The show went well all things considered, but I found that it was much more difficult to improvise in my normal mode while being watched by strangers. I felt very self conscious at first and felt an odd pressure to produce some sound that I felt would be acceptable to the perceived tastes of my audience, though I resisted the temptation. I did however fall into a sort of safe re-playing of ideas and techniques that I had previously deployed.

As the show went on however, my confidence grew and I ended up playing much more in my usual way, listening to AL and attempting to compliment what he was putting out there. I felt the set improved drastically from beginning to close and I ended quite happy and reasonably psyched. I also realized that if we are going to play out more often, I need to develop a better live set up. I ended up doing too much moving mics around and not enough playing. That being said though, I think our music is much better suited to small enclosed spaces and if we performed in such a venue, amplification would be far less a concern.

I think the CDR we did came out great. I planned the packaging so we could do all the printing ourselves. The cover ended up being drilled in such a way as to create a letterform that would serve as the focal point of the cover, but also as a stencil to decorate the (otherwise blank) discs. The stenciling helped create color washes on the cover that were then silk screened over in black ink. The type and lines were all cut by hand into freezer paper which served as a silkscreen stencil (thanks art school). We basically banged out all the printing and spraying in an evening. The music however was a nightmare. For some reason when I brought it up to peak level in Audacity it clipped when playing in iTunes?!?!? I can’t figure out why this would be and especially not when it seems to just be this session. Whatever, we got over it, albiet after two days of hell. Mental note… Learn something about mastering (yeah, right). We used the most recent session, which was really cool as it was ready for sale one week after it was recorded. How’s that for a turnaround time? We even sold a couple which is pretty cool.

Here’s the CDR design:

If anybody wants one, they are available on our myspace page: Send us a friend request while you’re at it!