La Première Voix Humaine (WeeklyBeats 5)

I did not write about last week’s effort, I think mainly because I couldn’t be bothered and wrote about it in the submission itself.

Here it is.

On to this week’s effort. I had a great deal of fun with this, particularly getting in to using Live again for something other than quickly mixing stuff after creating it. A couple of weeks ago I decided to do a piece, or series of pieces, that use the first known human voice recording as the exclusive material for sound generation. It was also an opportunity to test Live’s transcribing capabilities (which I must say are pretty incredible given the audio quality of what I was using). It took quite a bit of playing around with the piece to develop something I liked, and I used the process to try playing without MIDI, loading all of my pre-generated tracks into session view and slicing them up.

I liked the result, and I liked the ability to create rhythmic identity across multiple parts using side chain compression, which is really what this post is going to be about.

The Creation of Motivic Unity Using Sidechaining

Despite the fact that this piece has melodies and harmonies derived from the original source file, the thing that I think provides the most unity is the rhythm. This effect is probably not new at all, and is probably used by countless other composers/producers/artists, but it was new to me and I’m pretty stoked to discover it (for myself).

In the first iteration of the piece, I put a fairly heavy amount of compression on one of the chord tracks to cause it to “duck” whenever the drum part sounded. The bass drum is the loudest drum part so the effect is the most obvious when it fires. This is not new or really even that interesting, as a technique. When I exported the chord track for slicing and performance in the new set, it retained its rhythmic ducking quality to create, in its own way, a piece of motivic material that relates to the rest of the track. Nice effect! But not any different had I not exported all the source material.

I then used a gate with side chain on an un-ducked chord track, again activating from the drums. This created a second iteration of the rhythmic motive developed previously. The result is that, at different parts of the piece, this rhythmic motive comes back, either in the drum part (in conjunction with one chord part) or in the previously generated but otherwise un-affected chord part.

Kinda neat I thought.

Again, here’s a link to the piece.

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WeeklyBeats2014 – Week 3 (Cloud Etude)

The work itself. <— LISTEN HERE.

More Pure Data hacking this week. This piece is more in line with my research interest in microsound. Each impulse is a maximum of 26ms long, and the gap between impulses ranges from between 50ms and 120ms, depending on the point in the piece. Sometimes there are multiple channels of impulses firing together. While this is certainly not even close to the perceptual limitation of my ears, it is still interesting that there are, I estimate, between 8.33 and 80 impulses per second at any given time. So it’s kind of like slowed down granular synthesis. I did experiment with speeding it up, but maybe that can wait for another post.


Download patch here.

The work itself.

The patch changed a lot from its initial form, as my direction with what I wanted to do changed.


This is a (peak frequency) sonogram of the full duration of the piece, and you can see, even at such a level of magnification, the individual impulses.

While I’m posting about it, this coming Sunday is the Tilde New Music Mini Festival (presented by Tilde New Music and Sound Art); I’ll be playing at least once during the day, and there’s a strong chance my performance will be letting these recent three works run while I drink a beer or two. So come along!

Tilde Event Facebook Page
Tilde Facebook Page
Tilde Website

It would be great to see you there!


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WeeklyBeats2014: Week 2

Spectrogram "score" plot thing.
Spectrogram “score” plot thing.

Following on from last week’s exploration of noise and sine waves is more sine waves. This piece is inspired by Iannis Xenakis’ Metastaseis, though much more humble and rapidly done than his work. The interesting part was that, while performing, no distortion occurred but thankfully, thanks to the addition of so many sine waves without volume control, it did. The result is a most fascination exploration of noise through pure tones.

This was realised almost entirely in Pure Data, with a little bit of limiting and granular delay applied in Ableton Live afterwards.

Patch for Xenak
Patch for Xenak

Click here to download the patch.

And a link to the work itself.

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WeeklyBeats2014: Week 1

This year, as in 2012, I am challenging myself to compose and release one work per week for the entirety of the year. Sometimes this will dip into my regular output, and I suspect a lot of times the content will be studies for my research.

Week 1:

The Ancestor’s Ta[le/il] (2014)


Download Patch

Realised entirely in Pure Data, this piece is an exploration of white noise, filtered and morphed into noisy sinewaves. The voice part uses principles of FM synthesis to transform the incoming vocal signal into the background sound.

Here is the score:

The Ancestor’s Ta[le/il]
Score. Accompanying pure data file.
Dur. Ca. 15 minutes.
Performer to speak through microphone connected to PD software, mixed appropriately. Speaking time-points are rough guides only. It is ideal to perform a recording of this piece outdoors, in a place filled with natural sounds such as birds, insects and animals.
Line 1 (1’20”): “It is estimated that well over 99 percent of all the organisms that have ever lived have died without having had offspring.”
Line 2 (3’00”): “And yet here you are: of all your billions of ancestors over the years, from single cells to worms to fish to reptiles to mammals to primates, not a single one of them died childless.” 
Line 3 (5’30”): “How lucky you are!”
Line 4 (7’20”): “Of course, every blade of grass has an equally long and proud heritage, and every mosquito, and every elephant and every daisy.”
Words by Daniel C Dennett (Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, 2013)

And here is the link to the work itself.

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Institutes and Globalisation, or something.

Inspired in equal parts by a conversation held in response to this article, and Michael Kieren Harvey’s Peggy Glanville-Hicks address of 2012 (The Cultural Cringe [actually titled: What Would Peggy Do?]), I present a completely un-researched and relatively un-thought-out blog about the dynamic nature of human culture and the value in preserving it – or not. Of particular interest to me – for reasons that I need not elaborate on here – are the cultural institutions of the symphony orchestra and the music conservatory, which are each so closely enmeshed with the other as to make them virtually indistinguishable in all ways except their superficial function. The conversation was about globalisation and the dissolving of national borders, and particularly about the strange observation that humans still favour nationality over species, defending rigorously the idea that nationality – and its inherent, accumulated culture – should not be interfered with by the apparent dissolution of borders. That immigration, when not done properly is damaging to national culture. But that, in actuality, any national culture at any given time is in flux, adding to and deviating from the past in light of input from the rest of the world. In most cases, people are quite happy with this constant state of change, but in the aforementioned institutes it seems taboo. This blog post is about that. I should point out, before continuing, that this applies to the institutes that I have at least a passing bit of experience with, that is, those in Australia. I am admittedly ignorant of the general trends elsewhere in the world. I suspect that in North America and New Zealand things are similar to here and that the rising popularity of these institutes in East-Asia and some parts of the middle east are reflecting similar ideologies to Australia, but I suspect that continental Europe is more optimistic. I must also again impress the importance that this is an opinion piece based on observation.

The museum is, in essence, a collection of artefacts, defined by the dictionary as:

museum |mjuːˈzɪəm| noun a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited.

With this in mind, I want to pose the double-question of what and orchestra (or music conservatorium) is? Actually that’s not entirely true, I want to pose the question (and not necessarily answer it): what are their roles? To a degree this is a rhetorical question that probably has no real answer. What is clear to me, however, is that their role is not the ongoing investigation into and encouragement of the creation of new culture within the field of music[1] but the preservation of a small, selected (curated) catalogue of works from the past. These works are (generally) geographically and artistically limited and are revered as being the height of human (musical) artistic achievement. The orchestras are guilty of this ideal and so are conservatoriums. Music outside of that cannon, including jazz, recently composed music, non-western music, etc., is treated at best as a novelty and at worst with disdain; disdain because it does not live up to the “excellence” of the music of the past. This ideal is, when you put even a small amount of brain towards it, a logical fallacy.

The public, in this case, could be conceived of as falling for the appeal to authority fallacy, meaning that because people who are so-called authorities (professionals/academics/whatever) in that field say it (or do it), they believe it must be so. From this vantage point it becomes clear – at least to me – that it is quite culturally damaging for orchestras (and institutions) to reinforce this ideal of art music as the rest of society, who place their trust in these institutions, will believe them further propagating the ideal. This same effect can be seen in popular music consumption, and many other situations.

The other perspective – the insider perspective ­– is harder to pinpoint but is also fallacious, possibly being guilty of multiple fallacies. The first fallacy that might be a contributing factor to this ideal is the fallacy of genetics: judging something good or bad on the basis of where it comes from (an issue that also points to some inherent racism, perhaps). In this case the music of Austria/Germany between the 16-and-1700s (and later) being the loose point of origin, and therefore superior to other music that has come since (for instance, Australian music). The second part of the logical flaw is that this music is the height of human musical achievement, a statement that simply can’t be true, unless music stopped developing in roughly 1780, which of course it did not. The only reasonable conclusion is that the music of today is the height of musical achievement everywhere in the world. This appears to be statistically probable, as all music created today has been informed in some way by all music of the past. You can isolate certain musical traditional trees that may or may not have common progenitors, but the end result is that, like the viruses of today, the music created today has all the best bits of all the music of the past, making it the height of human achievement, much like through natural selection, the virus of the current generation has the “best” bits of all its ancestors (note: scare quotes).

Obviously the trouble with discussing ideals is that they are ideals and therefore they are hard to pinpoint the source of. I could not say, for instance, that it is one person within any institute, dogmatically dictating this attitude to all of their underlings. Rather, it seems that the attitude is ingrained through the process(es) of education and repetition over many generations.  In my opinion, this is harmful to modern culture and is something to be feared, rather than fearing the destruction of this cultural history. So I welcome cultural globalization and the exchange of ideas, and it is happening whether we want to or not. But it needs to happen within these aforementioned institutions and to do that, they need to embrace the state of flux that any modern culture exists in, presenting these new works to the public with more frequency than the old works. I am not advocating that dismissal of the old works, just the preferential treatment of the new (for there are many!) and the (to me) correct placement of old works as old works, to be experienced within the context of new works, not the other way around.

[1] Unless you study composition or something similar, which seems to be a field of inquiry somewhat at odds with the conservatorium and yet not.

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Heard/Unheard:Flux – Drawing near!

The festival is drawing near, the work is coming together into a big, sonorous, bigness of sonorousness! I am tired and have been working 10+ hour days for the last couple, getting everything together and organised. It’s really wonderful to hear the layering of sounds in different speakers, the construction of the work coming together. It’s not quite how I originally planned it, for all manner of technical and logistical reasons; but it’s beautiful, or at least I think it is.

The ocean in which I recorded the “sounds of the Upwelling”

This will be a relatively short blog post to talk about how the final recorded sound that I was lacking I managed to get; the sound of something that signifies the Upwelling, and boy, is it a good one! So with that, I now have all the material I need to underscore all of the sound events with a long sonic interpretation of one aspect of the Upwelling. If you’re going to be here on the day, you’ll have to listen for it, otherwise you might have to wait for the CD. 

Tomorrow will be a busy day, with the distribution of a “sound CD” to some of the local shops that have expressed interest in playing it and being part of the installation, the completion of the work, final touches on another work to be premiered at the Sunday concert and the arrival of Alice and another friend (or two!)

The studio showing the work in progress.

This will probably be the last blog on the subject until after the festival, so stay tuned for a retrospective! Come and say hi during the festival. The weather is indicating that it might be well-behaved.

The score for the work. Somewhat changed since the last one.

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I learned I am no seafarer…

Since Friday I have been extremely busy (though I did manage to get most of one day of leisure in, which was nice). It’s also been a reasonably emotional ride for various reasons that I shall not go into on here, as it’s not really in the spirit of things. But for those in and around Portland, I will have a special sign up on the day of the Upwelling Festival at my tent, that will explain it. Plus when I get around to producing a physical score, that will also have the information in it. Anyway, enough about that. It’s been a busy time and I have a lot to write about!

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 6.09.46 PM

I’ve managed to make a fairly substantial quantity of field recordings from in and around Portland since I’ve been here. The screenshot shows that I’ve so far accumulated a little over 5gigabytes of sound recordings – that’s more RAM than my laptop has! – and I anticipate expanding that to at least 10gb for the final piece. Quite a hefty amount of work for my slightly old laptop! But that’s the way of these things – my laptop suffers for my art! I’m really stoked that there is so much to hear in Portland, and such variety of sounds! Really very exciting.

I’m very thankful my partner Alice came down, bringing with her my speakers and monitor, keyboard and mouse to make my job over the next half week easier. I also secured the hire of some other monitors, mixer and amp to power the speakers from Southwest Productions, and it’s all set up in my studio looking very dapper. Maybe dapper is the wrong word, but I love it. Wonderful setup!

I ended up cancelling the second workshop on Sunday, as there was no interest. But Saturday’s workshops went really well. Very enthusiastic response, and hopefully some far more open ears out there! If there is enough interest I may look at repeating the workshops after the Upwelling Festival, but only if there is guaranteed interest. However, I did get the opportunity to talk to a year 5/6 class at St John’s Lutheran Primary School today, which was really fantastic! I played them quite a few selections of my work, and got some of the kids


involved in playing with some video-controlled sound art software I made last year. As I’m sure you can imagine, that was very very popular. Their teacher, Steve, is a film maker who has just recently finished (I believe) a feature film that has taken most of two years in his spare time. So I’m very much looking forward to looking at that more, when I have some spare time (and a faster internet connection).

But the big event was going out on the sea with Pete Gill (hereby known as The Captain) and his crew (Wal [not sure on the spelling there, sorry bud] and Jake). The mission was to visit the gannet colony, record those sounds, then find some water and drop a hydrophone in to hear what was going on under the sea, to be used as the underscore for the rest of the work on Saturday. Unfortunately, I discovered rather quickly that I get terribly seasick. The Captain had asked about that earlier in the day, and I’d said that I didn’t think I did! I was wrong. The closest I’d come prior to that was a very rough small plane trip from London (Gatwick) to Vienna earlier this year. But at sea, yesterday, I turned a zombie-like shade of grey-green and felt absolutely awful. It took about an hour and a half to recover and even then I felt absolutely exhausted. Live and learn. On the plus, the sounds of the boat at sea and the gannets (and even possibly some fur seals) are extraordinary! Absolutely worth the trip. Unfortunately I got too sick before we could drop the hydrophone, but I have it on loan and, later that day, went and did some recording from one of the jetties. I’ll take the hydrophone out to other locations over the next couple of days and see what I can capture to add the finishing touches to the work later in the week! The extra highlight of this whole adventure was seeing a wild seal hanging out on the rocks near the car park for the boat ramp. Very cool, and something that us city-slickers will just never see. So I feel very privileged to have had this entire opportunity, and to have seen a wild seal!

IMG_0941 IMG_0943

These photos are the seal, and me doing hydrophone recording! What a wonderful experience all this is. Alice and I were noting that really, this is the ultimate work for me as I get to combine my strong interest in science with my work in art and music.

So I think that’s about it for now. One of my favourite recording sites has been Fawthrop Lagoon (also the site where I destroyed that condenser mic…), so I thought I’d include a bit of a recording from there. And to close, given that the Festival is this coming Saturday, a quote that is very relevant from a composer whose work I don’t much know.

Also, before I sign off, we’ve also been busy organising a post-Festival concert! It’s to be held at 2:30pm on Sunday the 3rd of November, at the Performing Arts Centre, Portland. As part of the concert, we will be playing some videos made by local year 7 science students about the Upwelling! Playing electroacoustic improvisations, a work of mine for solo bass flute and a major 20th century work for solo flute. It would be really great if you could come and have a gander. The best bit is, it’s free!

To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan and not quite enough time.

Leonard Bernstein

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Lagoons, Breakwaters and Workshops!

It’s been a wildly busy couple of days. The weather has been somewhat prohibitive to recording outdoors, but I managed to make a makeshift waterproof microphone and capture some fantastic rain-on-tin sounds, among other things. I did happen to take this concept of a waterproof condenser microphone a bit far, fitting one of my omni directional condenser microphones with a balloon, electrical tape, cable ties and rubber bands in the hope that I could drop it under water without destroying it. As it turns out, I destroyed it. I did get some underwater sounds in the lagoon though. All in the name of art – I really need a hydrophone!

So between bouts of rain I checked out the Lee Breakwater, popping the now-destroyed microphone down into rocks to capture the sound of water from a rock’s-ear-view. That was really interesting; also managed to get some great bird sounds (and plenty of traffic sounds from the fisher-

photo 1folk) while I was there. Alas, I did not time my visit well to get the sounds of serious boats or ships coming into or out of the port.

The image to the right shows the rocks into which I placed my microphone. I was actually hoping there’d be some crabs or something in there that would scuttle around, but I didn’t hear anything of the sort. Alas!

The other place I visited (twice, actually) and the site of the destruction of my microphone, was Fawthrop Lagoon. A beautiful, presumably (but not necessarily) man-made lake system within the town of Portland. There are huge amounts of birds and insects and other things that phonographers love;


plus the ever-present sound of traffic. I took quite a few recordings here and found it very relaxing, despite being caught in the rain both times I went there. At least I got my gear packed up in time!

In this time I went and spoke to a year 8 (I think) class at Portland Secondary, giving them an aural journey through most of my composing/sound art activities, including the recent performance from Greece, some of the jazz that I’ve written and of course, some of the electroacoustic music. They were really receptive, especially as I spoke for quite a while and I heard today that at least one student went home and talked about it – so that’s encouraging! Hopefully some of these students come to some of the workshops, but of course, everyone is invited!

The last couple of days also saw the beginning of the workshop series, with a workshop on field recording using a smart phone or tablet. It would be great to see more people come along to the ones on the weekend!

Speaking of, I just today finished writing the presentations for this weekend’s selection of four workshops. These are all FREE. I really must reinforce this: FREE workshops on all manner of things to do with sound art and sound design and music. The workshops are aimed at teenagers+, but beginners and will include brief overviews of the relevant subjects/histories where applicable. These are all very hands-on, though a little left-of-centre in some cases, but I promise good times! Below is a brief overview of the workshops, but don’t forget to click here for the full list, including requirements. These are all held at the Portland Library in the Training Room.

Workshop #2 (Saturday 26/10, 10am)



This workshop is all about listening, it’s part 1 of 2 on the subject and will culminate in an active sound walk within close proximity to the library in which it takes place. No experience necessary! Just come along with open ears and get involved in appreciating the sonic world we live in.

Workshop #3 (Saturday 26/10, 12:30pm)




Following on from workshop #2, this time we will be looking at ways of keeping a recording of what we hear over a period of time, to increase awareness of the environment and depth of our listening ability. It will also serve as a very basic introduction to some of the content in workshop #4! Bring pens and paper and a very open set of ears!

Workshop #4 (Sunday 27/10, 10am)




This is starting to get into more creative and experimental territory, but is very much reflective of the work I’m doing for the Upwelling Festival itself, so if you want to get a practical insight into Heard/Unheard:Flux then definitely come along. You’ll need a laptop with the trial version of Ableton Live installed on it (link in the workshop program).

Workshop #5 (Sunday 27/10, 1pm)




The final workshop pre-festival is getting into synthesiser land, and explores the basic use of a graphical programming environment to create a synthesiser. The workshop is a practical, hands-on exercise in sound design using the world’s most fundamental sound materials – individual wave forms! Sound complicated? Trust me, it’s really not. You’ll need to bring a laptop with Pure Data installed (, optional headphones (BUT THEY COME WITH A WARNING), and an open set of ears and eyes.

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 5.56.02 PM

Don’t be intimidated, it’s really quite simple to get this software to work!

Until next time…

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Creating the Score

Today marked the beginning of two things: first, the (hopeful) involvement of shop owners/managers along Julia St and Bentinck St. Unfortunately for various reasons I couldn’t get to everybody, but I will over the next day or so. The idea behind this is that some or all of the business owners exhibit part of the installation in their shop, bridging the gap between the streets of Portland and the foreshore of the festival. This will likely be a 30 minute excerpt of the larger piece, delivered on CD or in mp3 to be played in-store on the day of the festival.

The other beginning was the beginning of the creation of the score, from which the larger work will be produced (both score and realisation). This is a rather time-consuming process and I only have done an early draft at this stage. Because I’ve not collected anywhere near the total amount of sound for the installation, so the symbols used to denote sounds are indeterminate, indicating only a type of sound, not the precise sound itself.

I moved my workspace for the day, for a bit of variety:


It was a very nice change, if I’m honest. The table wasn’t here before I left on Friday, so that’s a nice surprise. It’s also convenient for wifi access.

The early-draft score itself can be seen on the table there, but here’s a top-down photo:


What you can see is a legend of symbols on the left, with some notes, and a score of the four channels of the installation on the right, with some placement of those symbols over time. This draft score only represents an early sketch of the first couple of hours of the work. I plan to work fairly solidly on this over the next couple of days, between field recording and public speaking.

For people interested in this kind of work, I am actually running two workshops that are on the subject. Both on the same day, this coming Saturday the 26th of October. The first workshop is a sound walk, and discussion on ways of listening and engaging with sound, the second is a workshop on producing a score of this nature through engaging with sound.




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Abandoned Space: A Portrait in Miniature

Just a quick post about the recent performance (Oct. 14th) of Abandoned Space: A Portrait in Miniature by the Greek ensemble dissonArt. The performance sounds excellent from the recording, and I’d like to share my short piece with the world. Many thanks and kudos to the dissonArt ensemble for such creative and exciting programming, I’d have loved to be there.

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