An interesting radio program from the BBC regarding the “rise” of Sound Art - can’t say that I agree completely with its sentiment that Sound Art is the next “big thing” in the art world - it’s biggest problem is the fact that it’s hard to monetize - but it’s great to know that it is finally being taken seriously as an art form. Dan Jones celebrates sound art.
There seems to come a time each Spring when my (self-imposed) deadlines seem to get longer and longer and I find I am spending more time tweaking things in my studio than actually creating.
I generally take this to mean that it’s time to concentrate on sharpening my tools rather than digging ditches…as a result my output tends to taper off in the Spring/Summer months (the proper word is “taper” as I am seldom not working on something).
This track (and it’s variations) have been on my workbench for awhile - the original having been a demo track I created for a review of the Squelch sample library by Echo Collective…. I took it back to the woodshed and tweaked it a bit (twerked?) but couldn’t quite decide which version I preferred (no worries - variations are welcome).
"Communication in the Presence of Noise" is track which blends sound design and traditional instrumentation - an area I prefer to work in.
I really hate the phrase “Content Curation” - back in pre-internet days it was called “shit that we listen to” (this is the opposite of what it tends to be now, which is “shit which I am being paid to tell you to listen to”… we had a word for that back in the day too - Payola).
The Nazi’s were so good at “Curation” that they were able to wipe the works of great artists (such as Amedeo Modigliani) from the public consciousness in favour of state approved, right-thinking German National Socialist artists (come to think of it, the Soviets were very good at that as well).
This is a round about way of saying that I while I hate what “Curation” has sometimes become, I still like making lists of “shit which I am listening to”, which is especially easy to do in this day of streaming services (let’s step away from the issue of artist compensation for a minute if we may…).
It is in this spirit that I offer up one of my many lists for your enjoyment - this one features artists whom I consider to be pioneers of electronic and experimental music and certainly remain inﬂuences on my work to this day.
If you believe (as I do) that a pioneer is someone with arrows in his back (old joke), than you might consider the sheer “bravery” of some of these folk to do the work that they did (yes, I know that this is not the same “bravery” as a ﬁreman, but none-the-less…) and I love listening to them as much for that, as the ﬁne work they produced.
Makes you wonder if they (or their heirs) make as much money today from streaming as when they were busy pulling arrows from their backs…
“I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.”
…really made me think about the role of simplicity in artistic creation.
Without a doubt I recognize that in this world writing a piece of music with a simple theme or melody is somehow looked down upon (as is not hitting a Driver as far as Tiger Woods OR not building a car that can do twice the speed limit…you get the drift), but why the obsession with complexity (OR distance, OR speed…)?
I prefer the music of Erik Satie to that of Mozart because of this simplicity, but does this make Satie an inferior composer (we all know who had a blockbuster film written about them)? There is somehow a prejudice against simplicity in things…while I recognize that simplicity can sometimes mask lack of knowledge or technique, I think sometimes complexity can equally mask a lack of creativity.
I know that in my own music, I often strive for complexity and in the end “strip away” layers because I dislike the “busyness” of the end product - I don’t think that this is as a result of lack of technique (although I am always learning), but because I gravitate towards this musical simplicity. I feel that sometimes there can really be “too many notes” in a piece of music.
Which brings me to Fred Rogers: in this Fast Food/Easy Credit/Soundbite world his program still sticks out like a Model T on a NASCAR Track…
At surface level, it’s easy to poke fun at “Mister Rogers” (I have myself) - and his gentle quiet, program with “archaic” concepts such as co-operation, friendship, community (etc). - but I dare you to sit any young person who has never seen “Mister Roger’s Neighbourhood” in front of the TV when it’s on. Once they get past their snickering, you will likely marvel as they become mesmerized in the slow-paced world that Rogers calmly weaves. These simple, “archaic” concepts run deep in the human psyche, no matter how easily we try to blow them off, and the messenger is so adept at delivering his message is his slow, sparse dialogue…
To me, this is the triumph of simplicity - people who have seen Mr Rogers REMEMBER Mr Rogers because he is such an alternative to the fast-paced, superficial TV world. Watching one of his programs (to me) is like listening to Satie instead of Mozart; one absorbs the message much better because it is simple and deep.
Perhaps some people are more prone to enjoying simplicity than others (maybe age makes a difference, or where/how you grew up…), but what we should always recognize and respect is the validity of simplicity as a form of artistic expression.
Ultimately, what is important is that the music moves you…no matter how many notes it has.
"Soul Delay" is a phrase coined by writer William Gibson - the "Urban Dictionary" describes it’s meaning best :
"Experienced in tandem with jet lag. Your body arrives after a long flight but your soul doesn’t arrive so quickly. The theory is your soul can’t travel as fast as a jet and you can become discombobulated while you wait for your soul to catch up.
"Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage." - William Gibson.
I think this piece very much sums up that feeling of being “peacefully disoriented” - not quite feeling whole (I feel the same way after a time change without even travelling) and features synthesizer, treated piano and female vocals (courtesy of Shevannai).
I would be the first one to admit that I am not much of a Fisherman (I am more the Hiker type) - less so an ice fisherman. My in-laws, however, are, and it’s great that they like to introduce my kids to the pastime, but that leaves me with the dilemma of having little to do while I sit in a heated hut on a frozen lake - I can think of worse places to be, but I have trouble adjusting to a long stretch of doing nothing.
So I have taken to bringing a recording rig along on these (rare) trips. In the past I have recorded sounds on the (surface) of the lake, but this time around I thought (for a twist) what it might be like to capture the sound “underneath” the lake. For this I turned to my trusty Aquarian Audio Hydrophone:
Powered by the phantom power on my Zoom H4N recorder (along with a FetHead Phantom pre-amp, a necessity for overcoming the H4N’s very noisy pre-amps), the H2A was perfectly comfortable in the cold lake water.
So what does it sound like underneath a frozen lake? As these recordings can attest to, it is anything but quiet - the ice seems to act as a sort of resonator which amplifies any kind of contact that is occurring - footsteps, vehicles moving across the ice, chopping and drilling of the ice can all be heard from a distance away. In quieter moments the “cracking” of the ice can be heard as it is heated by the hot sun (note that this has to be more of expansion/contraction as the ice was plenty thick to be at any risk of actually cracking).
In the end I was quite happy that I didn’t come home empty handed, as were the “fishermen” - only my “catch” was slightly different from what most people we’re fishing for that day…
One of the things that I try to do when I compose is to look for opportunities to blend the synthetic with the “Organic” - this can include field recordings or samples of instruments (standing in for the real thing). The sophistication of sampling today is impressive, but the better the sample library the easier it is to “smooth” the contrast between the Electronics and the “natural world”.
I purchased Orange Tree Samples “MesaWinds” during a recent sale and initially didn’t think I would get much use out of the library (for those of you who don’t know, this is a sample library of native american flutes).
I was impressed, however, with the authentic sound and variety of articulations - the sound fit in nicely on this track (Ancient Suburban Burial Mound) that I was working on (which is largely sound design and Electronics), to give it some “humanity” and help to anchor it in the sound-world (in this example, a haunted house built over an Indian burial ground).
This is a case where a fairly simple library nicely delivers a subtle “emotional” punch…
…It may just be this Halloween painting (by my daughter) that’s hanging over my studio desk, but I seem to be very much (musically) in a Halloween mood these days.
In this track (Ancient Suburban Burial Mound), Native American drumming and flute, haunting spectral voices, sound design, and electronics combine to make a suitable soundscape for your ghost story…why do they always build those houses on ancient burial grounds anyway?
Funny thing is that this piece started as a test of the “Focusrite iTrack Solo” which I recently picked up to translate some of my guitar ramblings into something that can be worked on further. Checking for functionality and levels, I improvised this little recording:
Which I liked fine…but I wondered what it would sound like with the “Chapman Trumpet” - not to bore you with further technicalities, but much tweaking later in the DAW (this one Ableton, though I have been working in DP8 as well), we have this final version.
A reminder, that sometimes you have to catch what flows and build structure around it, rather than starting with a clear idea/concept…
…Where did the Summer go! Despite my promise to myself to stop working on music during the summer, I did manage to start a number of things (some which will now have to be finished in the Fall/Winter!) - like this one:
I am really surprised at the “gee whiz” responses, given the state of decay that the business of music now finds itself in - especially given the propensity of audiences to follow artists who are known for being “seen” (where do these guys/girls find the time…I am stretched to the limit keeping current on my instrument/composing music/learning how to use new techniques-Hardware-Software/TCB???).
A bit depressing, but to be expected given the McGurk Effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McGurk_effect) - Video did truly kill the radio star all those years ago, and anyone who can’t admit to this is in serious denial.
However, this is nothing more than a reality to be “worked around” rather than a death sentence for music…we can’t put the genie back in the bottle, so we may as well learn to live with it; with expectations lowered, great music will still be written by “ordinary people” (and new “Milli Vanillis” will be born everyday.)
What did you expect? Van Gogh was never interviewed by “Entertainment Tonight”, so why should you be…?
After a very long gestation, the Synth Documentary “I Dream of Wires” seems to have been born (given that I received my “Blu-Ray Hardcore Edition” the other day).
To clarify, this is the “IDOW Hardcore edition” - which the film-makers have requested it be referred to as (instead of “I Dream of Wires” - this has something to do with them attempting to arrange for a theatrical release…though I don’t quite understand why this makes a difference).
In any case, I have still not found the 4 hours to view the “Masterwork”, but from what I saw by testing that the DVD worked on my system, it looks great (to me anyway). I really doubt there is interest in this release beyond the Synth community, but I’m sure I will enjoy it immensely.
Binaural recordings of an Olympic sized swimming pool from various locations in the viewing area - sounds heard include: (unintelligible) conversation, water lapping, the diving board, swimmers splashing, etc. The other set of “Diving Board” recordings feature the sound of the diving board more prominently.
…and forgive the (slight) low frequency bump in the 2nd recording - the CS-10EM microphone that I use is terribly sensitive to wind noise (not something I generally worry about when recording indoors) and, sure enough, the building HVAC system switched on at that moment creating a quick, short burst of air overhead!
Anyone who really knows me, knows that I’m not much for Celebrity -especially when it comes to musical types. If you push me on the matter, I might argue that (for other than a handful of Artists) success has more to do with sheer dumb luck than anything else. This is not to discount hard work, but the reality is that “unknowns” work just as hard as “knowns” and often produce music that is comparable; the secret sauce which makes one different from the other, I honestly don’t know (and I don’t think anyone else knows - not all the time in any case)
I don’t really have a problem with the above - that goes with a lot of things in life; but I have an issue when artists can’t admit to this. I know this is largely the media’s fault - I mean why let the truth get in the way of a good story…and in any case which would you want to read: “Average Singer/Songwriter becomes famous by fluke” or “Singer/Songwriter is more talented than the Beatles”?
So I didn’t expect much truth when I ran across “Superstar Hollywood Composer” Han Zimmer’s posts on a forum related to Virtual Instruments - what I got truly surprised me: (I will give you the Cliffs notes version by quoting some of the best tidbits below):
…luckily, I like writing music that at the moment seems to be quite popular. I will suffer the inevitable fall from grace, become yesterday’s irrelevant composer, which is something I’m not looking forward to. But that’s life, isn’t it? I’ll just carry on writing away.
"…I think Bach worked for the major mogul and film studio of his time: the church. Tough deadlines, those Sundays. That he unquestionably produced art, in my opinion, was never by design but by being an extraordinary practiced craftsman first and foremost and - through a confluence of mysteries far beyond me - produced some great works of timeless art."
"But if my ambition is not to create art - I’m not that arrogant or pretentious, I’m in the entertainment industry, and so are strippers - I have to have enough ambition to at least not make McDonalds. Otherwise I will be asking myself "what for?"."
"I don’t ever lack inspiration. I sometimes mistake bad inspiration for good…but I write pretty much every day. So it’s like running. You keep on developing muscles. I’m f@#ked when I take a break…coming back to writing is sheer torture….Deadlines are good for getting inspiration. The fear of failure can be quite inspiring."
"I try to do the best I can within the time and talent I have. Sometimes the idea is better than the execution. But I try not to get stuck and noodle things to death (he says, knowing he’s taking a break from absolutely perfecting the life out of a piece by over-thinking it and spending hours programming expression curves… )
"I hire trained musicians to play my scores. They are interpreters of music, I’m the composer, the creator of the music that they then perform. Different skill set…There are only 24 hours in the day for all of us. I spend most of my time practising how to be better at composing, not playing, while players spend most of their time practising their scales and learning how to interpret someone else’ music. Most musicians are not composers."
"… I wish I had gone to music school. I know, it’s not too late, but I’m a bit busy. But it’s a good excuse… As a child, I just had the wrong teacher. I took great personal refuge and comfort in music at a rather difficult time in my life. Music was a place to loose myself in, a very private escape. I loved what ‘making up’ music did to me more than anything else. Total ascocial loner. Total Nerd. When I was asked - as a 6 year old - if I wanted lessons, of course I leapt at the chance. But a six-year old misunderstands that the purpose of the lessons was not to help me get the stuff I was hearing in my head to be better stuff, to compose (not really a concept I had), while the teacher wanted me to learn technique and how to play and interpret - not my, but other people’s noise - that I, at the time, had no interest in. I could never explain to him (German piano teachers are not known for their empathy, just The Rules, The Rules!) that, basically, I had a head full of music that I was incapacle of expressing, and that had nothing to do with keyboard technique. So, after two weeks, my formal training ended.”
"Most of the stuff I use on a daily basis is off the shelf software - and not the really expensive stuff, either. The best DAW is the one you’re used to.…I’ve been (more then once) asked to judge “young composer” competitions. After a while you can’t hear the music for the sameness of the sample libraries. I wonder how directors or producers can tell the difference.”
"And no, you can’t sound like me. You are not me, you are you. Just like I can’t sound like any other composer. Not with any degree of authenticity."
And so on…
Many thanks to Hans - not just for making some awesome film scores (not all of them!), but for being an honest, unpretentious artist and striving for some manner of truth in a world full of hype.
…and for having some great and quotable responses.
This release marks the culmination of my work for the last year (or so) and I am looking forward to a break to pursue some other Sound related avenues…to this end you may well see a lot more posting on my sound design Blog, “A Hidden Sound” (http://danielottinisound.tumblr.com/ ), as I ramp up some long-put off field recording for the Summer.
I have several sketches for my next Album-related project and will be working towards that in the coming year (though I have no definite release date that I am keeping to); in addition I plan to catch up on some technical stuff (I never quite seem to learn to use all the tools I have at hand as well as I would like) particularly exploring the recent release of MOTU’s very excellent Digital Performer 8 for Windows.
You will also likely see a few more releases for the Production Music market as I focus on that sphere of my practice.
…the “Sound Iron” edit, featuring predominately sampled instrumentation from the excellent Soundiron libraries (including the libraries noted below), is a hybrid of non-traditional, acoustic instrumentation (sampled Washing Machines, incandescent lightbulbs, hemp twine, etc.) played with an electronic, (rhythmic) feel that produces a unique atmosphere for this track. Vocals are provided by Avanna and the Olympus Micro Choir; lyrics are from the Yeats poem “The Second Coming”
The BBC Radio 4 series “Noise: A Human History” has been an insightful journey into the uses and abuses of sound over a lengthy span of human history. Most interesting is how noise has been a political and class “hot button” issue through time (and continues to be). Good on the BBC for…
For those users of the the very excellent iPad instrument “Orphion” and the very excellent sample library “Konkrete 3” by Soniccouture, I have produced a library control template for Orphion. It’s available as a download from within the Orphion app.
The intent of the template was my frustration with the octave range of the Konkrete 3 library (Soniccouture, shame on you for giving us such a wide selection!) and the difficulty of demoing the sounds from a 37-key controller keyboard.
The template allows you to “taste” all the sounds in each kit, as well as triggering the “beat repeat” functionality (though all parameters are ultimately customizable). It’s not really intended to be a “performance” controller for the sounds, but it can be used that way if you are comfortable with the pad size. For more info on either product, follow these links:
A slow, elegiac piece with a slight hopeful quality. The initial version contains an atmospheric opening with processed piano and strings in the latter part; the alternative version (Piano & Strings) contains the unprocessed latter part with only the Piano & Strings (perhaps if you are more a “purist” for this sort of thing).
Really a reflection on the transition between life and what lies beyond (the “Hinterland” that lays just beyond what we know to be certain…). Dedicated to those who have made that journey.
I recently had the opportunity to attend this exhibit of “Sound Art” at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery in Toronto. I particularly liked the piece by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer entitled “Last Breath” - as the program describes it:
Last Breath is an installation designed to store and circulate…
Just a plug for a new blog I have started to focus more on those abstract uses of sound which (to some) may not be considered as musical (oh how I hate that debate! but more on that another day…). There may be some cross-posting with this blog, but the distinction that I will draw between the two is that this blog deals more with my “Musical” output and observations, while “A Hidden Sound” will deal more with sound as an art form onto itself (Sound Art & Sculpture, Sound Design, etc - “dis-organized” sound? – with apologies to Edgard Varese : -)). as well as other “practical” uses of sound (Acoustic Ecology, Forensic Audio, Audio Editing Software & Techniques, etc.). Hope you check out and enjoy the new Blog as well…
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”—Ira Glass
(Controlled) chaos reigns supreme in this piece, which started life as a pattern in Stochastik Drum Machine (iOS). Moving to Ableton, further elements of randomness were added, with several chaotic patches from Reaktor as well as a “stable”, repeating figure courtesy of AAS’s Chromaphone. Processed rhythmic cameos from the Nord Drum and Ableton Live 8 serve as variations on the original drum pattern.
The result has a rhythmic, dubby, subterranean feel - enhanced (perhaps blatantly!) with judicious use of delay and reverberation.
What was it that the Joker said in “The Dark Knight” - Introduce a little anarchy… :-)
A great article on a standard all electronic musicians have benefited from - though there is a debate as to when we should serve the birthday cake…
For all the criticism, MIDI works without asking too much in the way of configuration (for basic functionality and compared to, say, USB) and is fairly robust (as long as you don’t chain too many devices and push through too much data). Sure it’s “Dumb” and “Slower” than new technology, but it works every time I switch on my hardware…can’t always say that about USB.
It’s sad to read this story from Synthtopia about the passing of Peter Kuhlmann (AKA Pete Namlook); it made me realize the influence that FAX records has had on my work and that of many others. FAX releases were diverse while never straying far from electronic, ambient and experimental roots, and Peter’s collaborations with Ludwig Rehberg (E.M.S), Klaus Schulze, and Richie Hawtin were stand-outs for me (not to minimize excellent FAX releases by Atom Heart, Jonah Sharp, David Reeves and many other electronic musicians). These releases (in my opinion) were some of the best electronic works since the original “German Invasion” without showing much of any concern for image and “hipness” (something today’s scene could really learn much from). Many thanks Peter - your studio may have gone dark, but I’m certain your influence will light the way for years to come…
P.S. For those unfamiliar with FAX, this write-up serves as a better description then I could ever write:
“‘In Zen they say if something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty two and so on. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all but very interesting.”—John Cage