Carnatic Water Music

Susanne, Eleanor, Jim and I have been soundscaping together for 5 years now. During that time, we have all grown as deep listeners and sound painters. I am grateful to play with people who can tune into the sonic environment, their own voices and play the waveforms. We are soundpainters not musicians. Sometimes even we get confused.

The first time we played together publicly was at the Won Buddhist Temple Bazaar in October of 2014. And the first piece we played was Carnatic Water Music. (This soundscape is based on a Carnatic Indian scale that is included in Michael Hewitt’s book, Musical Scales of the World.) We played over and around what is now the first section of Carnatic Water Music while the rains poured down! We were actually in a tent, but the Zoom recorder was out in the rain with a raincoat over it. The recording has rain patter on it, which sounds like scratches on a vinyl record. I really like this recording! (We appreciated the company of Linda Carmichael singing/playing ukelele at this event.) Here is an excerpt:

Carnatic Water Music Nested

After this performance, we played CWM frequently at public events. This is a long-form soundscape that we play for 20 to 40 minutes. As time went on, I added some new sections to the piece so the players and listeners would have greater variety of the sonic spectrum, and to vary the pace a bit. Now when I listen to Carnatic Water Music I hear different energetic aspects of bodies of water, from lolling rivers to waving oceans.

The next stop for CWM will be as the main theme for The Space ReSounds of Water, a pop-up dance installation to be performed on April 18th. The performance is Durham’s offering for National Water Dance 2020. Here is a write-up about the event:

Since 2016, National Waterdance has brought attention to water issues through synchronized dance performances in multiple locations. iBoD and dejacusse want 2020 to be the year the Triangle joins the dance.

The Place ReSounds of Water is a sound, dance and visual art performance piece conceived and performed by iBoD in 2019. We would like to expand on the piece by creating The Space ReSounds of Water, a space/container with video projections, and with healing flowerscapes by Hana Lee, a soundscape by dejacusse and iBoD, and dance movement by Jody Cassell. The performance will take place as a part of the National Waterdance event on April 18 2020 at 4 pm.

The performance will run from from 4-6 in a space where the audience can come and go. This is a meditative performance that can be engaged with on many levels. While some of the movement may be choreographed, most will be free flowing improvisation the audience can participate with. Outside the venue, we will invite local water and environmental organizations to offer education and actions we can take to protect our waters.

To prepare for this event, we are making a really good recording of Carnatic Water Music. We have played this piece so many times, as soon as it begins we fall into a lovely sync with the soundscape. We are recording in the SunRa Room, which is a lively, if not acoustically perfect, space. As of now we are playing through the soundscape and recording on a separate track each time. Afterward, I mix the recording and put it out dor feedback from the group.

Last week, I recorded one runthrough into a track in Ableton and the second runthrough into a track on the H6n. The Ableton track had the most presence and was easy to work with in the mixing process. The trick is to get the right balance between our live playing and the looping soundscape. Today I discovered several recordings we made through the H6n- might be able to tuck some of those in the mix somewhere. We did our final two takes last week, so now I go to work in earnest!

One of the several works-in-progress happening as Winter sets in. Come Spring, iBoD will release Carnatic Water Music as our first extended play download!

Mercury Retrograde (or don’t fight it, surrender)

Right in the midst of the most recent Mercury Retrograde, I decided to dive into MAX MSP, a visual computer coding program for controlling sound and light for performance. After downloading the software, I started a class online and was working with some patches when my computer audio stopped functioning. No sound out of the computer. Then the computer and sound card stopped talking. All of this right before an iBoD rehearsal when we were recording Carnatic Water Music.

Using the Windows Troubleshooter, I discovered the problem “audio services not responding” and that this problem was “not fixed”. Online, there are multiple fixes for this message. After cancelling our recording session, I tried all the suggested fixes several times – from inspecting the Services to make sure Windows Audio and Windows Audio Endpoint and all their dependencies were automatically running to entering very specific commands into Command Prompt as Administrator. The first thing I did was update the ASIO4ALL audio driver, so no problems there!

After several days of trying different fixes, I was able to get the computer and sound card talking again! Ableton Sets and Projects were now audible! Yayyyyy! But the computer would not play audio WAV files. Outside of Ableton, audio services still not responding. Finally, I uninstalled the ASIO driver and uploaded the driver for the soundcard. I have a Native Instruments Komplete 6 soundcard, which has been a great device. (I had audio dropout problems with the NI driver about a year after I purchased it, which was when I switched to the ASIO driver and all was well.) Well, changing back to the NI driver solved the audio problems completely and I am back to sounding again!

A friend mentioned Mercury Retrograde as I was working through this process. Dang, I forgot about that current astronomical phenomenon. If I had remembered, would I have done anything different? As things turned out, it is very good that I did not! While I got thrown off of MAX (for the moment) I redirected my energies toward creating synth sequences in Ableton. Since purchasing the Behringer Neutron, I have been unsuccessful in getting Ableton set up as a sequencer for the Neutron. The Neutron has processed audio signal, but never midi signal. Low and behold the NI Komplete 6 driver allowed Ableton to see the midi ports for the Neutron. Suddenly, I was hearing the synth voice and all the modulators. When I made a patch or tweaked a knob, the sound was changed as I expected it to be! WoW! I feel like this is the first time I have heard the instrument’s true voice!

Today I am working on a soundscape for the next Human Origami Jam at ADF Studios in Durham on December 6. Very excited to finally get going with the Neutron.

This is what I will make in the soundscape!

The Acoustic Scale

So my adventures in harmonics continues with a foray into Dr. Michael Hewitt’s book, Musical Scales of the World. (This book is a wonderful resource. Carnatic Water Music is based on an Indian Carnatic scale from the book.) Hewitt includes scales from India, Thailand, Africa, Greece, and Eastern Europe in the eight chapters of the book. My favorite chapter is entitled Synthetic Scales and Modes, which is made up of invented and found scales.  In this chapter Hewitt discusses the Acoustic Scale, so named because it is based on the harmonic overtones that are present in the atmosphere of any room. (See post on Nature’s Chord at http://wp.me/p5yJTY-iH)        WoW! Just WoW.

So the Acoustic Scale is made up of the overtones from the first four octaves of the harmonic series. This scale mixes the raised fourth of the Lydian mode and the flatted seventh of the Mixolydian mode. According to Hewitt:

The acoustic scale is also sometimes called the Lydian dominant scale, due to the prominent dominant seventh chord on the first degree (C E G Bb). The presence of this chord can give Lydian dominant music a powerful sense of unresolved dominant tension. When persistently denied resolution, this tension can be harnessed to create a powerfully expressive force.

The scale is also referred to as Bartok’s scale as it was the basis for many of his compositions. The scale came into favor with contemporary classical music composers of the late 19th, early 20th Century as they moved away from the major/minor pallette of the Common Practice era. I am excited to see this scale identified. It is the scale of TRIC (Terry Riley’s In C). From here on, I will refer to this as Nature’s Scale, so as not to forget that this is a pattern of intervalic relationships that exists in the atmosphere and is imbedded in every sound we hear.