My interest in sounding the world was peaked when I attended Elise Witt’s weekend of song and exploration on Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia in 2004 or 2005. Time is a blur, but I vividly remember that weekend, carrying a hand held cassette tape recorder everywhere, and later creating a memory soundscape for each person who attended our glorious days of song and sun on Ossabaw Island GA. This was the very beginning of sound and soundscaping as my creative focus, awakened on this magical island.
The next trip to Ossabaw was as a creative artist with a desire to make a piece for the Annual Ossabaw Foundation Pig Roast and Art Auction, The field recording you will hear below was made standing underneath Sandy West’s tree on Ossabaw Island during a sunny afternoon in May 2006. From this recording, I created one of my first “soundscapes” and my partner, Trudie Kiliru, created the watercolor “Sandy’s Tree”. We felt they were a package and donated them to the auction. The recording presented here is an edited version of the original audio file and focuses on the natural and human-made sounds one might hear on Ossabaw on a Spring afternoon.
Sandy’s Tree Watercolor by Trudie Kiliru
The recording was made with a mini-disc recorder through two small microphones attached to a ball cap on my head. Occasionally you will hear my steps on the shelled path, but mostly I stood in one spot and looked around. Listening to the recording through headphones, you will hear the birds move across the tree canopy, a plane pass by overhead, and close encounters with mosquitos, angry squirrels and electric ciccadas. I hear at least a dozen different bird calls. What do you hear?
Now in 2020, Ossabaw Island’s protected status has come under threat of private development. The Ossabaw Foundation and their supporters have been able to fend off the threat so far, and hopefully they will continue to do so. Putting this news together with climate change and rising seas, I realized that these few moments by Sandy West’s tree are a record of something that I want to preserve.
For more information about Ossabaw Island, The Ossabaw Foundation and the amazing Sandy West and her special tree, visit https://ossabawisland.org/
Eight months ago, the Elektron Model: Samples became part of my sounding board. (Here is a blog post about some preliminary explorations- https://wp.me/p5yJTY-Ch) When the MS started having key sticking issues, and the Global Reset rendered repairs inaccessible, the sounding board landed in limbo land. During this dreamy time, I realized/remembered that I want to play Control Voltages. The MS is a audio/midi device that can sequence synths that accept digital signals. CVs are another realm entirely! Although many synths can be stimulated by both types of signals, the depth and breadth of CVs is unparallelled to my ear.
Thanks to the flexibility of Sweetwater Music and the take charge attitude of my Sweetwater Sales Agent, Paul Allen, the MS (and a little cash) was exchanged for a Make Noise O-Control!! FINALLY, I have a voltage controlled modular set up as I pair this sweet thing with the Behringer Neutron!! Here you have it:
Today is the fifth day of play with my mini-mod, and I am happily patching, playing, studying manuals and/or Patch and Tweak, and deeply listening. Here are some sound samples from my first week’s play.
Duke University Science and Society sponsors a number of programs to foster the interdisciplinary exchange of ideas. One of these programs, SciComm Lunch and Learn, will be the host for Listen to Your Gut, a presentation on baby Lemurs, gut microbiomes and the sonification of data. Dr. Erin McKenney will present her research on changes in the gut microbiomes of baby Lemurs from birth to wean. (Dr. McKenney’s research was done at the Duke Lemur Center!) I will present the Baby Lemur Gut Microbiome Song, which is a sonification of those changes, and talk about how to “listen” to the data.
The program, originally scheduled on campus last March, will happen over Zoom on October 14, 2020. This means that you can all come!!! Here is the link to RSVP- this is necessary in order to get the Zoom link:
In addition, we will share about the Sourdough Project, which Dr. McKenney and I worked on through the Rob Dunn Lab at NC State. I hope to have a section of The Song of the Sourdough ready to present on October 14th. These two studies/sonifications illustrate different approaches to sounding out data. I am grateful to Dr. McKenney for sharing her research and being game for explorations in sound! Another big gratitude goes out to Dr. Ariana Eily and The Art of the Scientist for taking an interest in the idea of sounding data!
Thanks to Nancy Lowe from AS IS Center near Penland School, I am “new best friends” with Mark Boyd. Mark is a sound artist who records and amplifies the “voices” of plants, ants and flowing water: the realm of the tiny vibratory world. Talk about deep listening! Mark has been using electrode sensors on plants into a Volca Synth to listen to the electrical life force within the plant! He sent me recordings of his “biologues” with Bleeding Heart and Fern, and Dogwood. The playback presents us with a lot of fast-paced random sounds. Mark is interested in transducing this data into something people might listen to. Here is an excerpt from Mark’s Bleeding Heart and Fern biologues:
Ableton Live contains numerous tools for transposing/transducing/converting sonic data. An audio clip, such as the one you just heard, can be converted into midi clips; one that renders melody information, and another that renders harmonic information. So now we have audio information rendered as 2 packets of midi information. Within Ableton, midi files can be collapsed or stretched across a timeline and still maintain the integrity of the rhythmic intervals. Midi data can be assigned to a “voice” that feels representative of the sound artist’s impressions of the particular plant that is speaking. Midi data can be fed back into a synth such as the Volca to complete the circle.
The scaling of the time frames of the midi clips is exactly what is needed to help us “hear” the biofeedback from the plants. Doubling the length of the midi clip slows the overall “tempo” and helps us to listen into a kind of river of sound emitted by the plants. Slowing down allows us to tune into a rhythmic cohesiveness that is obscured by the frantic pace of the plant’s raw electrical impulses. We inject spaciousness into the mix in just the right amount, and it sounds like something is being communicated.
After finishing the new rendering of the data, I sent this to Mark:
He was ecstatic, over the top about all the possibilities of Ableton. He downloaded the Lite version and took off with it. We had some great email exchanges and he sent me samplings of his tests and experiments with the flora around his mountain home. Here is a beautiful example with a plant in Mark’s home:
I look forward to Mark putting together an orchestra of local flora in concert in the near future. In the meantime, I am enjoying dialoguing with another human being who is listening as deeply as I am.
Here is a 8 minute excerpt from dejacusse’ hour long broadcast on Thursday afternoon July 30 from 2:48 pm to 3:45 pm. (cause I eschew ideas of “perfection”, and all her followers and gatekeepers.) Today we featured Theta Waves (frequencies divisible by 5 and 8) at 200hz and under at 108 bpm. These Sine waves were then set off in relation to each other, and filtered through flangers, resonators, delays, reverbs and frequency filters within Ableton Live. The idea is to unfold harmonics from these interactions, and enfold them back on themselves. Some pretty cool stuff emerges- not for everyone, but if you feel the resonance, that is the best! Thanks for listening if you do!
Once again I find myself back with Ableton Live. A couple of posts ago, my sounding board was set and I was starting to put some things together in Elektron: Model Samples along with Ableton and the Neutron. Then a couple of the trigger keys on the Model Samples started sticking. This is comparable to a sticking piano key. At first, I was OK with having this be another random possibility within my workflow, but more triggers got in on the act, and I couldn’t tell which keys were sticking, and that random possibility became a more fixed probability. So for now the Model Samples is boxed up waiting to go to the technicians at Sweetwater whenever they get Elektron techs back at the shop. This is my last purchase from Sweetwater! I am miffed that this is taking months to resolve and I am left with several ideas in early development within the Model Samples that are now on hold. Instead of wasting energy being miffed, I am turning to some new ways to play in Ableton.
Under the Audio Effects subfolder DJ and Performance within Ableton Live, there are One Knob effects racks capable of creating dramatic changes to any sound when the One Knob is turned. The changes are achieved by placing several different audio effects in a rack and then using midi map to attach a variety of parameter changes from each effect onto the One Knob. The parameter ranges can even be adjusted as to how big a change the knob sweep brings. After working with Audio Animation Clips/Envelope Generators, this seems like a promising new direction to explore.
My favorite One Knob Rack is Fade to Gray, which houses a three band EQ and a Ping Pong Delay. Here are pictures of each of these effects:
Turning the One Knob lowers the mid frequency band of the EQ Three by 6dB while the low frequency and high frequencies sweep toward the midrange as the wet signal and feedback swoop up to 95%. Now a tiny slice of mid-range frequencies feeding back on itself goes into the Ping Pong Delay, where the signal and feedback go to 95%. All of these changes are happening over time and in relation to each other. While the end result is a thin and distant decaying echo of the completely subdued orginal signal, every stop along the One Knob sweep renders new sonic terrain. So cool!
Now I am inspired! What sorts of changes can be wrought in this environment? I want to make One Knob Racks that sculpt the sound in interesting ways! Start simple: made a few changes in the Fade to Gray letting in some lower range frequencies on the EQ3 and bringing the crossing frequencies together at a lower bandwidth. So this Fades to Throb rather than Gray. I suppose I should have picked a color- it would be Blue, Fade to Blue. Throb describes the end result more clearly, so that is the name!
For several weeks now, I have been making, testing, throwing away and saving One Knob Racks. My project contains an audio track with sound samples from Ableton and from Library dejacusse. That track is routed into another audio track which contains the One Knob Racks and is routed to the Master output track. With this setup, the original audio track signal goes directly to the One Knob track, so the original audio is heard through that track. When I close all the One Knob Racks (there are seven so far but I forsee hundreds) no sound comes out the Master track. All the frequencies have been gathered and are being held within the racks. One type of improvisation might be to slowly unveil the original audio by opening the One Knob Racks a bit at a time. When they are all completely at 0, the original signal and all its frequencies are now sounding through the One Knob track and out to the Master. So much potential here!
But wait, there is more! There are a couple of tracks hanging around over beside the Master Track. These are Return Tracks. The original audio track and the One Knob track both have two Sends knobs that send signal to the return tracks. This is another way to add some effects processing to a signal and also have it be available for all the tracks. As it turns out, the send knob on the original audio track can bring that signal forward through the return track even when all the One Knob racks are closed! This is sooooo cool, because as the One Knobs are opening, some of the original sound can be brought up into the mix to give listening ears some direction and excitation. The return tracks can also have effects on them. WoW!
This is exciting for me because it aligns with everything I am creating right now. I seek methods for including all frequencies in the sonic pallette, for rendering frequencies in as many dimensions as I can tune into, for conveying information/data/quanta via sound, and for creating diffuse, diverse sonic delights. I tune into joy and delight in many strange waveforms.
I am drawn to the idea of unFolding, uncovering, and revealing which this method opens up to. Also, the idea of integration and disintegration, which I started exploring over 10 years ago with Unhinged Melody (which later became Circuslocution with iBoD). The idea was an 8 bar upbeat riff that started as individual random sounding notes and slowly came together. Every note has its place and it eventually gets there with some extra notes for good measure! Each One Knob Rack will shape the sound into particular forms, then as one Rack feeds into another, the various level settings create new sonic relationships within the original audio.
Creating these One Knob Racks is teaching me so much about each audio effect in Ableton and what it does. The other part of this will be the sounds that pass through the Racks, what will they be? And then there is the order that the Racks are placed in to maximize the interplay of the Racks as they pass the sound around and through themselves.
Here is a quick journey through some of the sonic territory these knobs can uncover! The original audio is Eleanor Mills playing harmonica and me talking and playing uke. Listen for those times when the original sound is hard to distinguish.
Today I worked with a 8 second clip of Jim Kellough’s digital horn and here is the result:
David Byrne’s record label Luaka Bop released one of my favorite albums – Cuisine Non-Stop – which featured popular local bands from all around the country of France. The album is a delightful pastiche of people lovingly creating their music wherever they find themselves! I felt a kinship with this merry band of troubadours, and thought it would be so wonderful to be included in such a sampling.
In January 2020, I saw an advertisement on Facebook from Chapel Hill Library and Community Arts and Culture seeking album submissions for a curated collection of music by local artists. The requirements for submission were residence in Orange and neighboring counties, and a published album. The submission process was pain free and user friendly. I submitteddejacusse’ album Audiorigami:Meditations on The Fold (released 11/11/18) and wished her the very best!
A month in Florida, a Coronavirus lockdown and a National Water Dance later, an email arrives telling me that Audiorigami would be included in the inaugural Tracks Music Library. I am thrilled and encouraged by this development! Although it may not be Luaka Bop, this fits my work perfectly! “The grass roots of the grass roots” as one friend said! Tracks Music Library was launched June 9, 2020 with 80 albums to stream and plans to grow the library by 25 albums a year. You can listen at tracksmusiclibrary.org.
Tracks Music Library is the result of Chapel Hill Library staff meeting the Rabble Musicat staff at a library conference several years ago. Rabble is a private company with a mission to equip libraries with the very best software for presenting media to the world, which is a primary mission of libraries. Rabble believes libraries are “forces for good” and wants them to have access to excellent media resources! (I think they are quite successful, and I will tell you why later.) Musicat is a facet of Rabble that focuses on curating local music into library collections. These local music libraries have been established in Nashville, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Austin to name a few, and now Chapel Hill. Here is a link to more on Rabble Musicat: https://musicat.co/libraries
Melissa Bartoletta, Communications Coordinator for Chapel Hill Community Arts and Culture, said of this first round:
We received 176 submissions in our first open call for submissions. We were thrilled by that number as well as by the quality and diversity of the work submitted. Because our first year of this project was funded through a grant from the State Library, we were able to invite 80 artists into the collection.
Melissa emphasized that Chapel Hill Library and Community Arts and Culture have made a committment to grow the library with an annual call for submissions, continued funding and staying responsive to the ever-changing Triangle music scene. One of the ways they will stay responsive is by calling on folks from the local music scene to curate the collection. This year’s curators were Lois DeLoatch, Kevin “Kaze” Thomas, Elinor Walker, Bill Smith, Kat Harding, Glenn Boothe, Steve Weiss, and Steve Wright. The curators come to music from a wide range of perspectives, but all listen “with an ear for quality, diversity and connection” to the local music community.
While the on-line library is free for music listeners, all of the artists were paid a meaningful stipend for our work. I think of it as a kind of permanent license to stream purchased by the Chapel Hill Library. In addition, each artist has their own page with a PayPal donation button – if a listener is so moved they can donate to the artist. From my perspective it is a perfect platform. Part of this perfect platform is the media player created by Rabble. As I listened through each track on Audiorigami, I heard so much detail and depth, as if I was listening through headphones, but it was actually through iPad speakers at 75% amplitude. The quality of this listen really impressed me.
Periodically throughout the day, I focus awareness on the realization that one of the basic building blocks of the entire material world as we know it is– the oscillation. All of my personal and all of our shared experience is comprised of waveform oscillations modulating each other. This pattern driver of existence is active from the quantum to the cosmic scale and all stops in between, including the sliver we call “material reality”. Take a deep breath into THAT awareness! It has the capacity to expand “being” way beyond this mortal coil.
Signal sources, harmonics, filters, amplifiers, attenuaters, etc. all shape the place we call home. This is not a static activity, although we are obsessed with nailing it down and calling it stable. To be fair, our egoic phase needs the illusion of constancy cocreated by our corporeal senses + time. It is scary to allow in all the buzzy sensations of the multitudes of oscillations interacting within and through us moment to moment. It can shake and crack the hard linear shell of “Reality” we impose on this extremely fluid existence. But once, some cracks and crevices soften the shell, we can tune in and ride the dyhedrals of the great structured chaos out of which life arises, our true and only home. All the necessary tools are available to us:
Focused awareness in the now.
Deep listening (way deeper than ear listening).
Adaptability to a looser, less bound-up, more centered and flexible way of being in the world.
And, most importantly, forgiveness.
Sound, due to its oscillating nature, impacts the structure and movement of material reality. So do flapping butterfly wings. So do thoughts and emotions fully felt and released or shoved away and blamed on others. So do bombs and bullets. So do words of harm and ridicule. So do love and compassion. So does forgiveness. Each moment we choose a platform (or it chooses us) and then we actively modulate our consciousnesses into existence, as we ourselves are modulated by all the struck and jostling oscillations.
TODAY, April 18th, iBoD is taking Durham to the National Water Dance! At 4 pm today, Jody Cassell will dance with the trees, the breeze, the sunlight and the water to iBoD’s Carnatic Water Music. The original plan was to create a watery container of sound, projections and flora through which Jody Cassell would lead the movement. Several other dancers including some of Jody’s young dance students were excited to perform this event at PS 137 in downtown Durham. Well, you know what happened! With so many cancellations, NWD leaders decided to go ahead with the dance as a streaming event. We will have Jody dancing to iBoD’s Carnatic Water Music at 4 pm this Saturday on Instagram Live from the safety of her home.
Here is some background on National Water Dance drom their website:
National Water Dance is a catalyst that encourages ongoing engagement between dance and the environment. Beginning in 2011 as a statewide project in Florida, it now boasts 65 locations across the United States—in 2018 including Puerto Rico for the first time. With each event National Water Dance recommits itself to the effort of increasing purposeful awareness to drive action on environmental issues, specifically climate change. Supporting the work of participants beyond our bi-annual event, National Water Dance spreads the word on the environmental issues they are tackling through monthly newsletters and social media. Our goal is to realize the power of dance as an engine of social change.
In the spirit of this mission, Jody suggests, through her movement choices, elements of this “engine” that are not as visible as issues. Stillness, slowness, wonder, and (dare we say it!) JOY in being right here and right now and moving! The soundscape Carnatic Water Music articulates and ensounds a few of the ways that water can move! To hear the entire piece go to Bandcamp/dejacusse.
As this large group of dancers in 65 locations across the country create a wave of healing energy directed toward Earth and Water, your attention will amplify the energy beyond all possibilities.
Join us for a five minute healing prayer on Instagram (@movinggrace) or through the National Water Dance Website. If you cannot join us at 4, please bear witness to the dance on Instagram TV. Now, more than ever, it is important to mind what we ourselves are giving our precious time and attention to!