10 Electroacoustic Studies created between June and December of 2009. Each study started with one sound or premise, such as rotational motion, or plastic. A few of the studies took up to four days to complete, others took just a morning. Sounds were created and/or processed in my home studio, including smashing glass. Driftwood was collected from Halls Harbour, NS, and creaking sounds are from the doors in my house. Most background pad-like sounds were created using granular synthesis techniques in Max/MSP.
1. Study in Rotational Motion
This work is in three, unequal sections – the last being the longest at 3 minutes – opening with the sound of a wind turbine that was recorded in Pubnico near Yarmouth, in southwestern Nova Scotia. The spinning of the turbine is transformed throughout the entire work. By abstraction the idea of doppler shifts and rotational motion is superimposed on most of the other sounds: a toy motor in the bathtub, popcorn kernels in a metal bowl, shakers and various other spinning sounds. The work becomes subdued in the second part. Seagulls and other acousmatic sounds are heard, including a fog horn and waves. A granularized voice enters with a synthesized harmonic choral-like pad enter for the remaining three minutes. I attempted to create a rich and varied harmonic spectra by deliberately isolating specific frequency bands, creating low, medium and high stems of sound. Dynamics attempt to imitate doppler and rotational shifts through exponential type crescendos, diminuendos and reverse sound file playback complete with the archetypal hockey-stick swoosh at the end of the sound.
2. Study in Plastic 1
I recorded many plastic objects around the house. After the first study, which is more atmospheric, I wanted to try something more rhythmic. Experimenting with several different sounds I decided that spinning bowls, rotating and eventually settling at rest, would prove most fascinating. This particular gesture became the fabric that binds the entire work. It is clearly heard throughout, especially at the end. The spinning bowls also dominate the second half of this two-part form. The opening was created by processing the sound of plastic bowls through a granular patch at very precise, and wider repetitions. This, in turn, created the tempo for the entire work. Other techniques included frequency "warps" such as resonation of frequencies through comb filters, ring modulators and similar effects. Flangers, delay units and doppler effects are also used.
3. Study in Plastic 2
I took the idea of a rhythm a step further in this study. The metric outline of the work was created first; working out all meter changes, tempo fluctuations and large scale sections prior to inputting any material. Many of the plastic sounds from the first study were re-used and a few new sounds were created. There are two versions of this work: this version, which was created first without piano, and the second version with piano. Large scale formal divisions are characterized by abrupt shifts in both the sound and technique employed. Listen for this. You will hear a few moments of a certain technique, suddenly juxtaposed with a new character. Finally listen for the spinning bowls and by abstraction other sounds that map onto, are source-bonded with, these spinning bowl gestures. The piano was created by exporting the tempo and metric "map" from the original soundscape – as a midi file – and importing it into Sibelius. Once in the notation program (I could have done this entirely within Digital Performer, but I find their notation editor much harder to work with) I created the piano part. Mostly it is pandiatonic, meaning it stays on a certain grouping of notes contained in a particular diatonic scale, but doesn't subscribe to any one pitch centre. Once the notes were entered I created dynamics and accents, plus other articulations to highlight, or obscure certain characteristics of the line. This file was eventually imported back into Digital Performer where it was layered on top of the pre-existing soundtrack.
4. Study in Polystyrene Foam
After working with plastic sounds I thought it would be worthwhile exploring another of mankind's abominations: polystyrene foam. If ever there was a ubiquitous material, not intended for the natural word, this would be it! What it lacks in social and environmental responsibilities it certainly makes up for in sound. Polystyrene foam has unique sound properties which I attempt to exploit in this particular study. The opening starts with an introduction for 15 seconds, a staggered rubbed sound – a full rich noise, containing a clear fundamental harmonic with spurious inharmonic frequencies – that occurs three times. After this the first theme is heard (nope, sorry, not sonata form), a rubbed sound that was transformed in Max/MSP to utilize the pitch material. This theme continues with variations for half of the study. At around 1:33 it retreats into the background to allow theme two to emerge: dueling rhythmic rubbed sounds "fight" it out until around 2:30. Under this (if you have good speakers) you should hear a low rhythmic thump! At 2:57 there is an abrupt shift to the second, and closing section of the work. Pure rubbed sounds are heard for the next 30 seconds. A low growl enters while repetitive rubbed sounds "duel" it out again. All fades to oblivion by the end. The study is over. Too bad the foam isn't. It will linger for thousands of years from now.
5. Study in Driftwood
I needed driftwood so I could take it home and record it. It needed to be recorded and luckily I was free that day and willing to bring it home. I shook off as much sand and crud as I could and got several large pieces into the studio for the session. Similar to the study in foam, this work starts with three "statements" before launching into the main material. A consistent accelerating rhythm – tapping on a log that has been filtered and processed – permeates the foreground until 2:39 when there is a sudden break, a resonant sound, almost like a bell, adds to what resembles a steam train chugging along. Until 2:39 there are many spurious background and middle-ground sounds, leaping in and out jerkily, stochastically. After 2:39 this steam train enters until a closing section continues with the spastic, electronic by-products until, at the very end, all fades out.
6. Study in Glass
A process is emerging from the last few studies, this work also opens with an introduction before the theme, a granularized, stretched, melody of glass is heard; more of a motive than a fully developed theme. Surrounding this are crashing and breaking sounds, sometimes heard in an original context, many others as an abstraction. The one consistent element, the motive, is heard at regular intervals through the entire 2 minute work. A tapping sound eventually becomes more prominent (tapping on glass, of course) until it overtakes the motive and closes out the work. To create the sounds for this study I needed glass. I walked into the dollar store, picked out some choice glass items – a few bowls, a platter, a picture frame – and took it all to the counter. As the clerk began wrapping it, very carefully I should add, I interrupted and told her there was no need. I was just going to break it anyway. I don't know why but she gave me such an incredulous look, very surprised – actually I think more offended really – but that's what I was going to do. Break it. Record it, and break it. Doesn't everyone? Back at home I had to make a box with plastic wrapping around it to contain the broken shards, but then the fun began.
7. Study in Liquid
I've recorded waterfalls, waves, rain, hail and other larger events, but I wanted to try some smaller sounds for this study. I wanted to turn inwards and look at selected sounds at a closer angle. Of course, a toilet flush opens this work. What else? Followed closely by a pop can "pop" of Coca-Cola, and the fizziness of the liquid. This work is all about the fizziness. Electronic by-products are heard, a tap is turned off and then more fizziness. A low mechanical and repetitive thud begins around 0:50, accompanied by a rhythmic pop can popping until around 1:25. Fish sounds enter the equation, listen for their squeaks around the 1:30 mark. Pouring liquid, fizziness, water and pop can lids complete the study. It fades looping these sounds until a final pop can opens and the study concludes.
8. Study in Metal
A licence plate, a music stand, a metal pot, a spoon, a metal whisk, a stapler and an ice cream scoop; perhaps not in that order. I can remember scraping most of these against the music stand. The whisk was hit with the spoon. And the metal pot lid is pretty obvious. It concludes the work as well. The stapler was above and beyond the best sound. The ricochet, as you slam it with your fist – now that's the real deal. Naturally this was no ordinary stapler, but one of the long ones meant to staple booklets together.
9. Study in Creaks
I live in a new house, but the doors are very squeaky. I probably need to oil them. Great sounds though. The work opens with the creaky door. Interjections of sampled sounds occur spontaneously around this melody. A "mocking-bird" is heard in the background, breaking up the creaks, twice. At the halfway point a very high pad of long sustained tones enters until the end. The creaks are processed by basic techniques such as slowing down the sound-file, spatializing it and stretching it in time. The end fades out with the sound of a rainstick – okay, admittedly not a squeak, but I thought it fit the texture.
10. Study in Air dedicated to Morton Feldman
Study in Air was created using mostly airy and aeolian flute sounds; using a piccolo, C and alto flutes. I began this one by improvising aeolian sounds on the flutes followed by a few improvisations with voice alone. I found a bit of a piccolo sound that I liked. I imported it into a sampler, played a melody and used this as the thread to spin the work from. This melody – you will hear it as a high, seemingly synthesizer-like short 5 plus note chromatic melodic fragment that slowly changes – evolves through the entire work, similar to the melodies in many of Morton Feldman's pieces: seemingly mathematically derived transformations that defy logic, but are beautiful in their starkness and subtle rhythmic shifts. And that's what this study is all about: being stark, sparse and always in FLUX. Nothing repeats exactly the same. All of the sounds are constantly transformed, and by the end all that is left, all that remains static, is the sampled piccolo.