Acoustic Noise

I’ve just posted a new piece of noise to my podcast, which was commissioned and titled by David Jensenius.

Shorts #31: 1416343620

The title he gave me is the unix timecode (aka: the time expressed as milliseconds since Midnight 1 January 1970 GMT) that he received the commission.
I’ve always had a particularly hard time coming up with titles. Sometimes, it took me as long to title a piece as it took to write the piece in the first place! When I first started this commissioning project, I was somewhat thinking of Mark Twain.
In one of the Tom Sawyer stories, Tom has been told to paint a fence. Since he doesn’t enjoy the task, he starts thinking of ways to get somebody else to do it for him. He could pay them, but he doesn’t have much money. He decided to use psychology instead. He would convince other boys that painting was really fun and they would ask to do it. Then, he realises, if it’s such a joy, they might pay him for the chance to paint. All those pick-your-own strawberry fields are based on the same principle.
I hate picking titles, so therefore, other people should pay me to do it for me! Of course, there’s more to a commission than that! There’s the knowledge that you’ve caused a new work to exist, and a piece of music made just for you!
David wanted an acoustic piece, so I recorded a bunch of sounds around my house. The house is still being painted and the dog was still quarantined, so this combination limited my access to hard drives full of archived recordings (waiting for music to be put into) and made it hard to go out into the world and get new recordings. Fortunately, there’s a lot of fascinating little sounds in the home. I’ve been intending to record my tea kettle for some time, and this finally got me to do it, with my zoom recorder. (Surprisingly, the wider angle microphones got a much nicer recording than the close ones, so keep that in mind, should you decide to record your own kettle.)
I got one extra sound that just did not fit into David’s piece. I recorded myself growling into a microphone, which made a nice harsh noise sound, but the rest of this piece was not harsh. Fortunately, I found a good application for that sound: the Swift Noise Compilation.
A few weeks ago, Taylor Swift released 8 seconds of white noise to iTunes, which topped the charts in Canada. In dedication to her chart topping short noise single, a tribute album is being put together of 8 second long noise pieces. This is extremely short, even for me!
The brief said white noise, but I strayed from that. My growl was only about 4 seconds long, so I ran it through PaulStretch and then used sox to cut it to exactly the right length:

sox –norm stretch.wav trimmed.aiff fade 0 00:00:07.98 0.07 pad 0.02@7.98
This trimmed the sound to 7.98 seconds, with a 0.07 second fade out at the end and 0.02 seconds of silence after that. Then, I used Audacity to put a stereo plate reverb filter on it. I love plate reverb and if I lived some place quiet, I’d try to get a real one.

My next acoustic commission will have a wider world to draw from, as my puppy is now finally clear to walk anywhere I’d care to take him. Today he will have his first trip to a dog park!
I’ve got another commission in my queue and then after that, I’m free to work on yours! Commissions make great gifts. If you order in November, delivery is guaranteed in time for Hanukkah or Christmas!

Do you love noise music? Do you have fashion? Drop me an email if you’d like your image to be in forthcoming posts about noise and fashion

New Noise

I’ve just posted a new piece of noise to my podcast, which was commissioned and titled by Dan Stowell.

Shorts #30: A lazy afternoon in the shade

The title he gave me is a reference to the Philae comet landing. Dan asked for analogue noise, adding he wanted ‘undulations’, if possible. I made some sound that seemed fairly undulating to me, which I recorded in five tracks, all somewhat different from each other. They used my new Gravity Well module from Circuit Abbey, which does orbital modelling. Since I was checking for comet news in between recording, this seemed to fit with the feeling of the day. I decided to use the comet mission as a metaphor for how to mix the piece.

Synth patch for second commission

The first part has a slower undulation and a slowly looping cycle, which I imagined like orbiting the solar system. Then it goes to a much tighter, shorter loop, like orbiting the comet. Then it goes into a nice low rumble, like rocket engines. Finally, it ends with a very low clicky sound, like the comet might be making. Thinking of it in this way really helped me to organise the material, which had more variation than I would normally use for such a short piece.

Comet patch

However, a problem became apparent when I tried to listen on my laptop’s internal speakers. The nice low rumbles were too low for my speakers! However, in the meantime, an actual comet sonification was released by the ESA, which is striking for a few reasons, including how beautiful it is and how much it sounds like synthesis! I decided to emulate it, with a pulse wave and white noise going through a resonant bandpass filter, with (alas, digital) reverb added on in the mix. This filled up the top frequencies and also gave it a good cadence at the end. It definitely made it a stronger piece, but I think it overwhelmed the undulating
Normally, in such a short piece, I would have three closely related ideas. This piece, however, has enough ideas for a piece two or three times as long. However, if I were going to do one thing different, it would be to use a different reverb. I’ve been wishing I had spring reverb for more than 20 years now, so maybe it’s time to finally give in.
There are a lot of reasons you might pick to commission a piece of music, like just because you want to be a patron of the arts! Commissions also make great gifts. If you order in November, delivery is guaranteed in time for Hanukkah or Christmas!

Vocal Contstructivists CD

In other music news, my choir, the Vocal Constructivists have released a CD, Walking Still, which is available for purchase. I’ve just ordered ten copies to give away as Christmas presents. It’s also available via iTunes and you can listen to it on Spotify.
The album has been getting good press, most recently by the Arts Desk, who used words like ‘compelling,’ fabulous’, and ‘faultless’. A previous review, in the Independent, compared it to orgasms with machinery noises.
I’ve also been told that its eligible for Grammy nominations, meaning they think it’s one of the best 500 CD released last year in its category.
I’m a tenor on the album. although I have written a piece for the choir, the first performance was not until after the recording session.
If you’re pondering getting a musical gift for someone, but think noise music might be a bit too much, this is a good disk to introduce people into somewhat out there stuff. As the Arts Desk put it, ‘Everyone needs a disc of offbeat contemporary music on their shelves. Start with this one.’

Sounding Good

Last night, I decided to do the final mixdown of the latest piece while sat in my living room, through my internal speakers. I recorded a bunch of sounds that used my low pass filter, because it’s really got a very nice, Moog-y sound. What the sounds don’t have are high frequencies, because of the filtering. Which means when I went to mix them, there was nothing at all coming out of my speakers.
It happens to be the case that, as laptop speakers go, mine are particularly bad. But, judging from the statistics of people reading this blog, most of you aren’t on mac either. When I got this computer, I told myself that the terrible internal speakers didn’t matter, because I would never use them and would always plug into better speakers. That’s what I told myself, at least. The reality is that I sometimes listen to stuff, even noise and other non-pop music, through the internal speakers. And it’s not reasonable to make somebody a commission and then dictate that they have to use special speakers to listen to it. I’m going to have to record a bunch of new stuff, with higher frequencies in it.
This issue of mixing for laptop (or earbuds or internal phone speaker) was first brought up in popular music by Bjork in her 2001 album Vespertine, which was specifically mixed to sound good on a mac laptop. In the 13 years since, all of pop music has followed her. If you’ve ever wondered why bass lines seem to be missing from most top-40 dance-y singles, this is why. They don’t sound good coming out of an internal laptop speaker or internal phone speaker and a lot of ear buds distort them.
Of course, all of pop music is, on some level a response to technology. singles are the length that they are partly because of the durations of wax cylinders – the first recording medium. But as a bass player, a tuba player and a composer, I have some nostalgic feelings for low notes. I think the answer to the conundrum is to mix carefully – make sure the piece sounds good coming from just laptop speakers, but leave in the low tones, so when people put it through better equipment, they get a nice surprise.
If you or someone you know wants to make a commission and don’t care about laptop speakers, let me know, and I’ll subwoof it up! Otherwise, you’re getting music engineered to sound good no matter how you play it. Noise music commissions make great gifts for people, whether they’re low-fi or high-fi! If you order in November, delivery is guaranteed in time for Hanukkah or Christmas!

Do you love noise music? Do you have fashion? Drop me an email if you’d like your image to be in forthcoming posts about noise and fashion

Learning while making

I’ve just shipped off the first commission! I can’t say much about it yet, as it’s surprise birthday present for someone, but I’ll post a copy to my podcast shortly after their birthday arrives.

The patch for the piece I am sending off today

I learned a bit while making it, about how to better use a module I’ve had for a long time. Also, I think I set a personal record for most cables used in a single patch! It doesn’t look like much in the picture, but only because the black cables, are hard to see against the black synth and they outnumber the other colours. Details of what I learned and what all those cables were doing will go into the programme notes when I post the audio later.
I’m already hard at work on the next one, which I was making while updating on comet news. Probably all the sounds are recorded, so I’m just mixing it now. I thought it would be a good idea to do some more manual-sounding fades and pans, so I’m using some physical faders. The online documentation was a little bit spotty on how to get this work, so I’ll put some instructions at the bottom of this post.
Noise music commissions make great gifts, for birthdays, the holidays or just as a surprise! They are delivered not only as audio, but with a story of how it was made – including influences and even some instructions on how to recreate the sounds! This especially fun for people interested in music or sound design! If you order in November, delivery is guaranteed in time for Hanukkah or Christmas!

Using midifaders with Ardour on Linux

These instructions are for a NanoKontrol2, but will work for many other popular faders.

  1. The Ardour manual starts out very well, so follow it’s instructions to get going.
  2. Start Ardour.
  3. Go to qjackctl and click the connect button.
  4. Expand all to find the NanoKontrol2 in the list on the left.
  5. Draw a connection between the NanoKontrol2 on the left and Ardour on the right. (You will need to make this connection every time you start Jack and Ardour.)
  6. Go to Ardour and open preferences.
  7. Go to the Control Surfaces tab.
  8. Enable ‘Generic MIDI’.
  9. Then double click generic MIDI.
  10. A window will open listing a bunch of control surfaces.
  11. NanoKontrol2 is in the list twice. The one that mentions ‘Master’ maps the 8th fader to the master faders and has seven channels for tracks. The other one uses all faders for tracks.
  12. NanoKontrol2 does not support touch, so you will be able to use this on tracks when they are set to ‘Write’ or ‘Manual’, but not when set to ‘Play or ‘Touch’.
  13. Record enable will not behave correctly unless you run the NanoKontrol2 configuration software in WINE

Do you love noise music? Do you have fashion? Drop me an email if you’d like your image to be in forthcoming posts about noise and fashion

Gluten Free Noise!

All noise music compositions are 100% gluten free and contain no soya based fillers, and are suitable for vegetarians. One listener asks:

My friend is allergic to nuts and to noises made with nuts. For example, he cannot listen to the Nutcracker. Is your music processed in a facility that also processes nuts? Is it possible to commission a noise piece with no trace amounts of nut noises?

Yes, this is possible!
For people with such, ahem, severe nut allergies, any music recorded in or previous to 2006 may contain traces of nut sounds. An audit, undertaken this morning, indicates that all music from 2007 onwards is entirely nut-free. If you have any specific allergies, for example, to nut sounds or equal temperament, please make this clear when placing your order. (Some pieces on my podcast may contain traces of 12 tone equal temperament, but none of the past commissions do.)
Commissioned pieces of music make great gifts for hard-to-shop for people! Delivery is guaranteed in time for Hanukkah or Christmas. Order now! The introductory price of £5 will only last until Thursday.

Do you have any questions of your own? Let me know and I’ll answer them in a forthcoming post!

Do you love noise music? Do you have fashion? Drop me an email if you’d like your image to be in forthcoming posts about noise and fashion

Making a Connection

And the most difficult of Etsy’s points for marketing my shop:

  • They need a connection. In a screaming sea of marketing messages, they need to see that you’re a kind and interesting human being, and therefore worth listening to.
[Puppy. Click through for album of puppy images]

I’ve just taken a break from playing with my new puppy to try to deal with this stipulation of sincerity-on-demand. Well, half taken a break. My kitchen, bathroom and living room are all being repainted at the moment, so the house is extremely chaotic and there’s stuff everywhere. The 13 week old puppy is very curious about exploring, and very into exploring with his teeth, so I have to see where he’s gotten off to and make sure that the chewing I hear is his rope toy and not a power cable. I did catch him tasting the plug for my synthesiser last night. We have 220 volt power in the UK, so should he actually chew through a cable, that would be very bad news.
Last night he also got himself tangled in my patch cords, which is suboptimal and caused my audio interface to tumble, but fortunately, I caught it before it hit the ground. This is extremely poor timing on the painting, since the puppy’s vaccinations have not yet taken effect. I can’t just go tire him out in the dog park. He can run around the house or the smallish back garden (where he tries desperately to eat every ornamental plant in it). A relatively puppy proof living room with a kong toy is fine, but the bedrooms are less so. He also wants to show off his newly acquired ability to run up and down stairs. Anyway, it’s good I’m only trying to write things a minute long, because sometimes it seems like he’s interrupting me every 30 seconds, by racing past with my housemate’s underwear in his mouth or sneaking down to the rooms that are being painted. (note to self: buy a baby gate). (I could lock him in my room, but then he’d be eating my underwear. And seriously, if this paragraph seems scattered, it’s been interrupted 4 times. I know he needs better boundaries etc, but the painting is making it difficult.)
Anyway, back to the point- I’m not sure I agree with the point, actually. Milton Babbitt was well known both for his amazing compositions and his anti-listener screed, ‘Who Cares if you Listen‘. Even Lou Harrison, a benevolent and Santa Claus like figure who I had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking Esperanto with, could be a wee bit of a jerk sometimes. He only thought music was worth his time if he agreed with the tuning system and was contemptuous of composers who used other systems, telling them that their 5th was two cents out of tune. On a musical level, I don’t think it really matters if composers are kind or are good conversationalists.The interestingness of their music matters a great deal.
I don’t think music is a special case in this. A few Christmases ago, I got my sister in law a very nice mug off of Etsy that has owls on it. I did it because I like getting something handmade, because it seems more special and because she loves owls. I communicated briefly with the artist and he was polite and prompt, but I just don’t know about the rest of this. Maybe other people feel differently? Leave a comment if you have a thought on artist personalities.
Whether or not I’m worth listening to, however, is easy to decide. My past commissions are available for your perusal, so you can make up your own mind on this. I’ve got two more underway at the moment! The music commissions are all handmade, and one of a kind. They make a very special gift. 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 – there are only two left at that price point!

Noise Music for Busy Professionals

Continuing to work through Etsy’s guide to holiday marketing, let’s look at what else customers (that’s you!) need:

  • They need context. They need to know why, among all those other gift ideas threatening to bury them, your product is a good choice for specific people.

In my previous post, I wrote: ‘This is noise music for busy professionals, for people who are new to noise or for folks who just like miniatures.’
Consider for a moment that every culture of humans on earth makes art and music. No matter how isolated or remote, everyone’s got art and music. Music is a human universal. Indeed, it’s part of what makes us human. We all know we need music – that’s why mp3 players are so popular. But why noise music in particular? And why miniatures?
Well, what is noise? This gets into some deep philosophical issues! There are some great books on this that I can’t hope to summarise here, so let’s just say that noise music is made up of sounds not often currently used in music. Noise has sounds, textures and forms that are currently outside of established boundaries of most music – for now. But music is constantly changing and needs new forms, sounds and textures! Today’s noise sound is tomorrow’s pop sound. Noise music is, in fact, the future of music.
It’s not the immediate future. Indeed, noise music offers potential futures. But by listening to noise music, you hear the cusp of music before others. If you’re a busy professional, you know that those who get ahead are the ones who anticipate trends before they happen. So much capitalist success is realising what’s going to be in demand in advance, so you’re able to come up with the supply.
Obviously, for capitalists, there’s more to life for work – there’s also conspicuous consumption. But it’s good to be in practice on keeping ahead of things, inside and outside your fields. Your friends and colleagues will recognise your far-sighted views, when you share a commissioned noise music piece on your social media account – whether on the tried and true CIA-data-gathering of facebook or the trendy and exciting ello, your contacts will know that you’ve got your eye on the horizon!
Because the piece is short, it gives you a bite-sized glimpse into the future, without unmooring you from the demands of daily life. Yes, you’ll be transported, but still have plenty of time to make your train! And, indeed, your associates who are curious about your new work of art, will be willing to give the whole thing a go. Your cultural capital will increase as a result of your far-sightedness and the easily digestible length. What could be conspicuously consumed than a short musical commission!
Is someone in your life is a rampant capitalist, super busy or would just appreciate and extra bit of cultural capital? 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!

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!

Run my ad, get free music

I want to start this with the offer that any new music or arts blog which runs my banner ad for the duration of my project will get a free commission. Email me or leave a comment if you run it.

I emailed three different blogs asking about advertising. Two did not write back. The third one decided to stay ad-free.
Some of you who know me from California are probably remembering a few of my anti-advertising rants. Is advertising inherently bad? If not, when is it bad and when is it ok?
One day, when I was still a dot com worker, I was driving some of my 80 kM commute (160 kM per day, every work day, in a small car) and I saw that a new sign had gone up over the freeway. There is no shortage of advertising signs, but this one was one of the more dangerous, new, traffic-jam causing variety. It was a gigantic flat screen monitor, several meters across. Drivers stare at the moving pictures. They slow down to watch. Or they run into something from the distraction. I looked up at the sign.
It was showing an photo of a tropical flower, rendered in millions of colors and luminous over the traffic. I felt profoundly disturbed. It was the only beautiful thing that I had seen that day. I have woken up in the morning, driven 80 km to an office building, in a heavily polluted area, sat inside my beige cubicle, staring at my computer screen, gotten back into my car and driven 40 km back towards my house. It was already dark outside.
But there, thousands of times larger than life, there was a beautiful flower. I felt like crying. The next week, the flower still remained but with the text “your ad here” at the bottom. The week after that, I was informed of a 10% discount on new tires for sale at a nearby store.
Around that time, I went to an exhibit at the SF MOMA. It was about packaging and design. I had finally escaped from my corporate work week to go spend Sunday at a museum and it was full of advertisements and product packaging. I had been telling everyone around me how this experience with the billboard had shown me that there was no art in my life. But then the MOMA argued with me. There IS art in my life, it’s just corporate art. Corporate designers are still artists, but with a different purpose.
the purpose of art is ethereal and may differ from artist to artist or from piece to piece. The point of corporate art is to get you to buy something. So is it bad because it has a crass purpose? Are aesthetics part of a gestalt or can they be separated from economic purposes? How much does commercial intent color a work? Is there a moral difference between a cereal box or an advertisement poster for a concert?
Some concert posters and some album coverts are high art. But they’re advertising target is art. Does that change their moral stance? Ironically, my day job was in marketing. To prepare me for the shift from engineer to marketing, I was given a book to read. It said the role of advertising was to inform people of things that are available to them. So when somebody puts a flyer for an upcoming new music concert in my mailbox, that’s an advertisement. When somebody puts a flyer for a sale on pork cutlets in my mailbox, that’s also an advertisement.
So some of the judgement about advertising, for me, at least, is connected to how well targeted it is. I want to know about concerts. I don’t want to know about supermarket sales. Some is about how obtrusive it is. I don’t want advertising to get in the way of other information that I’m seeking. Some of it is the appropriateness of the context. I don’t want to see advertising in a museum – exhibits about same possibly excepted. I also don’t want advertising to mislead, lie, or pass itself off as something other than an ad.
Therefore, the primary issue is context. Do ads belong in metro stations? No! Maybe. Yes? When I lived in Paris, I saw on a metro ad that the Ensemble Contemporaine was doing a series of music by John Cage and Pierre Boulez. Interesting. I also saw that Bang on a Can was playing. I also saw Naiomi Campbel in skimpy gold lamé posed on a chair that looked like a hamburger bun. I don’t want to pass judgement, because all I can say is that I care more about musical announcements than I do for department store ads. Visually, the gold lamé and tiny dog were far more striking than the concert announcements.
I put a banner ad up on this blog about four years ago. It was for Dennis Kucinich, who should have gotten the Democratic nomination to run against Bush (yeah, well, Kerry lost anyway and the debates would have been a lot more interesting and actually talked about healthcare and peace and women’s rights and other things that you won’t hear discussed if you go for loser “safe” bets . . . anyway). I didn’t get anything in return for running it. Is it “right” for me to run ads or ask others to do so? Well, ads aren’t inherently wrong, so that depends. I don’t know if my answers are as satisfying as I’d like, but I feel some truthiness around this. I don’t think my banner ads contribute to the corporatization of the world. They’re not beautiful by any means, but I can only hope people care about music.
I had an idea, back when I was doing my overly long commute, to do a visual project. I wanted to rent billboard space and commission artists to do mural installations. My conspirators and I had extra ideas like running a tiny FM station from the billboard, playing music, like some car billboards broadcast car commercials over a short range. I wanted other commuters to see something beautiful in their day. To experience public outdoor art with an ethereal purpose, not trying to sell them anything at all.