“Carnatic Water Music” Nested Soundscape @ Won Buddhist Temple Bazaar (Outdoors) October 10, 2015

Early this year the idea of nesting soundscapes began to take shape. When Susanne Romey and I played at Open Eye Cafe in February, the recording of our session revealed an interesting interplay amongst the amplified digital soundscape, the added acoustic textures that Susanne and I mixed into the scape, AND the ambient noise in the room. (See post at this link http://wp.me/p5yJTY-1N.) Since then I have recorded this phenomenon in the Sun(Ra) Room, in our backyard, and at the Won Buddhist Temple Bazaar that occurred in October.

I like the term “nested” because it suggests a swaddling, an outer layer, a container that holds the soundscape performance. A nest is a “home” as well, at least for that recorded moment in time. My last blog post offered avenues of accessibility for folks who want to hear soundscape performances more deeply. (See post at this link  http://wp.me/p5yJTY-7D) I describe the soundscape itself as a container in which my deeply listening cohorts improvise. Then add the “nest” as the specific space/time of the performance which becomes yet another container. All of this taken together can be seen like this:



Now we have something like nested dolls with containers within containers! Another aspect of this process is the recording of the soundscape in the space. I am still experimenting with how to record the nested soundscape. Currently, I use 1 to 2 Zoom H2n microphones. These portable digital recorders can record in stereo or surround sound. Recording settings and mic placement are the areas of exploration at the moment.

The process of nesting a soundscape allows me to address one of my frustrations in co-creating music with others: the way authority/leadership shuts down expansiveness and breadth of creation. I am saddened by all the beautiful possibilities that get snuffed out due to the limitations of a single creative ear, and the sense of right/wrong this brings to the creative moment. (Once a friend described this process of the singular ear guiding the creative process as the path to “excellence”. I now see “excellence” as the bully stick to keep creation small, controlled, safe and popular.) And yet, my singular ear sculpts the digital soundscape to have a certain sound and movement. There is conceptual intention at work here from my own singular ear. The digital soundscape is where I play with, test, implement and discard sound ideas based on my ear alone. So, how do I get past my own authority?

In the creative process, authority can transform into a more fluid vision through surrender. An important element in the creation of a Nested Soundscape is surrendering control over the outcome, the final sound of the piece as a whole. Surrender opens up more possibilites/opportunities for sonic play and exploration. The first step in getting past my own authority is to invite people to improvise over my creations. This approach allows new and different sonic potentials to emerge. I confess I do exercise some control as I direct myself and other players in relation to the scape. However, the soundscape in performance now becomes a collaboration with the creative sensibilities of other players, not just me. I can suggest and point out things after we play, but, in the moment, each player is responsible for the sounds and statements they bring up during the performance.

The nest brings in a whole new level of surrender. The nest is the contextual “now”, the ambient environment in which the performed soundscape unfolds. The nest brings acoustics, other voices, and other sounds that come with this new container: the space/time where the scape is performed. This is the realm of nearly complete surrender for me. I determine the placement of microphones for recording. I may make some suggestions to people who are present in the environment, but this is not always possible in a public space where people are coming and going. Creating a Nested Soundscape makes me put on my “yes” ears, and challenges me to go with whatever happens: to surrender to all the potentials and possibilities that manifest during the performance in the nest.

In the end, I do exert my authority again as I take the recording of the Nested Soundscape and give it shape through audio processing. So, the surrender is incomplete and conditional, as I work to understand how to implement personal creative vision with surrender in the moment.

Here is an example of the Nested Soundscape that occurred at the Won Buddhist Temple Bazaar on October 10, 2015. You will hear the vast out of doors container, voices, the rain on my raincoat draped protectively over the recording microphone, and my cohorts improvising within the digital soundscape.

The next Nested Soundscape will be created at The Carrack Gallery in Durham as part of Justin Tornow’s Prompts series. Prompts is a quarterly performance event where artists bring work in response to a one word prompt. For the December 11th event, the prompt is “surrender.” The prompt came through as I was finishing this post.

You can see why I had to respond!

While I Was Making Other Plans…

Yes, life is happening! Re-reading the first series of blog posts of 2015, some of the projects I wrote about are NOT happening, while new ones keep arriving. (I have a Halloween soundscape that I would love to perform somewhere in October.) For this summer, the work has come from American Dance Festival opportunities: Moving Meditations and two dance class accompaniment gigs have rendered new sound sketches that I am excited about. Two appearances at the Open Eye Cafe (so far this year) have rendered the idea of “nested” soundscapes which is in development. All of this happening in a stew of self-reflection on relationships and love stirred up by all the family connections of the summer.

My cohorts are coming over today. In preparation, I listened to  recordings from our past sessions with the idea that I would “direct” the movement of the soundscapes a bit more.  I listened to our first session from March with the thought that I would hear this “tremendous” difference between that session and our most recent one. What I discovered was that my cohorts are deep listeners, courageous explorers of the sonic Universe, and they “get” the soundscapes. This has been true from the beginning. WoW! I am overwhelmed and humbled by their loving attention. Less effort, less direction on my part, seems to be working well.

Still, I would like for us to have a language that would help us focus and talk about what we are doing together. Susanne and I discussed using some concepts from our Triangle Soundpainting days to guide our improvisations within the soundscapes.  Again, as I listened I discovered that the cohorts are using these concepts already!! Jim is the “pointillism” man, Eleanor wails the long tones on the harmonicas, and Susanne comes up with minimalist loops and long form improvisations.  And they ALL relate to each other and the soundscape in a variety of interesting ways. These people are amazing!

So, today, I want to give them examples of things I like from the recordings and find out what they are liking. Then we are going to use Soundpainting “what to play” ideas to constrain us in creative ways. I am going to use “Snake Dance” as the base; it provides a wide open field with a fun rhythmic drive.

Here are the eight “what to play”s derived from Walter Thompson’s Soundpainting: The Art of Live Composition, Workbook I

Improvise – monologic melody line, statements, phrases, ornaments.

Relate to – imitate, sync with, support another part

Synchronize – relate to another part in an oppositional/counter weighted manner i.e. fill in a gap, play loud against soft, pitch beats, same phrase slowed down, etc.

Pointillism – arrythmic staccato notes with a few long notes, played rapidly and with space.

Minimalism – continuous, rhythmic/melodic pattern; a loop.

Stab/Hit – single, short, punchy sound

Stab Freeze – like a hiccup or a stuck record; short repeated sound. Do this for extended periods for trance and short periods to wake up.

Extended Technique – play your instrument in an unusual, unique way. Find new sounds in your instrument.

Long Tones – rhythmic or arrythmic series of held pitches. (This makes nine “what to play”s.  I left long tones out of the mix! Sorry, Eleanor! They are back!)

We each had two constraints to play within. “Snake Dance” is a wide open field of sultry bass, deep kicks, and conga licks, so everybody feels a bit naked. Eleanor had the two relational  “whats” so she really had her work cut out for her and did an amazing job. Here is a snippet:

And another:

We came up with a different “what” sound called “fluttering”. This idea comes from the sound of the ukelele strummings during the soundscapes. Susanne has picked it up on the piano. Here is an example of that sound from another piece called “Undulatto”:

A few months ago, Eleanor suggested we do something with a waltz feel. I started a piece called “A Question of Waltz” with several stabs at sketches in 3 and 6 beats per measure. Most of these did not have a waltz feel unless you searched for it, which I thought was fun and quirky. Then I put together some sketches for Larry Keigwin’s ADF Sunday evening Community Dance Class the end of June. The  following is one of the sketches. This morning as I waltzed  around the studio to this piece I realized we might have our waltz. (This was recorded ambiently in The Sun(Ra) Room, and sounds best through speakers rather than headphones.)

In another exciting development, a friend has comissioned a piece for her upcoming fortieth birthday. More on that later.

New ideas, new plans for the remainder of 2015.


Open Eye Cafe May 16, 2015

Thanks to the generosity of TJ Goode, the idiosyncratic beats of dejacusse had another outing to the Open Eye Cafe. Susanne Romey joined me again on flutes, recorders, toy piano and percussion. The rest of the cohorts were unavailable, however, the WoW delivered Josh Zaslow on ACCORDION and guitar. So happy to have a reed instrument in the mix, as Eleanor has been providing that voice with her harmonicas, and I very much like that sound with my scapes. (Check Artist’s Statement page for more on the function of reed instruments in dejacusse’ soundscapes.)

We played three soundscapes, Big Stride, VollySunds, and Gone Won: life is a dream. Susanne has been working with this material for a while and she was really listening deeply into the soundscape and into the space. She came soaring in at moments, and was like a babbling brook at other moments. Josh was not at all familiar with the material, but he listened deeply into the space and was very skilled in “bending” the tone of the entire soundscape with the atonal harmonics of the accordion. There were wonderful moments throughout all three pieces. The three of us had interaction and solo time, and there was a beautiful flow to the whole thing. I particularly enjoyed when friend, Linda Carmichael, came up and scatted “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” with me during Gone Won: life is a dream.

The first time we played here I recorded one of the soundscapes and was struck by the ways the environment impacted the soundscape. This became the idea for “nested soundscapes”. (Again, check Artist Statement page for more on “nested soundscapes”). This time, I came prepared to record with two Zoom H2n recorders on mic stands placed in different parts of the room. The mic placed furthest away was set to surround sound, so picked up more of the ambient sounds in the room along with the soundscape. I placed the second mic within a 6 foot radius of the players and set the recording to stereo. Both mics had low cut filters taking out extra low energy rumbling. The Zoom H2n digital recorders contain 4 small mics with adjustable ranges, so when surround sound is set, the Zoom is recording two stereo tracks, one a bit forward and one a bit back. Put these with the stereo track from the other mic, and I have three stereo files to set in relation to each other, thus creating the nested soundscape.

I plugged all three files into Audacity and listened to each one individually. The surround sound files were bigger and louder with more ambient noise, and some clipping. (Note for next time: I need to carefully adjust all the settings on the recorders ahead of time.) I tried panning the surround files to opposite sides of the mix, but that was too muddy even for me. Then I panned them both to the right, lowered the signals signifigantly, and added some room reverb. My thinking was to make the ambient sounds more far away and dreamlike. The effect is somewhat present here, but not as much as I want. So as you listen you will hear conversation, clinking glasses and thumps and bumps. Relax your ear and accept the entire entangled soundscape. These are excerpts from Big Stride and VollySunds. The last part of VollySunds is called Rowing Away. Caverna Magica fills with water, so we climb aboard our skiff and row away.

Nested Soundscapes

If you poke one of the hexagons in the top right corner of this page, you will find my ever-evolving artist’s statement. If you read my artist’s statement, you will see that one of the questions I am exploring in my sound work is:

How do I shape the audio experience in a roomful of people talking?

Some interesting developments around this question arose when we played at Open Eye Cafe last Saturday.

The intention when playing soundscapes is to massage the sonic space and to ultimately raise the vibration of all who are present. So far, the approach has been to create soundscapes with energetic movement that evolve slowly over time. Then Susanne and I add another layer of improvisational interaction. These interactions happen in the moment and serve to reinforce, contrast or re-shape the soundscape. I remix the soundscape as we go, creating more layers of sonic interplay.

This is what we brought to Open Eye on February 7, but I came home with so much more.

There was a moderate sized crowd there and people came and went during the three hours we played. I was very focused on the soundscape and Susanne, only giving the room a cursory amount of attention. The soundscape was a strong presence in the room as people chatted, ordered food, studied, etc. We played three soundscapes, each about 40 minutes to an hour. I had my Zoom recorder, and forgot to turn it on until the last soundscape, entitled The Space Between. And am I glad I did!

When I explained to Trudie the revelation I had after listening to the recording of this performance of The Space Between, she said, “You have been talking about that for months.” Ha! So true. But somehow it all came together when I heard it. This section of the soundscape is a soundpainting of a haiku by Basho:

Even in Kyoto
Hearing the cuckoo cry
I long for Kyoto

The recording begins with a wild cuckoo cry that is extended slightly by some voices of coffee shop patrons. Listen closely and you will hear a little “ohhhhhh” as the cuckoo cry ends. People in the room interacted with the soundscape almost seamlessly. They added an element of awe at the beautiful surprise of the cuckoo cry! So you will hear that moment right at the beginning, then the soundpainting of the haiku, and finally, the sound of heavy rain water accompanying the clanking of dishes and conversations taking place. Don’t try to hear the soundscape we are playing, instead listen to the whole recording as one soundscape that unfolds before your ears.

Listening to this recording made clear to me that the fullness of a soundscape is reached when interacting with activities in a space. Each space will be different acoustically, energetically,and the sounds in the space will be varied by type and quality. A new soundscape is generated with each performance in a particular space, creating a soundscape within a soundscape, or a “nested” soundscape. So now getting a good recording of each soundscape performance has become very important. (This must be why I have 3 mini-disc and 2 Zoom recorders.) Placing multiple recording devices around the space, will give me the raw material for creating the nested soundscape. This idea has me very excited thinking about the variety of venues and the types of soundscapes they might produce. (Photo Credit: Bill Romey)


the idiosyncratic beats of dejacusse@ Open Eye Cafe, Saturday, Feb 7

I am excited about an opportunity to play soundscape in a coffee shop in Carrboro NC next Saturday night. TJ Goode and empty sound were scheduled to play at the Open Eye Cafe on February 7th, and I was going! Then TJ said they couldn’t do it and did I want to? And I said “yes” because Rob Brezsny’s Leo horoscope said to “do things before you are ready”. I let the day seize me! Once I committed, I am up at 4 am working on ideas in Ableton Live. I have three hours to play, so I want to do something languid and calming with an underlying energy. I am really thinking about a sound painting that will evolve over time. And I know exactly what I want to play.

In the early 1980s one album, one sound held me rapt in wonder and that was the album Caverna Magica. Andreas Vollenweider’s whimsical, sensual, joyful journey deep into a magic cave was a whole world to me. Furtive and fun, Caverna Magica
begins with two people whispering and laughing as they enter a sea cave where you hear the bloup, bloup, bloup of water. This is a moist place. I want to play with a soundscape reminiscent of Vollenweider and Caverna Magica.

Luckliy, I have started a Live Set of Vollenweider sounds, including two mallets, one percussion, two chimes, some absolutely beautiful strings, and that plucked samisen that I love so much. There is alot to play with here. I have some simple themes in D Dorian mode and I can vocalize and play the bowed psaltry as well. I have written several solos for the mallets and strings that I am finding very heart-wrending. The pleasure of longing returns. Here is a sample of the strings and the samisen with a little bass and tweaked high-hat:

Suzanne Romey is going to play flute and toy piano with me. She has a new Balinese flute that she is wanting to try. So if you are in Carrboro Saturday night, stop by and give us a listen. We will be painting the room with sound.

8 pm to 11 pm

Open Eye Cafe
Carrboro, NC