Mercury Retrograde (or don’t fight it, surrender)

Right in the midst of the most recent Mercury Retrograde, I decided to dive into MAX MSP, a visual computer coding program for controlling sound and light for performance. After downloading the software, I started a class online and was working with some patches when my computer audio stopped functioning. No sound out of the computer. Then the computer and sound card stopped talking. All of this right before an iBoD rehearsal when we were recording Carnatic Water Music.

Using the Windows Troubleshooter, I discovered the problem “audio services not responding” and that this problem was “not fixed”. Online, there are multiple fixes for this message. After cancelling our recording session, I tried all the suggested fixes several times – from inspecting the Services to make sure Windows Audio and Windows Audio Endpoint and all their dependencies were automatically running to entering very specific commands into Command Prompt as Administrator. The first thing I did was update the ASIO4ALL audio driver, so no problems there!

After several days of trying different fixes, I was able to get the computer and sound card talking again! Ableton Sets and Projects were now audible! Yayyyyy! But the computer would not play audio WAV files. Outside of Ableton, audio services still not responding. Finally, I uninstalled the ASIO driver and uploaded the driver for the soundcard. I have a Native Instruments Komplete 6 soundcard, which has been a great device. (I had audio dropout problems with the NI driver about a year after I purchased it, which was when I switched to the ASIO driver and all was well.) Well, changing back to the NI driver solved the audio problems completely and I am back to sounding again!

A friend mentioned Mercury Retrograde as I was working through this process. Dang, I forgot about that current astronomical phenomenon. If I had remembered, would I have done anything different? As things turned out, it is very good that I did not! While I got thrown off of MAX (for the moment) I redirected my energies toward creating synth sequences in Ableton. Since purchasing the Behringer Neutron, I have been unsuccessful in getting Ableton set up as a sequencer for the Neutron. The Neutron has processed audio signal, but never midi signal. Low and behold the NI Komplete 6 driver allowed Ableton to see the midi ports for the Neutron. Suddenly, I was hearing the synth voice and all the modulators. When I made a patch or tweaked a knob, the sound was changed as I expected it to be! WoW! I feel like this is the first time I have heard the instrument’s true voice!

Today I am working on a soundscape for the next Human Origami Jam at ADF Studios in Durham on December 6. Very excited to finally get going with the Neutron.

This is what I will make in the soundscape!

Sounding the Future

Sunday SITES December 2017 photo by Stephanie Leathers

First and foremost, my deep appreciations to you the reader of this sentence. That you take the time to read about and listen to my world means more than I can express. It is my root intention to express my love and appreciation through sound offerings. Every message needs receivers. I am grateful my message has landed with you!

So many ideas for adventures in 2018. Having found my peeps at Moogfest and 919Noise, I intend to show up, be present and listen at more events. There are folks performing sonic works of art out there: Spookstina, Senator Jaiz, 80lb Test, Incidental Exercise and Ty Lake to name a few local sound artists whose work I have enjoyed this year. When the weather warms up, I’ll be out there! Maybe sooner as I want to hear 80lb Test on January 7 at Arcana in Durham. Oh, yes – need some love for the venues that feature sound performances: Nightlight Club, The Cave in Chapel Hill, Arcana in Durham, and Ruby Deluxe in Raleigh. Feel free to add to the list in the comments.

One adventure that will kick off the year is a drone piece I created as part of an exhibit at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. I am part of a multi-producer team under the guidance of Eban Crawford (Senator Jaiz). Eban is the Audio Engineer for the museum and will mix our drones together for an hour long looping soundtrack for the exhibit. More on this soon!

Justin Tornow’s Company is starting up PROMPTS again on January 27, 2018. dejacusse will perform with Jody Cassell, and possibly solo as well. Looking forward to the return of this performance series to Durham. The prompt is experiment redux. Jody and I have A LOT of material for that PROMPT!

February 16, 2017 Third Friday Durham will feature all 2017 SITES performers at The Durham Hotel. Jody Cassell and I will collaborate and improvise with other dancers and musicians to shine a light on the SITES project. Stephanie Leathers -dancer, photographer and SITES Producer- encourages artists to stage dances and music in unusual locations throughout Durham. The idea is to bring eyes to, and consciously engage with the morphing Durham terrain. SITES is an Independent Weekly dance pick for 2017(

Human Origami/Audio Origami- movement/sound explorations into the fold as the smallest unit of matter continues. ( Glenna Batson, Susan Halpern and I have been workshopping this project for over two years. I now have some sound pieces for a portfolio of Audio Origami: meditations on the fold, which I will release in 2018 on Bandcamp. I am thrilled that Trudie Kiliru has agreed to create the cover art for the portfolio. I hope you will buy the album when it becomes available.

iBoD is on hiatus as we figure out what we want to do next. We are ditching public performance for now and just gathering to play together in the SunRa Room. We all enjoy this activity. It is sufficient! I hope we will play at Central Park School the Sunday after Moogfest to feature Eleanor Mills on the bells, Susanne Romey on Native American Flute and Jim Kellough on digital horn. Otherwise we will continue to stir up harmonic vibrations in north Durham.

TRIC Questions is still on the table. The idea is to treat the individual patterns of Terry Riley’s In C (TRIC) as rhythmic/melodic samples that can be voiced and placed in a variety of relationships to each other. For me, TRIC is but one way these patterns can be strung together. I want to structure improvisational workshops and create soundscapes using these samples. Terry Riley has listened to my work on this project and given me the go ahead. However, his management has not been responsive. To be continued…

Bill and Susanne Romey are working on a short film highlighting NC waterfalls. Here is a link to (Celestial) Signal Sailors, a fun musical romp with an intergallactic romance, which many local artists worked on a few years ago:

I am privileged to work with them on the soundtrack for the new film.

Novation Launchpad app for IOS has my attention of late. After using the app for SITES, I am working on creating sound clips in Ableton, importing them to Launchpad and sculpting sound. The FX are fantastic for really taking many snippets of sound and spread it, repeat it, echo and really swing and shimmer the harmonics. So my setup for performance is in transition at this time. Another possible addition will be an electroacoustic conversion of my Nanan’s autoharp. I plan to take the chording apparatus off, tune the strings in interesting intervals and apply contact mics. Laaraji who performed the sleep concert at Moogfest last year had two autoharps set up that way to a sweet effect.

From the sounds of it, 2018 may be even more amazing than 2017!

Obladi oblada to all!

Keep listening.

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