My ‘Norsk’ Form

Following my reflections on the first piece (though kind comments and feedback indicate that I was, perhaps, over critical) I have endeavoured to further develop and fully elaborate on each section of the work, so as to fully realise an effective structural form.

Half way through this process I realised that the form of this second piece is rather similar to the first piece. With a slow building open and close form, and an exploration of dry montaged materials in the middle section (this is perhaps also similar to the structure of my audio-visual piece Perpetual Motion). Such similarity gave me cause for concern, especially since I was troubled about the structure of the first piece.

Exactly as with the Mouse squeaks in the first piece, the second work made a quick transition from pitched ambient drones and granular clouds above to dry gestural material. I must find a solution to this predicament and perhaps further elaboration of this middle section is all that is required?

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The sound materials themselves are wonderful. The close recordings of the creaking and crunching of snow need very little processing, and would be spoiled by too much interference. But they must sit cohesively with the other sections of the work.

Perhaps I am to attached to these dry sounds?

Perhaps I should let go of their purity and clarity and introduce some subtle processing?

But I am scared to do too much. If Abstracted Journeys has taught me anything, it is that subtly montage and edited sound prove to be a successful tonic to the vast array of processed materials around.

Perhaps I should just live with my ‘Norsk’ form?

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“Quiet” Composition Two

Getting off the Ground

The development of this piece has taken longer than initially anticipated but is finally being realised. This delay is partly due to the extension of the initial piece from a miniature into a more extended work. Indeed, that work (“Quiet”- Part One) could still be expanded upon and developed and I shall perhaps have to go back to NOTAM in order to realise it properly.

But, with the closing date of this project edging ever closer, and despite a multitude of potential compositional concepts, I struggled to actually get on and develop anything for the second work that I was happy with.

While in Oslo I’d read an article about procrastination:

Why are writers such exceptional procrastinators? They fear being confronted with a simple truth: They’re not as good as they think they are…

Perhaps it was fear. But it also might have been that the sound materials which I collected had not been as I initially imagined.

A combination of the weather conditions and a creaky Rycote (apparently a recognised issue when recording at low temperatures) meant that I had very few extended and uninterrupted recordings. Initially I had panned to layer and mix between extended recordings of the mountain soundscape with subtle filtering and little technological intervention, but the reality of the recordings made this impossible.

Therefore, I was holding onto a creative concept that could not be realised in the way I had initially intended / hoped.

Forging a Piece

SO, I finally locked myself in my studio for a whole day and began to transform some of the sounds that I had recorded. One that was especially nice (and which I was happy with) was the recording of the frozen river.

Dushume had also encouraged me to work with this sound, and so I took the file extracted the loudest bins and applied the impulse response of the Vigeland mausoleum to create a rich mixture of bubbling pitches.

But this sound was far too active. So I loaded it into CDP (version 7 free to download) and used the time stretch functions, both the ‘analogue’ speed/transposition tool and the FFT time stretch. By drawing these out I created rich pitched and evolving textures with organic morphologies (that is my interpretation).

These will form the foundation for my piece, with their morphologies being articulated with more granular and crunchy textures such as the falling snow striking our ski jackets and the stepping or skiing through snow. I shall also seek to use any ambiences where possible.

Here is a very rough sketch of the introduction to the new piece:

Other options

The kind folk at NOTAM give me their ‘Vinterlyder’ library of winter recordings, and I may dig into these to find some ambiences but I would like if possible to use my own recordings.

Trip Three: Discussion with Anders Tveit

One of the people who inspired me to come to NOTAM in the first place was Anders T whom I met in Paris in January 2013 when we both presented works at the GRM’s Akousma festival.

Unfortunately he’s proved to be a little elusive over the times that I have been here in Oslo, but I was finally able to meet up with him for a conversation about the project, and he also showed me where I could find good beer (though frighteningly expensive).

I can’t quote any wise statements directly from our discussion but I can present my thoughts on the project after our discussion, which I jotted down while Anders was off buying drinks at the bar.

Reflections

Composition One takes the sounds of the studio and highlights the divergent compositional approaches that this theme (of “Quiet”) encourages.

  • Is a more naturalistic approach adopted? (Presenting quiet sounds quietly, in a more natural state).
  • Or should a more interventionist approach be used? (Whereby quiet sounds are taken and amplified into the foreground).

The two subsequent works in the project might each explore one of these trajectories. EITHER ambient / soundscape OR highly gestural and developed.

Natural or Processed.

  • Quiet sounds in its natural state.
  • Or quiet sounds highlighted to draw attention to their beauty.

Now, time for some hard thinking [sic].

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Trip Three: Day Two

Back to the Studio

Cato had been able to squeeze me into the studio booking system for Studio Nordheim so I got back in there and began (once again) to work on the initial piece.

It is amazing how each time the perspective afforded by distance and time away from the piece is able to inspire new ideas and provide new clarity on the piece. I recognised almost instantly, just as I had on my previous trip, that the work was still too busy. There was too much variation, change and activity which was not fully developed and little time to breathe and take stock.

One option would have been to extend the piece further, to push everything back and fully explore each section in more detail. But I also recognised that there was a lack of cohesion in between some of the different sections of the work, which might be exacerbated by further lengthening the piece. And I wanted the work to hold together.

So, I decided to remove items (especially in the second part of the work which uses the pitched material extracted from the air conditioning noise) and to cut back slightly on the levels of processed sound. To present enough of these sonic textures and to ensure that I was shaping the materials at all times, not simply allowing the materials to simply exist and do their own thing.

These changes seemed to make some real difference to the work, but I know that the real effect will only really become apparent when I return to the Studio on Monday and am able to hear them with fresh ears.

Detailed Compostional Notes / Reflections

  • Concentrate periods of activity and those of inactivity.
  • Focus upon clarifying sections of the work.
  • Draw similarities between the first and last sections of the piece.
  • Subtract some gestural elements to bring into focus high and low energy sections.
  • The piece should be primarily about texture (though the middle section is more gestural). So make sure that the gestural elements are complementing and not challenging the textures.
  • Try inserting some of the ‘Nordheim computer noise’ in the opening section of the work (this might help to tie this first section in with the last, where this sound is also used). As well as helping to smooth the transition between noisy and rotating pitched sounds in the second part. (It will also provide HF content to this section which is entirely unpopulated due to band pass filtering).
  • Either extend sections of the work, to allow them to develop fully. Or limit the material transformations.

Trip One: End (Day 5) – ‘Standing in a Corridor’ & Composition Second Draft.

Today was spent polishing the piece in the studio. And while no-one else was around, I got my ‘Alvin Lucier’ on.

‘I am Standing in a Corridor….’

All week I’ve been walking along the corridor in NOTAM and hearing the resonant reflections. I also had a lot of great recordings, but they were too recognisable to be used within the discourse of the piece that I’ve been working on.

So, I decided to combine these two things. It’s actually the first time that I’ve tried to do this, and I’m pretty happy how it turned out.

I tried re-recording many things. The humm and whirr of the studio computer, the clinking of cups in the dishwasher, (my own voice) and the photocopier/scanner that sits in that very hallway. Coincidentally it was the photocopier that was most suited to this location (I guess they must have known this when they put it there).

Second Draft of The Piece

So, equipped with my resonant corridor recordings I was able to get back into the studio and round off the piece. While working on the piece today I was able to recognise the key sound events within the piece and utilise them to their fullest extent. I recognised that the ‘creaking’ sounds were functioning as dividers / flags between sections and so increased their use in this role. And I drew in the resonant sounds at the end of the piece to provide some more pitched material in what was previously a very noise based section.

Other general tweaks were made to ensure that all gestures fed constructively into one another, or at least had compatible energy profiles. EQ, EQ, EQ gave clarity to the sonic materials and reverberation was added to give a sense of depth and space to certain sonic layers.

Where Next?

Tomorrow I fly back to the UK. I’ll be sad to leave but NOTAM is very quiet at the moment with everyone off for Christmas. I’ve really not seen anything else of Oslo other than the apartment, the studios and the 15 minute walk between them. Hopefully January will get me out and about a bit more.

I’m also looking forward to the distance and perspective that January will bring to bear on the piece. There is probably more tweaking to be done, but I’m pretty happy with how this piece turned out. A busy week, but a very productive one.

Have a good Christmas and New Year.

Trip One: End of Day Four – Composition First Draft

Today was consumed by processing of materials and development of the composition. So there are not so many active ‘goings on’ to report.

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However, I did manage to sketch out the whole form of the first piece. With a clear (at least it is clear to me) beginning, middle and end (though I think it needs more work to fully polish and emphasise it).

I decided to end with the mill pond on the river ‘Akerselva’, directly outside the windows of NOTAM (photo above).

If you get a chance, let me know what you think about the piece.

There is still more work to be done. I have a few notes of areas to develop and will hopefully discover a few more ideas in my sleep, but if you have any comments I’d love to hear them.

Detailed Compositional Thoughts / Reflections

  • Find and insert more ‘guitar edit’ recordings.
  • Develop / delete ending.
  • Edit and isolate ‘swishing dishwasher powder’. Develop this more.
  • Develop squeaky door sounds: transposition and stretch.
  • Develop dishwasher plates and clinks more?
  • Play and record corridor resonance.
  • Move back second guitar edits so as to cover the keyboard crossfade.

Introduction and Background

This blog will document the progress of my compositional project at NOTAM (The Norwegian Centre for Technology in Music and the Arts). This project will take me to Oslo on three occasions to develop 3 electroacoustic compositions inspired by the theme of “Quiet”, made from recordings around Oslo in the winter of 2013/2014.

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Why Quiet?

The compositional concept of “Quiet” is often ignored in music, where the main focus is usually about what sounds can you make. This project will seek to explore the subtleties and acoustic character of spaces and locations through minimalist means. The compositional works in this project will use recorded sounds, as in my previous works, and seek to draw listeners into an immersive and enveloping sonic environment by demanding attentive listening. The steep valleys and fjords around Oslo will provide a sonically diverse and unique soundscape, with varying vegetation, snow and ice affecting acoustic response.

Why Oslo?

Working on the ‘Compose With Sounds‘ project as a commissioned composer I was very pleased to meet with other commissioned composers from across the EU partners and very much inspired by the works of the composers based at NOTAM in Oslo. The NOTAM centre has a highly active community of local artists who I hope to engage with in discussion, both regarding their own works and also to receive feedback on my own pieces as they develop.

How is this possible?

I am very pleased to have received funding to support this project from Arts Council England and the British Council, through their Artists International Development Fund (AIDF).

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