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

Indian Summer

Posted: May 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: music

No sound effects or field recordings this time, instead…a short sample of music, improvised on a sweltering fall day that inspired the track’s name.

This piece is entirely played on the guitar, obviously run through effects in places and totally unprocessed in others. Some of the many guitar tracks were also prepared with magnets on the strings, pennies stuck in the fretboard, and I think an elastic band.

You don’t have to ask: Yes, I listen to Klimek and Fennesz. :-)


[Epiphone "Les Paul"-clone guitar into MOTU 828mkII interface, recorded and processed in Apple Logic Pro]

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The Sound Design of TouchTones

Posted: March 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: interactive audio, music, sound design, synthesis

TouchTones, created by our crew Stimulant, is an interactive, multi-user, multi-touch music maker for Microsoft Surface.

Inspired by the work of Toshio Iwai and originally conceived (and entirely developed) by  the insanely talented Josh Santangelo, I led the creative direction and interaction design, and I also created all the sounds for the piece. Our goal in making TouchTones was to ensure that anyone could use it with only a few seconds of exploration, and create beautiful music without any musical training. It was all about immediacy and richness, and the sound needed to support this.

TouchTones is a grid-based music sequencer: the user sets a sprite in motion that, when passing over a grid node, makes a specific sound. Each sprite is a different instrument, moving at different speeds, but are all locked to a master tempo. There are four sprites (voices) and 32 nodes (pitches/notes).

The main challenge was placing notes on the grid. I started by composing short pieces of music that featured a lot of arpeggios of varying note durations, which mimicked how the nodes on the grid would get triggered. This helped me figure out the best note durations for certain sounds, and to establish a key to work in. Since the user is the one who creates the final melody, the only way to really stress-test the sounds and key was to prototype and have real people play with it.

The sound palette itself went through several iterations. The first featured somewhat realistic sounds with a pretty complex scale, so the likelihood of atonality was too high. The second iteration featured purely electronic sounds in a more harmonious scale, but the sounds were too aggressive (probably owing to my own past attraction towards angry music). The third and final iteration finally hit the mark: Cleaner, primarily acoustic sounds, a key that’s pleasant and even a bit wistful, and a note distribution that isn’t always linear, preventing unnatural shifts into inappropriate pitch registers. Internally, we jokingly call the final result the “indie film about autumn in Central Park” palette.

All the sounds were created in Logic Pro, primarily using the EXS24 sampler. A lot of tonal and envelope tweaking ensued. Rather than provide sound clips like I usually do, I encourage you to watch the embedded video above to get a sense of how the application feels and sounds.

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Music of the Garinagu

Posted: July 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, music
These dudes could rock. Can you spot the Zoom H2?

These dudes could rock. Can you spot the Zoom H2?

[Update: Managed to find my photo of the drummers on this track!]

Belize has a really unique history as a Central American nation. First, it’s national language is English, not Spanish, but everyone there speaks a locale Creole that makes it sonically feel a lot more like Jamaica. Second, one of its most colorful ethnic groups is the Garinagu, who were a native people who lived in the region at the time of the slave trade (it was called British Honduras at the time), who sacked the slave traders and intermarried with their “cargo.” The Garinagu’s African roots run deep, so much so that drums are their icon and totem.

We had Garinagu guides when we visited Belize, and they were nice enough to have a night of song and dance on the beach. Once again, toting along the ol’ Zoom H2 allowed me to record part of the evening’s festivities. The sound is all surf (though it sounds like white noise), sand, drums, voices, sweat, and beer. The singers were dancing around a bonfire, hence the odd stereo panning; the recorder was about 8′ behind the drummers. Truly a night to remember.


[Zoom H2, 120°-spread rear mic pair]

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Welcome to Noise Jockey.

Posted: July 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: news

I so don’t know what I’m doing. And that’s what makes it great.

The Noise Jockey

Welcome to Noise Jockey, where I, Nathan Moody, will be chronicling my journey (some would argue my “descent”) into the world of audio, field recording, music, sound effects, sound mixing, and more. I’m a digital creative professional who has skirted the world of audio for over a dozen years, and usually acts as the audio advocate of whatever visual (and usually interactive) project I’m working on.

Dabbling in field recording and sound is certainly less of a hobby or pasttime than playing or recording music, but I think it’s on the rise. The surge in online video certainly calls for more finessed approaches to sound for picture. The availability of insanely advanced audio hardware at low prices is truly ushering in a golden age of new sound gathering. Call me a semi-professional, or obsessed/advanced amateur, or a tourist, but I’m having a blast. And I figured it’s time to share, not just successes, but missteps and mishaps.

Noise Jockey will feature notes from the field, sound experiments, cool samples, stories, techniques, and music. You are hopefully interested in the same, and might find some interesting insights from a highly visual person moving towards the sonic arts.

Let’s kick things off with some silliness: Here’s a short piece I performed on a Casio Magical Sound Dial toy keyboard, multitracked in Logic Pro. The sound was captured from the keyboard’s single speaker by a complete piece of crap Shure microphone (plenty of higher-fidelity sound to come in the future, don’t worry). It’s simple, silly, and I just love the 8-bit, overdriven-speaker sound.

There is much more to come, so please stay tuned. Oh, and do feel free to also follow Noise Jockey on Twitter. Welcome!

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