Rashomon & Big Ben!

August 28, 2008 at 2:18 pm (Big Ben Composition - Prototype 2)

After watching Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1951) I thought it’d be interesting to develop a schematic for its narrative and use of time.

The film begins after the dead body of a man has been discovered. Over the course of the film we are told several versions of the events that lead up to his death. Quite a conventional narrative device really! Each time the story is retold we are confronted with the same characters at the same point in the past (more or less), but their behaviour and relationships with each other have changed. Could I translate this in to a piece of music?

First I tried to create a schematic for the film, initially using a straight timeline, then after imagining the film looped to create a circular timeline:

These circular temporal structures reminded me of clocks, specifically Big Ben, since I was there a few days earlier making some recordings. I spent 30 minutes or so on the opposite bank, absorbing the ambience as the clock approached 11pm. I noticed that at 10.30pm, half of the Big Ben bell sequence was played. At 10.45pm, it was 3/4 of the sequence. Then finally the whole sequence at 11pm, followed by the 11 ‘gongs’.

I thought it would be interesting to develop another cyclic piece and use the sound activity of Big Ben over 1 hour as a way of structuring a composition. I thought I could apply a similar structure to Rashomon, whereby the 3 characters (in this case the sounds of police sirens, seaguls and the ‘gongs’) transform and react differently to one another every time the bells chimes. I began working on the piece, limiting it to 1 minute, (so, scale: 1 sec = 1 min)…. but something was missing… I left it alone for a few days.

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I’ve been searching for a way to push this idea forward and I think I’ve found it! I decided to go to Big Ben and record for 1 hour (from 6-7pm) today. The reason for this is because I wanted to base this composition on the use of time within Rashomon. So I needed to work with 2 instances of time.

Let’s call the recordings I made today over the course of an hour timeline A (present) and the recordings I made the week previous timeline B (past). Timeline A will be 1 minute long (condensed from 1 hour) and at each quarter (15, 30, 45 and 60 secs) Big Ben will chime. At each quarter point will be transported to Timeline B, where we will hear 3 past elements (seaguls, sirens and gongs) forming a relationship momentarily, then disappearing, at which point we will return to Timeline A and continue the cycle. At the next quarter, Big Ben will chime (playing more of it’s sequence) and we will return to Timeline B once more. However, this time the 3 past elements will form a different relationship to the previous quarter, then disappear once more, before we return to Timeline A again. This process will continue until we complete the loop. Here is my schematic:

During the 1 continuous hour of recording today, I got the idea of using different perspectives whenever Big Ben chimed. Over the course of the hour, I travelled in an anti-clockwise loop between Westminster bridge and Lambeth bridge. The rule was to spend 10 mins at each location (1,2,3,4), then once 10 minutes had elapsed spend 5 minutes finding a new location, before the bell chimed. So (as marked on the map below) I was stationary at loc. 1 between 0-10 mins, moved between loc. 1 & 2 between 10-15mins, stationary again between 15-25 mins, and so on. Whenever Big Ben chimed (marking the quarter points) I had to stop moving! Between loc. 3 and 4 and 4 and 1 I had to run to complete the loop! How unfit I have become!

(below: drawings of location 2 and location 4)

Next I will work on the sound composition, afterwards finding a way of integrating my physical journey around the space in to my visualization of the sound piece.

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Imagined Space

August 27, 2008 at 1:42 pm (Experiments, Reflections & Planning)

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Beresford Road to King’s Cross

August 26, 2008 at 1:44 pm (Derives)

A few days ago I embarked on a journey from my house on Beresford road to Highbury New Park at 8pm. I had no intention of travelling any further initially, but at some point whilst I was circling the park I suddenly felt inspired to continue exploring. The alternative of staying in really didn’t appeal!

From the park, I headed northwest along Holloway road, then turned left at the church on Madras Place. I was drawn to the church as it has quite a large green space inside. Though the gates appeared to be locked, I was quite tempted to climb in, but didn’t. I continued to walk around the perimeter of the church, eventually continuing down Liverpool road until I reached Barnsbury street. As I gazed down the road I could see what looked like a small park. I wondered what it would sound like inside; quiet, I imagined, being a few hundred meters away from the main road and enclosed by houses. The park was locked, I jumped in. I sat there for a while and reflected on my project:

I decided to keep moving after someone spotted me! Continuing west past the grand houses and residentual tranquility of Barnsbury I reached Caledonian Road. The contrast was immense, and bizarrely punctuated by the loud, visceral snap of someone bursting a solitary party baloon on the road. The 4-story houses with large bay windows had disappeared, instead I was greeted with a busy main road; traffic, local shops, the instinctive forebodding of dimmly-lit estates looming in the distance. The soundscape had altered also, from relative quietness to a variety of sound making objects in motion (cars), loud, intrusive. I felt slightly uneasy. I decided to follow Caledonian Road down to Kings Cross, but changed my direction when I reached Caledonian Road Bridge. I ventured forth in to the shadow covered path which lead down to Regent’s canal. I sat underneath the bridge for a while and clapped. Nice acoustics!

I followed the canal along, suddenly realising where I was. I cycled down this canal the other week! Beautiful ambience; light reflections gently dancing on the waterfront, the sound of passing cars reduced to a distant hum. Reaching the end of the path (there was work being done), I ascended on York Way. It’s vaguely on top of a hill, so you get an interesting view of King’s Cross and other illuminated structure. I followed this view, walking down Goods Way and through the gigantic underpass. I stopped for a while and recorded.

I walked down Pancras Road in to Kings Cross station. I wanted to clap in the large open hall, where the trains arrive/depart from. Wonderful acoustics and totally worth the strange looks I received whilst clapping! As I descended down an empty stair way to street level I clapped again. Another strange look from a bag-clad traveller, another accentuation of the acoustic space recorded – great!

It was home time, I felt somewhat drained. I went to the bus stop eagerly awaiting the 73 bus to return me home.

The journey was interesting and helped me generate alot of ideas for my project. The key ones were;

1) Record each and every space I encounter on a journey (maybe even the entire journey) and use the different sonic dynamics between these spaces (their relationship) as a way of structing a composition.

2) Make a piece composed entirely of claps in different spaces I encounter, exploring their acoustics. For example this quick experiment;

3) Mapping out my journeys (visually) and then linking it to what sound occured along the way. Perhaps I could use the physical route I took (bird’s eye, map view) and use this as a tool for shaping the sound that occured in the space.

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Richard Long & Circles

August 25, 2008 at 7:09 pm (Further Research & Contextualisation)

I’ve been doing further research into artists who have incorporated the use of the journey into their artistic practise to inform my own methodologies.

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“Art as a formal and holistic description of the real space and experience of landscape and its most elemental materials.”

The work of British born artist Richard Long involves the exploration of the landscape on foot as a means of re-engaging with the natural environment and investigating the ‘relationships between time, distance, geography and measurement.’ He often makes interventions in the landscape during his walks which he calls ‘landscape sculptures’. These are often constructed from natural materials such as stones and grass which he may collect enroute to his final destination. This idea of ‘walking as art’ is presented in three ways: in photographs, maps or text, each of which functions as a ‘distillation of experience’.

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walking a circle in mist - Scotland 1986

Sometimes he embarks on very precise routes that have a straight or even circular trajectory, which then feeds directly into the sculptural works that he creates. Long views his landscape sculptures as occupying the space between two opposing ideologies, namely that of ‘making monuments’ and ‘leaving only footprints.’

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Where my work finds common ground with Long’s is in the compositional use of materials gathered whilst journeying through an environment. In his work he uses or intervenes with the physical, material elements from a natural landscape to create his sculptures, whilst my work, in contrast, predominantly uses sound, the immaterial element collected from urban environment. However, there is a gap in the way in which the digital artist approaches the composition of ‘natural’ material gathered from environments. Whilst land artists, such as Long, have the ability to compose directly in the location their work is addressing, I will always have to return home to work on material. Perhaps reflecting on material during my journeys will fill this compositional void.

A strange parallel also begins to form between our individual works within the use of the circle. With my Window Music piece, my use of a cyclic structure was to reflect the endlessness of the soundscape, how one is enveloped within the sounds that inhabit a particular place until one decides to leave. For me, this feeling of being enveloped within sound, whether it be a piece of composed music or the soundscape, is a feeling I can only describe as completeness. I feel like sound is the one thing that grounds my experience of the world and without it I simply wouldn’t exist; it completes the circle of my being.

But why is the circle such a powerful symbol? I must find that Jung book!

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“Dr. M.-L. von Franz has explained the circle (or sphere) as a symbol of the Self. It expresses the totality of the psyche in all its aspects, including the relationship between man and the whole of nature. Whether the symbol of the circle appears in primitive sun worship or modern religion, myths or dreams, in the mandalas drawn by Tibetan monks…. it always points to the single most vital aspect of life – its ultimate wholeness.” (Jung. 1964: 240)

For Long perhaps, there is a similar yearning for tapping deeper into the Self: ‘It is as if Long is looking to regain some insight into those lost recesses of primordial consciousness as suggested by his ritualized circles and spirals.’ (Morgan, 1987: 77)

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All this thinking about circles is making me think more about my journeys, as well as making me go a bit loopy! There will be a defined start and end point to my explorations on foot, departing from a chosen bridge and ending at an unknown location. I will make a second journey from that same bridge heading in the opposite direction. Is there a way to link the two departure points and two unknown destinations? Perhaps my journeys really begin and end from home, completing the circle….

I will start to think about circles more whilst undertaking my practical work.

References

Books

Jung, C.G. (1964) Man and his Symbols, London: Aldus Books Limited

Internet

Long, R. Artist Website: http://www.richardlong.org/ (accessed 24th August 2008)

Morgan, C. (1987) Richard Long’s Poststructural Encounters: In Arts Volume 61

http://www.speronewestwater.com/cgi-bin/iowa/articles/record.html?record=300 (accessed 24th August 2008)

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Linking Cycles

August 23, 2008 at 3:55 pm (Window Music - Prototype 1)

I’ve been trying to work with Time and link my two cyclic compositions together.

The above image initially started as drawings within my sketch book, later translated in to a clearer digital schematic.

What interested me about linking with these 2 circular sound-compositions in visual terms was that two logical paths that formed due to times direction. This transition point in between the two circles formed another circle; the opposite ends of which touched the start/end point of each compositions. Essentially, it hinted at two separate routes between the two spaces, which made me think about embarking on two different journeys between the locations; one from beresford road to vauxhall bridge and vice versa.

In an attempt to move this forward I began thinking about this idea with MaxMSP in mind. First I returned to my sketch book to quickly get down my ideas, then went back to the computer to create another digital schematic. This process of moving in between the ‘real’ and the digital was an effective and interesting process! Here is my schematic:

The idea is simple in theory, but slightly more complicated in terms of using a camera / sensors to map movement, as well as programming within Max. It is however, doable!

With the intrim show forthcoming in September I thought it’d be sensible to think about a scaled-down version of this using the wacom. To my horror, I’d somehow managed to delete the wacom object, as well as previous Wacom interface patch (see interface), so I had to start from the very beginning once more. I decided to keep things simple and used the mouse position to separate areas of the screen, which later on I could adapt when I downloaded the Wacom object:

The screen is separated in to 4 sections and there are four sound sources, (4 sin waves at different frequencies) each of which is designated to a space. Depending on where you position the mouse you will hear either a different mixture of tones at different volumes. Most of the work was simply scaling numbers and working with maths. Although rather the patch is rather dull and cumbersome, creating it was a useful excersize in problem solving within MaxMSP.

The next day I downloaded the Wacom object and began to work on this…

….which proved a lot harder than I thought. I really wish I hadn’t misplaced my interface patch! I’ve got a lot of work to do in MaxMSP, perhaps an ‘Ay Caramba’ is in order. There, that’s better. I shall take a break from this idea and consider my options. Perhaps a derive is in order!!!

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A few days on and I feel that the Wacom-Max combo and my idea of using 2 cyclic compositions don’t mix in this instance! Whilst my initial idea could be accomodate by somebody’s movement in a space, transferring this to an A3 Wacom would be hindered by how people would instinctively use it. It’s a drawing tablet, so you’d want to make gestures and explore the effect of different movements across the surface (for example). If however, I took one composition (such as Vauxhall Bridge) and separated it in to it’s 8 layers (8 separate pieces of short looped audio) and then went on to separate the Wacom’s surface in to 8 segments for each piece of audio, then it might work well. The pressure of the pen could be mapped to volume and/or the movement within one ‘area’ could alter the frequency content of the sound, similar to ‘interface’ (see previous). This is interesting and has potential, but I’m not sure if it’s really worth the time. All this thinking about interface recently has taken me away from thinking about the compositions themselves and my objective of describing the sonic activity visually. I must have a think…

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Clock-Pot

August 21, 2008 at 6:12 pm (Experiments, Reflections & Planning)

… and with narration:

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Vauxhall Bridge Composition

August 20, 2008 at 6:45 pm (Window Music - Prototype 1)

… and without narration:

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Constructing “Window Music”

August 19, 2008 at 8:36 pm (Window Music - Prototype 1)

This is a piece composed from a series of recordings made out of my window on Beresford Road, Islington.


Recordings made;

Construction work – recorded 10am or so

Rubbish/recycling collection (Vehicle, bottles smashing, men shouting) – recorded 7-8am

Police sirens – recorded various times

Passing cars – recorded various times

Car Alarm – recorded one afternoon

Rain – recorded 5am

Ice cream van (Bells of St. Clements) – recorded afternoon

Bird / insect – recorded 4am

Man and luggage (?) – recorded 8am


The piece is 3 minutes long and is cyclical (loops around).

I’m interested in cyclic composition for these reasons;

The listener can enter at any point in time and experience the piece without beginning or end.


This may reflect how we experience the soundscape, entering it at any given moment and being enveloped within it until we decide to leave a space.

Also, I am keen on exploring the idea of cyclic composition due to how I may use MaxMSP for my final piece. (more on this later)


The piece began, or rather was initially inspired by the sounds of construction which woke me up one morning. I made a recording of 20mins or so during the construction work; the relative quietness of the street ambience interrupted momentarily by the loud clanging of metal pipes and girders. The sound of these rich, metallic timbres colliding were sonic signifiers of the development of a new structure being built on the house across the road. This was my starting point and would determine my approach to the material.


Listening from the beginning of the piece you can hear (and see in the arrangement) a rhythmic structure being built with each progressive bar; every new bar of the blue instrument in the middle of the sequence has one construction hit added each time. This additive process continues until we reach 33 seconds, when new elements are introduced.

At this point in the composition I started to make new recordings. It was a day or so after the construction work had stopped, so I wanted to reflect this in how I worked with the sound from here on.

Before going on, first I must explain how I sequenced the construction hits. I made a multi-channel instrument using the  EXS24 sampler in Logic. This allows you to group sounds within the instrument and send them to different outputs (channels), which means you can work on each group separately, for example, with different EQ. So, I grouped the construction hits according to similar frequency (low, mid, high) to use as ‘drums’, so to speak.

Ok, so from this point in the composition (33 seconds) I wanted to use a subtractive process, leaving space for the new sounds that I recorded on Beresford Road to develop (e.g the Bin-man collection drums). As time passes in the composition the construction drums mid, high and low frequencies fade out respectively. This is mirrored in the behaviour of the Bin-man drums, which by 1m30s, are just the high frequency, gestural waves of the vehicles breaks emitting air.

All the sounds in the composition are related not just by the location of their recording, but also by their behaviour within the composition. The bass-heavy sound of a car passing which is first introduced at 34 seconds forms a part of the groove, helping to defining each repetition of 4 bars. There are two car sounds used in the composition, the first (heard on the first of the four bar cycle) gradually ascends in pitch, whilst the other (which repeats during bar two, three and four of the cycle) has a faster descent in pitch.


Similarly, the ‘winding-up’ of a police siren heard at the beginning (and end) of the piece repeats (twice every bar) during the development of the construction drums, until finally (at 33secs) it continues its life and unleashes its alert phase. The siren is mirrored by the behaviour of the incessant car alarm which greets us later in the composition.


The rhythmic groove element of the piece drives the other elements forward until it gradually disintegrates within the ambient loop of the ice-cream van and refreshing high frequencies of the Bin-man vehicle breaks. At 2m11s into the piece we reach a turning point in the composition, where I gathered more material from my window. It was early one morning, perhaps even a week later. There was a tiny insect emitting it’s lonely single note call in the tree outside. It was so quiet outside. I wanted to bring his call to the fore (using EQ), it was perhaps the only sound of nature I heard during this study.


There was a need for me to reveal or at least hint at the sources of the sound and this is what this final section of the piece does. At the moment of transition (2m11s) you hear the car passing (heard previously), but this time it is layered with another car passing that has most of its high frequency content is present, allowing the image to form more fully in the listeners minds eye. As the car disappears in to the distance the EQ changes to draw our attention to the insect that is present. We hear the sounds of the construction work and rubbish collection in their original (unsequenced) form and much quieter, accompanying the insect as he chirps. Eventually, as we approach the end of the 3 minute loop the police sirens become present once more and the groove of the construction drums start to form completing the loop.


After finishing this piece I decided to work with some video shot out of my window, in an attempt to visualize my sound composition:

I feel this experiment had some success; the filmed audio file and sequenced drums from Logic were interesting to use.


However, after getting feedback about it from my coursemates, my perception of it looking too much like a music video was perhaps correct! I think acheiving my dream of acurrately describing how sounds behave using film / animation techniques will be very difficult and, of course, a lot of work.

Also, I must consider the balance between sound and image carefully. This particular music composition has some quite subtle details and a gradually transforming sonic landscape which require focused listening. I can imagine that if I were to create a visual representation of each sound as it occurs in the composition and project it large on to a wall space, that the visual may overpower the sound. I may well be wrong though! Though tight audio-visual syncopation can create a rather intense end experience, like in Gantz Graf (autechre/alex rutterford), I feel that playing with the relationship in a more dynamic way may be more interesting.


I’m trying to imagine evolving relationships between sound and image; both in-phase (in-sync) gradually becoming out of phase, visual rhythms playing off sonic rhythms (rather than just mimicing them), creating a jarring feeling when sound & image contrast one another…. this all reminds me of Michel Chion’s book ‘Audio-vision’. I should read this again!


Gantz Graf

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Music making

August 4, 2008 at 11:39 am (Experiments, Reflections & Planning)

I’ve been working on a few new pieces these last few days.

The one that I want to talk about here is a piece using drums (congos and bongos):

I used the same over-dubbing techniques I’ve being utilizing recently to gradually build up a groove. After reaching a point where I was happy with it, I decided to continue the rest of the piece within the computer, using digital editing techniques. I used the method of not going back and editing previous sections and only using material from the previous 16 bars to create the next. I also limited myself to solely using audio editing techniques and no plug-in effects. So, I could only rearrange the syntax of the audio, layer it in different ways, reverse it or pan it. As the piece progressed I wanted to gradually turn the natural sound of the groove in to a heavily digitally edited one. I feel this was quite successful. By the end of the piece the rhythm is still retained, but the timbre of the sound has transformed heavily from drums.

Recently I’ve been leaning more and more towards making music outside of the computer, for the reason that when creating music inside it you get detached from the physical act of sound-making. This has made me think about my approach to using my collected material from the soundscape. I need to develop ways to make the process of music composition feel as natural playing an instrument. It makes me think I need to spend much more time with MaxMSP over the next few months, then I have over the last year!

Ideally I’d like to compose my pieces, or at least try out ideas, within the actual spaces themselves. I could perhaps bring composed sound with me to play back in these spaces….

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Bill Fontana – Harmonic Bridge

August 3, 2008 at 3:14 pm (Further Research & Contextualisation)

Bill Fontana describes his work as existing “one foot in and out of contemporary music, one foot in and out of contemporary art, on the edge of some science, on the edge of philosophy. Sound enters so many different worlds.” (as cited in Licht. 2007: 274)

I decided to research his work, since he has created several sound pieces concerning bridges; transmitting sounds from one city in to another, sometimes even thousands of miles apart.

In one of his more recent works, Harmonic Bridge (2006), he amplified the sound resonating through the Millennium Bridge, transmitting it into the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern and also Southward Underground Station. For me this ‘relocation of sound’ creates a temporal link between separate spaces and structures.

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I was lucky enough to experience the work when it was showing and it’s given me some interesting food for thought after listening to the composition again on CD recently. When I first heard the piece in the Turbine Hall I felt there was a slight lack of sonic clarity, due to the grand acoustics of the space. However, upon reflection this creates a more interesting dialogue between sound and space. He used powerful microphones on the bridge (accelerometers – vibrations sensors), which only pick up the physical vibrations of sound of the object or structure they’re attached to. We are hearing the internal structure of the bridge as defined by sound. The bridge becomes a giant resonating body, an instrument, being played by the wind and anonymous people walking over it. By transmitting the sounding into the space of the Turbine Hall, he is transplanting the internal structure of a sounding body (the bridge) into the physical space of another internal structure (the hall), and allows us to walk in between this synergised sound-space. The acoustics of the Turbine Hall redefine our final sonic experience, thus linking the sonority of two separate structures and instigating a reflection on the relationship between them.

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I find this idea of translating and transmitting internal life of structures through sound inspiring. By using technologies that respond to vibrations we can access the hidden sonority of structures, making them audible. This makes me think of conversations with Andy in which we talked about sound as defining the spaces in between physical material structures (e.g. a buildings interior and exterior spaces). However, sound can also be used to explore the internal happenings of a physical structure itself – with the right technology of course!

Since I will be using bridges as my point of departure, I’d like to experiment with these technologies and hear what the results are like. Also, during my journeys I might come across other structures that may yield good results. I’ve used cheap contact mics before, but they’ve been fairly ineffective, so more research must be done…

References

Books

Licht, A. (2007) Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories, New York: Rizzoli International Publications

CDs

Fontana, B. (2006) Harmonic Bridge, London

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