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!

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!

Music as Medicine

It has been very exciting to create several new pieces of music for the classes that Jody Cassell and I presented under the auspices of the American Dance Festival this Fall. The classes focused on health and wellness through movement and sound. I am studying Kay Gardner’s Music As Medicine audio workshop, and used what I am learning there in creating the sound sketches for these events. The healing potential of sound is studied and used by many people from ancient indigenous cultures to contemporary healing communities- including some HOSPITALS!

Embracing Health Through Movement met for four Tuesdays in a row at the ADF Studios in Durham. Our focus was on using dance movement patterns and sound to promote the growth of neural pathways and shift cellular vibrations on a subtle level. Here are some of the techniques we used:

Laban’s Dance Scales – these are groups of movements that bisect planes and cross mid-lines, thus shaking up habitual movement patterns and creating new neural pathways. These scales work with sequencing and memory, as well. Learning the dimensional scale and parts of the A Scale, challenge and invigorate the central nervous system and the brain of the mover. Both scales are sonically supported by accelerated harmonics, a concept I will explain later. Much deeper and more meditative than aerobics, the dance scales encourage the relaxed and grounded place from which to receive the full benefit of a later aerobics class.

Sounding the Organs and Glands – using the research of Kay Gardner, Barbara Hero, and Hans Cousto- I developed soundscapes for toning at frequencies of health for particular organs. During the first round of classes, we toned the D as an overall cellular entrainment, then the F# for the “high” heart or thymus. (Tarzan beating his chest is the visual metaphor for “thumping the thymus”, an energetic practice that is simple and boosts immunity.) The final week we pinged our pineal glands to open up all the new energy information coming to us each…minute, second…

Peripheral Massage – each week, Jody lead the group in either foot, hand or facial massage to stimulate those places in our bodies where all the nerves end up.

Jin Shin Jyutsu- an energy and meditation technique that involves holding the fingers of each hand for a certain number of breaths and with different intentions. This technique had a profound effect on several participants, who spoke of using it outside of class to help them focus and ground themselves.

Developing the soundscapes was exciting and challenging as Jody and I became clearer in our focus on really deep level healing. As the sound artist, it is important to me that people in the class feel the vibrations of the music as well as hear them. As the movement leader, it is important to Jody that her instructions be heard by the class members. By paying close attention to each other, I could ride the fader, placing the sound underneath Jody’s voice or out into the room when everyone was moving. This worked well and will be refined and developed along with the rest of the program.

The idea for accelerated harmonics comes from listening closely to the timbres of various electronic voices overlayering tones within acoustic spaces. By combining two voices that share some of the same sonic spectrum and manipulating the mix of those voices, certain frequencies can be given a bump at moments during the playing of the soundscape. This manifests like a singing bowl or a beat wave with a kind of throbbing and swelling of the sound as it moves toward decay. The difference between the accelerated harmonics and a beat wave is in the regularity of the swell. Beat waves have a steady back and forth feel, while accelerated harmonics are more like a bump. I envision it working like a balloon being bumped up in a crowd of people in slow motion. The music that I love – jazz and classical – both use this approach to create swells of sound and unusual timbres in the music.

I got a chance to play with this acoustically when one of the dancers brought a singing bowl to class. We were toning the F# for the thymus. As the woodwinds and strings of the soundscape pulsed a slow F# swell, I pulled sound out of the bowl with greater and lesser amplitude. To my ear, it was as if the bowl sound was caught in a sonic net of frequencies from the soundscape. The bowl sound became like the wind in a sail pushing the soundscape frequencies out into the room a bit longer, then letting them drop off. For me, it was a deep sonic ride akin to surfing or skiing. In addition to the primary F# tone, I provided an improvised addition of the fifth above F#, which is recommended by Kay Gardner to provide balance.

So accelerated harmonics is an area I want to explore with my ears using electronic midi instruments in conjunction with acoustic phenomenon in reverberent spaces. Some ways to explore this are to design more sound experiments in the Sun(Ra) Room, record soundscapes in the rooms where I play them (I can’ t believe I have not done this yet, but I haven’t), study and work with harmonics and overtones, study mixing and mastering techniques, use my voice as an accelerator, learn to read a spectrum analyzer, and many more to be discovered.

Here are two examples of the half a dozen music sketches used in the Embracing Health through Movement class in the Fall of 2014. The first one is Eeeeeepineal which can be used for toning the pineal gland on the syllable “eeeee.” The other is called Displacement and was used for the “brain dance” sequence that Jody lead each week as a warm up. This piece has a displaced downbeat due to the phrase being 3.3 measure long. Even with the foreshortened phrase, the repeating loop creates a regular, if unusual, pattern. The dancers feel the piece as “a little off” at first, but the regularity of the repeating loop invites entrainment. That feeling of getting in sync, that click, that ” oh, yeah!”, can be an indicator of new nueral activity. Pretty cool!

We plan to offer the class again in the Spring 2015. I hope to see you there!

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 !

Being in C: A Midyear Pause and Recalibration

Last week I realized that I am half way through this year long celebration of Terry Riley’s “In C” and I want to take stock of where I am. In the beginning I talked of this as a boat launching out into a vast expanse of unknown water. Being in the midst of this piece of music feels more like white water rafting at times, but I am enjoying the journey. I haven’t played it publicly as much as I thought I would, nor worked with other musicians as much as I thought I would, but it all feels OK. I am still envisioning an all night version in the Fall, but the details have not yet materialized.

As the year has progressed, the blog has come to represent something else as well. When I titled the blog in January, the thought crossed my mind that “C” often stands for cancer. In which case we needed a different title than “My Year ‘In C'” Then I got real with myself and called the blog what I wanted and didn’t give it another thought. As it turned out there was a bit of prescience happening, because cancer has made an entrance into my life. The first tap-tap-tap came when I got called back for a follow-up mammogram and was told I have a suspicious mass, schedule a biopsy, and “nice to meet you, sorry it is under these circumstances.” Well, that got my attention! What circumstances? At this point, we really do not know anything. Even though that comment did arouse some suspicion in me, I went ahead and scheduled the biopsy. The nurse accompanied me out the backdoor, making small talk and scanning me for a potential breakdown. When I hit the fresh air, I pondered my experience.

I thought that it was interesting that this young radiologist had already marked out the path my life would take from that moment onward because it looks like I might have “breast cancer.” He knows the varied ways this journey can unfold and he is the usher for the first step on the path. I am very grateful to him for overplaying his part, tipping his hand and prompting me to look a bit more closely at “these circumstances.”

As it turns out, there is alot of shifting going on in the whole cancer screening industry. While I know in my heart that the intention behind cancer screenings is a helpful one, cancer treatment itself has become a product and, as consumers, we are encouraged to buy in. So, while the technology for screening evolves faster than our understanding of what we are seeing, an industry has been built around cancer prevention and treatment. And once things get institutionalized, new information has a harder time getting in. This is especially true if the new information indicates some problems with accepted protocol and/or goes against the mission.

In my research, I found that breast screenings are now searching for “Stage Zero” cancer in the form of Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS). In 2012, the National Cancer Institute issued a paper stating that DCIS is not an actual cancer. Now this information, based on an overview of studies and measurement outcomes from the 1970s through the present, is not making its way into the minds of those who do screenings. The main reason for that is that they are in the “business of preventing breast cancer.” That is their mission and they go at it tenaciously with surgery, chemo and radiation. This was the path the young radiologist envisioned as my new “circumstances.” The business of cancer prevention is thriving, and it is efficient and effective. And research that suggests anything else is not given much credence. Look, this is how we do it, and that doesn’t fit what we believe to be true, which is what we are basing what we do on.

My brother, Paul Casseday, gave me the idea of technology evolving faster than our ability to understand what we are seeing. Some of the most recent scientific thought has been focused on actually trying to see and understand cancer. What exactly is it? Most people know cancer as an “invader.” There is this sense of a hostile takeover of the body. Our current understanding creates mistrust between mind and body, as if there isn’t enough of that already. I understand cancer to be our own sweet body’s cells, doing what they do, but way over doing it. They can only keep going and they have forgotten how to die. A tumor is a proliferation of cells. So- not an invader- just our bodies trying very hard to maintain their existence. And there is evidence that cancer cells can begin to form and then go into spontaneous remission. Why are the cells reacting in this way?

One theory that is just beginning to be investigated is that the cells are having a primal response to a hostile environment in the body. The body processes have gotten so out of balance that the cells go into an atavistic reaction mode and just reproduce. It is like all the smaller creatures that create lots of babies for survival of the species. The cells are on overdrive because they feel threatened with extinction. And, of course, there are all kinds of theories as to what might trigger this reaction. Environmental toxins, processed food, bound emotions, and Monsanto products all are key figures in creating the toxic soup that feels threatening to our bodies.

Another theory that dovetails with the one above, is that cancer is an autoimmune response. This is the Functional/Integrative Medicine approach to cancer. So the toxic outer environment triggers an aggressive immune response which creates backlogs of mucus, acids, fungus and changes in cells. Detailed blood sample panels can indicate imbalances in the body. These imbalances can be successfully treated with diet, exercise and minimal supplementation. Here I must point out the one component that few people give much credence to, but it is the linchpin in all disease – thoughts and emotions. Guilt, anger, contempt, grief, anxiety and fear can lodge in the body as a variety of illnesses including cancer. I believe cancer in particular to be an emotionally driven disease. So I cancelled the biopsy, and am working with a Functional Medicine practitioner to make changes in my diet, taking certain supplements, and using journaling, Emotional Freedom Technique and meditation to help me process emotions to a free and clear space. So my path has brought me brilliantly to here.

While I was reviewing my situation, a good friend was going through the exact same thing (even the same breast) but she had the biopsy. I accompanied her to meet with an exceptional oncological surgeon who seems to honor the idea that there might be more options than the one offered by the cancer-prevention community. While my friend’s biopsy indicated DCIS, the fact that it did not show up on an MRI was good enough to warrant a “wait and see” approval from the doc. Oh, yes, and this doctor said that statistics indicate that DCIS has a 30% to 40% chance of developing into “invasive cancer” (an oxymoron to me.) So I flipped those stats to see that there is a 60% to 70% chance that DCIS will not develop further, which my gambling gene says are pretty darn good odds.

Then a woman with whom I have a relationship that I can not even describe in words was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She and I have not communicated in over twenty years (although I have paid attention to her various moves and achievements and we are Facebook friends) but I felt an immediate rushing back in of our loving friendship. She is blogging about her experience and I eagerly read and reread her eloquent expressions of herself and her daily experience. I comment sometimes, but mostly I am a loving witness to her process.

So “My Year ‘In C'” has resonated into the realm I had momentarily acknowledged in the beginning. But you know what? By setting aside my fear and naming the blog as I wanted, I am seeing this as an expansion of the adventure of this amazing year. I am even more interested in sound/vibrational healing and making connections between the harmonics of “In C” and healing the body.