silence and noise

Above ground. Below sea level. We humans make a lot of noise. Building an incessant distraction in the name of progress. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the developments of technology. I use it everyday in the music I make, and am fascinated by it. But not being aware of the damage that may accrue is irresponsible. Turn off the deaf ear and be aware of the sound you make, we make, and it’s aural affects. Sound is perceived vibration. It alerts us to approaching danger. It dances with celebration, and joy. Tune in those amazing filters we call ears to what the world sounds like beyond your personal bubble, and how it defines your space in time.

A Plan to Give Whales and Other Ocean Life Some Peace and Quiet

The Mating Song Of The Last Kauai ‘O’o Bird On Earth Is Haunting

Beached whale in Outer Banks

The Aesthetics of Silence


music is flesh and bone

Over this past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Moogfest in Durham, NC. One of the highlights for me were the performances and talks given by Daniel Lanois. The through line connecting each, was an emphasis on listening, and communicating with the musicians he played with. What he referred to as an “acoustic proximity”. Performing, and listening to music is a physical action with moving parts (eardrums, guitar strings, drums, brainwaves, et al.), and the closer the contact with these moving parts, the more the sound resonates between bodies. If not in physical contact, “a look towards each other helps things resonate,” said Lanois. A look between musicians that communicates we’re experiencing the same stuff, on the same sonic plane. A look that connects all in a communal goal to make the most out this moment of sound, of music. Lanois went on to say that “the listener has a responsibility to filter.” Whether playing the role of performer, composer, producer, audience member, we all take on the responsibility whether we’re conscious of it or not, as living beings with aural receptacles on the side of our heads. Becoming aware of our individual power to understand and shape the sonic palette of our surroundings is our filter, our responsibility to cultivate.

After one of the performances, I had a chance to talk with Rocco DeLuca (Lanois’ musical compatriot) about influences from Indian classical music in his lap steel playing. One thing that stuck out from our conversation was DeLuca’s emphasis on the fact that the structure of Indian classical music is focused on rhythm, and melody alone. If some cool harmonies come about, so be it, but it’s not a primary element like it is in western music. Hence why ragas and the like have a more intricate sense of rhythm, and melody that goes far beyond the twelve tones, and beat divisions we employ in western music. Their musical tradition is built upon the filter of these two components, and exploiting them to the utmost.

Going back to Lanois’ earlier talk, he referred to the vocal chord as “the original instrument,” “the instrument you cannot pawn.” This reminded me of a documentary I watched recently – The Drummer’s Dream. In its opening minutes, Nasyr Abdul Al-Khabyyr holds a microphone to his chest and begins tapping out a regular pulsating “Puh-puh” rhythm, followed by the question, “What’s the first rhythm?”. The answer, of course, is our own heartbeat. Every living creature contains these two attributes (melody and rhythm) internalized within its shell. How we filter, organize, and communicate it to the world outside is our choosing. Our individual responsibility.

If there was a title to Lanois’ talk it most certainly would have been “Flesh & Bone”. Not only because he repeated the phase several times (also happens to be the title of his most recent record), but because of the emphasis placed on listening, how it comes from within, and that any and all music put out in the world is organic in nature. A sounding of the people living in it.

testing Murch’s “worldizing” delay

As part of this week’s Disquiet Junto, I volunteered to test out Murch’s technique of creating a quadrupled delay from a smaller space as described in this video:

Here’s how I approached the idea:

Using Ableton:

  1. Inserted audio clip into Ableton at a chosen tempo. My example was a voiceover reading so I just used the default bpm = 120.
  2. Quadrupled the session tempo.
  3. Record clip to an external recorder. (I used a Zoom, and handheld micro cassette recorder.)
  4. Import newly recorded speedy version into session.
  5. sync tracks.
  6. Drop the session tempo back to its original tempo (ie. bpm = 120)

I found deleting all of Ableton’s warp/transient markers, except the first one at the beginning of the clip, and using Complex mode gave me the best results.

Here are clips from my test. The reading is from John Cage’s Song Books, Vol. 1, Solo for Voice no. 4.

Much Fourth Worldizing Test

I found this technique to be part of Murch’s bigger process and creative approach of making the sounds you use ambiguous that I made the prime focus of my sound class this past semester. Things are necessarily as they seem. What you hear may not be its original source. See the quote in this post for further details: creating sound art

creating sound art

In the creation of a sound piece, I’m looking for an imaginative use of the raw material, the chosen sound sources, or prescribed themes at work. This involves hearing the inherent rhythms, textures, melodies within a sound, and then listening even closer to hear the sounds within the sound. That’s where creative intuition takes over – how can i manipulate that sound, that sample to express the musical idea i have in mind? Here’s where the real work begins. Being able to translate those ideas into the world for an audience. For this, I rely on my background musical knowledge, and experience with effects pedals, synthesizers and the like to morph each sound into its new form, into a melody, rhythm, texture that fills the appropriate aural space, playing its role with and against the other sounds at play.

I recently began reading Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art by Salmoe Voegelin. In the book’s introduction, she suggests:

“An aesthetic and philosophy of sound art is based on a discovering drive…. bringing with it the uncertainty of a fleeting understanding. Such a listening does not pursue the question of meaning, as a collective, total comprehension, but that of interpretation in the sense a phantasmagoric, individual and contingent practice. This practice remains necessarily incomplete in relation to an objective totality but complete in it subjective contingency. Sound narrates, outlines, and fills, but it is always ephemeral and doubtful. Between my heard and the sonic object/phenomenon I will never know its truth but can only invent it, producing a knowing for me.” 

Further on, she refers to listening “as an activity, an interactivity that produces and invents and demands of the listener a complicity and commitment that rethinks existing philosophies of perception.” With this idea, experiencing sound is a temporal relationship, “the relationship is not between things, but is the thing, is sound itself.” 

“The listener is entwined with the heard.”

Sound and music are a realtime experience. Experienced, perceived, and interpreted in your own personal manner, and station in life. Each experience is unique. The piece I’m listening to now will not affect me the same way in two days as it is at this moment. I’ll have memories of what I felt, and possibly try to recreate them, but they will only be a reimagining of those feelings.

So how can I as a sound artist best convey my intent through a form that is at it core temporary?

Voegelin suggests a few themes to focus on while creating and/or experiencing sound art: subjectivity, objectivity, communication, collective relations, meaning, and sense making.

The creative process is a constant balancing act between specifically representing an idea, and suggesting its emotional and narrative content. In our visually obsessed world, it’s all too easy to directly represent or describe events. This is where Walter Murch’s thoughts on ambiguity when designing sound for film stick with me:

Murch - Ambiguity (1)

Reading the following article gives a wonderful insight into how Murch balances sound in his work, and verbalizes an approach that sound artists of any ilk can work with as a framework for their endeavors.

Walter Murch – Dense Clarity, Clear Density

Connecting the above thoughts of Murch and Voegelin is the underlying question posed by Peter Szendy in his book Listen:

“Can one make their listening listened to?”