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!

TRIC Question #1 for 2017

One of the dejacusse/iBoD projects for 2017 is TRIC Questions, a sonic hacking of Terry Riley’s In C or TRIC. TRIC is comprised of 53 rhythmic/melodic riffs based in Nature’s Scale and set against an 1/8th beat pulse. My first pass through this piece was in 2014, when In C turned 50 years old. My approach was more historic then, so I listened to different versions of the piece, read about the composition process and wrote about the initial performances in 1964. Musician friends presented a slice of In C in performance that year, but mostly I explored In C through the Ableton Live DAW using different voices and tempo variations. For more on this, read the blog: My Year In C –here: judessoundlings.wordpress.com

During that year, questions continually jumped out of the piece. As I became more familiar with the patterns, they each took on a unique and identifiable voice. Then one day, while looking at the score of TRIC, I saw that this is simply one way these patterns can be put together.

What if each package of tones stands on its own, AND in relation to any and all of the other packages?

Using the patterns of In C as little Lego blocks of sound and putting them together in different combinations has become my approach to “playing” In C.  I want to hear all the sonic possibilities within this musical universe-for what else can you call it? It is not a song, but it makes songs. It is not a symphony, although it has movement and motifs. In C questions all the assumptions we have about in tune and in time when making musical sounds in the world. When we loosen our grip on what we think things should sound like and give our attention to what we are hearing, and what is emerging from our articulations within that hearing – whole other worlds open up. Those are the worlds I want to continue exploring.

My first experiment with the long tones of TRIC was in November 2014. The question was how to use the long tone phrases to express tension and release. To hear the result of this experiment, go here http://wp.me/p4dp9b-bv. On listening again, I hear the C pulse frenetically undermining any possibility of release. One of the TRIC Questions I have answered is to drop the 1/8th note C pulse. Scoring the patterns precisely in Ableton Live creates a rhythmic underpinning for improvising musicians to play with/against, so the C pulse is unneccessary and unhelpful. Another reason to drop the pulse is that it is an integral part of playing TRIC, and I am no longer playing that particular iteration of these sound modules.

The eight long tone patterns  range in length from 6 pulses to 32 pulses. If all eight modules begin at the same time, there will be a sustained 6 pulse EF#GC [C(add#4)]chord. This could be achieved by triggering all the modules at once. Then, it would be interesting to peal away the patterns till only two remain. Which two patterns will be the final pair that plays this iteration out? One possibility is P30 and P21, which carries the tritone tension through to end. The other pair is P29 and P42, which creates the more consonant C major sound. Let’s try those two ideas. First, we end with P30 and P21. This sketch feels tense throughout. The denseness dissipates, but the tension stays high.

Next, we end with P29 and P42. Here the tritone tension is folded into a more harmonious blend by the end.

I have been so focused on the tritone carrying the tension, that I ignored the tension that half-tone, whole tone and minor third intervals inject into the scape. The final voices in the harmonious sketch create as soothing a combo as exists within this overlayering of fourths and minor seconds and thirds. So while it is soothing, there remains a sense of alertness within the release.

And, for my next trick, I set off that initial C (add#4) chord over and over, each time pealing away different layers to create a longer soundscape. Here is a 6 minute sound piece with five versions of pealing back to two patterns by the end. Each iteration ends with a different pair.

I love the feeling of fireworks exploding into that C (add#4) then the subtle changes that pealing back one part at a time makes to that chord. Then finally, there is a falling off of the expansiveness of the sound field and we are left with just two patterns rocking back and forth. Then – BAM – the C (add#4) explodes again. I love this!

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.

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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”

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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 – http://wp.me/p5yJTY-c9)

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.