Sonic Illustrations and Life Forms

Data sonification is a burdgeoning area of sound design that is quite amazing in its depth and flexibility. I have a keen interest to sonify data in a way that furthers our understanding of the data. I would love to create a sonic pie chart for example. While a visual pie chart is a snapshot, a sonic pie chart would be more like an animation. A chemical reaction could be sonified by assigning particular voices to different parameters of the reaction: as the reaction proceeds, the voices would change from “reagent” voices to “product” voices. Consonance and dissonance couid illustrate the changing relationships amongst the components of the chemical reaction. One possible way to sonify, in my mind.

Then at Moogfest 2018, a workshop introduced me to the world of SuperCollider and MaxMSP as instruments for creating sonic pie charts. Mark Ballora of Penn State University (Please check out his work at http://www.markballora.com) has been working with sonifying data for decades. He was doing it when no one was paying attention. Mark uses SuperCollider to create sonifications of tidal changes and the movement of hurricanes. This type of sonic representation of data illustrates how a group of parameters changes over time, and when you listen, you hear all of the changes happening over time. Voila! A sonic pie chart! Attending Mark’s workshop, shifted my soundsense, as I realized I do not want to learn computer programming (at this time). This blog post by Mark Ballaro and George Smoot (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-ballora/sound-the-music-universe_b_2745188.html) helped me understand that my interest is in exploring how modal/timbral shifts that are set in a familiar,equal-tempered scale spectrum might illustrate data-driven relationships. What I am interested in is more a sonic illustration, than a map or a pie chart.

Just before Moogfest, The Dance DL, a Durham dance listserve sent this announcement:

Auditions & Open Calls

Arts & Sciences Collaboration: Sourdough Collective – Rob Dunn Lab

Where: AS IF Center in Penland, NC

Rob Dunn’s lab at NC State University explores microbiomes of some of our most familiar places. The sourdough project studies sourdough starters from around the world, including some really ancient ones that have been passed down for generations. Seeking an artist working in any media with an interest in microbiology, bread baking, making the invisible visible, and/or communicating complex science through art. Help us bring the awe and wonder of science–and the microbial world– to the world.

As I read this notice, it felt like a dream! I have a two and half year old sourdough starter which is used to create 75% of the bread Trudie and I eat. I have recently studied cell biology, neurobiology and have a deep interest in molecular chemistry about which I am just learning. And I am looking for a data sonification project. I sent them an inquiry, they checked out my sound work, and I was invited to participate.

First step, meet with the Sourdough folks at Rob Dunn’s Lab. On Friday June 15th, Erin McKenney, post-Doctoral Fellow in Microbiome Research and Education and a research lead on the sourdough project, and Lauren Nichols, Dunn Lab Manager, met me in the lobby of the David Clark Labs (home of the Dunn Lab). I learned that the sourdough project is looking at the ecology of sourdough starter communities as relates to yeast and bacteria growth in flour when exposed to water and the local microbial environment. I attended a lab staff meeting and learned about the amazing research being done here. All the projects are basically looking at how the smallest phenomena impact much larger phenomena and vice versa, the micro to macro to micro feedback loop. And they keep finding that diversity is the key to sustainable growth and a healthy environment. I left the meeting excited and inspired! Next stop will be the As If Center in Penland, NC in October.

The only other preparation I would like to do is to try sonifying some data. I reached out to the Rob Dunn Lab folks, and Erin McKenney sent me a data set to try my hand at. The data is about nine lemur babies from three lemur species, and how the microbial makeup in each baby’s stomach evolves as changes are introduced to their diets. (This is Erin’s dissertation study!) We have identifiable parameters that can be orchestrated to show changes over time. Perfect!

The data is on a massive (to me) spreadsheet with lots of terminology I don’t know…yet. This will be an interesting process as we work out exactly what the sonic map will depict. I sense that certain data will lend itself to sonification and that is the part I do not yet know. After spending some time studying the spreadsheet, I asked Erin how we can cluster some of the microbial data together, and she sent me the class and phylum data sheets. Phylum became my focus as there were only 35 phylum as opposed to 95 classes and 255 strains of bacteria. One of the lemur mothers had triplets so I decided to put together phylum profiles on this small group. Culling through the data for these specific individuals narrowed the phyla divisions down to 24, then I made an arbitrary cutoff point of >.00 density for each phylum (Erin said this was fine and is actually a tool scientists use to declutter data). Now was down to 15 phylum – a manageable number for a timbral illustration.

The microbes were collected from the three babies six times from birth to nine months. The timeline for the samples was birth, nursing, introductory solid foods, regular solid foods, and two times as they were weaning. Microbes were collected from the mother when she gave birth. Erin had the brilliant idea to have the mother’s phylum profile (which does not change over time) be a drone under the babies’ phylum profiles in the sound map. This allows you to hear when the profiles diverge and when they converge.

The sonic substance for all this is a phyla megachord that stretches from G1 to G5. Each phylum is voiced by a single pitch, so, for example, Protobacteria is G1. Since there are only thirteen pitches in a chromatic scale, some of the phyla would land on the same pitch, different octaves. There were five phylum that tended to have the highest presence in each sample, so I made them the Gs, and all the rest had separate, distinct pitches. I used amplitude to render the amount each phylum was present in each sample.

Then there was how to voice the individual profiles in order to hear the data as clearly as possible. After much experimentation the mother’s voice is a woodwind with steady tone throughout. I chose bell-like voices for the three lemur baby profiles, letting each phase ring out four times over the mother’s profile. The idea is to listen and compare the mother’s profile with the babies’ profiles. Listen for the change (or lack of change) as the each stage rings in four times. You will probably need to listen closely several times. What you hear is a uniformity of tone at birth that becomes more dense and dissonant as the phyla diversify with the babies’ diversifying diet. Then the final wean profiles settle into more consonance with the mother’s profile. So very interesting!

When I sent this to Erin, she said, “The patterns you’ve detected and sonified are exactly what I published.” Yes! This is the sketch I will use to create a soundscape of the Lemur Data. From this exercise, some tentative questions have emerged that will help when we start working on the sourdough project:

How is the data organized/catagorized?

What is being measured?

What are the signifigant changes and time frames within the data collection process?

What are the researchers interested in hearing from the data?

And this is just the beginning!

Song of Sirens

paper.abstracts.8

When I was a child, we often visited our grandparents in Elkins WV. Elkins is home to the Mountain State Forest Festival, and is my birthplace. My Mother’s family has a long history with Elkins. Her grandfather was one of the first mayors and one of two doctors after the town’s 1890 incorporation. I am not sure how my Dad’s mother got there. Mamaw lived in a brick row apartment with a porch and stoop to play on. And she lived one block from the volunteer fire department.

When I slept over with Mamaw, there was always a fire in Elkins, sometimes two. The volunteers had to be called in from all over town, and what called them was the longest, most mournful sound my young ears had ever heard. As loud as it was (remember we were one small block away) the siren also sounded ghostly. It went on and on and on for an eternity and then it stopped! A lovely silence would fall and gently wash away the residue of the wailing. If it happened at night, I would return to sleep; by day, it was back to play. Either way, the siren always elicited a jolt of free-floating anxiety.

The Mountain State Forest Festival takes place the first weekend in October in Elkins and has for 85 years (with a short hiatus during WW II). This Festival was a highlight each and every year of my growing up. We got out of school for two days, traveled through the gorgeous colors and crisp fall air to spend several days with carnivals, exhibits, parades and pageantry. One of the parades took place on Friday night and involved 100 firetrucks sounding their sirens at the same time. The Fireman’s Parade attracted fire departments from all over West Virginia, and into Virginia and Maryland. The trucks would line up at one end of town and slowly make their way down the main street blaring the siren song of their station, their truck. The sound of 100 firetrucks calling their warning song together cannot be described. People flocked the sidewalk, laughing, trying to talk to each other over the din. My brother Matt is famous in our family for having slept through the Fireman’s Parade when he was a babe. Even back then, I enjoyed the interplay of the various intervals that make up a siren song.

A few years ago, my cohorts from iBoD (idiosyncratic Beats of Dejacusse) were discussing ideas for soundscapes. The one sound artifact that really stands out in the urban growth we are experiencing in Durham NC is the frequency of emergency sirens. This became the basis for an iBoD piece called The Sound…of Sirens. One online resource said the intervals of sirens telegraphed who’s coming: the police are a perfect fifth, ambulance is a fourth, and fire trucks are a whole tone. I designed the soundscape with those intervals. We all started with the basic intervals, and as the piece went on, we threw different intervals into the mix. The ending is a big crescendo and all out except the tail of the reverbed voices of the scape, which I turn up to a final fading shriek. We played the piece at a few venues. I thought of it as a novelty song.

I talked about all of this in an interview with Margaret Harmer, who produces electronic music as Shifting Waves. Margaret is producing an album of work from 15 to 20 women electronic artists from all over the world. She asked each of us to think back to a sound in our childhood, to find the story around that sound, and bring it forward into a piece. (I actually added that last part, Margaret did not say the story had to be about the piece for the album, and it sure did flow that way for me.) Here is a link to the interview.

http://www.shiftingwaves.com/blog_files/jude_casseday_interview.html

I took the soundscape for The Sound…of Sirens and began to analyze it harmonically and timbrally. The piece was sculpted from thick resonant voices (several synth pads and strings). This allowed me to carve out the movement of the sirens, the doppler effect of approach and recede, the abruptness of a nearby siren suddenly starting or stopping – the psychoacoustic impact we experience in our communities. Now called Song of Sirens, the piece was a fountain of siren voices overflowing and receding. There are several short repeated interludes during the first section. Several crescendos and several interesting places where the sound drops out leaving space in the front of the mix. This is most obvious when listening through headphones. This has peaked my interest in how we define the sonic space a piece takes up, and how to keep the full space alive when the sound recedes.

Siren’s song in mythology is characterized as an intentional “luring” of sailors onto the rocks. This sounds like one side of the story to me. Who was hearing and for what end? Was the siren song seductive, plaintive, demanding? Was it the call of grey seals, baying and mournful, resounding in the range of the female voice, a voice the sailors had not heard in years? Perhaps the sailors drove themselves into the rocks looking for women to rape. There are many possible scenarios when all points of view are considered.

I wanted to put an intention of comfort and nuturing from female voices into Song of Sirens. How interesting that modern day emergency sirens call out warning, answer your cry for help, or pursue you – all at once. How to embody all of this while flipping the mythology of blame the women. So I recorded Trudie, her daughter, Sheila, and three granddaughters singing phrases of Brahm’s Lullaby and wove them in and around the siren soundscape.

We are creating a new mythology as our brains and conciousnesses go through an extraordinary evolutionary shift. The reptillian brain – the one that fights or flees – is softening into the polyvagal brain. We are moving from survival of the fittest to survival of the kindest. Feminine consciousness knows how to be kind, not just benevolent. As the Song of Sirens raises the death knell of the reptillian brain, grandmothers, mothers and granddaughters sing a soothing lullaby swaddling the panicy cries.

Song of Sirens will be released as a track on Voices from Eris, produced by Shifting Waves studios. Stay tuned for more on fundraising and release date. I appreciate your listening!

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

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-

.

Playtime: 60 minutes

iBoD      August 6, 2017                Central Park School Soundgarden

The Central Park School Soundgarden is a lovely location for an iBoD soncert. Eleanor Mills is the resident bell player here most Sundays, and I am grateful that she shared her space and time with us. On the eve of my 65th complete Earth-go-round, and on this date when nuclear bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima over 70 years ago, I became aware that we were playing the moment toward a new horizon. As we let go of our self-conscious bindings, a dialogue happened! We played parallel at times, we played in interwoven layers, we listened for balance in our exchanges, and each of us overpowered at times as the ambient sounds of voices, passing cars, and motorcycle growlings intermixed with our sonic offerings.

Here are two soundscapes we played that evening. Scenes for a Dance Class is a soundscape developed to accompany an ADF class several years ago.  Five scenes at varying, adjustable tempi and time signatures. The energetic weight of each scene is different as well. This piece is a favorite of ours as you will hear. I love the exchange amongst us in the beginning where we make short overlapping statements. The last scene is called some kinda waltz, and features Suzanne’s lovely piano solo.

Gone Won: Life is a Dream was created for the Won Buddhist Temple in Chapel Hill, NC. iBoD played this piece at our first public performance at the Won Buddhist Temple Bazaar in 2015. This soundscape is the setting for one of my favorite childhood teachings. The idea of “inclusion of all voices and vibrations as we move forward into the swirling vortex” informs the basic structure of the piece.

I appreciate Suzanne Romey, Eleanor Mills and Jim Kellough, who give their deep attention and sensitive playing in the moment to these soundscapes.

If you have read this far, and listened to our offerings, then you have experienced the best of my love and being. Your time and attention mean more to me than I can express and make me grateful beyond measure! I hope someday to hear back from you.

Upcoming Birthday Soncert – Sunday August 6th

Just before I retired, I threw a birthday party to celebrate my 60th Earth-go-round. The Pinhook was the venue and many wonderful people came and wrote haikus and played and danced. I fondly remember the bartender saying, “You have the nicest friends!” and I feel so grateful for that gift. I have been blessed to know so many wonderful people in my life. The party was my first live performance with Ableton and I was thrilled when people got up and danced. It felt like a launch into the next phase of my creativity-driven life.

Now, five years later, I will celebrate the 65th Earth-go-round with a soncert (sound concert) at the Central Park School Soundgarden with iBoD on Sunday, August 6th.  When we played there in May, we were without electricity, but we will be electrified!! Eleanor Mills will play the bells (as she does most every Sunday eve) and her harmonicas and melodica. Suzanne Romey will play recorder, toy piano and keyboards, while Jim Kellough will perform on the digital horn. I will play soundscapes and instruments through Ableton Live as well as the uke, NA Flute and psaltry. Our repertoire is more bouncy and less spacey this time around and we hope it makes you want to move and groove.

I am sure it will be a lovely evening. Cocoa Cinnamon is on the corner with delghtful treats.Bring your own chair or cushion or blanket. We are aiming to start between 7 and 7:15. Our first piece is a gathering groove with an easy sway to it. We will play Bandit for the first time! (See post – http://wp.me/p5yJTY-fp for more on Bandit) Several novelty soundscapes will, hopefully, amuse you.

iBoD will play for about an hour. We would so love to have you and your wide-open ears and hearts present with us!

Third Friday Performance@Durham Arts Council   July 21st  7:15pm                          

Jan Ru Wan and Megan Bostic collaborated on the current DAG show entitled Reconstructing Existence: I Create Therefore I am which will run through August 12th at the Durham Arts Council. This coming Friday, July 21st, Jody Cassell will present a movement piece in response to their work. Jody will be accompanied by dejacusse’ new soundscape The Drone of Aggrievement along with improvisations by vocalist Shana Adams and Morgan Fleming on violin. The performance will run from 7:15 to 8ish.

The art that you will experience that evening arises from a deep grief that enveloped the artists following the loss of a parent. Jan Ru, Megan and Jody have discovered mediums, forms, textures, patterns and relationships through found and intermingled objects and movement to allow their grief a public expression. Each person’s journey with grief is a singularity that we can witness and resonate with. The graceful power of these expressions of grief invite the audience members to reflect on their own grieving.

This is the third collaboration for Jan Ru, Jody and I; and our second with Megan. The first was in 2013 in the Seimans Gallery at Durham Arts Council. Resolving the Disquiet was the raw stage of grief where the memories of the parent’s presence and the shock of their loss was felt. Then last October at VAE in Raleigh, Jan Ru Wan created Separation and in-between an installation that was about reflection and connections across time and space. Jody and I improvised movement and sound offerings for both of these exhibits. Here is a link to more about the VAE show:  http://wp.me/p5yJTY-fd

The DAC show focuses on a renewed existence through creativity. The grief remains but brings energy and muse in relation to “what is.” The show is beautifully curated and very sculptural.

For this exhibit, I was inspired to create a drone in a carnatic scale that begins on Bb. Bb is the tonal center of much of the natural world. Cricket and frog calls, cicada songs and other more drone-like nature sounds tend to resonate in B or Bb. The drone is made up of long tones from this scale in large interval relationships. The 11th Harmonic is worked in to help disrupt any stuck energy.  I chose voices that pull at the heart (woodwinds and strings) and created audio effect racks to destabilize and texturize the sound. Wind is a featured sound texture along with snipping scissors, keystrokes, and Jody’s voice reading bits of her performance piece  Walking to Nairobi.  Shana and Morgan will improvise along with and independently of the soundscape – all as accompaniment to Jody Cassell’s dance piece.

Please join us this Friday, July 21, at the Durham Arts Council DAG Gallery at 7:15 pm.