Posts Tagged ‘four-track’

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 

Four-Track Cassette Looping Part 3.

August 26, 2007

Actually I’m not quite sure what part this is, but we will continue on from three from now on, as I’m sure I’ll continue to have posts about this subject.

Fostex Four track

While lamenting the rather wimpy volume control on one of my varisped tape recorders and wishing I had another like my Marantz Field Recorder, with it’s many controls and mic input, I remembered my Fostex X-18. I hadn’t played with the Fostex much since I figured it would not end up making a great live looping tool, but it did have some characteristics that I thought would suit my work with latralmagog.

After setting it up and getting re-acclaimated to it’s controls, I began trying to figure out exactly how fast I could switch from record to play, thinking if I could get it pretty tight it might work in a live setting. So I began, and I was getting pretty good at fast switching, and I started to feel like I was discovering something that could revolutionize my live setup, especially since it works great with contact mics. Then I discovered something so amazingly logical and useful I feel like an idiot even listing it as a discovery.

When the machine is in play mode, all you have to do is push the record button down too.


And to get out of record mode, you just hold down play and hit stop. This way only the record button pops back up.

Okay, so what have we learned here? READ YOUR FRICKIN MANUAL!!!!

Seriously though, I should have read that thing cover to cover, but hey, better late than never. So anyhow, now I have the ability to gradually build up loops without ever stopping the tape, and since four-tracks have those nice mixing capabilities, I can fine tune levels and bring parts in and out at will, something none of the expensive digital loopers will let you do. Plus it’s got that great shitty chewed up tape haze that makes everything sound like a transmission from another planet.

So of course I had to record a few loops using this method, and here they are…


– Phin Feedback, Bowing, and Plucking
– Zither Knocks, Plucks, and Feedback
– Flute, Horn, Silver Platter, and Bells

Fun with sound manipulation and the freedom of chance.

March 11, 2007

Mary Did you Know?

My wife and I have a sort of tradition of going to her parent’s house on christmas for a big christmas meal and time with the extended family.

My wife’s extended family is really two families, one from Staten Island and the other Chicago, that have had a couple of marriages between them. One of which is my sister in law from Staten Island who now lives in Chicago with her husband.

It is not every year that the Chicago family can make it, so when they can the occasion is even more joyous to the family and there is generally a bit more to-do and a good bit of chaos.

One thing that always comes with my sister in law and her husband is singing. They love to sing… they even love to sing badly! They don’t care what it sounds like as long as singing is going on.

This year we sang the twelve days of chistmas as is tradition when they are in town, and made the last minute addition of a solo rendition of the CCM gem, “Mary did you know?” to be performed by my brother in law.

I cannot stand this song. It is both sonically offensive and lyrically banal. It is one of those songs certain christian people love because it makes you all warm and fuzzy inside, but it has no real meaning, lesson or message to get in the way.

Of course I do love my in laws, so i kept my loathing contained. I did however plan to video record it so that once I was back home I could mangle the sound somehow into something either redeeming or horrible.

I’m not exactly sure why that makes me feel better, but It does. It might just be the challenge of it. I’m not sure.

Mary Did You Know (Warning, not for the faint of heart)

The chance transformation

When I was back home and had the time, I didn’t really know what I was going to do with this audio I had collected. It was as bad as any random person singing a song they love at the top of their lungs. I had no idea how I was going to make that interesting, even to me. However, eventually, a thought came… what if I re-organize it using chance?

Recently I have been reading a book about the life, work, and writings of John Cage called “John Cage [Documentary Monographs in modern art]” by Richard Kostelanetz.

I have grown to be fascinated by Cage in the past year or so after having on a whim, listened to his conversations with Morton Feldman, on ubuweb.

The concept of the use of chance opperations in the “composition” of music is one particular prong of that fascination.

I have always liked the occurance of a moment where in chance two sounds or flavors or what-have-you meet in accidental harmony. I always get a little leap of excitement. Often more so than when things are very predictably composed.

However, where Cage sees the role of the “A-rtist” being thankfully deminished down to commoness, I see the possibility for the inclusion of acts of nature, and alternate methods of decison making.

I have not, as Cage may argue, separated myself from my intent by choosing randomness. I have CHOSEN randomness and it IS my intent.

Where in the past I may have – at a loss, as I was here – manually and “randomly” cut apart the track and lopped it back together. Hoping, of course, to hear something magical upon playback. This time I decided to, like Cage did, set up a real system that I would have to adhere strictly to, in order to acheive randomness, or at least the appearance of it.

I decided to take what I figured would be the most musical parts of the song, the vowel parts, and separate them into individual pieces.

Then, I numbered them all (1-217) and created a corresponding sheet of written numbers, which was cut up, put in a bowl and drawn from.

sound numbers

The order of the numbers coming out of the bowl, was the order in which they were placed in the track.

sound numbers scrambled

This process satisfied me initially, but I found myself wanting to take a step further. So, I next selected each bit of newly re-ordered sound and flipped a coin. If the coin landed heads, it stayed as it was. if it landed tales it was reversed.

When I was finally finished (the entire process took nearly 3 hours) I listened.

While the immediate resultant sequence of sounds was not entirely earth shattering, it was very inspiring. While what came out, sounded an awful lot like what went in, there were a few moments of brilliance. It was really cool to hear melodies emerge that did not exist anywhere in the original.

I was also pleasantly surprised at some of what was made of the ambient sounds in the room, as they were drug through the process. Some very interesting textures and events made it into the cut-up version.

What is far more interesting though, is that through all that, a discernable instance or the words “Mary Did You Know” actually made it into the cut-up!

Mary Did You Know (Cut up)

Cut-up, now what?

Though the new cut-up version was certainly more interesting than the original version, it was nothing I would ever really choose to listen to more than once or twice for novelty. I realized that what I really wanted was to make it a (somewhat) listenable piece of music.

The process that insued took hours. stretching, compressing, cutting away, adding back, piling on effects, etc. There was no system here, I merely worked the sound like clay… pressing and molding away, with no particular adgenda, other than to be pleased with the result. I am pleased. It is a very strange piece, very dark, but i have found myself listening to it over and over and that to me is a very good sign.

Mary Did You Know (You’re Dead)?

I did realize, through all of this, another very way to use chance. At a few points in ordering my “composition”, I found myself at a place where I had to make a choice that was somewhat important, but also kind of subjective and as such arbitrary. It occurred to me, at that these places, chance could be used to solve the problem.

What is great about that is that it throws a wrench into our human tendancy to build habbit. You come to a similar crossroads a couple times and you find tyourself always picking the same road until, before you know it, it becomes subconcious. This technique helps to avoid that.

I could see this technique being employed in such a way as would keep an artist or maker on their toes. Chance might give them a difficult task, one THEY would never choose. But they will solve it in THEIR way and therefore grow in experience instead of building well defined boundaries. I even thought of possibly numbering all of my instruments and when I came up with an idea, drawing numbers to see what instrument or group thereof would be responsible for working it out.

Maybe next time.

More four-track cassette looping

February 11, 2007

As had been my plan this weekend, I made a new loop cassette with the intent of once and for all figuring out if I could in fact use a four-track as a live looping compsition tool. I tried a Moebius loop this time, as it allows for greater length in the loop and i was interested to see the impact this could have on the overall outcome.

For some reason as my luck would be with tape lately, it behaved very strangely. Perhaps I used single sided tape, although i have no idea if that even exists, but it seemed to play for a bit, then go silent for a bit, off and on like that. I was frustrated even further with this, as the loop sounded really good and so the waste was even worse in my eyes. So I made another, this time a basic chandler loop, but in my typical fashion with added reels for greater tape length.

I also decided to build a punch-in footswitch, as the whole idea of the four-track looper as an improvisation tool hinges on it, the ability to start and stop recording without stopping tape playback, being essential. I made one out of a 3 pole, dual throw footswitch I had laying around, a battery and led (so i knew when it was on), a 1k resistor, and a bit of old mono cabling with a jack conveniently attached and housed it in an altoids tin (of course!). It is just the thing, and works very well, the indicator light, of course, being very useful as I tend to drift off mentally and forget what I am doing.

I tested this arrangement out as soon as I finished, and recorded the first loop here fairly quickly. I like the result, but of course my nice new loop is very crusty sounding for some reason. Not a bad effect, but one I wish I had some control over. I am impressed though, that the splice is damn near inaudible, oweing to me randomly using thin plasic packing tape to splice. The secret is, unlike most kinds of tape, it is thinner than the audio tape.

The second loop is now me attempting to use the controls on the four-track to switch tracks while the tape is rolling, and using only my footswitch to start and stop recording. This track is odd, because I had anticipated my newly recorded parts to tape over my old ones. instead i got this strange blend that you hear of the two. It even seems that my “sequential” recording of the tracks, utilizing my footswitch, actually laid the parts in sequence on the tape in a linear, horizontal fashion, instead of a vertical fashion. Meaning, instead of the four parts, going to four tracks, the went in order linearily, one after the other, and left the old loops tracks very much in place. I am stumped as to why this is, but I will continue to play with this system and I am confident that I will discover an answer at some point.

What I did discover is that the fourtrack cannot work in the way i had initially intended. The main issue is that it cannot play and record on the same track. This should be obvious, considering it only has a single playhead, but it is still a bit of a disapointment. Even with the punch-in footswitch set to not record, the track loops along silently. A shame. However, I quite enjoy this system for it’s quirks. It really is an interesting tool in it’s unpredictability.

If anyone who reads this knows of a fourtrack that will allow you to listen to the same track you are recording, let me know i’d love to get one that does.

Anyhow, til next time…. Enjoy!

Loop 1
Loop 2