Stille Lyd: A concert of electroacoustic works from Norway.

Friday 28th March will mark the formal end of this project with a final concert event presenting the works that I have developed, alongside those of my friends at NOTAM and a piece by Arne Nordheim.

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I’ll be giving a short talk about the project and cracking open some cheese and wine, so it’d be great to see you if you are anywhere nearby.

The event is free and takes place in Leicester, at the PACE building, Richmond Street, LE1 9BH

Composition Titles

I also decided that it was more appropriate that my pieces had Norwegian titles. Not only does it look and sound cooler, but it instantly links the work with the project and its place of inspiration and creation.

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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?

“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: 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 Three : A Dramatic Arrival

I arrived in Oslo and had to collect the PNEK apartment keys from a locker in the railway station.

It all felt very much like some kind of spy thriller. Enter the code on an electronic keypad and the door swings open to reveal a solitary key to the apartment (PNEK could also very easily be some acronym for a cold war spy agency).

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And so, I need a secret mission!

This trip I will be investigating the small, tiny, “quiet” sounds of the city. I’ve heard a few on my previous trips so I will retrace my steps and collect those, but also head further afield, out to parts of Oslo that I haven’t yet been to.

And certainly to a few places that have been recommended to me by Anders (and reiterated by a few others).

  • Frognerseteren
  • Opera House
  • Vigelands mausoleum
  • And a circular room on the subway system in Nationaltheatret station

Trip Two: Pining for the Fjords.

Back to Oslo on the second part of my residency / project. This time I’ll be heading up near to Lillehammer so that I can record environmental sounds.

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The forecast looks fairly chilly but not exceptionally so, and there does now seem to be light snow predicted (which is what I’m after).

I’m certain that the temperature is going to be a bit of a shock to the system when I first arrive but hopefully it won’t interrupt the processes of recording.

This leg is certainly going to be more of an adventure than last time (which consisted mainly of barricading myself into the studio for late night sessions), and some details about the adventure I’m still not clear about.

But when I know, you’ll know.

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.