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!

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

TRIC Question #1 for 2017

One of the dejacusse/iBoD projects for 2017 is TRIC Questions, a sonic hacking of Terry Riley’s In C or TRIC. TRIC is comprised of 53 rhythmic/melodic riffs based in Nature’s Scale and set against an 1/8th beat pulse. My first pass through this piece was in 2014, when In C turned 50 years old. My approach was more historic then, so I listened to different versions of the piece, read about the composition process and wrote about the initial performances in 1964. Musician friends presented a slice of In C in performance that year, but mostly I explored In C through the Ableton Live DAW using different voices and tempo variations. For more on this, read the blog: My Year In C –here: judessoundlings.wordpress.com

During that year, questions continually jumped out of the piece. As I became more familiar with the patterns, they each took on a unique and identifiable voice. Then one day, while looking at the score of TRIC, I saw that this is simply one way these patterns can be put together.

What if each of the 53 packets of tones stands on its own, AND in relation to any and all of the other packages?

Using the patterns of In C as little Lego blocks of sound and putting them together in different combinations has become my approach to “playing” In C.  I want to hear all the sonic possibilities within this musical universe-for what else can you call it? It is not a song, but it makes songs. It is not a symphony, although it has movement and motifs. In C questions all the assumptions we have about in tune and in time when making musical sounds in the world. When we loosen our grip on what we think things should sound like and give our attention to what we are hearing, and what is emerging from our articulations within that hearing – whole other worlds open up. Those are the worlds I want to continue exploring.

My first experiment with the long tones of TRIC was in November 2014. The question was how to use the long tone phrases to express tension and release. To hear the result of this experiment, go here http://wp.me/p4dp9b-bv. On listening again, I hear the C pulse frenetically undermining any possibility of release. One of the TRIC Questions I have answered is to drop the 1/8th note C pulse. Scoring the patterns precisely in Ableton Live creates a rhythmic underpinning for improvising musicians to play with/against, so the C pulse is unneccessary and unhelpful. Another reason to drop the pulse is that it is an integral part of playing TRIC, and I am no longer playing that particular iteration of these sound modules.

The eight long tone patterns  range in length from 6 pulses to 32 pulses. If all eight modules begin at the same time, there will be a sustained 6 pulse EF#GC [C(add#4)]chord. This could be achieved by triggering all the modules at once. Then, it would be interesting to peal away the patterns till only two remain. Which two patterns will be the final pair that plays this iteration out? One possibility is P30 and P21, which carries the tritone tension through to end. The other pair is P29 and P42, which creates the more consonant C major sound. Let’s try those two ideas. First, we end with P30 and P21. This sketch feels tense throughout. The denseness dissipates, but the tension stays high.

Next, we end with P29 and P42. Here the tritone tension is folded into a more harmonious blend by the end.

I have been so focused on the tritone carrying the tension, that I ignored the tension that half-tone, whole tone and minor third intervals inject into the scape. The final voices in the harmonious sketch create as soothing a combo as exists within this overlayering of fourths and minor seconds and thirds. So while it is soothing, there remains a sense of alertness within the release.

And, for my next trick, I set off that initial C (add#4) chord over and over, each time pealing away different layers to create a longer soundscape. Here is a 6 minute sound piece with five versions of pealing back to two patterns by the end. Each iteration ends with a different pair.

I love the feeling of fireworks exploding into that C (add#4) then the subtle changes that pealing back one part at a time makes to that chord. Then finally, there is a falling off of the expansiveness of the sound field and we are left with just two patterns rocking back and forth. Then – BAM – the C (add#4) explodes again. I love this!

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!

Carried Wisdom

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I have a friend whom I have not seen in many decades. We now communicate on Facebook. We shared a connection in high school, then I moved away sophomore year. I am not good at maintaining long distance relationships – being a right here, right now kinda girl! The present moment is very full, but I want to expand my awareness to include those I love who are not in my immediate proximity.

My friend had a difficult and painful 2016. She surrendered much, participated in great healing and is moving through the experience with much love and gratitude. She is in my thoughts alot these days. We have shared jokes and love memes on Facebook. She has listened to some of my soundscapes and is open to the vibrations. I wanted to create a soundscape for her journey.

I have not heard from her in a while and I am sending waves of loving vibrations her way via the soundscape entitled Carried Wisdom.

“TRIC Questions” 2017

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So I am launching a new project that is pulling together interesting ideas and questions from other projects (Folding/Unfolding, Separation and In-Between, iBoD).  This has been percolating for some time and just came clear in the last few weeks. In a recent Audio Origami post (http://wp.me/p5yJTY-eI) I wrote alot about Terry Riley’s In C, renamed it TRIC and began studying the patterns of TRIC as if they were notated samples to be used in producing soundscapes. Then I discovered I had written about this idea at the end of My Year In C. (See http://wp.me/p4dp9b-dl) That was two years ago, and now I have greater clairaudience as to how it will unfold.

Studying the patterns as individual packets of sound frees them from the linear progression of the TRIC musical score. Now the patterns can talk among themselves, shift their shapes and reveal other songs contained within. Varieties of harmonic configurations emerge that may never have been heard before. By this I mean – when musical groups play through the TRIC score, only certain patterns are heard in overlap when the musicians follow Terry Riley’s suggestion to stay within 2 or 3 patterns of each other during performance. What happens if patterns from disparate parts of In C overlap each other? What harmonics come forth from these mergers? What kinds of musical sequences emerge?  These are examples of TRIC Questions that will be explored in the coming months.

I am deconstructing/reconstructing/tweaking TRIC by allowing the patterns free-rein to not only interact, but shift their structure to accommodate the interactions. For me, TRIC is sonic DNA, some kind of cellular message, literally a vibratory tonic, offering a smorgasbord of rhythms and intonations to mix it up with. Using the TRIC patterns as samples creates alternate Universe versions of TRIC . Each of these pieces will be its own creation, while retaining the mark of the original.

For example:

I have long been fascinated with the long tone patterns in TRIC. With long tone patterns defined as containing mostly whole and half notes, Patterns 6,8,14,21,29,30,42,48 qualify for this category. These patterns slow the pace with notes of longer duration, and boost the harmonic content through the sustained and decaying harmonics of each note. The pattern tones fall from the C above Middle C, with the notes BAGFE sweeping down. Pattern 14 introduces the F#, which really shifts the tone. Two of the eight long tone patterns contain F#, and I argue with myself about just excluding them. But they are there for a reason! Here is one piece that came from this combination of patterns:


This work is so much about harmonics, and how they lead us to greater consonance and clearer dissonance in our moment to moment existence. This work is about inclusion, working out differences, creating balance with no words spoken. I believe that TRIC showers space with a loving vibration. Over 50 years ago,  Terry Riley received these audio legos and assembled them into a form. Now I want to spill all the legos on the table, play around with them, and listen for what other soundscapes emerge.*

*This is not an original idea. One of my favorite TRIC recordings is In C Remixed by Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble. I reviewed the CD here: http://wp.me/p4dp9b-2Q

You cannot fold a Flood- And put it in a Drawer

bottom over top                                                                                                                                    reaching for the other side                                                                                                                              a fold will occur

the fold will happen                                                                                                                                          the containment – unlikely                                                                                                                    Emily, you know!

Glenna Batson put forth this idea of exploring the fold as it pertains to moving bodies. I was intrigued by the various qualities of a fold and how these qualities could be rendered in sound. Sound is a wave, which has the movement of folding, the curving back toward self that starts a fold. The rising and falling in an arc, that is the trajectory of a fold, can be rendered in the rising and falling of pitches. Voices and phrases can overlap just as half the sheet lays over the other half when folding laundry. This can be sonically rendered with staggered phrases or long reverb tails. Then there are types of audio filters that pull frequencies out of the spectra, creating folds. And the acoustics of the room create patterns of sound wave reflections that interfer with each other to create “comb filtering” – literal, periodic folds in the frequency spectra. I explored all of these sound folding techniques during the first three Human Origami workshops that Glenna and I offered.

This is what I have learned so far.

While “comb filtering” is considered less desirable by audio engineers, as a sound folding technique, it works. I measured the effect in the first workshop at The Carrack Modern Art Gallery. Positioning a speaker directly at the windows created strong early reflections, which generated visible comb-filtering in the recording. The workshop participants might not identify the phenomenon, but they did come in contact with it. Given the behavior of sound waves, I trust that comb-filtering will happen and do not worry about creating it.

Rising and falling, overlapping, and reaching back (all actions associated with folds) can be orchestrated musically. One technique used to create “reaching back” is to feature overtone harmonics. By this I mean, playing the interval notes to a fundamental tone in the octave in which they naturally occur in the harmonic overtone series for that tone. For example, the first harmonic in a series is the octave above the fundamental, now we are in the second octave above the fundamental where we hear a fifth then the next octave tone. In the third octave we hear the third, fifth and flatted seventh. The fourth octave layers in the second and the raised fourth and the sixth. Normally when these intervals are played over one or two octaves they are heard as chords. Articulating them in their natural harmonic series “home” octave creates a harmonic reach over multiple octaves, and a fold back in reference to the fundamental tone. An example of this technique from the Folding/Unfolding Soundscape:

Here is an illustration of the harmonic series for the fundamental tone C – you can follow the notes up to see that the familiar intervals of the Solfege scale mostly play out over the four octaves above the fundamental note.

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As you can hear in the example, stretching across multiple octaves creates a spacious reach into very high frequencies which refer back to the fundamental tone, thus creating a sonic fold.

Rising and falling is orchestrated through pitch relationships moving up and down a scale. To my ear, the feeling of the fold is greater in less resolved intervals – thus using the fourth or sixth interval as the turn around note in the rising and falling line has a stronger sense of folding. Duration of tones in the run and their rhythmic relationships allow for a vast pool of material to be used in a folding soundscape. Stagger these lines in relation to each other and you have overlap – another aspect of a fold. Using these orchestration concepts, the folding soundscape was born.

After creating and playing folds in a soundscape for many months, I noticed two fold forms emerging from the mix. One was an echo, where the sound comes back on itself like two halves of a folded sheet. (The echo is heard in both audio examples in this post) Another fold form is the spiral, where the feeling of the sonic movement is this perpetual reaching towards the fold, but never completing it. This fold is clearly illustrated in the TRIC* samples used in the last Human Origami workshop. You will hear a spinning quality in the music that comes from a pulse rather than a downbeat. Here is an example with many layers of spiral folds. This is rather long (nearly nine minutes), and I think you will benefit from listening to the entire movement. Be sure to listen from 7:30 to the end. Great example of the spiral fold:


As we’ve continued on this investigative journey into Human and Audio Origami, each workshop participant has engaged with the soundscape, with Glenna’s keen guidance, with paper/fabric, with the cells of their own bodies in wholly different ways. All our relations are brought to the table, as bodies wrest back control from the mind in order to create space for being. Folding requires an inward turning that is a missing link in the lives of many. I invite you all to join us. I will keep you posted as to our next offering.

In the meantime, feel free to download the soundscape for free. Listen as much as you like! With great love and joyous affection at this turning of the year.

*Terry Riley’s In C as a package of notated samples.