Saturday, 14 May 2011

Musique Concrète The Outa_Spaceman Way: 101

“An experimental method in music should mean to listen: above all, before, during, afterwards. Because the object is unusual, the challenge is to discover humanity and beauty in it ..."

“I was suddenly aware that the only mystery worthy of interest is concealed in the familiar trappings of triviality. And I noticed without surprise by recording the noise of things one could perceive beyond sounds, the daily metaphors that they suggest to us.” 

“The miracle of musique concrète (...) is that during experiments things begin to talk by themselves, as if they were bringing us messages from a world unknown to us. If I gather together fragments of noises, cries of animals, the modulated sound of machines, I myself also strive to articulate them like words of a language that I would practise without even understanding and without ever having learned it: I am deciphering hieroglyphics. Does the difficulty of this conversation arise from the fact that the person with whom I am speaking does not have the same faith as me in the secret correspondence between man and the world of which music is one of the keys?"

Pierre Schaeffer  (1910-1995)

When in conversation with 'conventional' musicians about electro-acoustic composition I aways get the feeling they assume that the final result is produced by accident or chance rather than design and will.
It's true there are accidental discoveries in the process I'm about to out-line but the same accidental discoveries happen when I'm writing for any other given instrument be it guitar, drum or keyboard.

The Equipment.

Sound Editor: DSP Quattro
Having tried most of the digital sound editors over the years I've settled on using the DSP Quattro .  
I've used it for several years now and, having RTFM several times, I find it very easy to get the results I want.
(pls. No comments along the lines of "have you tried Audacity? It's really good and it's free". Yes I have, no it isn't, you're a cheapskate.)

Studio Rack: Reason
My love of Reason stems from it's GUI. A representation of  the rack-mounted equipment I used to use in studios.
For the purpose of this posting I have stripped the rack down to the bare essentials:
Mixer, Reverb (First Room setting), NN19 Sample Re-player and Matrix sequencer:
Sound Capture: iPod Touch
I'm using the iPod Touch in this example for speed. Usually I'd set a microphone up and record direct into DSP Quattro to ensure that the source material is at the best quality I can get.

Sound Source: Dyson DC 05+
It's green & grey, it sucks:

Collecting the Source Material
I started the iPod Touch's audio recording app then began to set up the vacuum cleaner.
I pulled the power cable out from it's reel, plugged it into the mains, switched the mains socket on, uncoiled the hose, started the vacuum, held my hand over the end of the hose to change the motor pitch, then reversed the process and finally, stopped the iPod recording.
The whole process took around 3 minutes and I had 2 mins 46 secs of audio in the pod.

On transferring the audio from the iPod, into the computer and then opening it in DSP Quattro I had this wave form on the screen in front of me:
(Link to original source material: Dyson Original)
I then went through the sample looking for suitable sections to chop out and loop.
This is where the accidental aspect comes in.
I found the most interesting bits were in between the "main events". The little taps and clicks in the gaps.
After an initial scan through I had 15 loops in the can.

Constructing the Piece
I loaded the 15 samples into Reason's NN-19 sample re-player and began to test each ones relative pitch.
This is one of the fun bits.
Deciding what speed to replay the individual samples back at is critical.
(Higher playback speeds lift the pitch, slower speeds lower the pitch.)
I'm still amazed at what characteristics are revealed in the samples during this stage and spend proportionately more time on this than any other aspect of the process.
When, at last, I'm happy with all the sample's playback I begin making small 'global tweeks' that will effect the overall output of the samples.
In this case I reduced the overall filter frequency, added some very slow and gentle LFO sine wave modulation to the pitch oscillator and opened up the attack and release of the envelope shaper.  I also used the LFO control voltage to modulate the pan control of the mixer thus allowing the samples some spatial 'movement' throughout the piece.
I added some reverb at this stage using the 'First Room' setting. (Psycho-acoustics are something I'll deal with in another post.) 
Setting the sequence of events up is another enjoyably time consuming job.  It's easy just to hit the 'Randomise Sequence' button but I prefer to take the time to get what I want to come out of the speakers.
I set the sequencer up to run across 32 steps at half a bar per step then set the overall tempo to 30 bpm and began tinkering.

Here's a finished product:
 DysonMachine01 by Outa_Spaceman 

And just a final thought for all those cynical Johnnys who might suggest I couldn't do this sort of thing without a computer.
Well, yes I can.  
Just give me a couple of 1/4 inch reel-to-reel tape machines (Revox B77's preferred), a splicing block and a razor blade.


Banished To A Pompous Land said...

Actually the computer's really taken the craft out of the thing don't you think OSM?

Outa_Spaceman Being: 53 said...

Not sure about that.
For me it's about result rather than process.
What the computer certainly has done is speed the process up which works for me because once around the goldfish bowl and I forget what I was trying to do.

The sad truth is that computer technology hasn't actually brought any thing 'new' to the party in the way that the machines used by the early pioneers did.

Banished To A Pompous Land said...

I think thats true, they just took out the blood, sweat and tears.
Its like my improv, I stopped using any effects pedals or other modifications outside of those that I could nail to the guitar or crocodile clip to the strings. It just felt more like I was doing it.

Just me and Ned Ludd left it seems.

Outa_Spaceman Being: 53 said...

And strangely enough I've been 'preparing' an old acoustic guitar this very afternoon.