Composing/Scripting/Playing the Soundscape: Part 1

With all of the Universal Juiciness that is going on right now, I am drawn more deeply into this sounding world. Still highly under the influence of Caverna Magica. (Wow, I just noticed that influen-ce and influen-za have a lot of letters in common. Infected by Caverna Magica? Hmmmm…) There are four primary pieces that have my attention right now and they are:

A performance for Jim Kellough’s show Warmed Over Sue Realism will be an “opera” woven by myself, June Merlino and Jim. This soundscape is really raw right now, but forming. (March 7 – Tea Time @ The Scrap)

“New Music 4Trudie” is a present for Trudie where I attempt to capture what she loves in the song “New Music” from the musical, Ragtime. I presented her with these two themes for Valentine’s Day. (Perhaps a performance for next Valentine’s?) Here they are:

Soundscape for All Hallows Eve for Allie Mullin’s Halloween-inspired photography exhibit, where I will create a multi-facted, creepy, yet inviting sonic vibe. I am really interested in spreading the sound around The Makery via small, wired together speakers units. I have some small speaker units from recycled TVs and I think they could be wired together and run along the floor for effect. (Anyone reading who knows how to do this, please contact me. I could use the help. This is for the end of October, 2015.)

“VolleySunds” (after Caverna Magica) still has me interested in further development. I want to get together with Susanne and Eleanor Mills to work on ways of shaping it. I added a new section to it this week.

As more Ableton projects get started, left behind and returned to, I am beginning to have a “Hope Chest” of ideas to use as starters or as extenders for larger pieces I am working on. This is an example of a phenomenon of synchronicity that I have been observing lately. I call it “planting seeds for your future self.” Those moments when you commit to a project, or buy a book, or make a call for no sensible reason. You are just compelled to do it and you do. Afterward, you think “what was THAT about?” Six months, 3 years, 15 years later, you realize that THAT moment has manifested into this present one, and you, alone on your own, could NEVER have planned this out. So very important to adknowledge and appreciate the Divine WoW in action.

Which brings me to the title of this post. I want to pay closer attention to the process that is involved in creating soundscapes. As questions arise, ways to explore those questions must be created. I want to create flexible templates for composing and performing soundscapes. In order to do this, I am taking some time to look back and take note of the various methods as they are evolving.

I found notes from the very first soundscape I performed at the Durham Arts Council, Far Afield (A Response to the Art of Nancy Tuttle May). NTM sent me the images for her show and I spent time with each image while the soundscape was being created. I really love her work and was very excited by the images. They were profound and whimsical at the same time. I worked with the ideas of mystery, playfulness, whimsy and an exotic universality. At that point the process was to flesh out my responses to her art work, select voices for the piece based on those responses, and proceed from there. A concept, some voices and we’re off!

The next layer is harmonics. Modes and scales are of particular interest to me. They are like Lego blocks that you can use to create all manner of sound textures and feelings. I chose to begin Far Afield with a watery, wavering sonorous Dorian-stepped scale, repeating over and over in an urgent appeal. From there, we moved through vast, prolonged pad synth lines in counter-harmony with the original Dorian wash of tones. There was a sort of Latin tinged movement in there, ending with a Native American flute loop created by Susanne Romey. When I performed it, I added in vocals and percussion. The most recent recording of the entire piece that can be heard on Soundcloud does include the vocal and percussion parts.

I am very fond of this soundscape and enjoy listening to it myself. When I performed it at the opening reception, I invited people to listen to it as they looked deeply at NTM’s art. Very few people did this, mostly people chatted with each other, which added a dimension of sound that I had not taken into account when preparing to play it live. Certain nuances could not be heard, while other parts swept through the space, riding on the voices. Here is a 30 second video of the event that gives a feel for what I am talking about: (Thanks to Eleanor Mills for this!)

Friends in attendance that night were upset that people were not listening. While I had not planned for people to give me their rapt attention, I had hoped they would engage in the process of looking at the art with the soundscape accompaniment. Since this did not happen, I realized I had to rethink how I would go about presenting soundscapes in a public social forum. (Luckily, in this case, the soundscape played in the gallery for the run of the show, so people could go and hear it while looking at the art that inspired it.)

Since then I have had three more soundscaping experiences, and each one has reshaped my intention and process.

To be continued.

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