Loop Reflections

Ableton Loop Music Makers Summit 10-12 November 2017, Funkhaus Berlin.

I have returned from a weekend in Berlin at a summit/conference which was both inspiring and engaging. Primarily although I haven’t been using Ableton specifically for sound editing purposes I liked the look of the speakers in the programme and it became the perfect reasoning to opt for a weekend in one of the most creative European cities on research purposes!

It’s been over 20 years since I last visited this city and I have very fond memories of being well looked after by friendly democratic East Berliners in a large squatters block. I recall the starkness of the architecture and the particularly bleak weather. In essence not a lot had changed. The industrial urban-ness of the city remained and much of it seemed to have become a large canvas for the painting of graffiti.

The Bauhaus designed Funkhaus was something else altogether. The former DDR home of German Radio broadcasting and production was both austere externally yet rich and acoustically warm internally. Totalling 50,000sq metres it’s size is impressive alone.

Ableton’s programme was diverse and impressive covering areas of music production, creative methodologies, new sound technologies, music in eduction and providing workshops, sound installations and performances there was a lot to absorb. I highlighted 3 primary sound people I wanted to listen to: Kate Gately, Catarina Barbieri and Jenny Hval.

Kate Gately. Talked in a Q&A format and showed a film of her recording sounds around the city she lived (LA). The primary interests for me in the context of my own practice was listening to how she records and then how she translates those sounds to her sound/music production.  She spoke of her internal processes and the struggle in trying to find her ‘voice’ sonically but that she built up her studio over time in way which works well for her. (i.e.: she processes sounds standing and edits sitting down in two different workstation areas within the same room). I really find this level of unravelling anthers practice useful. I can find when in the sound booth working on my own sound projects that it’s an isolating experience where I am constantly questioning what I’m doing, or researching how to achieve a particular sound effect etc. So in some sense knowing other’s who are at a professional level further on than I still ask similar questions of themselves is a form of relief…

Catarina Barbieri. Was a joy to listen to and to hear. Her words really resonated when she talked about minimalism in her intention with the modular synth music she makes. She spoke of using only single note(s) and creating patterns of permutations from that one note. She spoke of minimalism in Eastern music structures (particularly Indian classical) which struck a chord with me. She talked of how often Eastern traditions would begin by trying to tune into the sound which was already in existence as opposed to ‘creating/plucking/playing’ a sound/note from silence. It reminded me a lot of having sat in many traditional Ragas musical performances whilst travelling in India years ago and how the sound did seem to drift in and drift out without there being a particular start or end. I think I have been trying, albeit in a more basic way, by my overuse of fade in’s and fade out’s on my own pieces…!

Hearing her music played live was really special and enhanced by the huge speaker stacks of the auditorium and general high level of audio kit. The sound was very polyphonic, rich and hypnotic. From a performative perspective, they had cleverly set up a camera to access how she was using the synth and this gave an added performative dimension to a production which otherwise would have been quite still.

Jenny Hval. I listened to her in conversation with Frances Morgan (The Wire) where she spoke at length of some of her inspiration for writing and of what her creative process looks like. It was refreshing to hear her eclectic recording ideas, for instance she spoke of having ideas whilst driving, recording them into her phone and putting those spoken words straight into her music, unedited. Other aspects to note which were of interest were her performance ideas, her use of an iPhone onstage as both recording and performative tool.

 

 

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Reflections on Residency

research and residency at Casa deli Artisti, Canale di Tenno, Trentino, Italy

It’s been 4 days since the return from Italy and the MA Research Trip/Residency at Casa degli Artisti in Canale di Tenno. There is a lot to reflect upon.

Initially I really had thought I’d not be able to follow through in going. It would be the first time I’d left my daughter for that length of time and for that distance. In the months leading up to it I confess to having had several nights waking up in panic at whether it was the right thing to be doing. Yet it also felt like too good an opportunity to miss and perhaps time apart would be a healthy experience rather than an anxiety driven negative one.

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So on 22nd April I found myself sat on the plane with others from the group heading into the unknown. If I’m being totally honest it was the unknown I was craving. The stepping out of the ‘usual’ the sense of adventure, the ability to be someone else, to have some autonomy, to take a risk and most of all to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ a different place. I’d been to parts of Northern Italy previously on occasion so had some sense of what may lie ahead but never had I been up in the Dolomits or indeed on an MA trip.

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Casa degli Artisti

In advance of going I had read a little about the area. I was curious in a psychogeographic way what the place may ‘feel’ like and how far I could wander off the beaten track. I had these thoughts in mind in advance. I also had some pre-conceived idea of what kind of work I may do out there (which turned out to be quite different when there). It was tricky knowing what to take in terms of materials & equipment. As much as I wanted to record and edit sounds out there I also didn’t want the ‘burden’ of taking my heavy laptop or indeed my printing tools. So I chose the bare minimum. My Zoom recorder, a set of cow bells (more on them later), some grey & white drawing paper and a selection of 5 acrylic paint colours (white, bronze, silver, purple & blue) & some pre-prepared cyanotype paper.

We arrived after a 10 hour journey on Saturday evening. It took a while to find between us and the coach driver who had never been to the house before. It involved leaving the coach in one of the lay-bys and walking up cobbles with noisy suitcases late at night. The place seemed deserted, there was no sign of life. Inside Bianca & Fabio, researchers at University of Trento greeted us (with they 13 month old baby). Everyone was fairly beat by then but a few of us went to have a sneak peak of the house and the exhibition space.

It was old. The next morning we met Manola & Juri who run the Dolomit Learning team and gave us a sense of the area’s history. It was with them we would potentially spend the next two days getting a feel of the place and going down to Riva del Garda on the shores of the Lake. At this stage I’d begun to play with some of the Cyanotype paper with remants used from the garden. I’d figured it was the only sunny day forecast and needed to make the most of it.

 

I hadn’t yet had a really clear goal in mind except I wanted to explore Lago di Tenno, a glacial lake higher up fro the house. We went as a group that afternoon and it was far less remote than I had envisaged. It was disappointingly quite touristy and accessible. For some reason I had in my mind a sense of needing to scramble through the wilds to get there but it turns out there was a path and a coffee stand next to it. The water was a stunning colour though – turquoise. And the sounds of what it turns out we think were crickets was overriding. I went off to record some of their incessant clicks.

After a couple of days it struck me there was an inherent Tension i was feeling between wanting to be part of the group and wanting some solitude and to be on my own. This began to form the start of the working process for me. By the time I got to Tuesday I was in need of retreat and passéd out on going to the 2nd of the tours, instead choosing to stay at the Casa and work/walk/wander. Two others stayed and did their own version of retreat. It was also the day I really felt I was missing my daughter and began to muse on what and how do we keep connected when far away. In the situation of working with the group I also began to reflect on relationship dynamics. How we work alongside each other, what each other’s personalities were. Some of this internal dialogue began being reflected in the stories of the area Manola & Juri had told us of the people in the region. The conflict and the understanding of those who lived in the Alpine regions alongside those who lived at a lower level nearer the Lake.

During all of these days I was picking up snippets of sound recordings. Of general village atmospheres, of water in the lake, of yachts, of church bells (which chimed every hour), of mountain sheep & goats, of local dogs, of conversations, of night time acoustics in the stone walls and tunnels. It was this inter connectedness of sound and form which formed the basis of the installation I chose to do for the final show day.

In the garden I’d found many larger stones, some of which I’d used to hold down the cyanotypes earlier. They seemed perfect to use for their symbol of stability and for the fact that everywhere are stone patterns and the entire village is in itself a homage to building in stone. Everywhere I walked was on a myriad of stone patterns, all the walls were made using stone formations. So I chose to begin painting these stones with symbolic forms representing connection and relationship. Alongside this I began drawing out sections of the stone walls and the ‘spaces in-between’ as a metaphor for our interconnectedness. I was going through a kind of stripping back, of deconstruction, of simplifying thoughts to their most purest form.

Ever action felt very intention and not wasted. The rubbings of white chalk on grey paper over the stones was in itself a small meditation on the animals who walked into the lower part of the house to feed. The hung cowbells on the wall was a symbolic gesture to the co-existing relationship between human and animal. The painted stones left exhibited on stone stairs against a white wall were intended to be a symbolic gesture of how we move through & around our own human relationships. The water in a bowl from Lake Tenno was a reminder of how we rely on water for our survival. The sounds playing directly from the recorder were a way of sonically tying these relational aspects together.

What struck me most about all of the time I spent here was that for the first time I have brought an emotional content into my work. I think it is what I have wanted to do for some time but never felt at ease doing so. It was in essence only by going away, by leaving home that I found some kind of voice to be able to do that. Posting this content out and even having to talk about it to the exhibition guests felt like an extremely vulnerable place to be yet almost a necessary place.

Now back home I am hoping I can tune into that voice I found to continue to weave it through my future work in Studio Practice and indeed through the remaining MA and beyond.

 

 

Microphone Placement

This week has been an exercise in finding the optimum area for placing the contact mic I bought a few weeks ago. So what I wanted to record was an old Tibetan singing bowl I’ve had for years which sounds incredible and multi tonal. I wondered what levels of sound vibration a contact mic would pick up?

I initially attached the mic to the side of the bowl just under the rim and immediately discovered it deadened the sound and there was no vibration at all. I moved it in different places all around the bowl and thought I’d been defeated in that quest until I tried attaching the mic to the underneath part. This seemed to work if I used the wooden baton to make the sound on the rim of the bowl. I almost had to hold the bowl at a slight angle to prevent the mic from stopping the sound waves again, but it worked and I recorded a couple of minutes of sound to build upon.

What I wanted to know was the difference in sound quality between recording a singing bowl with a contact mic and then using a surround sound mic function on my Zoom recorder. So both tests have now been recorded and I’m aiming to transfer them into Cubase and listen/edit…

Reflections – Prof Context 1

It’s the evening of the first day of presentations and a good time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t and what to learn from the experience. This first presentation I situated myself in past and current work. I expressed where I’d been creatively and what took me further along the creative route. I perhaps spoke too long about my own work instead of contextualising it further. Although in essence I have been in a commercial sales environment and operated like a small business and so my contextual reference points were enterprise related and not theoretical in nature.

It is though an area I need to begin working on. Perhaps I have too many theoretical ideas to bring in. It certainly feels like there are many strands of research material to investigate and I need to work through these to see which areas feel the most comfortable. At this point in time it is relevant to note that moving into the area of sound and recording is a new area for me and so brings with it extra challenges of not being an expert in the field, of not knowing yet what is currently being produced or what the latest areas of research are. Yet one essence of interest remains the same and has always been there and that is ‘effect’. What effect do sound & visual environments have upon us as humans? How can we better understand ‘us’ in the context of life?

The other point worth noting is my response to nerves. In the morning I knew there was some slight anxiety levels lying dormant yet they didn’t fully surface until my name was called and I was walking towards the front of the room. I remember those nerves so well, like a very uncomfortable familiar old foe. It’s to do with performance and being ‘seen’. It’s deeply uncomfortable. The only time I’ve ever really worked through these feelings was in the final performance of a week’s singing school several years ago when half way through a song I realised I had the power to communicate and engage the audience so that it became a two way connection. It was a powerful feeling and in that small moment all nerves dissolved. That is the essence of what I am aiming for in presentation two. I guess as it was noted today, that some of my work ideas touch on deep themes and suggest a certain vulnerability in myself also and hence the feeling of exposure when trying to talk about this to a group of people I’ve only just met.

Yet authenticity is what I greatly admire. I admire people who can do this. Be authentic and real and let themselves be seen. Most of my life has been an exercise in hiding myself away. Maybe this Master’s course is about to change all of that.