About dejacusse

Electronic sound artist/performer using Ableton Live DAW, amplified noises and audio samples to create soundscapes and custom music for art galleries, yoga classes, and gatherings of all kinds.

Music and Language

This week dear friend, Terri Murphy, sent me a link to an old Radiolab podcast on Musical Language. I am a Radiolab virgin and I have been anticipating listening to a broadcast soon, so now seems a good time.

The program was chock full of interesting stuff and, of course, I LOVED the sound based format, which went very far in illuminating THIS topic. One section focused on the work of music psychologist Diana Duestch who studies the relationship between tonal languages and musical abilitites. She demonstrated an interesting phenomenon with tonality, music and language. She took a recording of her own voice talking about her work and isolated a phrase where she put a distinct tone with each syllable. When this phrase was looped, it became a song fragment. The show really emphasized the song fragment by having musicians and singers add harmonies and improvisations over and around the fragment. Then she played the recording of her talking where this phrase was used and the brain hears her burst into song at the moment of the phrase. I laughed out loud when I heard it. I am always looking for “sound jokes” and this was one. It is the shock and joy (there’s a concept) of re-cognition. She has CDs of sound illusions, which I am going to check out.

In another segment, a neuroscientist has recorded the sound of the electrical firings in the brain when we hear sound. When we hear harmonious, consonant, rhythmic sounds these firings are very steady and even. When we hear sounds that are dissonant and arrhythmic, the firings are more erratic. Now current scientific thought is that consonance and dissonance are fixed positions in the ear. Radiolab asks the question, “What if the auditory cortex is more malleable than science thinks?” Then the hosts used the premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” as an example of the possibility that people’s auditory cortex can be shaped by exposure to new musical relationships. At the Paris premiere in 1897, the audience rioted and left the theatre. A year later, the Paris audience sat enraptured. This example is fraught with cause/effect issues (a provocative ballet choreographed by Najinsky and artistic rivalries all factored into the premiere, but were not a part of the performance a year later), but the idea that the pounding, dissonant chords that drive “The Rite of Spring” contributed to the flare up is not too much of a leap for me. Especially when they talked about the neurons whose job it is to “render things pleasant” in the auditory cortex. One of the hosts even goes so far as to throw out the possibility that music/sound artists are in a tug of war with the brain. Given what we are learning about neuroplasticity, this may be the case.

There have been times when I have worked on a piece of music and cringed for a moment at some chord or passing tone that did not sound quite right to my ear. Most of the time I bring it in line with the tonal center, but, occasionally, I leave it and listen to it 5 or 6 times as I am working. If it passes this test, then I put some time between listenings. If on the next listening, it is still working in a quirky way for me, I will leave it. At these moments I feel like my auditory cortex is being redirected and reshaped to allow in some new and strange relationship. It feels expansive and I usually go for the expansiveness.

Here is a link to this very fun podcast. Enjoy !


https://judessoundlings.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/radiolab0421061.mp3

Please come follow my new blog!

Hello Bloggers and others,
I do so appreciate your following this blog. I know you get alot in your email box and my heart is warmed that you take the time to read me.
I am no longer making new posts to this blog because my year In C ended. I moved to a new blog where I am still exploring and still under the influence of In C. I would LOVE it if you would go to that blog, and give a follow. It is current and I would love your feedback on what I am doing. The new blog is “Jude’s Soundlings (did you hear that?)” and can be found here:https://dejacusse.wordpress.com/

Thanks again and I hope to see you there!

Potentials for 2015

Having finished “My Year ‘In C'”, I will continue the unfolding of my adventures in sound in 2015 and beyooond! The new blog will be “Jude’s Soundlings (did you hear that?)”, and will be hosted here on WordPress. In the new blog I will continue my very basic and simple exploration of sounding the world/sounding my being/sounding health and healing through creative action. I aspire to stay freshly curious and naive in this exploration. I am no expert in anything, I have nothing to teach, but I love to play! If anything I say or do sparks some naive curiosity in you, please share it with me through comments and/ or emails and, of course, your own creative actions.

Here is a sampling of some potential actions for the coming year:

Jody Cassell and I will continue our work with movement and sound. I appreciate the support and encouragement we have received from ADF, Durham Arts Council CAPS program and all the participants in our classes. We will be finishing up our school residencies and adult studio classes through the BCBS/ADF grant in the Spring. We are also excited about a new affiliation with Leah Rutchick and her Durham-centric Activities meet-up group.

Trudie Kiliru and I are (finally) getting serious about collaborating on creative projects. Christmas Eve we began brainstorming for questions we want to explore in our art. We are interested in the evolution of consciousness, the healing of the childhood pain profile, and how to create stories in our art that are not locked into linear narrative nor defined by dramatic arc. Oh, yes, and also physics and sacred geometry. The spiral and the wave. Alrighty then, we got some stuff to work with- more on this adventure later. (The wait is over- we are exploring the idea of “home” and all the actions that go with that idea – “leaving, going, coming, longing for, where is it? ” We are so excited with such fertile ground.)

Two projects in the planning stages are more soundscapes for art exhibit openings and creating a long form free dance piece for a NIA class Patti Reiser is planning. I am working on a Halloween soundscape for Allie Mullin’s photography show next October.(Scary!!) I have indicated interest in creating soundscapes for NC artist’s Juditta Musette and Debra Wulliger in the coming year. I hope to work with Libby Lynn again. If you are a visual artist planning a show and interested in having an original soundscape inspired by your art, please contact me. Examples of soundscapes can be found at https://soundcloud.com/dejacusse/tracks. I am setting up a Bandcamp site where folks can download my work for a small fee. (Thank you for your support!)

I would dearly love the opportunity to diffuse a soundpainting through multiple speakers. I would like to be able to actually mix and move the parts in acoustic space. This is possible and I have most of the equipment to do it. This is coming, I know. After playing the Bass and Percussion version of “In C” I would love to play that piece in a club as part of an evening.

I am working on a soundscape dedicated to my brother, Paul, who died last month under very tragic circumstances. I am using sound and music to express all the confusion, sadness, regret, loss and hope that I am feeling and as a way for me to mourn his loss.

I am a loving, caring womanhuman (whuman?) and I want to act that way more frequently than I do. I can get quite righteous with people who (I feel) dismiss me, although I have done the same to others. So I will continue to be as open and willing as I can be in each moment. I really want to learn what in the world is my business- meaning that in the broadest terms, such as what is my concern, what talents do I have to offer this concern, etc. The mediated world distracts me with making all concerns my own. To feel so is to drown in despair and ineffectuality. Away from that world there is a field where we learn what we can really do, and it is usually less than we think. That has been my experience, many would call me part of the problem, apathetic, frightened (that one bares looking into), but I can see too much to continue participating in more than a cursory way. This is because I want to focus my energy on the future and creating a higher vibration on and within this planet, this Universe and beyond.

Thanks for reading! Please join me at “Jude’s Soundlings (did you hear that?“) next year.
Don’t be discouraged; be love!

“In C” as Midi-Trigger for Bass and Percussion

Earlier this year, I said I wanted to play around with this idea of the musical text of “In C” as a midi-trigger for percussion grooves. OMG!! I did it this morning and, to my ear, it is the most interesting, organic sounding take I have had to date. This is what I am talking about with this piece of music- there is so much to be explored outside the traditional renditions of this piece. I am finding possibilities in the electronic domain that are not readily available in a traditional acoustic “live musicians” rendition of this piece.

For example, once a voice has started playing a pattern, it must be maintained for a duration, so the live acoustic rendition will be subject to the shifting entrainment of the members of the ensemble. Humans playing music together can really shift the focus and feel of any piece of music through nuances of rhythmic and melodic expression. (Reading about this right now in a great book called GROOVE a phenomenology of rhythmic nuance by Tiger C. Roholt) The live musician must play this piece with a metronomic pulse (played throughout by another musician, so not a real metronome), sync with the pulse and not get confused by the other parts coming in, AND make decisions about when to start and stop and move on to a new phrase. All of this while paying close attention to what is happening in other parts. So, there is alot of “breathing” that goes on in a live performance of “In C”. I would imagine there would be some quite chaotic moments and the making of space would be more difficult, as well.

In Ableton, the patterns are locked into the midi-clip. They never vary and always play the same. One thing I heard in the recording below that I think would be nearly impossible for live musicians- when Pattern 35 makes a brief appearance, the melodic instruments (bass and vibes) play the phrase one pulse apart. It sounds like a stagger more than an echo, it is very interesting. People can do some amazing things, and maintaining an exact one pulse stagger on this long phrase (that includes every tone and note-length in the entire piece) would be an amazing thing to witness; in Ableton, it can happen every time. I can bring parts forward and back in the mix and discover nuances that emerge from the shifting relationships amongst the voices. A good sound engineer could do a similar thing with a live performance of the work where each voice is amplified. Over the course of this year, I have played alot with tempo- I chose to slow this piece way down and let some of the languidness and playfulness shine through. The fastest tempo was around 110 pulses per minute. I found 60 ppm to be too slow – that is what we played at Motorco. The average tempo was 80 to 100 ppm. Recordings of “In C” are usually twice that tempo or more. Speed emphasizes a frenetic quality by glossing over the long tone patterns and pattern 35. Slower tempo gives more access to harmonics, space and dynamics in the piece.

I can now confess to something that I have resisted and denied for years- I am a control freak. Ableton Live allows me to control so many nuances of sound and music that I am in bliss much of the time while I work. When I collaborate with others, I do not want to be a control freak. I want my collaborations to be a more fluid give and take. If anything, I acquiesce more frequently in collaboration due to awareness of how controlling I can be. (Is that true?) It is my intention. So one of the major distinctions in my approach to “In C” is that I am the orchestrator of what you hear. And here is how I approached orchestrating this version of “In C”. I chose the voices based on two parameters- variety of timbres and frequency ranges. The percussion instruments all have very nice areas of blend and areas of complete separation in the sonic spectrum. The Special FX voice is the one that adds most of the very industrial and metallic sounds (scraping, whirring) that hang out on the outer edges of the sounding space. One of the voices is a favorite of mine, Kit-Ethno, and has been used in other soundscapes. Some of the percussion has “sour” tones like odd plate or pipe sounds, which adds a whole other melodic dynamic. I toyed with the idea of NO melodic instruments, but there was too much material lost with that approach. So the bass and vibes provide the main melody voices. None of the voices have a long sustain, so all those long tone patterns have alot of space in them. I liked this aspect very much. Also, because there are fewer melodic instruments, the entrance of the F# is not that evident. These characteristics attest to this being a percussion driven version of “In C”.

As I pointed out last week, Ableton and “In C” were made for each other. This recording reveals that in a big way. When I played out the recording I did not carefully track the beginnings and ends of phrases for each pattern as I played. Instead, I used the Akai APC 40 control surface to be able to trigger the clips quickly and in whatever order. I set up a visual pattern on the APC 40 and then triggered the clips in time to the pulse, recreating the pattern each time just moving down through all 53 patterns in each voice. I did stay within 3 – 5 patterns throughout with a few times of all playing the same pattern, but not in unison. I was trying to create an extremely short version of “In C” with these voices, but too many really cool grooves and ideas emerged for me to rush through.(You will hear what I mean if you listen.) One of the ways I orchestrated the melodic phrases was to move back and forth between them on the bass and vibes. This is not normally done in a performance of “In C”. There are a number of consecutive pairs of patterns that create a sing-song, rocking feel and I wanted to bring those out and play with them at times. I also used the back and forth between consecutive patterns to create some extra movement in the drums.

This mix of voices creates an amazing soundscape that is together and apart and has sound all over the sonic space. In spite of my quick, short version intention, it runs about 19 minutes. Please try to hang in through the first three minutes, the piece really picks up after that point. There are definitely invitations to dance!

And, here is a pretty short version played on strings and woodwinds. Thanks to Project SAMS for the gorgeous sound of these instruments. The original version was 8 minutes and, in order to come in at the length I had to cut off longer phases – not good. Pattern 35 was not even there! Just the first 9 notes which are exactly like Pattern 36 complete. So, in essence I had two Pattern 36 and no Pattern 35. It disappeared… So, I recorded a 10 minute version, which is as short as I can make it at this time (some part of me longs to hear a “Minute ‘In C'” like the “Minute Waltz.” eh- maybe) Here is a picture of the “score” of this recording in Ableton.

20141230-140855.jpg

I think it is fun that the trigger patterns look like compression and rarefaction – you can see where the piece opens up and breathes and where it closes in on itself. Such a beautiful energetic pattern of life- it is part of what creates the fractal.

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!

Mixing it up

With all of our ADF classes completed for the Fall, attention can be focused in the studio. There are always abundant projects to be developed and finished. Finishing is getting a recording of a tune or soundscape that represents the piece as a “hard copy.” Since most of my Ableton Projects are works in progress with space available for others to chime in, it is possible that there will be multiple and very different versions over the lifetime of a piece. As with “In C”, the parts (clips and some animation) will be the same with each hearing, but how they weave together to create a whole and the fullness of that whole is subject to the Now and who else is in it. It is my hope that many of the soundings of my compostitions will be only in that moment in time, never to be heard again, while the core of the piece will always remain.

In order to get a hard copy, I put the voices together in my favorite room to play – my head. I am playing in that space like I never have before. Paying attention to which voice is where, how much space the voice takes up, and how it fits in or stands apart from the other voices. All of these considerations are to further the storyline of the piece of music. And listening through headphones is one experience of it, while listening through monitors is another. As I create the mix for headphones, the position and movement of the voices is a big priority. For example, there is a processed shaker sound during Phrygia: Hera’s Saga that feels as if it moves right through my head thanks to the panning effect on it. When this sound is played through monitors, there is a feeling of it moving up and out through the room, so the direction and distance the sound travels comes across quite different to me in each of these diffusion settings. I want to experiment with different ways of mixing with different priorities for these two modes of experiencing.

The mix for Phrygia: Hera’s Saga has gone through numerous transformations. I have a mix of the first two movements Waken and Move that I am very happy with. The voices blend when I want them to blend and stand apart when I want them to stand apart. The sound is full and the voices dance around in the mix, taking turns being up front. The last three movements The Chase, Catch the Shadow and Kundalini Joy have been more difficult to mold. I have a good recording and have spent hours sculpting the mix. While engaged in this process, I am consulting Bob Katz Mastering Audio and Mixerman’s Zen and the Art of Mixing. Both these guys have alot of mixing experience and they have very different approaches with lots of good info.

One of the techniques I was working with in The Chase was an abundance of reverb tail on two instruments, which I liked playing around with to obscure the attack on the fundamental tone. This type of sound is often refered to as “muddy” in the mixing world. I find it rather magical to have the entire soundscape awash in reverberant harmonic tones. As with most magical things, this needs to be used wisely and not excessively. I am bordering on excessive in this piece partly because I am using the reverb tails as a background wash for the main themes, AND the lead instruments are providing both the main theme and the harmonic wash. A plucked samisen and vibes are the lead instruments and they mirror at times and interact at times. This morning I used some EQ techniques suggested by Bob Katz. I used an EQ 8 on the strings because they are providing most of the background wash. I ended up using a spectrum to identify the main fundamental tones in my high end material (bells, tamborine, shaker) and then dipped these tones out of the plucked samisen. This seems to have worked in that I still have plenty of reverb wash, but it isn’t constantly overwhelming the spectrum. The high end parts were accelerating some harmonics in the main instruments, now they have there own space and the harmonics are backgrounded more.

I accidently discovered a commonly used mixing technique that mixes two different Ableton renderings of the same track, with slightly different animation, together in Audacity. What had sounded weak and tepid now has presence mixed this way. This is called “double tracking” and is a common practice when mixing tracks of vocals or guitar on band mixes. Part of the fun of my work is that I have alot of resources about mixing and mastering audio, and I have to figure out how to apply these concepts within the virtual realm in which I work.

Mixing Phrygia:Hera’s Saga down to a thirty minute hard copy took many weeks and required many breaks to rest my ears. This piece has a bright sound especially initially and, while I like this sound, I am aware that it can wear ears out especially through headphones. When I listened to the entire 29 minute piece, I hear a frequency movement that begins low mid range, then moves high and then ends with a growling, rumbling bass taking a main theme at the end. While I have a full recording that mixes the whole thing as one piece, I ended up putting the piece into two tracks on my Bandcamp site. I have this as an album, and I may add some other tracks I have been working on over the course of this year. The main thing is that this is for Sarah Sage and all that she gave to me. I am so thrilled that she has emerged from her medical trial by fire with so much strength. I am not surprised as I know very intimately the healing capacity of the great love she carries. My constant prayer is that she will allow herself that healing and not just look to her tribe and their experts for how to proceed on her path. This prayer is sent forth in the music that comes from remembrance.