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.
My curiosity about sound is completely engaged by exploring modular synthesis. So far my understanding is often inarticulate and mystified! But thanks to Suzanne Ciani, True Cuckoo, Andrew Huang, Ultrabillions, Hark Madley, Lisa Belladonna, Caterina Barbieri, Moogfest, Bram Bos, and Kim Bjorn’s book Patch and Tweak, I am evolving a different way of creating soundscapes and perceiving the world. This is the stuff of life! Waveforms modulating waveforms, waveforms shaping waveforms, waveforms reflecting, refracting and bouncing around and through us. Energetic matter begins and ends on a wave.
I am focusing my Artists Residency here at home on improving my mixing skills and building a sounding board. The mixing skills are put to the test making the recording of Carnatic Water Music that iBoD will release in the next week. As I mixed this recording I received helpful suggestions from tutorials by Jason Moss, HarkMadley, Mathew Weiss. These skills are a forever work in progress. As for the sounding board, there are currently three main ingredients: Elektron:Model Samples as main sequencer providing beats/patterns and midi triggers to the Behringer Neutron. Audio out from both of these units into Audio Tracks in Ableton Live. Ableton will provide drones, loops, and AAC/EG clips which can process audio from either unit. I can do Master recordings in Ableton as well.
Even though I want a modular system, I will work with what I have now, and learn, and be ready when my modular system appears. (Make Noise modules are the ones that I want- doo doo do do)
The Model Samples and I are getting on fairly well. I am learning the architecture of the menus, watching people perform with it to see what key combos they use, and setting up some patterns. The samples available “in the box” are very cool and I am curating my own samples as well. Every sound is potential material so it is daunting.
The past few days, I experimented with some patch ideas in the Behringer Neutron. I have gotten alot of growling out of the synth, but no sound that I liked. There is one simple patch I use: the Sample and Hold into Delay Time. When the Delay Mix knob is raised and the S&H knob is turned up, there are lots of odd, random pitch artifacts that I enjoy hearing. Today I patched the Osc Mix into a Mult, then ran Mult 1 to the OD(overdrive)IN, and Mult 2 to Pulse Width 2. Tuned the oscillators to consonant pitches. Slowly turning the Osc Mix Knob opens a whole realm of timbres. When the OM knob was all the way to one side the tone could be made clear and bell-like. With the Oscillator shapes in the square or tone mod shape, the Pulse Width knob seems to act as a filter.The Mod Depth and Envelope Depth can be brought in. This is where I am not sure what is happening – there are changes in the timbre of the tone from the synth. And what exactly is depth? There is alot to play with depending on where the Osc Mix dial is tuned in.
The third part of this is creating Audio Animation Clips/Envelope Generators within Ableton. Envelopes shape the amplitude and modulate the pitch of the sound. Audio Animation allows the Envelope parameters to move over time. Here is the post on how audio animation can be created in Ableton: https://wp.me/p5yJTY-vL I use filters to sculpt out harmonics and add texture to the sound of the Model Samples or the Neutron. So far, I am experimenting with banks of filters to sculpt out or boost particular harmonics then perform a finer tuning with some EQ. I am listening for a diverse sonic spread, then tuning it in, then spreading, and finally fine tuning.
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 I was 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, amd 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 relied on 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!”
Following our first play date for All Data Lost, Lisa and I talked about what happened:
Lisa: I thought, “Oh, shit” when I first walked in [to The Wicked Witch] because its so dark I can’t see what I am doing, and then, you know, if someone is talking to me?!….but the energy there allowed it to be OK. You don’t have to interact, you can be alone in the dark with other people and not feel obligated to look at them, talk to them. Which is kind of freeing, actually, its freeing with the music too. Interacting with the audience effects my concentration on what I am doing with the music.
Jude: I really appreciated that aspect of the festival experience. The total focus on what is being created, on what is happening right now in this primal sonic moment! Most of the artists I heard during the afternoon performances could not be classified into any genre and each one was an engaging and unique experience.
Lisa: I also felt the audience was very attentive! They’re not looking at, or talking to, or doing anything else. They are standing there in the dark just listening to what you are doing! Its pretty neat! Even though some styles of music feed off of interacting directly with the audience, this is more experimentation, so I appreciated being able to focus on what we were doing.
When I listened to the recording, I was pleased with it, I thought it was pretty good. There was enough variety, without being too way out there. Here (in the SunRa Room) we are experimenting, then when we go and play somewhere, there needs to be more structure. I heard that. I liked the layers, and I think what I am hearing most are harmonics, and the harmonics allows the layers. The layers don’t let your brain get lazy or bored. The layering inspires curiosity!
Jude: Experimental sound art, which is what I feel like we are doing, is just one big surprise after another, and/or an evolving constancy built upon repetition and tiny changes. The layers of the soundscape are made up of harmonics, prolonged repetition, tiny and gigantic changes at a variety of tempos. Some folk’s hearing is limited by their thinking about genre classifications and performer virtuosity/charisma. Experimental sound can too overwhelming to the codified earbrain.
Lisa: The brain is like that in other ways too. People who believe that everyone should behave a certain way and anything outside of their prescribed way of thinking causes anxiety and tension. The brain is like a muscle, if you don’t use it to the full potential, it is going to wear out and not be able to tolerate much. When you exercise it, it begins to be able to handle more and more and more. Music and math are ways to exercise the brain. Math is completely like that, its exhausting, frustrating. You don’t see it and one day the light bulb comes on, and you are a totally different person.
The biggest difference between playing here (the SunRa Room) and playing at The Wicked Witch was having other people involved in listening. You feel some responsibility to bring a nice experience to them. So I think I listened more! I am controlling this, what do I want to put out there? I am not that experienced in playing for an audience, so I have a small bag of tools. So, in some ways, this lightens my responsibility to a degree.
Jude: I like having a minimal bag of tools cause it makes me go deeper with them. Also, I get overwhelmed by all that can be done to a sound signal and routing the signal to the right places, midi and audio, etc. So minimal suits my style, which is one of constant learning and deep listening.
Lisa: As far as the sound quality, I thought it was great! It was easy for me to hear what I was doing. I knew where I was at, where we were at. Even though this was the first time I played with the spider capo and that extra layer of harmonics (Lisa had the harmonics for the bottom three strings of the guitar in addition to fingering notes.), I didn’t have to do anything extra or anything difficult. Pluck the string and it is there! The reason I would use ANY tool is because it makes things easier. I am allowing each guitar to talk by doing less. I really want to hear the voice of the guitar, each one is different. That is how I decide to buy a guitar is because of the voice.
After we talked through what we each heard in our playing, I realized that Lisa listens for new ways of playing whenever she explores her guitar’s sounds. We are both experimenters, and feel quite free in that arena. We find structure more challenging. I have lots of questions about structure – my interest in modular synthesis comes from the very clear structural forms that are present in waveforms and filters. These forms, coupled with various sound sources, make interaction the essential feature of every sonic moment. How do we structure interactions? What is included in these interactions? When do we apply structured, conceptual thinking and when do we shake it off and realize “it doesn’t matter!!”
The next phase of Playing by Ear, will include Lisa’s guitar into the Neutron routed through Ableton Live and the AAC/EG clip templates created in the Abeju Synth Station. (See https://wp.me/p5yJTY-vL for more info) Here is a sample:
Come hear us at 919 Noise Showcase in October at the Nightlight in Chapel Hill.
The All Data Lost Noise and Music Festival kicked off iBoD’s exploration of playing musical sound and morphing it into multi-dimensional soundscapes as an exercise in deep listening and what it means to “hear”. I was inspired in this endeavor by two experiences: hearing Incidental Exercise at a 919 Noise Showcase, and improvising with Lisa Means when we were on a group beach trip together. Incidental Exercise is a duo made up of a guitar player and a modular synth player. When I heard them play, I was completely mesmerized by the intricate patterning they were able to create from a guitar as the sound source for a modular synth. The improvisation they performed was as delicate as lace and as boundless and tumultuous as the ocean. At the beach, Lisa, a guitar player who is deaf (but has some hearing thanks to hearing aids), brought several of her beautiful custom made guitars for us to play along with the sound of the crashing waves. Once we were home, we got together to improvise a few more times and then life took us in different directions.
When iBoD was invited to play All Data Lost and the usual bandmates were not available to prepare for that date, I contacted Lisa. My recent purchase of a Behringer Neutron semi-modular synth had me thinking about creating a sonic pallette along the lines of Incidental Exercise. While Lisa mostly plays acoustic guitars, she does own a Hollow TKD Hybrid electric guitar, which she was willing to play for this event.
We improvised together on Saturday afternoons in July and early August. At first, I struggled with handling the sound coming through the Neutron. I wanted to start with a clean guitar sound that could then be expanded and shifted through patching and tweaking of knobs. I learned that a tiny little knob tweak could bring forth a sudden blast of sound. A couple of times things got out of control to the point of turning the synth off and starting over.
Lisa experimented with lots of extended techniques using glass and brass slides, aluminum foil and various capos. For the ADL performance she settled on a spider capo which is a capo that can be set or released for each string. Then she found little gloves that went over each “finger” of the capo. This allows harmonics to be added to the mix, and Lisa can play in front of and behind the capo. This worked out beautifully as we built the soundscape for our set.
Here is the nested soundscape Playing by Ear as captured at The Wicked Witch for All Data Lost Fest. Special thanks to sound engineer Oona!
The Art of a Scientist exhibit closed last weekend. If you did not get a chance to hear/see my collaboration with Hasan Abbas, MD-Ph.D candidate, Duke University and the Shared Materials Implimentation Facility (SMIF), Duke University – here it is! The video plays twice and the whole thing lasts only a little over two minutes. For more on the concepts underlying the soundscapes, go here-> https://wp.me/p5yJTY-zm after listening.
My cohorts and I are flipping the script from our usual way of play for Durham Makes Music Day this coming Friday. We have played together as iBoD for about 5 years now. I make soundscapes in Ableton Live, while Susanne, Eleanor and Jim add their own riffs and melodies over top. These soundscapes follow a more formal, songish structure. While we mostly improvise, the more we play a piece, the more we lock into parts, which layers in a more rigid form and stifles the improv. Too much structure calcifies creative growth, so time for a shift!
Under the influence of Moogfest and the work of Pauline Oliveroes, iBoD is exploring “all of the waveforms” and the means to transmit them. Susanne, Eleanor, Jim and dejacusse will provide the soundscape LIVE using voice, harmonicas, melodica, digital horn, recorder, flute and electronic modulations. In this way we will transmit a diverse range of audible waveforms as patterns of frequencies. These “freequencies” will permeate the larger soundscape that will surround us, altering the sonic environment in unusual ways.
Our location at M Alley/Holland Street (behind the Durham Hotel) means we will be in the thick of all the sounds of downtown Durham and all the outdoor music being made on Durham Makes Music Day. We will not be the loudest, but if you come down to where we are located, close your eyes, quiet your mind and open your ears, I guarantee you will hear something beautiful and amazing!