Playing by Ear – What did we learn? Where do we go from 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.

Playing by Ear – a sonic exploration of hearing

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!

PBEiBoDWickedWitchAug2019

1000 Tiny X-rays and O Men and Mice from The Art of a Scientist exhibit 2019

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.

iBoD presents FreeQuencies @Durham Makes Music Day

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!

Friday June 21st

8:30-9:30 pm

iBod at M Alley/Holland St.

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!

Artist Statement Resonified 2017

One of the pages attached to this blog is my Artist’s Statement. I believe in intention and evolution, so this statement is a living document for me. I reflect and revise the statement as soundscapes guide me through the world. Last July, I had the opportunity to expand my understanding of a Pauline Oliveros quote that is an integral part of my statement. I thank my dear friend, Theresa Carilli, for helping me clarify what I am saying! (Photo of Pauline Oliveros from media.hyperreal.org)


“Nevertheless, She Transmitted” – The Subtle Activism of Soundscaping

Pauline Oliveros, pioneering electronic musician and Mother of Deep Listening, defines a soundscape as

“All of the waveforms faithfully transmitted to our audio cortex and its mechanisms.”

With this statement, Oliveros calls out all the limitations that we place on inclusiveness, and issues a challenge to both sound artist and listener. This is not an acoustically contained melody in a particular key with carefully cultivated supporting orchestrations. This is not about money, commodity, mastery of instrument, aesthetics, standards of excellence, competition or any other divisive concept decreed from the bully pulpit. This is “All of the waveforms…”, all of the frequencies in the sounding world. All of them! Oliveros envisions inclusiveness as “essential to the process of unlocking layer after layer of imagination, meaning and memory down to the cellular level of human experience.” Her vision offers the soundscape as antidote to patriarchal divide and conquer methodologies that are extremely loud in our current culture. As a sound artist, creating and performing soundscapes with a community of cohorts, it has become my devout intention to take up her challenge to transmit all of the waveforms to audio cortexes everywhere!! How is this to be done? As sound practitioners, how do we “faithfully” transmit all of the wave forms? And as audience members, how can we also “faithfully” receive all of the wave forms?

The challenge in her definition of soundscape is carefully packed in the words “all” and “faithfully”. These two words are intimately connected in this statement. They transform a physiological description into a guiding intention. “All” means striving for inclusion/no exclusions.  In order to be “faithful”, one must be fully present. And a powerful path to inclusiveness AND presence for both sound artist and audience member lies in the practice of deep listening with reverent attention to the harmonics/enharmonics, melodies/noises, and rhythms/arrhythms that comprise each sonic moment. 

As a presence-practicing soundscape artist, I explore this terrain and bring back markers for accessibility to anyone who wants to give audience to soundscapes.

For many first-time listeners, soundscapes may feel overwhelming and chaotic. Many reject giving audience to soundscapes for this reason. Soundscapes do not give much direction as to what to listen to, so one must listen INTO the soundscape. That is the first adjustment for the listener – stop, breathe, find a friendly line or voice and follow it. The line might be a long meandering phrase or a loop, percussion or melody, foreground or background, fast or slow, loud or soft. It takes a curious desire to hear WHAT? is going on IN THERE! to get past the boredom, fears and defensiveness that often arise when forms are changing in unexpected ways. When the hypercritical, judgemental mind lets go into curious, discerning mind, the listener will discover the pathway inside the soundscape.

Once inside the cave of sound, footholds are both secure and insecure. Like a bird lighting on a branch, the listener does not know if the center will hold, so deep listening provides the wings to move to another branch. We explore the fluid nature of “in time” and “in tune” as we settle into and are disrupted by the soundscape; blips and glitches, fits and starts, followed by a deeper sense of the flow of the scape beyond preconceived ideas of tempo and tonal center.

So soundscapes are these churning, swirling, floating containers, within which my cohorts and I add other voices and textures. I think of the soundscape as a beautiful being and we are the accessories. Another cohort observed that soundscapes are like patchwork quilts. We have a bunch of scraps of sounds and we weave them into a whole. Or the soundscape is an aquarium full of fish swimming and darting around.

The aquarium metaphor is a very helpful template for listening to a soundscape. When you watch an aquarium, your eye may follow one fish for a while until the fish passes another one which grabs your eye. Or one fish may make a sudden move that startles you and so you keep an eye on that fish. In this same way, your ear, if it is sufficiently relaxed and accepting, may hear into parts of the scape or moments of improvisation from the players. Sounds and voices come forward and recede, and your ear, brain and body follow along as you are drawn into this cornucopia of sound.

The cacaphony within a soundscape exists because of the mandate “all of the waveforms.” The soundscape is a dense pallette that moves and morphs through tonal and rhythmic relationships in actual time and in a particular space. Then, as my cohorts and I layer in more waveforms, we create a Nested Soundscape, a permanent recording of the sonic moment folding and unfolding through time and space. Each performance sets rippling frequencies into the atmosphere that are then time stamped onto a recording. Then we offer it to any and all listeners via Soundcloud. This is the transmission process I use at this time.

Adrift in a Sea of Birds is one example of a Nested Soundscape. There is much to hear here – starting with the soundscape itself, which is the catalyst for waveforms in the moment, then the players adding in more waveforms, then the sound of the birds outside the open windows and much more that I leave for you to discover. There are places of beauty and places of disconnect, all of which make up the sonic field of this moment. As players and listeners we honor all contributions to the rich universe of waveforms stirred up by the soundscape.     

The act of transmitting all of the waveforms is a practice that challenges me as a sound artist and a listener. It is an action of allowing that is counterpoint to the action of resistance. It is a form of Tai Chi, using energy to create not only new visions, but also little earthquakes in the status quo. The critical mind gets to take a vacation and let go into a listening field that includes all sound. A place where “sounds become interrelated rather than chaotic and meaningless–the field conveys forces (energy) from one sound to another.”

As an active and dedicated transmitter, it is my dream to assist human ears in evolving beyond the codification of common practice, popular music and the calcified ear brain, inviting listeners to open ears as they open eyes and take in a broad spectrum of colors, textures, movements. Learning to listen to soundscapes is an act of allowing that can lead to shifts in consciousness and in the corporeal world. As Oliveros sees it, this sort of listening practice “is the foundation for a radically transformed social matrix in which compassion and love are the core motivating principles guiding creative decision making and our actions in the world.”

Just for a while, disengage from the notions and expectations of prescribed and habitual forms and allow yourself to enjoy the dance of formlessness to form to formlessness. This simple action could awaken an entirely new sense of your self and your world!

Reference:   All quotes from Pauline Oliveros in “Quantum Listening: From Practice to Theory (to Practice Practice)”      Music Works Issue #76 (Spring 2000)