The Japanese Sound Culture

Interesting notes from an article written by Tadahiko Imada.
“The decision of whether some sounds are regarded as music or not rests with the cultural background of the listener. In other words, cultures do not share the same methods of listening; there are as many ways of listening as there are cultures and ears. I am going to introduce the Japanese sound culture and its heritage.
It is very difficult to explain the Japanese musical sensations in Genji Monogatari using English. It seems the ancient Japanese people considered various sounds as the total ‘scenery,’ and being more imaginative than us, there was no border between sound and music in the ancient Japanese sound culture. The Japanese people regarded sound as an abstract image rather than as a pragmatic acoustic event, like the sound of the bloom of a lotus flower and suikinkutsu, for instance. The concept of sound was extended from the real sound of an instrument to sounds of a variety of phenomena in the ancient Japanese culture.”
Japanese Sound Culture

Pioneers of Electronic Music: The Barrons

Amazing sounds coming from husband-and-wife electronic music pioneering team of Louis and Bebe Barron. The clips from Forbidden Planet on the NPR site are fantastic.
barrons300.jpg“The 1956 sci-fi thriller Forbidden Planet was the first major motion picture to feature an all-electronic film score — a soundtrack that predated synthesizers and samplers. It was like nothing the audience had seen — or heard. The composers were two little-known and little-appreciated pioneers in the field of electronic music, Louis and Bebe Barron.
Married in 1947, the Barrons received a tape recorder as a wedding gift. They used it to record friends and parties, and later opened one of the first private sound studios in America. The 1948 book Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, by MIT mathematician Norbert Wiener, inspired Louis Barron to build electronic circuits, which he manipulated to generate sounds. Bebe’s job was to sort through hours and hours of tape. Together they manipulated the sounds to create an otherworldly auditory experience.”
NPR : The Barrons: Forgotten Pioneers of Electronic Music

Hearing more

“I have also learned more about the role of the brain in hearing. Because of my increased interest in sound, I actually seem to be “hearing more”. Without telling me, my brain has been automatically filtering out certain sounds. How surprising! A sound can reach your ear, but you still don’t hear! Now that I am focusing on sound, the filters are being removed.
Suddenly I’m living in a world that is much richer in sounds.”

The Sound of Personality

Just a study which indicates little but always makes for interesting reading.
“People who enjoy blues, jazz, classical and folk are more likely to be creative, open to new experiences and enjoy abstract ideas. They often lean politically to the left. Rentfrow found those who liked pop, country and religious music tend to be more extroverted, trusting of others and hard working. They are often more practical and lean politically to the right.
People who prefer alternative music, rock and heavy metal are inclined to be physically active and adventurous. Dance and hip-hop fans are apt to be more outgoing, athletic and agreeable, yet they were also more likely to view themselves as being physically attractive.”
Read the little bit left I didn’t quote

Instant City

instantcity.jpg“Instant City is a music building game table. one or more players at a table can create architecture using semi-transparent building blocks and in the process make different modular compositions audible. Every performance is unique because the sequence, timing and combination possibilities are completely in the hands of the players! For each game one composition is chosen. To date, eight different musicians have each produced special compositions which serve as the basic music building kits of instant city. The repertoire and compositions can and will be continually renewed/replenished.”
It’s interesting to see the popularity of using tables and block in various forms to provide an interface to sound and music creation.
Instant City

Egg Drum Machine

Contact mics hooked up to eggs with an antique Mac LC with custom circuitry and software doing most of the work while the eggs sit around doing nothing but resonating.
egg.jpg“a distributed network of precarious egg-tapping robots. each unit, individually amplified, features a select unconventional egg. calculated sequences emerge, conducted by beautifully rendered software on a resurrected mainframe (a sweet mac LC3).”
“we seek and impart knowledge, addressing alarming practices and trends in the egg industry. by promoting social consciousness we can live better through decentralization.” (uhuh)
Egg Drum Machine


scanjam.jpg“Scanjam is a music performance system consisting of two scanners and a computer. We took advantage of the time-based nature of the scan head and mapped each scanner to one bar of music. The music is composed in two bar “modules”. Objects placed on the scanner are read and depending on their color, shape, and vertical placement, trigger sounds when the scan head passes them by. When one scanner reaches its end the next scanner begins. While the second scanner is scanning, the first scanner is “rewinding”.”
project page

Manifesto of Futurist Musicians

“I, who repudiate the title of Maestro as a stigma of mediocrity and ignorance, hereby confirm my enthusiastic adhesion to Futurism, offering to the young, the bold and the reckless these my irrevocable conclusions:

  1. To convince young composers to desert schools, conservatories and musical academies, and to consider free study as the only means of regeneration.
  2. To combat the venal and ignorant critics with assiduous contempt, liberating the public from the pernicious effects of their writings.
  3. To found with this aim in view a musical review that will be independent and resolutely opposed to the criteria of conservatory professors and to those of the debased public.
  4. To abstain from participating in any competition with the customary closed envelopes and related admission charges, denouncing all mystifications publicly, and unmasking the incompetence of juries, which are generally composed of fools and impotents.
  5. To keep at a distance from commercial or academic circles, despising them, and preferring a modest life to bountiful earnings acquired by selling art.
  6. The liberation of individual musical sensibility from all imitation or influence of the past, feeling and singing with the spirit open to the future, drawing inspiration and aesthetics from nature, through all the human and extra-human phenomena present in it. Exalting the man-symbol everlastingly renewed by the varied aspects of modern life and its infinity of intimate relationships with nature.
  7. To destroy the prejudice for

Kitundu, Sound Artist

“Kitundu is a, sound/visual artist, graphic designer, composer and instrument builder. He uses an interdisciplinary approach to develop compositions-installations-instruments that blur the boundaries between media. He has constructed elemental turntables that rely on wood, water, fire and earthquakes for their power and pitch. Kitundu is the creator of a family of Phonoharps, beautifully crafted multi-stringed instruments made from record players. He strives to reconnect the technology of new music to fundamental principles drawn from the natural world.”
The great sounds of Kitundu, Sound Artist.

Bootleg culture

Pete Rojas’ article provide a good summary of the “mash-up” or bootleg culture or remixing or whatever the hip term is now. Can’t really say I agree when he talks about how easy it is now to create music except in relation to a life time of learning a musical instrument. We still have a long way to go to allowing ‘every-man’ the opportunity to express themselves in a sophisticated way musically.

While there have been odd pairings, match-ups and remixes for decades now, and club DJs have been doing something similar during live sets, the recent explosion in the number of tracks being created and disseminated is a direct result of the dramatic increase in the power of the average home computer and the widespread use on these computers of new software programs like Acid and ProTools. Home remixing is technically incredibly easy to do, in effect turning the vast world of pop culture into source material for an endless amount of slicing and dicing by desktop producers.
So easy, in fact, that bootlegs constitute the first genre of music that truly fulfills the “anyone can do it” promises originally made by punk and, to lesser extent, electronic music. Even punk rockers had to be able write the most rudimentary of songs. With bootlegs, even that low bar for traditional musicianship and composition is obliterated. Siva Vaidhyanthan, an assistant professor of culture and communication at New York University and the author of “Copyrights and Copywrongs,” believes that what we’re seeing is the result of a democratization of creativity and the demystification of the process of authorship and creativity.
“It’s about demolishing the myth that there has to be a special class of creators, and flattening out the creative curve so we can all contribute to our creative environment,” says Vaidhyanthan.

Read the full article

Yamaha’s digital EZ trumpet

005a.jpgCourtesy of Engadget comes this bit of news, “Yamaha has come out with an electronic trumpet that lets you avoid having to do the intense cheekwork yourself, like all that buzzing and blowing that the analogue version demands. Instead, you can eiether hum into the mouthpiece and have it convert your mumblings into trumpet-sounding melodies, play using the valves, or just use some combination of the two.” Is this the answer to my dreams? Though purists will shudder with disgust I’m all for any device that eliminates any barrier to the music making process. If this can 005h.jpgconnect to my Mac via midi and is available outside of Japan than I may just be forced to buy one. Though I suppose it has to happen some day, I just hope it’s not too good. After spending over 20 years trying to play the analogue version, to have a device remove the need for years of practice is well as depressing as it is exciting.
Yamaha’s digital EZ trumpet (MYCOM PC WEB)

The lost art of meaningful mixtapes

Mixtapes and playlists are an essential part of a balanced music lifestyle. I’ve always believed that music is a contextual experience, and the slow, careful creation of a compilation can reveal deep relationships between songs. The relationships can be shallow, like putting Usher’s “Yeah!” next to Nina Sky’s “Move Your Body,” (both are recent dance songs); or deep, like Jurassic 5’s “React” next to Incubus’s “Battlestar Scralatchtica” (both feature talented turntable work by the DJs Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark).
But the real beauty behind the making and the receiving of a compilation tape is far beyond that of the songs itself. A good mixtape facilitates a wonderfully diverse type of communication, where each selected song sings its poetry within the context of a greater meaning.

Creating mix tapes was for me was an even of almost religious proportions. Long before cd’s. Long before mp3’s and the iPod we had the state of the art compact cassette. I remember using an ancient phonograph to play songs I dug and then record them through a condenser microphone to a tape player. Even before that my mother would bring home her real to real and we would splice together our own radio show.
Saturday or Sunday afternoons would be spent creating the ultimate mixes to share with friends. When “ghetto blasters” (what a horrendous term) became the norm creating mix tapes took on even greater importance as you then had the means of sharing your musical tastes on a great sounding portable. My musical listening revolved around mixes.
Somehow sharing a playlist doesn’t have the same impact as receiving a cassette in the mail that contains the efforts of an afternoon in front of the stereo.
The lost art of meaningful mixtapes – Daily Trojan – Lifestyle

Steven Poole on sound art

“The history of recorded music is a history of creating virtual spaces. Classical CD recording, for example, places you in a prime stalls seat in a nonexistent concert hall, by virtue of the way the instrumental sections are distributed in the stereo field. Much abstract sound art is interested primarily in the structure of the virtual space itself. And then there is Cardiff’s work, which projects a virtual space – the recorded sounds of a walk through Whitechapel – on to the original space from which it was modelled. You experience two realities at once. And you can begin to play this game afterwards, imagining that the apparently random street scenes around you are carefully choreographed and soundtracked to a mysterious design.
This, perhaps, is the primary value of sound art: that it encourages you to pay attention to how you listen, and to experiment with new ways of listening. I’m not going to start sitting down and listening to CDs of traffic and iron-smelting every evening, but perhaps I will take more interest in the uncontrollable sounds around me, rather than blocking them out as unwanted noise. If nothing else, it makes waiting for a bus less boring”
Read article

The Conet Project

Found via Veer, “This massive collection of recordings of so-called ‘shortwave numbers stations’ is at once, both eerily beautiful and poignantly cryptic.” You have to listen to these very specific genre of sound creation. Who knew this whole other world existed. Fascinating and excellent material for your next remix project.
Of particular note is the the swedish rhapsody irdial featuring childrens music and voice, and the oriental language irdial where a voice is repeating the same phrase over and over “I am ..[hong kong region] Good bye doctor”.
Check out: Conet Project – Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations [ird059]


“SimpleTEXT is a collaborative audio/visual public performance that relies on audience participation through input from mobile devices such as phones, PDAs or laptops. SimpleTEXT focuses on dynamic input from participants as essential to the overall output. The performance creates a dialogue between participants who submit messages which control the audiovisual output of the installation. These simpletext.gifmessages are first parsed according to a code that dictates how the music is created, and then rhythmically drive a speech synthesizer and a picture synthesizer in order to create a compelling, collaborative audiovisual performance. SimpleTEXT was originally funded by a commission from Low-FiM, an new media arts organization based in the UK.”
SimpleTEXT focuses on mobile devices and the web as a bridge between networked interfaces and public space. As mobile devices become more prolific, they also become separated by increased emphasis on individual use. The SimpleTEXT project looks beyond the screen and isolated usage of mobile devices to encourage collaborative use of input devices to both drive the visuals and audio output, inform each participant of each other’s interaction, and allows people to actively participate in the performance while it happens.Our purpose with the performance is to create the possibility of large-scale interaction through anonymous collaboration, with immediate audio and visual feedback. SimpleTEXT encourages users to respond to one another’s ideas and build upon the unexpected chains of ideas that may develop from their input.
SimpleTEXT is a rare example of an interactive piece that works in crowded public spaces such as social and unruly atmospheres where heckling, irony, criticism, and sarcasm are common modes of communication. We are unaware of such a large-scale interactive piece in terms of scale of audience interaction, where the interaction is as tangible, direct, and therefore individually satisfying.”
SimpleTEXT: a mobile phone enabled performance

AudioBored & AudioBored Machine

“AudioBored is a public online audio messaging board that allows for anyone to call in, record a message, and post it to the server. Simply dial the free 1-800 number from the website and record your note. Visitors to the board can click on the sound clips and listen to all the recordings collected. Like an online bulletin board, AudioBored allows for candid opinions, thoughts, ideas, exclamations, etc… to be posted live in a shared online space as recorded audio through a phone interface.
audiobored.jpgThe AudioBored Machine allows people in a physical space to access all the messages left on the AudioBored. It is dynamic and networked, grabbing all call information as new calls are logged into the server. The machine is a physical version of a traditional online bulletin board allowing you to navigate through threads of messages (topics) as well as the messages themselves.”
AudioBored & AudioBored Machine

ID3v2 spec made easy

ID3v2 is a new tagging system that lets you put enriching and relevant information about your audio files within them. In more down to earth terms, ID3v2 is a chunk of data prepended to the binary audio data. Each ID3v2 tag holds one or more smaller chunks of information, called frames. These frames can contain any kind of information and data you could think of such as title, album, performer, website, lyrics, equalizer presets, pictures etc. The block scheme to the right is an example of how the layout of a typical ID3v2 tagged audio file may look like.
One of the design goals were that the ID3v2 should be very flexible and expandable. It is very easy to add new functions to the ID3v2 tag, because, just like in HTML, all parsers will ignore any information they don’t recognize. Since each frame can be 16MB and the entire tag can be 256MB you’ll probably never again be in the same situation as when you tried to write a useful comment in the old ID3 being limited to 30 characters.
Speaking of characters, the ID3v2 supports Unicode so even if you use the Bopomofo character set you’ll be able to write in your native language. You can also include in which language you’re writing so that one file might contain e.g. the same lyrics but in different languages.
Beyond cool.
Read ID3v2 made easy

Google Audio Search

Audio content on the internet is in chaos. To reign in the chaos, and to capitalize on internet audio file assets, Google will launch an audio search engine or audio file search tool by 2006, but probably sooner.

The Four Ways that Google Audio Search Will Work
First, like current MP3 search engines, you will be able to find MP3’s (and other audio files) based on file names.
Second, the search engine will be able to hunt down semantic web information.
Third, the search engine will allow you to find songs based on the words used in the song.
Finally, the audio search will allow users to find files based on associations between songs.

Read article

Sound Installation Art Systems

I have been looking for a software or development environment for music/sound installation art. In Hsinchu I feel a little isolated without any interactive artists to bring me up to speed. No places for training either. Via MacIntouch I was informed that Symbolic Composer was updated and it sounds pretty wild.
“Symbolic Composer 5.1 3D is a tool for making music with MIDI, providing a programming language for musicians based on Lisp and an expert system for music composition. It includes the MCL Common Lisp interpreter for customizing the system, over 1000 music algorithms, 300 microtonal world-music and theoretical scales, tools to explore using “advanced fractal and chaos mathematics to determine compositional elements,” and much more. The new version adds complete VRML2 support (including documentation and tutorial), making it possible, for example, to compose music based on 3D forms or design 3D spaces based on music.”
I have already purchased an i-cubex system with it’s software editor. For someone who has been extremely midi adverse for years, it’s quite a big leap to immediately understand this system. But it should be worth the effort – the sensors are amazing and the upcoming bluetooth version is something I looking forward to trying. None of this is cheap though and if I lose my current sponsor I will be hard pressed to be able to afford to try it all. The first step is to get it to work with Reason then move onto Visual programming languages like Max/MSP and if time Processing.
This is all part of the project Sme(n)ms with an initial exhibition date of December 1 of this year.
MRAC Publishing – Symbolic Composer

The Art of Noise

“Ancient life was all silence. In the nineteenth century, with the invention of the machine, Noise was born. Today, Noise triumphs and reigns supreme over the sensibility of men. For many centuries life went by in silence, or at most in muted tones. The strongest noises which interrupted this silence were not intense or prolonged or varied. If we overlook such exceptional movements as earthquakes, hurricanes, storms, avalanches and waterfalls, nature is silent.
Amidst this dearth of noises, the first sounds that man drew from a pieced reed or streched string were regarded with amazement as new and marvelous things. Primitive races attributed sound to the gods; it was considered sacred and reserved for priests, who used it to enrich the mystery of their rites.
And so was born the concept of sound as a thing in itself, distinct and independent of life, and the result was music, a fantastic world superimposed on the real one, an inviolatable and sacred world. It is easy to understand how such a concept of music resulted inevitable in the hindering of its progress by comparison with the other arts. The Greeks themselves, with their musical theories calculated mathematically by Pythagoras and according to which only a few consonant intervals could be used, limited the field of music considerably, rendering harmony, of which they were unaware, impossible.”
Read: The Art of Noises

Composing the now

‘Composing the now’ – notes for a lecture on engagement with sonic time through sensors, electronica, loudspeakers and ears.
“There is an opinion that the absence of direct manual intervention creates machine music with a quality more closely related or even elevated to our ‘mind processes’ and ‘nature’ and even the ‘cosmos’.
Others insist that the interaction of our physical body with electronic music instruments adds a musicality that goes beyond machine music; some even speak about the occurrence of musical magic caused by this physical interaction.
In my vision the magic lays in the engagement and the convergence of both our mind and body with electronic/physical instruments while interacting with other musicians preferably in the presence of an audience!
Physical engagement – touch – adds more data streams, back and forth between the performer and the instrument.
We do not understand the meaning of all these data streams and leaving out some of these streams has been empirically shown to lessen the perceived musical quality.
In my personal vision for electronic music instrument design I have almost always pragmatically opened as many as possible data channels and their feedback between my body and the instruments.
In the early eighties I formulated thoughts about the importance of forcing the performer to apply physical effort when playing sensor instruments. I assumed that also this effort factor was crucial in the transmission of musicality through electronic instruments.
Now I think the crucial aspect of perceived musicality is not the notion of effort itself, but what we feel and perceive of how the physical effort is managed by the performer.
This is also why laptop performance – where the performer is sort of hidden behind the screen is so un-engaging to the audience when played outside of a dance context.”

A sophisticated sense.

Sound is one of the most sophisticated senses we have since we regularly experiment and create innovative displays specifically for our ears. (I don’t believe that you can base this argument on the fact that since we create great work for a specific sense we can assume automatically make this assumption.) From the time we are very small, our entire world is filled with sounds targeted at stimulating or affecting our behaviour. We grow to expect pleasure or annoyance at surprising new sounds as well as established ones.
Sound comes in a variety of forms — whether voice, music, sound effects or other forms of communication — and they can be incredibly complex, rich, and often subtle. It is the primary way most of us receive data, information, and knowledge. While we encounter encounter much of these through reading, still, and increasingly, the majority of our understanding comes from hearing. Even visual media, such as television and movies, deliver the majority of emotions through music. This isn’t to say that there aren’t compelling visuals to stimulate our emotions or convey information. However, try turning off the sound on the television and interpret what is happening. You’ll most likely find it’s more difficult than simply turning off the picture and keeping the sound ( excerpt from experience design, Nathan Shederoff).

Audio Interfaces for Online Environments

This was a presentation I gave at Chiao Tung University on one of research interests. Here is an excerpt:
“Sound is one of our most sophisticated senses, from the time we are babies our entire world is filled with sounds designed to stimulate our behavior. We grow to expect pleasure or annoyance as were are introduced to surprising new sounds as well as established ones.
Sound has a variety of forms – voice, music, effects, nature, or other communication forms – and these can be incredible rich, complex, and subtle.
It is the primary means in which we by which most of us receive data, information, and knowledge.”
Presentation Link

Song and Wind

I spent a great deal of my initial college years unlearning years of improper breathing activity. We would spend hours analysing, studying, and practicing this most fundamental human activities. While I am sure that I have reverted to my evil breathing ways many of the techniques I learned to develop proper breathing I still use to help control various instances of performance anxiety I might occaisionally face. Nothing like some deep breathing to help you prepare for an important presentation. Just make sure you do it in private!
The following are some notes taken from a Arnold Jacobs masterclass back in August of 1990. Some interesting commentary and I have linked to a .pdf file containing breathing exercises to “help develop efficiency,coordination and flexibility in your breathing.”
“My approach to music is expressed as Song and Wind. This is very important to communicate a musical message to the audience.”
“This approach is one of simplicity as the structure and function of the human being is very complex, but we function in a simple manner. When we bring it to the art form it becomes very simple.”
“Song, to me, involves about 85 percent of the intellectual concentration of playing an instrument, based on what you want the audience to hear.”
“You cannot get anywhere without wind. If you think of a car, the wheels will not turn without an energy source

Movin’ to a jazz thing

About 6 months ago I thought it would be healthy if I had a “real” outlet to express my creativity. I had been getting bogged down with routine challenges and showing some signs of burn out. This “real” outlet would be in contrast to creating product for the screen which, having the potential to create an emotive experience, does not always feel so tangible to me. Digital experiences lack a sense of permanence, they can disappear on whim, are too repeatable, and many seem far too attuned to peoples ever decreasing attention spans. When creating them you lose this tactile sensibility that you have when creating sculpture with your hands, finishing furniture, or breathing and struggling with a brass instrument.
Anyway that has been my thinking lately.
As a result I am very slowly beginning to become interested in playing and maybe performing music again. For over 15 years music defined everything that I was. I was a musician or more specifically a trumpet player – nothing else seemed to matter (almost nothing). Any conversations invariably led to what I was doing at the moment with music, or what gig I was on, or if I was even playing at all, all of which probably could partially be attributed to the fact that most of the people I knew were either other musicians or artists. I couldn’t take a holiday, seldom travelled, and would never take long absences from playing in fear of losing my “chops”. I can even remember in High School refusing to kiss my then girlfriend, who was lovely, as trumpet players always had the best looking girlfriends, in fear that somehow it would affect my playing the next day. This near obsessive behaviour undoubtedly produced the most joyous and perhaps the most creative period of my life. But I never did quite make it as an artist, for reasons too lengthy to get into here. So it stands to reason that it took a herculean effort to leave that life and start over first as a designer in a small team in Canada and then my current role here in Taiwan.
A few months a go at great expensive I had my instrument shipped to Taiwan. And it has sat there relatively undisturbed until I returned from holiday this week.
So far the experience of reintroducing myself to what I use to refer to as my “mistress” has been quite physically painful. I actually think I pulled a muscle in my ribs when I took a breath to play my first note. The brain remembers the sensation and required action but the body is old and out of shape.
Last night I video taped myself playing. I’ll not do that again. This introduced another kind of distress – emotional. My God I will never let any child of mine play the trumpet. The sound is glorious when played by a professional but give it to a beginner and its heart breaking. It broke my heart last night to hear what used to sound so fine come out like a the sound of bellowing cow. How could someone who would wake at 6am to play a studio engagement across town at 8am sound so infantile?
“How far the mighty can fall”.
I’ll keep at it in the hope of eventual progress. I hear there aren’t a lot trumpet players playing the karaoke bars in downtown Hsinchu – maybe I can brush up my rendition of “the stripper” and get those girls movin’ to a jazz thing.