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.
Wed Apr 21 2021 23:24:24 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)
Tue Jul 29 2014 01:03:28 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)
My absolute favorite album in an unspeakable number of years is (no secret), Xiu Xiu's "Angel Guts: Red Classroom". From the first time I heard this record I fell in love with it...and that interest and that respect has only grown since its release. I come back and listen to it a LOT, and it's failing to tire out. I'm not reviewing it here, but it's tortuously odd, wonderfully crafted, and painfully depressing / soul-searching twist of violence and sexual storytelling...with great balance of synth+drum+melody vs. subtle-yet-effective dissonant/atonal/noise experimentations.
The [official] videos in support of the album are top notch. Brilliant and fitting and supporting works.
The purpose of this post is to consolidate the tracklisting of the supporting videos. I haven't seen this consolidated list anywhere else, so I thought I'd put it together. Please be forewarned, there is some very extreme content mixed in here that should be considered NSFW and certainly not for children.
edit 9/20/2014: Added Cijnthya's Unisex official video
Fri Dec 14 2007 00:11:33 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
Ok, so I'm really really not a media blog. But I had this amazing nostalgic experience, and I thought it was worth sharing. Of course, there's youtube involved:
You see, the Pixies are probably my favorite traditional 4-piece rock band, and there was this clip that I recorded (on videotape) way back when I was in college. The tape is long gone, but my memories of this performance certainly are not. Like so many of us rapidly aging thirtysomething fools, I've been hoping to track down this clip, and once again, youtube came to the rescue.
In spite of all its flaws (censorship, terrible quality, advertising), it really is a genuinely amazing resource.
This clip is, quite possibly, to me anyway, the epitome of pre century original rock based perfection. It is sheer beauty. It is a postmodern mishmash and hee haw of amazement. Yes, Kurt wanted to sound like the Pixies, and this is exactly fucking why. What year was it when YOU heard of a band called Nirvana?
It's quite subtle, but there are some serious gems in this short clip. It's shot in beautiful B&W, and the camerawork and direction are beautiful and intimate. You see, even in 1990, this kind of real artistic expression, even on MTV, was starting to become hard to come by...but the sound here is very loud and tinny abrasive surfy chord progressions juxtaposed with Joey's brilliant vibrato and Kim's haunting flat chants. There is real discomfort, and there is opposition. The camera shots are SO SUPER CLOSE and what seems impossibly intimate only goes on to PULL IN TIGHTER. The head shots are generally way too high and the drum shots are downright OVERHEAD. It seems like sometimes the focus is on the instruments themselves and, in several cases, the lights themselves.
The real gem for me, though, is Charles's off-timed expression between phrases ("finally through the roof") around 1:40 ("and how does lemur skin...?"). It struck me as a thing of perfection in 1990, and it has stuck with me now for almost 20 years.
Charles has commented that this was internally referred to as the "Led Zepplin" song...but once again, this performance goes to show exactly why it is so much more. So many Pixies fans have talked down the later albums, including "Bossa Nova", but I think that this simple clip should serve as redemption!!! This really is a noteworthy piece of perfect rock music history!!!
Mon Nov 26 2007 00:13:16 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
This little abstract recording is a 22 minute trek into the insufferable human psyche. It was composed mostly for several pure data (pd) patches and instruments (like the cracklebox and atari punk console) that I built earlier this year. The foldout covers are printed in full color, and the CD labels were each individually hand drawn and painted.
All things considered, I'm pleased with the final recording product. I do wish I would have spent more time on the final mix (the sound/range is a bit low, so crank it up loud!) and made things a bit louder, but the end result is a rich dynamic range balanced on a lofi string of radio and electromush.
Fri Dec 08 2006 21:36:07 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
Moods are odd. Moods are moody.
I managed to walk into the record store that I've been walking by for 6+ months since my office moved from the arts district to a strip-mall suburb. Surprisingly, it was a pretty nice shop with a good inventory and a nice (and talkative!) owner. I'm no expert, and I'm really not even a record collector, but I walked out with 3 records for $5:
Patti Smith Group - Radio Ethiopia. Of course, I know of Patti Smith (through punk references/tributes, primarily from Sonic Youth), but I'm not really familiar with the work. I gave this record a listen and really enjoyed it. It started off a little rocky, ended with a wonderful experimental kick. Will totally recommend and listen again soon...
Leon Russell - "Carney" - I bought this only for the cover art, which looks like a proper original version of Captain Spaulding from House of 1000 Corpses. The music isn't bad, I guess, but I didn't really get into it. Mostly bluesy white guy stuff. There are a few gems, but none were amazing. The first track on side B sounds like the Liquid Sky soundtrack tho, and that's pretty freakshow circus style.
There's a cacophony show tonite, a really good one in fact...but I'm just not up to going. I'm at home, listening to records, fiddling with a breadboard and drinking beer.
Tue Nov 07 2006 23:14:29 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
It's been some time, mostly because I intentionally delayed posting because of a drawn-out server migration. That's right, I've finally migrated noisybox.net (and related sites) off the 2U VA Linux beast and onto a newer, quieter, more efficient box with more storage. It's true: Noisybox is literally less noisy! Since I last posted, I did manage to get overlays and a manual for the Alltalk device I described before. Through some very simple testing, I have concluded that the Alltalk requires the battery to be present and charged to function properly. I haven't yet had time to do additional troubleshooting, but I suspect something else may be going on in the power circuits. More on that later. For now, I have scanned the manual and inserts and made them available on an Alltalk page. A few really good notes on the Linux/Debian front that I discovered recently...the Jack HEAD branch has finally incorporated the "clockfix" for dual core AMD64 users like myself! This means that the jackd server can now (from 0.102.20 onward) be started with -c option ("-c hpet" for amd64 I believe) to choose the clock source and prevent drift in tight realtime setups. This hasn't made it into Debian unstable yet, but I'm sure it will soon. Similarly, tight realtime users (like myself) used to have to run a patched version of PAM (libpam) that understands the new kernel's approach to setting realtime limits for users. Fortunately, Debian unstable now contains 0.79-4 of libpam-runtime that understands the rtprio settings. One note -- my patched version seemed to use "rt_priority", but the new stuff uses "rtprio"...don't let that sneak up on you! I recorded a 3" CDR during the summer and slowly mixed it into a reality sometime in September. The album is called Atu XV, and I finally managed to make it available online (also here and here). Ever since I moved back to Portland, I've been wanting to do the tour of the Shanghai Tunnels that run underneath part of downtown. Last week was the Day of the Dead, and I was fortunate enough to make it to the Soriah+Lana performance that was held in the friggin tunnels. The performance was really enjoyable, I'm certainly glad I crawled underground to be there. I emerged with an evil smirk and a renewed appreciation for the great things Portland has to offer. Last, certainly not least, the PDX Dorkbot is continuing to come together...if you live in the area, drop by one of the meetings, join the mailing list, and help us out. We're mostly looking for chairs and a projector, but we can use all other variety of goods and services. If I stop procrastinating, I'll be giving a short talk about the p5 glove and pd at the first "real" meeting.