Moogfest 2016

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Moogfest 2016, which took place May 19 – 22 in Durham, was a mind-blowing and inspirational experience for me. Last Fall, while selling my old instructional drumming CDs to the now-defunct Nice Price Books, I was talking to the owner about my new love: electronic music. He said, “You must be super excited about Moogfest coming here!” “Oh, yeah”, I responded, knowing I should be excited but just not feeling it yet. A few years earlier I wanted to go to the festival in Asheville, NC when Brian Eno was featured. But then I read how you spend all this money on a ticket and might not be able to get in to see what you came to see. So I knew about how the tickets worked, and that it was a celebration of Bob Moog, a synthesizer pioneer. The Moog Factory is still a fixture in Asheville, but Moogfest was coming right to my front door.

I was still feeling ambivalent in April and Moogfest was 6 weeks away. One thing I had decided – I wanted to be involved musically – so I started planning a Post-Moogfest event for the final day after everything “official” was over. (See post: http://wp.me/p5yJTY-ci) Then a volunteer application came my way, I filled it out and attended my first volunteer meeting. I met Wilson, Hugh, Robin, Ilsa and several other sweet, friendly folks who were psyched for the event. Bianca Banks, the volunteer coordinator, gave us postcards and Moogfest stickers (everybody LOVES stickers) and a welcomed us to the Moogfest family. Sweet!

The only acts I knew in the line-up were Laurie Anderson and Sun Ra Arkestra. By this time, Sun Ra Arkestra had cancelled, so I started YouTubing the artists to get a taste of what they had to offer. I started with the women artists: Julianna Barwick, Grimes, Suzanne Ciani, Grouper, Julia Holter, Laurel Halo, Olivia Block, Paula Temple. I did not get very far in this exploration before Moogfest was upon me and I just had wing it.

The first day, I worked guest check-in with Michael Jones (or Jones Michael, his producer moniker: check out his Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/jonesmichael), Nico and several other young musicians who told me about groups they were excited to hear. Volunteering took 18.5 hours of the weekend, and got me free admission into the festival – way worth it. I learned that hospitality is not my skill set (My partner, Trudie said, “I could have told you that.”) I learned that there are lots of folks, young and old, poor and rich, out there creating vibrations in the form of music and sound. I learned that people who come to Moogfest are – for the most part – friendly, open and excited about the prospects of technology and music making.

Luckily, Jim Kellough recommended several performances to me on the first night that were fantastic. His first recommendation was Silver Apples, a staple of the NYC scene since the sixties. Silver Apples was an early electronic duo who played the soundtrack for the moonlanding as it was broadcast on a big screen in Central Park in 1969. Now Silver Apples is just Simeon (his drummer died in 2005) and he really rocks the synthesizers. Here is a picture of Simeon with The Soundman AKA Christopher Thurston at Motorco the night of his performance:

Christopher and Silver Apples, Motorco, May 19, 2016

Christopher and Silver Apples, Motorco, May 19, 2016

After this show, I headed over to see the best music of the whole weekend. Arthur Russell’s Instrumentals was inspired by the nature photography of Yuko Nonomora, and was only performed five times in Russell’s short life. The group, playing under the direction of Peter Gordon, was comprised of Russell’s collaborators and cohorts, including Peter Zummo, Rhys Chatham and Ernie Brooks. The piece was jazzy, funky and took the listeners on a fabulous journey. My favorite part was Peter Zummo dancing around the stage and gently clapping his hands whenever the trombone had a musical hiatus. Their performance left me curious to check out more of Russell’s work.

Moogfest is all about synthesized sound. So on Saturday, I headed down to The Carrack to hear Antenes, who crafts old phone operator switchboards into sequencers and synthesizers. She performed on her DIY synths for a half an hour and then did a presentation on how she came to create these particular instruments. I loved the deep sweeps and blips and bloops she carved out of various oscillating waveforms. Next stop was the Pop-Up Moog Factory, where employees were building actual Moog Synthesizers right before our eyes. The employees worked at four stations performing assemblies and passing them on to the next table. By midday Saturday, they had assembled 14 Minimoog Model Ds. The factory was full of a variety of synths hooked up to headphones so people could play and experiment to the ear brain’s delight. I had a fantastic several hours there, and left feeling like I really need a synth to add to my setup.

Then I checked out Critter and Guitari, who were in a geodesic dome tent outside the DPAC. These Booklyn-based musician entreprenuers have created adorable little synthesizers that are just my style. I enjoyed playing with the Moogs, but they are expensive and heavy. (Dang, I do not need anymore weight in my setup with a 12″ QSC K Speaker to haul around.) I enjoyed jamming with the guys , the other peeps, and the train that passed by. Their Organelle allows you to dial up a variety of sounds, play them polyphonically on a little wooden button keyboard, and tweak the sounds as you go. Neat! In my fantasy, they offer to give me one to play as a sponsor of ibod when we go on our sound sculpture tour. Wouldn’t it be nice…

I was anxious to get a good seat for Laurie Anderson’s Saturday afternoon performance, so got there waaaay early only to discover a long line snaking around The Carolina Theatre. I got in it only to discover the line was for a talk by Jaron Lanier, whose name I did not know. The guy in front of me did not know him either, but he figured “He is the keynote speaker, he must be good!” As it turned out- he was right! Jaron is a musician, virtual reality geek, author and incredible human being. He started his talk by playing the khene, a Laotian mouth organ, that he said is a “digital”  instrument thousands of years old that could have inspired the invention of computers. Here is a YouTube video, where he plays this instrument in his own amazing way:

His message was wonderful and optimistic. He said we need to “will away” our obsesssion with war, combat and all things military. He advocates a movement toward kindness and beauty as guiding values in technological development. He asked VR game makers to use the technology to engender empathy. What I heard was – let us play games that engage our emerging polyvagal brain rather than continuuing to stir up our shriveling reptillian brain. Jaron Lanier is one gorgeous genius, and I was uplifted and inspired listening to him.

Next up was Laurie Anderson, who grabbed her electric violin, slung it over her shoulder and and filled Fletcher Hall with deep sweeping harmonics that made my heart pound. She moved toward the audience as she continued playing, looking right at us. This connecting more openly with the audience is a shift in her performance aesthetic from times I have seen her over the past twenty years. The next day, she talked about “seeing the audience” during her presentation/interview. While I enjoyed her performance, I was mesmerized by the retrospective talk about her work on Sunday. I love hearing and reading about artistic process. It is extremely intimate discourse, which is why many creatives are reluctant to share it. Laurie gave us a glimpse into her process over the years, and for that I will be forever grateful.

She spent a good bit of time talking about a recent work Habeas Corpus and how the piece evolved into an illumination of and a step toward healing the horrors and injustices of Guantanamo Bay. The work was presented in 2015 in NYC and is based on the experience of  Mohammed el Gharani, the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay. He was sold to the US at the age of fourteen, kept in solitary, subjected to torture, and finally released by a US District Court judge for lack of evidence. He was held for seven years. The performance installation included a plaster cast chair the size of the Lincoln Memorial. Mohammed’s full body image was projected via a live video feed from Chad, where he now resides. He sat in the chair and told his story. The audio was one way only to protect Mohammed from hearing any personal attacks from the American public – there was concern that those Americans still blinded by their own fear and ignorance might attend the installation to berate him. He had suffered enough at American hands already. The video feed was two way, so Mohammed could see the audience. The most moving thing Laurie shared with us was that many of the attendees came forward and mouthed “I am sorry” to Mohammed’s projected image. For more on Mohammed el Gharani and Habeas Corpus see this link:

http://laurieanderson.com/microsites/HC/index.html

Laurie Anderson echoed Jaron Lanier’s thought on the necessity for kindness, empathy and beauty as hallmarks of our creative relationship with technology. Both pointed toward the potential for technology to help us connect, see, listen to and understand each other even if we do not agree.

Laurie and Lou Reed, her husband who died of cancer in 2013, came up with three rules to live by which she shared with us: 1. Do not be afraid of anyone. 2. Have a good bullshit detector, and learn how to use it. 3. Be tender with life. Afterwards, I could only remember 1 and 2. That is because I have issues with tenderness. Tender feelings make me feel vulnerable. Gotta work on that.

There is lots more to write about, so many encounters and experiences packed into 4 days, 40 venues and nearly 300 speakers/performers/presenters. Moogfest was so much more than I ever expected –  my world expanded several times over. And the best way to top it all off was to play with my cohorts before an exclusive and appreciative audience. Here is an excerpt from Adrift in a Sea of Bells, one of the pieces we performed in the soundgarden following Moogfest:

More…much more to come!

Adrift in a Sea of Bells


My cohort Eleanor Mills introduced me to The Soundgarden at Central Park Elementary School several years ago. Eleanor goes there on a regular basis to “wake up the bells.” She has developed an intimate relationship with these bells, their interesting harmonics and how they all speak to and blend with each other. I have been privileged to play along with her on several occasions. Here is a short sample of Eleanor waking up the bells at a recent play date:

The Soundgarden was designed and constructed by Andrew Preiss in honor of Greg Taylor, a local musician and teacher at Central Park School who died in 2007.  It is made of steel cylinder tanks (often referred to as bottles) cut to varying lengths to produce a variety of tones low to high. There are 8 large tanks and 12 tank tops positioned along M shaped bar (see photo). As you can hear from the clip, these rough cut steel tubular “bells” send out a sweet and sour soup of tones. Eleanor has discovered a variety of techniques in her playing that pull a rich and interesting sonic landscape from them.

These days our group prefers to pop up and perform soundscapes in interesting spaces with little notice. So the Soundgarden is a perfect spot for us (once I discovered there was electricity available. As an electronic musician, electricity is a necessity🔌). In order to produce a soundscape that would compliment the bells, I wanted to analyze their harmonic character. So I took my tuner down to the Soundgarden and hit each bell and held up the tuner. Well, the diverse harmonics that spring forth from the bells were just too much for the tuner – it was all over the place and seemed inaccurate to my ear. For example, the two tanks on the right in the photo above are clearly a minor third apart to the ear. Yet the tuner registered A# to F, which would be a fifth. This was a puzzlement.

I found a more accurate method of analysis by recording each bell individually and studying them on a spectrum analyzer. This approach was revealing and somewhat tedious. However, the rewards made it well worth the time spent scrutinizing the spectrum analyzer to pinpoint precise frequencies as they arose and decayed in the bell tone. I was able to track overtones up into the 5th and 6th octaves above the fundamental tone of each bell.  Most of the overtones are enharmonic overtones (meaning the frequencies are not in a whole number integer relationship to the fundamental frequency of the bell), so they tend to be slightly more dissonant than consonant.

One interesting discovery was the presence of undertones in the bells. The two middle bells hanging on each side of the structure had tones that popped out underneath the perceived fundamental tone. The mystery of the heard minor third opposed to the measured perfect fifth was solved by this discovery. The fundamental tones of the two bells as seen on the spectrum analyzer and perceived by my ear are A# and C# – voila! the minor third. The bell that sounds a C# had an undertone of F, thus the tuner picked up the undertone. Interestingly, the center two bells on each side all had undertones and the tuner picked up on these undertones as confirmed by the spectrum analyzer.

So I had fun putting all the frequencies on charts to compare and contrast them. It was interesting to note how true (or not true) the bell overtones were to charted pitches. For example, a concert A is 440 hz but the bell tone frequencies that fell in the 400 block of A were closer to 432 hz (something to chew on for all the 432 hz tuning conspiracy theorists.) I charted all the over (and under) tones to see which tones were the most prominent. The most frequently appearing tone was a B, which is the tone of the natural world and deep space. The next most frequent were A,D,F and G. The least frequent tone was G#, but that one popped up alot in the tank tops.

In the final analysis, I used a pentatonic scale of BADFG for the soundscape called “Adrift in a Sea of Bells”- and it is a work in progress. Tonight we will play to a prerecorded track of the piece, but you will get a taste of it. My computer decided it was tired and started dropping audio as I was playing the soundcapes at our runthrough last Sunday. So we will not play “The Sound of Sirens” tonight because I really need to trigger and sculpt that piece with Ableton. We will perform that next time we play.

I believe the weather will turn in our favor, so please join us tonight at 7 pm for a Post-Moog sound offering. We will be at 724 Foster Street at the Sound Sculpture in front of the Central Park Elementary School. Bring your own chair and join us for an hour or so. Look forward to seeing you there!

Experiments in Audio Origami 2: The 11th Harmonic

This experiment began with a rather dubious YouTube video about the “11th harmonic” and its power in breaking up cancer cells. The video is about the Rife Machine, which was an invention from the 1930s purporting to cure many diseases. Royal Rife was the scientist and inventor who “discovered” frequencies that could interfer with the frequencies of diseased cells. The narrator of the YouTube video, stated that the 11th harmonic was the frequency that disrupted cancer cells. About a week after I started this post, I found a TED Talk along this same line:

What we are learning from quantum physics about how the Universe is put together lends quite a bit of credence to the idea that frequencies can disrupt disease. Oscillating frequencies make up the entire spectrum of “all that is.” When these frequencies interact with consciousness – “being” happens. Our singular awarenesses collapse the waveforms into the many points of existence – the mix of all our singularities creates what we call “reality”. The famous physicist Erwin Schrodinger put this idea in another way when he said, “The total number of minds in the Universe is one: In fact, consciousness is a singularity phasing within all beings.” Oscillating frequencies engage with each other through constructive (in phase) and destructive (out of phase) interference (or, as I like to call them – engagement) patterns. Thus the fabric of reality is an oscillating organism of frequencies engaging, changing and disengaging with each other. Our brains stabilize the whole thing so that we can navigate and participate in our lived experience.

Both of these videos assert that a harmonic relationship created by a low tone and a higher tone is necessary to disrupt diseased cells. In both cases, the necessary frequencies equate to an extreme number of oscillations. Dr. Holland said that frequencies needed to be around 300,000 to 400,000 hertz in order to destroy cancer cells. While these frequencies are waaaay outside of the audio spectrum, there is an organizing principle that allows for the possibility that lower audio frequencies might influence healing. And that organizing principal is – the octave. Whatever frequency you start with will always return “home” when it doubles. It is itself again. For example, middle C on a piano is about 262 hz, double that to 524 hz and you are at C again. This creates a resonating fractal that repeats on and on into infinity.

The harmonic overtone series, which is the basis for most everything we hear musically, is built around this doubling principal. As we add more iterations of the fundamental frequency, we create more overtone relationships. Using the middle C example again, adding 262 hz to 524 hz gives us 786 hz, which is G or a fifth above C. Add 262 hz to 786 hz and we get 1048 hz which returns us to C again. Now we are two octaves above our fundamental frequency Middle C, AND we are at the 3rd harmonic. By adding 262 hz eight more times we reach the 11th harmonic, which is 3114 hz – G in the fourth octave above middle C.  (For more on harmonic overtones and their impact on our cosmic existence check out Hans Cousto’s book The Cosmic Octave.) Now I can create an audible 11th harmonic by combining a fundamental frequency and the fifth degree of that frequency in the fourth octave above that frequency. So I decided to make a leap of faith into the realm of the cosmic octave, and create a soundscape that hinges on an 11th harmonic and the healing secrets that it may hold.

Folding/Unfolding: The 11th Harmonic is built on a tetrachord of fundamental tones – CEGB accompanied by their 11th harmonic companions  – GBDF#. The tones are 4 octaves apart, so this is not an interval you are accustomed to hearing. I chose 6 instruments and created patterns with these unusual intervals. As I thought about how to voice this harmonic, I identified three choices :1. alternate between the fundamental and harmonic in a variety of rhythmic patterns all on one voice, 2. have one voice sounding just the fundamental and a different voice sounding the harmonic, 3. since the 11th harmonic is a fifth in the fourth octave and the two octaves below the fourth octave also contain fifths (according to the overtone series), then I could vary the patterns with some fifth reinforcements in those lower octave. The second choice was very monotonous and weakened the presence of the 11th harmonic, so I went with the other two as my basic structure.

This soundscape will be performed tomorrow, May 15th from 2 to 4 pm as accompaniment for Glenna Batson’s latest Human Origami workshop. This workshop is subtitled Partnering with Paper, Exploring the Muse. Joy of Movement Studio in Chatham Mills is hosting the event. In addition, to the featured 11th harmonic, I will use the audio folding techniques I discovered during the previous Human Origami workshop.(See blog post – http://wp.me/p5yJTY-c9)

We hope to see YOU there!

Jazz Bird in the Neighborhood

So today I got to mow the lawn! (Trying on the Timothy Leary “Life is an opportunity” approach to this chore.) I got to be outside in our BIG backyard. I got to walk, bend, push, lift and carry – all great functional exercise. I got to observe butterflies and birds gracefully fluttering around me. It was cool and overcast, so all in all an enjoyable experience.

AND —- I got a huge gift for doing this. As I was mowing the front yard, I kept hearing this bird call that sounded like the first four notes of a jazz standard that I like. Over and over, this bird sang this little intro and my brain voice would fill in the rest. I thought, “I need to go get my digital recorder and catch this sample. Ohhhh, but as soon as I do that, the bird will be gone.” So I continued mowing.

Later, while I was taking a hydration break in the house, I heard the bird again. I thought, “Dang, now is my opportunity.” I ran in my studio, grabbed the Zoom, went outside on the porch and captured this:

Isn’t that cool? I love that the bird is singing the beginning of…what is the song? I can’t identify it. It has a similar tonality to “My Blue Heaven”, but the melody pattern is not right for the beginning of that song. Here it is lined up the way it goes in the song. It repeats and then changes slightly the third phrase (of course, the bird did not change, so you are hearing just the first two iterations):

So I need your help. Can anyone tell me what song this bird is singing? Can anyone identify the bird? I never got a sighting on him either. Thanks for your input.

The Sound of Sirens

Durham is quickly becoming a BIG city. Construction cranes loom over the skyline, driving detours abound and there is a huge hole downtown awaiting our first skyscraper. Statisticians tell us that, on average, 28 people move to Durham…every day! One of the sonic artifacts of urban growth is a daily deluge of emergency sirens. And each citizen’s relationship to sirens can be complicated – one person’s “help is on the way” is another person’s “run before we get caught.” But however you may feel about sirens, the sound elicits a visceral response in most folks.

Jim Kellough came up with the idea that “ibod” should create a sound painting based on sirens. We started off imitating those cool European police sirens that make me think of foreign films. Eleanor got really good at playing those on the melodica. I did some research about sirens and discovered a web site with recordings of sirens from many different parts of the world. According to the website, if you listen closely you can determine “who” is coming along with the siren: a perfect fourth interval is police, a perfect fifth interval is an ambulance and a whole tone is a fire truck. This discovery gave us the basic sound palette for the piece.

I picked some unusual voices from the Ableton fold and created a scape based on the intervals of sirens. My cohorts found interesting extended techniques on their instruments. It was fun to experiment and show off what our instruments can do. Jim’s digital horn calls out a wailing glissando or the squonk of the firetruck’s horn. Susanne discovered this was the perfect place for her piercing Balinese flute. We decided to play with dynamics like the Doppler effect where the sirens come in close and then recede into the distance. Here is a short sample of a recent rainy day recording of the piece:

I particularly love this piece because the cohorts can really carry it without too much soundscape support. As a matter of a fact, they start the piece and the scape comes in later. And every time we play, it is different and fun! I plan to add some vocal sirens eventually.

ibod will create The Sound of Sirens at PROMPTS: Imperative this Saturday, September 3rd at The Carrack Gallery. The event starts at 7 pm. The Carracks new location is 947 E. Main Street in Durham.

Experiments in Audio Origami No. 1

 

Folding/Unfolding at The Carrack Gallery in March was the first exploration in creating sound as origami in acoustic space. The soundscape accompanied Glenna Batson’s workshop Human Origami, which is conceived as a long form movement exercise in folding and unfolding the body in partnership with fabrics and textures. My approach to the soundscape was to create folds in the sounds through rising/falling tones, through voicings with longer decay, through amplitude ebbs/swells, and through acoustical comb filtering. Here are some samples of these effects from the recording of that day (I particularly enjoyed playing to the train “whistle” that came through at one point and playing with the creaks and groans as the dancers moved across the old wooden floors):

(The guitars in the last excerpt are from a recording of Lisa Means and Martha Dyer playing in the Sun(Ra) Room March 2016)

I analyzed the waveform of the soundscape using the Sonic Visualizer and a spectrum analyzer. These programs give me access to the amplitude measurements and the frequency measurements captured by the Zoom H2n microphone. One effect that appeared was an indication of folds in the amplitude created by swells and voicings with longer decay. Here is a picture of one section that highlights this effect:


I was very happy to see this folded impression in the amplitude waveform. This image confirms that these two techniques do create a kind of audio fold, so I will continue to explore with these techniques.

The frequency waves are the next layer of folding and can be observed through spectrum analyzers. This is more complex domain as frequency over time consists of fundamental tones with accompanying harmonic and enharmonic overtones. Looking at the soundscape as it unfolded in time and space, I was able to note a 40 hz fold as well as jumps in the fold at 14 Khz. When the scape was more percussive, the entire  spectrum behaved like a whip, with the jump at around 40 to 60 hz creating a wave effect that seemed to stop in the mid-range and then undullating up from 11 Khz to 14 Khz. Here is a video of that effect in motion (very noticeable on the last 15 secs of the video):

When the scape had more low pad drones with tonal voices such as woodwind or guitar providing the rhythmic momentum, the waveform was in a steady state across the spectrum with the tonal phrases creating quick blips in the wave. Since the next exploration of Human Origami will add ruptures and rips to the folding/unfolding process, this steady state frequency base with tonal ruptures in the waveform will be a technique to explore.

The comb filtering aspect of Audio Origami at The Carrack was not successfully rendered or captured. This was due in part to the unexpected large stack of boxes in the middle of the gallery on the day we presented the workshop. The boxes covered approximately 36 sq feet and went almost to the ceiling. They were part of the exhibit that was in The Carrack at the time. The boxes created an interesting shape for both the movers and the audio. I proceeded with the plan to point one speaker directly at the window to create strong early reflections, and those reflections were absorbed, refracted and diffracted around the space by the boxes. On one side of the room the boxes were between the larger speaker and the reflecting speaker, causing the early reflections to sort of travel around a corner. The boxes helped to make the experience of the soundscape quite different depending on where the listener was in the room. Given the way that sound moves through and around objects, I am certain there were myriad folds in the layers of tones as they reached the dancers.

The participant feedback on the soundscape was encouraging : “exquisite”, “primitive”, “a confection of music”, and (paraphrasing) supportive of the movement more often than leading the movement.  Several of the descriptors were very much a part of the intention of the soundscape, so I have a good grounding from which to move forward into the next experiment in Audio Origami. This workshop will take place May 15th at The Joy of Movement studios in Pittsboro, NC  from 2 – 4pm. The focus of this workshop is moving with paper, which holds its form in a way that fabric does not, and is also more prone to tearing and rupturing. The contrast will be very interesting for the movers and will be compelling to explore in creating the soundscape.

I hope you will join us in the journey.