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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