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

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!

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.

Finishing Touches

So I am coming down to the home stretch of “My Year ‘In C'” and I want to end as I began with posting at least every week. I have no plans to play “In C” anywhere, but I will continue to play with the slices and songsets. Using the patterns of “In C” as little Lego blocks of sound and putting them together in different combinations has grown my compositional ear and my personal sound aesthetic. There are so many possibilities in the sonic world that is laid out in this piece of music. “In C” questions all the assumptions we have about being in tune and being in time when making music. When we loosen our grip on what we think things should sound like and pay attention instead to what we are hearing and what is emerging from our attempts to articulate that hearing, whole other worlds open up. Those are the worlds I want to continue exploring. I have so much appreciation for Terry Riley and “In C” for opening so many doors.

Opening and closing doors is THE metaphor for the year 2014. The Full Shanti played our last kirtan together on New Year’s Eve at the Raleigh Dances of Universal Peace. Sotar and I continued to play together until he left for Yogaville in September. So the door closes on our sweet kirtan band experience. The door opened for more soundscapes and composing through my work with Jody Cassell and ADF. Beginning with creating a dance piece for Rodger Belman’s summer ADF class to Moving Meditations and Embracing Health Through Movement to residencies in several local elementary schools, the twin vortexes of productivity and inspiration, coupled with the amazing networking skills of Jody Cassell, blew this door wide open. Two years after my official retirement I am no longer administering vocational evaluations for Person Industries. Door closed. Opportunities to perform soundscapes continued in 2014 with “Phrygia: Hera’s Saga” at The Makery for Allie Mullins photography exhibit in August and “Won Gone” performed at The Won Buddhist Temple bazaar in October. Several other artists have indicated interest in soundscapes, so this door is opening wider into that future.

Then a very large portal into the past, the year 1984 specifically, opened up. The Universe urged me to reconnect with people with whom I have shared great love and great creativity. And there are so many wonderful people, and two of them were predominant in my 2014 heart-breaking open. In the Spring, a woman I deeply love became ill and she was using Caring Bridge to communicate with her friends and family. Reading the journey she and her wife were taking through this heavy lesson opened my heart again to the memories of our time of loving, which was very powerful for me. I am so overjoyed that we have even the slightest of connection now. (Door open!) I am so grateful for the tremendous gift of love she gave me. She has come out the other side of her illness, and will be using her innate healing skills to deal with any future problems (that is my deepest desire for her.) Then a door closed in early November when my youngest brother, Paul, died. I am simply stunned and not believing that this has happened. I am looking for the lessons, questioning what it means to love, to be a family, what we come to believe about ourselves based on what we think other people feel about us. And once again I am reminded that I can help people, but I can’t save them. As much as I wanted to save him, as much as I think I should have been able to save him, I could not do so. I am paying attention to secrets and lies and how they can really damage self and others. And I am channeling grief into sound and music. This is a rough draft of a soundpainting called Keening.

I allow a stridency and hysteria that is looked down upon amongst my people. Listening brings discomfort and distance, laugh or cry wherever that discomfort takes you. The laugh means “I am not ready for this”. The cry means “i am letting this (come and) go”.

All finishings touch me.

“In C” – Long Tones Only

I was pleased to see that a group of local musicians did play “In C” at King’s in Raleigh on November 4, the actual 50th anniversary of the first performance of the piece. I did not make it out to hear it and have heard nothing further about it. The Indy Weekly was supposed to have a review, but that never materialized. I hope it was fabulous! I am disappointed that I was unable to realize the vision of playing “In C” for hours with a large community of musicians and dancers and other artists. I will continue to play around with the pieces and parts of “In C” for the remainder of the year as I think it still has much to teach me.

I am exploring the long tone patterns. The majority of the 53 patterns in the piece contain 8th note runs of varying lengths. The long tone patterns are dominated by whole and half notes, some are even dotted. A dotted whole note gets 12 pulses. Whoa! These notes take up alot of space. There is one quarter note thrown into one of the patterns, but not an 8th note in sight.

There are 8 long tone patterns total and they are parceled throughout the piece to give some breathing room and add sonic interest. Patterns 6 and 8 are the early arrivals, and Patterns 42 and 48 bring up the end. In between come two significant patterns that introduce and contextualize the shift from Ionian mode to Lydian mode with the introduction of the F# into the C tonality. (This is the sound of the tritone which was forbidden in church music due to its tense and dissonant vibration.) Two of the long tone patterns contain the F#- one is a 12 pulse sustained F# and the other is a C-B-G-F# with each note held for four pulses. Playing any of the other long tone patterns against these two patterns engenders a feeling of dread in me. The other patterns are so sweet in their “C”ness that the F# patterns sound intrusive, ominous and unwanted. The F# can create discomfort in a listener.

With this in mind then, how to arrange these long tone patterns into a satisfying interplay? The movement seems to organize itself around introducing, getting used to and then enveloping the tritone tension. (As a side note: a small group of women I met through some Coursera courses on sound and music have been chatting and sharing work on line. It was recently suggested to use the concept of tension-release as a prompt for exploration. This is feeling like an exploration of tension-release to me.) So first to establish the C modality, Patterns 6 and 8 create a simple lulling motion back and forth. For me, there is tension immediately due to the rocking back and forth on the G to F of Pattern 8. While a whole tone is pleasing as it passes, rocking back and forth on it creates some dissonance and tension. At the same time, we are hearing the C-G stabilizing fifth relationship, but even that sounds a bit off to the ear because the C is high and the G lower. Very interesting!

So the introduction of the F# will layer into and heighten an already existing tension. The manner in which the F# is introduced will dictate the quality of this next level of tension created in the piece. When the F# enters with alot of immediate presence, the startle response is triggered. I opted for an accumulation of tension by bringing the F# slowly up into the mix. At almost the same time, another layer of tension is created with the Pulse. I love the voicing of the eighth note C pulse on high strings and a quarter note pulse on the low end. It sounds very cool, and adds alot of tension due to the drive it creates. The floaty feeling of the long tones gets washed away by this incessant pulse.

Once the F# and the Pulse have fully arrived in the mix, the urge is to find some relief from this confluence of dissonance and drive. While the urge could be heightened by layering in the voices in a cacophony of pattern changes, I opted to move toward resolution pretty quickly. There are two phrases that contribute to resolving the tri-tone, the C-B-G-F# with its C root and fifth providing the beginnings of a stable path for the F#. The pattern that brings it home is Pattern 42 with its iteration of the first inversion C Major chord: E-G-C. When that Pattern makes an entrance there is just a feeling of calm and “everything will be alright” that comes into the mix. And, to be honest, even though the F# is left behind in the end, the feeling it engendered still lingers in the sonic landscape. So the tension never quite releases. Hmmmm! What do you hear?