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Bob Sturm

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Pacific Pulse, electroacoustic composition for 8-channels

Pacific Pulse is sculpted from sonifications of spectral data from fourteen buoys that extend along the entire Pacific coast of the United States. The data was collected during November and December of 2001, which were particularly active months: one swell removed 50,000 cubic yards of sand in one night from a single beach. The fourteen datasets were sonified using several spectral transpositions and window shapes and sizes. A total of 266 minutes of sound was synthesized, of which about 40 minutes was used in the piece.

Sonifications of the entire coast using different parameters are presented in four sections. In one section these are arranged in the circle of speakers according to latitude to hear the movement of wave trains from north to south as circular panning. The final section is composed from all fourteen buoys sonified with three different transpositions, creating a particularly full sound. Gestures and ornaments accompany the sections, linked by short transitions, or interludes. In one section gestures of low rumbling waves are superimposed on flowing, high transpositions. The difference between the frequency spaces is like the liquid gap between the surface and deep ocean floor.

Pacific Pulse attempts to craft a sound-space as massive as the ocean. Curiously, the signal processing effect that gives the impression of immense space---reverberation---was almost unnecessary; the fourteen buoys provide natural echoes of the wave trains butting the coast. Pacific Pulse is sometimes a mimesis of waves in deep and shallow water, and at other times a reflection of the sudden chaos created by huge storm systems. It was created such that it does not rely on its origins to affect a listener. Someone who has no idea about its genesis will still have a rewarding musical experience. To realize this goal it was important to let go of the desire to keep the natural data in its natural order. In other words the sonifications are used to sculpt the piece without regard for their positions in time and space. Pacific Pulse is to be interpreted as a composition, neither as a dataset, nor as a demonstration.

This piece is a culmination of my research in ocean buoy spectral sonification (http://www.composerscientist.com). Sonification, or auditory display, is a parametrical representation of data using sound, as opposed to a visual or graphic representation (http://www.icad.org). This research began in May 2001 while I was employed at the Coastal Data Information Program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla (http://cdip.ucsd.edu). Daily contact with the streaming data from buoys led me to wonder what it sounds like.