iBoD – Playing by Ear with Lisa Means: Hearing the Ethers

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!!

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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.

Playing by Ear

Come and hear us play the ethers at 919 Noise this Wednesday 10/30 at 8:30!

Playing by Ear – What did we learn? Where do we go from here?

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.

Playing by Ear – a sonic exploration of hearing

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!

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All Data Lost Fest – August 17th – The Wicked Witch -Raleigh NC

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!!

Adventures in Gorgeous Guitars and the Bottom End

One of the gifts of the new year is that I am realizing a long-held goal of learning to play the bass. I have always thought of myself as a born bass player – laid-back maker of the low end harmonies. I sang the lowest alto part in choirs and choruses for decades. Having spent the past few years playing percussion alongside Christopher Thurston, master bass man, my ear is primed for doing this now. Back in 2009, I bought a Kala U-Bass (a bass ukelele) and it has been sitting in its case ever since. So I pulled it out, made myself a diagram of the neck, and started figuring out familiar bass lines (Mission Impossible, Fever, various Motown, etc.) I am spending several hours a day playing and learning my way around the instrument.

Last Sunday, Lisa Means and Martha Dyer came over to play and record guitar improvisations. Lisa brought four of her guitars, which we looked at and listened to, eventually focusing in on two: Goddess and Yellow Moon. Both of these guitars were hand built by Joe Young, a Canadian Luthier. Here are his descriptions of them:

This is the first in a series of ‘Goddess’ builds. This visually stunning OM guitar is crafted from Pomelle Sapele, a beautiful, iridescent, lustrous wood that delivers a rounded, gorgeous and balanced tone. The colours in her back, sides, headstock and rosette, range from pink to light brown, to red and then to gold. Her Honduran mahogany neck and her striped ebony fretboard and bridge hold perfect tension through the strings; her Sitka spruce top, as sound as a bell . The image of The Goddess is etched into the centre of her back and is found deep within her body as you peer into the sound hole. This Goddess image symbolizes, at least to me, the connection we have with Earth. Roots deep into the earth, their form portrayed as a vessel for life, hair sensing the winds of change, and their arms reaching into the ether, the heavens and beyond. Of course, this image has the characteristics of a tree, the true beginning of wood’s song. The ancient Sanskrit word ‘OM’ which suggests the phrase ‘that which is sounded out loudly’; the sound often vibrated at the end of mindful, spiritual practice, seemed the only appropriate choice for the guitar’s size. Sound and Spirit connects music and soul, creating an opportunity to hear and feel your music just as you want it to be.

Yellow Moon:

This organic guitar is formed with a musical accordance of West Coast woods. Its back, sides, neck and fretboard are yew; the wood named by the Druids for its representation of rebirth and transformation. This instrument is earthy, woody and sacred. It has the clear, fundamental sounds of a bell and vibrates with a bright, sharp tone. At the 13th fret, the yew and yellow cedar neck meets the body; thirteen representing integrity and the female magic of the moon. The bird’s eye yellow cedar burl rosette, tail wedge and big leaf maple bindings unite this delicious instrument. The bridge is carved from the soft roundness of a yellow cedar burl, a wood known to promote peaceful thoughts. Ultimately, the sound is perfectly attuned to its origins: the forest, the ocean, and the sky.

Lisa gives loving care and attention to these instruments. She delights in them and is sensitive to their changing needs and moods.

Yellow Moon from Joe Young's Website

Yellow Moon from Joe Young’s Website

Martha brought some percussion instruments: small cymbals, a toy xylophone, tingshas she had picked up while traveling in Thailand. Martha is an expert percussionist who plays spoons with local bluegrass favorites The Blue-Tailed Skinks. She is equally as skilled at bringing out harmonics on the guitar. The three of us played for several hours in the free improv/deep listening style that I encourage and enjoy.

Two Zoom H2n microphones were placed in the Sun(Ra) Room. One located above us and at the edge of the corner cut out in the room. Experimentation has revealed that this spot picks up a really good mix of the instruments. The other Zoom was placed low, and directly in front of the three of us in a semi-circle. The mics are preset with a low cut filter, auto gain and compression/limiter.  Both were set to surround sound with the five interior mics wide open. This gives me four pairs of stereo tracks to work with when compiling and mixing.

I plan to build a soundscape of all string instruments using clips of Lisa playing her guitars. The cohorts and I will play all strings as well. Perhaps some day we will create a Nested Soundscape in Baldwin Auditorium. That would be so cool!!

In the meantime, here is a moment that happened while Martha, Lisa and I were playing last week. I did not make any extra cuts and pastes in this excerpt. It evolved just as you hear it. Martha on percussion, Lisa playing Yellow Moon and me on the bass. I call this Time Out of the Blue.

 

New Year’s Seeds

 

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Dreaming ahead into the New Year, there are many potential co-creations and interesting visitations waving from afar. My cohorts and I got together over the holidays to talk about our recent public creations and what we all want for the coming year. Even though our public outings have been less satisfying than playing in the Sun(Ra) Room, everybody is still up for creating Nested Soundscapes in public spaces. (yayyyyy!) I need to create more space within the soundscapes for the cohorts to jump into, and we need to develop solo statements and deeper interactions with each other and the scapes. This gives me great focus for the near future. We are all interested in doing some popup soundscaping in unusual places (with access to electricity). There may be Soundscape Parties. We shall see.

Lisa Means is a friend who plays and collects very beautiful sounding guitars. She records herself playing them and sends me the sound files. I listen to them carefully, do a little cutting/pasting/audio processing and make soundscapes out of them. Here is an example of a piece we did for a recent Moving Meditation:


Lisa has an intimate relationship with these guitars and with sound. Lisa uses hearing aids to access the sounding world through her ears. She hears her guitars with the entirety of her deepest, heart-felt being. Each guitar has a name and personality. I asked Lisa to send me a recording of her improvising on each guitar, and a write-up about the guitar. I want to create a soundscape about the guitars.

Bill Romey and I made a date to begin filming a watercolor mandala that Trudie painted called “Love”. It is beautiful and speaks of the muscle, blood and bones of love. I have been thinking about doing a short film of the painting for a number of years. I want to call it “Falling in Love” because I want to get as close to the pigment as possible! I am very excited about this project.

Moog Fest is in Durham this May. I do not know half the people who are “featured.” Full passes are expensive, but I would like to see Laurie Anderson (again!) I hope she has new schtick (no more men’s voices coming out of your mouth, please! more violin, please! more story!) Anyway, I have been wishing for a venue for that weekend. It would be like being off-Broadway. An idea is being tossed around, I will keep you posted. At the very least, we could have a Soundscape Party.

One of my hopes for the coming year is that I will see friends from the past whom I haven’t seen in many years. Yes, I would like that very much!  I will continue to give loving attention to my Innate being, and to the world. I very much want to ride the wave of joy and wisdom into the future with open-hearted willingness and abundant allowing! I hope to see you along the way.

Let it be!