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Parallel Anthology: Folktronic reimaginings of ethereal public domain recordings

August 23, 2011

SoundWalk 2011: October 1st
Parallel Anthology Project

From the website:
“The project takes as its starting point the 1952 release of artist, filmmaker and musicologist Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. The legendary album was a key influence for the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s and is subsequently enshrined in popular music mythology. The anthology was a compilation bringing together a selection of Smith’s personal collection of 78rpm records from the 1920s and 1930s. As such, it was effectively a bootleg and operated under the legal radar until it was digitized, re-mastered and fully licensed by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in 1997.

Parallel Anthology explores processes of sharing and participation which persist from the peer-to-peer oral folk tradition to today’s digital social networking technologies. The project re-envisages Smith’s anthology as a series of nodes in a larger network and employs a kind of sonic virology – tracing songs across spatial and temporal distances. A parallel collection is proposed: a new collectively authored multimedia roots and future anthology, generating and distributing rich material that remains open for use and reuse.”

Wonderful musicians like Leafcutter John, whose software I have used for several years now, have contributed some wonderfully inventive re-imaginings of folk songs. LJ has contributed two. Live recordings may be found by clicking on the images below.

According to LJ, “For the first tune I stuck a contact mic onto a hi-hat and played it with my hands, a bow, and a vibrating Cappuccino foamer. The sound of the contact mic is fed to max where it goes through a plug-in i’ve been working on which can make chordal clouds of sound.”

Picture Links to “Our Goodman” original and Leafcutter John remix:

“For the second song I used a wooden box with a contact-mic inside it. The outside of the box has lots of sound making things attached to it. For the show I attached a very brilliant music box which is programmable using punched cards. I transcribed the melody of the original song, punched it out and again fed all the sound to my max patches which were used here to re-arrange the original melody.”
Picture links to original and remix

I am going to use this project to expand upon an assignment from last year. Inspired by Tom Nunn’s Skatch Boxes, my classes made boxes connected to Pure Data patches.

If I can find enough DIY Music Box kits, I will use the “Folk Song re-imagining” structure to teach notes, transcription, and transposition while simultaneously building electronic/electroacoustic music skills.


Quote of the Week: Kaija Saariaho

August 5, 2011

Indeed, listeners experience her music as an overwhelming primal event, a mystical encounter providing glimpses of a deeper reality that escapes the regulated, linear consciousness of everyday life.

-Zoran Minderovic

Born on October 14, 1952, in Helsinki, Finland, Saariaho studied visual art at the Helsinki University of Art and Design. From 1976 to 1981, she studied composition at the Sibelius Academy. As a student, she was one of the leading members of Korvat auki (Ears Open), a group of young Finnish composers who rejected contemporary music fashions and sought new musical expressions.

In 1982 Saariaho moved to Paris. She studied electronic music at the Institut de Récherche et de Coordination Acoustique-Musique (IRCAM). Here Saariaho formed her aesthetic; in particular, the idea that the essentially mysterious nature of sound can never be completely encompassed by knowledge (Minderovic).

I find Saariaho’s music enchanting. Her use of electronics is holistic. The programs she writes in Max, a graphic object-oriented multimedia language, are sensual components of the sound-worlds she creates. Lohn, for soprano and electronics, is one of my favorites.

TED Talks: Julian Treasure “We Need to Teach Listening in Our Schools”

Julian Treasure’s advice on listening-practice is remarkably similar to Michel Chion’s “Three Modes of Listening“.

Treasure is succinct and elegant presenting what can be pretty abstract for a lot of people.

I’m a little less enamored with his comparisons of the washing machine sounds to a waltz. I would have preferred that he encourages people to examine sounds on their own terms rather than hook them back up to something safe and familiar.

Yet, I’m sure his presentation might make the uninitiated reexamine the pejorative connotations associated with the word “noise”.

TED Talks: Julian Treasure “We Need to Teach Listening in Our Schools”

August 4, 2011

Music and Technology: Two Free iPhone Apps to Record and Edit Sound

August 3, 2011

Despite Apple locking-down many iPhone OS functions, you can now record and edit sounds with two free iPhone apps and use two excellent cloud-services to boot!

The first is Soundcloud. Soundcloud will host two hours of your music for free, provide you with integration to over 100 other online services, create beautiful widgets, and offer you a free desktop uploader and phone app. Note that Soundcloud doesn’t limit the number of tracks. Rather, the limit is by time. So you can give listeners with full-resolution high bitrate files for free download while Soundcloud creates a free mp3 streaming version in an embeddable widget.

With the app, you can record sounds on the fly, then immediately upload the track to your account. From this account, you can download the track to your phone or computer. You can also stream the uploaded content over wifi or 3G.

Soundcloud also has social features allowing you to share sounds and follow other account holders. You can also comment on the tracks by placing text right on the waveform itself!

Using another free app called Hokusai, you can edit, add effects, and export mp3 or wav files.

According to their description:

“Hokusai is a multitrack audio editor for iPhone or iPad. Record or import a track, and make it sound the way you want it to: not just trimming the ends, but full cut, copy, paste and delete, and a suite of filters and special effects available.

Edit many tracks side-by-side, mix them together, and export to wave or mp4 format — then transfer them to your computer via USB or Dropbox, or send them to another app on your device.

Hokusai is streamlined to give you a clean, clear view of your tracks. Use the familiar pinch and swipe gestures to zoom right in and fiddle with fine detail, or step back to see the big picture. And just like selecting text in other apps, you can select pieces of audio. Live “scrubbing” means you can hear the sound under your fingertip as you make your adjustments. And you needn’t fear a bad edit with our full undo/redo support: as many levels as space allows.

Hokusai comes free with a set of useful tools such as fade in/out, normalise volume levels, reverse time, and basic synthesis. If you need more power, you can upgrade from inside the app to add new tools and effects, including: AudioCopy/AudioPaste, grain synthesis, noise gating, time-stretching, pitch-bending, echo, reverb, modulation (AM & FM), resonance, distortion, grunge, vocal levelling, monster voice, high/low/band-pass/notch-cut filter and more.”

Hokusai integrates with Dropbox allowing you to export and share files, though not with as much panache as Soundcloud.

TED Talks: Evelyn Glennie: How to listen to music with your whole body

Self-explanatory video by Evelyn Glennie. Glennie is one of the few people in the world to make her living as a solo-percussionist. Her achievement is all the more remarkable by the fact that she is deaf.

TED Talks: Evelyn Glennie: How to listen to music with your whole body

August 3, 2011

Internet Resources: Free Bi-Weekly Music Downloads from Alexander Street Press

August 2, 2011 2 Comments

The Alexander Street Press, a music library subscription service, has recently added the EMI recording catalog to it’s already substantial library.

Every two weeks, ASP releases two free recordings! One from the marvelous Smithsonian Folkways collection of World Music, and one classical download every week.

The music is substantive and the recordings are beautiful. You can sign up for e-mail alerts when new recordings are available. I’m sure you can also add it to your RSS feed, too.

Check out the rest of the site. Alexander offers a wide-ranging subscription service that may even out-library Naxos’ service!

Sound Art: Parthenocarp- Drones with Drills and Cucumber Plants

According to their website:

‘Parthenocarp’ is a sound art installation which consists out of 3 one string instruments. The sound of the 3 instruments is creating a ‘drone’ which is changing in a very slowly way by the growth of the cucumbers. Each string is vibrating by the touch of a wooden wheel which is slowly turning around by a drill behind each instrument.
Because each cucumber has it’s own speed of growing, the tone of each instrument is changing in it’s own way. Therefore the drone is constantly changing into harmony and dis-harmonie…
The work refers to the changing urban plans of Alkmaar during the last 50 years. It changed from an agricultural area into an industrial area and is now being changed into a residential region.

dimension: length of each instrument: 4,5 meter
materials: cucumber plants, water, sodium lights, drill machines, ply
-wood, metal, steel strings.
year: 2010
exhibition: Kunsteyssen, Alkmaar, Netherlands

concept, production and design: Ronald van der Meijs

Sound Art: Parthenocarp- Drones with Drills and Cucumber Plants

August 1, 2011

Sound Epic

I am always on the lookout for useful tools for my students.  This one was just posted this morning.

As posted in Synthtopia:

Sound Epic is a free & commercial app that brings extreme time stretching to the iPhone and other iOS devices.

Sound Epic lets you time stretch songs from your iPod library or sounds you record using the built-in audio recorder.


  • Slow tracks by 2 times or 16 times as much.
  • Import DRM free tracks right from your iPod music library.
  • Share your creations with the world using built-in SoundCloud uploading
  • Bring in music and sounds from other apps or export your creations into other iOS apps using Sonoma’s Audio Copy & Paste.
  • Play back tracks in real-time while changing settings.
  • Import and export music at your desktop with iTunes File Sharing.
  • Sound Epic also lets you create advanced HD audio with even more dynamic polish and crystal clarity.

A full version upgrade is available that lets you:

  • Hear the world around you slowed down into ‘an epic symphony of sounds… in real time’.
  • Record your live creations capture with Live Input mode.
  • A basic voice recorder to record anything to turn into HD Epics.
  • Ad free.

Sound Epic for iOS: Free mobile time-stretching app!

July 29, 2011

BBC: “How engineers create artificial sounds to fool us” thoughts on media literacy

July 25, 2011 6 Comments

Thanks to blogger Larry Ferlazzo for bringing this BBC article to my attention.

An interesting article about how companies engineer sounds to manipulate perceptions about their products. Examples included creating a more substantial “thunk” to a car door’s closing, or the “potato-potato” cadence of a Harley Davidson’s exhaust.

It strikes me that paying attention to the characteristics of sounds in this way is really part of media literacy. In my music appreciation classes, we read an essay by Michel Chion “The Three Listening Modes”. Within the context of sound in film, Chion offers us three ways to approach a sound.

1. Causal Listening: Identifying a sound’s source abstracted from other cues to the sound.

2. Semantic listening: listening to a sound for it’s symbolic meaning, not it’s acoustical properties, as in language.

3. Reduced listening: named by the composer Pierre Schaffer, this refers to identifying the qualities of sound itself, independent of it’s causal or semantic meanings.

It interests me that, according to the article, Harley Davidson sued Japanese motorcycle manufacturers claiming that the Japanese exhaust notes were too similar to the Harleys. Through Chion’s lens of “modes”, Harley Davidson believes that its exhaust sounds have semantic meaning as brand-identifiers!

“Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.”
– John Cage

John Cage: “The Future of Music: Credo” (1937)

July 13, 2011

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