Rose Tinted Archer

The Portfolio of Mike James Porter

Focus & Sea: A SoundScape Composition

Online Edition

Please use the Soundcloud embeds within each section to listen to the relevant track described. Where possible, online sources have been directly linked to where referenced as well as in the references section.

Introduction

This project focuses on how an auditory soundscape can be built up for a listener using materials from a collection of raw found sound through the medium of electroacoustic music. It will explore the different ingredients that can make up these soundscapes and how the potential can be explored through the manipulation of these ingredients and how these can help shape a final soundscape.

Since R. Murray Schafer coined the term Soundscape various scholars have attempted to build upon the definition of the term, each with their own opinion and interpretation on what recordings could be qualified as a soundscape. Miller explains this in his own definition “to be the totality of the sound environment…if a soundscape is to be properly analysed, its subjective meaning to individuals needs to be understood” (2013) .

Feld interprets Schafer’s term as “any collection of sounds, almost like a painting is a collection of visual attractions. When you listen carefully to the soundscape it becomes quite miraculous.” (2009) . Barry Truax who was once part of the World Soundscape Project alongside Schafer, describes a soundscape as “an environment of SOUND (or sonic environment) with emphasis on the way it is perceived and understood by the individual, or by a society. It thus depends on the relationship between the individual and any such environment. The term may refer to actual environments, or to abstract constructions such as musical compositions and tape montages, particularly when considered as part of an artificial environment” (1999) .

Much like a fictional story could be described as being built up of materials such as characters, plot, themes and a setting; as well as the words and illustrations, a soundscape can represent these elements through the use of layers of sounds from the small foreground ornamental sounds that narrate the characters actions and dialogue, to the larger, distant and sometimes ambient sounds that create the scene that the metaphorical characters reside in. Much in the same way that the social value of popular music tastes is often regarded as a soundtrack to one’s lifestyle, McLeish states that “We all like stories, partly because a story can offer a framework for the understanding – or at least an interpretation – of life’s events. Often, a mirror in which we can see ourselves – our actions, motives and faults.” (2005)

However, if this form is to be manufactured artificially, one must consider to carefully structure it so as not to cross the divide into other styles of composition, bringing the debate of the true definition of a soundscape back to debate. Hildegard Westerkamp explains that “A soundscape composition is always rooted in the themes of the sound environment. It is never abstract. Recorded environmental sounds are its ‘instruments’, and they may be heard both unprocessed and processed. Some soundscape works are created entirely with unprocessed sounds and their compositional process occurs in the specific ways in which the sounds are selected, mixed, edited and [organised]. These pieces lean towards what I would call soundscape narrative or document” (1999) . Once formed, these soundscapes can be used as part of a performance piece or as part of another piece such as a radio drama or a piece of electroacoustic music. Newer concepts are also being explored that follow the concepts of soundscape composition. One such example is the EarFilms project, an artificial composition movement who define themselves as “a playground for the imagination – a medium where your mind’s eye fills in the blanks and paints the pictures, choose the camera angles and the costumes, allows you to become the director. An EarFilm isn’t just the telling of a story, it’s a way for the listener to be part of it.” (EarFilms, 2013) .

This project will explore the different elements that make up an everyday soundscape. Within a number of natural environments, the larger individual elements will be identified and recorded. The found sounds will then be used to create a portfolio of compositions with each piece drilling down into the identified elements, manipulating the audio to explore their inner detail and sonic potential.

The finished pieces can then better demonstrate to the listener how each element can be manipulated to create newer soundscapes.

This involves a process Shafer determined as ‘Schizophonia’, a term her coined in 1969. In Mathieu’s book, ‘The Musical Life’, he states “We have split the sound from the maker of the sound. Sounds have been torn from their natural sockets and given an amplified and independent existence. Vocal sound, for instance, is no longer tied to a hole in the head but is free to issue from anywhere in the landscape” (1994a) .

With over 45 years passing since the original coining of the term, processing of sounds such as this only fuels the debate over definition of a soundscape further with our ever increasing dependence on technology in today’s society. In today’s connected world, many recordings shared through different audio and visual mediums such as radio, cell based technologies such as mobile phones, computers and other devices and through online media accessed on these aforementioned devices in today’s modern society. Recent advances in virtual, augmented and mixed reality are becoming ever more accessible to everyday society for educational, commercial and recreational use too, blurring the lines between the natural and electronic world and bringing further change to the ever evolving definition of ‘normal’. Schafer’s view of Schizophonia has become so commonplace, multiplying the everyday sounds multiple times to a point where soundscapes are so complex and full of duplication it is impossible for one to appreciate each one we hear fully and to disregard the many sounds we can no longer hear. In this case, Schafer feels we are suffering from ‘Sound Overkill’ (New, 2009) .

Whilst we could follow Schafer’s advice of trying to reduce the number of sounds in our life (New, 2009) we know that without completely changing our everyday lifestyle, we would still hear “the hum of your computer, the ticking of a clock, the electric burr of a refrigerator or an air conditioner, or the faint hum of a car passing by. Humanity’s noises are always with us in one form or another.” (Nuwer, 2014) . Therefore an interesting point to consider is if Schizophonia could be used as a possible method in providing an (albeit artificial) alternative to the noisy reality that has become the natural world and used as a means of recreating soundscapes that once existed, and using the recordings, exploring each element and expanding these libraries of sounds to fully explore and unlock the sonic potential that exists within these sounds.

Once produced, the project will then further explore the effects of placing these newly created sounds alongside their originals and phrases into an entirely new environment, using a technique known as Schismogenesis, a term derived from the Greek words ‘skhisma’ and ‘genesis’ meaning ‘creation of division’, which in turn may introduce the listener to the very problem described of ‘Sound Overkill’ from the overexposure to everything being played at once in comparison to the development tracks where each sound is addressed individually.

The portfolio draws inspiration from the works of several composers within the electroacoustic and avant garde communities. Structurally, the pieces draw inspiration from composers such as Dr Rob MacKay, Dr Matt Barnard and Francis Dhomont, whose pieces ‘Joyce’s Vision’, ‘The Piano Makers’ and the album ‘Forêt Profonde’ respectively all provided guidance on the structure of the portfolio, particularly the uses of literal definition of sounds in “Joyce’s Vision” and the continual references back to other pieces within “Forêt Profunde” that provided much guidance for the writing of the final portfolio piece “Four”. Inspiration was also drawn from composers from other fields such as John Oswald and Terje Isungset, John Bea and Jonathan Harvey. and from experts in the field of soundscape composition and recording techniques from the works of Hildegard Westerkamp, Barry Truax, Katharine Norman and Frank Bryn.

Methodology

When initially considering how best to present the final work, multiple approaches on the methodology of the project were considered and developed through a mind map. All the ideas had the same outcome to produce 30 minutes of composed music. Initial ideas included writing a singular piece based around one particular story or set of works, writing separate, linked or unlinked works working around a common narrative, or even multiple unlinked individual short works in a portfolio fashion.

Following feedback from the different ideas, a final approach was considered. This approach consisted of producing a portfolio of 30 minutes of soundscape composition. These pieces would consist of an overall piece that would define the theme of the portfolio and several ‘focused’ pieces that would hone in on various details that make up the soundscape and experiment with their sonic potential. A final piece would allow the listener to hear these modifications amongst the main soundscape to hear how the small details can change the soundscape into something entirely different.

Basing the portfolio around a format similar to the one used in Sonata form, which can be found in Classical music was chosen as a framework to allow the pieces to follow a coherent structure. In Sonata form, musical themes are first introduced in an Exposition section and introduced to the listener in their initial state. Following this a development section occurs where themes from the previous section are played again. This time, the themes are separated into their own pieces and are built upon, exploring their musical potential. In a final section, known as the Recapitulation, the phrases would be reiterated to the listener, using the same order as the exposition whilst adding in or replacing various phrases and themes with their more developed equivalents that were created in the development section.

After experimenting with different ideas the final portfolio consists of 5 works – 3 developmental pieces connected by an introduction and a conclusion and all linked to the theme of the seaside.

The first piece would be a short introductory piece and would outline to the listener the 3 chosen sets of sounds the listener might hear within the soundscape of the seaside. The second and third and fourth pieces of music would follow this introductory piece building upon and developing the sounds to create new textures , lasting about 20 minutes. These pieces would be ‘study’ pieces, focusing more closely on objects found within and around the seaside environment. The ideas chosen included pebbles, waves, sand, bells and ships amongst other ideas. These pieces would focus on the varying textures and qualities of each object, further building and developing these sounds as a study to their sonic qualities. The final piece would as as a mixture of all of the pieces mixed together. This final exploratory piece would bring together the varying elements from the initial exposition piece as well as taking the various sounds from the development pieces.

One challenge that must be addressed writing in this format however is engaging the listener in the piece as if it was performed naturally. Being acousmatic in nature, Michael McNabb describes that the issue is “is not because there is no performer on stage, but simply because there is no performer at all…composers of electronic music must realize that they are the performers, and are therefore responsible for adding all the nuance of performance to the music” (1986, pg. 144) . In one possible theory, Katharine Norman explains that “The composer can give us the chance, the freedom, to take ‘ordinary’, real world listening to new heights in our desire to identify with the story. So identification ensures attention but, as a productive exchange between teller and told, the success of an oral performance depends also on the listeners “creative incorporation of the storyteller’s experience as their own. In relating what we hear to what we already know, we continue to make use of ‘everyday’ listening, but we ‘expand’ this listening into a musical activity” (1994a). However, on the other end of the scale, one must also be wary of not losing the unique moments within the soundscape. Bernie Krause describes how a soundscape can change dramatically after his study on a managed forest area in the Sierra Nevada mountains. “A year later, after the logging operation was complete, I returned to the Lincon Meadow on the same date, at the same time and under the same weather conditions to record again…When I arrived I was delighted to see that little seemed to have changed. However, from the moment I pushed the ‘record’ button it was obvious that the once-sonorous voice of the meadow had vanished…The only prominent sounds were the stream and the hammering of a Williamson’s sapsucker” (Krause: 2012, pg 70). With this in mind, a careful balance must be created when manipulating the sounds to feel performed yet at the same time still natural, especially in the exposition and recapitulation pieces. Westerkamp warns “in order for these to be heard as soundscape compositions the abstracted sounds must in some way make audible their relationship to their original source, or to a place, time or situation” (1999).

The ideas behind these pieces came from various electroacoustic composers as well as drama creators such as the work of EarFilms, who are in the process of producing works similar to that of a radio drama . The company more specifically defines an EarFilm’s aim, “to create a playground for the imagination — a medium where your minds eye fills in the blanks and paints the pictures, choose the camera angles and the costumes, allows you to become the director. An EarFilm isn’t just the telling of a story — it’s a way for the listener to be a part of it.” (EarFilms, 2013). Their approach of telling a story through sound as well as producing in an ambisonic format provided inspiration to keep my piece in a larger dimension such as using Binaural, despite now being limited to a stereo stage.

Drawing inspiration from this as well as following a combined format based loosely around elements of Sonata form and the use of Schafer’s idea of Schizophonia and Feld’s idea of Schismogenesis and also using Dhomont’s Chambers and Bridge pieces framework in ‘Forêt Profonde‘ also play a vital part in keeping the pieces linked with references to each piece demonstrated in the initial piece and the final piece and well as background reference sounds running through each piece.

Sea & Hear

‘Sea and Hear’ is a short piece, written to introduce the listener to the environment by the sea where the sounds we are to analyse are all connected to. The piece is written as a soundscape narrative. As Truax explains, “soundscape composition, obviously, brings together two things, using technology compositionally and using soundscape elements not as just material but as an idealized or virtual sonic environment. And with eight channel surround sound, you are immersed, just as you are in the soundscape all the time, so you’re recreating the soundscape experience rather than stereo frontal experience of acousmonium or the traditional orchestra”. (1999).

With the following pieces undergoing processing in comparison to this initial piece, one might consider the portfolio to be purely musique concréte. However, this initial track follows closer to the soundscape paradigm. Truax supports this by stating that “The essential difference between an electroacoustic composition that uses pre-recorded environmental sound as its source material, and a work that can be called a soundscape composition, is that in the former, the sound loses all or most of its environmental context. In fact, even its original identity is frequently lost through the extensive manipulation it has undergone, and the listener may not recognise the source unless so informed by the composer. In the soundscape composition, on the other hand, it is precisely the environmental context that is preserved, enhanced and exploited by the composer(2001, pg 237). He also feels that “the original sounds must stay recognizable and the listener’s contextual and symbolic associations should be invoked for a piece to be a soundscape composition.” (2008).

Whilst the soundscape itself has been constructed schizmogenically, the sounds themselves were collected in their natural environments (as opposed to a controlled studio environment) and only transparently edited to ensure the smooth fitting of each clip used, following Westerkamp’s guidance of soundscape composition.

With a nod to the structure of Sonata Form, this piece forms the primary exposition of the portfolio, introducing the listener to the original sounds heard in the environment before they are manipulated in the later developmental pieces. As Schafer states in ‘Listen’, “In a way the world is a huge composition, a huge musical composition that’s going on all the time…We are the composers of this huge miraculous composition that’s going on around us and we can improve it or we can destroy it. We can add more noises or we can add more beautiful sounds, it’s all up to us” (New, 2009).

Research & Inspiration

Being a piece based around the sounds around us, various sonic walks around the cliffs and the two bays of Scarborough, North Yorkshire provided an amazing insight to the various sounds that could be gathered The Earfilms installations provided a great source of inspiration here creating pieces “where each listener can be in the centre of their own sonic story — where characters walk past you, street markets bustle around — where your ears can become your eyes.” (Earfilms, 2013). The inspiration from this piece provided the idea of taking the listeners to ‘step in’ and be immersed within the piece as it guides the listener through an artificially built environment designed to sound natural at first until the walk reaches it’s end and where the development section is announced.

John Cage who is best known for his pieces focusing on the purity of natural sound provided much inspiration for the very direct delivery of the sounds within this piece. He “love[s] sounds, just as they are, and I have no need for them to be anything more. I don’t want sound to be psychological. I don’t want a sound to pretend that it’s a bucket, or that it’s a president, or that it’s in love with another sound. I just want it to be a sound.” (Cage in ‘casinodc00’, 2007).

Another source of inspiration was Truax’s ‘Pendlerdrøm‘, a soundscape composition written by himself and 11 other composers. In his commentary he explains “Each composer was provided with a one-hour recording at the Central Station in Copenhagen, January 2, 1997 between 4:30 and 21:30, during which time 8,000 postcards were distributed to the travellers encountered…I was provided with the last recording of the day which suggested to me the narrative structure of the piece – a tired commuter arriving at the Station at the end of the day, waiting for his local train amidst the flurry of activity in the large station, getting on the local train, falling into a light slumber during which time previously heard events come back in the form of blurred memories, awaking with a start when the next station is announced, getting off and leaving the station. ” (Truax, 1997). The use of the natural audio during the introductory part of the piece and in between the dream stages, using only transparent editing in order to allow sounds to appear in an organised form, provides a natural and believable sounding environment that “composes a narrative through listening, and where a way of listening provides a map to read. The absence of discovery, revelation and desire in the daily commute (in reality or as metaphor) is supplanted by the encouragement of discovery, revelation and desire in our listening response to sound. One map overlays the other.” (Norman, 2004). This piece’s natural feel provided inspiration for the piece as well as a solid framework from which the piece could follow.

A further source of structural inspiration came from Katharine Norman’s interactive sound-essay titled ‘Window’. Available on her website, the application is a tribute to John Cage’s work and explores the listening to of everyday sounds from a window. Presented as a soundscape that changes over the space of a year, the listener can adjust different circles on the screen in the application to control various sources of sound within the soundscape and change their presence in the final mix by bringing the sounds further into the foreground or background, or remove them entirely.

A Third source of inspiration came from the work of Hildegard Westerkamp. McCartney explains that “Westerkamp’s approach to composing is based on listening to the sounds of a place, and using electronic means to subtly highlight the voices of that place, drawing attention to its sonic specificities and musicalities. Because of Westerkamp’s insistence on the specificity of places, it is important to consider current scholarship about place and music.” (1999).

Commentary

The piece begins fading in slowly with the sounds of the sea and an overall beach sound, allowing the listener to become immersed within the soundscape. This phrase then fades to silence and a second phrase begins this time with the sound of scrunching and breaking of ice. After a second pause, the third and final section begins with the tolling of a tower bell fading in, remaining with the listener momentarily and then slowly fading out into silence.

The inspiration from this piece provided the idea of easing the listeners into the portfolio by introducing them to the raw material used in the subsequent pieces in its most pure form.

Stroke, Splash & Ripple

Stroke, Splash and Ripple’ explores the theme and nature of water itself, with a focus on both still water as well as tidal sea water, exploring their respective auditory characteristics and sonic potential using a large collection of found sound. These sounds are used both in their original form and after being exposed to various digital processes and treatments. These treatments take advantage of the sound sample’s potential as well as creating mimetic depictions of common descriptions of various water settings . Due to the limited accessibility to some of the plugins used to create some of the phrases within the piece it , various sounds and phrases were composed and constructed in several small sections, with some phrases being created and spacialised in B Format initially, then once complete were decoded into Binaural Stereo and rendered. Other phrases were created in pure Stereo. To enable a greater accessibility for all and to increase the practicality of listening to the final piece, the decision was made to render the final piece in Binaural Stereo, which could be listened to normally across loudspeakers, or enhanced through the use of headphones.

Being the first of the three development pieces in the portfolio, this piece follows on from the exposition, introducing the first developments to the listener. In classical music this can often involve changes in key, or changing the melody of a particular phrase to explore it’s potential. In the case of this portfolio the sounds are isolated from their original phrases performed in the exposition and are put through a series of treatments and the tempo, order and shape of the sounds are explored and manipulated.

Research & Inspiration

Inspiration was drawn from Francis Dhomont’s ‘Forêt Profonde’ his psychoanalytical melodrama based around Bruno Bettleheim’s essay titled ‘The Uses of Enchantment’, that takes analogises a deep dark forest of thoughts to demonstrate that the child within us can still experience and ‘get lost’ in the magic of hearing fairy tales and children’s stories even as adults. Throughout this album Dhomont’s methodology of creating pieces surrounding a topic, dubbed as Room pieces. These pieces are then connected to each other using smaller ‘Bridge’ pieces that build upon the phrases and themes heard in the previous piece. An example of this structure can be found between the first three tracks of ‘Forêt Profonde’. ‘Chambre d’enfants’ (translation: ‘Children’s Room’), is the first Room piece that introduces the listener to a theme of children. It opens with a harsh texture of tones, weaving in and out of the foreground around the sounds of a music box, the sounds of children playing, and the sound of frogs, illustrating the metaphor of the childhood within us and the physical inhabitants of forests over the world. Following on, a second section involving a piano playing three chords as the supporting sounds fade away and the piece ends. ‘L’ore E Du Conte’ (translation: ‘At the Edge of the Tale’) is the following bridge piece which builds upon these same musical phrases of children playing and the music box theme heard at the beginning of ‘Chambre D’enfants’ and expands the theme further, exposing the listener to the narration of the story of ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’ heard in French, English, German, Spanish, Danish, Slovak and Italian, again heard weaving in and out of the foreground. The interchanging of these sounds creates an interesting pattern of the changing of diegesis, with the music box fading from it’s regular foreground role into a background sound and eventually disappearing as the drone tones heard also in the previous piece return again into a foreground role. The voice previously telling the story also shift into the sounds of the music box creating a mix, which in turn are manipulated and shuffled, turning the narration into a non digetic sound. The third piece titled ‘Chambre Interdite’ (translation: ‘Forbidden Room’) then departs from this theme, creating another Room piece.

If Dhomont’s framework was to be applied at this stage, ‘Stroke, Splash and Ripple’ would become the first room piece, introducing the various types and textures of sounds and phrasing based around the theme of water.

The piece also employs the technique of a running tones throughout the piece, with the first one beginning at 1:41 and ending at 3:01, the second one in the form of a harmony beginning at 3:01 and ending at 6:08 and the final one beginning at 6:47 and ending at 8:30. The inspiration for these was drawn from a similar idea used within ‘The Piano Makers’ written by Dr. Matt Barnard. The Tone begins at 9 minutes 36 seconds amongst the background sounds of the piano factory and has a lasting presence as it guides the listener through a section that Barnard describes at the sanding of the soundboard. The tone first appears very subtly in the background, dipping in and out of the hammering sounds, mimetically representing the sounds of a sanding machine. This dipping eventually becomes continuous and takes the foreground. This timbre then begins to change as the sound develops whilst still holding the texture and feel of the original sound. Other melodic tones subtly introduce themselves, and a ‘sliding’ sensation as the notes change pitch briefly makes an appearance as the tone still continues. The Factory sounds gradually fade to background and disappear completely during the process of this phrase. The tone eventually loses it’s volume and retracts into the background as the falling and rising tones appear again. At about 12 minutes into the piece, all the other sounds of manufacturing fade into nothing as various pitched tones interact with each other. The varying level of these tones fluctuates as they develop, other tonal qualities start to appear. Octaved versions of the original tone appear and take the foreground as the sound level continues to fluctuate and at 13 minutes 27 seconds the tones transform into the rising pitches and then bring an abrupt ending to the section as the piece moves back into the manufacturing sounds and a new section begins.

The layering aspect of John Beal’s Piece ‘The Dungeon Master’s Lair’, a contrasting piece to his work forming the soundtrack written for the game Zork: Grand Inquisitor, also provided inspiration for the composition of the warm, harmonic elements within the piece.

Commentary

The piece opens with the sounds of splashing tidal water, building over time and climaxing in the large crash of a wave. As the effects of the crash settle, it brings the listener into the first development of the sounds giving a deep, sinking feeling. During the course of the sinking, small hints of the sections to come are introduced to the listener, moving steadily into the foreground briefly and then retracting again, much like the tidal waves on the water’s surface. As the sinking feeling begins to fade into the background a more gentle tinkling sound fades into view, with various ornamental notes and transformations fluttering in and out of the foreground, before fading and giving way to a harmonic churning sound. This sound plays introduction to the next section as a large, much clearer harmony of notes drastically plays, designed to represent the warmth and calming feel that water can have on us. These notes constantly change in character, pulsating and retracting with a small ‘dripping’ sensation hidden beneath them. The sound was created by passing a the sound of gentler waves through a comb filter set on the extreme lowest setting. The pulsating character of the waves causes a stronger notes to be generated creating a dynamic array of notes throughout the phrase. Over time these notes develop as other layered tones fade between background and foreground giving a harmonised sound. Beal’s ‘The Dungeon Master’s Lair’, inspired much of the phrasing in this section. ‘The Dungeon Master’s Lair’ consists of multiple layers of both recorded and treated sound, produced by both instruments and generated tones. Throughout the piece many of these sounds fade into the foreground momentarily for seconds at a time before sinking into the background or fading out entirely, whilst other layers such as the tones are in the near background for longer periods of time, supporting these ornamental sections.

The harmonic sounds then leave the listener, transforming into distorted noise as they travel into a darker section, briefly introduced by small watery fanfare followed rapidly by a succession of bubbling sounds. The bubbling begin to change in pitch as the piece continues solidifying into more solid tones, similar in principle to the previous section, but adding a lighter, more airy feel to the texture. Throughout the duration of this piece, small tinkling sounds can be heard hinting to the listener the nature of the following piece.

As a build-up of sound occurs, a swishing, crashing sound brings the piece to a close. This type of effect was inspired by the ending of MacKay’s piece titled ‘Environs’.

The following phrase fades out the piece with the sound of crashing waves and the crunching of ice sounds, preparing the listener for the second development piece, ‘Running Cold’.

Running Cold

Running Cold is the second development piece, which acts as a follow on from ‘Stroke, Splash and Ripple’. Having a loose focus around the theme of ice, this piece had a larger connection to the first piece in comparison to the other study pieces owing to sharing sounds along with traditional water pieces but can also be viewed as an independent piece as well due to the expansion of the sounds also past the freezing point and with a different texture, allows an entirely different set of sound to be explored.

Research & Inspiration

Research into understanding the methods used when collecting the sounds used within this piece included examining the techniques used by Frank Bry as ‘The Recordist’ and his work recording ice and that of Jean-Edouard.

The work of Terje Isungset and his various compositions using instruments made from organic ice also provided the inspiration for using ice as an instrument. Many of his pieces are performed on various instruments made in part if not entirely from ice frozen from water collected from a wide variety of natural sources. In an interview Insungset claims “Some pieces of ice [have] amazing tones…They make ice in factories that is ‘perfect’. It’s crystal clear, no air bubbles, just perfect, but it’s dead, it has no sound” (Insungset in ghillsmian 2008). In order to maximise the tonality of this ice, he explains that “the ice sound[s] better when it’s cold. You get more of the high frequent notes and you get the low…the whole range”. However his colleague warns that this isn’t guaranteed in performance. “It’s a trial and error process, with every instrument because they’re never the same so you never know what’s going to happen”. (Isungset and Hallibaken 2013).

In his piece ‘In Glacier’ on his album titled ‘Ice Concerts’, over the space of two minutes, Isungset uses a varies of different percussive techniques to the sounds. The constant but varied pacing of each layer of sound adds contrast to the piece with different layers moving into the foreground momentarily to perform a phrase before fading back into the background to allow the next sound to move in.  A similar idea can be heard in the ‘Spring’ on the same album, however there are fewer layers than in ‘In Glacier’ and the main sound that is used repetitively to keep the rhythm of the who piece is almost constantly present in the background.

The structural layering within the piece ‘In Glacier’ provided the primary source of inspiration for the overall structure of the initial piece which begins in the same vein as the ending of the first piece, providing an optional “follow on” if the pieces were to be played in order. Each of the 8 layered phrases within the piece were given either a set repeating pattern or a set speed to be played at, with the unset parameter varied throughout the performance.

The work of Cheryl E Leonard was also a source on inspiration. Much like Insungset, Leonard performs her music through self built instruments using a wide variety of raw materials. Her piece, “Polarnatt” showcases some of these self built instruments including use of seashells, glass, stones and sea salt. These sounds are mixed with field recording taken when Leonard visited Svalbard, where the piece takes it’s inspiration. She explains that “During my time in Svalbard I experienced the profound changes in length of day, quality of light, and temperature that characterize the region’s short autumn. By the time I left, a week before the sun set for the winter, daytime had waned dramatically, going from 12 hours to 5 hours in length, and I couldn’t help but contemplate what it would be like to experience polar night.” (Leonard, 2013). Other pieces include the soundscape field recordings by Leonard on her album, Chattermarks: Field Recordings from Palmer Station, Antarctica. In the album notes she explains ” I went to the Ice to create music using natural sounds and materials, but I began by simply listening. I needed to first experience, explore, and try to understand this unique place: its ecosystems, weather, landscapes and sounds. So each day I roamed amongst the melting ice and bustling wildlife, searching out and recording Palmer’s soundscapes.” (2010).

First Approach

The beginning of the piece was written to fit along seamlessly with the ending of ‘Stroke, Splash and Ripple’  if you were to listen to the portfolio as a whole, yet was also able to be listened to independent of the other pieces and opens up with the same cracking sounds that appeared in the First piece as the water sounds begin to solidify. The water sounds become fragmented and the tempo increases transforming the sound into a gritty, solid texture. As these sounds peak, they begin to settle as a slushy sound fades into the foreground. These sounds in turn melts into the background, giving way to a faint harmony of plucking sounds can be heard in both ears moving into the wider foreground, which rapidly fade to a soft, airy sound that trails into quietness.

These sounds were created from a series of recording of ice being cracked and crunched passing through through a phaser to give it a quavering a delicate texture. The sound was then split and passed though 4 different comb filters creating a harmonic chorus of sound spread across 4 different musical octaves. The individual sounds are not tuned to set notes, but harmonise loosely around the diatonic chord of C Major.  The resulting sound was the duplicated and re-pitched down two octaves to create a large spanning 8 part harmony that has a ‘singing’ quality. To expand the contrast and feel of this sound further, the audio was rendered and and a much lighter feel to the sound was was achieved by stretching the finished sound by 10 times through Paulstretch. The shorter sound acts almost as an ornaments to the smoother tones. 

A contrasting section then begins producing non melodic sounds, including a slushy introduction sounds, followed by a brief period of silence before a series of short, sharp interleaving shuffling sounds emerge momentarily before transforming into pitched plucking sounds, beginning the next section.

The new pitched section continues much like the first and again when finished is followed by a non pitched section of a similar nature.

After the third pitched section is complete however, it is followed by a further extension of pitched and non pitched sounds interacting together before giving way to the third non pitched section.

At the end of this, an abrupt singular pluck is heard as a new part of the piece begins. This part employs a call and response technique, consisting of a single strong ‘plucking’ sound, followed by silence, then a response of a quiet reaction into a fragmented crackling sound. The process repeats twice more, the plucking sounds increasing in number and with a large swell of reaction on the second repetition ended by a sharp pluck and the fragmented sounds re-emerge. A final pluck concludes the end of the piece.

Second Approach

Drawing ideas from the initial piece, it was felt that the non percussive textures created a much better sense of development over the more melodic sounds. With this feedback in mind, a new approach was taken, and a new piece was created, taking the non melodic elements from the original work and creating new developments on these textures.

This piece opens with a rather mushy scrunching texture which slowly transforms into a more solid sound followed by a large solid bang, signifying a new section. Short sharp sounds follow this , layering up to create a delicate texture, climaxing then reducing in intensity until it reaches silence. More of these sounds follow on the prompt of a small “pick” sound. With the second approach to the piece, the framework was inspired by MacKay’s ‘Environs’ piece, which ” continues my interest in exploring the musical and structural implications of using recognisable sound sources. Indeed, the piece contains almost exclusively everyday sounds (the unidentifiable sounds being derived from the recognisable). I have used the sounds for their physical connotations as well as for their acoustic properties and musical potential. Thus creating different levels of meaning. I have created different sound environments. Each environment having its own environs, or perimeter, defined by a door motif.” (2012).

On the fourth iteration of these ‘picking’ sounds, a more solid (but not as strong) bang is heard as a flurry of textures invade the foreground as if running from a hole. As these sounds begin to die down, different textures are briefly showcased until they die out. Two more bangs reveal a small chorus of sound, which is abruptly silenced by a third bang. Bringing the listeners into a more watery section, the sounds smoothen out to explore a less solid texture before a small sound then whips the listener back into the flurry of layered sound. This  until the section is concluded with a final bang.

Timeless

‘Timeless’ is the second study piece continuing the ‘study’ section of the framework, this time focusing on the theme of bells. The concept behind this piece was to take the sound of the various bells heard out to sea and near the harbour. Bells have been used at sea since the 15th Century, often for the means of communication or for performance as a musical instrument. On ships, bells were used as a communications device either as part of a telegraph system and was rung as orders from the bridge were sent to the engine room or as a manually rung bell to record the time each half an hour that a watchman was on shift. Bells are also used in Public Houses behind drinks bars to call last orders for drinks before the bar closes and bells are often used in places of worship to call a congregation to service. The piece will explore the different tonal bells that can be heard around the sea making use of found sound from a wide range of bells recorded from ships and the harbour as well as religious and public venues surrounding the seaside and used to further explore their sonic qualities and potential when further treated and processed to produce a piece of electroacoustic music lasting around 5 minutes in duration.

Research & Inspiration

One source of inspiration to begin the piece with is a sound heard by people nearly everyday in clocks around the world. The ‘Cambridge Quarters’ (often commonly known as the ‘Westminster Quarters’) was written in 1793, though the official composer is unconfirmed. Dr Joseph Jowett is given credit for the main composition, but it is “almost wholly unsubstantiated, tradition that he received assistance either from Dr Randall, the Professor of Music, or from his brilliant undergraduate pupil, William Crotch (1775-1847).” (The Society of Cambridge Youths, 2013). The piece is loosely based on “I know that my Redeemer Liveth”, a movement in “Messiah” by Frideric Handel. Traditionally played on bells, the opening notes seemed a fitting opening to a piece based on bells.

A second source of inspiration was John Harvey’s “Mortuos Plango Vivos Voco”,  an exploitative piece based around the found sound of Winchester Cathedral’s tenor bell as well as using the choral sound of Harvey’s son who was a chorister at the cathedral previous to his composition of the piece. Written both in a multichannel and stereo format, Harvey explores the spectral structure of the bell and produces his piece based around it’s broad tonal range. He explains that “The pitch and time structure of my work is entirely based on the bell’s rich, irregular harmonic spectrum, a structure neither tonal nor dodecaphonic nor modal in any western or oriental sense, but unique to itself”. The eight sections are each based on one of the principal eight lowest partials. Chords are constructed from the repertoire of 33 partials; modulations from one area of the spectrum to another are effected by glissandi. Constant transformations between the spectrum of a vocal vowel and that of the bell are made by internal manipulation of the two sounds’ components.” (Harvey, n.d.). The title is Latin and it ” and [the]  text of the work are taken from the bell’s inscription: “Horas Avolantes Numero, Mortuos Plango: Vivos ad Preces Voco” [I count the fleeting hours, I lament the dead: the living I call to prayer].” (Dirks,  2007).  The  piece is 9 minutes in length and is based on the sound of pealing bells and choral singing.

The piece begins with a rapid 4 note scalic decent on ringing bells. The sound of various notes can be heard in the background tolling rhythmically including the original bell pitch. A voice can also be heard reciting parts of the bell’s inscription imitating the bell’s rhythms.  The descending scale slows with each repetition faint into the background and allowing the rhythmically timing bells to take the main focus. Vocal chants enter the soundscape and the tolling is reduced to a single bell that fades into silence,  followed by smooth long tonal bell notes and fades.  These sounds then begin to weave in and out of foreground a the the choral chants continue. A  single tone is then heard and a sound as both a mix of the bell and choral sounds begin to ‘grain’ into short sharp sounds. What follows is a series of long tonal sounds mixed with rapid bell notes and a series of long winding tones as Harvey explores the tonal resonance of the bells. The choral voices weave in and out of these developments,imitating the same pitch and tonal quality of the bell sounds, giving an airy and light feel to the phrase. These voices can be heard moving across the stereo stage freely around the spaced tonal sounds of the bell sounds. In the performance version of the piece, this was greater enhanced through a spacialised performance. As Harvey describes, “The walls of the concert hall are conceived as the sides of the bell inside which is the audience, and around which (especially in the original 8-channel version) flies the free spirit of the boy” (1980).

A second piece ‘Bell Speeds’, a plunderphonic piece written by John Oswald was also explored. Oswald is known for coining the term ‘plunderphonics’, the practise of taking existing recorded audio and manipulating it to form a new composition. Oswald explains, “A plunderphone is a recognizable sonic quote, using the actual sound of something familiar which has already been recorded. Whistling a bar of ‘Density 21.5’ is a traditional musical quote. Taking Madonna singing ‘Like a Virgin’ and rerecording it backwards or slower is plunderphonics, as long as you can reasonably recognize the source. The plundering has to be blatant though. There’s a lot of samplepocketing, parroting, plagiarism and tune thievery going on these days which is not what we’re doing.” (Oswald in Igma, 1988).

Much to the description that Oswald gives for his piece, “the pealing of a bell the size of a pea, heard in eight octaves.” (1983), the piece begins with a medium toned tolling sound, followed by a second layer of lower sounding tolling that is much slower. As the piece progresses, more layers are added ranging from higher and faster pitched to lower, almost gamelan like sounds with the higher layers being places further into the foreground, panned around the stereo environment. Two noticeable layers are high in pitch and fast in tempo and span the whole stereo stage alternating with each ring. As the piece draws to a close, many of the layers fade away into silence leaving one low tone and the two high pitched ringing sounds to play. These in turn fade to the one singular high pitched ringing, which stopping abruptly, ends the piece.

Researching into possible techniques for the sounding of the bells, the use of bells in clock chiming,  in the popular art of English change ringing and the use and method of ringing the bell as part of ship watch systems were chosen as techniques to be used within the piece.

Change ringing is a method of controlling the sounding of bells through use of a rope and wheel system to a set pattern, most popularly found within England, though it is also practised throughout other parts of the UK and the world. The ringing is performed by a group of people,  often by tower bell ringers, particularly in churches, but is also practised in other forms such as hand bells too. According to the UK Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, change ringing is practised by bells “tuned to a normal (diatonic) scale and it is usual to start with ringing down the scale, a sequence which ringers call “rounds”. The order in which the bells sound is then altered to give different sequences called “rows” or “changes”.” (The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, 2012). Many of these changes can be formed into complex patterns through a practise called ‘method ringing’. The North American Guild of change ringers explains that “

Methods do not resemble either the tunes typically played on a carillon or the jangle of European style church bell ringing but instead are the majestic pealing that is associated with great English state ceremonies as well as humble village weddings. The changes in the order of the bells’ sounding that constitute a method are governed by four rules and one ideal. The rules are that: (a) each bell sounds once in each row; (b) no bell may move more than one position at each change/row; (c) no row is repeated; and (d) the ringing begins and ends in Rounds. The ideal is that the spacing should be exactly equal between every pair of bells in each row.” (North American Guild of Church Ringers, n.d). Change ringing played a large part in giving the piece it’s tonality and provided the main body of found sound for the piece, allowing the time stretching techniques used by Harvey to bring out the tonal harmonies within the bells’ varying tones. In order to understand the different orders the bells would appear in, several methods were auditioned with a combination of X and Y chosen to be used within the piece.” (NAGCR, 2010)

As previously mentioned in a ship watch system, bells are used to communicate the time. The day is divided up into 6 four hour shifts, also known as “watches”. Every half an hour the bell is rung to notify the time with the amount of rings increasing by one each time until the 4th hours (8 rings) announces the end of the watch and the change of hands on board. The exception to this was the ‘dog watch’ which was split into two hours to allow for crew members to have an evening meal and the bell times were adjusted accordingly. Use of these within the piece may could help to communicate the structure of the piece.

Commentary

The piece begins with a heavily processed sound of the ‘Cambridge Quarters’ being played through the sound of lo-fi playback quality, much like the sound of a cassette player. This technique was inspired by the opening phrase in ‘Woche (with apologies to Ruttman and Brock)’ by Dr. Matt Barnard. The piece begins with the sounds of a recorded tape player appearing and disappearing to the listener in the farther foreground. As this progresses the sound grows out of the tape sound and becomes more prominent in the foreground. Barnard explains that his piece, “Using material recorded binaurally over a week long visit to London, Woche… aims, with reference to both Walter Ruttmann’s ‘Wochenende’ (1930), Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt’ (1927) and Timothy Brock’s 1995 soundtrack for ‘Berlin:…’, to communicate on some level the pace and rhythm of the city, and the fleeting experiences of a visitor.” (Barnard, 2009). 

This sound then begins to grow into a swooshing sound into a large ringing, which in turn introduces the tolling of a single toned bell, heard on opposite sides of the stereo stage with each ring. Higher pitched, smaller bells join this tolling, further into the foreground sounding in pairs, creating a mimetic sound of paired ship’s watch tolling. 

As the final toll rings on the lower of the bells, the note is held, as if to hear it ring in ‘slow motion’. These sounds have a similar resemblance to the technique used to achieve the bell resonances heard within Truax’s piece, ‘Basilica’, however in this piece, the pattern is less complex and the bell can be heard slowly melting into the background. The tempo of the higher pitched bells increases, transforming the bells into various fleeting pitches as the sound of a medium toned bell passes through the middle foreground of the soundscape. The higher bells exit the scene shortly after leaving the held lower tone to slowly decay. 

As a second ‘slow motion ring’ occurs in the lower tone, an ornamental array emerges as the higher pitched bells return in a fragmented formation, rapidly fluttering. A distant echo of the Cambridge chimes can be heard again deep in the background played within the sound of a middle sounding tone. The higher pitched bells return, ringing in different pitches, adding contrast and pacing against to the much slower textures in the background.

 As a slower sound fades in and out of view under the weight of the third slow motion ring, the bells begin to ring faster changing pitch until they reach a unison note and appear to melt into the the slower sound. The transformed bells play out in the middle of the soundfield, taking the focus of the piece momentarily before an array of slower, more transformed bells can be heard entering. The changing pitch and tempo of these layered sounds creates a wide contrast of sound, creating a texture similar to that of the toys heard at the beginning of Andrew’s Lewis’ ‘Scherzo’. Following a very similar technique, he explains that, “it is the pure musicality of the material which is being explored [in Scherzo], rather than its poetic or anecdotal possibilities” (Lewis, 2003).

The wide texture abruptly ends at its climax with the final stroke of the single toned bell from the beginning of the piece, bringing the section to a close with the final long tone providing a final flourish to the conclusion of the piece.

Four

‘Four’ is the final piece in the portfolio. Much like Water, Running Cold and Timeless, this piece uses processed sounds, however it is not classed as a developmental piece. This is an exploratory piece, created into four sections, which focuses on the concept of building and expanding upon the various textures and phrases in a developed soundscape. The piece aims to show the listener how the sounds have changed through development and how these sounds can all interact to create new sonic possibilities.

Despite being the fifth piece in the portfolio, the name was chosen for many reasons. The structure of the Cambridge chimes used within the piece come into four parts. It is the forth piece to use developed sounds. It also has connections to music theory where four is the common base number for many elements, including timing where the most common beat is 4/4 or “four four”, a semi-breve usually last for four beats and in many time signatures, the relative number is divisible into four. The naming of this piece in such a way represents it’s universality amongst the portfolio taking from the three developmental pieces as well as the original sounds heard in the exposition.

Research & Inspiration

Being the final piece in the portfolio, all of the sounds heard within it were taken from the three development pieces and the sounds of the introductory piece, with only minor modifications such as the change of pitch or tempo being applied to some sounds to allow for the smooth fitting of various sounds to create the desired textures.

Much like Running Cold and indeed taking elements learned through the composition of that piece, ‘Four’ takes some structural inspiration from MacKay’s ‘Environs’ piece, in terms of using a motif sound to help break up various sections of the piece as well as the use of silence to help with sectioning and to produce contrast throughout the piece, particularly sections that have a complex texture. The splitting of the whole piece into four was based around using the melody of the Cambridge quarters into four.

Commentary

The piece begins with a small beginning section that reintroduces the listener to the sounds of the first three pieces. Whilst coincidental at the time of composition, these sounds are revealed to the listener in the same order that the development pieces appear within the portfolio. Firstly,  the sounds of the crashing waves of the sea that can be heard from the ‘Stroke, Splash and Ripple”. These sounds then begin to rapidly transform into the  scrunching into the ice sounds heard in ‘Running Cold’, which slows into silence. The process repeats, inspired by the format created in ‘Running Cold’, will the sound of the tolling bell from ‘Timeless’ in the third iteration. This third iteration differs, replacing the ice with the sound of the higher pitched bells heard in ‘Timeless’ which transform in pitch and texture, being influenced by the scrunching ice sounds and the nature of the waves from the First piece entering the sound stage once again. Within the near background the sound of a slow version of the beginning of the Cambridge Quarters can be heard. These slow, airy phrases appear throughout the piece breaking up the piece into the four sections it contains.

A bang then abruptly changes the scene, brining in rapidly rushing  ice sounds that have a thin and sharp feel to them. These sound then in turn smoothen out as the warm harmonic sounds from ‘Stroke, Splash and Ripple’  fade into the background. As these sounds move slowly into the foreground the ice sounds lessen until they all disappear, followed by the harmonies fading into silence. After a brief period, a wave brings the listener into a new section, again containing the ‘Cambridge Quarters’ that play the second part of the melody. The sound of waves wash over this melody with the sound of distant notes being herd within the waves. A high toned bell abruptly silences these waves, bringing in a slow harmony of metallic notes in the near background whilst the ornamental high pitched bells rapidly shimmer in the foreground, clearing into more define notes that change in pitch before momentarily giving way to a sinking sound.  These bell sounds then shortly return increasing the change in pitch and tempo rapidly, being influenced by a distant muddy tone that gets ever closer to the listener before retracting backwards as the bells slow down into silence.

A familiar bang then brings the listener back to a shuffling sound of ice, followed by a second bang, brining the listener back into the gentle warm harmonic tones heard earlier in the piece. The muddy tone can be heard making an appearance in the background, before fading and giving way to the third part of the Cambridge Quarters melody.

The third section is more paced than the previous two sections, brining in rapid whirling sounds from the water in ‘Stroke, Splash and Ripple’. The sounds of the rapid ice join these whirling textures and a bell can be heard, introducing the sounds of the rapid pitch changing bells. These sounds begin to interact with each other influencing each other’s pitch and tempo. As the build up of sound begins to snowball, the final part of the ‘Cambridge Quarters’ can be heard slowly making it’s way to the listener from the background forwards. As the snowball reaches it’s peak and as the final phrase of the ‘Cambridge Quarters’ is played, a ‘final note’ can be heard made up from a crashing wave, the bang from ‘Running Cold’ and the tolling of a bell in ‘Timeless’, to bring the sounds from all of these pieces to a close, leaving the listener with the decaying sound of the quarters fading away.

As a final epilogue to the piece, a reprisal of the different sounds that were showcased at the beginning of the portfolio in the exposition piece can be heard, brining the listener full circle back to the original sounds and themes and brining the portfolio to a conclusion.

Conclusion

Throughout the composition of the five pieces within the portfolio, I have discovered different links between the material collected and how different sets of the material can interact when combined.

For example, in ‘Sea and Hear’, each of the different sets of sounds are isolated from one another and are compartmentalised into their own themes. In ‘Stroke, Splash and Ripple’ the sounds of the water were combined with a number of filters, creating a wide variety of different textures, each adding a different characteristic to the base sound of the water material. Combining these sounds allowed for a wide character profile of water to be created and provided a good base layer for a larger piece that was open to interactivity with other material. During the process of creating ‘Running Cold’, putting the sound through filters, again changed the characteristics of the ice, splitting the material into two sorts of ice sounds. The more gentle, pitched based sounds created for the initial composition provided a gentle feeling for a piece similar to those in ‘Stroke, Splash and Ripple’. This in turn created potential links between the two pieces. These elements were still retained in the final piece, contrasting with the more percussive sounds that created the more brittle effect that almost metaphorically described the texture of the material used to create it. In ‘Timeless’, as sounds were stretched to extreme lengths, new tones were discovered within the material, allowing for pitched based interactivity between the material , which was also discovered to be beneficial for interacting with the material from ‘Stroke, Splash and Ripple’ and ‘Running Cold’ during the composition of ‘Four’. Whilst less prevalent, this allowed for similar interactivity when the sounds were granulated and the pitch rapidly changed too. Through research it was also discovered that much if the processing still mimicked the common sounds and themes of bells and tuned percussion in everyday life through the piece.

Whilst the methodology that was followed served the purpose of the project, the scope itself was quite narrow and could further be expanded.

For example, one area that could be expanded would involve collecting an alternate collection of sounds to create ‘families’ of pieces similar to the portfolio created for this project and see how the same forms of division and creation effect these other soundscapes.

These families could then be brought together and explored further, possibly through a diffused installation where an end user can interact with the soundscape, focusing in on the smaller ornamental elements or expanding out into a larger picture hearing the larger equivalents of ‘Four’ from each family playing side by side in an overall ‘umbrella’ composition. Within this installation the layers of processing could be turned on and off at will demonstrating to the user how in turn adding these sounds generates a new view of the soundscape and allowing them to draw their own view on Schafer’s ideal of a pure soundscape with fewer sounds and the vast complexity of the busier soundscape.

Finally, these pieces could have further structuring, particularly if used in an installation to allow a smoother transition between each soundscape. This structuring could be built upon the ideas Dhomont had with the structure of ‘Forêt Profondewith room and bridge pieces. Further pieces would need to be developed using the sounds from each soundscape with different combinations used to create the bridge between each soundscape. The number of total soundscapes create would need to be determined initially in addition to whether the portfolio or installation would be linear or dynamically controlled by the listener. This would be important as each one added would multiply the number of bridge pieces needed to be created.

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