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!

I Met a Rapper

I just heard Doseone perform at the Ableton Loop Vocal Synthesis Panel. The whole panel was great, and Doseone put in an extraordinary performance. His lyrics are cosmic and thoughtful. Gonna be listening so somore Doseone! I love this song!

www.youtube.com/watch

Experiments in Audio Origami 2: The 11th Harmonic

This experiment began with a rather dubious YouTube video about the “11th harmonic” and its power in breaking up cancer cells. The video is about the Rife Machine, which was an invention from the 1930s purporting to cure many diseases. Royal Rife was the scientist and inventor who “discovered” frequencies that could interfer with the frequencies of diseased cells. The narrator of the YouTube video, stated that the 11th harmonic was the frequency that disrupted cancer cells. About a week after I started this post, I found a TED Talk along this same line:

What we are learning from quantum physics about how the Universe is put together lends quite a bit of credence to the idea that frequencies can disrupt disease. Oscillating frequencies make up the entire spectrum of “all that is.” When these frequencies interact with consciousness – “being” happens. Our singular awarenesses collapse the waveforms into the many points of existence – the mix of all our singularities creates what we call “reality”. The famous physicist Erwin Schrodinger put this idea in another way when he said, “The total number of minds in the Universe is one: In fact, consciousness is a singularity phasing within all beings.” Oscillating frequencies engage with each other through constructive (in phase) and destructive (out of phase) interference (or, as I like to call them – engagement) patterns. Thus the fabric of reality is an oscillating organism of frequencies engaging, changing and disengaging with each other. Our brains stabilize the whole thing so that we can navigate and participate in our lived experience.

Both of these videos assert that a harmonic relationship created by a low tone and a higher tone is necessary to disrupt diseased cells. In both cases, the necessary frequencies equate to an extreme number of oscillations. Dr. Holland said that frequencies needed to be around 300,000 to 400,000 hertz in order to destroy cancer cells. While these frequencies are waaaay outside of the audio spectrum, there is an organizing principle that allows for the possibility that lower audio frequencies might influence healing. And that organizing principal is – the octave. Whatever frequency you start with will always return “home” when it doubles. It is itself again. For example, middle C on a piano is about 262 hz, double that to 524 hz and you are at C again. This creates a resonating fractal that repeats on and on into infinity.

The harmonic overtone series, which is the basis for most everything we hear musically, is built around this doubling principal. As we add more iterations of the fundamental frequency, we create more overtone relationships. Using the middle C example again, adding 262 hz to 524 hz gives us 786 hz, which is G or a fifth above C. Add 262 hz to 786 hz and we get 1048 hz which returns us to C again. Now we are two octaves above our fundamental frequency Middle C, AND we are at the 3rd harmonic. By adding 262 hz eight more times we reach the 11th harmonic, which is 3114 hz – G in the fourth octave above middle C.  (For more on harmonic overtones and their impact on our cosmic existence check out Hans Cousto’s book The Cosmic Octave.) Now I can create an audible 11th harmonic by combining a fundamental frequency and the fifth degree of that frequency in the fourth octave above that frequency. So I decided to make a leap of faith into the realm of the cosmic octave, and create a soundscape that hinges on an 11th harmonic and the healing secrets that it may hold.

Folding/Unfolding: The 11th Harmonic is built on a tetrachord of fundamental tones – CEGB accompanied by their 11th harmonic companions  – GBDF#. The tones are 4 octaves apart, so this is not an interval you are accustomed to hearing. I chose 6 instruments and created patterns with these unusual intervals. As I thought about how to voice this harmonic, I identified three choices :1. alternate between the fundamental and harmonic in a variety of rhythmic patterns all on one voice, 2. have one voice sounding just the fundamental and a different voice sounding the harmonic, 3. since the 11th harmonic is a fifth in the fourth octave and the two octaves below the fourth octave also contain fifths (according to the overtone series), then I could vary the patterns with some fifth reinforcements in those lower octave. The second choice was very monotonous and weakened the presence of the 11th harmonic, so I went with the other two as my basic structure.

This soundscape will be performed tomorrow, May 15th from 2 to 4 pm as accompaniment for Glenna Batson’s latest Human Origami workshop. This workshop is subtitled Partnering with Paper, Exploring the Muse. Joy of Movement Studio in Chatham Mills is hosting the event. In addition, to the featured 11th harmonic, I will use the audio folding techniques I discovered during the previous Human Origami workshop.(See blog post – http://wp.me/p5yJTY-c9)

We hope to see YOU there!

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.

Composing/Scripting/Playing the Soundscape: Part 1

With all of the Universal Juiciness that is going on right now, I am drawn more deeply into this sounding world. Still highly under the influence of Caverna Magica. (Wow, I just noticed that influen-ce and influen-za have a lot of letters in common. Infected by Caverna Magica? Hmmmm…) There are four primary pieces that have my attention right now and they are:

A performance for Jim Kellough’s show Warmed Over Sue Realism will be an “opera” woven by myself, June Merlino and Jim. This soundscape is really raw right now, but forming. (March 7 – Tea Time @ The Scrap)

“New Music 4Trudie” is a present for Trudie where I attempt to capture what she loves in the song “New Music” from the musical, Ragtime. I presented her with these two themes for Valentine’s Day. (Perhaps a performance for next Valentine’s?) Here they are:

Soundscape for All Hallows Eve for Allie Mullin’s Halloween-inspired photography exhibit, where I will create a multi-facted, creepy, yet inviting sonic vibe. I am really interested in spreading the sound around The Makery via small, wired together speakers units. I have some small speaker units from recycled TVs and I think they could be wired together and run along the floor for effect. (Anyone reading who knows how to do this, please contact me. I could use the help. This is for the end of October, 2015.)

“VolleySunds” (after Caverna Magica) still has me interested in further development. I want to get together with Susanne and Eleanor Mills to work on ways of shaping it. I added a new section to it this week.

As more Ableton projects get started, left behind and returned to, I am beginning to have a “Hope Chest” of ideas to use as starters or as extenders for larger pieces I am working on. This is an example of a phenomenon of synchronicity that I have been observing lately. I call it “planting seeds for your future self.” Those moments when you commit to a project, or buy a book, or make a call for no sensible reason. You are just compelled to do it and you do. Afterward, you think “what was THAT about?” Six months, 3 years, 15 years later, you realize that THAT moment has manifested into this present one, and you, alone on your own, could NEVER have planned this out. So very important to adknowledge and appreciate the Divine WoW in action.

Which brings me to the title of this post. I want to pay closer attention to the process that is involved in creating soundscapes. As questions arise, ways to explore those questions must be created. I want to create flexible templates for composing and performing soundscapes. In order to do this, I am taking some time to look back and take note of the various methods as they are evolving.

I found notes from the very first soundscape I performed at the Durham Arts Council, Far Afield (A Response to the Art of Nancy Tuttle May). NTM sent me the images for her show and I spent time with each image while the soundscape was being created. I really love her work and was very excited by the images. They were profound and whimsical at the same time. I worked with the ideas of mystery, playfulness, whimsy and an exotic universality. At that point the process was to flesh out my responses to her art work, select voices for the piece based on those responses, and proceed from there. A concept, some voices and we’re off!

The next layer is harmonics. Modes and scales are of particular interest to me. They are like Lego blocks that you can use to create all manner of sound textures and feelings. I chose to begin Far Afield with a watery, wavering sonorous Dorian-stepped scale, repeating over and over in an urgent appeal. From there, we moved through vast, prolonged pad synth lines in counter-harmony with the original Dorian wash of tones. There was a sort of Latin tinged movement in there, ending with a Native American flute loop created by Susanne Romey. When I performed it, I added in vocals and percussion. The most recent recording of the entire piece that can be heard on Soundcloud does include the vocal and percussion parts.

I am very fond of this soundscape and enjoy listening to it myself. When I performed it at the opening reception, I invited people to listen to it as they looked deeply at NTM’s art. Very few people did this, mostly people chatted with each other, which added a dimension of sound that I had not taken into account when preparing to play it live. Certain nuances could not be heard, while other parts swept through the space, riding on the voices. Here is a 30 second video of the event that gives a feel for what I am talking about: (Thanks to Eleanor Mills for this!)

Friends in attendance that night were upset that people were not listening. While I had not planned for people to give me their rapt attention, I had hoped they would engage in the process of looking at the art with the soundscape accompaniment. Since this did not happen, I realized I had to rethink how I would go about presenting soundscapes in a public social forum. (Luckily, in this case, the soundscape played in the gallery for the run of the show, so people could go and hear it while looking at the art that inspired it.)

Since then I have had three more soundscaping experiences, and each one has reshaped my intention and process.

To be continued.