40. Forty Blocky One Two Three

November 23, 2009

In a few hours I will make connections and break isolation. I am very restless.

A strange thing happened today, my machine crashed and wouldn’t start up. The only time this has happened, and on the last day, with an hour before upload time. I have backup drives, so, had it not mercifully rebooted, I could have at least posted a blog, but I would not have had the track I spent the day writing and recording:

Susie Snooze

I don’t know.

I feel as though I should be very reflective, say wise things, though I suspect these musings will form over a slow period after my re-introduction to society. In a few days I will post a blog responding to my emergence and to comments and feedback, assuming there is any. In terms of audience response I really have no idea what to expect, the possible extremes are easy to imagine, though objectivity on the subject is hard to grasp.

It has been worrying me that for the last few weeks, or perhaps even the full forty days, I have been stammeringly excited about tonight’s emergence and as such have squandered an opportunity to develop and learn. I wonder if I have failed to relish and revel in this time alone, to really find out something useful. Again, I suspect this will come clear over the next few weeks.

Of course, there is a duality to this problem. Perhaps without the hope of emergence I would have simply atrophied in depression.

I have recorded 3 hours, 59 minutes and 47 seconds of music during my spell here. It is a lot, though (again this lack of perspective) I’ve no idea of its worth as material. I suppose that, regardless of how I view it in a month’s time, it will be of a certain value to me, at very least as music to try not to make!

So, check back in a few days and I should have posted a first response. I will re-record, re-mix and (maybe) master some of the tracks (assuming I can bear to listen to them ever again) and release them as an album on Best New Fun, probably at the end of the Christmas break.

It is bizarre to think how close we are to Christmas. I feel as though I have missed a huge chunk of life, I am desperately curious to know of any developments in the world, both in a personal and a wider sense.

6 hours to go.

You’ve been a wonderful hypothetical audience, hypothetically speaking.

Cheerio.

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38. Slabhands, Slabhandedly

November 21, 2009

I am in very high spirits today. Presumably its cause is the fast approaching finish.

I made a little program with lots of components that let you build up a dance track on the fly, a lot like features of programs like Ableton’s Live or Propellerhead’s Reason. The difference with mine is in the way short riffs or sequences are compiled. With a focus on building non-matching riff lengths, the input takes two lists; one denoting melody, the other denoting a rhythm (not confined to bar length). This allows for otherwise very long sequences to be expressed very briefly, for example if you take a seven note melody and play through it using an eight note rhythm, the sequence wont repeat until the 57th note. Of course, the main stylistic feature is that of beat-driven electro, the 4/4 beat. For this I used a simple 16 step sequencer to play through a bunch of 808 samples. I didn’t experiment very much with different bar lengths, fearing it would compromise the grounding of the more loosely timed parts.

The Beat

Interestingly, whilst playing with my program, I stumbled a lot across the acoustical phenomenon that I was so desperately trying to achieve on Thursday, that of imagined sounds, especially voices, caused by the stacking of other sounds. This is in part due to the relative complexity of what I was working on, but, more interestingly, the other contributor to this strange happening is the digital acoustic phenomenon of foldover, something I don’t really understand. It occurs when a waveform pushes over its Nyquist frequency, you start to hear wapping noises as the higher partials “reflect” off the Nyquist. What I was hearing was all kinds of unusual whispering noises and occasionally sounds like voices in conversation.

Foldover is generally considered a bad thing. Most mainstream software that simulates sound synthesis compensates for it with upsampling and filtering, but I quite like it, not least because it seems to generate all kinds of unknown quantities.

It’s bath time.

37. Peasant

November 20, 2009

I’ve got a lot of rhymes but I’ll be brief.

Gulf Golf right click and ‘save as’

Sneaking out the hospital.

36. Thursday Today

November 19, 2009

Last night I read an extract from Sarah Maitland’s A Book Of Silence, about her time spent in solitude and muteness. The extract discussed aspects of psychological and physiological phenomena that she and many others have experienced in such situations. It is relevant in many ways to my project and sparked my interest significantly.

One of the things I found most interesting was her discussion about experiencing things that weren’t real, especially of hearing voices. She refers to Steven Pinker’s book The Language Of Instinct in which he describes hearing voices from a randomised synthesiser. She goes on to theorise that voices she heard, specifically singing, could have been caused by a similar phenomenon, that of the reduction of speech into narrow bands of frequencies. She supposes that the wind could conjure some specific combination of pitches to approximate the sounds she supposed she was imagining. I would say that in such an event it is unlikely you would mistake the sound for long, however she does strike on an interesting subject which (thankfully) sparked my interest today.

It occurred to me that, up until that point, I thought I had never heard voices before, but then I remembered that several times (not just during the isolation) I have imagined hearing people calling me, always when I have had headphones on. It is easy to rationalise this clear case of overactive imagination, indeed it takes only moments to realise my mistake, but in fact it is not a far cry from what Maitland describes.

In phonetics, formant is a term used to describe the frequencies that disambiguate vowels. It takes at least two formants to be able to distinguish which vowel is being heard and their frequencies range between approximately 100hz and 2000hz, though this spread can be significantly narrowed. Here is a very brief experiment with the application of this theory:

random talker right click and ‘save as’

In acoustic theory, any complex waveform, or sound, can be expressed as a series of sinusoidal components. This means that we can extract data about which frequencies are most prominent in determining and distinguishing sounds. The reverse is equally true: sine waves can be stacked at different frequencies to re-synthesise sounds, a process called additive synthesis. What I started to wonder was whether a random process could be allowed to run and, through long periods of listening, would suggest to the listener sounds that were not actually being heard, in a similar fashion to what Maitland describes.

I tried various different implementations:

sineman2

sineman3 shorts

sineman4 longs right click and ‘save as’

Needless to say, these were not very successful. The problems here are to do with a lack of complexity and enveloping, the speeds and shapes by which the volumes and pitches change. I should have continued and tried to get something good out of these experiments, but I got bored.

Here is my first attempt at ‘modelling’, a kind of sound synthesis which involves representation of real (that is tangible) objects. For example: a model of a piano would involve algorithms that imitate the behaviour of hammer on strings, the way keys depress, the resonant chamber, sympathetic resonance etc.. I wanted to try and imitate wind sounds with a view to hearing Maitland’s phantoms.

the wind

Here the modelling involves white noise whose amplitute is controlled by random ramp generation. The controls at this stage could be called ‘blusteriness’ and ‘rate of change’. The white noise then moves to what one might consider the physical objects the wind encounters. These are simply resonant filters, cutting out large chunks of the spectrum and leaving bands for the wind to whistle through, so to speak. The narrower the band, the higher the resonance and the more whistling you get. The objects also respond to the ‘force’ of the wind, their pitches shifting slightly in accordance.

The last notion was to create an array of ‘instruments’ that could be placed in the path of the wind, responding and making noises. I only got as far as modelling bottles to sit and resonate. Their noise is approximated using the same technique as above, but with added overtone resonance. The notion was to make automative music. The objects could be placed in a virtual space and their attributes could be adjusted etc.

(The title isn’t intended to cast aspersions on the state of the other tracks as music.)

wind music 1

Yeeeeaaaah, byyyye.

35. Seven Eighths

November 18, 2009

Attempt a new approach. Writing specifically for live performance. I set up a makeshift drum kit, wooden-spoon-tied-to-foot makes bass-drum-pedal banged on electric heater, saucepan lid cymbal, etc. bla. Recorded with one mic in room. Mostly written through improvisation. The result seems to me a shameless plagiarism of STEIN (available at Best New Fun), and not only because the synth sounds like an accordion.

Bonny

Ripping off and short piece seem to necessitate record another track with different process. Quite short. Not very interesting. BAAAAA.

Argyle right click and ‘save as’

Reflecting on process and practice, how has it progressed/changed? It is certainly refined, as far as songwriting goes, but is this a good thing? It feels like a novel skill or party trick, to be able to write a song in a day, whose results may or may not be worthwhile.

Do I regard this as progress? To me the product seems less valuable without the toil.

Perhaps, then, progress in another sense, to be thought of as a tool in the belt, a notch in the grander scheme of the progression of my creative practice. As in, it doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad, or rather, it can neither be good or bad. Put it down to experience, yeah? Yeah, yeah. Whatever.

Sign off.

34. Pap

November 17, 2009

Today I have nothing to post. I guess it’s a failure to a degree, but I don’t feel particularly bad about it. For one thing, contained within the isolation parenthesis, it can be regarded as a part of the ‘findings’ of the project as an experiment. On the other hand, it could be seen as negating the validity of the whole project as an experiment, tainting the control sample, as it were.

It’s hard to describe what’s different about today’s ‘failure’ compared with other times when I have felt close to not achieving my goal. For one thing, there’s never been any obvious external factor to blame. I think more pertinent though is the fact that I haven’t felt any different when approaching the deadlines with no product, except a general air of frustration. I can’t really think at the moment so this is probably a load of nonsense.

Not much to say really.

Good evening.

33. Azerbaijan

November 16, 2009

I had a weird night. Dreamt the strangest dream of my life.

Tried quite hard and produced nothing today, felt very bored with it all. The familiar apathy came on after several failures. Here is a mush of all the unfinished bits and bobs. It is an idea stolen from Mr. Oizo’s most recent album.

Birthday Boy right click and ‘save as’

Adieu.

31. Yum-O

November 14, 2009

There’s a storm a-brewing. Near gale-force seems ready to tear pre-fab down. Whistles like joke horror films.

Work was smooth. Two songs, the second built from the track posted a couple of days ago, ‘Burglary’. I’m not sure whether I like this one or no. Well, I’ll try to avoid critique.

Verulamium

All’s right click and ‘save as’

Can’t wait for my day off. As if my life here were strenuous.

In the immortal words of Cat Stevens: “Oh no, another Saturday night and I aint got nobody…”

See you later and stuff etc..

30. Down From Ten

November 13, 2009

Ten days remain.

What a startlingly easy work-day when compared with yesterdays unsuccessful toil. I don’t really understand it, to what can I attribute these polar shifts in work motivation? I suppose yesterday left me with a determination. Is this always what comes out of apathy, or is this to do with my desire for a successful project?

Gift Off right click and ‘save as’

I got a horrendous fright when a women walked directly in-front of my window, round the back of the house. It felt extremely weird, I was certain she was going to knock on the door but she was just checking the meters which are mercifully outside.

Yo YO. Peace out.

29. Poor Dan

November 12, 2009

Once again I am struck with that stultifying apathy toward my work. It is interesting to experience these polarised attitudes to work whilst being aware of their opposites: I have not forgotten the enthusiasm I felt a few days ago. However, it remains, and it is not an unfamiliar supposition, that I feel as though there is no music left. Here is the last of it (not really), it is unfinished:

Burglary right click and ‘save as’

Today’s could be regarded as the biggest failure so-far (but then again, is there such a thing as failure, given the broad scheme of the project?) and I am compelled to ask why. The thought occurs that it is mere laziness – though for me this throws up questions about the nature of laziness as an abstract: If laziness is a failure to fulfil potential, then is it not to be figured in the sum total of that potential? A paradox, I know. You could express it thus:

(Where p = potential and l = laziness)

p = p – l

ergo

l = O

ergo

Laziness does not exist.

Not that I would regard today’s failure as the result of laziness. The sensation was more akin (as above) to apathy. I did try repeatedly to finish the song. I deleted all the recordings I made. What, then, am I to understand from this – given that at other times I have felt similar and yet pressed on?

If it is the fault of laziness, why do I succumb now? I should point out that I gave up with more than an hour to go before my deadline, which I have desperately run over in the past. It feels like laziness because I know I could have continued the remaining hour. The question is, why did I not do so? There are various possible answers.

One interesting (and vaguely face saving) possibility is that I felt a preciousness and perfectionism about this piece. Any continuation would have spoiled it. Not that I think the way it is now is particularly good, otherwise this internal debate would not have been sparked, but rather everything I deleted was exceedingly bad.

I am finding it difficult to think.

So long.