Lessons and Carols

So the year comes to a close and I look back on many lessons learned and much mulch for the sound garden in my mind. This morning, I woke early and went to the project folder in Ableton. Looking around at dozens of unfinished pieces and parts, I felt this deep satisfaction and supreme excitement at all these ideas that Ableton allows me to capture. Most everything I want to hear in my soundscapes I can sculpt out of Ableton. Working primarily in Ableton puts a kind of mark on my sound so that some people might recognize certain instruments or synths or pads as being from Ableton. When people would say that to me, it kinda felt like this is something I should try to “fix”. Then I realized that Ableton Live is more than just software, it is the medium in which I work. So it is fine to recognize the medium in which I create sound. It would be like saying “I see you use watercolors.” or “Sounds like you are playing a guitar.” So Ableton is the arena from which I sound my world.

Throughout the year, it was hard not to notice that Ableton and “In C” are a really fabulous couple! It is like they were made for each other. Ableton’s clips and scenes perfectly accomodate the patterns of “In C” in a variety of voicings. Even if you don’t listen all the way through, I urge you to go back and just listen for 30 seconds to some of the samplings of this partnership. If nothing else came from this year, my collaboration with these two is fertile ground for future growth. I know I am not finished with “In C” as a sound text for further exploration.

Spending so much time with this piece has helped me develop compositional frameworks and identify further questions for sound exploration. “In C” forced me into a daily practice of listening deeply into it’s musical layers of sound. What an amazing experience it has been! There is so much going on in the harmonics of this piece. One of the most interesting phenomenon in musical perception is the absolute presence of the fundamental tone! If you play all the harmonics, but NOT the fundamental, the human brain will “hear” the fundamental tone. This fact of our existence makes me weep with joy. AND it takes me where I want to go as a sound sculptor – into harmonics and healing. This, coupled with an interest in the Law of Octave (an obvious force of nature to be tapped into), will be leading me as I practice in the coming year. And, don’t forget Accelerated Harmonics, my made-up concept for bumping or swelling harmonics over fundamental.

Another interesting thought from the year is that, with Ableton as my medium, most every sound created comes from… well, non-sound. Every sound is based on the creation and manipulation of sine waves, not the disturbance of a physical medium we associate with sound production. In my opinion, sine waves seem to have been born to become binary code with their elegant compression/rarefaction oscillating form. Sine waves are like the molecules of digital sound. (I always say that Ableton allows me to manipulate the molecules of music.) So sound from a non-sound source is one of the challenges of reading about audio production. The assumption is that audio production is about recording acoustic sound into digital format. A great many important considerations (types and placement of microphones, latency) are not issues for creating sound from a digital format. This is where I am stuck at rhe moment. I am not really sure if there are significant differences between these two sound sources when it comes to using effects, mixing and mastering. It seems like there should be. I think I hear a difference. The digital sounds brighter and higher in a rather full way to me. The lows seem to be squashed. I know I favor higher frequencies, and have great respect for the power of the lower frequencies. Any way, my questions are:

/how does the sound of recording an acoustic instrument through a microphone into a track in Ableton differ from the sound of a midi-instrument “recording” in a track? The way to discern the difference is through listening (headphones, monitors, stereos), through spectrum analysis both in live space and in the medium, and through further understanding of sampling and sound creation in the digital realm.
/in what ways do these differences impact the mixing and mastering process between these two sound sources?
Answers to these questions and more to be discovered in the coming year.

My year with “In C” taught me to let go of expectations and to allow ‘what is’ to happen. I am disappointed that I was not able to organize the all night version of “In C.” As the Fall approached with its tremendous heart-breakingladdening, I was not as caught up in the piece as I was at the beginning of the year. The energy to organize a community event was not there. Some day, something like this will happen. I def need the help of others to pull it off.

The music and soundpainting I create from now on will be highly influenced by what I have heard “In C”. The layering of voices, the overlapping of frequencies, the relationship between frequency, amplitude and accelerated harmonics, the power of ostinato, the power of long tones, the tidal push and pull of rhythm, the edges of the spectral field that can be tonally considered in a given “key”—all of this and so much more have been my gifts from this amazing year. Thanks to Terry Riley, Susanne Romey, Xopher Thurston, Chris Eubanks, and everyone who listened to me, asked questions, and shared this experience with me. Your loving attention means so much to me. I hope you will continue to read about my work as I move to a new WordPress blog. There will be one last post here for this year. Thanks again for witnessing!

2 thoughts on “Lessons and Carols

  1. I love reading your thoughts about creating music. I’ve really learned a lot from my experience with “In C” and from reading your ideas. You have a brilliant way of explaining complex topics. I just spent the last year reviewing trigonometry for my math tutoring, so I am very familiar with sine waves, although I haven’t really studied them in relation to acoustics yet. I’m sure there is still a lot to be discovered with the relationship between sine waves, acoustics, electricity and even number theory.


    • Thanks, Susanne. I appreciate your engaging with me and with “In C” and I look forward to more co-creations with you. We will have to get together and just try out some stuff in the new year.


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