Hamilton was like nothing I have seen in my life. The intensity, the integrity, the amazing cinematic staging (a framework that is popping up in current theatre performance to tremendous impact), the rhythmic repartee, the anachronistic tensions, the dynamic interplay of the softest whisper to the loudest bang – the show was a complete and beautiful narrative carried on a river of sound and movement.
While I have encountered bits and pieces of Hamilton over the last few years, the only focused experience was of Lin Manuel Miranda singing the opening song from what was to become Hamilton at the Obama White House in 2009. People actually laughed because it seemed absurd that this guy from the Heights was rapping a song about a founding father of our country. We know who had the last laugh here. All of this to say, I came to the show with an open and curious mind, hoping I could follow the language.
Sitting on the front row was an exhilarating experience, and I felt a little too close to get the full visual effect of the physical staging/choreography. While everyone has raved about the soundtrack, the physical staging was mesmerizing. The chorus literally turned “the world upside down” by lifting furniture in slow arcs on levels as Hamilton stood center stage. The set included a turntable of sorts which allowed the actors to moonwalk and the action to boomerang at times. There was a “Matrix moment” when Burr fired the shot at Hamilton. The choreography was a physical embodiment of the emotional and political tensions of the times. The Chorus worked as hard as the leading performers. The ending was poignant and expansive. Critics often say, “The actors really carried that show!” In this case, given a company of good singers and movers, Hamilton can carry the actors.
To be fair, the show owes a lot to some predecessors. 1776 was an incredibly moving experience when I saw it onstage and screen in the 1970s. The song Molasses to Rum opened my eyes to the role the Northern economies played in the sale of slaves to the South. This brought about the recognition that hypocrisy was strongly rooted in US government practices from the beginning! (Dare I say “Hail to the (current) Chief” for bringing it front and center?) The shows were vastly different in two major ways. Hamilton is almost an opera, with very little spoken dialogue. 1776 has a 30 minute section where there is no music. (When the show played Broadway, the musician’s union negotiated a break for the players during that section, something that had never been done in a musical to that point.) And the treatment of John Adams is so different in each – he is central to 1776 and a laughable footnote in Hamilton. While Hamilton and 1776 are quite different in style and presentation, both resonate some radical revisions of American history.
Another Hamilton predecessor was Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, a musical narrative of the Western world opening up trade with Japan (which was an isolationist island nation prior to 1850). This show comes to mind because that simple plot description sounds pretty ridiculous and really difficult to pull off – much like Hamilton. Both shows are layered with ideas and global/cosmic perspectives that are presented in the most engaging and vibrant ways. Both of these shows conclude with a socio-political expansiveness that evokes incredible wonder as the final curtain goes down.
One other show that opened the cultural wormhole that allowed Hamilton to rock through was Spring Awakening. The muscular choreography, the passions of the players, the anachronistic music and language are all part of what made both these shows resonate with audiences. Jesus Christ Superstar paved the way for Spring Awakening. I am sure there are a few more stepping stones along the way that I am not aware of or forgot, but it is interesting to give some attention to a pattern of lineage when it is so recognizable.
Both Hamilton and 1776 ask the audience to reflect on and revise beliefs about American history. When I was in high school American History class ended at World War II. The US were the “good guys” and the “bad guys” shifted around depending on…well, I wasn’t sure what or why, but the US had everybody’s best interests at heart, right? Some 50 years later, and I have woken up to the overwhelming greed, racism, megalomania and hypocrisy on which we have built our nation. There is more there, many good and noble pursuits as well, but the noble pursuits are celebrated and commemorated over and over. We seem to be unable to own the violent and aggressive roots of how we became the USA. Nations, like the human beings who create them, suffer greatly when shadows are denied and projected outward. “We become what we resist” plays itself out before our eyes and ears. In this way, works of art can act as pointers toward deeper truths, on which we must reflect or surrender.
Today at 3 pm, Glenna Batson will lead an exploration of folds and resistances. In her words:
What happens when awareness meets a curved line, a folding surface, a deepening crevice within the body’s interior and the surround? Is the quality of this first contact fixed or free? Is the conversation open or resistant? Is there a clear beginning and ending? It’s at this junction between folding and unfolding where new possibilities for negotiation arise – where a boundary can become more porous and transparent. In this session, movers will uncover the rub of resistance within themselves and open the conversation to new movement possibilities.
The soundscape for today’s playshop will be a piece from Audiorigami (Meditations on the Fold) interspersed with modular synthesis play in formless to form and back again. The Audiorigami track is called 11th Harmonic and consists of overlapping 11th harmonic intervals. This harmonic at extremely high frequencies has been shown to break up tumor cells! The Law of Octave allows us to bring the high frequency into the audible range, and benefit from the entangled resonance with the higher frequencies.
11th Harmonic is a kind of smudge soundscape. It has the capacity to clear stuck energy in a space, in a body, so is perfect for the suggested intentions Glenna has put forth. This piece has five or six movements, and the parts are layered in and shimmered over each other. This is an example of how I have created audiorigami to this point. Now there is new direction in the form of Ripplemaker – even the name suggests the Fold!
Ripplemaker is an iOs semi-modular synthesizer. Synthesizers play electrical signals or control voltages. These voltage-based signals are shaped by waveforms, oscillators, envelopes, filters and effects into sound sculptures. Modular synthesizers can illustrate the journey from the formless into form in amazingly beautiful ways! And the journey is accomplished through folds. The basic structure of this sound material is the waveform, and each waveform highlights the harmonic overtones in different ways. The waveshape is then propogated, expanded, attenuated, filtered, timbrally-morphed through oscillators, envelopes and filters. The journey is amazing and intense, so each mod synth excursion will be followed by a bit of room resonance and breath. Then 11th Harmonic will return.
Very excited to give this voice today at 3pm at ADF Studios. Please come and play with us!
Voices from Eris is a compilation of women electronic artists from around the world. The brainchild of Margaret Harmer of Shifting Waves Studio in Geneva, Switzerland, the album is a cauldron of sound shapes that interweave and connect far beyond the individual voices of each woman. You will hear the song of rocks, sirens, the trapped and the free. You will hear the sound of the deconstruction of patriarchal structures, and the spinning of new and dynamic sonic forms that are flexible and expansive.
Here is a link to the crowdfunding site for the album, where Margaret illuminates the inspirations behind the album title, the larger signifigances of “Eris”, and why we feel compelled to express ourselves at this moment in time.
This is not your typical music album, so I feel the need to help you hear exactly what it is we are doing. Unfortunately, many people bring their “music” ears to these pieces, with all the evaluative frames entailed in “listening to music.” These frames interfer with the listener’s ability to access sound paintings. If you have ever experienced Magic Eye paintings, then you know that looking at them with “what is this a picture of?” eyes makes the form of the picture completely inaccessible. In order to see deeply into a Magic Eye painting, one has to relax the gaze, soften the eyes, and surrender mind/awareness, only then will the form in the painting emerge. When this same kind of deep gaze can be translated to a deep listening – the soundscapes become mesmerizing and create new worlds in the brain ear.
On behalf of all of the artists on the album, I appreciate your love, respect and support for this project! Help us make it happen!!
Human Origami is an ongoing movement/sound project to which I contribute along with Glenna Batson and Susan Sentler. On our website, http://humanorigami.com, you can explore who we are and all the ways we are playing with folds. This project was inspired by a seed idea from 20th Century French philosopher Gilles Delueze’ The Fold. In this treatise on the Baroque period, Delueze asserts that the smallest unit of matter is not the point, but the fold. He describes the fold as a unit of oscillation, along with the point and the wave. My interest is the intersection between sound and movement within and throughout the fold.
After much experimentation and reflection, a number of ways to find and create folds in sound became apparent. After all, sound is oscillating air, so the very form of sound involves folds. From there:
Rising and falling, overlapping, and reaching back (all actions associated with folds) can be orchestrated musically. One technique used to create “reaching back” is to feature overtone harmonics. By this I mean, playing the interval notes to a fundamental tone in the octave in which they naturally occur in the harmonic overtone series. For example, the first harmonic in a series is the octave above the fundamental. In the second octave above the fundamental, we hear a fifth then the next octave tone. In the third octave we hear the third, fifth and flatted seventh. The fourth octave layers in the second and the raised fourth and the sixth. Normally when these intervals are played over one or two octaves they are heard as scales and chords. Articulating them in their natural harmonic series “home” octave creates a harmonic reach over multiple octaves, and a fold back in reference to the fundamental tone.
Other techniques for more concrete renderings of folds are melodic lines that reach out from and come back to a fundamental tone. On the page, one can see how the melodies move up and down notationally. Percussive sounds are used to define the edges of a fold. A formal quality of folds is repetition. For example, two types of audio folds are 1. an echo, where the sound comes back on itself like two halves of a folded sheet, and 2. a spiral, where the feeling of the sonic movement is a perpetual reaching towards the fold, but never completing it. Folds require a doubling back that is repetitive and ever shifting.
With these gestures in mind, here are the track notes for Audiorigami (Meditations on the Fold):
First Folds is in two parts and accompanies Glenna’s meditations on the primal unfolding of body from spine in utero. It begins with the sound of heartbeat and rushing blood. Then waves of lovely tones intermingle, slightly muted, rising up and down in a short, repetitive theme that will return in later sections. The piece begins in a still, enfolded place and moves out into form.(12:53)
First Folds Part Two begins with the percussive edges of folds then leads into an emphasis on harmonics -melodic and dissonant. The earlier theme returns to intermingle with alternative themes, all weaving into the fabric of sound as we expand out into extremeties and beyond into ethereal fields. The fold, as articulated oscillation, travels far beyond our corporeal realms. (10:03)
11th Harmonic stretches over four octaves of harmonic overtones. This piece was based on some experiments that demonstrated a particular harmonic interval that could break up stuck cells (i.e. tumors). And while the interval used in the experiments is out of the audible range, the Law of Octave allows the interval to be reduced into the range of human hearing. The primary tonal relationship is rendered as a fundamental frequency and its fifth in the fourth octave above the fundamental. My experience is that this piece is capable of stirring things up on multiple levels. It uses the fundamental to 11th harmonic interval as its basic fold, then builds from there. I played with propagation dynamics in the final mix as a way to move the soundscape closer in and further from the listener. (11:00) An 11/11 wink- I did not plan 11 minutes. I noticed it after the fact.
Folding the Edges (5:15) and Accordion Breathing (6:13) were prompted by Glenna’s idea for a “squeeze box/accordion folds event.” From this I began exploring what makes an accordion fold? This type of fold follows geometric lines, has more symmetry and presents repetitively. Accordion folds have edges – in order to BE an accordion fold there must be two edges that fold away from each other. They hold their shape as they move. The smallest unit of an accordion fold is, interestingly, a tryptych. In these two pieces, there is a strong sense of expanding and contracting, of opening and closing, of breathing with accordion folds. Both soundscapes have edges, repetitive patterns, triad/triplet relationships and breathing space.
Floating Enfolded (10:18) and Floating Downstream (7:02) did not evolve from Human Origami workshops, but were added as part of an online class in Human Origami to be offered in March 2019.
Since excitedly sharing the results of a sonic analysis of Lemur Gut Microbiomes, I have been working up a soundscape based on the quick sketch included in the first Sonifications and Life Forms post. (You can hear both below.) In order to get feedback on the work, I sent the first blog post to Mark Ballora, with whom I had taken a data sonification workshop in May. His response helped me realize the need to clarify my sonification process. So here is a description of the project:
The purpose of the sonification is to illustrate the changes in baby lemur microbiomes from birth to weaning. Microbiome data was captured through fecal samples taken at birth, through nursing, introduction to solid foods, regular solid foods, and two times while the babies were weaning. The sonification will illustrate changes in the type and amount of bacterial phyla present at each of the six sampling stages for all three lemur babies. In addition, the mother’s microbiome was sampled at the time she gave birth, so her profile, which was assumed not to change, provides a baseline adult profile with which to compare the babies’ changes.
There were 255 strains of bacteria collected over the course of the study. These fell into 95 classes and 35 phylum. I focused on the phylum, as my plan was to assign a note value to each bacterial data point, so I needed a smaller data set. The data set was narrowed further (and made more interesting) by focusing on a family: a mother Pryxis, and her triplets, Carne, Puck and Titan. This group allows us to not only hear the variety of changes in the babies’ microbiomes, but compare the changes as well.
The original data set included 9 lemur babies and 7 mothers. So the first step was to go through the phylum data sheets and pull out the profiles for Pryxis, Carne, Puck and Titan. A phylum profile would be the type and amount of each phyla present at each data collection point. The profile changes over time at each collection point. The microbiomes of these four lemurs housed 15 phylum (at a density of >.001) out of the 35 found in the entire study group.
The next step was to assign a note value to each phyla. Since there are only 13 notes available in the chromatic scale, some phylum would need to be on the same note, albeit a different octave. Same note, different octave will lend a tonal consonance to the profiles. So what might this consonance represent? There were 5 phylum that had the greatest density and presence in all the samples, so I assigned those to the note G from octave 1 to 5. The remaining 10 phylum were assigned note values based on their presence throughout the profiles, and on their consonance/dissonance with the tonal center G.
In order to capture the density of each phyla, a midi velocity range was aligned with the decimal percentage of the phyla in each profile. Midi velocity settings determine the force with which the note is played. Thus the velocity ranges render a clear sense of presence or loudness to each note played. The decimal percentages ran from .001 to 1.0 and the midi velocity range runs from 1 – 127. Here is a chart of how these ranges overlap:
So for example, Protobacteria present at .25473 would be represented by the note G at octave 3 set at 40 velocity. The largest sample in all the data points captured for this project was around .9 and the smallest was .001 (this was a cutoff point as there were bacterial phylum present down to .0001 ranges.) Here is the chart for Titan showing note assignment and density values through each sample stage:
My sounding board for this data comparison is Ableton Live, a digital audio workstation (DAW). The individual lemurs are represented by a “voice”/midi instrument in Ableton. Tuck, Titan and Carne are bell-like voices that blend together, while Pryxis, the mother, is a warm, pervasive woodwind. She envelops and contains the changes in the babies’ phylum profiles.
All lemurs had a Phylum Profile Chart like the one above. In the DAW, the instrument track for Titan, for Puck and for Carne contains a midi-clip of notes of the phylum colonies present at each stage of dietary change, which were then laid out as a “scene” in Ableton. As example, Titan’s Phylum Profile at birth was
Protobacteria (Note value=G3) set at 101/127 in intensity
Euryarcheatae (Note Value=A2) set at 34/127
Firmicutes (Note Value=G2) set at 11/127
Cyanobacteria (Note Value=A#4) set at 1/127
Other Bacteria (Note Value=B3) set at 1/127
Spirochaetae (Note Value=G5) set at 1/127
Titan’s Birth Phylum Profile is the multi octave chord GAA#B. Three of the phylum were barely present, so those tones are almost inaudible in the chord. However, 2 Gs and the A ring out. The total number of phylum present in each dietary stage varied from 3 to 14, so the multi octave chord becomes more dense and dissonant when the phylum are so varied. Here is a look at the tracks (individual lemur voices) and the “scenes” (which are the phylum profiles from all 3 babies at each stage.)
The first sketch was just the mother’s phylum profile droning under the three babies’ profiles expressed as a stacked megachord. All 3 baby profiles rang out together four times at each stage, starting with birth and ending with the second wean. What could be heard was a homogeneity and consonance between the Mother and babies at birth that gradually became more diverse and dissonant as solid food was introduce. However, by the second wean, the babies’ and mother’s profiles become more consonant again. The researcher said this illustrated the conclusions of her study.
As a soundscape artist, I felt there was more here than just that basic chordal movement. The babies’ phylum profiles were quite different from each other as well, which is lost in the chord presentation. For example, Carne’s birth profile has only 3 phylum, while Titan has twice that amount. One way to hear this level of contrast in the baby profiles is to articulate the chords into riffs. Now we can hear the interplay of the changes in their microbiomes. In addition, we can hear how consonnant/dissonant and dense the phylum become as outside food is introduced into their systems. Titan’s phylum profiles arpeggiate down, Puck’s go up and Carne’s go down then up. A practiced deep listener could key in on a particular profile and follow it through to the end. I played around with rhythmic shifts to create more movement in the stages where the phylum profile were incredibly dense and diverse. The last two arpeggiating riffs you will hear are all of the phylum notes sounding through twice. And listen for the elevated levels of Protobacteria in all 3 profiles at birth – that G3 rings out at that point.
As I put this full family profile together, another more nuanced movement in the data appeared. In the chord rendering, I heard the data get more dissonant and dense from nursing through first wean, and then the phylum thinned out and became more consonant at the last wean. In the riff rendering, I can hear a contraction and more consonance at the Intro to Solid Foods stage as well as the second Wean. That was not clear in the chord presentation. When I checked my data records, there was a drop in the number of phylum present between Nurse and Intro stages. I love that a nuance appeared in the listening that made me go back and check the data. That is exactly how I hope this process will work.
Some other things for future consideration:
Aligning each phylum tone to a particular beat might help the listener hear the differences from stage to stage more clearly.
When assigning notes to data points, closer attention to the harmonic overtone series might help clarify the role consonance and dissonance play in hearing the data.
The voices of the baby profiles have similar timbre as a unifying element. The profiles could have very distinct voices which might make the variances in their profiles more audible.
During a trip to Washington D.C. in 2017, granddaughter Jahniya purchased a silver necklace from the International Spy Museum gift shop. The necklace is the word “strength” in Morse Code with round beads for the dots and longer tube beads for the dashes. When she showed me the necklace, I saw the dots and dashes as stabs and long tones and began wondering about soundscapes with words and phrases spelled out in Morse Code.
This idea is a perfect companion to TRIC Questions, and my interest in using overlapping “predeterminded” sound articulation patterns in music. Morse Code is also a way to imbed words into soundscapes. People seem to prefer music with words. We like a story, an image and the sound of the human voice. For me, the singer and the words hijack a large percent of the ear brain in any listening situation. That is why I prefer my music sans words – let the instruments convey the narrative. Since 70% of meaning is derived from the non-verbal components of speech, including cadence and tonality, then music should be capable of conveying information/meaning quite effectively. Morse Code brings a verbal aspect into the soundscape without words taking over the show.
Here is the simple instruction sheet for creating Morse Code:
This will be my idiosyncratic metric template. The time signature is open and based on units: 1 unit = 1 beat = the length of a dot. The measures can be laid out in the number of units it takes to complete the word or phrase in Morse Code with the 7 unit break between iterations of the word.
Feeling sure that modern composers have explored this idea already, I googled “Morse Code music”. What I found were instances of Morse Code used as drum patterns. The code was always tied to a time signature, so the actual prescribed template for Morse Code is not what is heard. Plugging these patterns into Ableton voices means that the exact Morse Code template is played and preserved in time. This rhythmically offsets the clips, since they are different lengths. I have played with this idea for over a year using different words like love and joy, or om shanti. I did an iteration of “peace” over and over for International Peace Day 2017.
Now it is September 2018, and I am playing off the Peace Day soundscape in preparation for the Wake Forest Dance Festival this coming weekend (9/29/18). Justin Tornow was invited as a guest choreographer. She is creating a solo for dancer Maggie Page Bradley which I will accompany. The sound piece is called PSS – short for Peace Shalom Salam. Each clip is a Morse Code Template of peace or shalom or salam. Each template follows the unit pattern described in the Morse Code description above. Some units are quarter notes and some are eighths, another layer of rhythmic offset. After laying out the templates, I squeezed several of them into smaller time frames (oh, the things you can do in Ableton), thus speeding them up while maintaining the integrity of the Morse Code Template. In addition, I am throwing into this randomness one of my favorite Ableton audio effects called Fade to Grey. This is a high pass and low pass filter that move towards each other and basically squish the sound to nothing, but the addition of a ping pong delay holds a bit of the sound in an echoic pattern. This effect allows the sound to be fractured and reflected in interesting ways. The effect is on every track, so there is the potential to break the sound into multiple glimmering pieces. Here is a short sample of this effect at work:
If you are in Wake Forest close to Joyner Park tomorrow, please come to the Wake Forest Dance Festival. There is an open tech rehearsal in the morning, movement around the park in the afternoon and the dance performances will be from 5-6:30. As always, I appreciate your support!