A multi-disciplinary designer’s journey in field recording, sound design, and music.

Deer Antlers as Instrument

Posted: December 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, music, sound design

aantlers

Most years I host a “white elephant” party: Bring gifts you were given that are pretty bad, re-wrap them, and then you pick from the pile and laugh at the bizarre stuff you unwrap. Last year, I wound up with a pair of deer antlers.

I don’t hunt, yet I have a thing for taxidermy. I have no idea why.

As they sat in my studio, I thought back to an interview I did with Cheryl Leonard for the Sonic Terrain blog a few years ago. I remember her making instruments from limpet shells and other organic objects. Why was I not exploring the sonic possibilities of this strange object on my shelf?

Deer antlers are bone, not hair, so they are riddled with hollow channels, and are extremely tough. The main thing I tried was to explore their resonance, with a cello bow. I had to lay a good amount of rosin on the bow, but they did resonate. The sound is hissy, atonal, but with some pronounced fundamentals and overtones…just not in relationships that one usually considers musical. I used a Barcus Berry 4000 contact microphone and recorded onto a Sound Devices 702 field recorder.

When I hear an interesting sustained sound with too many frequencies, or odd frequency relationships, I usually go to one place to create something musical out of it: iZotope Iris. It’s a very creative tool for making playable virtual instruments out of pretty much any sound. In this case I also used New Sonic Arts’ Granite granular synthesis plugin for several layers. It all sounded very breath-y, like a somewhat melodic whisper. I mixed it with some LFO-driven rhythms in Reason and a bassline and drone from Madrona Labs’ Aalto. It was all put together in Logic Pro X with very few effects, lightly compressed by Cytomic’s The Glue.

Deer antlers, even processed through modern software, aren’t the most flexible or sonically soothing instruments around, but this article can at least serve as a reminder to explore everything around us for its interesting sonic possibilities. You never know what you’ll find.

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Angrient!

Posted: October 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: gear, music, sound design, synthesis
angrient2

Hand-built for drone-y aggression.

I love handmade soundmaking devices, but outside of my beloved Grendel Drone Commander, a lot of the weird noise boxes and effects I have are, well, noisy. They tend to be aggressive, loud, and blippy. Some accept MIDI, some accept CV, some accept no sync signal at all.

One evening I wondered if I could coax them into some semblance of ambient drones, to loosen myself up and not record to a fixed tempo, and to not get too “precious” with editing in post. Somehow the angry nature of these devices just seems to bleed through anyway. Or is that my angry nature?

So, the result of this cathartic experiment was “angry ambient.” Or, angrient.

angrient1

This track features the following:

  • All takes recorded live into Logic Pro X: No sync to anything, no MIDI, no CV.
  • One track of a Bleep Labs Nebulophone, with its alligator clip clamped onto a key for a sustained drone, recorded through a Red Panda Particle pedal set to Reverse, both tweaked live. The dry and effected track were tracked simultaneously.
  • Another droned Nebulophone track went through the Particle set to Delay, and then through a Seppuku Memory Loss pedal, with its clean microchip inserted, all three tweaked live. The dry and effected track were tracked simultaneously.
  • One track of the RareWaves Grendel Drone Commander, recorded 100% dry. That thing needs no love, especially when its bandpass filters gets overdriven at low frequencies. Yummy.
  • One track of the Bleep Labs Bleep Drum, played live in Noise mode, but then run through Glitchmachines’ Fracture plugin first, and the Michael Norris Spectral Partial Glide filter. That’s what generates the bright, granulated shimmers. These are the only digital effects plugins on any channel.
  • Volume automation was done in one pass, “live.”
  • The whole thing is run through U-He’s Satin tape emulator plugin for some additional harmonics and mid-high sweetening.

It is what it is.

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Prepared Guitar

Posted: September 25th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: music, sound design
Les Paul clone, eBow, and chopsticks on a foggy Saturday morning.

Les Paul clone, eBow, and chopsticks on a foggy Saturday morning.

This spring I rediscovered the guitar, first as a compositional tool – my music’s texture is so different when I start with the guitar and not keyboards – and soon thereafter as a tool for sound design. I started getting back into prepared guitar and extended playing techniques, and rekindled my love for vibrating steel.

In fact, the more I did it, the fewer processors and effects I used. It was weird enough already. And I like weird. It led me on a whole summer-long journey into music, as opposed to field recording or sound design, often on the cinematic tip. This fall I may share some more results of this summer’s studio musicfest.

preparedGtr2

Steel is real.

Today’s sound is more drone than music, though. It’s from a live improvisation session featuring my old Epiphone Les Paul clone, an eBow, and two chopsticks stuck in the strings at the 12th fret.I also took some small alligator clips, clipped them to some strings, and flicked them against nearby strings for some filigree panned to the left and right.

No effects were used (distortion is just from the preamp) except some cutting with a low shelf EQ and a slight, broad EQ lift around 2KHz; no compression, either. The whole session has been only slightly edited in post.

Headphones and a dim room recommended.

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Drones in Questionable Places

Posted: October 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, sound design

Yes, I recorded audio in a bathroom. Draw what conclusions you like, you twisted little Intarweb Monkeys!

Sometimes, you need to record in embarrassing places to get the good stuff. A recent example for me was in a bathroom of a local supermarket.

Longtime readers and listeners to Noise Jockey know my obsession with cool drones. This one was an ancient, badly-needing-to-be-cleaned ventilation fan. It was really not that large, but it made this intense, deep thrumming sound that just had to be recorded. Luckily, no one came in while my recorder was rolling, presenting at best a challenging set of questions I’d have to answer…

[Note: This will be the last post you'll see on Noise Jockey using my battered and worn Zoom H2 Handy Recorder. It's been replaced with the Sony PCM-D50, which you'll be hearing more of this fall and winter! When the card and battery tray doors break off, and you've dented the mic grilles, and you've dropped it two dozen times, and its recording settings won't stick between sessions, it's time to just let go and upgrade...]


[Zoom H2 field recorder]

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Satan’s Violin Lesson

Posted: July 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design

Noise Jockey: Taking the "E" out of "e-bow."

Almost exactly one year ago, I played a steel cable on a gate with an eBow, recorded with contact microphones. I decided to give it a go with a regular bow when I realized that this gate was basically a one-stringed guitar.

Think about it: Wound metal string under tension, wooden resonator. That’s all a guitar really is. What a wooden gate lacks is thickness, like a guitar, but at more than a meter in width and height, that’s a broad-enough surface to send air molecules running for cover.

I had to rosin the hell out of the bow to make it tacky enough to grip this oversized “string.” I found that also spreading rosin on the wrapped steel cable was helpful. I tuned the cable, as much as one can, by adjusting a turnbuckle.

I recorded in mid-side stereo. Today’s sample features is comprised of one mono track totally dry, one mono track run through Michael Norris’ Spectral Blurring effect, one mono track pitch-shifted down by 1.5 octaves, and the one stereo track pitch-shifted down by three octaves. Recording at 192Hz helps for such tomfoolery.

I apologize to my neighbhors for the unholy racket that I’m sure they thought was a demonic violin 101 class.

[Sennheiser MKH 50 and MKH 30 recorded as mid-side stereo into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Hyperhopper

Posted: June 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design

Sunshine on his shoulder makes him jumpy...

No sound designer can resist sound-making objects, so I did some recent damage at ThinkGeek for some small, inexpensive musical items…but then I noticed the robots.

Sadly,  buying a spendy mechanical robot arm just to record servo sounds seemed like a horrible investment. I learned this lesson last year. ;-)

However, I did get a tiny solar-powered grasshopper kit. An offset actuator in its abdomen makes the whole thing vibrate on tiny wire legs when it’s solar-cell carapace is hit with sunlight or a strong halogen source.

Of course, that would sound tiny and delicate. Which is OK. But how to make that sound bigger? Well, you put it on something that will resonate: Something with air around it that will conduct vibrations easily. (I’ve had loud, racous luck with this before.)

Being a hot, sunny Sunday, I chose the top of my closed Weber grill. I tested the sound with contact mics, but the steel was too thick. Truly, and unusually, where my ears were – close to the top of the grill – was where the best sound was. I switched to a hypercardioid mic in a windscreen, and captured today’s sound.

To accentuate the lovely low-mid resonant tones, I applied a huge -24dB cut at 5.5kHz , where the metallic feet where vibrating against the grill (I still wanted a tiny hint of chatter  in there), tand a +9dB boost at 180Hz. Could make for a nice layer with some other design elements.


[Sennheiser MKH 50 into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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New Zealand: Engines of the M.V. Tutoko

Posted: February 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design
The smokestacks of the M.V. Tutoko, motoring towards the sea on Doubtful Sound, Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand.

The smokestacks of the M.V. Tutoko, motoring towards the sea on Doubtful Sound, Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand.

I went on an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound on the M. V. Tutoko. Her diesel engines made a throbbing hum that I found enveloping, comforting, and even calming. I headed to the upper deck and recorded her at the exhaust stacks. It took a little EQ to get rid of the splashing water alongside, but this recording should give you a nice sense of the unique timbre and rhythm. Easily looped, this could absolutely make a cool vehicle sound (with granulation and dopplering), or a unique interior thrumming for a vehicle or mechanical interior.

MvTutoko by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder]

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