How Noise Commissions are Made

I’ve just read the Etsy Guide for building one’s shop, including a section on what customers (that’s you!) need:

  • They need a story. They need to hear how your product is made, and what brought you to create it. They need a reason to become attached to you and what you make.

The making of a minute of noise starts with material gathering. For acoustic pieces, some of this may have already happened! When I was sat in the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, waiting for the hour to strike so I could record the bells ringing in 2011 or just last month in St Augustine’s Tower in Hackney. Or, I might go out to acquire sounds, sticking microphones to clothes washing machines, or in refrigerators, or to get the squeal of breaks at Tower Hill Station. Perhaps, even going further afield for your composition, dangling microphones just into the edge of active volcanoes, to get the sound of it melting! I don’t re-use sounds, so whatever sounds I’ve gathered for your piece will only be in your piece.
For analogue sounds, I’ll probably start plugging cables into my synthesiser, but might try a zero input mixer going to a chaotic filter bank. No to patches are alike. It’s nearly impossible to recapture a patch once it’s unplugged, even if I wanted to. For folks after digital sounds, I’ll fire up SuperCollider and start creating a timbres and a tuning to go with them – based on a bespoke tuning algorithm. (Which I should really publish a paper about, actually. If you want to try it yourself, its in the TuningLib quark.)
Once I have a base layer of sounds, I’ll start manipulating them, either varying their sounds for the minute duration or finding extra sounds to go with them. Obviously a minute is not very long, but well over a hundred discrete events can happen in that time, all of which must be related to each other in order to make musical sense, but different from each other in order for progression. What features will vary over the minute and by how much? What sonic glue needs to hold the thing together?
Usually, for a one minute piece, I’ll have three major sonic ideas, all of which will be closely related to each other.
Every piece comes with program notes explaining how it was made, where the ideas came from and how it was assembled. For digital pieces, the source code to create it is also available! You can find examples of past commissions, including recordings and program notes on my podcast.
I started making one minute pieces in 2007, when I was in a bit of a rut and bored by everything. I didn’t want to listen to anything for very long. I ordered my iTunes library by duration and only listened to stuff that was less than two minutes long. If I only wanted to listen to such short pieces, it stood to reason I should only write such short pieces. But while working on them, the possibilities of the duration just began to expand. I was spending about 4 hours to write a minute and that time investment was getting longer and longer, as more and more subtlety and opportunities for expressiveness became clear.
I took a break from writing shorts, not because I wanted to, but because my supervisor told me that my PhD could not be all one minute pieces. so, reluctantly, I began working on longer pieces again.
Why have I come back to this short duration? Not just because of the wealth of possibilities, but also because of extreme personal grumpiness. Your music is handmade by a curmudgeon in Hackney.
But why should you want a minute of noise? Because it’s the best duration for grumpy people! Even somebody with an attitude that could sour milk will find a minute to enjoy a hand crafted piece of noise. Your friends and associates will all be happy to listen for one minute. A minute is accessible on many occasions! You can spare a minute to listen to something. This is noise music for busy professionals, for people who are new to noise or for folks who just like miniatures. Short noise pieces make great gifts. Order now and delivery is guaranteed in time for Christmas or Hanukkah. Act now to get the sale price of just £5 for one piece!

Published by

Charles Céleste Hutchins

Supercolliding since 2003

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