“Das Gift”


I realize just now that I did not post a project proposal to facebook, but I did email Prof. Aresty. Anyway, here are the details of the original idea. My final project is not relevant to any of my proto-projects and was actually an attempt to get away from the procedure underlying each one: the use of a computer.

I had been inclined to make some material product all along, but couldn’t find a suitable idea. By the end of the course, I had some notion of what this object could be. This idea started with thinking about musique concrete (‘concrete music’) and the New Sound of Music documentary we watched for class, which led me to tape music. However, this was not going to be possible. There is no access to such equipment in the vicinity, or at least that Abby and I knew of. The two of us talked after class and she offered me a tape recorder and tape head. Thus, inspiration sparked from the tools I was given.

Abby mentioned Nam June Paik among talk of using tape as material. He designed an exhibit called “Random Access” in which pre-recorded tape is mounted on a wall and people are given a device (which incorporates a tape head, I believe) to read the tape. Here is a video of the installation. Another group does similar work, but they explore architectural space over large expanses of walls.

I then found this: fabric which is made from cassette tape and polyester and can be read with a tape head. This made me think about combining the ideas of mounting the tape to make it easily readable with my equipment, and creating an object which is partly made of or makes use of tape.

While brainstorming, the idea of the approaching holiday was infecting my thought. So it is logical that an intersection of these three features is a gift. I thought of a boxed present, archetypal, neatly wrapped, with an air of kitschy mystery. So I conceived of such a present that would be “tied” with pre-recorded tape instead of actual ribbon. The ribbon could then be read with a tape head; I knew from the start that it would produce nothing more than garble, but the process of what was recorded was still important to me.

The sound material is recordings of holiday-themed commercials–so yes (you got me), I did rely in technology in some sense. I recorded about 1.5 hours’ worth, or that’s how things clocked out. Next, I took the tape out of the cassette, laid it in strips on some masking tape, then taped it to a gift box to make it look like ribbon. The bow on top is not what I had in mind and a failure in my eyes, but oh well. You can’t have everything.

…which leads me to the statement I was trying to make, which should be abundantly clear. The commercialization of the holiday season is disturbing. I heard a few commercials which explicitly mention money (/credit). Many of the advertisements also recognize that people should find joy in receiving presents, while fewer relate to the joy of giving. The soul of Christmas and related holidays has, in my opinion, been extinguished. One could conjecture as to why, but there are too many reasons and none may be right.

“Das Gift” (get it?) represents the eradication of the spirit of the holidays. It reflects the worrisome way advertisers construct a materialist view in order to take advantage of tradition and how this complicates our enthusiasm. I’d like to think that the box is a metaphor for the holiday spirit. We don’t know what is inside and may not even have a clue. The casings are glittery, deceptive, and ultimately give the wrong message; it shouldn’t matter what is inside, if we will ever appreciate it, and so on and so forth. Rather, as the saying goes, it’s the thought that counts. The thought of the spirit should excite us! Not what lies under a dead tree.

I like how my project turned out because it reflects many of the objectives of musique concrete.


A Promise

I decided to create a composition that concerns marriage, and in particular, traditional Christian wedding ceremonies, with a musique concrète approach. I used Reaper and some found sound files to accomplish this, which is a decidedly digital and detached approach, but a path my realization nonetheless.

My methods include: adjusting pitch and playback rate; adjusting volume and panning; fading tracks in and out (or cutting them off abruptly in some places); the Cockos Reaverb and Reaverbate plugins; reversing items; repeating and layering snippets; and splitting and moving certain sections of a track into multiple tracks (which I tend to do in Reaper).


A shift in mood should be easy to detect, although what that might be is difficult to describe. The contemporary American, Christian marriage ceremony, at least the one I am familiar with, is conventionally composed of many parts: prayer, sermon, benediction, vows, exchange of rings, pronouncement as husband and wife, a kiss, and the hallmark procession. I tried to include speech segments from many or all of these formalities, especially the salient lines, like “you may kiss your bride” and “’til death do us part.” I incorporated minor sounds too, such as those of whispering and camera shutters. If I’d do this again, I would bring more of those parts in—not for a cumulative effect, but to eliminate bias and predictability. It was not my intention to use the sounds of the organ, but I did so anyway to provide a frame (and keep in mind, the organ clips were reversed). The slowed-down loop of the sound of a ring being dropped and spinning on a hard surface (a file from freesound), which arches over the piece, brings in a distressing sound and undoubtedly changes the mood. There is also a somewhat hidden clip of a couple getting into a fight (this, by the way, is from a movie). Lastly, the reverb (among other effects) darkens the ambience and is a direct reference to the architectural setting in which these ceremonies typically take place in: churches.


The video I took sounds from was around 35 minutes long, and I whittled my piece down to two minutes and forty-some seconds. That is to say, there was a considerable amount material to work with. And needless to say, most of the recording was of speech. I chose to isolate some fragments of speech for semantic purposes and hence left them intact. (I might have been heavy-handed in this sense, but oh well.) This serves to confuse the listener, who might juggle Chion’s modes of listening and end up feeling perplexed.

This wedding and its religious affiliation are built upon centuries of culture, knowledge, custom, and so forth. Here, I have questioned and distorted these assumptions, while likewise challenging notions of sound and music.

Here is a link to my work:

Source for most of the sound (except for two freesound files):


Relevant sources / recommended reading:




I recorded the sounds of cooking a couple dishes for this project. I adapted a recipe called korma, and used a potato, tomatoes, onions, green beans, carrots, cashews, yogurt, and some spices–some dried, some I ground myself. After making this, I made scrambled eggs and tied in some sounds from that. After recording everything with a Tascam DR-100MKII, I trimmed everything and pieced it together in some semblance of a narrative order in Reaper. I’ve grown pretty familiar with the program by now, which is perhaps more of a success than the proto-project was.

For the most part, my ideas seemed to fall flat on their face. I knew where I was headed with them, but in the end, was derailed by the sheer amount of recorded sounds, blending them together, and trying to accurately represent the soundscape of a kitchen. I was daunted by layering and straying from reality. There could have been a better way to have solved this, but I could only think of one. The product of my efforts was too long, overly complicated, and extremely quiet (which I realized too late). The transitions, coherence, and consistency were lacking, too.

Adding a cinematic dimension would have added more immediate interest (for the class), but it wouldn’t have necessarily made sense in the grand scheme of my things. All in all, I am not happy with the work I completed—but the idea still stands strong.

Listening Machine / A fishy tune


Title: A fishy tune

Artist statement: I have recorded the sound of a song underwater—played from the exterior of a fish tank—by using the hydrophone you see in the video. I knew that I wanted the fish to have some influence on the recording, so I decided to alter the recording in an attempt to mimic how the fish perceived the music. I am aware that this additional element of perception may complicate the audible/inaudible aspect of the project, but I justified this to myself by thinking that imagining the auditory perception of another creature is another way of listening, and one that is certainly inaudible.

Method: My inspiration for the project came from nowhere in particular, other than being interested in what the world sounds like underwater. I learned about hydrophones from there; Abby, by some fortuity, had one, and she kindly lent it to me. I had brainstormed ideas for what I could do with this device. I have always had a broad interest in swimming and pets, and so the idea of recording the sound of fish sprung out of that. Then came an ultimatum: should my source be natural or artificial? Recording in some body of water was such an obscure prospect that the allure of a controlled environment, a tank, won me over.

A couple of my friends who had fish no longer did, so I decided to get some for myself (since I had been wanting to anyway). A little puffer fish became part of my life for a day, ate his three tankmates, then died as a result of my naiveté. So… I then acquired a betta fish (more specifically known as a Siamese fighting fish). I was quickly convinced of his beauty and intelligence.

The only problem, which I had foreseen as a disadvantage of recording in a tank, was that fish of these kinds do not make much noise; and after some trials, I learned that my new friend hardly made a sound. One of my initial ideas was to play music and map out the fish’s movements to later alter it, but the concept lacked fluidity. I recorded and filmed one night, and after viewing and hearing the results, I decided to take a different path (which I mentioned on Facebook; sorry to Devin for not responding).

Alteration of the track seemed necessary to me for two reasons: one, the music sounded and appeared to be relatively similar to the original (sorry about not replying to your comment, either, Adam), and was hence flavorless; and two, I did want the fish to have some impact on the sound and the whole (proto-)project. My plan was to imitate the way the fish perceived the music as best as I could. This modification would be paired with the video I took of the fish reacting to the music as a way for the observe to place their own self in the fish’s time and place and imagine not only the sounds of a previously unheard world, but also an unperceived way of life. This all comes, of course, with a little dose of man-made spirit: our notion of how sounds should ultimately be heard (i.e., music). This complicates the empathetic paradox that I have set up.

I read several scientific reports on the auditory systems of fish—specifically, betta fish. I mostly found articles about the family to which the Siamese fighting fish belongs, gouramies.

I used Reaper to change the frequencies of the recording to match the best hearing range and hearing thresholds of gouramies. To do this, I applied a band-pass filter to capture the best hearing range (800-1400 Hz), and high- (ReaEQ/Cockos) and low- (Filters/lowpass) passes to roughly capture the thresholds (200-1800 Hz; for comparison, most people believe that human hearing ranges from 20 Hz – 20 kHz). I also read about the gouramies’ use of their lateral line (along their body) to hear and how the movement of their fins can affect this perception (I can dig for a citation), so I applied the Guitar/tremolo FX, too.

I am aware that the effect I intended might not “work,” technically speaking, but I gave it a go anyway.

The end result is this eerie, echoic, ringing quality which dominates the musical remnants of the recording. Some might say the effect is “lo-fi.”

You can also see that the fish reacts to and is curious about the music—he swims to the source (on the left) several times, and even taps the wall of the tank that is closest to the sound out of curiosity.

A fun fact that I was unable to reflect here, but wish I would have: some fish can hear “better” after taking a breath because of some “specialized structures” that “enhance their auditory frequency range and threshold sensitivity” (source).


Credit and appreciation: The song is Libertango by Yo-Yo Ma and friends

and I owe a big thank you to Abby for lending me her hydrophone.