Sunday, September 28, 2008

The mix

I've been listening to music in a different way lately. Perhaps my own attempts to record and mix multiple tracks using pro-tools has made me pay closer attention to those songs, even simple ones, that are mixed so well. It takes an incredible amount of patience to get things to sound right - to sound natural. I suppose if I was a more talented musician I could play things the way I want them to sound when I record them, but such is not the case.

Listening to songs that are just a piano and vocalist, I wonder if the piano player decides when his sustain is going to end before moving on to the next chord, or if the engineer has cleverly cross-faded the transition to create tonal isolation. I wonder if the vocalist and the piano player are being recorded live, playing together, or separately, in isolation rooms. Or maybe piece by piece and then assembled later. It's a lot to think about.

My progress so far is as follows: I'll lay down a track, say a piano line, record it twenty different ways, sift through the raw audio, pick the version I like, and try to put something on top of it, like a digital drumbeat or a soft-synth, and it's very hard to get right. It's very hard to get things to line up and timed. I can't admit to having any real success as of yet. Trying to stay motivated.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Our old piano.

We have an old piano in our apartment that’s almost a hundred years old. It’s a petite grand, slightly longer than a baby but shorter than a standard. The exterior has been abused quite a bit – a previous owner left a large water stain from a vase (flowers on a piano!?! Gasp!) and our dogs, when they were younger, would secretly climb onto it, leaving noticeable scratches around the edges and on top (dogs on a piano!?!?! Double gasp!) Despite that, the soundboard has held up fairly well and the old timer holds a satisfactory tuning. The mechanics are a little slower though so I usually end up playing the upright in the spare bedroom.

That being said, I thought I’d try something different. I sat at the old piano and closed my eyes and began playing the first thing that came to mind. I tried listening for all the sounds that were being created by the piano, the thumping of the mallets as they fell back down after hitting the strings, the pedal mechanics clicking, a certain frequency created by one of the notes was causing a slight rattling sound, a loose screw perhaps? I always loved the sound made by pressing down on the sustain pedal firmly, from silence, and hearing the echo of all the strings creating a cavernous feel. I lowered my head closer to the keys and listened to my fingers sticking and unsticking from the them. I could hear my finger tips brushing across as I search for the next hand position, the occasional click from a finger nail hitting a key. I could hear my bench squeak beneath me as I shift my body weight jumping from extreme treble to low bass. The lowest A sounds out of tune and growls. The highest C is also out of tune and sounds less like a note and more like something metallic being hit. There is little sustain without the pedal.

I then played a chord with my head down at the keys again, and heard a wah-wah effect, the chord ringing slightly louder and softer in a cycle. In some chords it wasn’t as noticeable. For some reason I could hear this most prevalent in chords that contained C#, most noticeably in F# major.

I then tried something I had never tried before. I moved the bench back and sat on the floor. The sound reflecting off the wood floors made everything richer and when I pounded the keys they were much brighter than normal. Then I laid on my back facing the bottom of the piano and reached up with one hand to play. It was brighter still, even harsh and tinny at times but rich. How I wished I could clone myself just for a minute and have Richard #1 play my heart’s content while I, Richard #2, laid below to absorb it all in.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reason Tutorial

Hi All,

I've been experimenting with Reason this week. It's under the advanced audio tab on the lab computers. An amazing electronic audio tool that interfaces with Pro Tools.

This is a good tutorial I found online that goes through Reason in layman terms from the beginning.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Zooming in

We were talking last class about sample rates and bit depth, and I think Jim touched on the subject of time-stretching effects...

Even a short sound event of a few seconds can have a microcosm of sound information awaiting our discovery.  We've seen that certain sounds can take on new meanings when isolated and looped.  There is also sound content that can be exposed when a sound is sped up or slowed down.  The software available to us today can let us stretch or contract a sound source while preserving its pitch, in addition to letting us speed it up or slowing it down, as tape decks did.  Time stretching can produce digital artifacts which are probably regarded negatively in most cases; however, sometimes more extreme uses of digital processing can produce interesting new content.

Here is sample of a short two or three second piece of audio that I stretched to 19 seconds.  The original recording is of a radio voice actor saying the words, "America's natural fish supply."  The musical pitches present in speech can fly right by without our notice.  In this case, stretching the sound revealed a hidden melody, which, when looped, formed the basis of a short film soundtrack.  This was done last year in Audacity — Pro Tools also has time-stretching effects. I don't mean to jump the gun on the effects-processing topic, but, rather, to submit that nature can yield up richness on a microscopic level. Sometimes it's nice to zero in on the smaller things.

PRO TOOLS session TODAY 2-8pm

Dear class:
Just a small reminder that I am available to introduce you to and help you with Pro Tools today. Sessions will be at the 55 West 13th St. building, 8th floor.

The workshop times are as follows: 2-4pm in Audio Suite 3 (room 821). 4-8pm in Audio Suite 1 (807).

It'd be especially helpful if you would bring any already-collected material, so that we can do some actual work together! Looking forward to seeing some of you there!


Thursday, September 18, 2008

learning to listen

Music is ever present in my daily life but I rarely get the chance really listen to it. Usually, I hear music on the go, through my $10 iPod headphones that do little to block out the ambient sounds of my neighborhood. These sound—shrill taxi horns, car engines revving, the clang of metal on a construction site, repeated clicks of stiletto heels on the sidewalk and a faster walker brushing past me --become integrated into the song, adding another track to an already complex mix. Eventually, the sights and my thoughts push the music into the background so that it becomes an indistinguishable hum in my ear.

To combat this passive listening, I decided to sit down with some noise-cancelling headphones and listen to some songs on my playlist. I closed my eyes and paid close attention to the arrangement of music. I’m no musician so this was a rather difficult task at first. One song began with just a simple piano arrangement, then a guitar and base was introduced at the same time as the deep male voice. At one point, the base alternated from my left to my right, then to my left to my right again, causing me to feel completely dislocated. I listened to the same song again and again, each time trying to isolate one instrument that I then followed throughout the piece. The keyboard track slipped away from me as I got distracted by the lyrics but I caught it again--faintly at first and then as a unwavering rhythm that became the only thing I could hear.

I was surprised by the clarity of all these different tones once I started listening closely enough and I appreciated how sound conveyed a sense of space depending on the way it was panned. While listening to a song may seem like the most intuitive and elementary thing, I realized that there's an instrinsic difference between hearing and listening.

Weekly Listening - Bedroom Window

I am at by bedroom window – a now considered a deluxe feature in many parts of this city.

A light swish is unmistakable. It is the sound of trees blowing in the wind. I am so fortunate to be able to enjoy this sound in New York City. The swish varies in volume above a deeper, constant and more distant swishing sound: fast-moving traffic on fourth avenue.

Over both of these sounds, In the distance, a roar begins and grows in intensity. Jet aircraft flying north, presumably on approach to La Guardia Airport pass overhead on a regular basis.

A mechanical exhalation and inhalation– whirring decreases, then increases as an MTA bus arrives and then departs.

And nearby a bang! My neighbor and landlord moves his barbecue out below.

Somewhere out there someone is moving something, not quite the construction that I hear sometimes, but I do hear a metallic tap.

And only occasionally do I hear the sound of human voices, such as a child talking in the street.

The roar of the road with the occasional burst of a horn, and the swish of trees are the most constant sounds here. It's peaceful for the city, almost to the point that I can forget that I'm still a part of it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Radio Ephemera - John Biewen "Scared"

Here's a link to the Radio Ephemera Contest put on by the Third Coast Int'l Audio Festival. Submissions had to be inspired by 2 of 5 books offered by Third Coast, and include the voice of a stranger. This might be a helpful place for some of you to get guidance about structure and content of an experimental piece...

There are 72 submissions posted on the site. I want to point out #55, "Scared" by John Biewen. I took a class with John in August at CDS in North Carolina and first heard it there. It reminds me a little bit of Tony Schwartz' piece "Nancy Grows Up" in that it puts together sound collected over a long span on time.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Heller Post

Jim Briggs III

Audio Production

Monday, September 8, 2008

Matthew Heller


Sound Write Up

A Small Park

Matthew Heller


The movement and flow of air is the most prevalent and yet most difficult sound to follow with ones ear. The city creates a sound tunnel with its immense buildings. The street is a crevasse in metropolis. There is the grinding sound of a department truck to the right side of the street.  A moped buzzes then splashes through a large gutter-puddle spewing, the drops plunk to the ground. A cab door opens, and another and another. They close consecutively with a snap, clap and a whack. The ringing of squeaky breaks  echoes through the roads, the sound bounces off the high walls and glass entryways and windows. A woman in high heels clip-clops along the cobblestone path like a two-legged horse. A dog scampers behind a man who wears flip-flops  making flip-flop sounds. A fire truck sounds its siren roughly two blocks away. The rumble of subway below almost drowns out the sound of two men walking hard on the backs of their heels. Two women walk by and only their toes touch the pavement, they make a gliding sound. The park trees above sounds off the rustle of leaves and the clicking of branches. An S.U.V. crashes through another puddle. It’s big engine throttles forward. A man closes his umbrella with a zip, and a woman unbuttons her collar shirt by pulling it open letting the buttons all pop like packaging paper. Newspapers are shuffled and a plastic bag rattles against a construction cone. A girl slurps on an iced mocha, pigeons scatter, who Korean men haggle over business and a cell phone rings. A man pulls a suitcase and the wheels grind on the sidewalk behind him. A mother digs through her purse and a man wearing a gawdy beaded bracelet rattles as he passes by. A bicycle clicks like the winding of a grandfather clock, and a man with a broom and dustpan scoops litter from the gutter. A giant warehouse truck bumbles by bouncing on the road. A little bird chirps and another cell phone rings loudly.  A worker walking by rattles his keys in his hand and they jingle-jangle as a pound of newspapers drops to the ground. Ding, Ding! Another bicycle bell sounds. A taxi honks.         


Thursday, September 11, 2008

First Assignment


Seven years since the towers came down. A cruel shudder reminding Americans that there is a whole world out there. Terrorists crumbled the trade center towers, monuments to the free world. I thought people would be humbled by the experience and in turn become more in tune with the rest of world. Unfortunately, this seems not the case. 

Today, I sat by the large whole that seven years later still lies gaping like an open mouth screaming its message to the city and no one seems to hear. 

Seven years later and still no monument. The roads closed to traffic allowed mourners to wander with flowers and remember. I thought the quieted atmosphere would provide a decent scene-scape for our first assignment and this is what I heard. 

Footsteps on concrete melding rhythms of pitter-patter, flip flop, clunk and swish with the ambient sounds of baby carriage wheels turning over the ground. From underground the A or C train comes to a screeching halt, as iron on iron grind on top of each other and neither give. Emergency vehicles sound both near and far. Air conditioning units put out a low hum from one of the large buildings. 

The less noticeable sounds seemed to melt together creating a back-drop of noise. These noise included the hum of truck engines idling and in motion, as well as the beep beep of the back-up signal. Keys in pockets or handbags jingles sometimes slightly. Something produced a hissing noise, perhaps a gas or water line. A janitor's broom and dust pan swept and clunked along. An airplane thundered quietly, distantly. And someone beat a slow warrior like beat somewhere very far away on a hand drum.

These noises together either created the metallic repetitions mimicking the ostinato of machinery or else somewhere down in the pit rhythmic pulsations were being produced by some kind of construction. It seemed odd that workers would work at the 9/11 site on its memorial day though. 

The machine-like repetition of construction or whether it was the cumulation of all the other noise components produced an eerie effect that is hard to describe. It was different and unexpected from the other sounds I heard, because it seemed to dramatically contrast with the mood of the day. Like people chose to ignore the fact that construction was going on or it was the groan of our industrial society. Either way, I felt that this sound represented all those reasons our towers came down in the first place and people just don't want to hear it let alone change.

Your first recordings with the PCM-D50

From last week's class...
Track 1

Track 2

Track 3

Track 4

Track 5

Track 6

Track 7

Sounds from CP

For this assignment I decided to stroll over to one of my favourite spaces in the city, Central Park. I walked over to Sheep Meadow only to find it was closed for maintenance so I parked myself on a bench with my back to Sheep Meadow across from Tavern on the Green.

I closed my eyes and immediately my ears focused on sounds from the road in front: roller blades and bicycles whizzing by, depending on the speed the varying pitch and particularly with the bicycles the gears creating variations of rapid clicking. How the timbre would change as they grew nearer and farther, panning from my right ear to my left. I could hear the sound of runners as their shoes scuffed the pavement and I could hear how gritty the ground was. Similarly, the wheels on strollers going by scraping the sidewalk. I could tune in on horse drawn carriages getting closer with resonant clip clopping of the hooves and the occasional kissing sound a driver made to guide the horse. I could make out faint hissy music coming from a car stereo and hearing that the source was stationary for a bit, I assumed it was stopped waiting for the light to change.

I was fascinated with the sounds I picked up from people walking by. Keys and change jangling in pockets, rustling of plastic and shopping bags they were carrying, the kind of footwear they were wearing, whether they were high heels and dress shoes clopping and scuffing or flip flops flapping against the bare heel. I could hear pant legs from heavier fabrics (most likely denims) brushing against each other. There were bright sounds of dog tags jingling as dog owners walked their dogs.

Multiple sources of chatter in various languages and various colors of tone, the boisterous laughter coming from park employees as they drove by in their carts. Across the road I could make out clinking of glasses and plates from Tavern on the Green, perhaps they were setting up for lunch service or for some private outdoor function.

All around I could hear various birds chirping and singing, and the faint sound of leaves rustling in the wind. There were occasional plane and helicopter noises above and I wondered if the flight patterns were altered in any way because of 9/11. I could hear high pitched sirens and honking heard in the far distance. The general traffic from outside the park created a low rumble that almost sounded like waves at the beach.

I knew it was time to leave when I heard something land by my feet with a bright tapping – I opened my eyes to find an acorn cap which must have fallen from the oak tree above. I’m sure this sound, as many of the others I mentioned, would have been taken for granted otherwise but by focusing on listening I was amazed at the sounds I was able to pick out.

As I was walking back towards Columbus Circle, I noticed a loop of sound that was created as I walked. With each step as my bag bounced against my thigh, my keys in the side pocket jangled in a consistent pattern. As I focused my ears to it, I could hear it created three distinct pitches, almost like a triad in arpeggio and the rhythm and varying frequency started to sound like the chorus melody line from “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” (The carousel was playing the tune earlier and perhaps my ears were channeling it.) Once my ears were tuned to that as an anchor, all other sounds around seemed to accompany and fill around it.

Zoe Keating

Yesterday, walking around the city, I was listening to a Radio Lab interview with cellist Zoe Keating. Below is a link to her site and there's a sample of her music on the home page.

I'll preface my impressions of her music with a quick overview. Zoe is a classically trained cellist with both a symphonic and avant-garde performance background. The sound of her solo work is accomplished through the use of foot-pedals with which she triggers a digital sampler and playback device. She builds multiple harmonies, tones, voicing, percussive sounds, and more, by playing, recording, and layering at the same time.

I was totally blown away by the complexity of her on-the-fly arrangements and the depth and tonal variety she was able to generate using a single instrument and a simple digital tool like a sampler. You can really hear the classical training in her improvisation as she tends to create multi-movement pieces and facilitates reprises, codas, crescendos, and developed themes along the way - much like a sonata.

I mentioned I was walking through the city because in her music I found a temporal relationship to my movement. It felt a lot like getting lost and then finding myself again.


Coney Island

Faint sounds

I went to Coney Island last  Sunday and sat on the beach.  I tried to tune in to the faintest sounds I could hear.

There was a low bass drone, sometimes subsumed by the sound of the surf -- what was it?  A motor of some kind?  One of the large ships out at sea?  A distant airplane?  At one point, a very loud motorboat swept back and forth, probably about a quarter-mile off shore.  Perhaps that was it.

The wind in one's ears is a natural effect of a location that we usually try to avoid when recording -- but it's there in reality all the time, even when walking.  The wind was one of the sometimes faint, sometimes loud components of the aural environment.

There were also subtle changes in the perceived space when somebody walked by my listening position.  Even when the person could not be heard, the changes in the stereo field (for lack of a better term) could be perceived.

The soft, whispy sounds of footsteps in the sand were also discernible.

Bass sounds tend to carry farther over long distances -- that is, those that start off as loud bass  sounds, like the boat motor.  Otherwise, it seems, sounds with a lot of high-end content, like piercing seagull shreiks or even whispy footsteps in the sand, tend to cut through the other sounds in the area.

Repeatable sounds

One thing that caught my ear at Coney Island, this time on the boardwalk, was the sound of the "Shoot the Freak" game.  I don't know if you've ever been there -- the barker has a distinctive style of delivery, with well-punctuated phrases, and a sort of drawn-out way of speaking.  The meter of his speech can be pronounced sometimes:  "Come-ON-you-mesh-UG-gan-ah".  Also, in the old go-kart lot (I think) somewhere behind the boardwalk, they were playing Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" really loud on a sound system, so there would be opportunities in picking up parts of its rhythm in the background.

I'm reminded here of something:  It's been a while since I heard it, but in Steve Reich's "It's Gonna Rain," I think there is a sound of some kind of vehicle going by in the far background at one point.  It is a low descending bass tone.  This was an outdoor recording, and here was this normal bit of background "noise."  But when the preacher's voice (the subject of the recording) was looped, the bass drone changed to a more prominent part of the sound -- it was like a musical note.  At least this is my memory of it ... it's been a while...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Hey, this is great.  So much to hear and see.

Here's a useful website:  The Freesound Project

The Books - "Take Time" (2003)

This one's a favorite - and an indication of the possibility of audio collage. How is time marked, and taken, here? There are varying degrees of intensity of subdivisions, layers upon layers of sources and textures. Name some of them. What sounds 'bright' to you? What sounds are more mellow? Consider our initial discussions last week of frequency/pitch/timbre and think about how they are employed here for a (successful) mix...


and a link to The Books' lovely site...

Steve Reich - "Come Out" (1966)

Testing the player with the Steve Reich piece from the first class




What a great way to facilitate the blogging medium. I like the idea of an easy to use public forum. Looking forward to the semester.


Monday, September 8, 2008


If you've made it this far, you're part of the Audio Production online family. This will be your place to post class notes, reviews of listening material, make announcements for meetings, and more...

Allow us to help you get started with this first guide to posting on Blogger, for those of you unfamiliar with the process.
1) Once you've logged into Blogger, look to the upper right hand corner for your Dashboard. You can also get there by visiting this blog's address and clicking "Sign In" in the upper right hand corner.
2) Once in Dashboard, you should see Audio Production FALL 08 as one of the blogs you can manage. The big blue "New Post" button is what you need. It's simple from there! Feel free to tag your entries with certain helpful identifiers (Listening, Sound Art, Exhibits, etc)!
We're looking forward to seeing what you can do, and always remember that the only poor question is the one not asked!

-- The Admins...