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.

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!

“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?

 

A Podcast (of sorts)

So many projects right now and much work getting done. The last few weeks I have been up every morning between 4 am and 7 am working on new ideas for soundscapes. What I am hearing is very influenced by our study of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 22. A very fun piece that truly illustrates how a simple theme can be restructured in multiple relationships to itself to create a thing of beauty. The Divine WoW is leading to collaborations, collaborations falling apart, which leads to more collaborations. And the most beautiful thing is that I am inspired by these collaborations and not clinging to them. I get some impetus out of each and every one. And I continue to be endlessly available to myself in the studio.

As I was going through some files this week, I came across this recording I made of myself (there I am again!) playing a slice of “In C” in the Sun(Ra) Room. I loved this piece that begins with the dotted quarter swaying of Patterns 20 to 26 then travels up to and a bit beyond Pattern 35. The movement is from a holding back to pulled into a gallop, and then jump into the free flight of Pattern 35. I invite you to crank this up and let it carry you away as it does me every time I listen. It has the form of pleasure to my ear. As always I am very interested in what YOU are hearing.

I am calling this a podcast because I talk a little bit in the beginning.

Something About Waking Up

Going through the Jude’s Tunes file, I came upon a piece called “Awaken”. Hmmmmmm, I had just titled the first part of another piece that same thing. So I listened to it and heard immediately why it was called “Awaken” – this piece tells a story of waking up to the heart-opening joy that lies in the midst of chaos. The place of the true anarchist! So I renamed the piece, “Into Great Lightness”.

This piece exemplifies a sound painting to me. The theme is one of emergence and unfolding. The point of view is first person, which means that headphones give the full experience of the piece. The movement is out and through. The ending is not right- as is so often the case! I invite you to listen to it again with these ideas in mind. As with most painters, I am curious if others hear the story, or a variation on the theme. It amazes me that so much can be said with just 12 tones in shifting relation to each other.

I want to wake up and I want to sleep. Daily I feel less of the world, and yet more in the world than I have ever been. While oppression and injustice abound, none of it seems to hold a candle to the self-inflicted variety that most of us suffer from. I think the institutionalized oppression is the mirror for our own focus on suffering. One of the ways to shift the oppression is to focus on the day-to-day joys within this gift of lived experience. Most everything else is none of my business.

Wherefore Art Thou, “In C”?

So here I am, continuing to neglect my mission of celebrating “In C”, and instead, getting caught up in what the co-creative energy of the Universe keeps tossing to me. There are other recordings of “In C” that I want to talk about here, including one by the Salt Lake Electric Ensemble which forgoes the pulse. (Yayy!) And I must confess that the 12 hour version of “In C” is no where in sight.(Might not happen, crap!) At the moment my own work is taking focus. First, I reworked the central theme from last year’s 250 Degree show with Libby Lynn. The piece is called Shadowdoubt and I wanted to submit it to a filmmaker looking for a noirish, ambient, jazz-like soundtrack. I am listed on several music distribution sites and this is the first project that has come up that I had something for.

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Shadowdoubt was a part of the soundscape created for Libby’s show of new encaustic art last November at The Carrack Gallery of Fine Art in Durham. Encaustic is done with a medium made from beeswax, so bees figured prominently in the show. Matthew Yearout, a local artist and beekeeper, created an indoor hive that was on display during the run of the show. Recordings from “inside the beehive” became a sound installation that accompanied the visuals of the hive. Bee buzzes were a prime audio source for the sonic character of the soundscape. While I was shaping the sound of bees buzzing, the sounds of torches and scraping of the wax that encaustic art entails, this moody, tense, romantic theme emerged in the middle of the whole thing. I loved it! I felt then that this piece would stand on its own, outside the soundscape.

In order to prepare the piece for submission as a soundtrack, the voicings needed to change. For Hot Wax/Shadowdoubt/Bee Synthony, the sonic character was buzzy and pinched. Electric guitars, bees and hiss predominated the mix. When performing the soundscape at the opening, this buzzy sound hovered over the conversations in the room creating what I would call “undertones” throughout the Carrack Gallery. Several people told me they heard chanting and choruses of voices during the piece. In order to become a soundtrack, Shadowdoubt needed to soften; the buzz needed to be killed. So I pulled one edgy synth voice out, replaced the guitar with vibes (smile) and took the clanging bell feature into the background. I resisted the urge to eliminate it entirely.

The trick with a soundtrack is finding a emotional congruence with what is happening on the screen AND remaining in the background. The music needs be present but not TOO present. A soundtrack is like a good supporting player; it steps up at key moments, then retires, and remains in the background always adding to the emotional throughline. After reworking the piece for several days. I got it to a place where it could work as a soundtrack.

I went to the website for the film and looked at the trailer. The film is about an unsolved fire bombing of a gay bar in New Orleans in 1973. The trailer was clips of interviews and photo montages from the scene. Survivors and friends of those who died are interviewed. The music accompanying the trailer was dramatic, fast paced runs of violins, violas. The music was competely disconnected from what was being said and felt very “Muzak” to me- background music for the sake of background music. I could hear some of the sections of Shadowdoubt bringing emotional tenor to several of interviews. Here is what I submitted:

 

Shadowdoubt may have too much presence to function as a soundtrack, but there were moments during some of the interviews that I could hear those melancholy horns swell up. If this isn’t a good fit for this particular documentary, there is another film project that I could submit to. The description of the film sounds a bit too upbeat for the flavor of Shadowdoubt, but maybe some other tune would work.

Ooops, this just in: the filmmaker found that Shadowdoubt “did not quite fit the continuity of the film.” Ah, well- we will take a look at the other one.

In addition to the film track, Jody Cassell and I created a one hour sound and movement experience for the International Day of Peace on Sunday, September 21 (the Fall Equinox) at ADF Studios. It was a lovely hour with lots of appreciations all around for the grounding and healing and peace that was generated. Jody and I will be presenting movement classes for adults, and classes for several local grade schools with a focus on health and well-being. Here is a link to more information about the adult series: (you may have to cut and paste in your browser)

http://www.americandancefestival.org/events/embracing-health-through-movement/

And, as for “In C,” I still love the piece and it is still turning 50 in November. I plan to make some forays into the community to celebrate by playing bits and parts of some of the voicings for “In C.” Perhaps that is the way to celebrate the piece — never play it in it’s entirety, only in slices and sets. I plan to play all the long tones at a gig with TJ Goode at Open Eye Cafe the end of October. I will keep you posted. I am not finished with “In C” yet!!

Amazing Waves

The wave has always been a most important and sacred form to me. One of my favorite places to be is cradled in the middle of an ocean wave as it carries me to shore. Quantum physics reveals that all of reality is waving even as we stand solidly within it. Now that is one tiny sacred wave, let me tell you! So infinitesimal that we cannot feel it, but, truth be told, we are solidly in motion. We move through our lived experience on great waves of vibrating energy.

Thanks to Trudie’s insatiable curiosity about life, I have been continuing my education through free on-line courses. A few months ago, we studied basic physics. I love the basics. Basics are the source, the juice, the impetus. If one does not go back to the basics on a regular basis, then one loses touch with the core. And, when it comes to physics, all that I understand is the basics. Those basics are so mind boggling that when the instructor moved into the mathematical minutia, I lost interest and was awash in wonder.

So one of the physics lessons was on sound and waves. Even though I have taken a number of sound related courses and had sound waves explained over and over again, the lens of physics allowed for a bigger picture. A wave is generally defined as “a disturbance moving through a medium.” I really like the idea of a moving disturbance – something happens, something is initiated and that action dances a form. So the template emerges over time. You can capture a moment of the form in a snapshot, but that is not the full form. You can illustrate the movement of the form in a diagram or drawing using mathematical formulas to see the wave at specific points in time, but this is not the full form either. The form in its entirety must be experienced as a process – from initiating action/disturbance to the last moment of decay before the medium returns to its pre-disturbance state. This last “way of knowing” is the phenomenological experience of the form. We can grasp parts of the form with diagrams and measurement, but to know the form in its wholeness, we must engage it with our attention and our senses. We must experience it as it unfolds before us.

As the waveform unfolds, it is important to remember that the wave and the medium are separate phenomenon. This means that they can move in different relationships to each other. A transverse wave moves up and down at right angles to the motion of the medium. An ocean wave is a perfect example of a transverse wave. A longitudinal wave moves the same direction as the medium in a kind of pulsing motion. Sound waves are longitudinal waves. When the air (the medium) is initially disturbed, there is a bumping up of the air molecules which causes them to bunch together. The wave travels through the medium by alternately bunching and dispersing, bunching and dispersing. The bunched up molecules are called the compression aspect of the wave and the dispersed molecules are called the rarefaction aspect of the wave. So sound waves travel in a pulsing longitudinal path:

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I was confused when I first learned this concept because in my audio work I am used to seeing this familiar waveform pattern that actually looks more like a transverse wave to me:

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Thanks to the physics explanation, I realized that this waveform is not illustrating a wave to medium relationship. It illustrates an amplitude to frequency relationship – amplitude and frequency being the characteristics of a sound wave. This is the picture of a single sound wave which can be experienced through head phones as a sine wave.

When we have two sound waves and they meet. they interact to create a superposition wave. This wave comes into being through the constructive and destructive interference patterns between the two original waves. In other words, the places where the frequency and amplitude patterns of the two waves come together is constructive and where they move apart is destructive. When the waves are two different frequencies, the superposition wave creates what we perceive as a beat. As the waves interact over time, the pulse of the shifting interference patterns creates the beat. If you are a singer and would like to experience this phenomenon, sing the same pitch with a partner, then one of you move off that pitch ever so slightly. You will experience a full body “hearing” of the beat that the superposition wave creates. It is quite powerful and amazing.

Here is an audio example of two waves at two different frequencies and the vibrating “beat” of the superposition wave they create. First you will hear a single tone and then I will add a tone that is a half step higher. You will hear two sets of tones- the first higher set will have a faster beat. The second set is lower and you will hear a slower beat that wavers and throbs.

Lets go back to that quantum wave I was talking about in the opening paragraph. Those molecules that are disturbed and initiate the pulsing longitudinal waves that become sound are made up of another type of wave: electromagnetic waves. Some scientists are realizing that these tiny waves are existence itself. I wonder how those quantum waves are effected when they are disturbed as a group in our observable reality? How do quantum waves and observable waves interact with each other?

The mystery just keeps unfolding.