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.
Lisa bought a new guitar! A John Suhr limited edition commissioned electric guitar signed by the maker in a faux alligator hardshell case. The top of the guitar is quilted maple and looks like rippled water. Lisa bought the guitar because it’s voice eclipsed the sound she was carrying around in her mind. She said she had this jazzy sound in mind with rhythm (swingy, danceable) and a clean, clear tone when plucked (like George Benson). The Suhr guitar has a lovely tone with crisp, clean edges and bell-like shape. The sound the Suhr guitar planted in Lisa’s earbrain is more “New Agey”
A few weeks back, I sent Lisa a thumbdrive with recordings of our sessions since June. She reports that the recordings were not helpful to her as she couldn’t pick out her voice from the whole soundscape. This is good to know- the recordings give me a lot of information, but not so for Lisa. I know she listens to music by turning it up very loud in her home, so I asked if she did the same with the session recordings. She explained that she has sound reference files in her brain that pick up on familiar patterns associated with the song she is listening to. Without these references, Lisa is less able to make sonic sense of what she is hearing.
Our September 28 2019 session focused on the new guitar and what it brings to our pallette. And we played in a different relationship today. Instead of Lisa’s guitar through the Neutron, we played on separate channels. Lisa wanted to hear her new guitar clearly since she is just learning it, so I played the Ripplemaker through the Neutron. In this configuration, Lisa leads the way, while I bring interesting underpinnings into the mix.
Listening back to the recording, I think this is another way for us to play together. Our collaboration becomes more like intermingled solos, so the impact of our playing together is indirect rather than direct. Our voices are tandem rather than merged, and we can respond to each other. One question is how to create useful audio reference patterns for Lisa? She said that she couldn’t hear the recordings in the thumb drive because they were too removed from what we are doing currently. So it seems possible that if she listens to a recording from the most recent session, she could create new reference files. We will try this out.
The October 5 session is when things came together. Lisa brought another guitar – a 17″ wide arch-top Kay guitar which she describes as the kind of guitar you would find in the Sears catalogue in the 1950s. She played that and the Suhr while I created morphing streams of sound sequenced by Ripplemaker and modulated by Neutron through Abejusynth Station modules. The quality of the sounds of the sequence can be altered within the Ripplemaker, then in the Neutron. Then the audio signal from the Neutron goes through an Ableton audio track, which can then be sent through and altered by the Abejusynth Station AAC/EG modules. (For more info, go here: https://wp.me/p5yJTY-vL). Any of these Ableton tracks can go through delay send and a reverb send. So there is a whole lotta modulating going on!!
After our October 12 session, I am very excited about our playing as intermingled soloists at 919 Noise Showcase on October 30. We ran ourselves through my Roland Eurorack mixer (Thanks, Jim!) so I could balance the sound. Then I recorded into 2 H6n tracks and in the room. We decided to start with a wave of sound and then whittle it down. I was not sure this was working, but listening to the recording, I decided we need to just listen close and have faith that it IS working.
Here is a mix of the 2 H6n tracks AND the room recording. This seems like an interesting way to capture sound recordings in the SunRa Room. That said, this mix has too much synth and not enough guitar, and we will fix that so the blend is better in the future.
Ever since I saw Caterina Barbieri at the Pinhook during Moogfest 2018, my deepest desire has been to dive into the sonic sketches/sculptures/landscapes of modular synthesis. Caterina’s album title, Patterns of Conciousness, says it all. This sounding out of the electrical impulse that is at the heart of sonic events has become my spiritual practice, my way of hearing and understanding the world, my container of wonder!
The world of modular synthesis is dense with creative pathways and quite expensive, so I decided to start with what I have – Ableton Live, my soundscape companion for 8 years. For a while, I worked on creating Audio Animation Clip/Envelope Generator modules. This can be done by animating effects within muted audio clips so only the effects are heard, and then routing audio through the clips from a source track. The source audio is then modulated by the effects in the AAC/EG track. I used this for The Space ReSounds of Water to capture and modulate the live sound of the bells. Here is an example:
Then I bought my first hardware synth – a Behringer Neutron. This synth had great reviews, it has knobs and patchbay, and can be sequenced by Ableton. Ableton is beta-testing a pack that allows the DAW to play Control Voltages. I am not sure how this works, but it involves having an interface that is DC-coupled. And this will be for Ableton 10 Suite users, which I am not yet. All of this to say, I have not been successful at getting the Neutron conversing with Ableton via midi. I have had success with the Neutron by running audio signals through the input with the VCA bias knob all the way open. This worked out well as you know if you heard our All Data Lost performance!
Before the Behringer, there was Ripplemaker iOS semi-modular synth, which I have played with for a few years now. We are old friends, and I can sit down to a fresh template on Ripplemaker and get going immediately with cool sonic relationships. This app will teach you about synths in a deep way. In the beginning, I referred to the manual constantly, but now it is easy to just jump in and play for long periods of time. Here is a recent soundscape performed on the Ripplemaker to accompany Jody Cassell for the last PROMPTS at The Carrack.
Now the fun begins! After some experimentation, I have cobbled together my Frankensynth. I begin with sequencing in the Ripplemaker, which provides the audio source for Neutron. So we have an iOS synth and a hardware synth playing together. Then the audio from the Neutron goes through a track in Ableton. Seven additional tracks in Ableton are each running AAC/EG effects and receiving audio from the track carrying the Neutron. So the Ripplemaker/Neutron generated audio will be heard through whichever AAC/EG track’s volume fader is up. So these three synths (Ripplemaker, Neutron and Abeju Synth Station) are sitting inside each other like nested dolls. Here is a sample of how this can sound: (recorded in the SunRa Room on a rainy day!)
I am very excited to play this setup with Lisa Means on guitar at the 919 Noise Showcase on October 30th at The Nightlight Bar in Chapel Hill!!
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!
iBod will perform THIS SATURDAY at 3:20 to 3:40 pm, so do not be late! This version of the indiosyncratic Beats of Dejacusse (iBoD) features Lisa Means and me in the first installment of a long term sonic exchange called Playing by Ear. Our set up is simple with Lisa on a Hollow TKD-Hybrid II electric guitar (built by Terry Dineen of Raleigh) which will play through a Behringer Neutron semi-modular synthesizer that I will be navigating into the amplifier. So Lisa provides the melodic tones and rhythmic energy, while I modulate timbre and propagate rhythmic structure.
When I first proposed this set up to Lisa, she said, “I should just give the guitar to you!” I am controlling the sound that comes out of the amplifier, so Lisa wondered what she was contributing. Thus began a dialogue about collaboration, listening, playing, structuring a sonic improvisation, narrative, adaptation, exchange, and standing in our own sonic authority. This dialogue is 25% verbal and 75% listening/playing in the moment.
Another factor in all of this is our different ways of hearing. Lisa experienced a gradual hearing loss through adolescence to adulthood. Hearing aids help bring her sense of hearing out into the world, while much of what Lisa hears is in her mind’s ear. When Lisa listens deeply to the sounds that emanate from her collection of crafted guitars, she hears (and conveys) vast worlds. My own hearing often feels supersonic to me. I hear the clocks ticking, the brown noise of the air purifier upstairs, an airplane passing over the house and the morning trilling of wrens as a musical interplay with rich harmonic textures. Sound surrounds and beckons me. Lisa and I talk in order to understanding how we each are hearing what we are playing together. Sometimes we agree on a theme and go from there. After we play, we talk about what we heard.
Playing by Ear is Lisa channeling the vibration of the present moment via her fingers on electric guitar through the Behringer Neutron synth, which I will patch and tweak in response to what Lisa says. I am constantly listening and tuning in search of “all of the waveforms” with the intention of catching and amplifying patterns of life in the moment. This is easy to do in the SunRa Room, with its lively acoustic enclosure. Here are two snippets from one of our sessions a few weeks ago.
We are both aware that this will be quite different at The Wicked Witch this week. What happens when we take this dialogue into a public space? How will we play with all that we are hearing in that space? We are ready to find out!!