Suspended Sounds

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Here are the sounds of a suspension bridge I recorded on a recent trip to Camp McDowell in Nauvoo AL. I used two contact mics, one on each set of main cables. The bridge was surprisingly quiet during normal use and even when I bounced and jostled it a bit, so I tapped and scraped on the structure with a few sticks. Sounds best on headphones!

51 3rd Recordings – Everyone Looks to a Sumatran, Virginian Curlew

Here are live recordings of my set from November’s show at 51 3rd Street that also included performances by Keir Neuringer and Rambutan (Eric Hardiman). It’s an eclectic set beginning with a slightly dysfunctional performance of

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Everyone Looks to the Sky

No one but me would know that the computer is responding to my playing differently than anticipated. Such is the fun of interactive computer music: you just have to work with it, ride with it, fight it, respond to the moment, change your plans. In this case, the conception of the piece is already so circumscribed that the content of the work is hardly changed, though the form is clearly different–and maybe more dramatic as a result.

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Batak Batak

A recent binge of Indonesian music led me to dust off this piece. I never felt I had worked out the sax part enough when the piece was new, which might account for why I shelved it. Revisiting the piece, I discovered very few indications of what I had intended for the sax part–little more than a scribbled microtonal scale. There’s clearly still work to do here, but I’m less bothered than I might have been in the past by the elliptical playing.

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East Virginia

This has become one of my go-to banjo pieces; a surefire way to find my place on the instrument.

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Curlew

A brand-new piece getting its first public airing. I learn so much by performing new material and can’t wait to revise this tune as a result. Yet another song with bird imagery (YASWBI).

Summer Shoot at Mt. Washington

I’ve just started the summer portion of the Mt. Washington film shoot. I hope to write more later about how the mountain is different in the summer than the winter.

Here’s a photo of my audio gear in the corner of an office that was very kindly provided for our use. It’s followed by a shot showing the omni mic I rigged onto the strap of my recording bag. I was hoping to have a true Mid-Side setup this time around but couldn’t get the figure-eight mic I needed. This setup isn’t ideal but it gives me a different perspective on everything I record. (I’ve got two inputs on my recorder so might as well use them both.) The brown fuzzy is a DIY wind screen made from fake fur.

Mt. Washington Pt. 2: Rime

January 11: Summit Weather

  • High temp: 5 F
  • Low temp: -2 F
  • Average Wind Speed: 46.7 mph gusting to 72 mph

A foggy day with visibility down to 1/16th of a mile. The observatory reported zero hours of sunshine for the day. Perfect conditions for rime ice. We could hardly step outside without it accumulating on our clothes and, of course, our gear.

rime ice recording rig

My recording bag covered in rime ice. My headphones were unscathed since I wore them under my balaclava (and hat (and parka hood)).

I brought out my contact mics to record the sound of rime accumulating on them. The best spot I found was attaching them to the windward side of a wooden sign post. Here’s an excerpt:

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rime_accumulation.mp3

Listening to the entire recording one can clearly hear the frequency of the resonant ping sounds increase as more ice accumulates. I suspect the ice accumulation reduces the surface area of the contact mic or otherwise stiffens the transducer–in a manner similar to a drummer increasing the pressure on a drum head and thus causing the pitch to rise.

Here’s a recording of an ice-covered chain squeaking in the wind. The squeak is less metallic than I expected, sounding more like rubbing ice cubes together.

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squeaky_chain.mp3

Here’s a photo of the chain (taken on another, much sunnier day). Yes, this chain appears to be preventing the building from blowing off the mountain. The story I heard is that the chains were an important part of the original building. When they rebuilt the structure, chains were included as an historical and decorative element. There were times when I could have used a chain or two to prevent me from blowing away.

Jackie and I covered in rime ice after our contact mic recording expedition.

Mt. Washington Pt. 1: Going Up the Mountain

I’m back home from the Mt. Washington shoot where I was so busy I never posted any updates. So I’ll be posting news of the trip many days late.

Here's all of my audio gear packed up and ready to go.

January 9: We all gathered at Jackie’s house, threw our gear in the van and drove to New Hampshire. Jacqueline Goss was the leader of the crew: video artist, writer, director, producer. Jesse Cain: cinematographer. Dani Leventhal: talent. (She hates that word, but after spending the better part of a week together I think it fits just fine.) We spent the first night enjoying the comforts of the Appalachian Mountain Club Joe Dodge Lodge. Jesse unpacked and assembled the camera so we could begin shooting first thing in the morning.

Jessie and Dani checking out the focal length on the 135mm lens

January 10: First thing in the morning we met our ride up the mountain (snow tractor!) at the Auto Road and took a minute to shoot a few establishing shots.

Mt. Washington (the summit is obscured here--it's just behind the peak on the right)

On the way to the summit we stopped just above the treeline to shoot a few more scenes. I loved seeing the stunted krumholtz trees that are just visible in the lower left corner of this photo.

Jackie and Jesse on the Auto Road

Late morning, we arrived at the summit and quickly unloaded our equipment. Visibility was good, and since we didn’t know whether we’d get clear skies again Jackie and Jesse and Dani peeled off to shoot some scenes that didn’t require sync sound while I took a look around the observatory and organized our gear.

Summit Weather:

  • High temp: 1 F
  • Low temp: -5 F
  • Average Wind Speed: 45 mph gusting to 62 mph

Here’s an excerpt from the first day of recording; a scene where Dani knocks the rime ice off a sign. These sounds are indicative of winter weather on the mountain: wind envelopes everything, so even rather violent actions produce only faint tinkles of ice.

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knocking_rime_off_sign.mp3

Favorites from 2009

Here are few favorite picks of recorded media, live shows and print from 2009. As usual, I’m not much of an up-to-the-minute consumer so some of this may be old news. The exception here are the live shows, of course, so let’s start there…

Live Music

My two favorite shows were at EMPAC. The pummeling dished out by The Boredoms + 9 drummers easily takes the top spot. Garth Knox’s viola and viola d’amore might have been the polar opposite of The Boredoms but was no less riveting. I was also mightily impressed with 2009 ASAC guests Area C and Ben Bracken.

Recorded Music

The only new release on my list this year is Take Me To the Water from Dust to Digital. It’s a solid (maybe even stolid) collection of gospel–no real surprises or major standouts. But combined with the beautiful book I know I’ll be returning to this one often.

Two older CDs of music by Arthur Russel and Julius Eastman are now safely ensconced in my desert island collection:

Arthur Russel World of Echo
Where has this record been all my life? I had heard Russel’s avant-disco but was unprepared for the intimacy and sweet strangeness in this recording.

Julius Eastman Unjust Malaise
A life-changing collection of prescient music from a singular talent. There are so many standouts in this collection that it’s hard to choose a favorite.

And some assorted highlights from the year’s listening:

The Hub The Hub & Wreckin’ Ball
Tim Perkis/John Bischoff Artificial Horizon
Some of the synthesized sounds on these records date them, yet no one has better explored the potential for musicking with communication technology. The Hub is still at the heart of the genre, and sadly the genre is still too small. Maybe all those laptop orchestras with their hemi speakers will carry on some this work. They would do well to revisit these recordings.

Junior Kimbrough and the Soul Blues Boys All Night Long
Languorous sound that builds a Calatrava-style bridge between a juke-joint in Mississippi and the sacred sites of minimalism, drone and raga. On second thought, maybe that juke-joint in Mississippi IS a sacred site of minimalism, drone and raga.

Art of Field Recording Volume I
Another Dust to Digital release. I lived with these recordings for most of the year–and won’t be forgetting them soon.

Gloria Coates Symphonies Nos. 1, 7 and 14
This was recommended to me when it first came out. I’m sorry I missed it until this year.

Books

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitan was probably the most fun I’ve had thinking about music and sound in a while. His Six Songs is less interesting/convincing, but a good intro to questions about music and evolution.

I enjoyed John Adams‘s Hallelujah Junction more than I expected, based on my experience with Adams’ music. (When will John Luther Adams write a book?) I found his tales about his origins and development illuminating and his writing refreshingly frank. It was especially interesting to read about his life in San Francisco during the 1960s which leads to…

The San Francisco Tape Music Center: an excellent overview of an under-appreciated group of electronic music pioneers and their fascinating intersections with popular culture. This collection puts a new spin on the usual Columbia/Princeton/Bell Laboratory history of electronic music in the US.

Music Technology

I expected 2009 to be about Max for Live, but I never got around to buying Live and then had no reason to get Max for Live. Instead, the one piece of music gear that’s made the most impact on my work in 2009 is an 1860’s style fretless tackhead banjo built by Eric Prust.

Back to the software side, the most notable music software I used this year was for the iPhone

Cleartune is easily the best tuner I’ve ever used. It still makes me a little giddy at how wonderful it is to be able to switch between equal tempered tunings and all manner of Pythagorean, just, meantone and historical tunings. My trusty clip-on tuner finally died this year; I’m not sure I’ll replace it.

SoundLevel is a free, bare-bones sound level meter app. I haven’t upgraded to SoundLevel Pro because the free app does me just fine. The convenience of always having a sound level meter on hand means that I’m much more likely to use it. In fact, it’s become an important step every time I set up a PA or go to a friend’s house to listen to mixes. Not to mention the ability to quickly check how loud that blender really is–time to put in earplugs!

On the productivity/inspiration side of things, OmniFocus for iPhone is essential for me. And the iPhone’s built-in Voice Memos app has become my favorite way to capture a sonic idea or lyric phrase–if only there were a better way to offload those files to my machine rather than having to go through iTunes…

Looking ahead to 2010

Maybe 2010 will be my time for Live and Max for Live. I’ve just started dipping into the Pinewoods International Collection of folk tunes and I expect the book will occupy me for most of next year. I’m hoping that by 2011 I’ll be able to frail my way with ease through all those odd time signatures. Finally, I’m looking forward to making more field recordings with my recently beefed-up rig which now includes a Fostex FR2-LE and a Rode Blimp.

One Month to the Mountain

Late Afternoon Cogs Heads Down, Photo by Jeff Glover

I’m headed to the top of Mt. Washington in about a month. I’ll be recording audio for an experimental documentary project led by Jacqueline Goss. At Jackie’s request I’ve been reading material on the history and operation of the Mt. Washington Observatory. I’m already having fun geeking out about cloud cover and wind speed and fog and rime.

Jacqueline Goss, from The 100th Undone

Still trying to figure out how to actually record usable sound in 50mph wind… I’m currently building a handful of DIY contact mics/hydrophones in anticipation of recording ice accumulation and the straining of various summit structures in full-on gales. I’m also building a few electret omni mics so I can have something to take outside with impunity in the worst conditions. I’ll try to post some photos of my homebrew audio projects. Also look for future reports and audio samples from the mountain top.

Spring Peepers

Spring is woohoo. Woohoo for flowers.

spring flowers

Woohoo for frogs.

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spring peepers

Spring is for woohoo flowers frogs.

Sub-Antarctic Audio

The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research is now streaming the sounds of the underwater antarctic soundscape as captured by 4 hydrophones. I’ve tuned in and heard gorgeous swooping tones, shimmery drones, and staticky clicks. The stream seems a bit unstable at times, but definitely worth checking out.

Mp3 stream

Ogg stream – better quality

More info