Research & Resources


The pages of this syllabus are filled with hundreds of “Further Research” links but here are some basics to get you started…

Libraries and Archives

  • UbuWeb
    An amazing archive of streaming / downloadable media art, best described by its curator Kenneth Goldsmith: “But by the time you read this, UbuWeb may be gone. Cobbled together, operating on no money and an all-volunteer staff, UbuWeb has become the unlikely definitive source for all things avant-garde on the internet. Never meant to be a permanent archive, Ubu could vanish for any number of reasons: our ISP pulls the plug, our university support dries up, or we simply grow tired of it. Acquisition by a larger entity is impossible: nothing is for sale. We don’t touch money. In fact, what we host has never made money. Instead, the site is filled with the detritus and ephemera of great artists”
  • NYU Bobst Avery Fisher Center
    Do people still go to libraries? Bobst is like Netflix but with stuff that’s actually interesting! You can’t take their CDs and DVDs out of the library but you can spend hours listening and watching stuff that you can’t find anywhere else.
  • SONM Archives
    An archive of the CDs, cassettes, vinyl and books collected by sound artist and performer Francisco Lopez. (You need to register to get free streaming access)
  • Her Noise
    An archive that brings together women artists who use sound as a medium. Most of the content is from a 2005 exhibit in London. Be sure to check out the video interviews.

Sound Maps

  • The London Sound Survey
    A collection of creative-commons licensed field-recordings from London, organized by Ian Rawes
  • Radio Aporee Maps
    A flexible global sound mapping platform created by Udo Noll. It’s really easy to upload your own sounds and/or make your own customized maps.
  • Locus Sonus Live Map
    A live-streaming sound map from a French research group. Check out some of their other projects here.

Radio, Podcasts & Record Labels

  • Framework Radio
    Weekly sound art and field recording radio show (+ podcast)
  • Radio MACBA
    An internet radio station founded at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona in 2006. Initially an extension the museum’s exhibitions, it has developed into a platform for sonic art programming. They produced Variations, an excellent history of sonic appropriation.
  • Wave Farm (WGXC)
    An upstate NY community FM station & arts organization. (Check out their Saturday schedule for the avant-garde stuff.)
  • Resonance FM
    A London FM station dedicated to radio art
  • WFMU
    OK it’s not really sound art, but WFMU is an amazing local freeform radio station
  • Sonic Terrain
    A free net.label dedicated to field recording (now transformed into Sonic Field below)

Current Sound Events & Interesting Links

  • New Music World Events Calendar
    A website for announcements of avant-garde music and sound art
  • Everyday Listening
    collects inspiring and remarkable sound art and creative sound design projects, installations, etc
  • Create Digital Music
    CDM is generally focused on the tools of electronic music but it’s worth a look for sound art too
  • Rhizome
    It’s the place to go for net art and new media

Magazines, Criticism, Interviews & Essays

  • The Wire
    A UK avant-garde music magazine that covers sound art too
  • Ear Room
    Great interviews with contemporary sound artists
  • sound-art-text.com
    An informal space maintained by Hannah Kemp-Welch, dedicated to sound, and its creative and artistic uses
  • Sounding Out
    A scholarly blog that analyzes sound’s role in constructing social difference, identity & power
  • Sonic Field
    As the result of merging David Vélez’s “The Field Reporter” and Miguel Isaza’s “Sonic Terrain” (created along with Nathan Moody) and “infinite grain”, this site arises as a community driven, inter-disciplinary vault for research on sound in multiple angles, openly exploring arts, sciences and philosophies of the paradigm we use to call sound.

Field-Recording & Sound Experimentation Blogs

Books: Sound In Context

  • Audio-Vision by Michel Chion (1994)
    This book deconstructs the image/sound relationships in cinema, with one foot in the theories of Musique Concrete pioneer Pierre Schaeffer. Intended for film studies but a pretty amazing read for anybody working with sound.
  • The Sound Studies Reader edited by Jonathan Sterne (2012)
    This is a collection of essays that situate sound and listening in the academic context of social science, compiled by my absolute favorite public academic. (Also see Sterne’s excellent books The Audible Past and MP3: The Meaning of a Format. His prose is as generous and comprehendable as his theories are rigorous.)
  • Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music edited by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner (2004)
    This collection of essays by artists, composers and theorists traces the genealogy of the issues that surround avant-garde music (and by extension sound art).
  • On Listening edited by Cathy Lane and Angus Carlyle (2013)
    For this book Lane and Carlyle commissioned 40 short essays about listening from experts in fields like art, anthropology, science & activism.
  • The Soundscape of Modernity by Emily Thompson (2002)
    Thompson reflects on the transformation of the culture of listening as architecture and interior acoustics changed throughout the 20th century.

Books: Autobiographies, Manifestos, Interviews

  • In the Field edited by Cathy Lane and Angus Carlyle (2013)
    Interviews with contemporary sound artists, field-recordists, and experimental musicians. It’s an inspiring resource for understanding how other artists approach their practice and connect to others within and outside their fields.
  • Pink Noises : Women On Electronic Music And Sound edited by Tara Rodgers (2010)
    Interviews with women DJs, artists and musicians about their practice. It’s an extension of the now-defunct pinknoises.com, a 2000-era website dedicated to making electronic music more accessible for women and girls.
  • The Soundscape by R. Murray Schafer (1977)
    From the Canadian Acoustic Ecology pioneer who coined the term “soundscape”. This book changed the way people listen to natural and built environments.
  • Reflections by Alvin Lucier (1995)
    Interviews, scores, and writings from one of the smartest and most accessible American composers of experimental music and sound
  • Silence by John Cage (1961)
    Cage’s contextual framework for his music. It’s a whole revolutionary philosophy of listening… and it’s funny too!

Books: Histories of Sound Art

  • Noise Water Meat by Douglas Kahn (2001)
    This wide-ranging book traces the (mostly) unwritten history of sound-making and aurality as it intertwines with the dominant movements in 20th century art.
  • Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art by Brandon LaBelle (2007)
    One history of sound art, largely concerned with the relationship between sound and place. LaBelle argues that sound is a relational actor: defining and violating territories, constructing and challenging identity.
  • In The Blink Of An Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art by Seth Kim-Cohen (2009)
    Kim-Cohen asks why writing about sound art has tended towards phenomenology. He cites the ascendancy of conceptualism in visual art decades ago and proposes a revision of the young history of sound art and a refocusing of attention on the “non-cochlear” qualities of current and future sonic practice.

Books: How To Make Things

  • Handmade Electronic Music by Nic Collins (2006, 2009)
    The only book that blends audio electronics tutorials with historical context and a DVD featuring examples of contemporary artists who build their own gear. Go buy it now! (this link points to the first edition. If possible try to get the newer edition from 2009)

NYC Venues & Organizations

  • Experimental Intermedia
    Performance space run by composer Phil Niblock
  • Harvestworks
    A center for digital arts, sound and music. They have workshops, performances, residencies, etc.
  • Issue Project Room
    A great venue for performance-based projects in music, sound, dance, and more
  • The Silent Barn
    A volunteer-run DIY space that books a wide variety of performance-based work
  • Roulette
    A pretty big venue that mostly books music and dance
  • The Stone
    An artist-run performance space for experimental music
  • The Kitchen
    One of NYC’s oldest non-profit spaces dedicated to multidisciplinary performance and art
  • Eyebeam
    A major center for art and technology, sometimes sound-related.

Residencies and Exhibition Opportunities

(This isn’t an exhaustive list. Note that some residencies aren’t available to students.)

  • RESartis
    A worldwide network of artist residencies. Get on their mailing list!
  • Art Opportunities (sound art category)
    A global hub for artist opportunities (open calls, residencies, etc)
  • Sound And Music (Opportunities)
    This UK arts organization mostly supports local composers but they have a database of arts opportunities that are often global.
  • Binaura/Nodar
    A sound art residency in rural Portugal
  • MoKS
    An arts organization and residency program situated in a small town in southern Estonia (typically open to individual artists but only doing groups in 2015)
  • Wikipedia’s List of Sound Art Organizations and Festivals

Other Peoples Links

 




Sep 7 | Sound As Phenomena


We Will Read In Class

In Class

  • Change class time from 6-9:50 to 6:30-10:20
  • Discuss everybody’s previous experience with sound
  • Syllabus intro (expectations, grading, attendance)
  • Software suggestions (ProTools, Reaper, etc…)
  • Introduce phenomenology and the representation of the eye v. the abstraction of the ear. What makes up the experience of sound?
  • Consider the formalism of pop music and the lack of a popular “visual music”.  Can we divorce sounds from their creators and their contexts?

Screening

  • Listen to an assortment of field-recordings, considering them on the basis of Chion’s 3-part taxonomy
  • Introduce a few pieces of sound art and new music
    • “Harmonic Bridge”, Bill Fontana
    • “Into the Labirinth”, Hildegard Westerkamp
    • “He Destroyed Her Image”, Charles Dodge
    • “More From the Case of Death”, John Oswald
    • “Blinking Lights”, Norbert Moslang
    • “Solo for Wounded CD”, Yasunao Tone
    • “Two Listening Rooms / Birmingham”, David Cunningham
    • “Maresia Shadow-Walk”, Viv Corringham
    • “Temporarily Humbolt County”, Firesign Theatre

Further Research

Be sure to check out my Research & Resources page for archives, blogs, websites & books pertaining to sound in art.




… Exercise : “Reduced Listening”


DUE NEXT WEEK (SEP 14)

Find the quietest environment you can. Find a comfortable spot where you can listen for a long time.
(This place must be accessible later because you will eventually record there.)

  1. Sit for 10 minutes listening, without saying, writing, or recording anything.
  2. Take 10 minutes to list the sources of each sound that makes up your environment (jackhammer, air-conditioner, fish tank)
  3. Take 10 more minutes to listen deeper, ignoring the sources of each sound. List the properties of the sound itself, starting with the total mass and going deeper into whatever threads you discover. Feel free to follow any metaphors, memories, impressions the sound suggests, or explore questions of pitch, loudness, timbre, and duration. Try to be very specific.

That’s 30 min and 2 lists, written down and ready to hand in and discuss for the next class.




Sep 14 | Modernity | Recorders & Mics


Read Before Class

Optional:

In Class

  • “Cage Talk” (introducing facilities, responsibilities)
  • Introduce Acoustic Ecology and its proponents.
  • Explore some different contexts in which recordings are situated (via Chris Watson, Steven Feld, Hildegard Westerkamp)
  • Intro to signal flow between audio devices.
  • Intro to recorders and mics: Mic types + patterns, basic recorder info like level control and monitoring.
  • Intro to digital audio formats: uncompressed (WAV. AIFF) and compressed (MP3, AAC).
  • Go out in groups and record!

Screening

  • Chris Watson – TV interview (10min) & tracks from “Outside the Circle of Fire” CD. (raw recordings presented as-is)
  • Steven Feld recordings from “Voices of the Rainforest” CD (layered recordings edited “dialogically” with participants)
    See next week’s interview with Feld for follow-up 
  • Hildegard Westerkamp’s “Kits Beach Soundwalk” (raw recordings are brought into studio, processed, recontextualized)
  • If we have time: Loss of context: How did Hugo Zemp’s Solomon Islands recordings become a hit for Deep Forest and later for Jan Garbarek?

Useful trivia: The MP3 compression system was developed at Fraunhofer IIS in Germany. They used the acapella version of Susanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” to tune the algorithm (see Vega’s blog post, ). A human voice is complex, but it’s a lot simpler than a full band, and much easier to compress. Here is an analysis of the sonic mangling of data-compression (with bird-songs and pretty graphs).

Why you should never record in MP3 format…

Melodian Toy example

WAV file: uncompressed original, with sharp attacks and complex buzz in the background

320k MP3: highest quality MP3 option, generally indistinguishable from the original

128k MP3: typical web stream setting, smeared attacks and swishy unstable background noise

64k MP3: whoa, is that your cell phone!

 

Paris Subway Station example

WAV file: uncompressed original, with dense crowd noise and occasional sharp bursts

320k MP3: highest quality MP3 option, generally indistinguishable from the original

128k MP3: typical web stream setting, smeared attacks and swishy unstable background noise

64k MP3: whoa, is that your cell phone!

 

Further Research




… Exercise: “Recording 101”


DUE NEXT WEEK (Sep 21)

Engagement with your medium will define the conceptual scope of your practice. (In other words, your art will suck if you don’t know how to make things.) In this exercise you will learn how to capture environments in sound.

Submit 3 tracks:

  1. A radio-style voice-recording (without using a professional vocal booth).
    It should be close and clear, without ambiance – the classic disembodied voice. I want to hear the voice and nothing else, so alter your sonic environment to eliminate echoes and unwanted noises. Get under the covers, tell your room-mates to take a hike. Put your keys in the fridge and pull the plug. (The keys will remind you to plug it in again!)
  2. A complete soundscape from the “reduced listening” assignment.
    Listen through the microphone while recording. It hears differently than your ears, so you need to be a translator. Try to capture the interesting elements you wrote about, the tension between the sounds. I’m listening for distinct elements in different planes of depth (foreground and background layers at minimum). What makes it more than your average boring “noise”?  This can be difficult!
  3. An isolated element from the “reduced listening” assignment.
    Get closer to something – make it the foreground. Use mic patterns and mic placement to “crop out” unwanted sounds so your chosen sound is unambiguously the center of attention. (This should sound very different than track #2. If it doesn’t, try again.)

I will collect 3 labeled files from you in class – not via network or email!
(We probably won’t listen in class, but I’ll give you written feedback.)

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • For this exercise, do not use the (dynamic) mic included in your “Sound Kit.” Borrow a condenser mic instead. Dynamic mics are OK for speech, but not for critical details. If you use the dynamic mic I will hear it and ask you to do it again.
  • Most of our mics come with mounts that isolate them from your hands, but you still need to move quietly and carefully to avoid rumbling sounds.
  • Use furry wind-muffs if you go outside. Some mics are so sensitive that just waving them around will fill your tracks with swooshy wind noise. When speaking, loud “P” and “B” sounds will do the same thing.
  • Record several solutions to each prompt, but only give me three files. I will interpret everything as intentional, so be clear. If your recordings don’t sound good enough, I will ask you to do them again until you’ve mastered your tools.
  • We haven’t covered editing yet, so just download your tracks from the recorder onto a computer and bring them to class on a portable drive, CD, etc.)



Sep 21 | Physics | Installation Gear


Read Before Class

Optional:

In Class

  • Did everybody get the welcome email from the class list?
  • Collect files from the “Recording 101” exercise.
  • Expand the basic audio signal flow (which we introduced last week) to include playback.
  • Introduce the basic vocabulary of sound (Frequency, Amplitude, Spectrum, Duration).
  • See the excellent Acoustics and Vibration Animations – Dan Russell, Grad. Prog. Acoustics, Penn State
  • Demonstrate the cone-movement of a speaker with a sub-audible tone generated in MAX/MSP.
  • Observe sounds using onscreen graphs of the 4 aforementioned properties via analysis plugins inside Reaper audio editing software. (The oscilloscope was s(M)exoscope . The spectrum analyzer (MAnalyer) and tone generator (MOscillator) were from the MFree effects bundle. The spectrograph was a built-in Reaper plugin called gfxspectrograph.)
  • Observe interference patterns on the surface of water, agitated by a speaker, plus non-Newtonian craziness via the magic of cornstarch!
  • Introduce the installation equipment available from Dan in the editing room (players, amps, speakers, etc.)
  • Practice the ancient Zen art of cable coiling.

Screening

  • “Music For Piano With Slow Sweep Pure Wave Oscillators” by Alvin Lucier (From “Still Lives” CD, 2001)
  • Spectrographic “easter egg” in Aphex Twin’s “Equation”

Further Research

  • “Soundings” by Gary Hill
  • “The Queen of the South” by Alvin Lucier
  • In class today we used a subwoofer driver to vibrate a tray of water to explore cymatic phenomena. There are special drivers called “tactile transducers” (AKA “bass shakers” or “aural exciters”) that are designed to vibrate surfaces instead of air. Parts Express sells a wide variety of them. You can also use a piezo buzzer element and a small audio transformer to turn lightweight rigid surfaces into speakers. (See book Handmade Electronic Music by Nic Collins)
  • German artist Markus Kison used tactile transducers to hide sound in a metal railing overlooking a river in Dresden. In “Touched Echo”, listeners put their elbows on the railing and cover their ears. The sound conducts through their bones, revealing aural artifacts of the WWII bombing of Dresden.
  • “Wavetable” by veteran sound and media artist Liz Phillips
  • A very geeky Chladni plate Youtube video from Edwin Wise, also featured in MAKE Magazine. (Subscription required to view article. Ask me and I’ll print it out for you.)
  • In this extremely corny PBS video, you can see an alligator rippling the surface of water using only its low voice.
  • On the subject of sound analysis (and the mysteries of the deep): An array of underwater research microphones (AKA “hydrophones”) have detected several unexplained deep-ocean sounds over the years. “Bloops” have been recorded several times since 1997 and were eventually classified as the disintegration of icebergs. Maybe it’s a sea monster from pre-history? H.P. Lovecraft fans think it’s the stirrings of the ancient alien overlord R’lyeh and skeptics dismiss it as one of many unknown sounds in the deep ocean.
    NOTE: The NOAA hydrophone array that detected the “bloop” is a leftover Cold War surveillance system formerly called SOSUS. It was designed to detect and classify the sounds of Soviet submarines across the world’s oceans.
  • I do a lot of work with a visual programming language called MAX/MSP/Jitter (aka “MAX”). It’s part of a family of “patcher based” programming languages, which means that data flows through visual patch cords instead of lines of code. It was designed to emulate the way that early modular synthesizers worked, so electronic musicians could write computer software using skills they already had. You have probably never seen a modular synthesizer but many people find the patcher style of coding much friendlier than traditional textual coding. Here are some links:
    • MAX/MSP/Jitter – (Mac/Win) $$$, free trial and student discount
      Trivia: MAX is named after computer music pioneer Max Mathews.
    • PD (“Pure Data”) – (Mac/Win/Linux) free, open source
      Very capable but much uglier than MAX with a steeper learning curve. Created by Miller Puckette, who originally wrote MAX. (Download the version called “pd-extended” because it includes lots of optional things that are not present in the main distribution.)
    • Processing (Mac/Win/Linux) free, open source
      This isn’t a patcher-based language but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Processing is a very simple textual programming language based on Java. It’s a painless way to learn “real” programming and there is a huge community out there to help. It handles video and sound through external “libraries” that extend its basic functions. (Not as fast as MAX, PD for video and sound.)



… Project 1: Portrait


DUE IN 3 WEEKS (Oct 12)

Make a short piece (under 5 min) that you would consider a portrait (not necessarily a self-portrait, but that’s OK too).

  • It can contain voices, but you should strongly consider what speech means in the context of your piece.
  • Take into consideration the environment where the sound will be presented: You must consider the physical form (sculpture, installation, performance, just audio, etc.) and be willing to explain why any crucial elements are missing.
  • Be practical: If your piece requires headphones, prepare multiple headphones so we don’t spend an hour listening individually. (See Dan Porvin in the editing room to get headphones, speakers, amplifiers, etc. He needs one week of advance notice. Please respect that.)

What not to do: “For my piece to make sense, everybody has to imagine that there’s a huge ice-sculpture with hundreds of tiny speakers, carved out of a receding glacier by 22 blind Inuit fishermen. But all I brought is this mp3 of me masturbating for 20 min. Is that OK?”

After the crit I need an AIFF or WAVE file (not MP3) to document the piece. If it’s a performance or installation then feel free to document on video or whatever medium best suits the piece.




Sep 28| Noise & Music | Reaper Intro


Read Before Class

Optional:

In Class

  • Introduce Cooper’s sound effects library
  • Introduce the Sound Room and Animation lab, Media Drives, reservations, etc.
  • Introduce audio editing and exporting in Reaper.
  • Discuss noise and the way it was rejected and accepted, aestheticized and modified by 20th century artists and composers:
  • Explore the percussive symphonic noise of Edgard Varése, the mimicry of Russolo’s Intonarumori, the actualities of Musique Concrete, and John Cage’s embrace of all sounds as inherently musical.

Screening

  • Russolo – Intonarumori samples (on ubuweb)
  • Varése – “Ionizations” (alternate version on ubuweb)
  • Schaeffer – “Etude Aux Chemins De Fer” AKA “Railroad Study” (excerpt on youtube)
  • Cage – “Williams Mix” (excerpt on media art net)
  • Cage documentary from “4 American Composers” series
    (dir. Peter Greenaway, available on ubuweb)

Further Research

  • In class today we introduced Reaper, a multi-track audio editor that you can download and evaluate for free (Mac & Windows) without time limits. If you continue to use it, you are morally obligated to spend $60 to register it. (In contrast Pro Tools has been the industry standard multi-track audio editor for years. It has artificial limitations, an outrageous price tag, and draconian copy-protection. Media professionals still use it because it works fine and they learned it in school. You don’t need to make the same mistake.)
    Notes:
    • I suggest downloading the 32-bit version, not the 64-bit version (for plugin compatibility reasons)
    • Reaper supports AU & VST format plugins on the Mac, and VST plugins on Windows. There are many free and inexpensive plugins produced for these formats, so look around the web periodically. Here’s a 3-part guide (from 2013) to get you started.
    • Don’t forget to download the PDF Reaper User Guide.
    • Watch the excellent Video Tutorials (and some more on YouTube.)
  • Audacity (Linux, Mac, Win) is a free open source editor that makes sense if you just want to edit the length of something, or apply simple changes like loudness. I wouldn’t suggest it for anything more interesting than that.
  • Burn (Mac only) is very similar to the popular CD/DVD burning app Toast, but free and open source.
  • Until recently, every New Year’s Eve at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, you could experience something akin to “Symphony of the Sirens” thanks to their chief mechanical engineer and his collection of whistles. Seriously!
  • Space Calculated in Seconds by Marc Treib. A book describing the Philips pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair (focusing on Poeme Electronique and the work of Le Corbusier, Iannis Xenakis, and Edgard Varése).
  • An in-depth blog entry about Poeme Electronique.
  • John Cage’s excellent book, Silence.



Oct 5 | Reflections in Stereo | FX


Read Before Class

Optional:

In Class

  • Discuss direct and reflected sound and the creation of acoustic character in the built and natural environment.
  • Explore the metaphors of reflection, inhabiting spaces, “tuning” the world, etc.
  • Discuss stereo hearing (phase and intensity cues) and recording (mic techniques).
  • Take out mics and recorders and make stereo recordings with different mic techniques. Play in class and discuss the results. How is depth different in stereo and mono?
  • Learn signal-processing fundamentals in Reaper (EQ, compression/expansion, delay effects, noise reduction, pitch and time)

Screening

  • Alvin Lucier’s “I am Sitting In a Room” In I Am Sitting in a Room, several sentences of recorded speech are simultaneously played back into a room and re-recorded there many times. As the repetitive process continues, those sounds common to the original spoken statement and those implied by the structural dimensions of the room are reinforced. The others are gradually eliminated. The space acts as a filter; the speech is transformed into pure sound. All the recorded segments are spliced together in the order in which they were made and constitute the work.
  • A track from Jacob Kirkegaard’s CD “4 Rooms” recorded in abandoned interiors within the Chernobyl exclusion zone. He recorded 10 minute sections and played them back into the rooms, inspired by Lucier’s method but lacking the voice as input. The formerly busy spaces (Church, Auditorium, Swimming Pool, Gymnasium) are left to “speak for themselves,” devoid of habitation for the foreseeable future.
  • Alvin Lucier’s “Vespers”
    In Vespers (1969) performers with Sondols (sonar-dolphin), hand-held pulse wave oscillators, explore the acoustic characteristics of given indoor or outdoor spaces by monitoring the echoes of the pulse waves off the walls, floors and ceilings, as well as any objects or obstacles in range of the sound waves. Over time, the listener receives an acoustic signature of the room.

Further Research

  • Here’s a hilarious YouTube version of Lucier’s “I Am Sitting in a Room.” Kinda misses the point but it’s entertaining nonetheless.
  • How to make your own binaural microphones. …or build lower-noise versions using my instructions.
  • David Cunningham’s The Listening Room architectural feedback installations
  • Jacob Kirkegaard’s “4 Rooms” CD captures the interiors of buildings in Chernobyl. He repeatedly recorded and played-back the ambiance of each room into itself (Like Lucier’s “I am sitting in a room” but with no input!)
  • Aaron Ximm, AKA “Quiet American” has an amazing links page that provides thorough advice on field-recording, from history to gear recommendations.
  • Regarding signal processing and compression, see the Wikipedia page on The Loudness War (the trend to compress albums in the mastering stage, solely to increase volume rather than enhance the music). A very high-profile casualty is the Metallica album “Death Magnetic” which was so compressed and distorted that people complained, especially when they discovered better-sounding tracks inside the Guitar Hero video game! Here’s a YouTube video comparing the CD and Guitar Hero versions.



Oct 12 | CRIT Portrait Project


No Readings.

We will critique the portraiture projects today.




… Project 2: Transformation


DUE IN 3 WEEKS (Nov 2)

For this project, you must use sound to transform a space in a meaningful way. The venue and strategies are yours to decide.

  • Be honest, not merely clever. It’s easy to play loud sounds and say you’re “commenting on noise pollution”, but irony is not necessarily commentary. A more articulate method is usually harder to perfect, and much more rewarding.
  • Consider your means. I want you to try new techniques, so keep your ideas simple enough to finish on time.
  • Stay in touch. I’m around, so find me before disaster strikes.

Inspiration:

We have discussed R. Murray Schafer’s notion of the “soundscapes” in relation to modernity, ecology and the exercise of power. We listened to how “noise” transformed 20th century music and how Alvin Lucier explored architectural acoustics with simple gestures. We will hear how Janet Cardiff inserts pre-recorded drama into the “live” experience of walking. A Max Neuhaus installation is changing the sound of a Times Square sidewalk as you are reading this. According to the Muzak Corp., music can influence customer’s buying habits (or “soften” inmates in U.S. military prisons). Later in the semester we will visit Lamont Young’s Dreamhouse where massive sound waves change a carpeted room into a timeless mathematical harmony.
(Search this syllabus for these artists, or take a trip to the internets.)




Oct 19 | Crit Cont’d | Contact Mics


Read Before Class

Optional:

Bring $5 to class to pay for your contact mic parts.

In Class

  • Explore resonance, from drum-shells to skyscrapers to collapsing bridges.
  • Build piezoelectric contact-mics from readily-available materials and…
  • … make recordings with them!

Screening

  • Bill Fontana’s “Harmonic Bridge” at Tate Modern
  • Toshiya Tsunoda’s intense and subtle field recordings of banal places
  • Jana Winderen’s compositions using underwater recordings and ultrasound
  • David Dunn’s “The Sound of Light in Trees” (recordings of bark beetles)
  • Rob Duarte’s “MOVEMENT” … a machine performance that documents the activities of a heap of small contraptions and mundane mechanical movements
  • Tomomi Adachi’s Tomoring instruments made of springs and other objects, amplified by contact mics.

Further Research




Oct 26 | Sound + Self | Editing Questions


Read Before Class

Optional:

In Class

  • What does the separation of body and voice do to our concept of the self? How do we deal with the transformation of our experience into artifacts? How does sound affect the body?
  • Discuss Janet Cardiff and Lucier’s “Music for Solo Performer”
  • Introduction to binaural mics
  • The end of the class is reserved for your questions and frustrations about audio editing in Reaper.

Screening

Further Research




Nov 2 | CRIT Transformation


No Readings.

We will critique the transformation projects today.




… Project 3: NAFP


PROJECT 3: “NAFP”

PROPOSAL: due in two weeks (Nov 16)

  • You must present your proposal to the class and give me a written copy.

CRITS: Dec 7 & Dec 14

This is the last formal project of the semester, but it’s Not A Final Project! Final projects often turn out worse than the smaller ones that preceded them. Here are two recurring tragedies:

  1. During the last weeks of school you experience cathartic solitary fits of creativity, trying to make something that encapsulates a whole semester (or lifetime?) of ideas into one piece. It’s overburdened with big ideas and falls flat. In the final crit we encourage you to simplify but the piece is behind you, school’s over and you never revisit it.
  2. You experience cathartic solitary fits of creativity working on your painting final. Despite your best intentions, everything is due at the same time and your sound project gets ignored until it’s too late. You play some fart piano on your iPhone and say it’s all about Relational Aesthetics.

To prevent these disasters, Project 3 is due long before the end of the semester. Hooray!

A Prompt To Get You Started:

Start thinking of a sound project that acknowledges the space in which it is presented. The ideas and motivations are up to you. Maybe it uses recordings (from “its space” or elsewhere) but it engages the here and now in a meaningful way. Perhaps the audience comes to “it” (consciously or not) or perhaps it comes to them. It could be ephemeral or portable or have no specific “site” at all. It could be performative but it must extend beyond accompaniment. It could be a process but we must be able to take part in it or see its effects.

I’m looking for an internal logic in the work; a framework that guides your intentions and reflects your investment in the issues we discuss in this class. If you use this same work for another class, the burden is on you to make it appropriate here. (Usually it is not appropriate, and I can tell when people are trying to put a square peg in a round hole.)




Nov 9 | Crit Cont’d | Radio + Synesthesia


Read Before Class

Optional:

In Class

  • Discuss radio: its history, and its distance from the characteristics of the sound object; collapsing geography, encouraging simultaneity. Also include Burroughs and WR Reich in relation to systems of broadcast control and spiritual transmission.
  • Discuss synesthesia in literature and art from Pythagoras’ “Music of the Spheres” through Romanticism, Symbolism, Theosophy, and into the “information age”.
  • Introduction to Wave Farm transmission arts organization and DIY radio transmitter hardware.
  • Transmit sound over a laser and use light-listeners in class, observing the sound that light makes inside, outside, natural, artificial.
  • Use an inductive pickup to explore the tiny radio emissions around everyday objects.

Screening

Further Research: Radio

  • “Imagine radio that, instead of numbing us to sounds, strengthens our imagination and creativity; instead of manipulating us into faster work and more purchasing, it inspires us to invent…instead of silencing us, it encourages us to sing or to speak, to make radio ourselves.”
    —- Hildegaard Westerkamp
  • Historical Transmission Works, as listed by transmissionarts.org
  • Room-sized inductive loops (like Christina Kubisch used) are built into some movie theaters and public places to assist people with hearing aids. Most hearing aids have a “t-coil” or “telecoil” mode that disables the onboard microphone and enables a tiny inductive listener that can tune-in to the electromagnetic signal from a loop embedded in the walls. You can make your own with a normal audio amplifier and long wires.
  • Read about the Local Community Radio act of 2010 (pitchfork) which may help bring more low-power FM stations to the dial.
  • Online “microcasting” instructions (both printed and video tutorials) from transmissionarts.org
  • Many small FM transmitters (for cars) can be hacked to increase their meager range. The simplest hack involves simply lengthening the antenna, but some transmitters have deeper possibilities: If you can find an old Belkin Tunecast II then these step-by-step instructions might be handy! (A newer version, the Belkin Tunecast III, is hackable too.)
  • The cheap & tiny Raspberry Pi computer can be used as an FM transmitter. The only part you need to add is an antenna! It has no FM hardware, but one of the high-speed internal clocks can be re-programmed to generate a standard FM stereo signal that broadcasts farther than a hacked MP3 transmitter. Flash the downloaded disc image to an SD card, add audio files, select a frequency with a text file, and you’re done. Amazing! (As far as I know, there is no way to support a live input. It can only transmit pre-recorded audio files.)
  • HLLY Electronics – Hobbyist FM transmitters. They have inexpensive options that are similar to the hacked Tunecast, but more physically robust.
  • Radio Basics (how to build a simple AM radio & limited transmitter, from sci-toys.com)
  • Marshall Mcluhan’s LP recording version of “The Medium is the Massage” (ubuweb)
  • On the subject of the latent ideology embedded in visual media, check out John Berger’s 1972 BBC TV series “Ways of Seeing” (YouTube clip or VHS tapes in NYU Bobst library). There’s also a book version.
  • If you’re interested in tinkering with radio or other electromagnetic phenomena, find a copy of this out-of-print book:
    “Exploring Light, Radio & Sound Energy with projects” by Calvin R. Graf
    (Alvin Lucier used it to build receiving equipment for his “Sferics” piece; recordings of “natural” low frequency radio signals emanating from the Earth itself.)
  • The Conet Project is a 4CD anthology of shortwave “Numbers Stations”, undocumented international radio broadcasts that are widely believed to be messages from espionage organizations like the CIA, MI6, and Mossad. All tracks can be (legally) downloaded here.

Further Research: Synesthesia

  • The Cyborg Foundation aims to help people become cyborgs. Their founders built the eyeborg which translates colors to audible frequencies via a webcam and skull implant.
  • How to build a Simple Laser Communicator (from sci-toys.com)
  • “Cloud Music” by Bob Diamond, Robert Watts and David Behrman, 1974. A set of synthesizer tones controlled by a video camera pointed at passing clouds.
  • The Voyager probes launched by NASA in 1977 contained gold records encoded with images and sounds, along with diagrams to explain how to decode them.
  • It’s easy to make “light-listeners” like the one Steven Vitiello used in “light-readings”. Consult this week’s chapter from Handmade Electronic Music for a method that uses a photoresistor, or use the solar cell from a cheap solar calculator, or buy super-tiny solar cells like these: Vishay BPW34 Silicon Photo-diode. (Larger cells are more sensitive)
  • Alessandro had a great blog called 5volt.eu (now gone, so try his flickr stream or the wayback machine.) I captured a pdf of his post describing a circuit that amplifies the photo-diode above so it can directly drive a small speaker. It works great. Derek Holzer performs improv sets called TONEWHEELS where he generates sound and light by shining lamps through spinning patterned discs. He reposted Alessandro’s circuit with a printed circuit board.
  • The Texas Instruments TSL230 Light-To-Frequency Sensor converts light level to an audible square wave signal in one step without any extra components. (More light = higher pitch)
  • Eric Archer makes “Sound Cameras”: old 8mm film cameras with built-in light-listeners and headphone amps. (Plenty of audio samples on his page.)
  • Russian artist Andrey Smirnov explores the popular eavesdropping technique of reflecting laser light off windows to hear the conversations inside.
  • The Ruben’s Tube (video, wikipedia) traces audio waveforms with jets of flame, due to standing-wave patterns within a long tube.
  • 20 years before the invention of the phonograph, sound was inscribed visually onto paper with a device called the phonautograph. One of these inscriptions was converted back into sound (mp3 link) in 2008 via digital imaging and custom software. One of the collaborators in that project, Patrick Feaster,  maintains his own site phonozoic.net and co-founded FirstSounds.org which seeks to apply their techniques to other collections of historical recordings.
  • The Brainport is an experimental device that provides a limited “sight” to blind individuals via a head-mounted camera and a grid of electrodes worn on the tongue. It’s a simple conversion of visual pixels into tactile sensations but the brain quickly adapts, creating real “images” in the mind of the wearer. (video here)



Nov 16 | GUEST! | Circuits | Proposals


Read Before Class

Optional reading

In Class

  • SPECIAL GUEST John Roach will present his work in the first half of class
  • Project 3 proposals are due today. Bring a written description for me and be prepared to talk about it in class.
  • We will introduce basic electronics (capacitors, resistors, potentiometers, switches, buttons, etc.) via circuit-bending (modifying existing electronic objects) and building audio oscillators whose properties are controlled by light, physical touch, drawing lines, etc.
  • Bring an electronic sound toy to mangle and cajole into an otherworldy contraption.
    – Battery-powered only. Nothing that plugs into the wall.
    – Older is better: Do some searching at the thrift store because modern toys are often un-hackable.
    – If it’s really boring (like a toy phone that just beeps) you probably can’t do much with it.
    – Things that play a variety of recorded sound-effects are often the most fruitful to hack.
    – Complex devices like professional keyboards are often un-hackable, but cheap or old keyboards are often very hackable.
    – Risks are encouraged and some failure is expected.

Screening

  • Video news release from the Barbie Liberation Organization.

Further Research – Artists and Musicians

Further Research – Electronics Resources

  • Radio Shack used to be the place to get basic electronic parts. Now they are few and far between. Consider these alternatives…
  • In NYC we’re lucky to have Tinkersphere (a short walk from Cooper!) They have a bewildering array of electronic parts at fair prices.
  • Adafruit is a woman-owned mail-order DIY electronics powerhouse in Tribeca.
  • Sparkfun is another mail-order electronics store, catering to hobbyists.
  • Argo Electronics is one of the last remaining Canal St. surplus dealers. Give them a look.
  • GetLoFi is a circuit-bending site with excellent kits and advice.
  • Beavis Audio Research (offline in 2015. RIP!) is similar to GetLoFi, with an emphasis on DIY stomp-boxes and effects. Check out their excellent guide to CMOS “1-bit” synthesizers (via Wayback Machine), which paraphrases a lot of the info from the Nic Collins book Handmade Electronic Music (today’s reading, BTW)
  • Arduino is an inexpensive platform for “physical computing” or “creative coding” (Meaning: “You can make physical objects do fun things via small computer programs, and you don’t have to be an expert.”) It’s the defacto standard for creating interactive objects or interfacing real-world objects with computers. There is a massive community online.
  • If you continue working with electronics, you’ll need a soldering iron. Most are crap. I recommend a soldering station from Circuit Specialists. Theirs are temperature controlled, so they warm-up fast and never overheat. They are designed to be repaired, and parts are available. Your solder won’t bead up and roll off the tip like it does on the cheap ones. Most include a stand and a sponge so you won’t burn your apartment down.
  • The Drawdio! A little oscillator circuit that responds to resistive surfaces like pencil lines, streams of water, etc. If you’re experimenting, I recommend this version. It runs on a 9V battery, drives a speaker directly, and uses very few parts.  (PAiA electronics offers something similar: free plans or a simple kit that can be constructed without even soldering anything!)
  • We read an excerpt from Handmade Electronic Music by Nic Collins. This is the book you want to get if you’re interested in electronics. It’s the perfect mix of background info and hands-on tutorials. No math!
  • No resources list would be complete without the famous Engineer’s Mini Notebooks by Forrest M. Mims III, previously sold by Radio Shack. Within those yellowed pages you can find hundreds of circuit diagrams for LED flashers, tone generators, solar battery chargers, light-sensitive switches, and more. Mims made sure that the parts were available from Radio Shack, and most of them still are. These days you can find similar projects online, but most of them are pretty badly documented, so I refer to these books often.
  • My printable resistor color code chart for decoding the value of resistors using their colored bands.



! Nov 23 | No Class … Thanksgiving


Go Wyld!




Nov 30 | Massaging The Medium


Read Before Class

Optional:

  • “Histories of Sound, Once Removed” , Douglas Kahn, from Wireless Imagination
    Today we are focusing on what he calls “inscription” but the rest of the article applies to last week’s topics.

In Class

  • Discuss analog and digital recording technologies, their qualities and affordances.
  • Explore the physicality of phonography and its potential for exploitation and modification
  • Break and remake LP records to make fractured aural collages
  • Record original records with a DIY record lathe.
  • Cut 1/4” tape into a room-sized loop, revealing the physical length of recorded time
  • Discuss how limitations can become assets in recording, embracing noise within process

Screening

  • Christian Marclay mini-documentary and performance on YouTube and article from Frieze Magazine
  • Walter Kitundu’s instruments that incorporate turntables.
  • Yasunao Tone’s bio page from his label, Asphodel (includes a sample of his “wounded CD” music.)
  • Alyce Santoro’s “sonic fabric” (and a related YouTube video that Pierre Schaeffer might enjoy)
  • Steve Reich’s early tape music (“Come Out”, “It’s Gonna Rain”)
  • Burroughs and Brion Gysin cut-up recordings (ubuweb)
  • John Oswald’s remixed audio book “The Case of Death by Agatha Smith” and “Power”, a 1975 track that combines a charismatic preacher with Led Zeppelin’s “The Wanton Song” (both available on the CD “Plunderphonics 69/96“)

Further Research




Dec 7 | CRIT Project 3 (week 1)


No readings for today. We will crit the 3rd project.




Dec 14 | CRIT Project 3 (week 2)


No readings for today. We will continue to crit the 3rd project.




Dec 21 | Dream House (field-trip)


Read Before Class

  • “1. Notes on the Continuous Periodic Composite Sound Waveform Environment…” (p 5-16) from Selected Writings by Lamonte Young and Marian Zazeela (previously available on ubuweb but apparently not any more)

In Class

  • You can use my Pitch Playground application (made with MAX/MSP) to experiment with aural interference patterns. (It generates multiple sine waves and calculates the “difference tones” produced by different frequency combinations.) Then go to Tribeca to visit the Dream House, a continuous sound and light environment created by composer Lamonte Young and sculptor Marian Zazeela.
  • The Dream House is located at 275 Church Street between Franklin St & White St
    • Ring the buzzer for MELA Foundation / Dream House
    • Suggested $5 donation for admission (It’s run by volunteers and they’re amazing!)
    • You will need to remove your shoes, so wear socks. Don’t worry if your feet stink, there will be incense burning.
    • Some people react strangely to aural interference patterns, so feel free to leave if you feel light-headed.

Further Research

  • If you’re interested in the Dream House math, here’s a dense quote from the MELA Foundation:
    Young’s sound environment is composed of frequencies tuned to the harmonic series between 288 and 224, utilizing numbers with factors of only 9, or those primes or octave transpositions of smaller primes that fall within this range.  The interval 288/256 reduces to a 9/8 interval as does the interval 252/224.  Thirty-two frequencies satisfy the above definition, of which seventeen fall within the range of the upper, and fourteen fall within the range of the lower of these two symmetrical 9/8 intervals.  Young has arranged these thirty-one frequencies in a unique constellation, symmetrical above and below the thirty-second frequency, the center harmonic 254 (the prime 127 x 2).
  • Drone music pioneer Phil Niblock
    “Niblock constructs big 24-track digitally-processed monolithic microtonal drones. The result is sound without melody or rhythm. Movement is slow, geologically slow. Changes are almost imperceptible, and his music has a tendency of creeping up on you.” (from his website)
  • Maryanne Amacher made very loud architectural sound installations that exploited psychoacoustic effects to create what she called “third ear sounds” in the listener’s brain. (See NewMusicBox interview.) She explored audio telepresence in the 1960s with her “City Links” project that brought 5 live microphone feeds into one space using high-quality telephone links. (also see “Radio Net” (1977) by Max Neuhaus, Soundbridge (1987) by Bill Fontana.)
  • On the subject of microtonal tuning systems, check out the delightful music of Harry Partch. He spent his early years as a hobo and his later years as an eccentric musician, composer, and instrument builder. A good intro is the track “The Instruments of Harry Partch” on the “Enclosures 7” DVD where he explains and demonstrates several of his instruments. Also see the 2002 documentary “The Outsider: The Story of Harry Partch” (ubuweb).
  • “In Search of Lost Sounds” from Slate Magazine is a fascinating article  about the voicing of modern pianos compared to the instruments that were used in the 19th century by well-known composers. (sound samples included)



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