Song of Sirens

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When I was a child, we often visited our grandparents in Elkins WV. Elkins is home to the Mountain State Forest Festival, and is my birthplace. My Mother’s family has a long history with Elkins. Her grandfather was one of the first mayors and one of two doctors after the town’s 1890 incorporation. I am not sure how my Dad’s mother got there. Mamaw lived in a brick row apartment with a porch and stoop to play on. And she lived one block from the volunteer fire department.

When I slept over with Mamaw, there was always a fire in Elkins, sometimes two. The volunteers had to be called in from all over town, and what called them was the longest, most mournful sound my young ears had ever heard. As loud as it was (remember we were one small block away) the siren also sounded ghostly. It went on and on and on for an eternity and then it stopped! A lovely silence would fall and gently wash away the residue of the wailing. If it happened at night, I would return to sleep; by day, it was back to play. Either way, the siren always elicited a jolt of free-floating anxiety.

The Mountain State Forest Festival takes place the first weekend in October in Elkins and has for 85 years (with a short hiatus during WW II). This Festival was a highlight each and every year of my growing up. We got out of school for two days, traveled through the gorgeous colors and crisp fall air to spend several days with carnivals, exhibits, parades and pageantry. One of the parades took place on Friday night and involved 100 firetrucks sounding their sirens at the same time. The Fireman’s Parade attracted fire departments from all over West Virginia, and into Virginia and Maryland. The trucks would line up at one end of town and slowly make their way down the main street blaring the siren song of their station, their truck. The sound of 100 firetrucks calling their warning song together cannot be described. People flocked the sidewalk, laughing, trying to talk to each other over the din. My brother Matt is famous in our family for having slept through the Fireman’s Parade when he was a babe. Even back then, I enjoyed the interplay of the various intervals that make up a siren song.

A few years ago, my cohorts from iBoD (idiosyncratic Beats of Dejacusse) were discussing ideas for soundscapes. The one sound artifact that really stands out in the urban growth we are experiencing in Durham NC is the frequency of emergency sirens. This became the basis for an iBoD piece called The Sound…of Sirens. One online resource said the intervals of sirens telegraphed who’s coming: the police are a perfect fifth, ambulance is a fourth, and fire trucks are a whole tone. I designed the soundscape with those intervals. We all started with the basic intervals, and as the piece went on, we threw different intervals into the mix. The ending is a big crescendo and all out except the tail of the reverbed voices of the scape, which I turn up to a final fading shriek. We played the piece at a few venues. I thought of it as a novelty song.

I talked about all of this in an interview with Margaret Harmer, who produces electronic music as Shifting Waves. Margaret is producing an album of work from 15 to 20 women electronic artists from all over the world. She asked each of us to think back to a sound in our childhood, to find the story around that sound, and bring it forward into a piece. (I actually added that last part, Margaret did not say the story had to be about the piece for the album, and it sure did flow that way for me.) Here is a link to the interview.

http://www.shiftingwaves.com/blog_files/jude_casseday_interview.html

I took the soundscape for The Sound…of Sirens and began to analyze it harmonically and timbrally. The piece was sculpted from thick resonant voices (several synth pads and strings). This allowed me to carve out the movement of the sirens, the doppler effect of approach and recede, the abruptness of a nearby siren suddenly starting or stopping – the psychoacoustic impact we experience in our communities. Now called Song of Sirens, the piece was a fountain of siren voices overflowing and receding. There are several short repeated interludes during the first section. Several crescendos and several interesting places where the sound drops out leaving space in the front of the mix. This is most obvious when listening through headphones. This has peaked my interest in how we define the sonic space a piece takes up, and how to keep the full space alive when the sound recedes.

Siren’s song in mythology is characterized as an intentional “luring” of sailors onto the rocks. This sounds like one side of the story to me. Who was hearing and for what end? Was the siren song seductive, plaintive, demanding? Was it the call of grey seals, baying and mournful, resounding in the range of the female voice, a voice the sailors had not heard in years? Perhaps the sailors drove themselves into the rocks looking for women to rape. There are many possible scenarios when all points of view are considered.

I wanted to put an intention of comfort and nuturing from female voices into Song of Sirens. How interesting that modern day emergency sirens call out warning, answer your cry for help, or pursue you – all at once. How to embody all of this while flipping the mythology of blame the women. So I recorded Trudie, her daughter, Sheila, and three granddaughters singing phrases of Brahm’s Lullaby and wove them in and around the siren soundscape.

We are creating a new mythology as our brains and conciousnesses go through an extraordinary evolutionary shift. The reptillian brain – the one that fights or flees – is softening into the polyvagal brain. We are moving from survival of the fittest to survival of the kindest. Feminine consciousness knows how to be kind, not just benevolent. As the Song of Sirens raises the death knell of the reptillian brain, grandmothers, mothers and granddaughters sing a soothing lullaby swaddling the panicy cries.

Song of Sirens will be released as a track on Voices from Eris, produced by Shifting Waves studios. Stay tuned for more on fundraising and release date. I appreciate your listening!

Soundscapes for Mazes in Six Movements

Eban Crawford aka Senator Jaiz is the Audio Engineer and Sound Designer for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh NC. I met Eban at my first Moogfest, where he was facilitating a community music making workshop and an interactive exhibit from Natural Sciences. Both of these were highlights of Moogfest for me as I got to play around with an Ableton Push, make music with strangers (that Eban uploaded to Soundcloud later to hear) and meet Senator Jaiz.

A year and a half later, iBoD (idiosyncratic Beats of Dejacusse, my improv group) played a show with Senator Jaiz thanks to Ted Johnson and Triangle Electro Jam at Nightlight Bar in Chapel Hill. So I was thrilled when Senator Jaiz contacted dejacusse to collaborate on a soundscape for a Museum of Natural Sciences exhibit. The company of collaborative conspirers for this project is rich and includes Raleigh’s own SkidMatik, Boston’s Petridisch, New York composers Michael Harren and AfroDJMac. My assignment was to create a 10 minute drone in Gm in a particular tempo range. What fun to have clear constraints and freedom within those constraints. I sent him the finished drone piece in early November.

Now the exhibit Mazes and Brain Games is happening at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences till September 2018 and includes our 50 minute soundscape. Here is one of the first things you see when you walk into the exhibit:

The soundscape is now available on Spotify, iTunes and most online music retailers. Thank you for purchasing the album! Your support means the world to me!

Listening to the Eclipse                   August 21, 2017

36.055 degrees N

78.918 degrees W

As the beauty-filled feminine Moon danced between the fire-filled Sun and our spaceship Earth, Trude and I opted to channel the energies of the moment into creative work. Listening to the Eclipse is a two hour soundscape created during the 2017 Solar Eclipse. The scape has a Prelude, silences, a dance of tones, the moon throwing shade, and a return. The Prelude to the Eclipse came first and emerged from the time of the first kiss of shadow to 30 minutes before the 92% totality most of NC received. The eclipse soundscape,  Sun Moon Earth Dance, occurred the 30 minutes before near totality, during near totality and the 30 minutes after.

The tonal relationships involved in an eclipse can be drawn from a variety of data. I used the tones derived by Hans Cousto in the book The Cosmic Octave. The Sun tone is B, the Earth tone is C#. The interval relation is a whole tone. A whole tone has the edginess of proximity and a certain consonance as well. The whole tone interval is like an honest, long-term, intimate relationship. The Moon is G# and is beautifully consonant with Earth’s C# as its fifth. The Moon and Earth are like soul-mates. So the Earth changes partners every twelve hours or so alternately dancing with soul-mate and spouse. Eclipses change the larger cosmic pattern amongst these three. The Moon gets to “cut-in” between the Earth and Sun Mid-day, mid-dance.

The scape is designed with orchestral voices of brass, strings, woodwinds,and bells along with solar winds, rattling bones and boiling water. I created and preset some loops of the primary intervals at play that I triggered while improvising on one of the midi instruments during the actual eclipse. Now, several days later, I am sculpting the piece. Using reverb, amplitude, crossfades, and panning, I place and move the source of each sound, creating sonic leaps and spins, and slow crossfades from one ear to the other. Here is where the story takes place – statements are made, pushed to the foreground or background, interruptions erupt, loud voices fade to whispers, laughter and great flair carry us into the future.

My intention with this practice was to listen closely in the moment and render the story of the eclipse as it occured through the sounds I chose. So the best way to listen to the recording  is through headphones, and with the sense that you are listening to a wordless podcast about the eclipse. There are characters speaking and moving about the sonic space. There are arguments, discussions, laughter and mystery. What story do you hear when you listen?

Here is what the August 2017 Eclipse sounded like to me-

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Playtime: 60 minutes

iBoD      August 6, 2017                Central Park School Soundgarden

The Central Park School Soundgarden is a lovely location for an iBoD soncert. Eleanor Mills is the resident bell player here most Sundays, and I am grateful that she shared her space and time with us. On the eve of my 65th complete Earth-go-round, and on this date when nuclear bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima over 70 years ago, I became aware that we were playing the moment toward a new horizon. As we let go of our self-conscious bindings, a dialogue happened! We played parallel at times, we played in interwoven layers, we listened for balance in our exchanges, and each of us overpowered at times as the ambient sounds of voices, passing cars, and motorcycle growlings intermixed with our sonic offerings.

Here are two soundscapes we played that evening. Scenes for a Dance Class is a soundscape developed to accompany an ADF class several years ago.  Five scenes at varying, adjustable tempi and time signatures. The energetic weight of each scene is different as well. This piece is a favorite of ours as you will hear. I love the exchange amongst us in the beginning where we make short overlapping statements. The last scene is called some kinda waltz, and features Suzanne’s lovely piano solo.

Gone Won: Life is a Dream was created for the Won Buddhist Temple in Chapel Hill, NC. iBoD played this piece at our first public performance at the Won Buddhist Temple Bazaar in 2015. This soundscape is the setting for one of my favorite childhood teachings. The idea of “inclusion of all voices and vibrations as we move forward into the swirling vortex” informs the basic structure of the piece.

I appreciate Suzanne Romey, Eleanor Mills and Jim Kellough, who give their deep attention and sensitive playing in the moment to these soundscapes.

If you have read this far, and listened to our offerings, then you have experienced the best of my love and being. Your time and attention mean more to me than I can express and make me grateful beyond measure! I hope someday to hear back from you.

Upcoming Birthday Soncert – Sunday August 6th

Just before I retired, I threw a birthday party to celebrate my 60th Earth-go-round. The Pinhook was the venue and many wonderful people came and wrote haikus and played and danced. I fondly remember the bartender saying, “You have the nicest friends!” and I feel so grateful for that gift. I have been blessed to know so many wonderful people in my life. The party was my first live performance with Ableton and I was thrilled when people got up and danced. It felt like a launch into the next phase of my creativity-driven life.

Now, five years later, I will celebrate the 65th Earth-go-round with a soncert (sound concert) at the Central Park School Soundgarden with iBoD on Sunday, August 6th.  When we played there in May, we were without electricity, but we will be electrified!! Eleanor Mills will play the bells (as she does most every Sunday eve) and her harmonicas and melodica. Suzanne Romey will play recorder, toy piano and keyboards, while Jim Kellough will perform on the digital horn. I will play soundscapes and instruments through Ableton Live as well as the uke, NA Flute and psaltry. Our repertoire is more bouncy and less spacey this time around and we hope it makes you want to move and groove.

I am sure it will be a lovely evening. Cocoa Cinnamon is on the corner with delghtful treats.Bring your own chair or cushion or blanket. We are aiming to start between 7 and 7:15. Our first piece is a gathering groove with an easy sway to it. We will play Bandit for the first time! (See post – http://wp.me/p5yJTY-fp for more on Bandit) Several novelty soundscapes will, hopefully, amuse you.

iBoD will play for about an hour. We would so love to have you and your wide-open ears and hearts present with us!

Moogfest and iBoD in the Soundgarden

Yes, it is that time of year again! Moogfest is here next week, and my schedule is already full of conflicts and overlap. There is a whole theme on spatialisation of sound, which I am extremely interested in. This year I am going to get to the Presbyterian Church for some performances, give Suzanne Ciani events more attention, and volunteer for the sleep concert. (I CAN still pull an allnighter!!) Also looking forward to hearing Ladyfingers set at Arcana on Friday night. Oh, yeah, and meeting Gerhard Behles and thanking him for Ableton Live.

iBod will play our annual post-Moogfest event at the Soundgarden at Central Park School on Sunday evening, May 21. We are excited to bring much new material, and some old favorites. And, once again, we will play Adrift in a Sea of Bells while Eleanor Mills brings all the harmonics out of the bells. Here are some excerpts from our last session as a “sneak preview”:


Bring your own chair, or use the wall or steps around the stage for seating. This is kaleidoscope music.  It moves through space-time and shifts form in unconventional ways. For the best listening experience, relax the ear and the mind, ground in the breath and feet, and allow the vibrations to move your body.

Big thanks to the cohorts – Susanne Romey, Eleanor Mills and Jim Kellough!

Nature’s Chord

The Law of the Octave is the first step in understanding how the frequencies of the Universe are vibrationally organized. The fact that any frequency, doubled or halved, is a re-expression of the original frequency suggests the beginning of some kind of fractal movement. We have a place to return to and begin again; a place that comes around again later. The next step in understanding how frequencies are organized involves adding the fundamental frequency to itself over and over again. This creates a beautiful and repetitive frequency pattern that expands The Law of the Octave into what is often referred to as Nature’s Chord.

Nature’s Chord is the same as the Harmonic Overtone series, which I have written about before. To get a really good idea how alchemical these tones are, you have to know their history. A long ago deep listener named Pythagoras was walking through town and heard the clanging hammers of metalsmiths. Then he really listened to the clanging and realized he was hearing high pitches when the small hammers were used and lower pitches when the large hammers were used. Then he tightened a string and noticed that dividing the string in particular ratio relationships created these beautiful harmonics.

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With the string tightened to a particular tone when plucked – lets say an A (at 220 Hz), Pythagoras discovered that vibrating half the string gave an octave higher version of the same tone A (now at 440 Hz). When 2/3 of the string was vibrated the tone will be E, which is the fifth interval from A and vibrates at 660 Hz – 220+220+220. When the next 220 gets added, we are back at the octave. Simply amazing!

And on it goes, each iteration of the initial frequency, reveals another harmonic. After the A octave at 800 Hz comes the C# at 1100 Hz – this is a third above the fundamental tone. The Harmonic Overtone series has risen three octaves so far, and in that span has revealed the root chord structure for any music – the fundamental  frequency, the third and the fifth. So, in our example, the A Major chord has been revealed through the harmonics inherent in the note we call A: A C# E.

Another overtone that comes out in the third octave is the flatted seventh. So, along with the root chord, we also get a nod to the seventh and its place in the most beautiful chord structures. The fourth octave reveals most of the remaining diatonic tones from the second, to the raised fourth, to the natural seventh. All of the tones we know in our most familiar musics are laid out in the first four octaves of the Harmonic Overtone series. The number of overtones per octave doubles with each successive octave, so the next octave after the fourth octave would have 16 overtones and the next 32. At these levels the harmonics are so varied, close together, and difficult to hear that discrete pitches disappear into a percussive wash of sound.

The amazing relevance of this chord to everything you hear is difficult to comprehend on first pass. The Law of the Octave and Nature’s Chord are undeniably present and absolutely inscrutable – wherever there is atmosphere, Nature’s Chord exists in potential. It is a preset pattern that awaits a disturbance to set it in motion. The disturbance moves the atmosphere and Nature’s Chord presents this disturbance to our ears in a beautiful harmonic package. The harmonic framework springs forth from the primary tones of all the sounds you hear. Each sound is characterized by the amount of and the “mix” of harmonics. Nature’s Chord is easily heard in strings, pipes, the voice – anything that can support a standing wave vibration and thus maintain a pitch. The mix gets less melodic when the waves are less harmonic and more dense. It is Nature’s Chord that renders what is known as timbre. Timbre is the “color” of sound and as easily recognized as red, blue, green, a knock on the door, your lover’s voice.

Recently,  I was studying voices on a sonogram and saw the overtone series in each person’s speaking voice. Most everyone has a fundamental tone around which their vocal inflection patterns dance. Here is a photo of a voice in the key of F:


The bottom line is F, the next line up is the re-expressed octave F, the next line is C the fifth overtone for F, the next the octave again and so on. Look in the upper right corner and you can see the “pitch bin” for where the cursor is pointing: F  F  C  – Nature’s Chord made flesh!

All of this information has me wanting to explore the power of Nature’s Chord. Several contemporary classical music composers have used this chord as a theme for compositions. Terry Riley’s In C is composed of the prominent notes from the harmonic overtone series of the tone C. John Adam’s Sila the Breath of the World is built on the overtone series of Bb. Moondog, a NYC street composer, was fascinated with the overtone series and used it in his piece called Creation. Here is what he had to say about the overtone series in an interview:

How could you send a message that would never be destructible? Only in sound waves. Waves are indestructible. Wherever there’s a planet that has atmosphere, these overtones could be heard. Scientists are looking in telescopes and microscopes and they don’t realize that this is here, right here. The secret is all around us and nobody recognizes it.

 I am exploring tones and harmonics and octaves and fractals, oh my! Last year, I developed a piece for the Human Origami workshops based on the disruptive power of the 11th harmonic. I am expanding that piece and putting it into the iBoD repertoire. Invoking the Law of the Octave, the disruptive 11th Harmonic stirs the energy wherever a tone and its fifth are played. And the further apart they are, the closer you can get to that four octave span that produces the 11th harmonic, the more powerful the vibe!

So here is an early version of 11th Harmonic – the first in a series of works inspired by Nature’s Chord!