What We Don’t Notice

I was in the group Music by Rules: Life DeCoded. For my project, I thought about amplifying the subtleties of daily life that we tend to not notice. For example, things people do when they are not consciously thinking about their actions, absorbed in something other than their body movements, and subtle fidgety movements that people typically do not notice in each other. I examined a friend (the friend was unknowing that he was a subject) for 2 minutes and recorded every little movement he made. I wrote the movements down in my notebook taking note of both chronology and frequency of the movements, then I associated a letter key with each sound, essentially creating a composition using the structure of the fidgety movements. I wanted to use MAX/MSP because for my research group I looked at many algorithmic sound art pieces and was fascinated by the idea of using algorithms to represent something more organic, like human fidgeting.

sound art

Using MAX/MSP, I programmed 7 keys on my computer keyboard to trigger certain sounds that I found from freesound.org. I used mostly sounds in the key of G, just to have a harmonious sense to the piece, but a few are lacking melody all together. I play the keys in time with the movements to create a representation of the subtle movements through sound. I also finally started to understand MAX/MSP, which is a nice skill to have for future projects. I think it would be interesting to take this project to a larger scale and create sound pieces for people of different genders, ages, and other demographics to see how certain people sound when compared to each other. Here’s a picture of what the final piece on MAX looks like.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 3.28.43 PM

I do not have a sound clip to share on here, but I will be performing this piece live tonight. I originally had the idea to perform it live and have it be based off of the class in the moment (sort of an improvisational piece), but I decided to have more of a pre-produced project (it still is improvisation to an extent, because the score I wrote out is not a traditional score by any means). This was an interesting project for me in the sense that being able to interpret subtle human intricacies through sound gives a broader understanding of the fact that we are never truly still. I also feel great about understanding MAX/MSP a little more! Hopefully I’ll be able to incorporate this technology into my future music and future sound art projects.


One thought on “What We Don’t Notice

  1. Hi Ella,

    Nice! I’m glad you chose to tackle max/msp and are starting to get the hang of it a bit more. Definitely take some time to check out the documentation/tutorials as these are very thorough and will help give you a sense of the many possibilities that are available to you.

    This was a great proof of concept. Artistically, your first approach, with the live interpretation of the class is a bit more compelling. With a fresh audience, it would be interesting to see the point at which they would begin to understand what you were doing (if ever) and how they might react. You could try giving them a prompt to help frame the experience: ‘be as still as possible’ for instance. Then when they start moving, they will be more aware of their bodies. (Perhaps the opposite of what you want, but interesting to try, nonetheless.)

    As I mentioned in class, what the precomposed version lacks is a real reason for being performed instead of being prerecorded. It strikes me as a good study, and test, and an opportunity to build up a repertoire of sounds and movements. If you do many such studies, you will learn a lot and gain experience in interpreting movements and assigning/playing sounds.

    The difficulty of the live version–of knowing the movements/tics people will have and preparing for them in advance–could be addressed somewhat in a course context. You could observe classmates during workshops, etc. and take notes based on their actions to build up your repertoire of sounds/movements. You could also focus on one person to make the task easier (though you would want to be careful with this approach since singling someone out in that way might make them uncomfortable).


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