Listening to the Micro-Environment

Thanks to Nancy Lowe from AS IS Center near Penland School, I am “new best friends” with Mark Boyd. Mark is a sound artist who records and amplifies the “voices” of plants, ants and flowing water: the realm of the tiny vibratory world. Talk about deep listening! Mark has been using electrode sensors on plants into a Volca Synth to listen to the electrical life force within the plant! He sent me recordings of his “biologues” with Bleeding Heart and Fern, and Dogwood. The playback presents us with a lot of fast-paced random sounds. Mark is interested in transducing this data into something people might listen to. Here is an excerpt from Mark’s Bleeding Heart and Fern biologues:

Excerpt MB BiologueBHnF

Ableton Live contains numerous tools for transposing/transducing/converting sonic data. An audio clip, such as the one you just heard, can be converted into midi clips; one that renders melody information, and another that renders harmonic information. So now we have audio information rendered as 2 packets of midi information. Within Ableton, midi files can be collapsed or stretched across a timeline and still maintain the integrity of the rhythmic intervals. Midi data can be assigned to a “voice” that feels representative of the sound artist’s impressions of the particular plant that is speaking. Midi data can be fed back into a synth such as the Volca to complete the circle.

The scaling of the time frames of the midi clips is exactly what is needed to help us “hear” the biofeedback from the plants. Doubling the length of the midi clip slows the overall “tempo” and helps us to listen into a kind of river of sound emitted by the plants. Slowing down allows us to tune into a rhythmic cohesiveness that is obscured by the frantic pace of the plant’s raw electrical impulses. We inject spaciousness into the mix in just the right amount, and it sounds like something is being communicated.

After finishing the new rendering of the data, I sent this to Mark:

Excerpt Biologue BHnF Remix dejacusse

He was ecstatic, over the top about all the possibilities of Ableton. He downloaded the Lite version and took off with it. We had some great email exchanges and he sent me samplings of his tests and experiments with the flora around his mountain home. Here is a beautiful example with a plant in Mark’s home:

I look forward to Mark putting together an orchestra of local flora in concert in the near future. In the meantime, I am enjoying dialoguing with another human being who is listening as deeply as I am.

Radio iBoD/dejacusse Broadcast July 30, 2020

Here is a 8 minute excerpt from dejacusse’ hour long broadcast on Thursday afternoon July 30 from 2:48 pm to 3:45 pm. (cause I eschew ideas of “perfection”, and all her followers and gatekeepers.) Today we featured Theta Waves (frequencies divisible by 5 and 8) at 200hz and under at 108 bpm. These Sine waves were then set off in relation to each other, and filtered through flangers, resonators, delays, reverbs and frequency filters within Ableton Live. The idea is to unfold harmonics from these interactions, and enfold them back on themselves. Some pretty cool stuff emerges- not for everyone, but if you feel the resonance, that is the best! Thanks for listening if you do!

Theta Waves Unfolded

One Knob Wonders in Ableton

Once again I find myself back with Ableton Live. A couple of posts ago, my sounding board was set and I was starting to put some things together in Elektron: Model Samples along with Ableton and the Neutron. Then a couple of the trigger keys on the Model Samples started sticking. This is comparable to a sticking piano key. At first, I was OK with having this be another random possibility within my workflow, but more triggers got in on the act, and I couldn’t tell which keys were sticking, and that random possibility became a more fixed probability. So for now the Model Samples is boxed up waiting to go to the technicians at Sweetwater whenever they get Elektron techs back at the shop. This is my last purchase from Sweetwater! I am miffed that this is taking months to resolve and I am left with several ideas in early development within the Model Samples that are now on hold. Instead of wasting energy being miffed, I am turning to some new ways to play in Ableton.

Under the Audio Effects subfolder DJ and Performance within Ableton Live, there are One Knob effects racks capable of creating dramatic changes to any sound when the One Knob is turned. The changes are achieved by placing several different audio effects in a rack and then using midi map to attach a variety of parameter changes from each effect onto the One Knob. The parameter ranges can even be adjusted as to how big a change the knob sweep brings. After working with Audio Animation Clips/Envelope Generators, this seems like a promising new direction to explore.

My favorite One Knob Rack is Fade to Gray, which houses a three band EQ and a Ping Pong Delay. Here are pictures of each of these effects:

Turning the One Knob lowers the mid frequency band of the EQ Three by 6dB while the low frequency and high frequencies sweep toward the midrange as the wet signal and feedback swoop up to 95%. Now a tiny slice of mid-range frequencies feeding back on itself goes into the Ping Pong Delay, where the signal and feedback go to 95%. All of these changes are happening over time and in relation to each other. While the end result is a thin and distant decaying echo of the completely subdued orginal signal, every stop along the One Knob sweep renders new sonic terrain. So cool!

Now I am inspired! What sorts of changes can be wrought in this environment? I want to make One Knob Racks that sculpt the sound in interesting ways! Start simple: made a few changes in the Fade to Gray letting in some lower range frequencies on the EQ3 and bringing the crossing frequencies together at a lower bandwidth. So this Fades to Throb rather than Gray. I suppose I should have picked a color- it would be Blue, Fade to Blue. Throb describes the end result more clearly, so that is the name!

For several weeks now, I have been making, testing, throwing away and saving One Knob Racks. My project contains an audio track with sound samples from Ableton and from Library dejacusse. That track is routed into another audio track which contains the One Knob Racks and is routed to the Master output track. With this setup, the original audio track signal goes directly to the One Knob track, so the original audio is heard through that track. When I close all the One Knob Racks (there are seven so far but I forsee hundreds) no sound comes out the Master track. All the frequencies have been gathered and are being held within the racks. One type of improvisation might be to slowly unveil the original audio by opening the One Knob Racks a bit at a time. When they are all completely at 0, the original signal and all its frequencies are now sounding through the One Knob track and out to the Master. So much potential here!

But wait, there is more! There are a couple of tracks hanging around over beside the Master Track. These are Return Tracks. The original audio track and the One Knob track both have two Sends knobs that send signal to the return tracks. This is another way to add some effects processing to a signal and also have it be available for all the tracks. As it turns out, the send knob on the original audio track can bring that signal forward through the return track even when all the One Knob racks are closed! This is sooooo cool, because as the One Knobs are opening, some of the original sound can be brought up into the mix to give listening ears some direction and excitation. The return tracks can also have effects on them. WoW!

This is exciting for me because it aligns with everything I am creating right now. I seek methods for including all frequencies in the sonic pallette, for rendering frequencies in as many dimensions as I can tune into, for conveying information/data/quanta via sound, and for creating diffuse, diverse sonic delights. I tune into joy and delight in many strange waveforms.

I am drawn to the idea of unFolding, uncovering, and revealing which this method opens up to. Also, the idea of integration and disintegration, which I started exploring over 10 years ago with Unhinged Melody (which later became Circuslocution with iBoD). The idea was an 8 bar upbeat riff that started as individual random sounding notes and slowly came together. Every note has its place and it eventually gets there with some extra notes for good measure! Each One Knob Rack will shape the sound into particular forms, then as one Rack feeds into another, the various level settings create new sonic relationships within the original audio.

Creating these One Knob Racks is teaching me so much about each audio effect in Ableton and what it does. The other part of this will be the sounds that pass through the Racks, what will they be? And then there is the order that the Racks are placed in to maximize the interplay of the Racks as they pass the sound around and through themselves.

Here is a quick journey through some of the sonic territory these knobs can uncover! The original audio is Eleanor Mills playing harmonica and me talking and playing uke. Listen for those times when the original sound is hard to distinguish.

Today I worked with a 8 second clip of Jim Kellough’s digital horn and here is the result:

Tracks Music Library: A Sampling of Local Sounds

David Byrne’s record label Luaka Bop released one of my favorite albums – Cuisine Non-Stop – which featured popular local bands from all around the country of France. The album is a delightful pastiche of people lovingly creating their music wherever they find themselves! I felt a kinship with this merry band of troubadours, and thought it would be so wonderful to be included in such a sampling.

In January 2020, I saw an advertisement on Facebook from Chapel Hill Library and Community Arts and Culture seeking album submissions for a curated collection of music by local artists. The requirements for submission were residence in Orange and neighboring counties, and a published album. The submission process was pain free and user friendly. I submitted dejacusse’ album Audiorigami:Meditations on The Fold (released 11/11/18) and wished her the very best!

A month in Florida, a Coronavirus lockdown and a National Water Dance later, an email arrives telling me that Audiorigami would be included in the inaugural Tracks Music Library. I am thrilled and encouraged by this development! Although it may not be Luaka Bop, this fits my work perfectly! “The grass roots of the grass roots” as one friend said! Tracks Music Library was launched June 9, 2020 with 80 albums to stream and plans to grow the library by 25 albums a year. You can listen at tracksmusiclibrary.org.

Tracks Music Library is the result of Chapel Hill Library staff meeting the Rabble Musicat staff at a library conference several years ago. Rabble is a private company with a mission to equip libraries with the very best software for presenting media to the world, which is a primary mission of libraries. Rabble believes libraries are “forces for good” and wants them to have access to excellent media resources! (I think they are quite successful, and I will tell you why later.) Musicat is a facet of Rabble that focuses on curating local music into library collections. These local music libraries have been established in Nashville, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Austin to name a few, and now Chapel Hill. Here is a link to more on Rabble Musicat: https://musicat.co/libraries

Melissa Bartoletta, Communications Coordinator for Chapel Hill Community Arts and Culture, said of this first round:     

We received 176 submissions in our first open call for submissions. We were thrilled by that number as well as by the quality and diversity of the work submitted. Because our first year of this project was funded through a grant from the State Library, we were able to invite 80 artists into the collection.

Melissa emphasized that Chapel Hill Library and Community Arts and Culture have made a committment to grow the library with an annual call for submissions, continued funding and staying responsive to the ever-changing Triangle music scene. One of the ways they will stay responsive is by calling on folks from the local music scene to curate the collection. This year’s curators were Lois DeLoatch, Kevin “Kaze” Thomas, Elinor Walker, Bill Smith, Kat Harding, Glenn Boothe, Steve Weiss, and Steve Wright. The curators come to music from a wide range of perspectives, but all listen “with an ear for quality, diversity and connection” to the local music community.

While the on-line library is free for music listeners, all of the artists were paid a meaningful stipend for our work. I think of it as a kind of permanent license to stream purchased by the Chapel Hill Library. In addition, each artist has their own page with a PayPal donation button – if a listener is so moved they can donate to the artist. From my perspective it is a perfect platform. Part of this perfect platform is the media player created by Rabble. As I listened through each track on Audiorigami, I heard so much detail and depth, as if I was listening through headphones, but it was actually through iPad speakers at 75% amplitude. The quality of this listen really impressed me.

Go to Tracks Music Library and tune in. You can search by album, artist and genre. To get you started here is a playlist of Black and Brown artists featured in the Tracks Music Library: https://tracksmusiclibrary.org/featured/playlist-1591669567455

The Larger Oscillation

Periodically throughout the day, I focus awareness on the realization that one of the basic building blocks of the entire material world as we know it is– the oscillation. All of my personal and all of our shared experience is comprised of waveform oscillations modulating each other. This pattern driver of existence is active from the quantum to the cosmic scale and all stops in between, including the sliver we call “material reality”. Take a deep breath into THAT awareness! It has the capacity to expand “being” way beyond this mortal coil.

Signal sources, harmonics, filters, amplifiers, attenuaters, etc. all shape the place we call home. This is not a static activity, although we are obsessed with nailing it down and calling it stable. To be fair, our egoic phase needs the illusion of constancy cocreated by our corporeal senses + time. It is scary to allow in all the buzzy sensations of the multitudes of oscillations interacting within and through us moment to moment. It can shake and crack the hard linear shell of “Reality” we impose on this extremely fluid existence. But once, some cracks and crevices soften the shell, we can tune in and ride the dyhedrals of the great structured chaos out of which life arises, our true and only home. All the necessary tools are available to us:

Focused awareness in the now.

Deep listening (way deeper than ear listening).

Adaptability to a looser, less bound-up, more centered and flexible way of being in the world.

And, most importantly, forgiveness.

Sound, due to its oscillating nature, impacts the structure and movement of material reality. So do flapping butterfly wings. So do thoughts and emotions fully felt and released or shoved away and blamed on others. So do bombs and bullets. So do words of harm and ridicule. So do love and compassion. So does forgiveness. Each moment we choose a platform (or it chooses us) and then we actively modulate our consciousnesses into existence, as we ourselves are modulated by all the struck and jostling oscillations.

What a world! What a world!

National Water Dance – NOT Cancelled

With all of the rescheduling of public events local, national and global, there is one event that will go on next month. National Water Dance 2020 will happen as scheduled on April 18th 2020 at 4 pm EST. This biannual movement choir in honor and healing of water will take place across the country all at the same time and streaming across the web. This announcement came from NWD last week:

WE ARE STILL DANCING! Wherever you are on April 18 at 4:00PM EST, alone or self-quarantining or with a small group in an open space, we will begin with the shared gesture and end with the shared gesture and your personal movement will fill in the middle.

We are fortunate to be living in the digital age – as we are asked to observe *“physical distancing,” we are able to close that distance by linking together through social media.

This challenge is forcing us to re-evaluate what we are doing and how we are doing it. Let’s find that deeper meaning in our dance, whether in a group or alone. We can dance wherever we are and livestream it on Instagram and Facebook. 

More than ever the world needs our hope and energy. Let’s move forward together and flood the social media networks with our dances on April 18th.

My crew at the idiosyncratic Beats of Dejacusse (iBoD) had big plans to create a watery like container at PS 137 with live plants and flowers by Lee Moore Crawford, and space for movers and viewers. Now we have constrained as we must, so will feature Jody Cassell as Durham’s National Water Dancer streaming live from her home. Jody will move to a recording of Carnatic Water Music, which will be released by iBoD on Bandcamp in April a week before the event. We will keep you posted as to how to link to the performance and pre-order the digital EP.

Mark your calendars for Durham’s National Water Dance April 18th at 4 pm.

The Dance of Ego and Consciousness

I love how life, when allowed, unfolds in diverse and beautiful ways. The Culture of the Human Organism (COTHO), which we all create together, was/is formed by the interplay of humans doing and humans being. We, individually, have the ability to DO busy worker bees and to BE still, vast awake beings. Doing and Being are the yin/yang of living. They exist on a continuum, like a cross-fader mixing two signals, and we move the fader around by focusing our conscious awareness.

The DO is about identity, achievement, leadership, playing well with others. The DO is fitting into and identifying with the material realm/the world/COTHO. The DOer seizes the day and makes a life, The DOer gets things done, gets rewarded, and so gets more things done, often achieves some level of what we call “greatness” or, at the very least, strives for greatness. DOers think, plan, coordinate. They are busy doing and making the world. Egoic mind, beliefs, values, thoughts, stories and meaning are parts of this realm.

This realm manifests COTHO! The Organism is rich, and in constant motion. It seems to be expanding just as the Universe seems to be expanding. The Organism is The World. Ever since we were kicked out of the Garden, COTHO has been making The World in an image of the Garden. And with so many individual shattered segments DOing The World right now, the primary direction seems to be “more”, “further”, “faster”.

The BE is about shedding worldly identities, expanding consciousness and being fully in the present moment. All there is is NOW! (la- la lalala) BEing is still, alert and attentive. BEing exists in a state of timelessness. BEing finds the world mostly humorous, and a little sad. BEing allows everything that is enfolded in the present moment to be!

Newborn babies have a tremendous. capacity for BEing. Adults recognize this energy in babies. This is why we love them so much, love being with them- they are awash in being, thinking no thoughts. Babies are pure presence. Alas, too soon, babies become ensnared in human doing. My highest wish for every child is that they protect, develop and cherish their BEing, and not let conciousness become obliterated by the push to identify and the exaggerated need to belong.

I have struggled with this all my life. Since I was very young, I felt slightly out of touch with 3D reality or The World. “Just wait till you get out in the real world!” said many adults I encountered. I was never sure what “real world” they were referring to. So I tried to find this “real world”. I looked for it in my parents, teachers and other signifigant adults, in school and church, in communities, close friends, colleagues, in educational degrees and lesbian feminist identities. I looked (and found) what felt the most real to me in intimate relationships: lovers, dear friends and co-creators – those people with whom you stay up all night, dancing around the fear of/desire to completely open and merge with another. I really felt I found the real world there, but it turns out, there is more! With each decade, great swaths of many Worlds revealed themselves to me and the journey has been heartfelt and mostly joyful – even when suffering, I give myself over to it and enjoy the whole experience immensely.

Luckily, many people have cared for, connected and collaborated with me over these years. I love all of those beautiful people, and I have not always made it easy for them. The sense of myself was small and huge at the same time, always bouncing between these extremes. I had faith in consciousness even as I distrusted it. I let my egoic identity make me small and mean at times. This still happens, but the voice of consciousness is clearer, and ego can be lovingly attenuated to allow that still, clear voice to come through. Today, as I sit in this beautiful present moment, I give thanks to all who were right there with me in all those wonderful Nows of the past.

As Holly Near sings -“The past has brought me brilliantly to here!”

Early Explorations into Elektron Model:Samples

Sometime in November/December 2019 my earbrain decided we need a sequencer for the Neutron. While I was successful in getting Ableton to communicate with Neutron, I had to use the NI Komplete 6 audio driver, which seems to cause occasional sound dropouts, and feels like an unreliable set up to me. Anyway after extensive research, I settled on the Elektron Model:Samples. While it is geared toward creating drum patterns with 6 track pads/sample containers that can play patterns 1- 64 beats in length, I am hoping to explore its sound design/soundscaping capacity in addition to beat-making.

The Model:Samples uses buried menus, which I was not sure I would enjoy. I understand that the Elektron Digitakt has a deeper and more extensive menu listing. The M:S has just the right amount of menu diving for me. Most of the effects knobs are dedicated and can be modulated per track AND per trigger as well as over the whole pattern. The most any one of the buttons does is 2 or 3 functions. The deepest menu is the samples menu. I want to spend some time getting to know the cool samples that came with the M:S. However, I have spent most of my time with M:S creating and loading my own samples.

As example, one sound clip of a plaintive horn riff became the one and only sound used in a pattern called Plaints. By changing the start and end point of the sample, varying the delay amount, frequency cutoff and reverb time within each track, each one sounds different from the others. I played with this at The Shadowbox Sessions in January and now want to do more with this pattern.

Elektron Transfers is the software for loading samples into the M:S. As I collect and curate samples, it seems best to organize them into 6 pack folders. This way I can load a whole folder into a saved pattern slot. I have not yet figured out how to see the samples that are already in the box. Samples can be deleted through the M:S menu. Samples can be changed out while playing, which is a very cool feature. A pattern template can be completely transformed while it is playing by placing a different sample on the track.

One thing I am interested in exploring more deeply is setting effects modulation on specific triggers in the pattern. As example, the first trigger could have a low pitch with a LPF and heightened resonance AND only play 25% of the time. The 14th trigger might be a higher pitch with delay and feedback. These two sounds will express so differently yet they are coming from the same track sample. Wild! This is the arena of creating sound PAINTINGS! How to orchestrate sounds within a grid pattern and NOT have them create a groove? How to use these parameter locks to create a moving and changing “pattern” within a fixed grid of 1 – 64 triggers/beats/notes.

My challenge this week is to work with this idea in preparing the soundscape for the Human Origami Jam this Friday January 31, 2020. First, what sounds do I want to explore? Then, how can these sounds be triggered and mixed into a morphing pattern that does not sound like a groove? I will report back next week as to how this has developed.

If you have any interest in Elektron Model:Samples, I highly recommend True Cuckoo’s tutorial. I watched this multiple times before the M:S arrived, and was able to jump in and make stuff immediately.

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!