public 0.7 (Da Vinci)

May 29, 2010 12:43 PM

A recording of live synthesis made in Da Vinci park.

The synth was made using csound. The synth captures up to 8 simultaneous static spectrums from the microphone, and manipulates and resynthesizes those spectrums. You may not recognize the sound of the birds in the synth, not only because of the manipulation of the spectral data, but also because bird chirp spectrums change rapidly so even a frozen moment of the unmodified spectrum is quite artificial sounding (is that the same as saying that freezing the spectrum amounts to an extreme modification?).

I should have used my windscreen, but I ended up liking what the wind noise added to the recording, as did the occasional hiccup of the underpowered CPU breaking up the computer's audio.

I used jamin for the mastering this time, a huge improvement over using ladspa plugins within ardour.

posted by idiopath (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

These have been great. Thanks for sharing.
posted by sleepy pete at 1:24 PM on May 29, 2010

Thanks for the encouraging words, this personal assignment has been a really interesting challenge for me.
posted by idiopath at 1:44 PM on May 29, 2010

yeah, i've liked them too. i'm interested in how much control you have over the results - obviously there's a degree of chance in that you never quite know what input you're going to get and you're clearly 'embracing hazard' (as robert fripp would put it)...i used to get my best results in suppercollider with an elderly powermac whose cpu would buckle under the strain of live processing, so i know what you're interested in there. i guess what i'm getting at is how important the process of improvisation is in what you do and what it entails, exactly; what do you make your decisions based on? have you got 'rules' for what you do (for instance, do you never fiddle with what you've done afterwards) and what are they?

sorry if this seems like an interrogation! i'm really interested to know...
posted by peterkins at 7:53 AM on May 30, 2010

oops, 'suppercollider'. there's an interesting concept.
posted by peterkins at 7:54 AM on May 30, 2010

Yeah, regarding hazard this instrument is particularly tricky because it catches the spectrum at a very brief moment - so I can't always predict what I will catch, even with an extended sound. Not to mention something so brief as a bird chirp. So the process is sort of a game, where I anticipate a sound and attempt to grab it as it happens (once I have registered it, it it has come and gone, too late to capture it).

But on the other hand it is only hazard if you dread a potential consequence. What I am doing is much more in the spirit of Cage, where my desire is to find out the consequences of the process carried out. If the process is in fact carried out, the result is by definition what I wanted. You may have noticed, for example, the one I did at Luarelhurst park where a guy came up to me and started talking to me while I was recording. I did edit out parts of the conversation in that case, more for politeness for this guy who did not yet realize he was being recorded than anything else. Fripp was attempting to remain tonal - but then forcing himself to deal harmonically with any mistakes - so he was using his constraints as a compositional device. So a bunch of dense microtonal clusters would have ruined his frippertronics. There is no sonic consequence I would have considered to have "ruined" this piece (you can listen to other submissions I have made here if you want evidence for that claim).

I see this as a flaw inherent in my method: an audience looks for a struggle, for effort. I can show the significant effort that goes into designing and constructing my synths and their interfaces, but this is not a performative effort like that of Fripp struggling to remain harmonically pleasing and melodically engaging while the tape machine alternately aids and frustrates his efforts. I have a conflict where I acknowledge and would like to concede to the audience's desire to see an effort, and at the same time am not at heart really a man balanced en-point on a high wire so much as a bull in a china shop.

Regarding improvisation, I know what I am going to attempt by the time I push record. The instrument has been made, and it only has so much range. The place has been selected. I can't of course have any control over what sounds the place provides, beyond choosing a place where the sounds I tend to like occur. But then again that is kind of how many of the synths I make work anyway, I cannot have precise control, so much as knowing which parts of its range tend to have which results. So to the degree that improvisation implies personal expression in a particular moment of praxis (which in turn implies virtuosic control), I am actively circumventing the ability to improvise.

If by improvisation you mean the aleatory fact of not really knowing what is going to happen - what I post here is not a performance, but the recording of the performance. You may notice I have not posted 0.1 or 0.5. I think that once I can make that choice I am no longer strictly in the improvisational or aleatory domain. And I have made small cleanup edits to some of the previous performances. This one literally starts and ends with the fumbling noises of pushing the record / stop buttons, but even it has been processed in a mastering program. For some styles of music, mastering plays a relation to the music that typesetting would to writing - it does not alter the content, only the presentation. With what I am doing mastering is directly working in the same domain as the music. It is like lithography. The "thing" being made is that final facsimile. While the printed text is a representation of the original manuscript (beautified), the lithographic plate is not an artwork as much as the predecessor to the actual artwork - the lithographic print. So mastering is in this case not a question of presentation as much as the final and most important act of making the music. This is not so revolutionary - this is how most pop music is made today. But I should make it clear that for me the recording is not so much an accurate document of an event that happened as the final product of an acoustic project.

Regarding the sound of my cpu hiccuping in this recording, I made the synth in such a way that the sounds it makes also "hiccup". In other words I made a synth that sounds kind of like the computer failing, so the failures of the computer would not ruin the performance. Also, I switched from supercollider to csound because of my weak CPU (well that and the fact that csound does 64 bit signal processing). Supercollider is a much nicer programming language, but csound with its syntax reminiscent of assembly language can make my weak little computer do much more.
posted by idiopath at 10:52 AM on May 30, 2010

thanks for that very nicely phrased explanation!

what I post here is not a performance, but the recording of the performance.

derek bailey used to say something similar about improvisation and recordings. it's something that's always interested me and kind of explained why many recordings of free improv seemed to be made 'casually' (eg on a single mic pointing away from the musicians). this audio verite approach is fair enough (providing you can actually hear what's going on), but equally the separation of the improv from its recording opens up the possibilities for manipulating or editing those recordings and making them a repeatable listening experience (i think your recordings do work as repeated listening, by the way). but then of course it becomes something else entirely.

i've just been recording freely improvised stuff with a trio (like this) and we're compiling an album from the results. i was kind of determined not to get into editing or sweetening any of it, but the trumpet player reckoned one piece could do with having the first four minutes shaved off it. i think he's since changed his mind but i found myself a bit conflicted on the issue - we could edit it so it sounded seamless, but it seemed dishonest somehow, at odds with the idea of realtime improv. but then again, would anyone know? or care? i guess that kind of thing never bothered teo macero and miles davis too much....

oops, i've gone on a bit. thanks again and i look forward to hearing more.
posted by peterkins at 3:59 AM on May 31, 2010

I am so glad that people continue to experiment and find value in this genre. A gorgeous work, it is going onto my car's playlist.
posted by Ardiril at 8:51 AM on June 3, 2010

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