New Radio Work commissioned by rAdioCustica&Cesky Rozhlas3, to be aired 25/2
here is the text for the premier:
A river is not one thing, and the wind isn’t either. In addition, neither sit still. Wind Icon/River Totem, is an intentionally acousmatic sound composition for radio broadcast made possible by generous invitation of Cesky Rozhlas.
In composing this music, I followed an extremely hybrid approach. This was done to retain the multiplicity of possible viewpoints and perceptions of the piece, in accordance with the nature of the site which inspired and provided the sonic “ground” for much of the work. This site was a region above and below the surface of the Vltava, close to the Vyton-Smichov train bridge on the Smichov side, across the river from Vysehrad, Prague.
A great deal of the sounds used in the piece were recorded there, some during experiments with homemade hydrophones. These sounds where analyzed and some subsequently resynthesized using a granular process created with the dataflow programming language Pure Data. Wind-like behaviors where also modeled by filtering white noise with a dual-tiered system of moving, overlapping filters I designed. These sounds where then combined with “natural” phonological (field-recorded) sounds. The third major group of sounds consist of a set of carefully recorded cymbal sounds, created using a bow and variety of lightweight metal beaters. The edgetone of the symbols was captured using a microphone array involving two different condenser microphones placed along side the edge of the cymbal, and in the space respectively. Two dynamic microphones placed perpendicular to the surface of the cymbal, and aligned to capture special harmonic qualities of the ringing metal. These cymbal sounds were recombined, analyzed (again using an FFT process) and partially or completely re-synthesized in the same granular manner mentioned above (basically by focusing multiple instances of chaotic clouds of sound particles around specific frequency areas in different layers corresponding to the noise-bordered harmonics in the cymbals).
Bringing these sources together, in sometimes ambiguous ways, both preserves and challenges identities. The identity of the sounds and of us, as listeners. It also calls into question our role as people: are we in a world, or do we create the world we are in? If we are creating the world we are in, is this an active or passive process? Is the perception of a river a culturally mediated perception, or to what extent is its function transcendent of that in our shared environment, allowing the universal to enter? Should a normally passive process (for example, listening) be brought into interaction with such a clearly external, shared suchness (we both see that river, yes?)- what sort of transcendence might result from this? The idea, minimally, is that the perception of the listener creatively collaborates with the broadcast sounds. There are at least four rivers here, none the least of which is the river of radio, reflective of the pouring out of radiation following the big bang at the beginning of the universal expansion. The nature of background and foreground, of layers in moving textures are challenged and time looses its everyday association with expectation or intentionality in the pure, deep, and colourful vibrations of these ringing metal edgetones, and their sometimes unexpected behaviors brought about by interaction with our digital machines. At least that is what it does for me.
I am preceded in this work by many many composers, but in particular I found myself thinking often of Luc Ferrari’s Presque Rien work, Horatio Radulescu’s pacing and transitory timbral migrations, and the installation work of the often anonymous environmental sound designers whose compositions of field recordings augment indoor botanic gardens and arboretums here in Prague and worldwide. I want to specifically thank Michel Rataj and Cesky Rozhlas for inviting me to participate in this series.
I made a nicer photomontage of the sort of graphic score thing I made with it, but I couldn’t upload it because it was too “rectangular” or something. So here it is in this less than incredible arrangement:
(now a story…I was trying to capture some of the real inner life of these cymbal sounds, maybe you know what I mean…the vibration that you can listen to forever…but I had huge problems – first I set up in our office at our school because it was holiday and I thought everyone would be gone, since most had been a couple of days before when I was there. Some people where working, though, and sure enough, I was being annoying. So it turned out that after spending two hours setting up all these mics, I couldn’t record there because I was bothering people. Anyway, there was also some pretty heavy construction going on at random intervals – it began as soon as I finished setting up the mics- so there was a little bit of a “noise floor” anyway, and it was making the building was shak a little bit too, so it was hard. Then there was this weird chemical smell, so I had to open the window, and uh, let the street noise in, and…etc…those who know me know that I am not so picky and usually quite enjoy letting the “world” into my recordings, that I like accidents and all, but you know, sometimes you just want to get a good sound…ha ha ha.)
(so I took the process home – notice the zum records poster, letter david harrison horton sent me from China, and laser poodle/unicorn hard-on posters in the back- I tried recording the cymbals there, where I couldn’t be loud at all. I decided to focus on just four different cymbals and only a few specific sounds on each one (in the end I used only like 3 or 4 total) but I wanted to record them, and listen really carefully, and I will surely be able to use them later. Still, with all the noise in the building and the fact that I live by our kitchen and the other side of my wall is a construction company, it was tough. It took about 5 days to get clean recordings of about 25 decaying cymbal sounds)
(then…computer problems- of course, and Pro Tools, of course. It wanted to destroy my computer, and it takes hours to re-install, and even though my version of it is legit, you have to PAY for customer service with digidesign, so I had to find another solution in order to continue working. I pieced together a decent quality (though only 16 bit unfortunately) recording desk with a bunch of mixers and zoom handheld recorders -pictured below- and one old-ish digital 8 track (and a lot of coffee). I got the tracks down that way. Now I am giving my students the option of exploring Reaper as an alternative to Pro-Tools, that still works on a variety of platforms and is becoming more widely accepted professionally. Thanks alot, digidesign)