Synthesizing in Ableton: They are On It!

Well, my short-lived journey into configuring Ableton Live as a synthesizer has come to a halt with the purchase of a Behringer Neutron at Moogfest AND with the Ableton announcement that they are Beta-testing CV plug-ins for Ableton 10. I am soooo excited with this direction.

My experiments with creating modulation FX using “dummy clips” or Envelope Generators yielded some new directions for iBoD and dejacusse. We are experimenting with running live sound through the FX tracks and EG clips. This coming Sunday, we will perform The Place ReSounds of Water in front of the Central Park School for Children. Eleanor Mills will play The Bells, dejacusse will morph the bell harmonics into a watery pallette that Susanne Romey will play NA flute over top. There will be meditative movement and the pouring of water. Come join us!

Sunday May 19 @4 pm

724 Foster St @The Bells

Riding and Playing the en/Harmonic Waves

My quest to synthesonize Ableton Live has taken an exciting new turn. Last Sunday, we discovered that by micing The Bells at the Central Park School Soundgarden, I can run that sound through Ableton and into the various synth modules and FX racks I am building. What happens is that the Abeju Synth Modules and FX Racks capture most of the harmonics that arise from Eleanor’s bell playing. The harmonics can be shaped by envelopes and attenuation and, of course, granular synthesis. My goal is to gradually shape the bell harmonics into a watery stream sound. This will be part of the soundscape for The Place ReSounds of Water (TPRSW) on April 14th at 4pm for SITES Season 2018-19.

When iBoD first started playing with The Bells, I recorded and analyzed their harmonic content. These bells are former compressed air tanks with the bottoms cut off, so the metal is not pure, it is some kind of alloy. This translates to lots of harmonic AND enharmonic content! A pure metal would render more pure harmonics. These pure harmonics are pretty, often beautiful, but my ear grows tired of the stasis of it all. The idea of purity in all of its forms is an illusion that leads to much misunderstanding and anguish in the world. Think about what striving for purity has given us: genocides, fascism, chronic autoimmune diseases, disconnection from and attempts to conquer nature, diminished empathy, and on and on. It is my prayer that riding and faithfully playing All the en/harmonic waveforms will encourage evolutionary growth. That is what I am going for!

TPRSW is my first attempt to sync up with the National Water Dance. My timing is off as this is not the year for National Water Dance, however I am hoping this will kickoff some interest for 2020. The idea for TPRSW is to give prolonged loving attention to water in the form of sound, light and the liquid itself. The soundscape will consist of Eleanor Mills playing The Bells, dejacusse aka Jude Casseday capturing and playing the en/harmonic waves from The Bells and morphing them into a watery feeling soundbed. Then Susanne Romey will play Native American flute over that for a while, then we start the wave again. The movers will pour water from vessel to vessel. An altar of flowers may be built. The whole thing is a mystery.

Our location at the Soundgarden at Central Park School gets full afternoon sun, so the visuals might include sparkles and shimmers of water. We could be lit up! If it is overcast, the air will be moist and the sounds of water will carry more clearly. If it threatens rain on Sunday, we will do it on Saturday instead! Or, perhaps, we will figure something else out and perform as it rains.

Whatever we do will be in praise of water!

Audiorigami Phase 2

Since releasing Audiorigami (Meditations on the Fold), my sonsense as to how to explore the Fold has shifted. This shift is in sync with Glenna Batson’s return to Durham and the start of a monthly Human Origami Jam. Glenna is interested in exploring folds through a variety of deep somatic frameworks. She narrates the biomolecular potentials that the body travails from utero through the many modulating intersections of growth . My own sonsense of the Fold is opening to the quantum aspects of sound and further harmonic interplay. I sense that these sonic realms might possibly allow access to some basic templates of life. Perhaps sound, in the form of patterned frequencies, guides life into being. Perhaps harmonic frequencies are part of a templates for the growth and movement of life forms through space and time. That is what I am playing with here.

The focus of Audiorigami will now be to explore the changing shapes of sounds themselves. Audiorigami will propogate, excavate, and modulate the folds that emerge from and disappear into the waveforms that are the vehicle of sound. Modular/ Granular Synthesis and Frequency Modulation are the methods for engaging with sound media. I plan to more carefully curate the sound sources I use and to do more sampling from my own recorded sounds.

Here are some excerpts from the Human Origami Jam which happened last month at ADF Studios. Glenna leads an exploration of lines and trajectories, corners and angles. The soundscape is my first rendering with some of the Abeju Synth Station modules I created from “dummy clips” in Ableton, coupled with TAL- Noisemaker VST synth plugin and Ripplemaker on the iPad.

Next Human Origami Jam will happen THIS FRIDAY March 15th at Joy of Movement Studios in Pittsboro NC from 4:30 to 6:30 pm. https://www.thejoyofmovementcm.com

Come join us!

Monthly Human Origami Jam

Glenna Batson is back in town and we have started a monthly Human Origami Jam at ADF Studios on Broad Street in Durham. Join us this Friday, February 15th for an exploration guided by the foldings of cells – the building blocks of nature. While Glenna guides you through a macroscopic to microscopic sense of the cell, dejacusse will sculpt sonic forms in the atmosphere of the room. The soundscape will swath you in harmonics, whispers, bounce and back to the ambient sound of the room. Sound as water is my theme, and since cells are mostly made of water…

Human Origami Jam

TODAY! Friday February 15th

4:30 pm to 6:30 pm

ADF Studios Broad St. Durham NC

Donations accepted

I would love to see you there!!

The Acoustic Scale

So my adventures in harmonics continues with a foray into Dr. Michael Hewitt’s book, Musical Scales of the World. (This book is a wonderful resource. Carnatic Water Music is based on an Indian Carnatic scale from the book.) Hewitt includes scales from India, Thailand, Africa, Greece, and Eastern Europe in the eight chapters of the book. My favorite chapter is entitled Synthetic Scales and Modes, which is made up of invented and found scales.  In this chapter Hewitt discusses the Acoustic Scale, so named because it is based on the harmonic overtones that are present in the atmosphere of any room. (See post on Nature’s Chord at http://wp.me/p5yJTY-iH)        WoW! Just WoW.

So the Acoustic Scale is made up of the overtones from the first four octaves of the harmonic series. This scale mixes the raised fourth of the Lydian mode and the flatted seventh of the Mixolydian mode. According to Hewitt:

The acoustic scale is also sometimes called the Lydian dominant scale, due to the prominent dominant seventh chord on the first degree (C E G Bb). The presence of this chord can give Lydian dominant music a powerful sense of unresolved dominant tension. When persistently denied resolution, this tension can be harnessed to create a powerfully expressive force.

The scale is also referred to as Bartok’s scale as it was the basis for many of his compositions. The scale came into favor with contemporary classical music composers of the late 19th, early 20th Century as they moved away from the major/minor pallette of the Common Practice era. I am excited to see this scale identified. It is the scale of TRIC (Terry Riley’s In C). From here on, I will refer to this as Nature’s Scale, so as not to forget that this is a pattern of intervalic relationships that exists in the atmosphere and is imbedded in every sound we hear.

Messages from the WoW

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The latest signs from the Wave of Wonder (the WoW) are pointing me toward hangups. Attending to my hangup of the moment is easily avoided – except for those little reminders: the tug as my shirt gets caught on a knob, my jacket snagged in the closed car door, jerked back by the garden hose wrapped round a tree root.  Everytime I get one of these reminders from the WoW, I stop and ask myself : “What am I resisting?”

Often I am resisting THE MOMENT. I engage in distracted thinking about someone I love who is ignoring me or some activity I would rather be doing than the one at hand. I engage in stories of disapproval from others, resentment over perceived slights,  and general feelings of not mattering and not being important.

When I entertain these thoughts – and their good buddy, painful feelings – I am lured out of this moment of being by my mind and my story. The actual physical manifestation of the hangup jerks me back into the moment. 

I appreciate the very pointed choreography, and will continue to ride my awareness toward presence in the Now.

Thanks, WoW!

Sila: The Breath of the World

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This past Sunday afternoon was sunstruck and gorgeous as I made my way up Franklin Street toward McCorkle Place. I was deliberately late for the beginning of UNC Music Department’s performance of John Luther Adams’ Sila: The Breath of the World. Deliberately late (by only a few minutes) because I wanted to experience the shift from the sonic environment of Franklin Street with its bustling crowds and revving motors to the sound of woodwinds, brass, strings, percussion and human voices throwing long tones across the lawn. As I went up the steps by the Methodist Church, I caught sight of the 70 or so musicians spread around the green, but their sound did not quite reach my ears. The first swells of the piece were not audible until I was nearly right up on them.

This composition is a site-determined work meaning that the natural environment in which it is performed is as instrumental to the piece as any other instrument. “This is music as re-engagement with the mystery and the magic of the world that we inhabit,” Adams explained. “And so the vegetation, topography, the local birds, the human presence, all these elements shape each individual performance of Sila in fundamental ways.” Adams has composed several site-determined works including a percussion work entitled Inuksuit.

The UNC orchestral ensemble was organized in pods of strings, brass, woodwinds and vocalists with percussionists on the periphery and in the middle of the green space. The presentational style of the musical text allows the audience to co-create the performance by walking around and through the musicians as they play. In this way, each participant both players and audience have their own unique sonic experience as this minimally structured work unfolds. This is so apropos of the Inuit God Sila, the muse of the piece, who is felt as mana or ether, the primary component of everything that exists. Sila is a deity of the sky, the wind, and of weather – and also the substance of which souls are made.

Sila: The Breath of the World, as described by composer Adams is “A series of 16 harmonic clouds that slowly elide one into the next and the next and the next, over the course of 70 minutes, and they’re always rising. The fundamentals of the clouds are derived from the first 16 harmonics of the first cloud. Everything is grounded in a low B flat.” The performers are instructed to play each tone or set of intervals the length of an exhale. So the beginning of the piece is the B flat note moving into the initial harmonic tones that are heard as B flat major.

The beginnings of the B flat major chord greeted me as I moved toward the group of vocalists singing through megaphones. Continuing on into the midst of the musicians I next heard the woodwinds swell into the mix. Then a tuba sounded right next to me, so I stopped and stayed for a time to enjoy that broad, low tone. Moving across the middle of the “playing” field, I noticed cellos and violins tucked back in the corner. The players moved their bows across strings, but I could not hear a whisper of what they played.  I walked toward them, still not catching their sound till I was right in the middle of the ensemble. I stood amongst the strings for a long time to hear their playing, but they seemed tentative and self-conscious, so I moved on.

My approach to listening to Sila was to move around the space from different directions, occasionally stopping to slowly pan my head from left to right and back again. Sweeping the ears in this way illustrated clearly what Adams referred to in an interview as  “nature singing, what we hear when the wind blows, if we listen closely.” At one point I stood at the outer edge of the musicians with one ear toward Franklin Street and the other toward the orchestra, giving my brain a shot of aural cognitive dissonance. Adams again: “[with Sila] its difficult to say exactly where the music of the piece begins and ends, as distinct from the music of the place in which it’s performed. My hope is that the boundaries get blurred, and that through listening intently to the music, we come to hear more vividly the never-ending music of the place in which the music is being performed.” In this respect, the UNC Ensemble captured the essence of Adams intent most beautifully. I felt their tentativeness gave a delicacy to the work that allowed the sights and sounds of the afternoon much greater presence.

In the end, I found myself among the brass and noticed the performers had stopped playing tones, and were now softly blowing into their instruments. Soon megaphones appeared in the hands of many of the players as they whispered the sound of vocalized air, swishing and hissing across the campus. After a time, this too faded away. And for several minutes, spectators and players stood together in rapt attention to this moment and this place. There was a reverant calm wrapped around the unspoken “what next?” “is it over?” “is it time to clap?” as we all looked around at each other like babes in a new world. Then one man put his hands together and we all followed suit, then quietly moved on into what remained of our days.