Monthly Archives: September 2011

Electroacoustic Composition: Make it snappy

Electroacoustic composition created entirely from samples of wooden sounds. Composed using ProTools and GRM Tools.

Tree cross section

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Auralisation: Logistic

This auralisation is based on the Logistic Equation: Xn+1 = r Xn (1 – Xn)

Originally intended as a model of population growth and decay, it is an example of how chaotic behavior can arise from a simple non-linear equation. I used MaxMSP to perform iterations of the equation based on a given initial X value and used a sound recording to sonify the resulting variation.

Screen grab of the MaxMSP patch, showing logistic output.

Algorithmic Composition: shuffleship

Algorithmic composition composed using Bill Schottstaedt’s Common Lisp Music. The piece is composed entirely from a short sample of a violin. I wrote a granular synthesis programme which cuts the audio into small pieces and reorders them according to specified parameters of size, shuffles and randomness. This output was then used to compose the piece. The cutting and re-splicing allows the timbres inherent in the sample to come to the fore as a cloud of sound, momentarily removing the association with violin, direction and melody.

Clouds of shuffles

Algorithmic Composition: breath(e)

A short piece written using Bill Schottstaedt’s Common Lisp Music. All the sound comes from a sample of a man breathing. As the piece goes on the breathing becomes more distinguishable, more urgent. An algorithm controls the position, number and panning of each pulse of sound. As the beats overlap and move past each other the Haas effect is observable. Some beats suddenly sound like they are inside your head, a somewhat disorienting effect. It is particularly noticeable when listening on headphones. I hope to complete a quadraphonic sound installation version of this piece, designed to be play over four speakers in a room. In this way the listener could have some control over the effect as they move around the space.

Arrangement of Air Passages in the Human Lungs

Solo Percussion and Electronics: A to B

I started playing percussion when I was eleven. This composition, for two snare drums and two cymbals, deals with extended playing techniques and granular synthesis. Snare drums and cymbals both produce extremely rich and complex sound spectra, which provides a huge amount of sonic material to experiment with. A to B uses amplification, live sampling and granular synthesis to explore the timbres produced through extended playing techniques. Using the real-time music software MaxMSP a solo percussionist can perform the acoustic and electronic parts simultaneously, while the audience hears a quadraphonic mix of the two. In order to perform granular synthesis in real-time I used a MaxMSP object written by Michael Edwards, mdegranular~. Read more about the piece here: The Composition of A to B by Georgia Rodgers.

Solo Percussion and Electronics

Soundwalk: Edinburgh Flow Motion

I created this soundwalk during my masters course at the University of Edinburgh. It is composed from binaural field recordings made around the city over a few days. It varies from straight forward reproduction of the recording, through extensive layering of sounds and into granular synthesis, to evoke various experiences of time and place, and an exploration of sonic and personal geography. As part of a multimedia group, the soundwalk culminated in the projection of a ten minute stop motion film in one of Edinburgh’s atmospheric old town courtyards.

“Thus social space, and especially urban space, emerged in all its diversity –
and with a structure far more reminiscent of flaky mille-feuille pastry than of the
homogeneous and isotropic space of classical mathematics.” – Lefebvre, The Production of Space

Read more about the composition here: Edinburgh Flow Motion by Georgia Rodgers

Photographs of the event courtesy of Erlend Barclay.

Soundwalking across Bristo Square (photo credit Erlend Barclay)

Soundwalk across the cobbles (photo credit Erlend Barclay)

The soundwalk culminated in an outdoor projection of stop motion films. (photo credit Erlend Barclay)

Field Studies 2011 Part 4/4: Discussion

I was exposed to so many interesting ideas during Field Studies 2011 that is it difficult to condense them all into a short, coherent piece of writing. Looking back over my notes I see a lot of underlinings and exclamation marks, and arrows from one thing to another. After a week or so to absorb everything, I thought I would outline a few of the thoughts that have stuck with me.

An area I learnt a lot about was sound installation. Esther Venrooy, one of the tutors who works often in the field of sound installation, said that unlike a composition which is to be performed, a sound installation gives control of the time domain to the visitor. They can come in, out, move around the space as they choose. This means the individual creates their own highly personal experience, which is necessarily intertwined with the space. The acoustic of a space is part of it’s heritage, which an artist should work with and not against. If you address and work with the problems of a space, this is when magical moments can happen. The idea of giving control of time to the listener really appeals to me, and I think fits together well with the concept of the ‘listening device’ that I worked on in my tutor group. I do not think that this makes the work any less of a composition, but a composition concerned with the act of listening, and listening, at the same time.

The sound artist Bill Fontana puts it like this: “I began my artistic career as a composer. What really began to interest me was not so much the music that I could write, but the states of mind I would experience when I felt musical enough to compose. In those moments, when I became musical, all the sounds around me also became musical”.

My tutors, Liminal, introduced us to their project Tranquility is a State of Mind. This was a research project funded by the Wellcome Trust to “bring together a team comprising a cognitive neuroscientist, a clinical audiologist and two acousticians in order to investigate the relationship between sound, health and the environment.” Since I work as an acoustician, this immediately caught my attention. It’s very important for people working in different disciplines to be aware of what other people are working on, and all to easy to end up working in isolation. I think interesting things happen at boundaries which is why projects like this one, and Field Studies itself, lead to very fruitful discussions.

The anthropologist Tim Ingold‘s fascinating lecture pointed out our unfortunate tendency to equate sound with vision, instead of sound with light. Which leads to the idea that our eyes take in light and replay it to us is the form of vision, where as sound goes straight into our head (nay soul) through our ears. What do you see? Things! What do you hear? Sound! But if you hear sound, you should see light! Or maybe if you see things, you should hear things? “Light is another way of saying, I can see! And sound is another way of saying, I can hear!”.

In any case, our senses are not on an even plane. Vision is valued more highly than hearing, not to mention smell, touch and all the other senses. Our language is peppered with visual metaphors: shed light on, envisage, enlighten and so on. Which is not to say that we should therefore value hearing above sight, but rather admit that our senses are tightly bound together, intertwined so that they are impossible to unravel. As we wander about perceiving the world we see, hear, smell and feel all at once; we use this information as a whole to understand where/what/who/when we are. We do not separate it into separate threads. Today I was driving down an A road in Wales, listening to music turned up loud. As I approached a roundabout I instinctively turned the music down in order to negotiate the junction. “We don’t drive with our ears!” you might say, but we do. I used my ears to see the other cars, just as I used my eyes to listen to the music.

Furthermore, as we perceive the world, we are already part of the world perceiving. Therefore what we perceive, we are already part of. The glacier can hear, when we hear it. “When I read a poem about the sky, I become the sky.”

Field Studies 2011 Part 3/4: Listening Device

The focus of Liminal’s tutor group in Field Studies 2011 was to create a Listening Device. This could take any form: a physical object, a composition, a performance, a set of instructions, a piece of writing or drawing. A ‘thing’ to frame sound. A ‘device through which to frame the act of listening itself.’ Our tutors gave the example of James Turrell, a sculptor whose work aims to frame the familiar in a new way in order to allow a person to ‘see themselves seeing’. Thus our device should help us ‘listen to ourselves listening’.

My idea was to convey the experience of being under the railway bridge at Borough Market, but without using the sound of trains. This sound is so familiar that it is easy to stop listening to it. After discussing with Frances I decided to experiment with filtering the recording. The result is a stereo installation of the field recording, filtered to cut out any frequencies above 200Hz and increased in volume. (The ear is less sensitive to bass frequencies than high frequencies which allowed me to increase the volume without it being too loud.) The heavy bass content resonates through the body, creating an engulfing listening environment. When the sound disappears suddenly, we are more aware of those background sounds that had previously been masked by the bass. Thus the installation is a Listening Device, which frames our current sonic environment.

Read on in part four…

A recording of the installation in place, Train Your Body.

Listening // Discussing // Preparing (photo credit Joseph Kohlmaier)

Installation Installed (photo credit Joseph Kohlmaier)

Sitting // Listening (photo credit Joseph Kohlmaier)

Field Studies 2011 Part 2/4: Field Recording

In the afternoon of the second day we got out our various begged, borrowed or owned sound recording equipment. We had a discussion about some technical aspects such as microphone and recording technique and then set off for London Bridge, where we thought we would discover many different environments within a fairly small area.

We went off separately or in pairs, using what we had learnt from the listening exercises the previous day to find interesting places to record. I found a spot under a railway bridge by Borough Market that I particularly liked and made a long recording there. It was interesting to stand still for a while in a place where people usually hurry through, maybe trying to escape the sound of the trains passing overhead which punctuated the space. The weight of the trains combined with the resonances of the metal bridge created an engulfing cloud of sounds and rhythms, which rattled my whole body. When the train had passed the sound diminished abruptly. This sudden stop seemed to heighten those sounds which were left behind; the fans and footsteps and conversations.

Read on in part three…

My recording from under the bridge.

Field Recording: Borough Market (photo credit TB Kenniff)

Field Recording: Borough Market Railway Bridge

Field Studies 2011 Part 1/4: Listening Excercises

Field Studies 2011 took place from the 13th – 16th September 2011 at London Metropolitan University. Run by Joseph Kohlmaier of Musarc, it is a workshop of sound, architecture, field recording and the city, and attracts students from a variety of disciplines. The mixture of musicians, architects, photographers, artists, radio producers, dancers, geographers, academics, students, professionals and amateurs makes for an inspiring blend of ideas, energy and perspectives.

As well as an extensive series of lectures, which will be covered in another post, the thirty or so students divided into three tutor groups in order to work more closely with an artist and follow a programme of practical work. I was lucky enough to be tutored by David Prior and Frances Crow, who work together as the duo, Liminal. On our first afternoon together David took us on a sound walk around Highbury Fields and Drayton Park. We undertook a series of listening exercises during the walk, and used these to inform our discussion about sound and hearing. Some involved transcribing what we heard using pencil and paper, with various restrictions. I had a revelation when I stopped using words to simply assign a source and direction to the sound and instead found more descriptive methods of notation.

Read on in part two…

Soundwalk: How far is your sonic horizon? How close are the closest sounds?

Soundwalk: Draw everything you can hear in the vertical plane.