Playing by Ear – What did we learn? Where do we go from here?

Following our first play date for All Data Lost, Lisa and I talked about what happened:

Lisa: I thought, “Oh, shit” when I first walked in [to The Wicked Witch] because its so dark I can’t see what I am doing, and then, you know, if someone is talking to me?!….but the energy there allowed it to be OK. You don’t have to interact, you can be alone in the dark with other people and not feel obligated to look at them, talk to them. Which is kind of freeing, actually, its freeing with the music too. Interacting with the audience effects my concentration on what I am doing with the music.

Jude: I really appreciated that aspect of the festival experience. The total focus on what is being created, on what is happening right now in this primal sonic moment! Most of the artists I heard during the afternoon performances could not be classified into any genre and each one was an engaging and unique experience.

Lisa: I also felt the audience was very attentive! They’re not looking at, or talking to, or doing anything else. They are standing there in the dark just listening to what you are doing! Its pretty neat! Even though some styles of music feed off of interacting directly with the audience, this is more experimentation, so I appreciated being able to focus on what we were doing.

When I listened to the recording, I was pleased with it, I thought it was pretty good. There was enough variety, without being too way out there. Here (in the SunRa Room) we are experimenting, then when we go and play somewhere, there needs to be more structure. I heard that. I liked the layers, and I think what I am hearing most are harmonics, and the harmonics allows the layers. The layers don’t let your brain get lazy or bored. The layering inspires curiosity!

Jude: Experimental sound art, which is what I feel like we are doing, is just one big surprise after another, and/or an evolving constancy built upon repetition and tiny changes. The layers of the soundscape are made up of harmonics, prolonged repetition, tiny and gigantic changes at a variety of tempos. Some folk’s hearing is limited by their thinking about genre classifications and performer virtuosity/charisma. Experimental sound can too overwhelming to the codified earbrain.

Lisa: The brain is like that in other ways too. People who believe that everyone should behave a certain way and anything outside of their prescribed way of thinking causes anxiety and tension. The brain is like a muscle, if you don’t use it to the full potential, it is going to wear out and not be able to tolerate much. When you exercise it, it begins to be able to handle more and more and more. Music and math are ways to exercise the brain. Math is completely like that, its exhausting, frustrating. You don’t see it and one day the light bulb comes on, and you are a totally different person.

The biggest difference between playing here (the SunRa Room) and playing at The Wicked Witch was having other people involved in listening. You feel some responsibility to bring a nice experience to them. So I think I listened more! I am controlling this, what do I want to put out there? I am not that experienced in playing for an audience, so I have a small bag of tools. So, in some ways, this lightens my responsibility to a degree.

Jude: I like having a minimal bag of tools cause it makes me go deeper with them. Also, I get overwhelmed by all that can be done to a sound signal and routing the signal to the right places, midi and audio, etc. So minimal suits my style, which is one of constant learning and deep listening.

Lisa: As far as the sound quality, I thought it was great! It was easy for me to hear what I was doing. I knew where I was at, where we were at. Even though this was the first time I played with the spider capo and that extra layer of harmonics (Lisa had the harmonics for the bottom three strings of the guitar in addition to fingering notes.), I didn’t have to do anything extra or anything difficult. Pluck the string and it is there! The reason I would use ANY tool is because it makes things easier. I am allowing each guitar to talk by doing less. I really want to hear the voice of the guitar, each one is different. That is how I decide to buy a guitar is because of the voice.

After we talked through what we each heard in our playing, I realized that Lisa listens for new ways of playing whenever she explores her guitar’s sounds. We are both experimenters, and feel quite free in that arena. We find structure more challenging. I have lots of questions about structure – my interest in modular synthesis comes from the very clear structural forms that are present in waveforms and filters. These forms, coupled with various sound sources, make interaction the essential feature of every sonic moment. How do we structure interactions? What is included in these interactions? When do we apply structured, conceptual thinking and when do we shake it off and realize “it doesn’t matter!!”

The next phase of Playing by Ear, will include Lisa’s guitar into the Neutron routed through Ableton Live and the AAC/EG clip templates created in the Abeju Synth Station. (See https://wp.me/p5yJTY-vL for more info) Here is a sample:

Come hear us at 919 Noise Showcase in October at the Nightlight in Chapel Hill.

iBoD presents FreeQuencies @Durham Makes Music Day

My cohorts and I are flipping the script from our usual way of play for Durham Makes Music Day this coming Friday. We have played together as iBoD for about 5 years now. I make soundscapes in Ableton Live, while Susanne, Eleanor and Jim add their own riffs and melodies over top. These soundscapes follow a more formal, songish structure. While we mostly improvise, the more we play a piece, the more we lock into parts, which layers in a more rigid form and stifles the improv. Too much structure calcifies creative growth, so time for a shift!

Under the influence of Moogfest and the work of Pauline Oliveroes, iBoD is exploring “all of the waveforms” and the means to transmit them. Susanne, Eleanor, Jim and dejacusse will provide the soundscape LIVE using voice, harmonicas, melodica, digital horn, recorder, flute and electronic modulations. In this way we will transmit a diverse range of audible waveforms as patterns of frequencies. These “freequencies” will permeate the larger soundscape that will surround us, altering the sonic environment in unusual ways.

Our location at M Alley/Holland Street (behind the Durham Hotel) means we will be in the thick of all the sounds of downtown Durham and all the outdoor music being made on Durham Makes Music Day. We will not be the loudest, but if you come down to where we are located, close your eyes, quiet your mind and open your ears, I guarantee you will hear something beautiful and amazing!

Friday June 21st

8:30-9:30 pm

iBod at M Alley/Holland St.

The Place ReSounds of Water

Sunday May 19th was a gorgeously breezy afternoon when Susanne Romey fluttered and howled on the Native American flute while Eleanor Mills pulled rich sounds from The Bells, and Lee Moore Crawford blessed and balanced the water, while Jody Cassell moved and was moved by internal and external energies. dejacusse added a little shimmer to the bell harmonics and witnessed this most beautiful rendering of love.

Big thanks to Jim Kellough for sound smudging the space, to Linda Carmichael for the video capture, and Central Park School for allowing us to celebrate at The Bells.

Stay tuned next year for National Water Dance 2020 Durham NC!

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

Synthesizing in Ableton Live: External Effects Pedal (fail)

Dear friend and compadre, Karim Merlin, loaned me a guitar pedal. He recently purchased an Earthquaker Levitation pedal, which uses delay, tone and atomosphere to mix a versatile reverb with lots of space to explore. Since I am moved to play all the harmonics through synthesized sound, a guitar pedal gives me a chance to experiment with routing hardware effects through Ableton. I was very excited to try it out.

The wind left my sails when I YouTubed for some supportive info and learned that, in order to get the signal from my ukelele/or vocal mic through the pedal into Ableton and out to auditory cortexes, I need a reamp box between the pedal and the sound card, and a preamp box between the soundcard and mixing board. This has to do with matching the signal out and the signal in to the same impedance. Signal routing is the great labrynth of synthesized sound in my mind. Signals can be sound energy, electrical energy, can be boosted, attenuated, colored, and fed back onto and through each other. And, when it comes to hardware, signals must match somehow. Something to do with the energy of the signal. This part eludes my understanding so far, and I am eager to grok it! And what better way then to simply play.

The NI Komplete 6 soundcard I use has phantom power, which amplifies the signal in certain microphones. The Behringer mixing board has several ways to elevate the signal. Perhaps these will suffice? When I ran the electric uke signal through The Levitation there was a little bit of signal and a whole lot of noise. I tried playing with it within Ableton to see if I could make the noise blend, but no. A vocal microphone sounded the best, but wasn’t a sound I wanted to cultivate. The YouTube guy may be right. I need to build an empire to use pedals through Ableton.

So I end up back in Ableton, playing with all their reverb configurations and making a few of my own.

And I am still wanting a few more 3D knobs and sliders. I am anticipating that my next big sound love may come my way this week via Moogfest!

Art of a Scientist @ Golden Belt April – June 2019

The Art of a Scientist is an annual exhibit curated by Duke University graduate students who are interested in promoting dialogue between art and science. STEM graduate students submit images from their scientific research to the AoS Committee. I answered a call for artists to work with the project, and was paired with a graduate medical student who submitted a video.

The video is of the vascular system of a mouse hind leg. It begins with a view of the murine vascular tree branching out in red. We see the side of the leg rotating, then it tilts and rotates around, and disappears. An angled plane (that resembles a microscope slide) moves from bottom left of screen to top right of screen, to reveal the leg with the soft tissue enclosing the vascular system. The image rotates, then the layers melt away as the leg disappears. Then the image reverses and the layers swirl back together. The image stops before the layers finish, rotates a half turn and is complete.

The video is a collaboration between Hasan Abbas, an MD/PhD student, and the Shared Materials Instrumentation Facilities at Duke University. The mouse leg visualization can be used to model healthy and diseased cardiovascular systems. When I asked Hasan what he heard while creating the video, he said, “scholarship”, “elegance” and “discovery”. I love this as a jumping off point for a soundscape – “elegant discovery”.

And then there is the mouse! My first thought while curating samples for this project was to “give voice to the mouse”. Modern medical research is built on the backs of mice, so it seems right to honor and acknowledge their participation. I found hours of recordings of mice squeaks and scratches. Another element I wanted to capture was the branching of the vascular structure at the beginning of the video. So the creak and cracking of a large body of ice was layered into the sound bed. These sounds were synthesized into a liquidy flowing underbed (suggestive of bloodflow) over which orchestral voices swell in wonder. This piece is called O Men and Mice.

Hasan Abbas and I had several email correspondences. I sent him my first soundscape and he gave wonderfully useful feedback. In all of his correspondence, Hasan spoke with keen interest about the technology used to create the video. The method is called diceCT and the technology is a micro-CT scanner. Hasan referred to the technology as “a thousand tiny X-ray” images stitched together to create the detailed 3D image of the mouse hind leg. This made me wonder how 1000 Tiny X-rays might sound. So a second soundscape was born.

For this piece, while the primary idea is the sound of 1000 tiny x-rays, I also wanted to convey a sense of excitement and pride in an amazing technological accomplishment. diceCT is a new way of seeing living matter that could reveal hidden organic structures or systems. Drum rolls, claps and cymbal crashes are iconic sounds of triumph, so these were used as the sound source. In the video, when the tilted slide-like plane moves from bottom left to top right, the full leg emerges, and there is a feeling of a “great reveal”. This feeling is emphasized by a drum roll and cymbal splash into a moment of silence in the soundscape. For the sound of thousands of X-ray images being taken, granular synthesis was applied to the drum sounds as they built up in dense layers. Interestingly, granular processing does a similar thing to audio as the diceCT method does to matter. Hasan provided me with a video that was slower in pace for this piece. The layers of the whole leg system as they swirl away and return are so beautiful and perfectly fitted together, I wanted it to take more time.

The Art of a Scientist will open Saturday April 6 at the Golden Belt Grand Gallery (800 Taylor St. Durham) and will run through June 23, 2019.

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!