An Echoic Chamber

My final project was an extension of my earlier experiments with creating augmented audio spaces. Originally, I had hoped to create an space with odd echoic properties, where certain frequncies were echoed but others were not. I decided this wouldn’t be compelling (or wouldn’t work, which in truth was my biggest concern). I decided to keep the idea of interesting echoic properties though, and, inspired by a recent viewing of the hunger games, decided to mimic the “Mockingjays” in the first movie which, genetically modified to be good at picking up tunes, would mimic a tune and spread it through the forest.

Conceptually, this is more of an interactive experience than an static piece. It inherently involves participation. Having this interactive element is something I had wanted from the beginning of the semester, when Spencer and I had our failed attempt to cancel out someone’s voice. In a round about way, my final project ended up amplifying a person’s voice. I thought it was a pleasant change.

I used Puredata to play sounds of the forest, and measure the pitch of a note and its loudness. If something was heard which was high pitched and loud, it was assumed to be a whistle, which would trigger a recording. This sound was then played back through a variety of filters which would play it at different speeds and pitches to mimic a forest of birds copying the sound.

WordPress won’t let me post my PD file, so here’s a picture of it.
Screenshot from 2014-12-19 15:23:01

Concerto No. 4 in J Minor

My composition is an extension of my sonic cinematic project, in which I explored the narrative qualities of noise in music.  I used the original composition from that project as the basis for this one, and simply edited it to make it more rhythmic and added to it.  I used some effects from reaper and initially was going to do the entire composition on Reaper and using only the vocals.  I created half of a piece like this and it was interesting, then decided to work with Garageband as well and used some of the midi instruments and drum effects from GB to go along with the vocal composition.  Overall, this was a very interesting project for me to do since I don’t have a lot of experience with midi, but it was a lot of fun to learn more about it, and I really like using the GB drums as well.

Conceptually, this piece is definitely more of a composition than my previous sound & narrative project.  Where that one was really just a bunch of clips, I went out of my way and comfort zone to create a piece that really feels like music even though it rides on a vocal rhythm that would usually have been edited out.  I think the breaths sometimes even say more than the words between them, and this piece does a good job of elevating the breathing to the position of actual music or lyrics in a way that my original project didn’t quite do.

Audiography: A Dramatic Audio “Autobiography” of Hallie Flanagan Davis

This project explores narrative sound technique by presenting a dramatic audio autobiography–or audiography–of Hallie Flanagan Davis (director of the Federal Theatre Project, first woman to win a Guggenheim, and Grinnell College alum). The format of the audiography is similar to a radio drama. I used primary source materials–correspondences, newspaper articles, and Flanagan’s testimonies with the House Un-American Activities Committee–as the basis for the script. I recorded dramatic interpretations of the source material for use in the audiography. These recordings are embellished with period-appropriate audio filters* and “distortion,” environmental sound effects, and narration. The overall result is sonic-cinematic, using sound to distinguish between public and private/internal moments, and exploring the use of diegetic and nondiegetic sounds.

A little background: Flanagan was director of the Federal Theatre Productions (part of the WPA), which reached well beyond the usual theatre community, entertaining and informing the masses in the Great Depression; she created spirit-lifting children’s theatre, and her “living newspaper” plays were informative for a politically unaware public. I was drawn to this project because I, like Hallie, grew up in Grinnell and pursue theatre as a means of creative expression and social dialogue. As a theatre artist, I am also obviously interested in creating art in narrative contexts. This particular piece only showcases two “chapters” of Flanagan’s life (the first appeals on the local level; the second appeals on the national level). One day I’d like to create a full live radio drama about Flanagan’s life and professional pursuits.

I used QLab for playback. The piece is meant to be played in a room with three or four speakers, so that QLab may control movement of sound around the space, helping ground the audience in the space of the piece (the train sweeps around the audience, each person at the Committee hearing has their own position, and so on). The stereo version still utilizes some of these spatial techniques, but not to the same extent. The screenshots give a sense of the QLab workspace (120 cues, not counting some auto-follows!) and the nature of the programming/preparation that went into the creative process.

Downloadable File

*I used the reverb filter that I created in my listening machine proto-project for the House Un-American Activities scene.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear…is Sound

Artist Statement
Using what I learned from my sound/narrative proto-project, I attempted to recreate the messages within the first few lines of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaugural address, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” I used sounds associated with fear and gave my piece a modern context through the use of sound bites from major events since the turn of the century. I originally intended to use Trevor Wishart’s exploration of sonic metaphor and create FDR’s message in that style, but I learned that sonic metaphor is too abstract and difficult for me at this point. Instead of using sonic metaphor, I was inspired to weave together sound bites and reorganize a clip from FDR’s speech. I hope I have created a powerful yet saddening sonic portrayal of the strife our country has recently faced.

Process
I used reaper (and spear sometimes) to combine my tracks. The tracks I chose to include are FDR’s speech, a 9-1-1 call, screams, Ferguson-based riot, people chattering, sirens, tornado warnings, a Sandy Hook broadcast, someone’s recording from 9/11, an ambulance’s siren, Eric Garner saying “I can’t breathe,” and the song “Clouds” by Zach Sobiech. I thought all of these were examples of instances that incited fear within people. “Clouds” has a happier sound to it but, although it is a beautiful song, Zach wrote it for his girlfriend as he was dying of cancer. Zach was able to put hope in a sad situation and I hope my inclusion of his song serves to add a layer of hope to the rest of my track.

Documentation
Here is a snapshot of my project in reaper.
sound art final pic

Grinnell College Sound Walk

Artist Statement

Admiring the work of the Alter Bahnhof Video Walk in Germany, I sought to create a similar experience on Grinnell’s campus. The evolution of this project through various stages has brought me to a simple but important piece. The videos I recorded focus upward throughout a roughly 15 minute walk, providing enough visual cues to allow the participant to effectively follow the geographical progression of the video. I chose this style of recording to minimize the distractions provided by the visual aspect in order to encourage the participants to expend more focus on the auditory component. Secondarily, it requires that the participant examine the entire space in a manner to which they are likely unaccustomed, laying the groundwork for discoveries by multiple senses and, potentially as a result, the optimism of looking up occasionally.

The auditory component is comprised of both the sound from the original, recorded walk and the sound which is generated live along the participant’s individual walk. The video component of the sound has not been added to or significantly altered, other than attempts to clear up unnecessary recording static. The live component of the sound adds interest to the piece because it creates a unique experience each time which encourages the participant to focus their attention to the broader world as it relates to the video. Some of the sounds are innate to the activity, such as opening a door, while others will occur only live or only on the video, such as a passing car or conversation snippets. I hope that participants will engage with the junction of these experiences, allowing both the louder and quieter moments of their walk to connect them to their surroundings, both in time and space.

 

Process

Though partially described above, I want to briefly cover the process of creating this piece. Initially, I experimented with a few different video lengths, walking paths, styles of filming, and filming equipment. The best audio came from a portable video camera with the most effective visual occurring, not surprisingly, during daytime filming. When I filmed straight in front of me, I found the visual of people walking by, seeing the time on many clocks around campus, and other cues which identify the source of sound too distracting from the sound.

After many technological difficulties encountered with Reaper and the plug-in ReaFIR, I minimally manipulated the sound, needing to strip the video of audio then return it upon the completion of editing.

I filmed a couple video walks, only one so far successfully uploaded to youtube. In a more complete installation, I would have more than one QR code around campus, at the various starting locations, so that one could pick up wherever they like.

TO PARTICIPATE IN SOUND WALK:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1pRY_G-RXLjmGgfZ8FWDv-LZrILa9McRquh89y3HXYKc/edit

OR

Final project — the starry night

The starry night

The Starry Night

Artist statement

This project is an extension of the proto-project “the starry night”that I did before. This project borrows ideas from musique concrete. However, the sound is inspired by the painting “starry night”. In my project, I also thought of using image as inspiration. I searched for sounds that appeared in the painting, such as sound from household, sound of natural field and sound of star. I also found a song that is named “the starry night”. Apart from that, I also recorded different pronunciations of star in different language.

Process

I started from distorting the cutting up the song “the atarry night”, later adding other different sound effects

Here is a documentation of the source material I found.

sound source

Here is a documentation of the Reaper file of this project:

屏幕快照 2014-12-19 下午12.50.32

Here is a link to the sample sound I made.

starry night

We Who Believe in Freedom

https://ellawilliamssoundart.bandcamp.com/album/we-who-believe-in-freedom

For this project, I wanted to focus on both the Spoken Word segment and Sound and Narrative segment of Sonic Cinematic.

In going into the project, I wanted to use techniques from the class but create a project that had a lot of thematic depth and meaning, as well as emoitonal impact on the audience. I was inspired by recent events of injustice and wanted to create a piece to show how media can spin facts, and to pay tribute, in a way, to injustices.

The beginning of the piece consists of clips from mainly Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox, the O’Reilly Factor. I searched through videos of him to find specifically uninformed and offensive clips. I slowly layered more and more sound clips on top of each other until it was almost impossible to pick out specific words, then spliced his words together to say “we who believe in freedom cannot…”. I did this because I wanted to twist his words to echo the twisting of facts and ideas.

Then, a song comes in which is “Ella’s Song” by Sweet Honey in the Rock. This song is significant because the lyrics are taken from Ella Baker, an activist in the civil rights era. The lyrics read, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes. Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons.”

There is a moment of calm, where all that is playing is the music, and then the last half of the piece, symbolizing the other side of the story, begins. The clips I used on the second half are of a reporter arguing with Bill O’Reilly, Dorian Johnson (Michael Brown’s friend and eye witness), and Esaw Garner (Eric Garner’s wife).

This project was challenging in the sense that I watched hours of the O’Reilly Factor in order to find the words to splice into “we who believe in freedom cannot.” I hope I was able to effectively juxtapose the illogical and hateful words of the news reporters with the sadness and feelings of injustice of family and friends of two men who were murdered by police.

“Das Gift”

IMG_20141219_105026

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.

Listening to the Dining Hall

My original project, submitting for the Listening Machine portion of the course attempted to capture the crowded acoustic atmosphere of the dining hall. With this project, I have used that original source audio again, but this time instead of bombarding the listener with atmosphere, I have tried to curate parts of that audio towards a paired-down composition.

To accomplish this task, I used two parts of the original source audio to capture both the rich acoustic environment in the dining hall as well as individual conversations that occur there. For this human element, I sampled whatever parts of the environmental recordings had recognizable words or phrases. I then played these samples back alongside the original recording. However, I did not leave the original recordings unprocessed for this version of project. Instead, I used spear to select only the parts of the low frequency partials, specifically the parts below 250 Hz that I found interesting. By doing this, I created space in the recording to reintroduce otherwise unnoticeable snippets of conversation.

This method formed the basis of a soundscape that represents an inversion of the dining hall’s acoustic signature: a dark and sparse place lacking the bustle of the dining hall. Because of this method, I hope the listener will begin to recognize not only busy sound of a packed hall, but also the individual sounds and frequencies that come together in the space to create its ultimately psychoacoustic effect.