Jello Pizza

At first, I intended to create a series of short compositions that all challenged listening perspective. I wanted my compositions to convey drastically different feelings and messages depending on which aspects of the sounds people focused on. At some point during the composition of my first piece, I got completely lost in vocal loops I had layered and started building the composition based on what felt right to me. The resulting piece did not fit my original project proposal’s scope of challenging perspective, but I really liked what I had created so I decided to abandon ship and follow this new path, whatever it may be.

With my initial project proposal, I wanted to create 5 pieces to accompany my Sonic Cinematic project “It Gets Better”. Here are the ideas I jotted down in my notebook:

1) Catatonic Weasel: record the “Pop Goes the Weasel” tune and leave out the oh-so-satisfying ending

2) Who’s Your Daddy: it would be a real trip to hear a sea of voices asking “Who’s Your Daddy”; if you ever hear that phrase it’s usually in a movie, from a boy, and from never more than one person

3) Find Your Eternity In Each Moment: i asked a peer in my English class what one of his favorite sayings/quotes was, and he rattled off the Thoreau quote “find your eternity in each moment” so I figured I’d record that and really mess with it

4) Crush: having a crush sucks because you can’t get the person out of your head and it’s supposed to be exciting young love but really it’s supremely annoying; I’m gonna record someone saying “I love you” and make it sound like how it would feel to be bombarded for hours by toddles hopped up on too much sugar, cocaine, and caffeine

5) Ticking Clock of Doom: clock ticking at varied intervals

I ended up pursuing everything except for the Crush idea, partially because I was overly ambitious in trying to create 4 pieces that all worked together given my time frame, and partially because I didn’t want to subject myself to the agonizing process of making something that is intentionally aggravating. My final English paper was giving me enough stress as it was.

Simplicity became one of my guiding principles. I liked what I had created with “It Gets Better,” but I was tired of working with highly processed sounds. I sought to keep my vocal recordings relatively untouched and to only use a few different sounds throughout all my compositions; I feel like I definitely accomplished this goal. A couple key strategies helped me keep different sounds to a minimum. First of all, I took an inadvertent tick from one of my vocal recordings that I thought sounded like a ticking clock and put it in the background at irregular intervals. This instilled a lot of anxiety and discomfort across most of the project and also allowed me to skew perceptions of time by slowly lengthening or shortening the average time between ticks. Secondly, I used phasing–a technique inspired by Steve Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain”–in my “Who’s Your Daddy” segment. I think this is my favorite moment in my composition because it seems to profoundly bother everybody who has listened to my project. Not that I sadistically enjoy their discomfort, but because it evokes strong reactions.  Most people don’t have a good sense of what is happening, which I think is part of the reason they are so thrown off. After messing around in Spear with one particular clip of “who’s your daddy,” the timbre that I had created strongly resonated with me. I knew that If I wanted to try my hand at phasing, this had to be the one because the tone and texture were so rich, I could only imagine what some chaotic phasing would produce.

Playing my composition through loudspeakers in a large, stuffed classroom is not how I’d ideally like my project to be presented. Rather, I’d like to invite people who are in the comfort of their own home to turn off their lights, close their eyes, and listen to my project through headphones. I think the juxtaposition of a comforting and safe room and the neurotic trance of my project will add another layer of confusion and disorientation to the experience. I titled my composition “Jello Pizza” because it  blends something standard (pizza) with something a little funky (jello) to form something truly bizarre and unsettling. I also didn’t want to think too hard trying to name the project. Since the sounds seemed to just come to me, I felt the title should do the same.

If I tried to mine some kind of “deeper meaning” or social implication from my project, it would feel disingenuous. My final project is a reflection of the sounds and textures that resonated with me the most, albeit on a rather strange and demented level. Before starting my project, I had been listening to a lot of Ryoji Ikeda; he inspires me to contrast a range of sonic textures and to use the full soundstage. I learned that flexibility with my message and artistic expression can be extremely rewarding because it took me down paths that I didn’t realize existed. In a way, this idea of flexibility and discovery is exactly what my original project proposal promised to explore. I don’t really believe, though, that some unconscious force wanted me to achieve my project on a meta level. Instead, I think I simply work best when I allow myself room to freely probe the realm of sound art. Plus, that free explorations is way more fun.

I’d like to especially thank Ella Williams, Justin Leuba, Donna Fintzi, Henry Fisher, Dave Kreis, and Maya Elliot for allowing me to record their lovely voices.


The Giver Revisited, Revised.

The Giver Revisited, Revised.

Kate Strain

My original project worked with the fleeting nature a section of the text, The Giver. In the specific passage, the protagonist, Jonas, realizes that he can see in color while the rest of his community can see in black and white. In my original project, I focused on the fleeting nature of this change through the musicality of language. Using different languages for the section of text that describes when he sees in color instead black and white brought a new level to the musicality of the text. In my final project, I used the audio from my proto-project and a couple additional recordings of the same text. I attempted to begin the audio focusing on the sounds, then by the end, focusing on the language. At approximately 10 seconds into the piece, I hinted at the theme of the language, but moved back into sounds. I had a difficult time disconnecting the meaning and words from the sound. To do so initially, I began by putting soundwaves that looked similar together. This allowed for the different languages to be next to one another without realizing they are different languages. I found that repeating one sound while multiple times created a interesting echoing effect musically. I found that cutting words in half created another interesting effect that focused on the musicality of the sounds. Overall, this project challenged my creativity, as I did not believe I was musically talented. I found that by playing with the sounds and by creating the sound to language form helped put my piece together.

Stressful Stimulation: A Sonic Exercise in Memory and Attention

The title of my video makes this final project sound like a game, and that is certainly one way of approaching my topic. However, I originally set out to convey the intense anxiety that can result from cluttered, confusing or overstimulating environments. Not to be taken lightly (There are whole books written about this stuff!), harmful soundscapes can definitely affect the way a person interacts with a space, my example here being Grinnell College’s main dining hall. In this way, I think it would be good to view my video as a test for the listener, to see whether I succeed in simulating anxiety using various techniques. I would also prefer that the viewer pay attention to the relationship between familiar, unfamiliar, and distracting sounds as the video progresses. I am telling more than just one story with this project, and sometimes as many as three stories at once.

Process: I took sound samples from the dining hall, interviewed random students about violent things that have happened to them and asked them to recount the sounds they heard when it happened, simulated some sounds by myself, and took a video recording of myself telling a story using sonic and visual vocabulary.

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 2.15.13 PM Here is an example of my work in CS6.

I combined these elements to create a video that hopefully tells more than one story, and elicits more than just a few emotions:

Here is my final video. (6 mins 20 seconds)

film still: Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 8.38.54 PM

There are three main ideas that guided my work, and I attempted to synthesize them all in one video. I can’t yet tell if I succeeded, but here they are:

1. Getting to the bottom of why certain places on Grinnell campus are stressful as hell. In my proposal, I discussed this as the biggest idea behind my project: “…examining a key element of that anxiety: noise-related stress brought on by lack of control over our soundscapes here on campus. Taking a closer look at how we are masters and slaves of our sonic surroundings may help us pay attention to alternate sources (and solutions) to anxiety. One key area on campus that may be a source of tension is the dining hall.” So there you have it.

2. I was deeply inspired by the relationship between sound and memory, as introduced in our proto-project “sonic cinematic.” Part of this project hearkens back to my project for that unit, when I interviewed various students about sounds they remember from their childhood or hometown.

3. I wanted to find a way to tell stories that need to be heard in non-conventional ways. I have the most difficulty articulating this concept, out of all of them, because it relies on the premise that it cannot be explained with words. We tell stories to one another all the time, but what moved me was my tangential involvement with the Title IX activism and protests that began in October. I talked to so many different people about it (for journalism, friendship, and alliance) that it became in my head a long series of legalese, gossip and speculation. It was an enormous headache swimming in the words “talking about,” “heard” and “said.” So much of it was emotional that I began to wonder if stories would be more powerful if we used other senses to convey them. I set off on a quest to tell stories using auditory cues, e.g. talking about an event based on the senses we experienced at the time.

Additional themes:

Soundscape studies and listening walks. I found that these two items were the most influential on my experience of sound art in general, so I wanted to be part of a further examination of the details governing our daily sound walks (walking from place to place counts, whether or not we listen along the way). Since my first introduction to this idea, I have gradually become more attuned to my surroundings, and I want to convey that consciousness in this project.

Last, I realized as I was working on this video that I could have easily narrated it using my dining hall recordings as foley art. I intentionally shunned this idea because I was consciously avoiding combining sounds that made any sense. A key component in environmental anxiety (adrenaline and frustration) is confusion, so I wanted to make my video as confusing as possible while still making sense.

Unexpectedly, I ended up creating somewhat of an animal rights piece along the way. But that’s an unintended result that I am perfectly okay with keeping.

tl;dr Emotions are important when recounting experiences, so I wanted to tell a story that combined different emotive properties while attempting to simulate the sometimes anxiety-inducing soundscape in the dining hall. Listen for distractions, emotions, sonic cues and frustrating things. If you get bored, confused or annoyed with the video, that’s sort of the point but pay attention anyway.


For this project, I wanted to revisit my Sonic Cinematic proto-project (Does Jonah Dream of Electric Whales?), for a couple of reasons. First of all, I thought the idea of telling biblical stories through sound art/noise music seemed like something that could obviously be expanded upon pretty easily, and I also really liked being able to connect my sound art with religious studies. Because this is my final project, I wanted to take on a somewhat longer and perhaps heavier story. I decided to try Genesis—not the whole book, but the first seven days of creation (arguably one of two stories of creation, the other being the whole Garden of Eden thing).

There are a few major differences between this project and my Jonah project. For one thing, I decided (at Abby’s suggestion) not to record any English text. I’ve been learning Hebrew for the past several weeks, and I’m at the point now where I can read it (of course, I can’t understand it yet, but that’s okay). I recorded what I thought were the most important bones, as it were, of the story, even though I know that most people—myself included—wouldn’t be able to understand it anyway. The goal was to get as much of the essence of the story across as possible. I just felt that I had to include the bare bones of the story in Hebrew, for the principle of the thing, I suppose. A big problem I ran into was with the material other than the spoken words. For my Jonah project, I used electric guitar recordings I had made, edited in Spear and Reaper (inspired by Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music). However, with Electrogenesis, I soon found that the guitar recordings I had just weren’t going to produce enough material. I consulted with Abby and decided to use some sounds from Freesound as well, but with a common theme: they’re all industrial sounds. I thought that, from an artistic standpoint, this would mesh with the few guitar recordings I used, and it also subverts the innately organic nature of the creation of the world. I tried to be intentional with every industrial sound I used, and that ended up taking a rather dark turn, in some ways. At one point, for example, I used air raid sirens. They were edited pretty much beyond recognition in Spear and Reaper, but again, I suppose, it’s the principle of the thing. At the point in the sequence when humans are created, I used several different noises, including heavily processed fire and explosion sounds, creating the most cacophonous part of the piece as a whole.

The beginning of the piece was difficult to put together. I did a small introduction, partially in English, because it seemed necessary. I recorded most of the vocals in a pretty bare-bones way, expecting that they would be heavily processed/edited later on. (Originally, I wanted to get at least one other person to help me with the vocals, but considering what time of the year it was, I decided not to ask anyone to give up more of their time.) My only real departure from this style of reading was at the moment when God says, “Let there be light,” which I recorded in a whisper. I also included a breath at the very beginning of the piece. I was inspired by a line from a poem that we read at Rabbi Rob’s Kabbalat Shabbat service every week: “We breathe in, we exhale / The still, small voice of God.”

Leaving that quote to speak for itself, let me touch on just one more vocal choice I made. Some of the filters or effects I added to the vocals may seem random, but I’d like to think I had valid reasons behind each choice. Some of the lines sound like there are multiple voices speaking. That was definitely an intentional choice with some sort of meaning behind it, although I would like to leave this somewhat open. I don’t want to project too much of what I want the piece to mean onto the audience before they listen to it. I want it to be something that people can interpret for themselves. Just a story.

A Study in Pink (Noise)

For my final project, I really wanted to try to do something that is very different from my previous works and really move beyond my comfort zone. I also wanted to interact with as many of the concepts that I learned about in the course as possible. At the end, I decided that I wanted to compose a “song” but the subject that would allow me to use multiple techniques proved to be difficult. The inspiration for the piece came after listening to so many pieces that they all started to become one continuous blur. At that point, as a result of frustration, I thought to myself that since everything sounds the same, why don’t I just listen to everything. Then, I spent about 49 minutes listening to pink noise.

Even though it was a joke that I placed upon myself, it turn out to be a much more valuable experience than I thought it would be. Shortly turning on the pink noise generator, I also started a recording of myself so I can, more or less, note down what I was feeling without moving myself too much. The piece is my attempt at describing my experience of listening to just pure noise using foley, a recorded electric guitar melody, “prepared guitar” where I used a knife to make scratches and pops on the guitar.

At the start, there was a sense of chaos, a feeling of being overwhelmed, that there were too many things going on at the same time. The feeling was expressed with a low rumble that persisted for the majority of the piece. The background chatter was used to express the looming pink noise but I chose to use chatter because after a while, I started to tune out to the sound much like background chatter in real life. The guitar line that was present throughout to illustrate the thoughts that entered my head, they were usually short ideas that were quick to fade. At times, I would try to hold onto them, but they would eventually slip away partly because I didn’t want anything to stay in my mind during the process. It was very much a meditation. A little over halfway through the piece, there was a “quiet” section. In this section, I muted the low rumble and raised the volume of the “prepared guitar” track (which was actually present since the beginning). At this point during the listening session, I became very conscious of all the little movements of myself and I felt that the prepared guitar was the perfect way to express it.

For me, the project was quite an experience both in terms of development and execution. I found that, after this project, I feel significantly more receptive towards noise, discordance, and silence that I ever was. Even though the featured guitar track was very much constructed traditionally, I felt that the scratches, pops, and fuzzes from the prepared guitar was absolutely essential to the piece. The final project was a way for me to really move beyond my comfort zone since the majority of my work in the class was very studio-like in the process, where recordings were very clean. While the components of the piece were still very deliberate, I feel that it is a good step for me to move beyond my current frame of thinking and approach towards sound.

Hearing Herrick

Hearing Herrick
Kate Strain, Gabe Singer, Ty Battle, Emily Hughes

Our project had each member of the class pick up a pamphlet that outlined two different routes through Herrick Chapel and two different sounds. We mapped out 12 individual routes that took 2 minutes to walk through. The sounds also were 2 minutes long. We wanted to create a soundwalk where our audience would listen to the environment but also listen to the sounds we gave them. By using smart phones without headphones, they were able to listen to the environment while listening to the given sounds. The sounds of the space included, walking up the steps, walking across the stage, and sliding across the benches. We wanted people to reflect on the intersection of their sounds with other peoples’ sounds and how they came together to make something unique from many independently unique sounds. Additionally, we wanted each person to reflect on the way their own sounds change in the spaces they walk through and how it contributed to the space as a whole.

Herrick is used for speeches, church services, and performances. Our sounds reflected these uses and the many facets of the church. The musical notes were representative of a choir, instrumental music, and other performances. Audio tracks of parts of speeches represented the use of the space to gather people to listen to a speaker. Audio of sermons reflects the use of Herrick as a church and safe place for the practice of religion. We used instrumental clips from the Philharmonia Orchestra website. We were highly inspired by Janet Cardiff’s video walk, but altered the idea to make it our own by instructing the audience with a pamphlet detailing directions.

Our projects was successful with only a few unexpected technical difficulties. Even though the QR codes had been tested in advance, a few did not work during the crit. Additionally, some people did not quite follow the directions and began their second route once they finished their first route. Using phone speakers worked well because phones are highly portable and the space amplified the sounds very well. The interactions of sounds in the execution of our project with our class worked incredibly well, especially considering that the class had been able to grasp the premise of the project. As a peer stated, the sounds interactive infrequently enough that when students walked past each other, they got a lot out of the ephemeral moment. They got to experience a diversified field of sound all resonating and changing throughout the environment.

The Human Experiment (2)

Here is the soundscape our group used for our Greenhouse installation. The soundscape has three basic sections that reflect the moods our performance tried to achieve.

1) Alien/ephemeral noises that fade in and out, often hovering at the threshold of hearing and blending in with the ambient “whooshing” backtrack. Brief piano melodies also emerge to recall the muzak that was playing in the hallway at the beginning of the performance. Confusion and paranoia ensue.

2) Mechanized/Factory sounds hint at the uniform and methodical way we treat each subject.

3) Computerized/Processed sounds emerge as we start measuring subjects and collect data.

The Human Experiment

Tess, Ric, Sam, Ella and Rosie used the Noyce Greenhouse to set up an environment reminiscent of an experimentation lab. Our main goal was to make the humans in the space feel as alienated and tested as the plants in the greenhouse would if they were sentient. Do do this, we separated each participant and conducted odd tests with noise-making devices on each person while a manufactured soundscape played in the background, along with the greenhouse fan’s ambient noise. IMG_1338 IMG_1334 IMG_1324 IMG_1321 IMG_1317 Ric setting up the Reaper file we made for the background noises.

Darkest Commander

O. Queathem  |  K. Baumgartner  |  E. Marek  |  Y. Wang  |  K. Bougher The Faulconer Gallery exhibition “Dark Commander: The Art of John Scott” is dark and somewhat disturbing. Our project uses noise music to reflect and enhance the tone of Scott’s work. We divided the gallery into five sections, and each section of the gallery has a unique interactive background of noise music playing. The interactive element is achieved with the use of a tailored QLab workspace for each gallery section: each workspace features a collection of continuous background noise, as well as other “accent” noise cues that we trigger live, based on how people are moving around that section of the gallery, how many people there are, etc. People can move around in whatever order they choose, linger, skip around—do whatever they want–and the noise music will follow and react to them. They interact with the exhibit in ways that affect the overall composition of the noise music.

The sounds we chose to use were inspired by Scott’s hard-edged work, featuring many abrasive, mechanical, and turbulent noises throughout the installation. Limited “playful” and “ethereal” accents were used where Scott’s work deviated and contrasted with overt harshness, particularly in the area featuring bunnies (playful/innocent) and the area featuring sky and water (cleansing/release).

^This video clip^ shows one of our group members touring the entire exhibit

^This video clip^ shows only three sections (we had some spatial recording limitations for the live presentation) as the class explored the exhibit.

*It should be noted that one of our group members was unable to attend the presentation, so one section of the noise music was not interactive. You can listen to a fixed version that section here.

The starry night

Sound Art 202-02

The Starry Night

Artist statement

This project aims at exploring principles of musique concrete, treating music as an object and focusing on the features of sound. In my project, I also thought of using image as inspiration. I chose the painting “the starry night” and made that the theme of the music piece. 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.


After gathering source material for the project, I imported those materials into reaper, cutting a larger sound piece into smaller pieces, adjusting volume of the sounds and applying different effects on the sound.

Here is a documentation of the source material I found.

sound source

sound source

Here is a link to the sample sound I made.

starry night

starry night

Next step on the project

I would play more with potential rhythm and beat this piece more. I would also focus more on making interesting distortions of sound. I has an idea of making the noise sound really low and compose them in a way that they sound like drum beats.