Riding and Playing the en/Harmonic Waves

My quest to synthesonize Ableton Live has taken an exciting new turn. Last Sunday, we discovered that by micing The Bells at the Central Park School Soundgarden, I can run that sound through Ableton and into the various synth modules and FX racks I am building. What happens is that the Abeju Synth Modules and FX Racks capture most of the harmonics that arise from Eleanor’s bell playing. The harmonics can be shaped by envelopes and attenuation and, of course, granular synthesis. My goal is to gradually shape the bell harmonics into a watery stream sound. This will be part of the soundscape for The Place ReSounds of Water (TPRSW) on April 14th at 4pm for SITES Season 2018-19.

When iBoD first started playing with The Bells, I recorded and analyzed their harmonic content. These bells are former compressed air tanks with the bottoms cut off, so the metal is not pure, it is some kind of alloy. This translates to lots of harmonic AND enharmonic content! A pure metal would render more pure harmonics. These pure harmonics are pretty, often beautiful, but my ear grows tired of the stasis of it all. The idea of purity in all of its forms is an illusion that leads to much misunderstanding and anguish in the world. Think about what striving for purity has given us: genocides, fascism, chronic autoimmune diseases, disconnection from and attempts to conquer nature, diminished empathy, and on and on. It is my prayer that riding and faithfully playing All the en/harmonic waveforms will encourage evolutionary growth. That is what I am going for!

TPRSW is my first attempt to sync up with the National Water Dance. My timing is off as this is not the year for National Water Dance, however I am hoping this will kickoff some interest for 2020. The idea for TPRSW is to give prolonged loving attention to water in the form of sound, light and the liquid itself. The soundscape will consist of Eleanor Mills playing The Bells, dejacusse aka Jude Casseday capturing and playing the en/harmonic waves from The Bells and morphing them into a watery feeling soundbed. Then Susanne Romey will play Native American flute over that for a while, then we start the wave again. The movers will pour water from vessel to vessel. An altar of flowers may be built. The whole thing is a mystery.

Our location at the Soundgarden at Central Park School gets full afternoon sun, so the visuals might include sparkles and shimmers of water. We could be lit up! If it is overcast, the air will be moist and the sounds of water will carry more clearly. If it threatens rain on Sunday, we will do it on Saturday instead! Or, perhaps, we will figure something else out and perform as it rains.

Whatever we do will be in praise of water!

Moogfest and iBoD in the Soundgarden

Yes, it is that time of year again! Moogfest is here next week, and my schedule is already full of conflicts and overlap. There is a whole theme on spatialisation of sound, which I am extremely interested in. This year I am going to get to the Presbyterian Church for some performances, give Suzanne Ciani events more attention, and volunteer for the sleep concert. (I CAN still pull an allnighter!!) Also looking forward to hearing Ladyfingers set at Arcana on Friday night. Oh, yeah, and meeting Gerhard Behles and thanking him for Ableton Live.

iBod will play our annual post-Moogfest event at the Soundgarden at Central Park School on Sunday evening, May 21. We are excited to bring much new material, and some old favorites. And, once again, we will play Adrift in a Sea of Bells while Eleanor Mills brings all the harmonics out of the bells. Here are some excerpts from our last session as a “sneak preview”:

Bring your own chair, or use the wall or steps around the stage for seating. This is kaleidoscope music.  It moves through space-time and shifts form in unconventional ways. For the best listening experience, relax the ear and the mind, ground in the breath and feet, and allow the vibrations to move your body.

Big thanks to the cohorts – Susanne Romey, Eleanor Mills and Jim Kellough!

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!