Thursday, October 30, 2008

Joe Frank

Joe Frank amazes me. His monologues and radio dramas that he has written and produced for NPR since the 80s are fantastic transportation into an inner world. Part of this is just the content of his writing, but another big part is the production values of his voice recording and his sound effects and music accompaniment.

In a lot of pieces he (or his engineers) make very skillful use of loops of music from other sources. There is something about a Joe Frank show that seductively takes you by surprise. Transitions and transformations happen frequently but, usually, gradually. He is a hypnotist. Whenever I listen to his shows, I have to make time to devote all my attention to them. They're really captivating.

He has a site where you can listen to some of his pieces for free, and where you can pay a little bit for access to more recordings. You can also follow the links to a podcast of his programs, which you can get with iTunes or whatever. WNYC's AM station (AM 820, I think) is also still playing his program on the weekends; I think on Saturday morning.

Run for your life

We were speaking in past classes of time-stretching, i.e. changing the duration of an audio source without changing its pitch. It obviously has some practical applications, and perhaps some creative ones, as well.

Here's something that gave me a huge laugh. Not something that bears repeating, maybe, but still, fun to share. I have not listened to the whole thing, because it's an hour long, but I think it's hilarious:
Run for your life is comprised of all of the Beatles' UK-released albums compressed into 1 hour!

Mark E. Smith of the Fall said that rock music (at least originally, in the 50's) was basically the abuse of instruments designed for other types of music. (He meant that, I think, in a good way.) In this case, the art work is the creative abuse of an effect that was designed for another application.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Reading Material posted

I've posted your readings for Sound For Picture to Blackboard under Course Documents. You'll need to login to Blackboard to access. They should be up here on the blog soon, as well!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

frequency/pitches found around the apartment

I was thinking about the noises that create room ambiance and started to get curious about isolating some of those noises. The one obvious one in our apartment is the hum of the refrigerator. To hear it better I opened up the freezer and noticed that the frequencies created a dominant tone. I rushed to the piano and determined that the tone I heard was a B flat. I was curious to see if I could find pitches in other noises.

The hairdryer at high was also a B flat but the low was an E flat. Ooh – an open fifth!
The electric toothbrush was a low E, the hair clipper an A and the Gillette fusion razor a B.

The phone dial tone was an F & A: The 1 button a D with an F# bass, the 2 button an E with an F# bass, 3 button F#, 4 button D with a G bass 5 button E with a G bass, 6 button F# with a G bass, 7 button D with an A bass, 8 button E with an A bass, 9 F# with an A bass, * button D with a Bb bass, 0 button E with a Bb bass, # button F# with a Bb bass.

I started thinking it might be fun to create a musical piece using pitches from unusual sources…

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Things that go beep in the night

Most carbon monoxide and smoke detectors have low-battery alert warnings. The device will beep periodically when its battery is low. Based on my experiences, they are apparently designed only to do this late at night, when you are asleep. So last night, once again, I was awakened to this annoying, periodic "blip" sound.

This time, it took me about 10 minutes just to figure out where the noise was coming from. (I'd forgotten the CO detector's whereabouts.) Combined with the period of about a minute between beeps, the nature of the sound made it hard to find. Though each beep was quite loud, it had no directionality -- it seemed to be coming from all around me, even from inside my head. In this state, I wandered into the hallway, then into the kitchen, then into the living room, where I finally realized what the sound was.

Later, my wife told me about something she'd read about analog telephones. The old phones with an actual ringing bell can be easier to locate across a space because the ringing sound is harmonically more complex. The human ear can usually latch onto it more easily than a modern electronic ringer because the harmonic content of the ring tone provides more clues that our brains know how to interpret to gauge distance and orientation. The electronic ringtones tend to be harmonically simplistic.

So, this CO alarm's beep, though loud enough, was difficult to place spatially because it was probably nothing more than a single frequency, with few overtones.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Please take this WNSR web survey from the Parsons class

Our friends at Parsons have created an online survey for the station to gauge interest, to determine outreach needs, and to help us understand how people listen to us -- and how they might listen to us, if they don't already. They've asked us to ask you to take it, and please ask your friends to, too!

Here's the link:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Listening sample - Xenakis

Last week I brought in some listening samples, but we had limited time, so here is the main thing that I intended to share.

This is "Diamorphoses II" by the composer Iannis Xenakis, from 1957. It was an early musique concrète composition using recorded sounds and various techniques of tape-based manipulation: editing, speeding and slowing of the tape, etc. He did actually use a multi-track recorder for this piece, contrary to what I said in class.

He intended to present various "ugly sounds" in interaction, to exhibit extremes of the frequency spectrum, and to create a metamorphosing change in density throughout.

None of the sounds are synthesized or generated, per se. They were all recorded sounds subjected to the phenomena of electronic manipulation. The tape recorder and the mixing console are the musical instruments.

Call for your skills!

Dear class:
Hope your first editing projects are wrapping nicely.

The New School Radio project (at is looking for some people who can engineer and edit / mix podcasts in Pro Tools. Here's your chance to help out and get some credit and potential reel material.

We have some very basic editing jobs that need to be done, from two track news pieces to sequencing DJ sets, and then some more complex ones that you can get in on the ground level for. Those of you who feel comfortable with your skills should please email me at, and I will put you on our engineering roster.

Please write for more details! - JB

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Postnig Audio


How are you guys posting audio files on this blog?