Posts Tagged ‘circuit bending’

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

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Primer: Pitch-Bending a Walkman

January 24, 2008

Welcome to the first in a series of posts where I will highlight a specific technique I have learned and instruct you on how to to the same yourself. This first one is on pitch-bending tape recorders. There a couple ways to go about this, but i’m just going to outline my preferred method here. Firstly though, here’s a list of what you will need to do this project.

    1) A soldering iron/solder and some experience in using it. Radioshat ones are ok, but usually have a very large tip, all will be much easier if you get a nicer pencil tip iron from one of your many friendly online electronic parts dealers.2) A cheap walkman. The one pictured cost 5 bucks. Go to your thrift store. The early nineties models are great and really simple.

    3) Some hook-up wire. Either get it at Radioshat, or if you like scavenging stuff, buy and old parallel printer cable, cut off the ends, slice ‘er open and harvest the wire. It’s typically multi-colored, stranded, and thin, all good things. Plus you can get like 36 yards of it from one cable, that costs fifty cents at the thrift store. Not bad.

    4) A potentiometer, or pot for short. This is a bit more difficult. If you are not already an electronics nerd like me, you probably don’t have 100 different kinds of these just laying about, so you will need to get one. Hopefully you have something better than Radioshat near you and you can go and get a few different types for cheap, or, search for grab-bags on ebay. If you are anything like me, this will not be the last electronic project you do, so the leftovers will come in handy. The unfortunate thing about this project is that the pot you will need is entirely dependent on the walkman you have. The general range I have seen in pot values between walkmen, is anywhere from 2k to 10k. If you can’t find out, I’d go for 5k and hope for the best. Or if you happen to have an multimeter, you can measure what size you will need.

    5) Some kind of drill. A dremel would be best as they tend to have a bunch of bits, which is handy, but you could get by with a regular drill.

    6) Wire strippers/cutters. You can get by without these, but it will be easier with them.

    7) A desoldering system of some sort. I use a solder-sucker from Ratshat, but you can use whatever you like.

Ok, lets get started. Firstly, you will need to open your walkman. If you chose your subject well, removing the back panel from the walkman will expose the circuit board, solder side up, like the drawing below.

walkman with the circuit exposed

Once you have exposed the circuit board, look for a pattern resembling the three solder points (yellow dots on the image) in the highlighted area above. They will always have a hole in the center of them, as shown, and if you look through the hole you will see an object with a small slot, the size of a mini screwdriver blade in it. This is a miniature trimmer pot. Those three points are it’s three legs, which correspond to the three legs on a full-size pot.

potentiometertrimmer potentiometer

Desolder the mini-pot and remove it from the board. You will most likely need to remove the circuit board to do so, so be careful that in doing so you don’t dislodge any important components. Once you have dislodged the mini-pot, examine it closely to see if it has any indication of it’s resistance printed or stamped on it. This marking could be extremely small, so look close. If you do happen to find a marking, take note of it, and if you can, buy the same value for your new full-size pot.

Now you will have three empty solder pads on your circuit board. Cut three 5 inch or so, pieces of wire and strip an eight of an inch or so of the shielding from either end. Twist the ends some to “braid” them tight, and then coat them in solder. This will ensure a solid connection to the board. Now, insert the end of one of the bits of wire into one of the holes and solder it to the pad. Repeat this for the remainder of the wires. You should now have three bits of five inch wire sticking up from your circuit board. Take note, or mark the wire that connects to the furthest of the three solder pads from the others, this will be the middle lug of your pot.

Side note: Sometimes one of the solder pads has a resistor connected to it. If your walkman has one of these, test bypassing that resistor and soldering in front of it in the series, instead of directly to the corresponding solder pad. On walkmen that have had this feature, I have found it to greatly increase the pitch range of this mod. I’ve had some that had a speed range from nearly “fast-forward” speed to barely moving.

Now that we have established connections to the board for your pot, we need to find a good place to mount it. This can be quite tricky depending on what walkman you have. I have found that often the cheaper the walkman, the less sophisticated the circuitry, the more room under the hood. You may have to get creative with your pot placement, but be careful to check that when the pot is in place it is not inhibiting any of the other functions of the walkman. I can’t tell you how many times i have installed pots and then realized that once they are in there the case can’t be closed. Trust me, it’s a bummer.

Once you have made a place for the pot, solder the three wires to the three legs of the pot. It will help to make a solid connection, if you first coat each leg of the pot with solder. remember, that the wire coming from the furthest solder pad from the rest (the furthest right in my image) gets connected to the center leg of the pot. The others can be connected as you like, but i usually like to make it so that when i turn the pot right the motor speeds up and when left, it slows.

Now that your pot is connected and functioning, mount it in the spot you made for it, and seal the walkman up. Congratulations, you just pitch modded a walkman!

For even more fun, you can do the same mod, but instead of using a mechanical pot to replace the trimmer pot, you can use a photoelectric cell. If you have never heard of one before, they are potentiometers that look like very small solar panels and react to light. They sell these as grab bags at Radioshat. If you’d like to try this, it’s a bit easier that modding with a mechanical pot.

photoelectric cell

To use a photocell, just connect one leg of the photocell to the solder pad furthest from the others in the pic I posted and the other leg to one of the other of the three points i highlighted. Only one will work, and it depends on your walkman which it is, but there are only two options, so I’m sure you’ll figure it out. This kind of mod makes a sort of tape driven phototheremin. Record some tape loops of drones and play it by using your hand to shade the photocell.

This concludes our first Primer, I hope someone out there finds this useful. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments if something’s not clear.

Oh, and of course there has to be a sound sample! This is a few tracks of various tapes being played on the pitch-bent walkman that I layered up. Enjoy!

– Pitch-bent walkman

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 

LATRALMAGOG Sessions IV & V and some philosophical rambling.

July 28, 2007

I think about music a lot as you can (i’m sure) imagine. While thinking about my recent activities as half of latralmagog, I have realised that in a lot of ways, it is an answer to some philosophical problems I have been tossing about in my head for some time. I supposed that makes perfect sense, and I imagine this progression from thought to action is normal for most people if at most times completely unconscious. However for me, it seems to have taken place on opposite ends of the same track where now there is a meeting at the center in latralmagog. On one end is my (seemingly inate) desire to make “difficult” music, and on the other are my philosophies about the personal/social politics of music and the making of music. When I started, both the making of music and the thinking about music were still very young, and so distant were they, that I did not really see them as connected, or as an answer to one-another yet. Here are two of the questions, and the thoughts (not to be seen as “answers” in an absolute sense) behind them.

First a quick caveat… I’m thinking outloud here. I don’t really know how to write, and I modify my position all the time, as I grow and change. This is here to encourage thought, not to get you to agree with me. Hopefully you will think, and come to your own conclusions. In the meantime, I hope you at least find my rambling entertaining. 🙂 Oh, and I also didn’t feel like editing this, so you know…

What is music?
Way to start with an easy one huh? Well, from what I have been able to mete out in a combination of my own thoughts and the illuminations of others, it is whatever you think it is. Which is almost an alarmingly simple answer, but it’s almost a stupid question when you think about it, that it’s amazing how it has dogged so many BIG thinkers. When it comes down to it, “Music” is just a word… and like all words that define or deliniate space, its boundaries are only solid in inverse proportion to how much they are being attacked. Thanks to John Cage, the most formidable (in my experience) of the attackers, the word “music” is all but meaningless. In order for it to have any meaning at all, each individual must put their own restrictions on it, but don’t be fool enough to think that anyone will agree with you.

In my personal point of view I differ from Cage. He sought to prove that every sound can be music if you are willing to view it as an aesthetic occurance. He often referenced Rauchenberg’s ready-mades as a parallel in the visual art world, stating that the art he liked best directed you to the beauty that exists outside the artwork itself. So that in Cage’s world, all sound is music, all matter is art, and all experience is theater (and all these naturally overlap, a fact in which he took great pleasure). But this point of view maintains that art is everything you can appreciate aesthetically, and this is where I depart from Cage. I still maintain that art needs the artist. Not the Artist (with a capital A) that Cage deplored, but the finger pointing to the stars. The curator of the aesthetic. Why? Because people are as beautiful, curious and interesting as nature and while you can call their likes, dislikes, preduduces, etc., weaknesses, they are weaknesses which I feel are too tied to our human experience to sever. They like us together is a kind of maladjusted mutual sympathy that I think is ipmortant, even though it can lead to various ills that I have not time to get into now.

Now here’s where Cage’s idea and mine only really differ semantically (oh how useless language really is!). He says everything is art, I say art is whatever you think it is, but everything is beautiful. See Cage views the aesthetic appreciation of an object as a declaration of it’s existence as art, whereas I don’t link aesthetics and art at all. Art is what you say it is, but everything is beautiful. I guess this is beacuse I view art as a construct not a continuum. Art is the domain of the artist, and you can take it or leave it really, because beauty is everywhere if you choose to accept it.

In music this idea means that 1) I can still be a curator of sound if I want to because human experience is important 2) Music is whatever I say it is 3) Not everything I present for aesthetic consideration within the confines of a recording has to be “music” or considered by me as such. This philosophy produces nearly the same effect as Cage’s, but where Cage says the artist must be elliminated so that there is no artist/non artist dichotomy, I say, everyone is an artist if they think they are. (Which is funny because I refuse to call myself one, I guess that is because my philosophy exists in the utopia of my mind (like Cage’s) wheras, I live in a sad state of reality-by-commitee) Like I’ve said many times before, the only difference between me and anyone else is that I have the balls to say that what I do is “art”.

What is the relationship between the medium, availability and value of music?
Why is music pressed on records and why do we buy it? Why do we collect it, own it, etc.? Why do we have record labels? Do they serve a purpose other than fronting money for the production of “art” in order to (hopefully) make an ROI? Does the medium in which a work of “art” is presented affect the way in which it is perceived and how does that relationship function with “musical” “art”? Has our construction of a marketplace for art served us for the better and how?

Edit: Now that I’ve gotten flack for some of these statements, let me be more clear. I believe the art marketplace can be a good thing. If it wasn’t for some very giving souls who decided to use their money to bring the art they valued to light, we may all be bereft of some works we value highly. However, as I’m sure anyone can protest, this situation of money for art is extremely dangerous and that danger is not confined to the “mainstream” world.

I’m not going to answer all of those questions, but I do find myself asking them and stewing about them frequently. Especially in our current climate where we are basically innundated with high quality free music, most often in digital form. There are countless out of print record blogs where one could easily obtain for free, (a digital copy of the audio content of) a record that previously commanded prices of $5,000 on ebay! The value of music is changing, but exactly how remains to be seen. Personally I see the value going down, but I’m not sure we can be so black and white about that.

Is a piece of music put on record because it is valueable, or is it valuable because it was put on record? I’d say a little bit of both. I think it’s put on record because someone valued it and somehow because of the value they placed upon it, it then becomes valuable to others because they value it as well or value the person who deemed it valuable in the first place. But does it have any intrinsic value over and above everything else? Maybe not, I’m not sure I can say, it would depend upon how you define value. I have to say though that after hearing large qualities of amazing records by unknowns that easily rival records by our societal golden calves, it is hard to look at the art market as anything other than a spotlight. Am I alone in having heard steaming piles of crap on reputable lables, that become gems as they are accepted by the easily lead? Is the value of what I do directly linked to who else thinks it’s valuable? Well? Yes, but only if that is what I believe.

(Note: I’m omitting the questions about specific media that were here, because I don’t want to take the time to mede it out and it only distracts from the poit anyhow.)

Or we could ask a similar but different question. What’s more valuable to witness; The Velvet Underground live in the 70’s, or the music made in ones own family? (don’t answer too quickly now 🙂 ) I think a lot of these questions are taking on the dichotomy existing in the world now, of the “art star” and “art star” infrastructure, versus the personal and communal. And why does this exist? Because we buy it. These people, concepts and objects are only more important than others because we have agreed that it is so. So where is value in all of this? It’s wherever you think it is. In this stage in the game relying on any definition of value other than your own pleasure in “art” is just asking to be lead off a cliff.

Now if these things are only of at their hieght in valuable because we buy them, what happens if we stop? What happens if we have so much fantastic music that we can’t even keep track of it and it is all free. We have so much that every record only gets one listen. What happens when even what was previously considered to be “the best” is so common we don’t need it any more? How does it effect how we place value on “art”, or how we approach our own? I would say it evens the playing field somewhat don’t you think? I think it has the potential to take us out of the fog of commercialism and offers us the chance to see, choose and make for ourselves. (Not that all music that is sold is commercial, but that ugly culture does exist.)

Edit: (The paragraph here previously was an ill thought-out rant that actually did more to confuse my point than make it. It is being replaced with something I think is more the point. I can’t stand by any of those previous statements.)

These ideas have definitely shaped latralmagog. These questions in part affirm my decision to improvise. For me, improvisation confronts fleeting value by being instant, commercialism and style by being amorphous, and the question of the definition of “music” by being an exploration.

In a way I feel like there was a time I was tying to cram what I really wanted to do into a box that I thought would be more easily palateable to others, and resisting the real impulse I had toward something less defined. I felt as if I was trying to train myself to make what was essentially other people’s music. Why? Because I guess in a way I thought it would be more “credible”. When I finally thought about it, I realized that I had been improvising for some time, but I had been casting it off because it didn’t fit with what I for some reason thought I ought to do. Once I opened up however, I realized how fun and fulfilling it was to give myself over to all of the ideas and feelings I had pushed aside for so long.

I realize after some of the comments below, that a lot of what I say above can be very easily misconstrued. I wish I were better at expressing my thoughts. I think the bottom line though is that everyone should feel free to do and think as they like about art, theirs or anyone else’s, no matter what the established art world thinks, or what trend it is worshiping today. There is no intrinsic value in anything, we bestow value, so feel free to cast yours wherever you like.

I also want to make it clear that I am NOT saying improvised music is better or cooler than any other kind of music, only that is better suits a certain set of ideas that are occupying me presently than anything else.

LATRALMAGOG, Session IV
– Part 1
– Part 2
– Part 3
– Part 4
– Part 5
– Part 6
– Part 7

LATRALMAGOG, Session V
– Part 1
– Part 2
– Part 3
– Part 4
– Part 5
– Part 6

Enter LATRALMAGOG!!!

July 2, 2007

So my partner in musical debauchery Al and I decided to make our collaborative efforts offical by branding ourselves with a name. Now, this brings me (of course!) to a deluge of pholosophical questions… “How do you give a name to something that is undefined?”; “Can there possibly be a word or words that evoke an accurate concept of what this is?”; “Why does the name Ashtray Navigations have to be taken?” (yuck yuck).

LATRALMAGOG Notes

Above: Notes from our naming experiment

So after a couple false starts we decided that we would use two of our favorite devices in music making – improvisation and chance – to come up with a fitting name. We began with the use of our temporary moniker “AL B & ET”, subjecting the letter order to chance, but ultimately what came of it left something to be desired. Then we tried our full first names, which had a similar effect. Through all of this we were in hysterics at the alien sounding names that were coming out. Finally I suggested a nonsense word writing excercise. Improvised words. So we took turns writing off the top of our heads. Our goal was a longish word, and in retrospect, apparently one with neanderthalish qualities. We then chose which word would become our names by using the I Ching. Thus we became LATRALMAGOG. Pretty epic.

I am also posting our third session now. This one is much more ambient than previous efforts. It seems the music we make is very much effected by our moods on any given day. This is bay far the most peacful thing we have done. It is also quite beautiful at times. I hope you enjoy it.

Implements used in this recording:
Cymbals, tape machines, loop cassettes, Heathkit oscillator, Silver platter, circuit-bent tape player, melodica, shakers, bells, toys, cookie tin lute, appalacian mouth bow, air organ, electric kalimba, various effects boxes, etc.

no real clean way to chop this one up, so here’s the whole thing as one track:

– LATRALMAGOG – Session III

The improvisation shall continue.

June 22, 2007

The recording setup

Based on the OBVIOUS (haha) success of the first improv sesh, Al and I have decided to continue our explorations together on a somewhat weekly basis. And of course as is my custom, it will all be released here for you to listen to, should you be of the sort that actually listens to mp3s on blogs. There is also talk of “releasing” (if you thought- like a dove?- you are correct) the second one in some kind of physical format with “art” and whatnot, so if that is the sort of thing that interests you, let me know. Otherwise you can just download it below and make your own “art”.

I have to say that this thing we have been doing together is really a revelation for me. Especially since after my last band split, I had no interest in playing with anyone for a long time. (this had nothing to do with the band really, just bands in general) In the wake of that I did a lot of different things on my own. As this blog is evidence, I explored a lot. In many ways there are certain seeming paradoxes about the sounds and ideas that resonate with me that I could never figure out. I like synths and circuit-bending, but I also like ancient and primitive instruments… I like things most people would think are weird (the shop-girl at the local hardware store gave me a hard time the other day for doing “crafts” for fun! what?) but i have no interest in “weirdness”… I’m pretty much attracted to anything that makes a noise, but until recently I wasn’t sure for what. Somehow the improvising I have been doing lately has made it all sensical. Somehow everything I thought was out of place, now seems to fit. I like it.

In other news, I recently fixed my busted bell piano, so that will factor into this weeks jam, I circuit-bent one of Al’s toys (I’ll post samples at some point) and I’m sure that will find it’s way in, and I’m almost done building a bowed lamellophone out of a coconut I bought a few weeks ago (sound samples and photos soon). I will also start work on a pre-prepared “guitar” (a bunch of metal stuff and a pickup) and a hurdy-gurdy style drone box… more on those soon.

And now the last session… Implements used in this recording: whistle, nyatiti, bat repeller, boss rv-2, clava, a curled xylophone, frog childrens toy, flute, mini thumb piano, loop station, air organ, ocarina, plastic saxophone, chimes, bells, cymbals, chainring gong, silver platter, spring reverb unit, cigar box guitar, tape machines, looping cassettes, tongue drum, shakers, chihuahua, appalachian mouth bow, harmonica, toy accordion, and probably more stuff i am forgetting now.

Equipped for gapless playback… enjoy!

– Part 1
– Part 2
– Part 3
– Part 4
– Part 5
– Part 6

My first time collaborating on improvised music

June 6, 2007

For all the things I have tried musically, there is was a very obvious one which I had not… until recently that is. I have of late become aquainted with a friend of a friend who is now my friend; Al. Al and I have some similar musical tastes and ideas, and it was suggested to us and we agreed that we should try making some music together. After a few missed connections we were finally able to hang out, talk music, and listen to records (he had an especially interesting set of 50’s vocabulary records which kept us occupied and laughing out loud for a good while). I also got to check out some of his various instruments, a kora like instrument, a synth, an electric kalimba (!) etc. and it was abundantly clear, we were at least of a very similar bent. We decided the best way for us to go about making music was to sit down to improvise, so we started making plans.

After missing a few more connections, we were finally able to get together to actually make music this week. Al met me at my house this time, so he could check out my laboratory and see what my noisemaker stash had to offer, and after pulling out a number of devices, a little impromptu jam just sort of happened from us tooling around on various things, so I grabbed a bunch of instruments, amps, mics, cables etc. and set up a little recording area in the living room. I decided the easiest way to capture this initial session was to just mic the room so I set up a pair of condenser mics, one for each of our approximate areas.

We ended up improvising for 76 minutes straight. I think that is the longest I have ever played anything. We probably would have made it to two full hours if we the mics didn’t start shorting out. (I really need to check that out) The session was great. We managed to create a sort of space where we could really do pretty much anything. And the resultant overall feeling was really cohesive. For the first session, I was really pretty surprised how much of a unified “vibe” we were able to generate for most of the performance.

One interesting part of the overall outcome was accepted more than planned. Due to the thin-ness of my walls and the fact that i’m constantly hassling my neighbor for blasting modern rock radio, we had to keep the volume way down. In fact one of the amps we are using for the electronic instruments is about six inches square, and it still competes admirably with the 10 inch Ibanez that the kalimba was running through. This also meant that none of my acoustic instruments or cassette recorders needed to be miced. As a byproduct of this, every movement we made was audible in the recording, from me shuffling through cassettes to Al thunking his kalimba down on the coffee table. The unexpected part is that it somehow works. In listening back to it, I thought some of the noises were intentional and successful, and then later realized that I couldn’t really even tell if some were intentional or not. The line had completely blurred. The unintentional sounds being made by our “playing” had not only become an aleatoric musical component in the performance, but one of my favorite parts.

For those of you who care, here’s the rundown…

Personnel: Al B & ET (me)
Implements: Cassette recorders, home made “lute”, various modified and unmodified children’s toys, kalimba, silvertone acoustic, boss reverb pedal, boss loop station, bells, chainwheel gong, loop cassettes, transistor radio, playing cards, cappuccino foamer, cardboard “costume” guitar, voices, found answering machine tapes, harmonica, random household items, and probably more stuff I can’t remember.

I cut the performance into 6 parts, based on what felt like individual movements within the session. I have cut them off directly, so they can be played gapless. The end fades out due to technical difficulties in the final 15 or so minutes. Enjoy!

– Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 1
– Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 2
– Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 3
– Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 4
– Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 5
– Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 6

Wonders of the cassette tape loop, part 3

January 20, 2007

A couple of weekends ago, my wife and I had the rare opportunity to spend a saturday together (she generally works saturdays). Of course it had been a while since we had been to one of our favorite thrift shops “The 2nd Mile Center” and eaten at one of our favorite middle easten eateries “SAADS” so we decided west philly was the destination.

2nd Mile is often a dead end, but sometimes looking around is really the fun part. This particular time went like most others, in that I didn’t really find anything as I made my usual rounds. Until… I was about to walk out, when I noticed a familiar shape. The shape of a cassette four track!

I owned a tascam for a while, but never really used it due to it’s overwhelming complexity. This one however, was one of the small low-end Fostex models. And, for $20, it was worth it even if all I ended up with was parts.

Fostex Four track

It had been a while, but I knew I had read about using these machines with loops. So I searched around a bit and finally found what I was looking for. The gist of it, is that you have a loop cassette and four tracks, that means, four loops running at once. And, you can punch in, so you can build loops on the fly. With the fostex, it’s even better, because one flick of a switch routes whatever input you are going in to, to whatever track you want to record to. So it could even work as a live performance tool.

I just got around to playing with this thing today and I can see why someone brought it to the thrift store. The pots short out, the jacks short out and it has some other issues as well. For me though, none of that matters as I’m not going to be using it to record my new pop punk combo.

So I sat down with a freshly spliced loop cassette in hand and started fooling around.

Cassette Tape Loop

I immediately saw potential in this set up. The tracking sucks, which adds great wow and flutter effects. It overdrives easily too. The first bit of sound i put in came screeching back sounding like something out of a horror scene in a sci-fi movie. This thing mutates everything you put into it in wonderful ways.

What I find even more interesting about this set up is that I never know where I am in the loop, so when I record, I can only really control what notes I play. Where they end up being placed is pretty much up to the machine. This of course excites me, given my interest in generative music and chance opperations.

One of the instruments I fed into this system was a circuit-bent animal keyboard thing. If you slow it down really far, the kids songs it usually plays become unrecognizable and instead it seems to be playing a random sequence of beautiful tones. This already chance based music became even more interesting when randomly edited together by the four track.

After a while the music sort of took on a life of it’s own. I think it came out beautifully, especially for the first try. I can assure you there will be much more of this to come. Especially once I rig up a punch in pedal. Enjoy!

Star Platform Foothold

Reflections of a new blogging convert and the blog as a creative outlet

January 6, 2007

(Please excuse this rambling mess, I am by no means a “writer”)

Thus far, writing this blog has been a great experience. I had no idea what to expect when I started. Ok, so maybe that isn’t true… I think I expected more comments (probably a lot of negative ones 🙂 ) and I still hope for more and get excited whenever I get one. Other than that, I didn’t really know what was supposed to happen.

I had a rough idea of what I was going to do of course. I have been laboring in soundmaking in my basement or bedroom for years. I was tired of not really having anything to show for it. I knew no label would put this stuff out and ask someone to pay for it (even though a lot do), and I wasn’t even sure that that is what I wanted to happen with it.

The problem of presentation
It seems to me, that one of the hurdles to presenting truely experimental music (as in, music that is actually an experiment) is the presentation itself. As a person who has gotten giddy over many noises and attempted to share them with (usually) much straighter folk, I have come up on this many times.

A good friend of mine whom I used to live with told me a story once, about a guy he used to live in a dorm with (if i remember correctly). This guy, he said, used to play the most horrible music, so loud all the time that it drove him nuts. Intrigued about this music, I probed him for a better description than “horrible”. What he described could have been any of several musics, but sounded most likely to be some form of dark ambient/darkwave. The interesting thing to me, was how his description had the opposite of the intended effect on me. Instead of saying, yeah, that sounds terrible, what an ass, I started probing him for more info. But that’s not the point of the story really. The point is that that same friend a year or two later became enthralled with circuit bending.

I got into circuit bending by discovering Reed Ghazala’s site. I was looking for a Casio SK-1 at the time to replace the one I had when I was a child, and quickly began ammassing toys and destroying them. My roommate instantly got it. This blew my mind. I had him pegged as a person who liked conventional music and nothing more, and for all intents and purposes, he was. However, for some reason when presented with noise as an exploratory, adventurous step into the unknown, he loved it. He looked at every toy as a lottery ticket, and brought home almost as many as I did, looking to hit that jackpot of pure sound. That was as far as it went for him though. He wasn’t interested in making music that anyone would listen to out of these sounds, he was interested in making a novelty sound exploration device and leaving it at that.

What is so interesting to me about this friend was his willingness to accept something that he previously hated, because of how it was presented to him.

The blog as a distribution model
The above story is something I have thought about a lot. Sometimes I think maybe he was right, maybe sound loses something (like anyones attention) when it becomes “music”. Maybe presenting something as “music” like “art” is a pretensious assertion. Maybe the only end to what I do should be my own pleasure. Maybe… but I can’t be satisfied with that. If for not more complex reason, than I get psyched and want to share! Like a little kid who just got a new toy.

This is why I started a blog. It alows me to present anything is any way that I want. It allows me to experiment with different forms of presentation. For example, I usually downplay my “music”. I don’t give it a name, or much ado at all. Partly because I can’t handle the metaphysical burden that comes with a name, partly because I’m shy about it. This hasn’t really worked. Sometimes I think more people would listen to the music, if I gave myself a name like “Liquid Banana Helmet” or “Oranguitan Rape Moustache” and blathered about how killer my tracks were with each post (I would never do that in a million years however). What has seemed to work is the album like format and cover art for “Jazz 2 Ways”. I could go on waxing intellectual about why I think that had that effect, but that’s not the point, the point, is that I can present however I want.

This (I think) allows me to lower both the defenses of you, the readers and myself. You don’t feel (hopefully) like you have to LIKE what you hear and considder it “music”, and I don’t feel like I have to put it in a “musical” format. Then maybe later as I have indoctrinated you (hahahaha) with my fun sound samplings, you will start to listen more to what I DO consider to be my music, HOPEFULLY with an open mind. Or maybe, you’ll hate it and think I’m a pretensious quack. The point is, that it is out there in a form that is less burdened with ideology than a CD or record, and hopefully this will help change the way you approach the sound on this site.

I wasn’t expecting a sense of accomplishment
What I didn’t anticipate about writing a blog, was how good it was going to feel to see all the information/content I have produced. This blog as a documentary of my sound land is really exciting. I do feel like I have something to show for my work now, other than tons of instruments in the basement, and sound files on the computer. I have gotten the opportunity to put my thoughts to my sounds and file them away to be found and re-reflected on later and that is not something I take for granted.

All this is to say that this blog, though insignificant in the blogoshere, is a success to me, because it allows me to not only share, but to look back and see what I have done in a different light. I guess that is all quite obvious to most people, I guess I just underestimated the impact it would have on me.

And now, I am going to do the thing that blogs allow, that I love so much… I’m going to post something that will probably hurt your ears. 🙂 (watch your volume!) The fact that I can do this, never ceases to amaze me, and some day in the future when free information has been banned, I will look back at this, chuckle and then wipe away a tear. Enjoy!

– Noisy Button

(You know those toys that you squeeze and they play a song? This is what happens when you add one carefully placed resistor to that circuit.)