Sonification and Life Forms II

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.

Up next – Sourdough Songs.

Code Music

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!

I Met a Rapper

I just heard Doseone perform at the Ableton Loop Vocal Synthesis Panel. The whole panel was great, and Doseone put in an extraordinary performance. His lyrics are cosmic and thoughtful. Gonna be listening so somore Doseone! I love this song!

www.youtube.com/watch

Soundscapes for Mazes in Six Movements

Eban Crawford aka Senator Jaiz is the Audio Engineer and Sound Designer for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh NC. I met Eban at my first Moogfest, where he was facilitating a community music making workshop and an interactive exhibit from Natural Sciences. Both of these were highlights of Moogfest for me as I got to play around with an Ableton Push, make music with strangers (that Eban uploaded to Soundcloud later to hear) and meet Senator Jaiz.

A year and a half later, iBoD (idiosyncratic Beats of Dejacusse, my improv group) played a show with Senator Jaiz thanks to Ted Johnson and Triangle Electro Jam at Nightlight Bar in Chapel Hill. So I was thrilled when Senator Jaiz contacted dejacusse to collaborate on a soundscape for a Museum of Natural Sciences exhibit. The company of collaborative conspirers for this project is rich and includes Raleigh’s own SkidMatik, Boston’s Petridisch, New York composers Michael Harren and AfroDJMac. My assignment was to create a 10 minute drone in Gm in a particular tempo range. What fun to have clear constraints and freedom within those constraints. I sent him the finished drone piece in early November.

Now the exhibit Mazes and Brain Games is happening at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences till September 2018 and includes our 50 minute soundscape. Here is one of the first things you see when you walk into the exhibit:

The soundscape is now available on Spotify, iTunes and most online music retailers. Thank you for purchasing the album! Your support means the world to me!

Artist Statement Resonified 2017

One of the pages attached to this blog is my Artist’s Statement. I believe in intention and evolution, so this statement is a living document for me. I reflect and revise the statement as soundscapes guide me through the world. Last July, I had the opportunity to expand my understanding of a Pauline Oliveros quote that is an integral part of my statement. I thank my dear friend, Theresa Carilli, for helping me clarify what I am saying! (Photo of Pauline Oliveros from media.hyperreal.org)


“Nevertheless, She Transmitted” – The Subtle Activism of Soundscaping

Pauline Oliveros, pioneering electronic musician and Mother of Deep Listening, defines a soundscape as

“All of the waveforms faithfully transmitted to our audio cortex and its mechanisms.”

With this statement, Oliveros calls out all the limitations that we place on inclusiveness, and issues a challenge to both sound artist and listener. This is not an acoustically contained melody in a particular key with carefully cultivated supporting orchestrations. This is not about money, commodity, mastery of instrument, aesthetics, standards of excellence, competition or any other divisive concept decreed from the bully pulpit. This is “All of the waveforms…”, all of the frequencies in the sounding world. All of them! Oliveros envisions inclusiveness as “essential to the process of unlocking layer after layer of imagination, meaning and memory down to the cellular level of human experience.” Her vision offers the soundscape as antidote to patriarchal divide and conquer methodologies that are extremely loud in our current culture. As a sound artist, creating and performing soundscapes with a community of cohorts, it has become my devout intention to take up her challenge to transmit all of the waveforms to audio cortexes everywhere!! How is this to be done? As sound practitioners, how do we “faithfully” transmit all of the wave forms? And as audience members, how can we also “faithfully” receive all of the wave forms?

The challenge in her definition of soundscape is carefully packed in the words “all” and “faithfully”. These two words are intimately connected in this statement. They transform a physiological description into a guiding intention. “All” means striving for inclusion/no exclusions.  In order to be “faithful”, one must be fully present. And a powerful path to inclusiveness AND presence for both sound artist and audience member lies in the practice of deep listening with reverent attention to the harmonics/enharmonics, melodies/noises, and rhythms/arrhythms that comprise each sonic moment. 

As a presence-practicing soundscape artist, I explore this terrain and bring back markers for accessibility to anyone who wants to give audience to soundscapes.

For many first-time listeners, soundscapes may feel overwhelming and chaotic. Many reject giving audience to soundscapes for this reason. Soundscapes do not give much direction as to what to listen to, so one must listen INTO the soundscape. That is the first adjustment for the listener – stop, breathe, find a friendly line or voice and follow it. The line might be a long meandering phrase or a loop, percussion or melody, foreground or background, fast or slow, loud or soft. It takes a curious desire to hear WHAT? is going on IN THERE! to get past the boredom, fears and defensiveness that often arise when forms are changing in unexpected ways. When the hypercritical, judgemental mind lets go into curious, discerning mind, the listener will discover the pathway inside the soundscape.

Once inside the cave of sound, footholds are both secure and insecure. Like a bird lighting on a branch, the listener does not know if the center will hold, so deep listening provides the wings to move to another branch. We explore the fluid nature of “in time” and “in tune” as we settle into and are disrupted by the soundscape; blips and glitches, fits and starts, followed by a deeper sense of the flow of the scape beyond preconceived ideas of tempo and tonal center.

So soundscapes are these churning, swirling, floating containers, within which my cohorts and I add other voices and textures. I think of the soundscape as a beautiful being and we are the accessories. Another cohort observed that soundscapes are like patchwork quilts. We have a bunch of scraps of sounds and we weave them into a whole. Or the soundscape is an aquarium full of fish swimming and darting around.

The aquarium metaphor is a very helpful template for listening to a soundscape. When you watch an aquarium, your eye may follow one fish for a while until the fish passes another one which grabs your eye. Or one fish may make a sudden move that startles you and so you keep an eye on that fish. In this same way, your ear, if it is sufficiently relaxed and accepting, may hear into parts of the scape or moments of improvisation from the players. Sounds and voices come forward and recede, and your ear, brain and body follow along as you are drawn into this cornucopia of sound.

The cacaphony within a soundscape exists because of the mandate “all of the waveforms.” The soundscape is a dense pallette that moves and morphs through tonal and rhythmic relationships in actual time and in a particular space. Then, as my cohorts and I layer in more waveforms, we create a Nested Soundscape, a permanent recording of the sonic moment folding and unfolding through time and space. Each performance sets rippling frequencies into the atmosphere that are then time stamped onto a recording. Then we offer it to any and all listeners via Soundcloud. This is the transmission process I use at this time.

Adrift in a Sea of Birds is one example of a Nested Soundscape. There is much to hear here – starting with the soundscape itself, which is the catalyst for waveforms in the moment, then the players adding in more waveforms, then the sound of the birds outside the open windows and much more that I leave for you to discover. There are places of beauty and places of disconnect, all of which make up the sonic field of this moment. As players and listeners we honor all contributions to the rich universe of waveforms stirred up by the soundscape.     

The act of transmitting all of the waveforms is a practice that challenges me as a sound artist and a listener. It is an action of allowing that is counterpoint to the action of resistance. It is a form of Tai Chi, using energy to create not only new visions, but also little earthquakes in the status quo. The critical mind gets to take a vacation and let go into a listening field that includes all sound. A place where “sounds become interrelated rather than chaotic and meaningless–the field conveys forces (energy) from one sound to another.”

As an active and dedicated transmitter, it is my dream to assist human ears in evolving beyond the codification of common practice, popular music and the calcified ear brain, inviting listeners to open ears as they open eyes and take in a broad spectrum of colors, textures, movements. Learning to listen to soundscapes is an act of allowing that can lead to shifts in consciousness and in the corporeal world. As Oliveros sees it, this sort of listening practice “is the foundation for a radically transformed social matrix in which compassion and love are the core motivating principles guiding creative decision making and our actions in the world.”

Just for a while, disengage from the notions and expectations of prescribed and habitual forms and allow yourself to enjoy the dance of formlessness to form to formlessness. This simple action could awaken an entirely new sense of your self and your world!

Reference:   All quotes from Pauline Oliveros in “Quantum Listening: From Practice to Theory (to Practice Practice)”      Music Works Issue #76 (Spring 2000)

TRIC Question #2 – Is a “Minute ‘In C'” possible?!

So much of the harmonic content of TRIC is generated by the offset repetition of each pattern. In order to create a Minute ‘In C’ most of the patterns will only be voiced once so that particular content will be lost. As with all the TRIC Questions, I am intrigued to discover what new or similar content will emerge within this truncated structure. With 53 patterns, containing 16th to dotted whole notes, running 2 pulses to 64 pulses in length, a Minute ‘In C’ will take some careful sculpting of the pattern relationships.

An analysis of the text reveals that the piece is made up of a total of 529 eighth note pulses. TRIC contains four patterns that are identical to each other – 11/36, 10/41, 18/28 and 37/50. These identical patterns are 9 pulses, so taking away the superfluous 9 pulses, there are 520 pulses to fit into a minute for an rough average of 17 pulses every 2 seconds. This will be achieved by using multiple voices and starting off right away with more than one pattern sounding. (A future TRIC Question will explore how all 53 patterns in a row resound!)

I chose a half a dozen voices with mostly percussive attacks and interesting resonances. These voices allow the patterns to be more clearly articulated and have resounding presence – a necessity since many of them are only heard once! One of the voices is a drum kit which ended up being paired with brass stabs so as not to lose the pitch content of the patterns assigned to the drums. I enjoyed sculpting a pan dance (playing between the ears left to right) in a couple of places with the drum and brass voices.

Starting at the beginning, Patterns 1 and 2 come out of the gate as the next twenty patterns cascade over each other. The triplet waltz feel of “the twenties” moves through, then all the sixteenth note tumult of the patterns before and after Pattern 35. The minute wraps up with the end of Pattern 35 (the long one) and the C pulse bouncing around. Some of the shorter patterns did get repeated. I was able to hear every pattern after two or three times through. The lack of repetition seemed to bury the F#/Bb shifts in tone. They became passing tones, which diminished their impact.

This is a 3D soundscape so listen through headphones at a moderate amplitude. Pay close attention to the space in your head. Listen the same way you held your vision for the Magic Pictures of the early 1990s. Here is an example of a Magic Picture for you to see into. I was able to see the horse in this image on my Ipad screen and on my iPhone screen. The seer must relax, soften and expand their vision in order to see the 3D image embedded in the pattern.

Now do the same thing with your ears as you listen to a “Minute ‘In C'”

Listening to the Eclipse                   August 21, 2017

36.055 degrees N

78.918 degrees W

As the beauty-filled feminine Moon danced between the fire-filled Sun and our spaceship Earth, Trude and I opted to channel the energies of the moment into creative work. Listening to the Eclipse is a two hour soundscape created during the 2017 Solar Eclipse. The scape has a Prelude, silences, a dance of tones, the moon throwing shade, and a return. The Prelude to the Eclipse came first and emerged from the time of the first kiss of shadow to 30 minutes before the 92% totality most of NC received. The eclipse soundscape,  Sun Moon Earth Dance, occurred the 30 minutes before near totality, during near totality and the 30 minutes after.

The tonal relationships involved in an eclipse can be drawn from a variety of data. I used the tones derived by Hans Cousto in the book The Cosmic Octave. The Sun tone is B, the Earth tone is C#. The interval relation is a whole tone. A whole tone has the edginess of proximity and a certain consonance as well. The whole tone interval is like an honest, long-term, intimate relationship. The Moon is G# and is beautifully consonant with Earth’s C# as its fifth. The Moon and Earth are like soul-mates. So the Earth changes partners every twelve hours or so alternately dancing with soul-mate and spouse. Eclipses change the larger cosmic pattern amongst these three. The Moon gets to “cut-in” between the Earth and Sun Mid-day, mid-dance.

The scape is designed with orchestral voices of brass, strings, woodwinds,and bells along with solar winds, rattling bones and boiling water. I created and preset some loops of the primary intervals at play that I triggered while improvising on one of the midi instruments during the actual eclipse. Now, several days later, I am sculpting the piece. Using reverb, amplitude, crossfades, and panning, I place and move the source of each sound, creating sonic leaps and spins, and slow crossfades from one ear to the other. Here is where the story takes place – statements are made, pushed to the foreground or background, interruptions erupt, loud voices fade to whispers, laughter and great flair carry us into the future.

My intention with this practice was to listen closely in the moment and render the story of the eclipse as it occured through the sounds I chose. So the best way to listen to the recording  is through headphones, and with the sense that you are listening to a wordless podcast about the eclipse. There are characters speaking and moving about the sonic space. There are arguments, discussions, laughter and mystery. What story do you hear when you listen?

Here is what the August 2017 Eclipse sounded like to me-

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Playtime: 60 minutes