The World is Sound @ The Rubin Museum

Last year, during a Human Origami movement workshop, the son of one of the participants added vocals to the soundscape. This was a spontaneous offering on his part and I was delighted. I tend to favor the bright and shiny high end of the spectrum with bells, chimes, vibes, etc. Matthew’s voice is deep, gravily and provided a beautiful balance to the scape. His voice became an integral part of the larger Nested Soundscape.

On a recent trip to NYC, Trudie and I went to the Rubin Museum in Chelsea to listen to their exhibit The World is Sound. It was an interesting and moving exhibition pointing to sound as the alpha and omega of existence! Yes, WoW! The Rubin is a museum devoted to artifacts and teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, so the installations included The Collective Om, which was a long loop of voices sounding Om. (Later we were delighted to find out that our hosts, Winnie and Phil Richmond, old friends of Trudie’s, had been among the Oming voices.) Le Corps Sonore presented ambient waves of sound that enveloped the spiral staircase at the Rubin. Here is a short sample going down the staircase:

I particularly loved the soundlings that are part of this section of the exhibit:

The human voice and spoken language played a large part in many of the sound offerings, so I listened intently to each one. One piece distorted the sound of spoken words, rendering them meaningless, but not before imprinting a verbal message that remained in my brain as the words failed. I am particularly interested in exploring the second question in my own sound work.

But the most amazing sound I heard that day was in a room on the fourth floor that held a reconstructed altar from a Tibetan monastery. A recording of chanting Tibetan monks plays in the room. As soon as I entered the room, I heard Matthew’s voice. The same gutteral resonance and shades of overtones that Matthew brought to the soundscape were permeating the room. I made a short recording, and have coupled it with an excerpt from Matthew’s accompaniment to illustrate:

It is amazing how we do not know who lives and loves among us!

You cannot fold a Flood- And put it in a Drawer

bottom over top                                                                                                                                    reaching for the other side                                                                                                                              a fold will occur

the fold will happen                                                                                                                                          the containment – unlikely                                                                                                                    Emily, you know!

Glenna Batson put forth this idea of exploring the fold as it pertains to moving bodies. I was intrigued by the various qualities of a fold and how these qualities could be rendered in sound. Sound is a wave, which has the movement of folding, the curving back toward self that starts a fold. The rising and falling in an arc, that is the trajectory of a fold, can be rendered in the rising and falling of pitches. Voices and phrases can overlap just as half the sheet lays over the other half when folding laundry. This can be sonically rendered with staggered phrases or long reverb tails. Then there are types of audio filters that pull frequencies out of the spectra, creating folds. And the acoustics of the room create patterns of sound wave reflections that interfer with each other to create “comb filtering” – literal, periodic folds in the frequency spectra. I explored all of these sound folding techniques during the first three Human Origami workshops that Glenna and I offered.

This is what I have learned so far.

While “comb filtering” is considered less desirable by audio engineers, as a sound folding technique, it works. I measured the effect in the first workshop at The Carrack Modern Art Gallery. Positioning a speaker directly at the windows created strong early reflections, which generated visible comb-filtering in the recording. The workshop participants might not identify the phenomenon, but they did come in contact with it. Given the behavior of sound waves, I trust that comb-filtering will happen and do not worry about creating it.

Rising and falling, overlapping, and reaching back (all actions associated with folds) can be orchestrated musically. One technique used to create “reaching back” is to feature overtone harmonics. By this I mean, playing the interval notes to a fundamental tone in the octave in which they naturally occur in the harmonic overtone series for that tone. For example, the first harmonic in a series is the octave above the fundamental, now we are in the second octave above the fundamental where we hear a fifth then the next octave tone. In the third octave we hear the third and flatted seventh. The fourth octave layers in the second and the raised fourth and the sixth. Normally when these intervals are played over one or two octaves they are heard as chords. Articulating them in their natural harmonic series “home” octave creates a harmonic reach over multiple octaves, and a fold back in reference to the fundamental tone. An example of this technique from the Folding/Unfolding Soundscape:

Here is an illustration of the harmonic series for the fundamental tone C – you can follow the notes up to see that the familiar intervals of the Solfege scale mostly play out over the four octaves above the fundamental note.


As you can hear in the example, stretching across multiple octaves creates a spacious reach into very high frequencies which refer back to the fundamental tone, thus creating a sonic fold.

Rising and falling is orchestrated through pitch relationships moving up and down a scale. To my ear, the feeling of the fold is greater in less resolved intervals – thus using the fourth or sixth interval as the turn around note in the rising and falling line has a stronger sense of folding. Duration of tones in the run and their rhythmic relationships allow for a vast pool of material to be used in a folding soundscape. Stagger these lines in relation to each other and you have overlap – another aspect of a fold. Using these orchestration concepts, the folding soundscape was born.

After creating and playing folds in a soundscape for many months, I noticed two fold forms emerging from the mix. One was an echo, where the sound comes back on itself like two halves of a folded sheet. (The echo is heard in both audio examples in this post) Another fold form is the spiral, where the feeling of the sonic movement is this perpetual reaching towards the fold, but never completing it. This fold is clearly illustrated in the TRIC* samples used in the last Human Origami workshop. You will hear a spinning quality in the music that comes from a pulse rather than a downbeat. Here is an example with many layers of spiral folds. This is rather long (nearly nine minutes), and I think you will benefit from listening to the entire movement. Be sure to listen from 7:30 to the end. Great example of the spiral fold:

As we’ve continued on this investigative journey into Human and Audio Origami, each workshop participant has engaged with the soundscape, with Glenna’s keen guidance, with paper/fabric, with the cells of their own bodies in wholly different ways. All our relations are brought to the table, as bodies wrest back control from the mind in order to create space for being. Folding requires an inward turning that is a missing link in the lives of many. I invite you all to join us. I will keep you posted as to our next offering.

In the meantime, feel free to download the soundscape for free. Listen as much as you like! With great love and joyous affection at this turning of the year.

*Terry Riley’s In C as a package of notated samples.

Experiments in Audio Origami # 3: Sampling Terry Riley’s “In C”


Once again, my attention is drawn to this amazing piece of music as a palette for my own sound creations. Terry Riley’s In C is a sonic Universe to be explored, and even though I spent a year studying the work, it continues to beckon me saying “There is more here than meets the ear!” I am re-reading analyses of the piece to help me appreciate the harmonic, rhythmic and tonal shape of Terry Riley’s In C even as I seek other ways to play with it.

In 1964, Terry Riley came up with these 53 patterns or phrases while riding to work on the bus. He arranged them in a particular order that, when played in the overlapping format described in his performing instructions, manifests a rich and flowing harmonic structure with density, space and shifting pulses. While Riley’s performing instructions are clear, they read more like guidelines than absolutes. Robert Carl, in his book Terry Riley’s In C, notes that the language of the instructions is qualified in a way that invites interpretive freedom and individual expression. The performing instructions themselves elicit interesting questions:

  • While the piece is usually played with all the voices within 2 – 3 patterns of each other, can patterns that are further apart be layered to interesting effect?
  • Riley recommends “not to hurry from pattern to pattern”; what would happen if each voice played each pattern a few times and then moved on? Could we play a Minute In C?
  • The 8th note pulse has become a sonic character of In C performances, but is it necessary when performing with midi loops? It loses its functional necessity; is there an aesthetic, acoustical necessity for it?
  • Can In C be played in reverse? inside out?
  • What happens when In C is played at very slow tempos?

When I look at the score of Terry Riley’s In C (hereafter known as TRIC) each of these patterns stands as a clearly articulated moment that, when looped, carries momentum. As such, they appear to me like notated samples to be mixed down into soundscapes. By calling them samples, I release them from the authority of “the score” and invite them to “talk among themselves.”  At one point, Robert Carl calls TRIC a “matrix of possibilities.” In the context of 21st Century electronic music and the age of sampling, In C offers a bounty of material for building soundscapes.

When the patterns in TRIC are viewed as electronic music samples, a whole new world opens up. The patterns become Lego blocks, to be held up against each other, pushed and pulled apart. They are sonic colors to be tweaked and mixed into new shades and hues. All the while, retaining the DNA of the “Mother.” Here is an example I have been playing with called Blended Edges – this spiraling loop consists of three TRIC patterns, all of which stay true to their internal rhythmic structure with some harmonic alterations. Pattern 10 is two 16th notes (equivalent to one 8th note pulse) which serves as a steady background flutter. Patterns 18 and 20 bring a polyrhythmic two against three into the mix. Pattern 18 covers two quarter note beats, while Pattern 20 covers three quarter note beats. Both patterns have a longer tone on the second quarter note beat, and the remaining notes are 16th notes, so there is this flutter and drag that create the spin and momentum of the soundscape. The notes as written in P18 and P20 have an F# that gave the scape an ominous aura.The F# was transposed to a G and an E. To my ear, the spinning pulse is more upbeat and hopeful with this change. Here is the excerpt with some piano improv:

The impetus for this next wave of exploration into TRIC is the Folding/Unfolding Series that Glenna Batson and I have been engaged in for the past six months. We meet to play with ideas on a regular basis, and we have presented three workshops around the idea of the body folding and unfolding in relation to itself and to paper, cloth, and sound. Rhythmic figures, melodic patterns, reverb, echo, and overtone series/harmonics render sound as a fold (and unfold) around and in the body. The participants in previous workshops noted that the soundscape sometimes lead and sometimes followed their movement – a sort of “meta-fold” in the scape itself.

The first two iterations of the Folding/Unfolding soundscape have been modified and streamlined to create oceanic waves of sound moved more by pulsations than pulse. When playing the soundscape live for movers, I improvise on a grand piano midi-voice to illustrate ways to relate to the swirling pulse. In melody as in movement, patterns can be imitated, contrasted, paralleled, resisted, reconstructed, etc. The piano improvisation provides aural feedback in the moment to the movements I observe from the movers. So the soundscape, like a river, is never exactly the same in any given moment in time.

To further shape this soundscape, I will mix in patterns from TRIC. Here is an example of a quartet of samples from In C, all from far-flung regions of the orginal score. I call this groove “elegant.” The tempo is ultra-slow.  This is heart music to me!

Come enfold with us this Saturday, December 3 from 4 – 6 at The Joy of Movement Studio in Pittsboro. We will explore echo and spiral as folds in action.

(image is of “from your heart to God’s ear” – a pocket installation by Jude Casseday)

Experiments in Audio Origami 2: The 11th Harmonic

This experiment began with a rather dubious YouTube video about the “11th harmonic” and its power in breaking up cancer cells. The video is about the Rife Machine, which was an invention from the 1930s purporting to cure many diseases. Royal Rife was the scientist and inventor who “discovered” frequencies that could interfer with the frequencies of diseased cells. The narrator of the YouTube video, stated that the 11th harmonic was the frequency that disrupted cancer cells. About a week after I started this post, I found a TED Talk along this same line:

What we are learning from quantum physics about how the Universe is put together lends quite a bit of credence to the idea that frequencies can disrupt disease. Oscillating frequencies make up the entire spectrum of “all that is.” When these frequencies interact with consciousness – “being” happens. Our singular awarenesses collapse the waveforms into the many points of existence – the mix of all our singularities creates what we call “reality”. The famous physicist Erwin Schrodinger put this idea in another way when he said, “The total number of minds in the Universe is one: In fact, consciousness is a singularity phasing within all beings.” Oscillating frequencies engage with each other through constructive (in phase) and destructive (out of phase) interference (or, as I like to call them – engagement) patterns. Thus the fabric of reality is an oscillating organism of frequencies engaging, changing and disengaging with each other. Our brains stabilize the whole thing so that we can navigate and participate in our lived experience.

Both of these videos assert that a harmonic relationship created by a low tone and a higher tone is necessary to disrupt diseased cells. In both cases, the necessary frequencies equate to an extreme number of oscillations. Dr. Holland said that frequencies needed to be around 300,000 to 400,000 hertz in order to destroy cancer cells. While these frequencies are waaaay outside of the audio spectrum, there is an organizing principle that allows for the possibility that lower audio frequencies might influence healing. And that organizing principal is – the octave. Whatever frequency you start with will always return “home” when it doubles. It is itself again. For example, middle C on a piano is about 262 hz, double that to 524 hz and you are at C again. This creates a resonating fractal that repeats on and on into infinity.

The harmonic overtone series, which is the basis for most everything we hear musically, is built around this doubling principal. As we add more iterations of the fundamental frequency, we create more overtone relationships. Using the middle C example again, adding 262 hz to 524 hz gives us 786 hz, which is G or a fifth above C. Add 262 hz to 786 hz and we get 1048 hz which returns us to C again. Now we are two octaves above our fundamental frequency Middle C, AND we are at the 3rd harmonic. By adding 262 hz eight more times we reach the 11th harmonic, which is 3114 hz – G in the fourth octave above middle C.  (For more on harmonic overtones and their impact on our cosmic existence check out Hans Cousto’s book The Cosmic Octave.) Now I can create an audible 11th harmonic by combining a fundamental frequency and the fifth degree of that frequency in the fourth octave above that frequency. So I decided to make a leap of faith into the realm of the cosmic octave, and create a soundscape that hinges on an 11th harmonic and the healing secrets that it may hold.

Folding/Unfolding: The 11th Harmonic is built on a tetrachord of fundamental tones – CEGB accompanied by their 11th harmonic companions  – GBDF#. The tones are 4 octaves apart, so this is not an interval you are accustomed to hearing. I chose 6 instruments and created patterns with these unusual intervals. As I thought about how to voice this harmonic, I identified three choices :1. alternate between the fundamental and harmonic in a variety of rhythmic patterns all on one voice, 2. have one voice sounding just the fundamental and a different voice sounding the harmonic, 3. since the 11th harmonic is a fifth in the fourth octave and the two octaves below the fourth octave also contain fifths (according to the overtone series), then I could vary the patterns with some fifth reinforcements in those lower octave. The second choice was very monotonous and weakened the presence of the 11th harmonic, so I went with the other two as my basic structure.

This soundscape will be performed tomorrow, May 15th from 2 to 4 pm as accompaniment for Glenna Batson’s latest Human Origami workshop. This workshop is subtitled Partnering with Paper, Exploring the Muse. Joy of Movement Studio in Chatham Mills is hosting the event. In addition, to the featured 11th harmonic, I will use the audio folding techniques I discovered during the previous Human Origami workshop.(See blog post –

We hope to see YOU there!

Experiments in Audio Origami No. 1


Folding/Unfolding at The Carrack Gallery in March was the first exploration in creating sound as origami in acoustic space. The soundscape accompanied Glenna Batson’s workshop Human Origami, which is conceived as a long form movement exercise in folding and unfolding the body in partnership with fabrics and textures. My approach to the soundscape was to create folds in the sounds through rising/falling tones, through voicings with longer decay, through amplitude ebbs/swells, and through acoustical comb filtering. Here are some samples of these effects from the recording of that day (I particularly enjoyed playing to the train “whistle” that came through at one point and playing with the creaks and groans as the dancers moved across the old wooden floors):

(The guitars in the last excerpt are from a recording of Lisa Means and Martha Dyer playing in the Sun(Ra) Room March 2016)

I analyzed the waveform of the soundscape using the Sonic Visualizer and a spectrum analyzer. These programs give me access to the amplitude measurements and the frequency measurements captured by the Zoom H2n microphone. One effect that appeared was an indication of folds in the amplitude created by swells and voicings with longer decay. Here is a picture of one section that highlights this effect:

I was very happy to see this folded impression in the amplitude waveform. This image confirms that these two techniques do create a kind of audio fold, so I will continue to explore with these techniques.

The frequency waves are the next layer of folding and can be observed through spectrum analyzers. This is more complex domain as frequency over time consists of fundamental tones with accompanying harmonic and enharmonic overtones. Looking at the soundscape as it unfolded in time and space, I was able to note a 40 hz fold as well as jumps in the fold at 14 Khz. When the scape was more percussive, the entire  spectrum behaved like a whip, with the jump at around 40 to 60 hz creating a wave effect that seemed to stop in the mid-range and then undullating up from 11 Khz to 14 Khz. Here is a video of that effect in motion (very noticeable on the last 15 secs of the video):

When the scape had more low pad drones with tonal voices such as woodwind or guitar providing the rhythmic momentum, the waveform was in a steady state across the spectrum with the tonal phrases creating quick blips in the wave. Since the next exploration of Human Origami will add ruptures and rips to the folding/unfolding process, this steady state frequency base with tonal ruptures in the waveform will be a technique to explore.

The comb filtering aspect of Audio Origami at The Carrack was not successfully rendered or captured. This was due in part to the unexpected large stack of boxes in the middle of the gallery on the day we presented the workshop. The boxes covered approximately 36 sq feet and went almost to the ceiling. They were part of the exhibit that was in The Carrack at the time. The boxes created an interesting shape for both the movers and the audio. I proceeded with the plan to point one speaker directly at the window to create strong early reflections, and those reflections were absorbed, refracted and diffracted around the space by the boxes. On one side of the room the boxes were between the larger speaker and the reflecting speaker, causing the early reflections to sort of travel around a corner. The boxes helped to make the experience of the soundscape quite different depending on where the listener was in the room. Given the way that sound moves through and around objects, I am certain there were myriad folds in the layers of tones as they reached the dancers.

The participant feedback on the soundscape was encouraging : “exquisite”, “primitive”, “a confection of music”, and (paraphrasing) supportive of the movement more often than leading the movement.  Several of the descriptors were very much a part of the intention of the soundscape, so I have a good grounding from which to move forward into the next experiment in Audio Origami. This workshop will take place May 15th at The Joy of Movement studios in Pittsboro, NC  from 2 – 4pm. The focus of this workshop is moving with paper, which holds its form in a way that fabric does not, and is also more prone to tearing and rupturing. The contrast will be very interesting for the movers and will be compelling to explore in creating the soundscape.

I hope you will join us in the journey.

Folding Sound: Experiments in Audio Origami

This Sunday at The Carrack Gallery, the workshop “Human Origami: From Movement to Art” will be happening. Glenna Batson conceived of the project as a way to shift perceptions of the human body and the creative spirit through the act of folding and unfolding. When she asked me to create a soundscape for the workshop, I became intrigued with the idea of how sound can fold and unfold in acoustic space. What aspects of sound might figure into the perception that a soundscape is folding and unfolding around the listener?

First, what does it mean to fold? Some dictionary definitions: 1. To bend over or double up so that one part lies on another part: fold a sheet of paper. 2. To make compact by doubling or bending over parts: folded the laundry; folded the chairs for stacking. 3. To bring from an extended to a closed position: The hawk folded its wings.

One early approach I took when composing the soundscape was to create rising and falling tonal lines, then stagger those lines in different voices. The listener hears a simple tetrachordal theme and then hears it overlapping itself in another voice, thus creating that sense of doubling up. I use this technique alot in my soundscapes due to my deep study of Terry Riley’s In C and the influence it continues to have on my ear.

This overlapping relationship can be emphasized by increasing and decreasing the amplitude of a particular voice in motion. “Riding the faders” creates swells so that one voice overtakes and subsumes another voice. This technique follows a more geological definition of fold, where one part pushes over another part, like two tectonic plates.

Rising and falling are part of the movement pattern of folding, so I emphasized this with not only tones, but percussion as well. Chimes, rainstick, a rush of clatterings that then slow down and fade away – all give that sense of extending out and returning back to the starting point – so important in traditional origami.

A fold has wave-like qualities. Peaks and valleys are created in the making of a fold. I extended this metaphor in choosing the voices for the soundscape and in the way I am performing it on Sunday. I chose primarily instrumental voices that sustain a long clear tone or that have unusual and uneven transient trails. The woodwind can hold one tone forever, and that tone can swell and ebb. Another voice, called Underwater Bells, has extended trails that contain the sound of “shattering”. As I perform the scape I am adding and subtracting voices to fill and empty the sonic space, riding the faders to create ebbs and flows in amplitude, and applying audio effects to further induce this sense of folding and unfolding.

Having performed soundscapes at The Carrack in the past, I am familiar with its acoustic characteristics. The room is a very satisfactory space for sound. There is a good balance of reflective and absorptive materials so it is lively without being overwhelming. I have been studying acoustics off and on for several years, so I started thinking about how sound folds acoustically. Sound is a waveform so we already have folds happening. Sound waves bounce around in acoustic space via reflection, refraction and diffraction. The surfaces of the room reflect and absorb the waves, and the waves change shape and direction and interact in constructive and destructive relationships. Some additional characteristics of the space are its shoebox shape (generally helpful for acoustic integrity) and its creaky wooden floors, which will be a part of the soundscape in the space.

There is a full wall of windows at one end of the gallery, and I have two speakers to work with. The exact same sonic material will be diffused through each speaker, and the amplitude of each speaker will be controlled seperately. There is the potential to create strong early reflection sound waves by pointing one speaker directly at the windows while the other speaker is directed into the room. Reading about early reflections and the impact they can have on sound perception, there are two effects that may occur here. One is that low end frequencies will be strengthened and enhanced. The other effect is comb filtering.

Courtesy of Sound On Sound Magazine

Courtesy of Sound On Sound Magazine

Comb filtering is a sound “distortion” produced by combining an acoustical signal with a delayed replica of itself. The constructive and destructive interference patterns create peaks and valleys in the frequency response. When plotted out, the pattern takes on the shape of a comb. While comb filtering is undesirable in hi-fidelty listening, it does lend itself to a fold-like sound response, which is what I am going for in this case.  While the specifics of the folds will be random, the folds will be maleable through changes in spectral content and changes in amplitude relationship between the two speakers, which will occur during the performance of the scape.

My intention is that Folding/Unfolding will inhabit the space as an ocean of frequencies ebbing and flowing around and through the participants as they explore folding and unfolding in the physical space of their own bodies in motion. After the exploration, lead by Glenna, there will be a time to express what has been discovered through drawing, writing, coloring and toning as the movement experience transforms into a personal creative experience.

Please come and meet us there. The Carrack Gallery at 2 pm March 27, 2016.


Master Handbook of Acoustics (5th Edition), F. Alton Everest and Ken C. Pohlmann