Yesterday, I performed with the Norwegian Noise Orchestra at Betong in Oslo, at a concert organised by Dans for Voksne. The orchestra is an ad-hoc group of noisy improvisers, and I immediately felt at home. The performance lasted for 12 hours, from noon to midnight, and I performed for two hours in the afternoon.
For the performance I used my Soniperforma patch based on the sonifyer technique and the Jamoma module I developed a couple of years ago (jmod.sonifyer~). The technique is based on creating a motion image from the live camera input (the webcam of my laptop in this case), and use this to draw a motiongram over time, which again is converted to sound through an “inverse FFT” process.
In the performance I experimented with how different types of video filters and effects influenced the sonic output. The end result was, in fact, quite noisy, as it should be at a noise performance.
To document my contribution, I have made a quick and dirty edit of some of the video recordings I did during the performance. Unfortunately, the audio recording of the cameras used does not do justice to the excellent noise in the venue, but it gives an impression of what was going on.
I am currently working on some extensions to my motiongram-sonifyer, and came across this beautiful little film by Norman McLaren from 1940:
The sounds heard in the film are entirely synthetic, created by drawing in the sound-track part of the film. McLaren explained this a 1951 BBC interview:
I draw a lot of little lines on the sound-track area of the 35-mm. film. Maybe 50 or 60 lines for every musical note. The number of strokesto the inch controls the pitch of the note: the more, the higher the pitch; the fewer, the lower is the pitch. The size of the stroke con- trols the loudness: a big stroke will go “boom,” a smaller stroke will give a quieter sound, and the faintest stroke will be just a little “m-m-m.” A black ink is another way of making a loud sound, a mid-gray ink will make a medium sound, and a very pale ink will make a very quiet sound. The tone quality, which is the most difficult ele- ment to control, is made by the shape of the strokes. Well-rounded forms give smooth sounds; sharper or angular forms give harder, harsher sounds. Sometimes I use a brush instead of a pen to get very soft sounds. By drawing or exposing two or more patterns on the same bit of film I can create harmony and textural effects. (From Jordan, W. E. (1953). Norman McLaren: His career and techniques. The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television, 8(1):pp. 1–14).
While preparing a lecture for the PhD students at the Norwegian Academy of Music, I came across some of the sound files I created for my MA thesis on salience in (musical) sound perception. While the content of that thesis is now mostly interesting as a historic document, I had a good time listening to the sound examples again. There are three things, in particular, that I still find interesting:
1. Duration of sound
How short sound excerpts are musically meaningful? Try, for example, these cuts from the opening of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”:
When asking people (mainly student groups), my experience is that some people actually manage to recognise the tune after only listening to the first fragment (134 ms), and a lot of people manage to recognise it after the second fragment (380 ms). This I find quite remarkable, considering how little (sonic) information is actually there. It is a great example of the fantastic capabilities of our auditory system.
2. Number of sinusoidal components
Another thing I tested in the thesis, was how timbre influences our perception of sound. To test this I created a set of examples of how a different number of sinusoidal components of a saxophone tone (played by [Sony Rollins](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonny_Rollins)) influence the perceived timbral quality:
It is first with 60 sinusoidal components present that we really get to hear all the timbral features of the sound properly, yet the tonal content (the pitch) is preserved with only a few sinusoidal components.
3. Sound thumbnailing
While the above example focused on reduction in (timbral) space, I also tested reduction of sound in the temporal space. There has been a lot of research on sound thumbnails since the time I did my experiments. I still find the idea of creating really short sonic summaries of longer musical examples fascinating. Here are my tests of creating different types of thumbnails of Ravel’s Bolero:
I have written about my making of a series of sreencasts of basic sound synthesis in puredata in an earlier blog post. The last addition to the series is the building of a patch that shows how a simple impulse response, combined with a delay, a feedback loop and a low pass filter, can be used to simulate reverberation. In fact, dependent on the settings, this patch can also be used for making phasor, flanger, chorus and echo as well. It is interesting to see how these concepts are just variations of the same thing.
The screencast is in Norwegian, but the patching is universal, so I guess it could still be interesting for non-Norwegian speakers. The patch (with some more comments and presets) can be downloaded here.
After working with music-related movements for some years, and thereby arguing that movement is an integral part of music, I tend to react when people use “music” as a synonym for either “score” or “sound”.
I certainly agree that sound is an important part of music, and that scores (if they exist) are related to both musical sound and music in general. But I do not agree that music is sound. To me, sound is one (and an important one) component of music, but not the only one. From the perspective of embodied music cognition, music is truly multimodal, meaning that all our senses and modalities are involved in performance and perception. This is not to mention all the cultural and contextual elements involved in our experience of music.
From a scientific point of view it makes sense to try to separate musical sound from all the other sensations and contextual elements, but we should not forget that the magic of music is really based on how all the components work together.