BBC looks at ways audio engineers have retained classic sounds of objects. The shutter noise on a digital camera is entirely uneccessary. An ENV hydrogen-powered motorbike is silent, but an artificial roar warns "road users it is approaching." These "manufacturers of cars, phones and cameras are merely responding to their own archaic ideas of how things should sound."
About ten years ago, car doors no longer made the classic openning sound due new safety standards in car manufacturing that made parts of the car lighter and doors heavier. Instead of a clunk, car doors openned with a tinny sound. To make the car sound "more expensive ... dampeners were introduced into the door cavity to muffle the tinny effect and engineers altered the locking mechanism to make just the right sort of click."
I met with artist, musician, educator and circuit-bending guru Pete Edwards last week, as he was preparing for his exhibition “Specter Flux” at Long Island City’s Flux Factory, where he is currently an artist in residence. The show opens on June 30th and will run until July 3rd. Since 2000, Pete has sold his handmade electronic instruments through his company Casperelectronics, and performed with his creations under the same name. Over the span of his career, he’s created unique and special instruments out of a variety of unusual items, such as a Jack-In-The-Box Toy, an Amazing Ally doll, megaphones, and a BarbieKaraoke Machine. His work on Casio SK-1s and Speak&Spells; have been an inspiration for many in the world of circuit-bending, and no doubt his output has helped popularize these objects as ideal for these sorts of projects.
More recently, Pete has begun incorporating plastic orbs into his practice, producing them as standalone interactive, color-mixing lights or as components to his machines. These orbs will be central to his installation at Flux Factory, and he showed me a few of them during my visit, as well as a nifty analog synth he built from scratch. Both will be used in “Specter Flux”.
Pete mentioned that he enjoys the mesmerizing quality of the orbs, and the fact that they immediately captivate an audience, regardless of context. Each orb is individually tuned to respond to volume and tone, so that viewers must play with them in order to gauge their sensitivity. The orbs were installed in an elevator at the Tang Museum last year, and Pete recalled, with delight, that despite the seeming privacy of the elevator, that the sounds of visitors clapping, singing and yelling at the orbs travelled throughout the building.
Thirty years ago "should sound ancient," Mark Fisher said at the first of two presentations for NYU’s “Colloquium for Unpopular Culture" on May 4th. "Think about what thirty years means —or what it used to mean. That's the difference between pre-rock'n'roll 50s and post-punk."
"Dreams" was made in collaboration with Barry Bermange (who originally recorded the narrations). Bermange put together The Dreams (1964), a collage of people describing their dreams, set to a background of electronic sound. Dreams is a collection of spliced/reassembled interviews with people describing their dreams, particularly recurring elements. The program of sounds and voices attempts to represent, in five movements, some sensations of dreaming: running away, falling, landscape, underwater, and colour.
Rhizome contributor Geeta Dayal recently interviewed Max Mathews for Frieze magazine. Sadly the pioneer of digital music (creating MUSIC in 1957) passed away three weeks later. It's a fascinating conversation going over the history of computer music and Mathew's many high profile collaborations, while explaining the creative energy at Bell Labs at the time.
Your boss actually encouraged you to take time off from work to write MUSIC? Bell Labs sounds like it was an amazing place.
Bell Labs was a golden era. Golden for several things. One was that the research money to support it was gotten as a tax on the earnings or the profits of the telephone companies. We got it as a lump sum. The vice president in charge of research, William O. Baker, insisted that there be no strings attached to the money and that we could use it in the way we thought was best. So a lot of very important things were done with this support, or byproducts of things that were used in telephony. There were the radio telescopes, and the measurement of the background radiation with the very low-noise antennas that we developed that supported the Big Bang theory, and there was of course the transistor. And there were all sorts of speech codings that are still very important, and error correcting codes. The departments originally only hired Ph.D. physicists, mathematicians, and maybe a few chemists. Then they gradually let in some engineers. The whole research department, the position you took was a member of staff – MTS, member of technical staff. That was the highest position in the research department! [laughs]...
What’s your attitude about how difficult it was for you in the 1950s to make computer music, versus making computer music ...
Bleu Nuit is made using video feedbacks as basic material. Through various processes of image manipulations, colors emerged from electronic light to create improbable landscapes. It is also a collaboration with Le Révélateur, who’s music was the primal inspiration for the completion of this video. Bleu Nuit is a track from Le Révélateur's forthcoming LP on Gneiss Things, Fictions. - DIAMOND VARIATIONS
Well, the short answer is .093 seconds. That’s about the shortest amount of time mathematicians need to generate a full analysis of a sound’s component frequencies.
On an even smaller scale, computers typically store sound information in 44100 samples per second. This makes up the typical waveform view of sound that most are accustomed to seeing. However, each sample only gives information about amplitude (or volume), which is a pale portrait of sound. Sound in the physical world is essentially an unfolding of waves over time. Therefore, when translating from physical to digital, frequency information over time is essential to give a meaningful atomic definition of any sound.
A waveform view plots time vs. amplitude. A spectrogram plots frequency vs. time with color representing amplitude
Armed with the calculus technique of the Fast Fourier transform, mathematicians typically take the amplitude values from a mere .093 seconds of sound and draw a complete audio portrait. This portrait consists of the volumes of each component frequency that makes up a complex sound.
Thus, the Fourier transform is the key tool for spectralists, a loosely related group of composers and scientists whose goal is to analyze and resynthesize sound using sound’s most basic digital elements. Spectralists literally rip apart sound into its tiniest grains and develop diverse strategies to reconfigure those microsounds into a new sound barely resembling its original form. Between the two poles of granular analysis and synthesis, musicians have only begun to chart a new world of expression.
Severed Heads on ABC Television's program "Edge of the Wedge" in 1986
Originally founded in 1979 by Richard Fielding, Andrew Wright and Tom Ellard, Severed Heads was an electronic group based in Sydney. They used synthesizers, tape loops, and an array of electronics to yield a distinctive sound, one which could most easily be described as industrial music, which later developed into abstract pop. While the lineup changed over the years, Tom Ellard has been the main continuing force in the group, up until his announcement of its end in 2008. In 1983, Severed Heads began integrating live video in their performances, which became a mainstay in their work. This post collects videos of the group, the majority of which date from the early 1980s, and many of which document their use of video synthesizers. For more information about everything Severed Heads, check Ellard's official site.
Below: Videos of a live set performed on Metro TV, a community video center, in 1982. The video synthesizer used here was developed by Stephen Jones.