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!

opening the ears to thought – April 15, 2014

The April 15th show at Motorco Music Hall was vibrant, interesting and witnessed by a small and attentive audience. I am so appreciative of Xopher Thurston for his playing and the sweet fidelity he brought to the space with his sound engineering. This fledgling outing for -the idiosyncratic beats of dejacusse celebrates “In C”- was just as I had hoped it would be. Xopher Thurston, Susanne Romey and Chris Eubank did the heavy lifting of playing the piece in the moment. They were fantastic! Susanne made the decision to play the recorder on the first set of patterns and the toy piano on the second set, which was brilliant as a new voice in the second set of patterns added interest. Chris really drove the first set by staying with the two sixteenth notes in Pattern 10. Then we all settled into a rather mournful staggering of the long tones in Pattern 14. The second slice was Pattern 48 to the end (53). This got going with such driving polyrythmns that I felt the underpinning of an African dance. A djembe solo would have been really nice there! Here is a short audio clip of a moment from each section we played:

I was very happy with this first big acoustic space outing of slices of “In C”. Plus we were sandwiched in between The Empty Sound (Xopher Thurston – Bass, Percussion and TJ Goode – Drums, Percussion) and about a dozen musicians free improvising as Triangle Improvisational Music Exchange or T.I.M.E. The Empty Sound were phenomenal as they embodied groove and free form with whimsy and solid musicianship. I loved their set. Listening to the recording of T.I.M.E. results in more kudos for Xopher as he really shaped the improv through his mixing. Mixing as an improvisational art form is where he is at!!

In addition to all of this – we have a great video of the whole thing filmed by Bill Romey who was all over the place getting interesting angles. He got the vibe of the evening!

I did walk around Motorco before the show and do some spectrum analysis. I was not able to make much of it and evidently the analyzer needs web access. Who knew? So not much to report on that front. I am studying the recordings made with the Zoom H2n which was placed on a mic stand on the lowest side step of the bleachers on the right by the hall to the bathrooms. The low cut filter was enabled and auto gain on concert. A spectrum analysis of the recordings may yield interesting information.

As Xopher said, “A good time was had by all!”

And a special thanks to Terri Murphy, Eleanor Mills, Jody Cassell and Jim Kellough for listening and giving feedback. Appreciations!

The Frequency of Things

The world of frequencies and harmonics is an amazing realm. “In C” is a score that contains a phenomenal depth of frequency potential as we have seen in our short time with the piece. And what about the power of frequency in a world made up of vibration and spin? Once, when I participated in a guided meditation, the guidance was “you are ALL of sound!” and I balked because I felt the awesome power of that identity. Vibrating air molecules may be the simple gesture that is the great resonant bridge between the physical realm and the quantum realm.

It makes sense that sound can impact the vibratory molecular make up of the entire Universe, as we know it. First, we know that certain frequencies can alter our physical realities. The most common example is a singer shattering a crystal glass with her voice. What happens is that the singer sings a pure tone that matches the resonant frequency of the glass at such a powerful amplitude that the violent vibrations cause it to break. There usually needs to be a small flaw in the glass and the singer must belt the tone at around 100 dBl SPL. So we know that violent vibrations can wrend the integrity of already flawed material. This may be some kind of cosmic law regarding the vibration of resonant frequencies. But what about sounds that are softer and soothing, or bubbly and staccatto? And more varied frequencies played with the dynamic intention of love? Does material existence become diseased and decayed when it loses its resonant frequency? Can healing happen through entrainment with root resonant frequencies?

The law of entrainment is one of the most beautiful laws of physics. The law was first noted by Christiaan Huygens in 1667 when he observed two clock pendulums set in oppositional motion come into alignment with each other. The principle comes from energy seeking the most efficient means of expression. More energy is used unnecessarily when things are out of sync. So, ultimately, the whole of vibrating reality seeks the highest vibration available in the moment. If we must have laws, that is an awesome law to have in operation.

In this world of vibrant frequencies, each object and event will have a resonant frequency that is stabilizing or shifting it in this moment. Trudie said today she found it “scary” to think that everything is in a constant state of flux and we are not aware of the movement. Things appear stable and solid, but this is merely an illusion created by vibrating molecules of trapped photon light in motion interacting with our marvelous earthsuit- the body. It is scary and sacred at the same time, or, as Grace Jones put it, “scary, but fun.”

My thinking on all this is still a hodge-podge as the Universe brings new information in everyday. Brian Greene explaining the Theory of Special Relativity, where I learn a concept called “justified.” I am justified in my conclusions based on my assessment of the data at hand. This is part of The Observer Effect. As example, Greene said we would be “justified” in concluding that the sun revolves around the earth based on what we can observe from this earth-bound vantage point. Then, Dr. Robert Lanza makes a case for a theory of the Universe that asserts that, without our earthsuits and the perceptions allowed by our senses, there would be no Universe. The Universe is an orchestrated light and sound show that cannot manifest without consciousness aware of it through perception. When I close my eyes, the room disappears. And the only way to wrap your mind around that is to be able to remove yourself from the equation. Which sounds like it would be the opposite of Dr. Lanza’s hypothesis called Biocentrism. So, I am sure I made a few quantum leaps and possible misrepresentations here, and I have presented my current sense of these ideas to the best of my understanding. The highest vibe simply says your work is to know the sounding world and share it with others.

This concept of reality, this ever moving, constantly changing framework for the world I live in is difficult to embrace in its totality. In other words, I don’t get it. Not really. And I really want to get it. At this point in my life, I am a devoted seeker of a deep understanding/knowing of the divine essence of reality that is audio vibrational frequency. Probably beyond audio frequencies, but that is a good place to start for me as I am very at home in my ears. And “In C” is my resonant template and frequency generator. I am using “In C” like a person without sight might use a cane and her hands to know a world she doesn’t fully comprehend.

Our second attunement happened yesterday with Xopher, Susanne and Chris Eubank in attendance. we focused in on two sections of “In C” that are interesting and accessible. Playing Patterns 8 through 14 allows us to begin and end with long tone phrases. The long tones are a nice beginning and ending place for all the players. Then we worked with Patterns 48 through to the end, which begins with long tones and ends with eighth note patterns swirling around the sonic space. We are taking the tempo at 60 pulses per minute, which is signifigantly slower than most recordings of “In C.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am developing ensembles of voices that I like and that showcase the harmonics of “In C.” For the fledgling outing of this year long celebration of “In C” at 50 years, I will feature the Music Box Ensemble. This group of voices tends to be high and shimmery with lots of harmonics spinning around. Here is a snapshot of the frequency curve when all the MBE voices were playing Patterns 8 through 14 in the Sun (Ra) Room.


The first thing I thought of when I saw this image was that it looked like a bowl or a pregnant belly. The acoustics tonight will be different as we are in a larger space with more people and competing frequencies. I plan to analyze the frequency spectrum at different places in Motorco during sound check in order to make comparisons and learn a bit more about the frequency of things.

First “In C” Attunement – April 2, 2014

Today has been an exciting day with many energetic boosts along the way. This morning, I started researching first person accounts of the 1964 premiere of “In C.” (I would love to get my eyes on a copy of Alfred Frankenstein’s review whose famous headline, “Music Like None Other on Earth,” is oft quoted in writings about “In C.”) I did come across one first person account from Leah Garchik’s column in SF Chronicle, May, 2009:

— One last thing about “In C”: Harpsichordist Margaret Fabrizio, who used to be on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, reports that it was raining during the premiere performance of Terry Riley’s piece, and the roof of the old building leaked. “About 10 minutes into the piece, I had the distinct feeling that I was in a tropical rain forest. Seconds later, an umbrella went up. Then more, until the hall was filled with people sitting under their umbrellas. Unforgettable.”

I would think humidity would really add to the overwhelment people must have felt on that first hearing. I love this evocative recollection. And then there is the suggestion that Leah Garchik wrote more about “In C” in previous columns, so that lead needs to be followed up on.

And now, two days later, can YOU say, ‘Ask and it is given?’ I have in my possession the compete text of Alfred Frankenstein’s review of the program in which ‘In C’ premiered. I am ecstatic to this moment with this find. More on that later. Just noticing and appreciating the manifest.

Another ecstatic root of the moment is the first ‘In C’ attunement with Xopher Thurston and Susanne Romey on April 2. They were the perfect folks for this my first encounter with musicians who will play the score in real time on an instrument. This piece is a workout for musicians and instruments. Xopher and Susanne jumped right in as we played through the first seven patterns. I like to aim for Pattern 7 because it is an aural resting point and a wonderful illustration of accumulating lag in the piece. However, it is not a resting place for musicians because all the rests demand to be counted.

So we discussed how to count this pattern. In Ableton, the pattern is a loop, so I suggested that once you have counted in the first group of rests and played the 3 quick Cs, you could simply count 16 beats between interations. Xopher pointed out that counting in that way undermines the form of the phrase by placing the iterations on the one. In which case, why not just write the phrase as the three notes and 16 pulses of rest? Excellent point to ponder. Do these two different forms create two different feelings of Pattern 7, and, if so, is one more “correct” than the other?

One of the things I learned from this attunement is that we can collect questions like this and play with them. So as more players attend an attunement, we can get more voices in the conversation and use this interaction to explore them. For this reason, I have decided to schedule several attunements a month during this year. This will allow a community of musicians to engage with this experience however they want and take something from it and give something back. And all that is required is presence and openness and willingness to go where ‘In C’ takes us.

On a basic level, playing “In C” is a really fun way to practice riffs, runs, appeggios and modulations. So, if nothing else, playing this piece will sharpen all of our chops! Another thing I learned from the attunement is that I need to engage with this piece with my instrument, so I am working on vocalizing the patterns. This will help me in communicating with the instrument players and in being more sensitive to the challenges this piece presents.

Finally, do not forget April 15th @8 pm – Motorco Music Hall.

In C postcard