Curation notes for Prototype 2

December 2, 2008 at 8:34 pm (Big Ben Composition - Prototype 2)

All my work towards this prototype has been relevant to its development. Due to my robbery, I am missing one post where I have fine tuned the Max patch to obscure the sound-image less (in terms of pitch). Unfortunately there is no video of the whole patch working together with the video and sound. However, I have documented each separately, along with screen shots of Max and detailed descriptions of how it worked.

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Big Ben in Max (update)

October 7, 2008 at 10:25 pm (Big Ben Composition - Prototype 2)

Today I returned to the patch and started to tidy it up in order to make room for the changes I wanted to try out. Instead of going back to Logic and editing sounds there, I thought I’d do as much as I could in Max – after all, one of the key objectives for my project is to get a better understanding of its potential!

The changes I have made / effectiveness / notes, etc (for my reference) ;

1) A sub-patch which randomises pitch between -1 (in reverse at orig. speed) and 1 (forward at orig. speed).

Helps create some interesting variation in the sounds, making the sample layering more dynamic both texturally and in terms of frequency (e.g. Samples pitched very low, bring out the lower end of the frequency spectrum). However, these very low pitch samples may have lost their clarity, as it is unclear what may have caused the sound (e.g. seagul, gong, siren). Some level of listener recognition is important. This can be rectified in the sub-patch without too much trouble (hopefully!)

notes: Using the groove~ object probably isn’t the best option, because if a sample plays backwards (e.g. is less then 0) you need to tell it to play the sample from the end! Anyway I figured it out, so it will suffice.

2) Randomised volume for both Left and Right channels of each sample.

This worked very well I feel. The ever changing position of the sound-objects in space is exciting!

3) Used a fade out and EQ sweep when the ‘darkness’ audio is finished.

This tiny gesture helps to create a smoother transition from the absence of image to its presence.

notes: The volume fade out isn’t smooth, you can here it clicking through different levels from 1, 0.9, 0.8, etc. Very irritating (to me), but probably not hugely noticeable.

Here is 1 minutes worth of my patches ‘dark’ audio:


These last few days in Max has been great! My initial fear of using it has been conquered and I feel I am making progress fast. What I might try and do next is do something more interesting with the seagul sounds and then perhaps after that begin thinking about whether I can involve interaction through a web cam!

New patch pic, isn’t it pretty!

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Big Ben in MaxMSP

October 5, 2008 at 10:20 pm (Big Ben Composition - Prototype 2)

After finishing some variations on my sound material these last few days, I decided to piece together my idea in Max.

When I attempted this previously I struggled finding the right objects to use, but today I was determined to find a solution. I found that where I went wrong before was not referencing the name of the audio sample in the buffer correctly.

Creating the rest of the patch was fairly straight forward from this point. Max Help was useful, as was referencing and taking parts from previous patches I had.

Here is a screen shot:

I started by creating a timing mechanism (counter/metro) that would trigger 1 of 4 prepared samples at random for each type of sound (seaguls, gongs, sirens) when specified.

After doing this and sync the timing with the video I sat and listened. I found the relationship between sounds got a little boring after a while. It was too repetitive! (then again I’ve been working on it for a while…) To make it a bit more interesting I randomized the volume of each sample when triggered, to alter the dynamics each time. This could perhaps be extended to EQ and maybe playback speed of each sample.

At this current point I very happy with my progress, but I need to work a bit further on the sounds to keep the listener interested in the ‘dark’ moments. Perhaps making a set of 6-8 for each sound and exploring more elaborate variations and contrasting sonic activity will help me achieve this.

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Big Ben (version 3)

September 24, 2008 at 6:50 pm (Big Ben Composition - Prototype 2)

Whilst spending the last week gradually moving house (once again!) I feel I have slightly neglected reflecting on the progress of my work. For the past week or so, I have continued working on my Big Ben composition, trying to push it forward in what I believe is a more interesting direction.

The piece has transformed a fair bit since I started working with the materials I have collected. However, the elements used in the first draft of the piece and the later versions are very much the same; a cut-out clock face of Big Ben, segments of a map denoting the locations I stood in and the area I travelled around, as well as the set of images and sound recordings gathered during my journey. Also, I have still used North (or the position of 12 o’clock) as the ‘present moment’ the viewer is experiencing. So for example when the Roman numeral ‘III’ is aligned vertically with North, the image of Big Ben reads 12.15 and you hear Big Ben chime (if that makes sense). I wanted to avoid using rotating clock hands, since they would get in the way of the image, reducing its powerful.

I decided to juxtapose all these elements to reveal both my method for approaching the composition, as well as my exploration of the material itself. Something wasn’t working though. The piece felt too static. The stuttered motion of the clock seemed rigid and, on the whole, didn’t really produce the feeling of movement around the space I was intending. From the feedback I got, the clock-face itself was perhaps too dominant, over-powering the image in the center.

Back to the drawing board!

After spending some time in photoshop separating the areas of the clock-face and making parts of it opaque, I began playing with the images once again. I decided to use different parts of the visuals to represent different aspects of my composition; the centre being the recorded image, the numbers on the clock being the timing mechanism of the piece, the outer layer of the clock being the direction/speed of my journey and finally the map segments showing my movement from one location to the next.

To bring out the feeling of movement in the composition I experimented with rotating each area of the clock face in different directions. I also thought it’d be interesting to echo the image in the centre outwards through each area, but obscure them slightly by layering the images at different angles and rotating them as well! I introduced a sepia colour to the central image and map (when positioned North) linking location to image, as well as bringing them both to the fore. I coloured the numbers on the clock red to the same effect.

I tried compositing the images in the centre, giving each photo a 5 second duration with a gradual fade out. This overlapping appealed to me and seemed to create a more fluid transition between the moments I had captured with my camera. To me, this felt closer to how I experienced my journey, not as isolated occurrences of images or sounds as defined by time, but as a something continuously evolving, a constant search for the next shot or perspective on the soundscape. I decided to layer the sound in the same way, using a 5 second duration with fade.

During the making of the piece, I tried to get as much feedback from people as possible and not let my attachment and perspective on the work invalidate any criticism (as difficult as it is!) One of the key comments/feedback that helped me progress was that the visual element was dominant. I could definitely see what they meant. I think this was also due to the fact that the sound is quiet during the rotation and is very much left in its natural state (no effects or gestural manipulation). This made me think more about the balance between sound and image in the piece. Could the visual be dominant whilst the clocks rotating, then as we travel back to previous events (in timeline B) the sound becomes dominant? How far could I explore this dynamic and what would be the most interesting approach?

The absence of the image. Big Ben chimes and we descend in to the part of the map where I first made my sound recording, the bank opposite Westminster. Total DARKNESS.

Since I only made sound recordings on that day it made sense to just use sound to express the ambience of the place, solely exploring the sonic activity and relationships that happened whilst I was there. I found my solution, but how was I going to approach it?

Originally I wanted to make 4 versions of ‘events’, in other words, four different relationships between the three elements; seaguls, police sirens and gongs of Big Ben. But, I’ve decided this too would be quite static and get boring after a few loops.

So now what I intend to do over the next two weeks is integrate maxMSP into the piece; creating 5 versions of activity for each element, then use max to randomly selected one activity for each element and then layered them everytime the image is absent. This will give a total of 125 different versions of events – much more exciting! To me these unexpected combinations of sounds will closer reflect the chance relationships that occur within London’s soundscape. The uncertainty of past events will be prevalent, as in Rashomon.

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BB composition (version 2)

September 9, 2008 at 10:21 am (Big Ben Composition - Prototype 2)

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Big Ben Composition (in progress)

September 5, 2008 at 12:15 pm (Big Ben Composition - Prototype 2)

individual photos, in sequence:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

7, 8, 9, 10, 11, etc

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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.



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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