Semester has started and my first class was Emerging Practices. This paper is difficult to define and it changes every time. It's seems to be normally something mildly performance oriented or just plain creative and conceptual. In some ways it's very much like Creative Technologies itself - hard to explain. I feel rather fortunate to have taken it this semester. We are going to be focusing on sound. The semester will be divided into 4 3-week blocks: recording a library of sounds, manipulating the sounds, creating some sort of composition from the sounds and finally mastering and polishing the composition. We'll be using among other things Ableton Live and Soundtrack Pro. I love playing with sound, but it's one of those things that I never find enough time for, much like my guitar that I once used to play. So to have a semesters worth of it will be great. It also sits well with another paper I'm doing at the same time, an external elective called Digital Audio Production. So I think I'll nicely zoned in with two harmonious papers.
I've borrowed a zoom recorder from the BCT loan centre and will be doing a lot of recording in the next few days. The aim is to get both a diverse collection of sound and also to consider what my theme or story will be for the final 5-minute composition. Whatever I do my own personal requirement is that it will be highly listenable. What's the point if listening to something just makes the listener think about getting to the end so they can go and do something else. Unless of course that is the point I suppose.
I have a few ideas already but they are subject to change once I begin recording.
So far with Emerging practices I've only recorded a few small things. Today it rained and I was in the city. Unless I want to catch ambient noise of cars and rain (which I did for 2 minutes) I can't really record much. I recorded some meat sizzling in a frying pan. I'm a bit stuck as for what else to record. The thing that bugs me a lot is the sounds of the city and goddamn cars everywhere. This could be a theme but it's a bit clichéd. I guess at this point I could decide to record electric noise instead. Or both of course. Electric noise does appeal on some level as I like electronica and discovered that I like glitch a couple of years ago in Aural Terrains in year 1 (I didn't realise it was a genre which I guess is a bit naive really). Making it is something else, and circuit bending doesn't appeal much. I like some of the results of what I hear but it strikes me as rather laborious for a bunch of sounds that will probably sound like a bunch of other sounds from entirely different circuits. The uncalculated approach bothers me too. Many of the circuit benders I can image have no real idea what noise they will get because they don't know what they are actually doing aside from shorting a circuit. Which is why it's laborious of course. Sure, it's experimental, but it's also totally inefficient. But I'll see what I can get. I have to give the zoom recorder back tomorrow which is a bit of a pain. I have recording equipment (a mac primarily, but I have a good USB soundcard and a studio mic) but none of it is portable.
What I have done is trawled through the reading list and written down the catalogue numbers of all the books and which libraries I can get them from. My plan is to read one book each week. I have taken one out and another one was in digital form. That is 2 books this week then.
I alluded to in my last Studio Post that I'd had a hell weekend and interruption to my normal activities. So I have recorded nothing new. What I have done is list a pile of things I would like to record so that when I do I'll have something to start on. One thing that I initially wasn't interested in (because it seemed like everyone would want to have a go) but now want to try myself (regardless) is buying some piezo discs and making some surface mount mics. From there I'm going to record a bunch of odd things like roads and footpaths and buildings. I don't know where I'm going to go with that but it just seemed neat. That's about it for now.
Posts on this site have (predictably perhaps) dropped off. Right now I'm attempting to compose a track of sonic interest in Soundtrack Pro. This was the software demonstrated to us as a potential for composition. It looked interesting. My only other run-in with Soundtrack Pro was at a demonstration quite a few years ago at an Apple event, I think they were demonstrating Panther (with it's amazing Exposé, a feature that was very useful to me right until Apple decided to do a Microsoft and re-imagine something that wasn't actually broken). However, what they demonstrated was how you could put a bunch of pre-made midi riffs on a timeline to quickly make a soundtrack to some video you were making. I didn't realise it was a bit more fully featured than the templates they were showing off.
As much as I find the subject of Emerging Practices interesting, I have to admit I'm struggling. I struggle to find the time for the creative process. I found it hard to record good material. I had a Zoom recorder for a huge amount of time and didn't find much to record. I find it difficult to get into it because I have other projects that use a different part of the brain and I find it painful to switch all the time. Once I get into this sound thing I'll find Smart Systems dreadful because that will probably involve programming in Objective C. After doing something artsy. I'm going to find it dreadful anyway.
Perhaps my lack of material will be good in some ways. I mean, I can record more or mess up more if I want to, but perhaps the amount of material is just right for a minimalist approach. Too much material is an overload. I want some structure to my work. Like, musical structure in some way. This is slightly at odds with the avant guard nature of the paper, though we're told not on constrain ourselves to preconceived expectations of the paper, I'm fairly certain that if I submitted a musical piece that it might not do so well marks-wise. I'm going to experiment with sounds and do unstructured (in a musical sense) stuff, and maybe my final piece will be that too. But it might also be musical. I don't really know at this point. I found myself struggling with the software earlier. Very annoying, I don't want to fight the tools when I'm trying to be creative.
I don't really like my first go at creating a soundscape, there is no real theme to it. It's a bit jumbled. I played with the surround controls to move sounds around in space. It's quite odd that you can use the surround panner and get that feeling through headphones. I wonder how that works.
I've exported it, will have a break and go back to it. I might use Ableton Live at some point, there were things I wanted to do (Like warps) that I couldn't without leaving the application. Well if you can warp, I don't know how, it certainly wont be as easy as in Ableton.
This time I worked in Ableton Live. I found a small segment of a loop generated from one of the programs we were introduced to in a lesson, it might have been sapling, but it might have also been one of the other offerings by the same developer. Anyway I looped that small segment and just added a ding sound from the microwave we used to have in my flat. I was able to speed it up, reverse it and I could have warped it all much easier. I'm not that good with Ableton, but fortunately it's an easy enough program to play with.
If I was o develop this more I'd export it as separate tracks and play with spatial qualities and then EQ. I think we may be covering that in the next lesson though anyway. Also once can do that stuff in Ableton. I just don't know how.
Pretty crap. I decided to try Audition this time. Wondering if different programs would influence the way I worked. I kind of like Audition, but I need a bigger library of sounds to use it. I think I'll go back to Ableton. Not touching Pro Tools for this.
I think this sounds exactly like what it is. Forcing something.
This is quite awful but from it I have a few ideas of how to take small parts and make those parts less awful. I walked into the BCT yesterday and was informed that the whole thing had to be handed in. This is contrary to what we were told at beginning of semester. This new information turned out to be incorrect but I was left spending my entire day trying to make a piece in Ableton that resembled what I was trying to do. This is it. It's awful and I'm glad it's not actually due in for another 20 days. Of course I have to fit it in with 4 other big tasks (3 other papers and a website I'd promised to set up for someone), 2 of them could easily dominate all of my time (Studio and Smart Systems). This could dominate all of my time too but that would be in a more luxurious fashion, I don't really need 20 full days to produce (and master) a piece. Well I say this now.
We got to listen to other pieces by other class members and critique/comment on them. They were all interesting, a couple really appealed. The one that appealed to me most (the first part anyway, Oliver's) was musical and though I liked it, I was left wondering if I really want to go down that path so much, because in some ways it's such an obvious path to go down, though it worked well for Oliver because he obviously has some talent in that area. There were others that were less musical but well structured or at least had potential to become better structured. Then there was mine. I asked that we play my first experiment because really, this one, Experiment 4 is like an art magazine laid up in MS Word in Comic Sans:
I've been working on the final composition the last couple of days, in the middle of the night. It took me a while to get into it but I'm rather enjoying playing with Ableton Live. Though I have a limited library of sounds, I chose to use that to my advantage rather than go and record more sounds. I find the recording process a little bit tedious when I don't know exactly what I want to record, and even if I do. I live in a smallish room with lots of crap and it's a pain to set up anything, and when I do record stuff I think about how it sounds like everything else. I mean really, I recorded a microwave, and it sounds much like a dryer, a car, a road.. and any other man-made piece of machinery. It's just hum and with the right filters and EQ and whatever, every hum can sound like every other hum. I have instruments I could record. A guitar. Why would I record a guitar though really? I have an Omnichord that I have forever contemplated recording and throwing in some music. But I'm not making music, I'm making a sound composition. It's 4:25 and trucks keep going past on the motorway nearby. This is a sound-polluted place. I don't want to make a composition about car noise or drunk idiots and derelicts having fights outside my gate (I live in an "interesting" place). But I've been throwing what I have together and I'm enjoying it. I'm not sure how good it sounds, but I like it... well I like what I think it will become. It's not finished. Far from it. I'm caught between wanting to get it just done because I have a LOT of work to do for my studio project and wanting to spend some time on something creative and fun. Though it's for a grade and that is all a bit subjective and in some regards so pragmatically speaking, will several more hours than I intended to spend equate to better marks? What if it equates to worse marks. How cheated would I feel. I'm already upset with the Animation -> Smart Systems debacle, that has really screwed up my record. But at least it's out of the way, it should never have been in my way in the first place, putting the papers I actually chose to do this semester at risk of lower marks. I've worked harder on everything this semester, but the 4th paper was just a pain in the arse.
What I'm enjoying about this mix up is a couple of things. It's real sounds but I'm mashing them so much that it's almost like electronica. A great way to mix two worlds of sound that I like. The other is I've decided to let go and use midi effects like arpeggiator to get the sort of sounds and rhythms I was looking for. I can sit back and let technology do that work for me. And for once I'm not feeling like it's cheating or like it's less creative. I don't have to create complex steps by hand, and the fact that I'm not entirely sure what the arpeggiator will sound like before I apply it doesn't mean I'm not being creative either. I'm allowed to try, mess with then use. Yes, sounds obvious I guess but I've always had a thing about originality. I'm making a cacophony at the moment, and I'm still adding bits. Then I guess I'll start taking away or changing things. Then I'll mess with certain automation. Then I'll equalise and master it though my good stereo, up loud. I still hope all of that is done by the end of the week though. I really have to get on to studio. I want it to be the first time I present without reading notes. Oh and a complete product (and awesome conceptual framework and questions).
I haven't mentioned what's going on in my head when making my sonic soundscapes. So lets talk about some music I like and how that affects what I am doing for my Emerging Practices composition.
Well I have a range of different likes within music, some probably representative of my age and background, though lets set the record straight here. When I say that I mean stuff that that anyone would like, y'know, like the 60s and 70s greats, Doors, Jimi Hendrix blah blah... Not um... I dunno what do people my age with no taste like? Limp Biscuit probably. Yeah nah.
But that's not influencing me much here really. Nor is funky party music, nor is the deep warm sound of analog recordings of the 70s (Split Enz Mental Notes had some of that). Nor is... I dunno....
I've always liked what I used to call as a kid "soundy" music. So the 80s was good for that with all the synths etc.
A favourite artist of mine was/is The The, here is an example of a later album of his (sort of one guy):
But in the late 90s and early 2000s, we had progressive house and trance, one of my favourite albums that I still listen to on occasion, had cranked up in the Studio (through headphones) was the Northern Exposure 2 album:
I used to frequent gigs put on by a couple of friends Tom and "Snitch", Analog which was "tech house". Like a lot of dance music genres, that name has been evolved to a bunch of slightly different genres so it's hard to pinpoint what I mean when I say tech house. Whatever Snitch plays when he isn't playing Breaks. A little bit later there were was Breaks, and the Breakers Delight nights, but that is a bit different. I first heard Breaks at a trance gig and was wide eyed about it all (though that might not have been just the music actually).
Recently a friend of mine who I kind of met through that whole scene put on one of her favourite musical outfits one night while I was over and we listened to it in the background the entire night. It was Coil. I knew about Coil and my friends like of them for the whole 10 or so years I've known her but I'd never actually heard complete examples of their work until recently - specifically that one night, she had an unreleased, alts and demos album on. A track in particular that stuck in my head was called Elves.
Now when I put my mix up you can marvel at how it sounds nothing like nothing like any of the examples here and say to yourself "wtf?".
But perhaps this gives some idea as to where I'm coming from. Even if the crap I produce sounds nothing like it. My composition has been spat out in a short time and within a certain brief and I'm quite happy to stick to it given that I can't afford more time - as much as I'd like to mess with it more. the brief says it's not meant to be musical though we can produce what we like. I'll stick to the not meant to be musical part because less can go wrong.
Last words, 2 of these examples have religious sounding tones to them (in the beginning anyway) - though they don't really so much if you actually listen to them... I just want to point out I'm very much not religious at all.
This is sort of doubling as a contextual statement for my tutor. Yes, I know it's not good form to talk about time constraints and other projects, but that's the brick wall of reality and it gets on my nerves an awful lot, in fact it's the overriding theme to everything about uni life, so why can't I talk about it?
My composition had several different ideas that on their own could have been the basis of their own possibly more successful compositions of perhaps a slightly more conventional nature, but these are avenues I might explore later when time is not a serious constraint.
I didn't want to throw away ideas - though I did chuck a couple out. I even wound up with a couple of iterations of the final piece. There were more but I didn't start saving them as separate pieces until quite late in the development of this composition, the ones I have saved are really rather similar comparatively speaking. So anyway, I attempted to find away to mix all of these different ideas together. I suspect that exporting each track out of Ableton Live and importing them into Soundtrack Pro or Audition might have enabled a better arrangement. I would perhaps like to have tried that, but I've already gotten too carried away and used days that I wanted to devote to my Studio Project. Also I'm not completely convinced it would have resulted in something significantly better, though I would have tried it under different circumstances. Of course under different circumstances I'd probably just have split the composition up into several different pieces and build around each piece with new material.
At first I felt my library of recordings was a bit bare, but then I made the very deliberate decision (as opposed to just taking the path of least resistance, though that was helpful) of just using what I had so that I could be more minimalist and creative. Even with the minimal material that I have, the resulting piece is very busy. It as busier at points. One can open up a huge sonic world with just the sparsest materials. This of course is obvious if one thinks about it and it relates to everything creative. The most elaborate pieces in any art can consist of few materials or media. Likewise, too many tools can overwhelm and give one too much choice. Ableton Live did that; on my way to creating one thing I'd be struck by something else instead.
The piece could still do with a lot of development. There are elements that do not really add a great deal to the piece and one element in particular is mostly an a single control on an effect. But I liked it and didn't want to remove it. But the more I heard it the more it just sounded like additional clutter and something that had been tacked on by a person discovering knobs and sliders, which I guess is kind of what it was. But I wanted to keep it and perhaps incorporate it better. It also makes the spectral view (from Audition) look interesting. That's the picture above.
I created the piece though headphones and then connected my mac to my stereo, a Sony rack system that is about 15 years old with 125W floor-standing speakers (I replaced the the original 100W cones last year as they fell apart) and 40W sub. I put each track though compressors and EQ carving out their own spots in the mix in an attempt to stop the mix from sounding muddy and bring out a couple of tracks that were getting lost at times. I realised some of the reverse dings that I sequenced with midi don't really work. They were completely out of place. I had already deleted a couple of tracks, so these ones I just turned down in most of the mix. They were the first tracks I created when I started composing the mix, it felt wrong to get rid of them entirely. I wasn't entirely sure about compression settings so I used some of the presets that Live comes with, listening to them to see which sounds better. To listen to the mix through the stereo, if I want to sit directly in front of the speakers, I have to sit on my bed with the mac, which means I'm stuck with only a trackpad. So I didn't really want to delve to deeply into compression settings, I find the trackpad clunky for precision work. I might re-arrange this room at some point. Or buy some monitor speakers -I've always wanted some, and and this project might have helped to kick off my Live journey. I then put a final compressor on the master track. All of this compression and EQ boosted up the mix a lot and I wound up turning down some of the screeches, but overall it made the thing sound better. It also made some of the faults a bit more apparent, like the looped watery sound which actually started life off as a very quiet recording of my room and the ambient noise of cars going past on the motorway nearby.
I've been naming all previous work as "Experiment" and a number sequence. When I named this piece, because it had no particular theme that I was creating it to (it just had to sound interesting), I started thinking up names that were descriptive of certain qualities, mainly the messy arrangement. I kept choosing names that do it no favours such as "Sonic Mess" and "What the hell". The name of the final piece is sort of along the same lines though not as obviously bad: Mish. As in Mish Mash. Also I suppose as in Mission, which is what it started to become. I'd still be working on it right now if I didn't feel that I really need to move on to the next thing now.
So what I set out to create was something interesting. Something that would not leave the listener waiting for it to just end. I wanted create something with rich sonic qualities... I'm not sure I really created what I set out to. It feels unfinished and undeveloped. It feels like the idea pad for several other things. If feels like some ideas need to be scrapped or changed significantly. That perhaps certain elements get too much time. That some elements are in the wrong "song".
And because of all that... I'm starting to like it.