Sun Mar 13 2022 20:00:00 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)
Last week was the fourth and final week for the experimental music course I've been taking. Due to being busy with other things, I had put off the "homework" for a week and got back to experimentation this weekend.
Last week's lesson was all about synth techniques. What a doozy! I feel like that's a very difficult subject to cram into a 90 minute session. Even if you can be certain that people have some exposure to basic signal theory and techniques, it's really difficult to describe a patch and there's definitely some problems around expecting people to have access to specific modules (are formant and shepherd filters that commonplace? lol). As an exhibition, it was very cool...but as a teaching/learning session, I think it was a bit of a stretch.
I did 3 or 4 different patches, one of which was strongly inspired by one of Jamie Stewart's example patches in the class (although I made a couple small tweaks). I took some of the session audio and arranged it into this rough track:
Honestly, in a pretty dark place while making these. Stoked with how they turned out, but the mix could use a lot of love, something that I'm not going to put time into right now though.
Sun Feb 27 2022 21:30:00 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
This week's "homework" for the experimental music course was pretty deep and had 5 possible assignments. One of these was to compose and record a short piece of music using only percussion (using techniques covered in class).
I'm not really a percussionist, so this seemed like a good challenge. Here is the final recording of what I ended up putting together this afternoon. Give it a listen while you read about the process below.
I think I remember my brother telling me that he was in the music program at the University of Oregon with Ches Smith, and that Ches used to gig with a sawblade used as a crash or a bell or something. Since much of our course material involved really nice shiny percussion instruments that I definitely do not own, I figured I would still give it an honest attempt starting with this sawblade as inspiration. I had an old/used skill saw blade around, and started by suspending that from the rafter.
Initial experiments showed that it sounded pretty good and had a nice ringing bell sound. When a playing it close to the microphone, however, the swinging and spinning made it pretty hard to capture the sound. I ended up adding a second tie to prevent it from rotating, and that helped a lot.
I also suspended a piece of sheet aluminum that have cut up previously for making eurorack faceplates. I didn't want to drill holes in it, so I first tried to compression fit two nuts on a bolt on either side. That failed horribly and quite dangerously. :) I instead used needle-nose vice grips and suspended it via that. The rich gong sound from a simple flat rectangular piece of aluminum was pretty surprising (to me)!
I also had the brass frame from a decorative air plant holder that a friend had gifted me several years ago. That was already hanging in the shop, so I used that as well since it had a nice triangle sound.
I think I recorded like 14 or 15 tracks and ended up using these final 11:
The track breakdown is something like this:
Aside from some pretty flagrant reverb on the sticks and a couple level adjustments, everything is just as I recorded it -- no edits, all timing mistakes are mine to own. As such, it is raw and could certainly using some mixing/equalizing at the very least, but I'm really happy with how it turned out.
Future improvements -- with more time, I hope to do some more experimentation with the sawblade, perhaps figuring out how to mount horizontally more like a cymbal. I will also experiment with adding loose screw/nut combinations to the blade to add some rattle or odd dampening. I think there is a notable lack of low-end bass in this work, and I've long wanted to experiment with tubular bass cannon type drums...so that would be another future experiment.
It was also clear from this experiment that the microphone I've used is wrong for this type of work. It's much much too directional and lots of tone was lost as the instruments changed their position or rotated. Something with a broader direction could have compensated for and possibly maintained some of the interesting tonal changes that were happening as things moved around (this was lost in process).
That's it for now. More homework later this week or next week!
Tue Feb 22 2022 21:30:00 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
As I mentioned in the last blog, I'm taking a zoom course on Composing Experimental Music, we have optional "homework" assigned -- which is really a set of flexible techniques to experiment with and explore timbre.
In class, Jamie demonstrated several means of exploring amp feedback width stringed instruments (including the immediately recognizable autoharp!), and I really don't have any viable stringed instruments right now. I really wanted to make one out of scrap wood and rubber bands, but time didn't afford that this cycle (I hope to revisit sometime soon). It occurred to me that the springs inside the spring reverb tank might behave a little bit like oddly shaped "strings", so I performed some feedback experimentation.
In this experiment, I left the reverb tank input open, so all sound was internally generated through mechanical vibration of the springs -- either through externally tapping with hand or drumstick, or by the speaker vibrations resonating with the coils. This is what I had really hoped to explore.
I absolutely LOVE the industrial echoing machinery sounds of the spring reverb, but I wasn't going for that this time around.
I got some interesting resonances by playing with various effects settings and modulating the position of the tank and riding the effects controls (mostly volume).
From this experiment, I have put together one rushed/stupid video and one clip of excerpts.
I later set the amp on its back and had the tank sitting on the mesh facing down/vertical. This allowed me to adjust positions while being more able to monitor the effects controls with two hands. I worked with several varied effects modes, but mostly used the downward pitch shift in hopes of getting a lower frequency bass response and reducing the high-pitch static feedback tone that everybody can picture in their head right now.
It was a much longer session, but here are several edited excerpts:
Direct link is here: Homework 02b
I am pleased with the resonant tones/outcome of this experiment, and I believe that additional exploration with a bass cabinet or feeding back through a transducer (possibly through mechanical linkages of odd varieties) could yield even more interesting timbres.
Sun Feb 20 2022 00:30:00 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
I'm taking Jamie Stewart's course on Composing Experimental Music, and it's already halfway through and I'm enjoying it tremendously. It's blazingly fast paced and is covering a TON of ground on so many varied topics really quickly.
All of the "homework" is optional and this course is just not for credit or anything, but one of the reasons I wanted to take it was to be exposed to some new possibilities and to nudge myself to do some more experimentation.
For the first assignment, I decided to dust off a synthesizer I built 20 years ago, the triwave picoswash. I ran it through a modeling amplifier that was scrounged from a dumpster that I later repaired (tho it's still fucked up, only one of the digits on the display is working). Jamie covered a little about frequency beating (not a new concept, but one I haven't explored much recently), so I decided to spend some time de/tuning the two sides of the triwave into giving some interesting beat patterns.
Of course, the triwave always sounds better when patched through the noise swash, and then I ran the amp in a reverb/delay mode with the parameters up basically all the way (tho it's hard to be sure with the broken display, heh).
So here's a brief clip from that session, just recorded on a phone:
The second class gave several assignments, and one of them involved capturing a field recording and then turning it into a composition using the DAW. It was a rather slow and mostly quiet Friday afternoon in my neighborhood, but I managed to get some sounds recorded and turned them into this piece here:
Here is the direct link to mp3 here: Homework 02a
I'm pleased with the way it turned out! I wanted to make some musique concrète while keeping some aspects of the source material clearly audible. I wanted it to sound like a field recording, but with some enhanced editing/mixing/structure/interest.
There are several more parts to the "homework" (all of it is optional, for fun/learning/experimentation), I have a bit more to finish up and share. More to come in a following blog entry.
Fri Jan 14 2022 22:04:03 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
In the fall of 2007 I was working at a job that took me out to the Portland suburbs. I sometimes commuted in a car with a coworker and sometimes I took public transit -- both seemed to take around 45-60 minutes each way, and neither was super pleasant. The trip on TriMet was fine (but slow) and I had to transfer twice which made the travel time less stable.
A colleague suggested that I should try commuting to save some time. I thought they were insane -- no way could riding a bike be faster than cars, busses, or trains, right? The idea was to ride from home to the Goose Hollow train stop and then take the train the rest of the way. I didn't own a bike at the time (and hadn't for more than 10 years!), but I was into experimenting with this commuting idea. I wasn't exactly a stranger to bike commuting (I rode a beach cruiser to the next town when I was in college in Texas), but this was going to be different. I found a viable old steel bike on Craigslist, paid $90 for it, and started bike commuting.
The bike was a mid 1970s Raleigh Record, 27" inch steel wheels, steel frame, original cotter-pin cranks, built in England. I was able to use the stamp on the bottom bracket shell to date it to 1975 (I think).
Even though I was not bike fit, I was able to make the 6.5 mile ride each way to the train station, and surprisingly, it did shave about 15 minutes in commute time each way. Mainly, it was a gazillion times more enjoyable!
It didn't take long to sink a few hundred dollars in upgrades (new cranks, ditched the steel wheels, cables, cassette) and start riding somewhat regularly. I stuck with the bike commuting and before long it was the main way I got to work most days. I think that bike helped me to get to 4 other jobs over the following years, and I also took it on quite a few group rides in the city.
Sadly, in the summer of 2016 (less than 10 years later), a strange creaking sound developed and it wasn't long before the steering started feeling funny. Somehow, and not suddenly, the front fork had fatigued and cracked. It's unknown if the fork failure helped cause it, but the downtube also had a noticeable (albeit slight) bend. The fork was destroyed and the frame was bent. I got a few opinions and the consensus was that it wasn't worth fixing....so it was time to let it go.
According to Strava, I clocked 3,462 miles on that bike. I suspect that the actual number was probably 50-60% higher.
I had already pulled most of the interesting parts off the bike, but last weekend I finished stripping the old bike down just to the frame. I chose to mount the frame on the ceiling of the workshop as some garbage decor and to remind myself of this classic bike that served me so well and got me back into bicycling.
It was a good bike!
Sun Aug 01 2021 23:14:48 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)
Wow this long summer of 3 months of Pedalpalooza has really been fun and intense. I'm definitely more engaged and riding more, or at least it feels like it...but maybe it's just that things are spaced out more?
On a ride today, as is common when meeting new friends on rides with strangers, talk turned to past pedalpalooza rides. I didn't realize until later that I have actually done quite a few this season, including:
I suppose I've done a ton of other riding as well, like to friends birthday parties and to play disc golf once and to test some personal limits/things... but yeah, pedalpalooza has been super fun this year! I wonder (and secretly hope) that the multi-month format will maintain past covid...
Most of a month remains. Looking forward to even more rides!
Wed Apr 21 2021 23:24:24 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)
Thu Dec 31 2020 23:06:51 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
Wed Dec 30 2020 16:02:14 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
"Black Christmas" (1974, 98min.) is such a great film!
Not only does it have all this amazing slasher film stuff (like the first-person heavy breathing POV freak outs), it's also the genesis of so many tropes that have held on for more than 40 years! I'm a little bit of a phone nerd, and I love just how much telephone stuff in Black Christmas...including a lineman and scenes filmed inside an actual switching facility!
I think it's awesome, so I ran through it again recently and made some stills of all the amazing phone porn scenes for you to enjoy.
Sun Sep 27 2020 21:54:52 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)